By Sheillah Maonga
To read part two, click here
“Say something, Dobi.” She pleaded, panic setting in her eyes, the smile slowly dying from her face.
I just sat there clenching and unclenching my fists, words failing me. The silence between us was deafening.
“Where do we go from here?” I heard him ask me. I woke up from my reverie.
“It depends on you. What do you want?” I replied silently.
His mother had asked the same question.
“Where do we go from here?” Josephina asked.
“It depends on you, what do you want?” I had replied with defeat.
“I want the wedding to happen as soon as possible.” She had said, holding my gaze.
“There will be no wedding. I do not want to get married.” I had replied curtly. “Not now anyway”.
“But you proposed to me a few months ago.”
“I was naïve then. I do not want to get married at my age. I am too young.” I protested.
“I am young too. But that’s not the point.” She counteracted.
“That is the point. We are too young to get married.”
“The point is that we are expecting a baby.”
“We are? YOU are.”
“Dobi Masha, what are you saying? That I am in this alone?”
I had looked away. I felt trapped. But I knew that I could not get married to Josephina. At the time, I was madly in love with another girl in campus. And I just could not leave her for Josephina. I did not want Josephina. I did not want a child. I did not want to leave my girlfriend in university, who Josephina could not compare with. I did not want the responsibility of being a father before I had a job. I did not want a village wife. I did not want to come back to the village. I could not deal with all this. I chose to walk away. In hindsight, I could see that I was foolish and selfish.
“Please think about it.” She said as she walked out.
I left the next day. In my mind, I was running away from the village for good. I did not return to the village until my mother died. That was 10 years I was away from the village. I did not miss it. I did not think about it and the people in it. I loved the city and was busy living my life there. My mother came to visit me now and then, so I had no reason to go to the village.
“I do not know what I want anymore. I thought I wanted to meet my father. But this is one of the coldest meetings I have ever had that I am wondering why I came all this way to see you.” He said with a tinge of anger in his voice.
I looked at him and thought of what he had said. I did not see myself as his father. Was I really his father, I pondered. Who was a father? I was a father to my twin daughters. I was there when they were born, I was involved in their lives right from the beginning. More importantly, I wanted them. When Koni was expecting them, I dreamt and yearned for them. I was ready for them. I cried, overwhelmed with emotion, when I first held them. It was not a question that I would lay my life down for them. They made my life worthwhile and meaningful.
But this boy, I didn’t even know his name and I was too embarrassed to ask him. I just didn’t give his existence much thought. In my head, it had nothing to do with me. When my mind sometimes meandered to him, it was uncomfortable to think of him and I killed those fleeting thoughts immediately. It was years since I thought of him. He was my dirty secret that had to be locked in the dark recesses of my mind. The life I lived now, with my family, had no space for anything extra, including children I didn’t know.
I looked at him properly. Really studied his features. And I felt my heart catch in my throat. This son of mine, that I had run away from; discarded him like how a judge threw out some cases because they had no grounds. This poor poor child of mine that I considered my life’s greatest mistake, the one that I could not go back and undo; the hapless harmless young man dressed in tattered clothes that came in search of me was my son.
And I, his father.
I looked at him and felt a sudden remorse and a painful realisation. I had done wrong by him. And here I was, going to do more wrong by him.
How much hunger had he known? What obstacles had he gone through to grow up? To even stand here with me, communicating in impeccable diction? What had I done?
“Maybe you can answer me why you walked away from me. It is a question that I need an answer to. It will help me move on with my life. Answer it and I will go away from you and you will never hear from me again.” He said as once again he stood up, drawing to his full height and thus making his presence felt. He was way taller than me, I confirmed, not just by a head. I felt myself shrinking in size, becoming the child. Perhaps he noted the shift in my demeanour, the sudden realisation that I had done him wrong. It was odd for me to feel smaller, to be at the receiving end of any conversation. I sat down, welcoming this strange feeling.
How could I tell him that I was not ready to face the responsibility of being a father at the time? And that I fell out of love with his mother immediately I joined campus and met so many other girls? That the exposure at university expanded and expounded the differences between us? That the mother’s low level of education did not qualify her to be the wife I wanted in the city? How could I tell him that it was easier to walk away than to stay? And how could I tell him that I needed my life to be neat, rather than have baggage, of which he would have been, if I accepted him? How could I tell all him all these?
“I am sorry.” I said, and indeed I was. “I am sorry that I walked away. I am ever so sorry.”
My phone started ringing, and I could see it was Koni calling me. I could not answer it. Not with him there.
“Your phone is ringing.” He said.
“I heard it. It is my wife.”
“Is she the one who was here before?”
“She is nice.”
“She is.” I agreed. Everyone liked Koni, she was personable.
“Does she know about me?” He asked.