Celebrating East African Writing!
“I’ve made up my mind, it’s for his good.”
“You mean for your own good,” mother replied, drying her hands on the threadbare lesso, wrapped around her waist. The argument had dragged on for the duration that she had spent at the shiny metal sink, scrubbing aluminum pots and pans with steel-wool, and vim, the clink, clank sound of the pots, rising and falling with the tone of her voice. Now that she had piled the lot-spick and span- atop each other, she stepped away from the sink, and faced dad.
“Are you trying to use my little boy to prove a point?” She demanded, eyes riveted on dad.
“It does not matter any more, I have already decided,” dad announced, the finality in his tone, warning enough that- no further discussion was welcome.
At this stage mother usually backed off, but not this time. Deep furrows formed on her brow, as she stood at the front door, arms akimbo. This was not going down without a fight.
“Come son, let’s go,” dad ordered, gently leading me towards the back door.
Instinctively I tried to break free and rush to mother’s side.
“This has nothing to do with women!” He shouted in exasperation, tightening his grip on my arm. “This is a man-thing!”
“Dad… You are hurting me!” I screamed.
“Not as much as they will hurt you, when they realize you still have your foreskin” he replied, loosening his grip a little.
I was now confused .All along I had suspected I was being dragged to one of those places where a sharp wicked needle would be stuck into my bottom, but now I was learning that it was about- something called foreskin. I wish someone could tell me what this was all about. After all, from what I had heard so far, it seemed like whatever it was could not be done without me.
“You never went through this yourself, why do think it is so important for him?” Mother asked, in a tone that seemed to stop dad in his tracks.
“I’ll have them know that we never shy away from a little pain. Someone ought to pull out their teeth without something for the pain.” Dad continued, “Got these removed one after the other, with nothing for the pain.” He reminisced, exposing the gap that had once harbored six lower incisors, as he ran his tongue gently across his empty gum. “Certainly separates the men from the boys. And believe you me, you cannot even begin to compare this to a little snipping of the foreskin,” he boasted.
Oh no! It was about the tooth doctor – I thought. But why was mother so opposed to it? And why did they have to go on and on about something called- foreskin? After all, the last time we visited the tooth-doctor, my tooth was paining. Dressed in a white coat, and surrounded by sharp shiny objects, he had announced that: the problem was the hole in my tooth; something he called- cavity. Later mother had explained that it was caused by too many sweets.
“Ten years we’ve been married, and, not once have you talked about this foreskin business.”Mother challenged, moving to the window.
“I am his father; I do not need anyone’s advice on how to bring up my son”
“And what about me – his mother – do I not also get to decide what is good for him?”
At that moment, my friend -Wasike-a blue ball in his hand, appeared at the door, and sensing that all was not well, retreated to the dusty field adjacent to our house .The thumping sound of the ball being kicked against the wall was a constant reminder of a football game in progress.
“Please don’t let him go through this…please!” Mother pleaded. She was now entering the- cajoling phase. If this failed she would reverse to aggression mode. “He is barely nine, he is still a baby.”
“A little pain never hurt no one, did it son?” Dad asked.
Not wanting to anger him, I nodded vigorously. “Remember when I fell and scratched my knee. I didn’t cry. Did I dad…?”
“Of course not, son” He replied, staring at mother in victory. “Foreskin off they want, foreskin off they’ll get,” dad rhymed.
“Our son’s foreskin you mean,” she retorted, clearly annoyed.
“Does it matter? I’ll show them man yet!” He continued, hesitantly dragging me towards the door, the urgency of his resolve having dissipated.
“You step out the door with that child, and you come back to an empty house, and this time it will stay empty!” Mother threatened, the word ‘empty’ reverberating like it had been shouted out in an empty room.
“Now come on Deborah, you know I am doing it for him. It will stop the jibes and taunts. It will also protect him from the dreaded disease.” Both his voice and the grip on my wrist, was more controlled .The bare knuckle approach had failed, the gloves were on.
“He’s just a kid Joshua, he is not about to sleep with anyone.” Mother replied, her tone more gentle. The dark clouds that had heralded a storm were blowing away. Both were now in a conciliatory mood.
“It’s nothing major, dear, just a minor operation.” Father whispered, slumping onto the old, maroon sofa, by the window, as he let out a loud sigh.
Mother had once again carried the day. I knew I was safe. From what-I was still to know.
“It is not like it was to be done with some rusty old knife, down by the river. It was to be at the clinic, with nurses and doctors in white. They even give something for the pain,” Father lamented.
“Let’s talk about this when he is in his teens,” mother offered, gently taking father’s hand in hers.
“This here is an old man!” Father joked, prodding me in the stomach with his forefinger.
“Four years from today his foreskin will still be there,” said mother, a naughty smile on her face.
“Can’t a man get some breakfast in his own house?” father asked, changing the topic as he rose and headed for the bedroom. He knew he had been outflanked and needed some privacy to deal with his ego.
“Why don’t you go out and play football with your friends, while I make some breakfast for your father,” mother said, the relief in her voice evident, as she propelled me toward the door.
That evening I asked mother what the foreskin was.
“You are too young to know.” Was all she said.
Later I heard father tell her how he had lost the union elections to some young upstart. “Can you imagine that one of our members told me to my face that despite my being the better candidate, he could not be led by a boy? For him, as long as I still had my foreskin I was no man.” Father recounted his voice grating with bitterness. “What does a little snip of the foreskin have to do with being a man?” He asked.
“Now come on dear, who would know how much man you are, but me?”
My last thoughts, before falling asleep, were: I must get to the bottom of this foreskin business. The next time uncle Odhiambo visited, I would ask him what ‘foreskin’ meant.
© Patrick Ochieng 2010
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