After their wedding, David’s new father-in-law paid for his Diploma in Management. He left his wife just 2 days into their new lives knowing it would all be worth it. He studied the same way he won her heart. For her. For his angel. He did odd jobs to support himself in school and sent money back home to Sylvia. It is what a man would do, and David was a real man. He said he never looked at any other women when I asked. Sylvia is his soulmate. She saved all the envelops that came to her from Nairobi with little trinkets from a time he was walking down a street or some paper boat he made while thinking of her.
[Hello newbies…the link to the first part is this https://notyetadults.wordpress.com/2018/10/11/davids-angel/]
She travelled often to see him. Nairobi girls can spot a good man from a mile away. She did not want hers taken before she had gotten used to the idea of being his wife. When she got pregnant, she rushed with the news to his classroom and they were thrown out for disrupting the lesson. They didn’t care. They were in love. The perfect duo. The Legend to her Chrissy.
Dave Kalalei was born on a cold July morning in 1996. His father was by his mother’s side the whole time. He changed diapers and got puked on. He loved every single second of it. He held her hand through his brother’s birthday too, two years later. Dave does not recall this day. He was too young to remember his father receiving the call that changed him from the guy who gave piggyback rides to a stern-frowning ever-shouting monster who hit them with belts, threw boots at them and one time, when Dave was 16, his mother’s jiko.
The phone call came with the second most terrifying scream David Kalalei has ever heard. He was driving his wife and newborn son from the hospital when his phone rang with an unknown number. Usually, he never answers numbers he has not saved but he was so happy he had to tell someone. It didn’t matter if it was a wrong number call. His wife wishes he never answered this one call.
“Hello?” he must have said with a smile on his face. The kind of smile that comes with the joy of being a new father to a healthy baby boy.
“Kalalei? David Kalalei?”
“I’m calling about your mother.”
David must have frozen, recalling the last time he had even thought of his mother. When she could barely set her eyes on him. When she made that terrible sound from her throat that caused his heart to shred to bits. She had called to strangers to come take her murderous son who had slain her Goliath.
“I don’t ha…”
“She passed away.”
He must have suddenly hit the brakes and caused his wife and son to be thrust forward (this is for science…inertia and all. See? I paid attention in school too).
As if on cue, some random woman in the background let out a scream after the caller said this. The second worst sound he has ever heard. He felt in his bones the farce that was the scream. The choreographed delusion that clearly elaborated the sham he was. He was one with the scream. Morphed into it. A futile joke that showed his mother’s mistakes. He stopped the car, got out and walked. Sylvia did not know what to do. She followed him, trying to ask what the problem was. He just walked.
I’m starting to think David is a walker.
She went back to the car and found the caller still on the phone. They needed to go back to Baringo to plan the funeral. They were the only family Maria Kalalei had. Nothing could be done without their consent. She tried to look down the road David had taken. Nothing. He was not coming back. Her David was broken once more. She thanked the man and hang up.
When she got home, her husband was not there. He was always home, on the couch by the TV. Not watching it, he never watched TV. He is a radio man, that David. What he liked was watching Dave watch cartoons on the box with pictures. But he was not there. He did not come home that night. There was a knock at dawn. She had not slept. Her hero of a husband was at the door in the morning, reeking of alcohol. He never drank, except for the occasional celebratory wine. But he reeked. She looked at him once and asked if he wanted a shower. No answer. He got into the house and went straight for the bedroom. In the 8 years she had known him, she always got an answer. It didn’t matter if she had angered him or if he was exhausted to death.
The months that followed were wearying for Sylvia. David had helped with Dave. She had counted on him being as supportive with the new baby. A month-old infant and a 2-year-old boy was too much for a girl who had never taken care of any other person other than the man who had decreased himself to a drunken stupor.
Dave Kalalei Jr says he grew up knowing his father as a no-nonsense man. You would get a boot on the arse for anything! Failed grades, spilled milk and even the baby crying. A boot in the arse for any wrongdoing. It didn’t matter who was in the wrong. One time, he recalls, he came home 20 minutes late because he missed the first turn on the school bus while waiting for his report card. His father was always home by 3:00 pm for his before-evening whisky. David had transitioned to drinking at the house and Dave was late in giving him his routine 3 glasses at 3pm before disappearing to bars till midnight. Dave says this was when his father started hitting him. As soon as he was off the bus, a brown boot was on his face. That was his father’s M.O. A boot in the face or on the arse if he had no time to take it off.
Over time, it fluxed to beatings. The same way you would beat a thief by the road, only without the rocks and tyre to burn him. Dave was hit at every excuse. It was the same as the boot-season, only more intense because blows, punches and slaps were factored in.
His younger brothers fought over the remote? Punch-Kick-Slap
His mother left for the market without telling her husband? Kick-Slap-Punch
He sits on the couch doing nothing? Being idle and irresponsible? You know how this goes.
So Dave grew up fearing his father. He was crippled with terror any time his father took a breath. He lost his hearing for a week when he was 14 and cried himself to sleep every night. David Kalalei always told himself he was beating his son’s mistakes and made sure Dave knew this. He wanted his son to grow up tough. Grow up into a man.
But Dave is his father’s son. Soon, his scrawny got biceped. He stopped thinking about his father. About the looming beatings at every turn. An exoskeleton formed and he was as tough as only one who has gone through what he did can become. When he hit back, once, his father was clearly shocked. It was one punch. One punch that knocked David Kalalei back to his senses. He looked at his son for the first time in 17 years, shook his head and went to bed.
Sylvia tells me David slept for 3 days. Nonstop. This man is a Rubik’s cube of his own kind. In the three days, he says he dreamt of his mother. Says she came to him and asked him to forgive her. Well, he says ‘begged’, but I know for a fact that African mothers do not beg their children for anything. You either forgive them or live a life of misery beating your children senseless and ruining your angel’s life in the process. Sylvia says when he woke up, he took a shower, got out and went back in for another shower. He had only taken showers for meetings in 17 years.
Two weeks ago, when Dave Kalalei Jr walked out of Mathare Hospital from his last psychiatric meeting, he felt relieved. He told the story of his father. Of how David Kalalei had been broken by his own mother’s scream and the pretentious wail of a stranger. He told of his mother’s unending love and prayer. The meetings were for his father, for even though David Kalalei now showers every morning, he could not bring himself to walk into a psychiatric doctor’s office.
But he had raised a son with thick skin, and an elastic heart. Dave did not talk of the punch that saved his family’s life in his sessions. This is not the story of the punch he threw.
He also said I should not call this story ‘The Fist of Fire’, which is what I had initially thought of.