We all always
have jaded memories of our parents. But in our revering
our parents, we all always create such utopian parents that if
they were still alive they would look like angelic fairies
always holdings our hands and leading us to greener green
gardens under which rivers always flow. My jaded memory of my
parents only always comes into vivid focus when I reflect on
their solemn moments, happy and sad times, and mostly the
questions they always deferred to “when you are older I will
tell you”. My father was the most ardent at giving this
response, to the extent that it always became a chorus we sang
for him whenever he scratched his head before responding.
Mum is a memory of this pretty patrician black woman in whose
bosom we would find warmth, and to whose skirts we would hold on
to dear life when the man she called darling wanted to give us a
serious spanking. It often did not take much to upset her
darling. A simple omission like not watering the garden or even
lazing in his favoured sofa, would invoke in him the sense that
the wrath of his leather belt should descend on us. But, there
was always mum’s skirt to intercede.
A vivid memory of mum are the times this sweet woman we loved so
much would abandon us to go and work at a women’s group in the
community distant from our middle class environment. Well, there
were no upper class areas then. It was either you lived kumayadi,
the low density green residential areas, or the compound, the
high density not so green residential areas.
From our infantile rationalisations, it was not fair at all that
mum would leave us to go and work in the compounds! But of
course, in our minds, there were also the times this sweet woman
turned into a hideous creature. Then, my father would be our
darling too. These were mostly the times, she would holler so
loud that our ear drums would nearly burst. All because we were
still playing hide and seek or kicking the hide off a soccer
ball way after dusk. She would round us up, march us into the
bathtub, and give us a scrubbing that in our little minds felt
like we would leave the bathtub without our skin. Our new
darling would then come to soothe us with the chocolate sweets
we had hoped he would give us when he knocked off from work.
Ah! In my mind it is clear how at other times the “chocolate
sweet” saga unfolded. Sometimes after getting tired of kicking
the hide off the soccer ball early, we would keep sentry on the
plush porch, looking out for my father. We did not have
prison-like wall fences then. A sighting would see us rush to
the gate to greet my father, walk with him a bit hoping he will
give us chocolate sweets. We always believed, we could smell
them on him. When the sweets were not forthcoming, we would run
into the house and crowd around his favourite sofa. The sofa
always had a clandestine thing about it. And yet, when he walked
in, his first destination was the kitchen.
We would sulk, walk out, and in the local language, say, "gosh
that woman is a spoiler. Now she will ask if we have already
bathed”. And my father would retort, "I don’t allow that
criminal language in my house". Those were the days!
My father was a stern man, who seldom smiled, but liked the
sound of his voice. His worst moments were when politicians came
to visit our town. His position in the office always meant that
he had to attend without fail, else the wrath of the Party would
fall on him. And he would bulldoze us to accompany him. Did we
glow, looking up at my father up on the podium, next to all
those big Party comrades! Yet, he did not smile. If anything his
face got sterner and contorted as if angry. It always got worse,
when the political creatures from the Capital started eulogising
nothingness for development. No different from the incident when
one day my father came home seething, neck bursting to the
“Woman,” he shouted at mum. “Some Party chairman and his cadres
rudely walk into my office without knocking, to simply come and
tell me that he has a report that I do not respect the
President. Why? Because the President’s picture hangs behind my
seat. What nonsense.” And he walked out ranting. The next we saw
him was deep in the night, smelling like a brewery. The next
day, he apologised to mum, and gave us a lecture on cretins
pretending to work for the people. Why can’t they learn from
Jesus, he surmised. Who exactly is this guy he always talks
about, we would always ask ourselves. Whoever Jesus was, he
seemed to be fixated in my father’s life.
That brings me to the few instances, my father smiled. The most
vivid instances that seemed to light my father’s face like an
angel were when in the presence of mum, and when in a huge
building with frosted crystal-like glass and a huge cross on
top. The huge building with frosted crystal-like glass and a
huge cross on top is one building we dreaded. We associated it
with early Sunday morning serious scrubbing from mum.
On Sundays, we would be frog matched proudly, in our Sunday
best, to this monstrous building, inside was his favourite guy
on the Cross. And when, the Hail Marias and Pater nosters
started, my father would beam like a full moon on a dark night
and hail along. The guy on the Cross always struck a weak cord
in us. Despite looking eerily solemn and melancholic, it was
always like he was calling out to us or even reading our
thoughts at the time. He really made us very uncomfortable. We
would look around agitated, wishing we were kicking the hide off
the soccer ball, and not having some guy on the Cross
interrogating our inner fears. We could never wait to bolt from
On the way back home, we would ask my father who the solemn
looking person on the Cross was. “Jesus, and he loves you”, he
would reply, lovingly patting our heads. “But why is he on the
Cross”, my elder brother would ask. “He is the son of God, and
he was crucified. He loves us so much that he decided to die for
“Who is God?”
“Papa, what is sin?”
“And what kind of guy would want to die for all of us?”
“Come on papa, how can someone love people he does not know?”
The questions would rain on him like rain falls during a
thunderstorm. In his usual manner, my father would resort to the
best answer he seemed to always have.
“When you are older I will tell you”. As we entered the teens,
my father tried to explain, but it all always seemed like a
fairy tale. God, Jesus, mother Mary seemed so distant to our
reality as children. If anything, Church was just a building
where, every Sunday, adults like my father dragged children to
against their will.
Many years later, in my adulthood, my father, then retired, came
visiting. I had just moved into my flat. It was still scantily
furnished. In the living room, there were only two stringy straw
chairs, two three-legged traditional stools, a heavily tobacco
stained coffee table, a poorly stocked bookshelf, and a
television set on the floor. On the wall behind the television
set, hang a picture of an iconic person whose story I held in
awe. I even had several books on him. In the few times I sat
pretending to watch TV, I think I spent more time looking at the
picture than watching TV.
It is an inspirational picture, this picture on my wall.
The distance he stares at. The dreams of freedom he longed for
peoples of all creed.
This picture on my blank wall is a melancholic palimpsest of the
road I walk. I see so much pain, I see so much sadness. If only.
My father sat in one of the stringy straw chairs, beaming like
he was sitting in a King’s throne. Little did he know that I was
worried sick that he might want to spend the night. The flat was
gravely Spartan that the beds were simply cheap single
mattresses on the floor, and it was only two bedroomed. My
sister was staying with me at the time.
From the stool, I cringed and watched him. He, strangely, did
not talk much. He just sat straight-backed, pensively looking at
the picture above the TV set. Later, he continued looking at the
picture as he ate his super.
When it dawned on me that he was indeed spending the night, I
offered him my room. It was going to be a rough night, as I
would have to sleep on the floor.
“And where are you going to sleep?” He asked.
“Don’t worry dad, I will manage,” was my sheepish reply.
“Hey I am lean. I won’t take much space in your bed,” he simply
replied, laughing. “You do not need to be ashamed that you think
you do not have enough to share. I say this because you do, but
in your heart you deny it.” He added.
Indeed that night my father and I spent the night on the single
mattress on the floor! And he slept so peacefully that I did not
even feel he was in my bed. I spent most of the night thinking I
need to do something about my Spartan existence.
When I woke up, my father was already in the living room.
“There are people who are much worse off than you, my son,” my
father simply said, immediately I walked into the living room.
He, then again, pensively locked his eyes on the picture above
the TV set.
“Who is he?” He asked.
“Ernesto Che Guevara,” I proudly replied. My father did not know
“Why is he on your wall?” I explained.
“And he left his well-off life to fight for others?”
“Then I know him, too.”
“You do?” My father did not answer. He paused and asked another
“How can someone love people he does not know?” My father
suddenly asked. The ground below me seemed to give in. I looked
away, remembering a time when I had asked the very same
“He may not be Jesus, but at least from what you have told me,
his ways could be admirable. Humane, but he can not be Jesus,”
my father solemnly said.
Later in the day, he bid us farewell, and his departing words
till today always hang around my deepest thoughts.
“Are your ways like the man on your wall,” he had asked. “As
humans, do we really care for those we do not know? He had
My father, always an enigma, a solemn reminder of our deepest
fears. We are always afraid to care beyond those we know, beyond
those we love. And yet we claim to know God.
The guy on the Cross in the building of my childhood Sundays is
a testament of what our existence should be. A greater love
beyond our inner fears that we should know we can be able to
love beyond those we know. That tomorrow we should look back and
say: “Those are my footprints, and many that could not walk with
me, that fell besides me, and those that came after me found the
footprints to be the light that shone an existence of hope for
That if, tomorrow my father walked with me again, I would
proudly say: “I now know love.”
And I write this today, because looking back I now know my
father and the picture on my wall revealed a truism by which we
should all live. That is, my father is an anachronism, whose
meaning is only deciphered today. And, Jesus the son of God that
was fixated in my father’s life is a testimony whose meaning
lives beyond time, and indeed beyond our religious affiliations,
for love has no religious hegemony.