Been ages, I know! Forgive me for the absence but I am back now. I trust you have all been doing well! A special welcome to all those who have recently joined the family. Make yourselves at home 🙂 This one is dedicated to Kwame Acheampong for bugging me to publish a story asap and to Carlian for keeping my secret. 😉 It was so nice to see you! A very happy birthday to the President (no, he doesn’t read the stories but I like the way he says Ghanaian..lol)
Happy reading, guys. I missed you.
The first time Michael heard that word was when he was watching the Indian movie 3 Idiots with his best friends Koomson and Nat. Later that night, when he told his mother about the new word, she smiled and said something he had become used to hearing.
You remind me of your father.
She always said that with a pained look in her eyes, tinged with pride.
This time she added, ‘He was always fascinated with big words.’
She concluded by staring at some imaginary object in the distance.
He hated it when she did this because it reminded him of that feeling that he kept buried way beneath the surface. It was a cocktail of anger, low self-esteem, everything negative. But today he wanted answers. Somehow it felt like the answers would make the pit in his stomach disappear.
Being an illegitimate child was the worst thing you could be as a Ghanaian boy. It was always your weakest point in an argument and your enemies were not afraid to play that card whenever they were down.
He knew what it meant but the first time someone hurled the word at him, it felt alien. Strange. Like he was having an out of body experience. He was 15 and he had just beaten another boy for bullying Koomson. Yes, Koomson was scrawny and his glasses as thick as the bottom of his mother’s favourite drinking glass, but he did not deserve to be bullied. He was kind, smart and funny- and his parents treated Michael like family. Plus Koomson’s mother’s toolo beefi jollof was heaven on earth.
So he hit Bola in the stomach- very hard. Bola doubled over and the growing crowd cheered. Michael was a forward midfielder, the Messi of his class, so he was nimble-footed. Try as he could, Bola could not hit him. He kept dodging Bola’s blows and throwing surprise punches. The jeering made it worse.
Ah Bola paa? You no fit mellow am?
Michael dey form oo. Muhammed Ali standards.
He should have seen it coming- the way Bola’s eyes squinted, the way he stepped back to ensure that everyone could hear him, the glint of triumph that flashed in his eyes just before the words came out of his mouth. But then again, what could he have done to stop it? How do you explain away the fact that you didn’t know who or where your father was? That all you had of him was his surname and the constant ‘You remind me of your father’ chorus? There was no coming back from that.
Bastard! Find a father before you come to a fight. Even your father knows that you are good for nothing. That is why he never comes to the school.
The disgrace and the anger that rose like bile in Michael’s throat was so intense that he had to take a step back. It was taking every last bit of his self-will not to punch Bola in the face but he didn’t want to break his mother’s heart. Being called to the principal’s office because your son had beaten up another boy was something she did not deserve to go through. The judgmental looks she got when she came for PTA meetings were bad enough.
That was the thing about being an illegitimate only son. You grew up way too fast too early. You learnt things the hard way. You buried weakness, hunger, anger, pain and illness- it was your way of protecting your mother from extra burdens. You became fiercely loyal. You weighed consequences, decisions, everything! At age 15, you thought like a 28 year old man.
So he walked away, his head bent and his heart heavy that once again the ‘illegitimate child’ card had reared its ugly head. First time it happened was in kindergarten. His class teacher, Big Auntie Maggie, was helping them to make Father’s Day cards for their dads. The boy sitting beside him asked in a loud voice, ‘Why is Michael making a card? He doesn’t have a daddy.’ Auntie Maggie tried to get him to keep quiet but he would not back down. ‘It’s true. His daddy did not come for Parents’ Day. My daddy said he does not have a daddy.’ That was the first time Michael got into trouble in school. He tore the buttons off the other boy’s shirt.
Not having a ‘daddy’ followed him everywhere. He was now 17 and he still refused to discuss the topic of who his father was with his mother. She didn’t push it. Poor woman- she had dealt with so much ever since he was born. Aside from her references to the similarities between them, he did not really know who he was, what happened and why he had never met him.
‘I want to know. I want to know everything.’
Cecilia Addo smiled and sighed. Tapping the seat beside her, she said, ‘Sit. It is going to take a while.’ Three hours later, both of them were shedding tears and Michael’s respect for his mother had soared so high into the heavens that it was probably poking St. Paul as he walked on the golden streets of No. 01 Where God Dwells, Heaven.
The first and last times she saw Barima were both cut out of a movie. He was the charming 39 year old man who dressed to kill and always had something witty to say. He wasn’t in a hurry to get married. He just wanted to have a good time, so they did. They went everywhere- old, new, undiscovered, everywhere. He was always learning new words and finding ways to use them in everyday life. Then he travelled to go and lecture in Virginia. Her heart sunk when he embraced her for the last time, his perfume lingering long after he had left. It was a tearful farewell- they both made promises to be reunited soon.
God must have laughed. Her period was late that month- in fact it never arrived. Cecilia decided to keep the pregnancy, even though she was on her way to becoming an air hostess with Emirates. Her mother disapproved but she didn’t feel like it was her place to criticize her daughter- after all, she too had Cecilia out of wedlock and against the wishes of her parents. Cecilia was stubborn, just like her and as it turned out, that would be her saving grace- that stubbornness.
It saved her the day she went to inform Barima’s family. His sister spat in her face and swore that her brother would never do something as lowly as impregnate a woman out of wedlock. She threw her out of the house, with her five-month old pregnancy. Cecilia swore to never return to that home and to never rely on anyone else to help her take care of her son. But her stubbornness did not prevent her from missing Barima, from seeing glimpses of him in her son, from wishing that someone would help her with the task of catering for a son who inherited her strong heart and his father’s love for words.
‘I want to meet him.’
She said nothing in return, but he knew that it was a yes. It was a hard ask to go back to the people she swore she would never return to, but he knew that she would do it for him.
That day was particularly sunny. The sun had shown up in all her resplendent glory to record the day’s happenings, to bear witness to the meeting of father and son. The compound was a big one, with green lawns and brightly coloured flowers. The security guard who accompanied them to the gate had an air of self-importance about him as he announced their arrival.
‘There is a gentleman here who says he is Master’s son.’
The click of what sounded like expensive heels got nearer to them. Cecilia’s stomach turned and Michael instinctively put his arm around her. It was a woman- probably the wife of ‘Master’. She had this air of gracefulness about her and her eyes travelled from Cecilia to Michael and back to Cecilia.
‘How may I help you?’
‘I am here to see my father.’
The sound of his own voice startled him. Calling him his father was something that he had not intended to do, and yet here it was, rolling off his tongue like melted ice cubes.
‘Yes. My father. Is he home?’
‘No, he is not. But do come in.’
Her hospitality surprised them. It contradicted with her body language- almost as if her heart was saying one thing and her body another. They were ushered into a big room with expensive furniture and offered water.
‘Why have you come? Is it because of his riches? Look around you- he has a family now. We have children. We have the perfect life. There is no room for you in it- too many questions, too many whispers. My husband doesn’t have any illegitimate children. He cannot have any. It would tarnish the image he has fought so hard to build. Do you want a cheque? Is that what will make you leave quietly?’
‘Enough! What is it about all these vindictive people Barima has surrounded himself with? First, his sister, now you! We don’t want your money. We did not come here to be insulted either. This boy has lived all his life without a father and will continue to live, regardless of whether or not this father exists. He just wanted to meet his father. There is no reason to humiliate us. He has done nothing wrong- apart from being born into this situation. So yes, you are allowed to be surprised about the news of a son you did not know of, but do not, for a second, insult my son. You have no right to.’
‘Fine! Then leave the same way you came. You don’t belong here. Can’t you see? You are not one of us!’
Cecilia turned to look at Michael whose head was bent. When the woman started speaking about the kind of life that they had built for themselves, his eyes fell on what looked like their most recent family portrait. There was a man who looked like his father, given the way his nose looked. He was laughing with his three daughters and his two sons were standing behind him. None of them looked older than 15 years. Most importantly, they looked happy.
Michael’s eyes travelled along the set of pictures that were hanging on the wall- their vacations, birthdays, graduations, soccer games, everything.
He is a good father.
Somehow that burdened him even more than he would have expected it to. It would have been easier if he had been a bad father, if Michael could somehow convince himself that he was better off without him. It wasn’t the money or the travels. It was the presence of a father. That was what burdened him- the fact that he may never get to experience that. Not like his other siblings. That he will always be the disgrace, the secret, the taboo. Never the first son of Barima Asante who fills his father’s heart with pride.
‘Maa, let’s go.’