I don’t remember things clearly. I was young. I didn’t know a lot of things that were happening around me then. I saw some of them. I remember some of the events and how they happened but the interpretation I gave to them was different. But as I was growing up, I started asking questions. I started developing an interest in what was happening around me. That was when the story unfolding around me got told in its proper context.
I didn’t have a father. According to my mother, the man who got her pregnant didn’t accept responsibility. They were hiding and making love because they were scared their families wouldn’t accept them for tribal reasons. They dated for two years in secrecy and I came along. I was the one who pushed their love affair from the dark to the light. According to my mom, my father accepted responsibility at first but told her not to tell anyone about it. She also accepted not to tell anyone but when the pressure from her parents started breaking her neck, she confessed to her father, “It’s David. David is the one who got me pregnant.”
Her father was very disappointed. He said, “Of all the proper men in this world, you didn’t get anyone to get you pregnant but this man from that silly tribe?” Her mom also felt the same way about her but they had to meet my father’s family and discuss the issue of the pregnancy with them and see the way forward. According to my mother, the day they went to my father’s house and his parents called upon him, he denied ever knowing my mother. They were both young and living with their parents. My mom was hurt but she was holding on to the hope that one day my dad would come and claim me.
She saw my father around. When I was one year old she told my father about it and he said, “I don’t know you or your daughter. I’m not the father. Look for the one responsible and stop worrying me.” When I started school, my mother went to him again; “Your daughter is starting school. Please help. At least you can pay fees and I would take care of the rest.” My dad was very angry. He screamed at her, “If you don’t stop coming around with your bastard, I swear I will do something you’ll never like the next time you come around here.” On my sixth birthday, my mother went to him again, asking him to at least look at me and see the resemblance. The man looked at me and said, “She resembles all the twenty-something men you slept with before you gave birth to her.”
My mom got angry. She cursed him and cursed the day she met him. She cursed the bed they both slept on and cursed the sperm that fertilized her eggs to make me. She said, “If it was possible to take anything away from my daughter, I will take the part of you that contributed to making her. You shame the gods that gave you your manhood. A man who runs away from what he himself has created doesn’t deserve his manhood. You’re a shame to your ancestors and an embarrassment to those who gave you a name.”
After that fight, my mother didn’t go to look for him again. Instead, she fell in love with a truck driver who came around often to buy from her. According to my mom, his job didn’t excite her but the fact that he loved to play with me anytime he came around made her fall in love with him. He drove a big truck that loaded cocoa beans and other things from villages to the port. Sometimes he’ll travel and won’t come back for weeks but when there was nothing to carry to the port and he had to stay home, he’ll spend all the time with my mother, playing with me and bringing me candies and chocolate he specifically bought for me on his way. They dated for a few months and got married.
My mother moved in to live with him. I remember the day we moved out from my mother’s parents’ house to his house. A new town and a new home. A fresh beginning. I was very young but I saw the difference in living conditions and said to myself, “I love it here.” I remember one day I asked my mother, “Will we go back to grannies or this is our new home? I don’t want to go back there. I want to live here every day. I don’t remember her answer but if she said anything, it would have been, “No, we are not going back. This is our new home. You have a new father and we are living with him now.”
We were living in the man’s house but I remember I didn’t see him often. One day he’ll appear and the next day he’ll be gone. I loved his presence because of the sweet things he did for me. But he was not around often so I didn’t know how to feel about him. I’m in love with him today because he’s here and everything is alright but tomorrow he’ll be gone. And he’ll be gone for too long before he comes back. He left mostly at dawn so I didn’t see him go. I would have held his hand and cried and begged him to stay but I never saw him leave. I’ll wake up one morning and he would be in the room with us. “Who is this man that keeps going and coming back? Can’t he stay with us for good?”
I questioned his disappearing act but each time he was around, it was a party. He’ll do everything for me to forget the pain his absence caused. He was making up to me. He’ll make me fall in love with him deeply only to let me fall flat on the ground in his absence. I was shifting between happiness and sadness but I remember mom was always happy. She had a new shop she went to. She didn’t struggle to pay my fees and she didn’t struggle to buy me new things. Every 6th March was my happiest day. My mom would buy me a new uniform for the march past. My school selected me as the leader of the marching group and to be a leader was the pride of every parents. We would march from our school to the parade ground. Everyone in the town would gather along the street watching us. My mom would be around the bend, throwing handkerchiefs in the air and urging me on. Once I got closer to her, she would spray money on me. I loved those days and wanted it to happen every day but sadly, it came only once a year.
My new dad came from work one day and didn’t leave for a very long time. He would go and come back in the evening. He was no longer traveling like he used to. In the evening, he would help with my homework and ask me about school and how I was faring. For once I had a stable home where dad and mom were there all the time but it didn’t take so long until that changed. One day, my mom went to the shop and never came back. She gathered everything she had made and disappeared. She didn’t pick a bag and didn’t pick any cloth. She just disappeared into thin air.
She didn’t say anything to my dad. He was worried, going about asking my mother’s friends if they knew where she had gone to. They all said no. Days later, she held my hand and we went to my mother’s parents to ask if they knew something about her disappearance. They knew about it. My mom told them that she was going to travel but she didn’t give them enough details about the travel. She didn’t tell them she would leave without telling her husband. They thought it was something she had discussed with her husband. Slowly it became clear to us that mom had run away. I was thirteen years old. One day dad held my hand and we went to my mother’s shop to see what was there. There was no key so we broke into it. The shop was almost empty. She sold everything in there. It was a calculated attempt she made. I saw my dad cry that day. He stood at the center of the shop and shed manly tears. Those tears they blink their eyes and it falls. You see it falling but without a sound. Without a moan.
When he waited for so long and she wasn’t coming, he told me one evening, “Pack all your things. I’m taking you to your grandparents. I have to be traveling again. You’ll have to go and live with them.” It was my turn to cry. It felt like I was breaking apart. Everything that held me together as a teenager was falling apart and I could do nothing about it.
We got to my grandparents’ house in the evening and he told them everything and the need to bring me back. My grandfather got up unto his feet angrily, “You came to take her and her mother away. Why are you bringing her alone? Where’s her mother? You told us that she was missing. We gave her to you so if you’ve seen the need to bring back her daughter then kindly produce our daughter too.” My grandma added, “You’re bringing her daughter back because she’s a liability? If my daughter left gold in your room before running away would you have brought back the gold to us? She left you a daughter and now you’re bringing her back? It’s either you bring the two of them or keep whatever he left to you.”
My dad said, “I’m not returning her in a way you seek to believe. I’m bringing her to live with you because the season has come for me to be traveling again. She’s not old enough to take care of herself. She’s a girl growing up. She needs parental care. She needs direction. I won’t be there often to provide that direction. It’s the reason I’m bringing her to you. I will come for her whenever I’m around. I will pay her fees. I will give you money to take care of her. She’s been my daughter from day one. I’m not running away. I will always come for what is mine. Keep her. Watch her go to school. Help with her homework. Raise her up as a woman. That’s all I need from you.”
They listened to him talked for several minutes and later shook their head. “You think you’re smart. Tell us what’s sweet and leave a bitter taste in our mouths. We are not kids. Take her with you. If you don’t want to be married to her mother again, then bring the two of them back. Not only her daughter.”
We went back home that day and never went back to them. There was a woman who had a provision store in front of our house. My dad made arrangements with her and she took me in. Aunt Enyonam. Anytime I go on my knees, I say a word of prayer for that woman. The care and love that woman gave me, no woman on this earth would be able to match. She treated me like a cracked egg, any least pressure would break me so she held on to me like she was not holding on to me. No, she didn’t pamper me. She was strict and straightforward with me but the good thing was, she never insulted me or gave me what I can’t bear. She had a shop but she never wanted me to be closer to the shop. After school, I will eat, bath and she’ll keep me in a room with my books. She didn’t go to school. She had an old daughter who was married and gone. She did everything to ensure that I studied what was given to me. My dad came around often. Often than he was supposed to. Some day, he’ll come only to say hi to me and go back. Whatever I needed, he provided.
I completed JSS and later completed SSS but my mother was not yet back from wherever she went to. I was in my second year at the University of Ghana. Phones had started becoming popular so I had one. My father bought it for me so he could talk to me. One afternoon he called. He said, “Aunt Enyonam. She died. She had an accident and died on the spot.” I passed out for a while before screaming, “What! What did you just say? I spoke to her three days ago. What do you mean she died?” Weeks later, I was at her funeral wailing as if the greatest rock in my life had been broken down. I cried more than her daughter did. I cried more than anyone at the funeral did because she was a mom to me than she was to anyone. I was old enough to be on my own but I felt empty and directionless without her in my life.
My dad came to my graduation alone and I said to him, “You should have been here with Aunt Enyonam. She’s the reason I’m here at this moment wearing this heavy gown and a hat.” My dad responded, “She watches over you. She is smiling. You only have to feel her presence on the inside.” At that moment I didn’t know my mother. I didn’t remember her story and didn’t remember the story of the man who said he wasn’t responsible for me. I’d moved on long ago and all I thought about was the future ahead of me.
I was doing my national service when my mother came back. My dad called to tell me, “Your mother has come.” I asked, “Are you getting married again?” He said, “Don’t be stupid. I’m talking about your real mother?” “Me? I have a mother? And she has come?” I laughed. But it was true. My mother had come back from her hiding place after how many years? I couldn’t even count. I asked my dad, “So what are you going to do?” He said, “The question is what are we going to do?” I answered, “I don’t have a mother. The one I had died years ago so I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He thought I was joking but I was telling him what was in my heart and what I had come to believe while growing up. I didn’t know why she ran away but the hole she left in me, I filled it with angst, hatred, and thick bitterness. My dad asked me to come and see her and I never did.
One day I asked if he was still married to her and he said, “Officially we are because I didn’t perform any divorce rites. Traditionally, she’s still my wife until I do what is necessary.” I asked him, “So what are you going to do?” He answered, “I’m getting ready. I will perform the divorce rites very soon.” I told him, “I should be there when you do it.”
The day came and I went with him and other family members. I was seated next to my dad looking right into her eyes. She couldn’t look back. The woman who gave birth to me sat across from me and couldn’t look me in the eyes. She was so ashamed to even sniff around me. After everything, my dad said, “Here is her daughter, the one she left with me. She’s now a woman. She’s still her daughter. I’ve sorted her out but her daughter is hers no matter what.” I was waiting for her to lift her head and look at me but she didn’t. It was my grannies who said, ”Oh is that her? And she had been sitting there without saying anything? Come here, my granddaughter.” I was like a rock without ears. A dumb without speech. A bat without eyes. My grandmother said, “Or she had forgotten about us?” Again I said nothing.
When everything was over, I left with my father by my side. My mom couldn’t say a word. She called a month or so later to say sorry.
“Your grandfather died and I’m calling to tell you.”
“Wow, that’s sad. May God keep him safe.”
“And also apologize for everything. We don’t have to talk on the phone. I wish we could meet and talk. There are so many things to talk about.”
“Whenever you’re ready, I will be ready.”
We met a month later. She still couldn’t look me in the eyes. “I went to Cote d’Ivoire,” She started, “I followed a friend there. She said there was a better opportunity waiting for me. I knew he wouldn’t let me leave. I was in a marriage where he wouldn’t stay home so I thought it was the best plan for me to leave for greener pastures and come for you later. But life wasn’t as my friend promised. Years later, I met an Ivorian man who promised to make things better for me. I fell for him and married him. We had two children. The children were nine and eleven when that man died. His family took everything from me, including the kids because I was a foreigner. I lost everything. I couldn’t come home empty-handed so I stayed and worked but nothing worked so eventually left. I’m here.”
Her story was very sad but I couldn’t feel sad for her. She is my mother. She had gone through a lot for me until she ran away. If nothing at all, she was the reason I met the man I call father. I forgave her. I held nothing back against her. It’s the reason we call each other and she visits every now and then. My father also forgave her but he kept his distance. When I gave birth and she came home to help take care of the baby, my father never came around until she had left. Something about my mother remains a mystery to him. Somehow, I feel the connection is still there but he’s fighting it. He’s fighting it with all his might so he avoids every interaction with her. Even when I called him to tell him the story of my mother he said, “I don’t want to know. I don’t want to hear where she went and how she lived her life. It’s between her and her God.”
The two of them are in my life but my father is closer. He’s my priority every day and I spend every minute of my life assuring him that it will take death to do us part. I’m not rich yet but everything I have goes to him because it belongs to him in the first place.
My real dad? Hmmm.
That man found his way to me. He found my mother first and out of pride my mother showed him the way to me. She said, “I wanted to shame him. I wanted him to know how you turned out so he will gnash his teeth about it until his dying days.” As for him, there’s nothing here for him. I don’t even feel any connection whatsoever to him. He’s like the stranger I meet on my way home and say hello to. That’s all. He too came telling me his story. Why he couldn’t accept me and why he kept ignoring me. He blamed it all on his family. “They were too tribalistic and it’s the reason we got destroyed.” I heard him but that was all. I hardly pick up his calls. My husband begs for forgiveness on his behalf. I told him, “I’ve forgiven him long ago but he has no space in my life. That space he left is occupied by someone greater. A father I deserve. A man I rightly call Father.”
–Giselle, Silent Beads!
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