Celebrating East African Writing!
No one told me this when I was growing up, that fathers were related to you and were not issued by the government to wreck havoc in children’s lives. The father I grew up with was a nightmare, I would not have wished him upon even my worst enemy!
Just when the game got really interesting he would come out and announce to us:
“Children, get into the house” and this was not a request, it was a command. We would scamperer as quickly as possible because 3 minutes into the announcement and you were still in the street would get you a beating.
“What flesh and blood would stop you from playing at seven in the evening just because he could?” I often wondered laying awake in my bed at night. I had long since stopped being embarrassed about being called in so early, our neighbourhood kids had also gotten tired of taunting us about our strict father.
Other parents understood that we were in no danger at all, those were the days that street lights worked and Nairobi was a safe place to live in, so why did he not understand this if other parents did. Today would be a different story because the street lights and the watchman’s sentry box would get stolen, alongside with the children and play toys too.
My siblings and I, there were eight of us, would sit in the back yard and quietly discuss him.
“Maybe we should appeal to the government to change for us our father?” I would say in a hushed tone.
“Change?” my little sister would ask.
“Yes, fathers are given to each family by the government”. I explained to her feeling very clever.
“So how come you children asked for a very bad one?” she asked looking at all of us accusingly, she was the youngest of us all.
“I found him here when I was born”. I defended myself looking at our eldest sister for an explanation.
“I also found him here!” she said defensively.
“Maybe we should ask mother.” my older brother suggested.
“He doesn’t bother her.” another brother said “I don’t think she would want to change him” we all nodded in agreement.
“Maybe we write a letter to the government?” I asked feeling wise.
That is when we plotted and planned how the letter should be written.
“Can we include photographic evidence?” my older brother asked.
We needed pictures to show evidence on his cruelty to us and animals. Yes, animals too. He would kick the family cat out of the way whenever it crossed his path.
“We all need to sign the letter” my older sister advised. “So that they know that we all agree that we had been issued with a bad brand of father”
When we shared these sentiments with some children in the neighbourhood, most of them agreed. Their fathers were equally as cruel too.
“Mine is so strict, at times I feel like I have to ask for permission to sneeze” said Franko our neighbour.
“You do!” interjected his older brother and we all laughed.
Our laughter was to shroud our anger, we took their sternness as cruelty. No one told me then that growing up that as a child we needed proper direction and nurturing so that we could grow up to be upright adults with good standing in the society.
My father had a seventh sense, he was way beyond the sixth sense. He could tell who messed up, when and at exactly what time.
“Who broke this bedroom window?” he asked one day when he got home from work.
We were all silent, looked on in solidarity, there was no way we were going to tell on one of us. Five defiant faces staring at him.
He would walked over to it and looked at it for about five minutes then faced us and said solemnly and with much conviction
“Beryll you broke this window while throwing stones at Chess right after school before you did your homework”.
Uncanny! He was right! Every time he would be right. Each and every time! Knowing that we still tried to hide things from him. No one told me this when growing up, that adults can analyse a situation and from it come up with very accurate information. All along we thought my father was a sorcerer or a wizard who could see everything from wherever he was.
This was one more the reason we wanted the government to replace the father they issued us with a more happier one, like the one Ngugi and Victor had.
“Your father is so much fun!” we would tell them.
“He plays ball with us.” Ngugi put in proudly.
“And never asks if our homework is done” Victor added on, also in a proud voice.
“My father would kill me if I did not do my homework” I would say in shock and horror.
We liked it when their father would let us into their car, music blaring and speeding around the parking lot like rally drivers. It did not matter that their grades were poor, their father did not scold or beat them like ours did.
“We should ask the government to issue us a father like for Ngugi and Anthony” I suggested to my siblings. They all nodded.
These thoughts filled our heads as we bemoaned our strict father and the failure of the government, even after our repeated letters, to come pick him up and issue a new father to us. No one had told me this when I was growing up, that the way you bring up a child is the way that they shall be when they grow up.
We were even given duties to perform around the home, although we had servants.
“Here is the new duty roaster” my father would announce at dinner time. Which we all had to sit at the dinner table and eat together while other families could eat wherever they pleased, in the bedroom, under the staircase, in the kitchen.
The list was torture! We were assigned all household chores; mopping, washing dishes, taking out the trash, laundering our own clothes and we even had turns cooking. This was done despite the fact that we had household servants.
Me being the brave one amongst his five children asked “What are the cook, the houseboy and the gardener supposed to do?”
I was wondering why he employed them if he was intending to work us like slaves.
He looked me down for a full five minutes before replying in a booming “I employed them to ease your mother’s work load, not yours!” he replied sternly. How dare I challenge his decisions.
“You need to learn how things get done because one day we shall be out of this house” he continued still almost shouting “You will be in the world without your mother or I”
When we went back to our rooms my brother Protus was shaking.
“Do you think the government got him from a military camp?” my he asked in a whisper.
“I should think so!” I said emphasizing by widening my eyes at him. “Have you seen the way he is obsessed with time!” My siblings nodded in agreement.
He was very strict on timing. If he was to drop us to school in the morning he expected you to be in the car by 7.15am. He had a routine. He would go into the vehicle at 7.10am and start it up, give everyone 5 minutes to scramble for whatever it is they needed then drive off! If came out at 7.16am…sorry, he would be gone.
“I chased the vehicle down the road and he wouldn’t even stop for me.” I sobbed on the day that I was left, trying to get my mothers sympathies. She did not give me the bus fare I was asking her for. I think he had influenced her. I had to walk the whole 10 kilometers to school on a cold grey morning.
Now that I have grown up I have learnt a lot. I learnt that my father is my flesh and blood. I have also learnt that the only thing that government issues are press statements which usually do not have any impact on anybodies life.
“You know father was right all along” I recently said to my sister over a cup of tea.
“Tough love” she said smiling.
We now know that he made sure we were strong before he released us into this cruel, unforgiving world.
“At least I know how to keep time” I said laughing at the memories of being left in the morning.
“And I can do all my household chores” said my sister laughing too.
“Don’t forget about setting goals and accountability” we both said in unison.
“Ambition and Planning!” we both said together again, laughing.
He also made sure we learnt how to respect other people’s property and how to take responsibility and own up to our mistakes. We learned that for everything we do there are consequences. That success is an offshoot of hard work.
I started looking at my father differently when one day I bumped into Ngugi and noticed what a vagrant he looked like. He wore clothes that did not fit, and his trouser needed to the hiked up just a little bit. His neck was laden with chains making him look very juvenile. Not to mention the gigantic earphones on his ears! Music blasting so loud that I could hear it from where I was standing. Ngugi had turned out really badly. Now I could tie his character or lack of it thereof to the fact that he did not get a proper upbringing. There isn’t much one can learn from riding around the back of a car high speed and blaring music.
I am grateful that my father is my father. Even though we hated everything he subjected us to, we now realize that he was helping us. He too can rest easy, because he was a good father; he can now retire happily because he does not have to worry about us. He knows he brought us up well. No one told me this when I was growing up, that one should bring up a child in the an honourable way and that child shall grow to cling onto those values for the rest of their lives.
©Karen C. Limo 2011
This short story was submitted into the Storymoja Urban Narratives : No One Told Me… Short Story Contest. Please comment on the short story for the author’s benefit and then vote on the story. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being weak and 10 being excellent, please indicate where you rank this story. Points will be tallied on the 6th of August, and the winner announced on the 7th of August 2011.