Her mom died when she was 16. A form 2 student at St Mary’s Lwak Girls’ High School in Rarieda District of Nyanza. She remembers the face of the form one student who came to call her from class on that day. She remembers looking at the girl’s face and immediately feeling a cloud form around her chest. She knew before she was told. Before the Kiswahili teacher said her name out loud and asked her to the Deputy Principal’s office. She knew in her gut that something was terribly awry.
It was an accident that did her mother in. An exhausted matatu driver in the Kisumu heat. Her mother, in the seat right behind him, her bag clutched to her chest. No one in the vehicle made it to tell the story. The media relied on witnesses. People who were minding their business but who concluded that the driver “must have been drunk” because he swerved on the road like a madman. People who said “he must have not slept a wink last night” so he was dozing off behind the wheel. These people had no business making such conclusions to an accident that they were not affected by, but they were human, and human beings have the urgent need to explain that which has no explanation. “The truth is,” she tells me, “At least the way I recall it is, there was no head-on collision. In fact, there was no other vehicle that may have startled the driver on the road. There was no bend, no bump. It was a straight tarmac. But the driver still went off the road and caused an accident that killed 14 people, including my mother.”
She remained with her stepfather, her bio dad having passed away when she was 3 years old. Her memories revolve around stories she was told and three photographs, one of him, the second with her as a toddler and the third with her mother in it. She held on to these three photographs as if her life depended on it. She scanned them, framed them, had them reproduced just so she could immortalize the memory of her parents.
Now, living with her stepfather was not as bad as anyone would expect. She got along well with her stepbrothers so it was almost smooth sailing. But when you’re an orphan in a house of kids with their biological parent, you notice some things. You will realize that you never get the last piece of meat. That sometimes, the father picks his children from school early so they can go eat chicken without you. You notice small things but these are the ones that dig a hole into you, taking a piece of the soil each time.
“He made you feel left out?” I ask.
“On the contrary. I think he was establishing boundaries. Making it known whose father he was and whose he wasn’t. And I kinda respect it.”
“What do you mean “respect it”?”
“He didn’t try to be my father. I had a dad. He lived in the three photos under my mattress. This strange man who sired sons with my mother before her death was not my father, and he never pretended to be. But then he started drinking”
It must have been the stress of raising three teenagers on his own, or it was that time in a man’s life that he decides alcohol is the answer. A midlife crisis of sorts, except his Lamborghini, was the walking John and his friends. Nevertheless [Ha! I used it after school] he did drown, far and deep. Rain was forced to become a part-time mom to her step-siblings, but it wasn’t as hard as it may be thought. The boys were practically grown by this time. All she had to do was make the big decisions. Things like what to eat for supper and who to send for milk from the shop. Sometimes it got hard, really hard. The boys did not listen, she had a migraine, there was no food in the house, the stepdad had slept in yet another trench that night so he didn’t come home till the sun was well on its way overhead.
Then, one evening, right after they had shared the scraps of a collection of previous meals, her stepfather came home at 8.13 pm. She remembers because she always waited for the 9 o’clock news, and they had not aired yet. She remembers because when he walked in, even his own offspring was surprised. “Ah daddy, leo umekuja mapema aje?” they asked in delight.
“Did you not share the same enthusiasm as your brothers?” I ask.
“Step-brothers,” she corrects me. “And no. I think it was mainly because a part of me always sat down for the news to wait for his dilapidated body to show up on the screen, murdered by unknowns.”
“I didn’t know it before then,” she continues. “Before that night when he came home early. But on that night, as his sons were hugging him at the door, I immediately knew why I felt an overwhelming sense of disappointment.”
He came home that evening with a “guest” as he so amicably put it. “Huyu ni aunty yenu. Msalimieni.” He was in high spirits, and there was no percentage involved this time. “It was weird. One day, he was the big bad wolf. Huffing. Puffing. Breathing fire, and then…just like that, he changed.” It was like one minute he was chalk and the next cheese. Nobody understood it, but they accepted it.
For the first time, in a long time, he was present. The man he had grown into over the years shed his skin and there he was, brand new, her step-father, doing the best he could. “The first thing he did was secure a job,” she recalls helping him with his applications. They wrote and rewrote his cover letter to fit his ‘brand’. They went out as a family to pick out the suit he would wear during the interview.
“Just like that?”
“Yup,” she answers. “With a snap of the finger, we were having meals like a family again. He was asking about our progress in school. He became interested in our lives, and not just the boys. He talked with me as well. I mean like…actually ask my opinion on things.”
“How did that make you feel?” I poke. “Considering you had thought of him turning up dead.”
“I won’t say I wasn’t skeptical. In fact, I cannot say I was entirely happy about it. But there he was; a changed man. And you cannot hate a man for being his best and doing all he can to fix his errors. So now I love him, not because he changed, but because he became the father I never knew I needed.”
“Who was the woman that came in with him?
“Nobody knows.” She only brought him home that night. Her step-father insists it was her mother. That she had had wings, but he had also been a drunkard at the time. People generally tend to deviate from anything said under the influence. Heck, there are crimes you can get out of simply because you were under the influence. The words of a drunk man are not to be believed –Mirawu 2019.
But she says he still insists it was her mother that saved him. She says she remembers a woman bringing him in, but she cannot trace her face. She could not tell you if the woman had teeth or a scar running from ear to the corner of her mouth. She only saw a woman, and her step-dad saw her mother.
I was left not knowing what to make of this story. I didn’t know what to say or do so I just allowed the conversation to die a natural death.
“I love my dad,” she texted after a few days. “I don’t want the story to sound like I don’t. He is amazing. I know this because it comes so naturally to him. Being a dad. He is great at it. And he has shown me countless times that he is changed. I don’t care that he never apologized. Apologies are just words. “I’m sorry” and you think they changed. He showed me. Showed us. And I appreciate him for it. I love him for it.”
I texted back “Okay” because that is all I could afford.
I’ve been doing this thing, called it “No Write November”. It is a lie. A lie I told myself to console this evil thing going on in my head that I cannot figure out. I know. It sounds either cliché or weird, depending on who you are, but I have been thinking of giving you guys a post, and we are here, right. That’s for being with me during No Write November.