Where is Papa? – Aubrey Chinguwo

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It does not get quite well tonight with the breeze stealing through the glassless window. It is chilly and damp, but its bite has freshness, its breath has vigour.

It is almost time to sleep, but Edna is both mentally and physically spent that she cannot. So is her son, Yamikani, whose father is on his way to see him. She will stay awake the whole night unless the father turns up.

Much to her disappointment, the phone she has borrowed from her friend Telida has gone into an automatic shutdown that she cannot even know where the father is driving at. It is clearly much kilometers away to recharge the battery, and it is already night. That reality alone burns her throat with sheer anger.

“You must go to bed Yamikani,” she tells her son.

“Mama, you are just cheating me. Where is father? I want to see him and I can’t sleep,” answers the boy, expressing each word with anger.

The mother is dumbfounded. Visibly shaken, she looks at her son with a rehearsed gaze of warning, perhaps puzzled by his reluctance. His voice is so tense that it moves her as no other voice of her own child can.

She has indeed told the boy that his father is finally coming tonight.

“You don’t mind to tell me the truth about father. You just cheat me that he will come,” the boy says angrily, although he sees in her eyes the kind of pain no one should have to deal with alone.

That pain has always been there in her eyes for a month of Sundays now.

She is confused. She decides not to tell him the truth about his father, her only eight year old child, yet the way he asks the truth about him is so hard that it brings bitter tears to her eyes. Besides, optimism may sometimes be bizarre in the very young.

Hard times have distorted her life that she has ludicrously become a different mother from the one her son has ever known, a mother whose interest has drifted away from singing him songs of comfort to concentrating at solving a life puzzle.

It is a long time now- a time edged with foulness and unanswered questions. Only the boy can sing and jump for his mind is not introduced to the possibilities of a drab life.

Even if memories get dimmed by time, at this mad moment, Edna recalls the tiny fragments of time she shared with Kabota. She remembers him waxing lyrical about her beauty, and failing to stop himself from studying her plunging neckline and the sweetly rising swell of her totally full breasts. How he said he liked everything about her- the sway of her body; the sensuous wriggle of her hips; the swagger in her step. What a great smile she had! So spontaneous, such nice white teeth.

She loved the way he smiled, the way his eyes crinkled up, the sound of his laughter, and the way he kissed her, as if he had never kissed anyone before. In him, she found pleasant kisses, those lips so soft and inviting. How can she forget all that and more!

No wonder, that was before fate disembarked from its free roaming hinterland to wreck a havoc of things. Her loathed fate had been uncertain for long enough.

Things spiraled out of triteness and took a tragic turn when she became expectant. Kabota was ill-equipped to be a father. So he advised her to abort the moment he heard the news.

She was afraid to do it. Matters came to their incensed head when Kabota stopped phoning her. His unknown whereabouts triggered a turbulent season in her life and terminated the lingering shreds of her dreams. She felt a stinging slap of humiliation and dejection. All the dreams of going into ever-great heights of education were dealt a nasty blow. Remaining was a dark shadow of hurdles looming over her life that promised a thorny future. That replica in her private planet would, without any shred of doubt, graduate in grave economic difficulties. She struggled with life as Kabota’s maddening absence grounded the phenomenon.

As expected, Yamikani was born fatherless months later, only to be made an acquaintance of a scanty and unbearable upbringing. Worse more, his only surviving grandparent who had given her hope before his birth had died on causes sorry to say.

Kabota has since been away on reasons that will never become clear. Now, it seems he has developed a pang of conscience. He has asked her for forgiveness through a letter that she has read a hundred times more. As said in the letter, today is the day he is coming to see his family after nine years of unknown whereabouts. Whether he went to search for greener pastures or roam anywhere if not nowhere clearly saw Edna being bound hand and foot by the demands of a boring life. Obscenities have never rested to form on her lips.

Edna is aware that even within the capacity of every wounded person, even in times when only hate seems possible, is an ability to forgive.

Almost certainly in a very few minutes, Kabota will arrive, and when he does, Edna will have to make him believe that she has been groggy and tired with waiting, and that her hopes of ever reuniting with him were sinking to a record low. She will also add that Yamikani has for so long vowed to stop at nothing to know him.

It is almost 12 midnight, but the fact that Kabota is the one who can pluck her from this obscurity she is thrown head first in and give her some high-ceilinged hopes still keeps her and her son awake, although the lamp is running out of paraffin.

A heavy knock on the door frightens Edna but not her son.

“Is it him?” asks the boy, nearly to wrench the door open. His mother forbids him. She goes there and asks who it is.

“Telida,” says the female voice from the outside.

Edna holds the door handle to open, barely able to feel the wetness of her own palm. The shock is mild against the damp chill of her body. Her hopes are now in full tremor.

“We should talk in absence of your son,” says Telida in a soft murmur voice that carries with it deep sorrow and sadness.

They go around the house hand in hand.

Telida starts, “There has been a car accident at the market. It’s Kabota and he has been rushed to hospital. I have received a phone call from my husband who is working a night shift at the hospital that he (Kabota) wants to see Yamikani as soon as possible, please.”

“Mama, where are you?” Yamikani shouts as he shows to kiss the swelling darkness. Soon, he starts making his way to where the two women are.

He is frightened but he cannot shrink for there is some hope for him in his mother – a fragile hope, one that is beyond the tight and restricting bounds of sanity.

With raw fear sucking every drop of moisture from his mouth, he asks, “has she come to tell you that father has failed to come?”

Suddenly, Telida’s phone beeps. It is her husband again. Kabota is no more, extremely sad to the young boy who is still eager to know more about him. His father has indeed failed to come, and he will certainly not for he has bumped into a blind alley of permanent silence.

Disbelief swirls through Edna in a violent vortex. Its intensity is weird that it sends her logic scattering, making her feel emotionally stripped bare. The sad news comes like a bolt of lightning across the midnight sky.

Echoing through the darkness are cries of a woman who cannot easily find solace and fortitude to dispel her shattered hopes, even in the arms of a friend where she is wrapped tighter than a cobra on a mongoose. The cries form a racket of desperate tenors that alert his son.

“Mama, where is he? Has he failed to come? And is that the reason that makes you cry?” the young boy asks as he advances on in the darkness, this time at an increasingly awkward pace. His steps are laboured, and his throat is raw from what the mother realises to be the harshness of his breathing.

The tightness in the son’s question is tense that she fails to give the answer with which she has tried for so long to defuse the curiosity. Now the question hits with stunning force that shortly escalates to a frightening insanity the mother descends into. However, from the very depths of her soul, she denies any claims of mental illness. She does not know what to tell her son who is almost there.

Her heart stutters, rolls, and then beats an ever-increasing staccato rhythm. The tempo of her blood threatens her. Dark images hover over the edge of her consciousness on its last legs. A realisation alights that she is going to collapse before long, and she has a number of things to get off her chest for she does not want to take her secrets to the grave. There really is no choice.

“Yamikani, my son, I am sorry about your father, but he is not so far gone,” she starts, and then blinks, dislodging a swell of tears.

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Author: Aubrey Chinguwo

A Malawian writer with short stories published in newspapers, magazines and anthologies.