By mankhokwe Namusanya:
Sometimes, your father will come around. But it might be late in life. Like when you are about to step out of childhood, into the chaos of adulthood.
And you will have already experienced adulthood. Because when your father was not coming around, you got tired of waiting. You found others who assumed his responsibilities. And they assumed his – and that of a husband.
“It is hard to keep waiting for a person who does not want to come,” she does not say but I think her expression of that waiting can be summed up thus.
She does not say punchlines, so it is my duty to condense whatever she says.
Like, when I ask why her father did not like her, she cannot give a straightforward answer. She just seems to not know. She just says her father was a difficult man.
“Difficult to all the children?” I ask because she has told me there are other children in their family.
“No, just to me. I do not know what I did wrong.”
I try to probe but she refers it all back to her father. He is just a difficult man – to her.
When I narrate her story to a friend, the friend – an indigenous psychologist and sociologist – attempts to apply indigenous knowledge to it:
“Maybe he had doubts over paternity. Fathers and such issues sometimes.”
I regret, I did not even think of that so I did not ask if, perhaps, her father had expressed that he doubted if she was his child. Or, maybe, in one instance of eavesdropping she had heard her parents argue over her paternity.
However, if he had doubted, then it was with some ‘love’. The schools she said she had studied at were not the excuses of education that the state gives to children of the deprived. They were schools whose products you would not assume to be corrupt – morally, intellectually, physically and spiritually.
From two of those schools, she was expelled. In one, for teasing and bullying; in another, for a crime she does not tell. I want to think: for having sex – maybe even with a teacher.
“But I think I know why he hated you, like you have been a problem to him. Two good schools, expelled! I don’t know, but if I was your father…”
She says the hate did not start at that. Sending her far away to those boarding schools was not a manifestation of love. It was a message. Of hate. And dislike. In a way, abrogating his responsibility as a parent.
Her early education was at a secondary school near home. A day school. Then, she had come home late. Not really late but she had a curfew. Of 05:30 pm. She had missed it by almost 30 minutes. And when she came back, she found her things packed. She was told she had to leave.
That afternoon–6 pm is not night really– he had said she should leave for anywhere. He did not care. Yet, when her mother came some minutes later and had a discussion with him in camera, his mind had changed. He was sending her to a boarding school.
“So, you started the boarding school on a wrong footing?”
“Of course, I did not look at it as a boarding school. I looked at it as a prison. A concentration camp,” – a gulag – “because I was sent there as a punishment.”
And to survive that punishment, she made friends. Bad friends. Here, like terms attracted because she, herself, was equally bad. A Form One student was expelled for teasing and bullying other Form One students – and even Form Twos.
The day she was sent packing, he could not welcome him in his house. He said she could go and live anywhere and he would not care. Even if she was to be mauled, his worry would still be the fuel in his tank – not her.
That was the first night someone, his father’s tenant, took the role of her father. And a husband.
“I would sneak in when I was sure they had slept and, early in the morning, I would sneak out from his house and pretend to have slept in the house that was under construction a few metres from our house.”
That happened for three days. On the third day, like some Jesus, the father came to where she had been ‘sleeping’ and informed her she was being sent to another school. Now, very far away.
“Where was your mother in all this?” I ask because she is not a half-orphan.
“My mother is the calmest person you can ever meet.”
I want to say: “a victim of patriarchy” but I say nothing. I let her wallow in the gloating over, and the glorification of, her mother while, in hindsight, I keep thinking that she is being too kind to her mother. A working-class woman who could as well leave for the children – or the child.
When she finishes that praise and worship for her mother, I ask about the nature of the relationship with her father now.
“It is not bad, it is not good. He stopped beating or punishing me. When I do something wrong, he just goes quiet on me. He is getting old. And sick. And dying. And I just don’t care about him anymore.”