He opened his eyes slowly. The light in the room felt like an intruder, he had gotten used to the darkness behind his eyelids. The sounds were familiar. Nothing had changed since he last opened his eyes. The nurses were still shuffling their feet- there should be a law against that or something- the monitors were still beeping and he could still hear the raspy breathing of his roommate. The room smelt the same- that weird cocktail of over-scrubbed floors, starchy doctors’ coats, sanitizer, urine and medicine- that hospital smell that he hated. He imagined that it had begun to seep into his clothes- the thought alone was horrifying. There was a new smell too- perfume. He turned his head slightly to the left to see who was bringing this welcome change to his nostrils. At first, he wasn’t sure if it was her. But the mere possibility that it could be her filled him with excitement, no, hope. She was sitting in the chair beside his bed, oblivious to the fact that she was being watched. When he spoke, the sound of his own voice startled him.
‘Oh Papi, of course I came!’,
Her eyes welled up with tears and she used the back of her left hand to wipe them. She gingerly touched his arm, a sign that the nurses had told her about the amount of pain he was in. The feel of her warm hand against his skin was so comforting. For the first time in a long time, he smiled as he drifted off to sleep again. Lamisi was back…
She was only three months old, and yet she had already learnt that crying got results- every time. She seemed to cry even more loudly when she was left alone with her father. On one of such days, he was at his wit’s ends. He had sung, danced, clapped, tried to feed her, tried to rock her to sleep and played a video for her. Nothing seemed to be working. Exasperated, he put her on his lap and said, ‘ Look, let’s behave like adults. I am not Mummy and I don’t understand baby talk, so you need to be patient with me.’ She cocked her head to the right for about thirty seconds; she appeared to be considering the request. Then slowly, her lips parted to reveal her first pair of teeth. That image of their first agreement would forever remain etched in his memory.
She was afraid of the dark. She couldn’t sleep, and she was convinced that there was a rat under her bed who ate little children. The only solution was to lie in bed beside her, each parent on either side, until she fell asleep.
She was seven years old. Her auntie asked her what she wanted to be in future. Her reply? ‘Mrs Papi’. She first called him Papi when she was one and for some reason, she never stopped.
She was riding her first ‘grown up’ bicycle. She was clearly afraid of losing balance. After a few attempts, she got it right. ‘Papi, Papi, look at me! I did it!’ Never mind that she fell off a few seconds later. His daughter could ride a bike!
When she was 18,he took Lamisi and her mother to his hometown, Bawku. Watching her gawk at the people and the animals was endearing.
‘This is where we come from? Awesome! Can I stay?’
‘Well, you have to go back to school on Monday’, her mother answered with a smile.
She was a good woman, Lamisi’s mother. She could have had any other man and yet she chose him. They had the perfect family, and yet that was the last time he saw her smile like that.
In July, a woman came to the house, with two children in tow. She said the children were his, and that wasn’t the worst part- she had another child on the way. As fate would have it, Lamisi was the one who opened the door. Everything else happened pretty fast, but the one thing he couldn’t forget was Lamisi’s eyes. Yes, they were filled with tears, but they were also filled with betrayal and hurt.
He knew he shouldn’t have slept with Konadu, but she was young, pretty and clearly in awe of him. So he kept going back once every week, and somehow the fact that she bore him sons made it difficult to write her off. He had tried to, once. She had threatened to run away with the boys. He knew why she had showed up at his doorstep- he hadn’t been to her place in a month. This was her way of keeping him in line. His mother had warned him about Asante women- they could not be taken for a ride.
Lamisi’s mother left that night, despite his attempts to explain.
‘Is it because I didn’t give you a son? I literally threw my life out of the window just so you could be happy. I cooked, I cleaned, I warmed your bed, I put up with everything! But this- this is too much. One child, I can forgive. But two, a third on the way, that’s unforgivable! I can’t believe I was stupid enough to think that Lamisi and I were enough for you. I love you, why are you ruining our lives?’, her muffled tears punctuating every sentence.
Lamisi stayed, but she never said more than two words to him each day. She was now a woman. She had inherited her father’s good looks and her mother’s gracefulness. After three months of silence, he lost it.
‘Listen, if you are going to stay in this house, you are going to have to speak to me!’
‘Lamisi, I am talking to you! Show some respect.’
‘Did you know that Mummy fell sick last week? She told me not to tell you or ask you for money. I had to sell my laptop to pay for her bills. You did this to us. Oh, and by the way, respect is earned, not demanded.’
She got up from the breakfast table.
“If you walk out on me, you will pack your things and go to whatever hell hole your mother lives in! I will not be disrespected in my own home!’
She paused at the door and turned to face him.
‘You know what gets to me? You never said sorry. Not once.’
He was in the hospital, all alone and too stubborn to admit that he needed anyone. He snapped at the nurses and cleaners’ Christmas greetings.
‘There is nothing merry about this Christmas’, was his reply.
He was old, sick, dying and alone. Most of the time, he pretended that he was fine, but today the aching loss was much more profound. He heard someone humming a Christmas song- ‘Deck the halls with boughs of holly’. It reminded him of Lamisi. When she was a child, she sang every Christmas song from 12th December to 5th January- all day and night! It also reminded him of them sitting together as a family over goat meat jollof and fried plantain. Lamisi liked the flavour of the goat meat but refused to eat it. She always took her time to pick out all the goat meat and hand it over to her dad.
‘I messed up’, he said to nobody in particular. That’s when he decided to write the letter.
I miss you.
It didn’t say that he was dying or that he was sorry, but somehow he knew that she could read between the lines. Writing the letter made him feel better. This had taken him too long. He should have said sorry- both to Lamisi and to her mum a long time ago.
He opened his eyes again. It wasn’t a dream.
‘Thank you for coming. I am sorry I-‘
‘Shh! It is ok. I shouldn’t have disrespected you.’
‘How is your mother?’
‘Worried about you. We all are.’
‘It took me too long to swallow my pride. I have missed you so much.’
‘I missed you too, Papi. Get some rest, I will be right here..’
©Maukeni Padiki Kodjo, 2015