I wish I could tell you I felt something, but I didn’t. I stood there, numb to the pain of my loss. In a daze I watched as they lowered his coffin into the grave, wondering how the weak box was holding up with his overweight corpse. My mind struggled to focus on the burial as I found myself drifting back to the last time I saw him. It was like any other day; actually it was like most other days. They were at it again…I wondered if they never got sick of it. The bickering, the constant biting. I wasn’t even involved but it still drove me insane just listening, watching.
‘You have been drinking again. It’s not even afternoon yet oh.’
Mother had a problem with father’s drinking. I think everyone did. But I didn’t, I just wanted to know why he did it.
‘Look at you, you call yourself a man. You cannot provide common rent money. Your children can’t go to school, no school fees. Even small food money, I will bring that one too. A woman is feeding you.’ She snapped her fingers at him. I’m still not sure why aging Nigerian women do this, but when they do, you better believe they are not happy with you.
It wasn’t always like this. Once upon a time, a long time though; about ten years ago or so, father was doing a lot better. He used to work for a bank. I’m not sure which one it was; I was only five then. Actually hold on—I do remember. It was Progress Bank. I think it’s closed down now. Anyways, never mind that. The point I was getting to is that he was doing well, we were doing well. Mother still had things to complain about though. I think she just liked complaining really. But at least then father had something to stand on, his money. I think she used to complain about his affairs with other women those days. I’m surprised I remember that. Actually I’m not, she still brings it up.
‘If you were not spending all your money on small small girls when you were working, you would have started a business by now. But you couldn’t control your thing.’
I’m not sure why mother would come that far and then attempt to censor her words. I am old enough to know what a penis is, in fact, I have one, and I sure worry if it is me controlling it or if it is it controlling me. Perhaps it is neither and my right hand just has a mind of its own. I shouldn’t really be writing such things as this. Last week Sunday the pastor preached about the power of words and admonished us to be careful about what we brought into existence by speaking. Maybe it doesn’t apply to writing. I don’t think I’m addicted to touching myself; it is just a phase no different from sucking my thumb. That’s how I like to think of it anyway. True or not, this thought makes me feel better. Father on the other hand was sure wishing the power of his words manifested as he uttered them.
‘Woman, leave me alone.’
Father was never a man of many words. Drinking didn’t help that in the slightest either (I always wonder if it’s either or neither in such sentences). I think he actually drank to forget everything, especially to forget that he was a drunk. Ironic isn’t it? Or is “paradoxical” the right word here? At this rate I will never be a great writer, I need to get my words together.
‘I will not leave you. I will not leave you. Never.’
Mother tugged at his singlet. I have always wondered why these vests are called singlets, or is it just a Nigerian thing; like how we refer to car indicators as trafficators. Thank God for Microsoft spell-check, I would have argued this to my death.
‘Leave me.’ Father continued to petition on deaf ears.
In a sense, I think that was all Father ever wanted; to be left alone. The man probably knew he was a failure, an experiment of a man gone haywire. For what was a man if he couldn’t as much as put food in the bellies of his children? (I wonder if I’m the only one that thinks starting a sentence with “for” gives it an old wisdom feel). It’s not like we are a lot, we are only two, well two and a half. I have a brother I hardly ever see so I’m not sure he counts. But never mind that, Father couldn’t even feed himself. He knew this. The last thing he needed was a constant reminder and that was exactly what Mother embodied.
‘The day I will beat you eh!’
Father had threatened mother with violence more times than I cared to count, but he had never as much as grabbed her by the wrist.
‘Come and beat na. It’s that one that you know; how to beat woman. Are you even a man?’ She snapped the fingers again.
The day might have started like most, but it sure didn’t end that way. It happened so fast not even mother with her dart fast eyes could have seen it coming. One second she was talking, the next she was sprawled on the floor from a punch to the face. I was petrified. I didn’t even know drunks could hit that hard. He literally held nothing back, like he was trying to kill her.
Without as much as a grunt, he left the living room. Not before he took his bottle with him of course. As for mother, she remained on the floor, wailing for help that would not come. Not even the police get involved with matters of domestic violence here. As far as they are concerned, it is a family matter and should be settled within the families.
I don’t think Father wanted to hit her. He was a lot of things, but violent was not one of them. I wasn’t sure if ten years worth of escalating emotional abuse was justification for his outburst. Perhaps the emotional abuse mixed with the bitterness of his reality was too much to take. Oh, and he was drunk as well…who knows. I never got to find out. The next time I saw him, he was lying unconscious and foaming at the mouth, eyes wide open but hollow with death. His unfinished bottle of Squadron laid in shards all over the bathroom floor, what was left leaving a clear map on the tile floor dotted with what looked like crushed white chalk. My first reaction was to think he must have slipped. The algae infested tiles are always quite slippery. But then there was no sign of trauma, physical trauma at least. As for emotional trauma, the scene was littered with evidence.
On the sink, I found packs of just about every tablet from the cabinet. I tried to read the name on a few, codeine, morphine, tramadol, amitryptline, digoxin, lithium…the list went on. If the clumps of chalk-like powder in the liquid spilled out of his bottle had anything to say about his death, it was clearly a case of drug overdose on what had to be one cocktail of a poison. Most people would have erupted with a scream, and I think a part of me wanted to. But I just stood there, trapped in some kind of haze; my body stiff with shock. A part of me woke up and took out my camera to take some photos. Father always told me off for wearing it on my neck around the house. Who knew when something interesting would pop up on the scene, right? When I think of it now, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was barely conscious of myself. I think a part of me just developed some kind of coping mechanism to deal with the trauma. In that moment I thought of myself as a forensic detective like the ones you see on American TV shows. It was just all a bit too much to process in reality. To live, constantly longing for a father’s love you know you would never get is something I can’t even explain to you. And even if I could, you wouldn’t get it. You’re just a diary.
We might have lived in the same house, but we couldn’t be more like strangers to each other. He did everything to avoid seeing me, to avoid talking to me. I actually have no memory of him looking me in the eye. Over the years I guess we just became more or less like furniture to each other. Sad. While taking a shot of his left hand, I noticed something. A note:
I can’t take it anymore. Now I see why my father used to say ‘kama nwayi ga eye’m nni, n’taba afifia, na nmoh’
Red is an English name so I guess maybe you can’t speak Igbo, that means ‘rather than being fed by a woman, I will graze with goats till I meet my grave.’
What am I here for? To constantly be reminded that I’d rather be dead? To watch this ome-ka-nwayi that I have for a boy grow into becoming a gay?
Ome-ka-nwayi is the Igbo term for…ermm…effeminate. I am still a virgin so I guess I don’t even know if I am gay (that’s how it works, right?). And oh, yes I noticed the typo, or should I say “writeo” because he was used a pen. I never understand why so many people in this country added the “a” before gay. Like, doesn’t it feel out of place when they spit the words from their mouth? Anyways, no surprise reading that line. I was never under any impression that I was nothing short of a complete disappointment to my father. Even with being similar in so many ways, I represented everything he hated. I suppose it wasn’t irony that he mirrored everything I thought was wrong with the world too. I still don’t understand why I even cared that he loved me or didn’t, why I still care.
‘Jesus Christ, what is wrong with you? Your father is dying and you are here taking picture?’
In shock, I dropped the suicide note and almost dropped my camera too. Thank God it was hanging on my neck. Come to think of it, it actually belonged to father. It was the only thing he had ever given me that I wanted. Though to be honest, I just kind of took it and he never asked me to give it back. I’m still not sure if it was because he didn’t care for it anymore or because he just didn’t want to speak at me. For me, I didn’t take it to get closer to him or anything like that. I took it because it is my dream to become a photojournalist. And when I mean a photojournalist, I really want to write, I just want to take a lot of pictures for my pieces. A boy can dream, right?
I never got to finish reading the suicide note, but I think I had seen enough. It was enough of a disappointment being male and feminine in Nigeria, aspiring to become a writer was just icing on the cake. I watched as they shovelled the first heap of earth over his coffin, and for the first time that day, I felt something.
I wasn’t exactly happy that he was out of my life. But I couldn’t help a feeling of elation. All of a sudden I felt unburdened, free. I guess you could say in a way, my father was to me what my mother was to him. A constant reminder of everything I hated about my existence. I sighed, even if just for a moment, my soul breathed. Oh the sweet air of liberty.
I wonder what it says about me that I feel this way about my father’s death. Probably says more about our relationship than about me. Maybe these are just thoughts I use to console myself so I don’t deal with the emptiness inside me that he will never get to fill; that father-shaped hole that has been void for so many years. But isn’t this all we ever do? I once heard someone say that consolation is the art of living. I think they were right.