Four brothers living with their maternal grandfather in Majengo slums. An absent and conflicted mother who doesn’t know the fathers of these boys – at least not all of them. Questions abound. One of those four brothers is Joe “Black” Munuve.
And this is his letter to his father. Not dad.
It’s about 1030 hours GMT. I’m seated with Mwinzi, one of the school watchmen. He has a dual sim phone and I come here to cool my heels at this spot whenever I’m in a text savvy mood. The price I have to pay is just listen to his stories and look for excuses not to buy him mandazis every time we meet at the canteen. I have it easy you could say.
I’m in a good mood, jovial and expectantly waiting for Angeline’s text. Angeline is this very fine girl I met as I was coming from the hospital. We talked a little before a passing teacher saw me and took me by the waist to school, lecturing me about the danger of girls. Before I went though, I gave her my number and she told me she would text me at night. That’s what I’m waiting for with Mwinzi.
‘You have a text.’ Mwinzi calls. I grab the phone as if the text is going to slip away. Then, dreams shattered. It’s Biko, asking me if I have time to do a piece on fatherhood. End of long story, she didn’t text and I ended up staying with Mwinzi till 2am.
Joe Munuve Snr,
Hello dad. It’s me. Joe. Name ring any bells? As you might have inferred from the opening line, I am your son.
Surprised? Shocked? Complacent? Doubtful? C’mon man, you must have known of my existence. Not my name, of course, but you must have been aware that some seed you left somewhere sprouted. I’m sure you know about me, though. There’s no way mum would let you off that easy. If I had major trouble wiggling my way out of her spankings after leaving dishes on the table, what would she do to you who left a baby in her womb?
As I was saying, I’m all grown now, almost a man and as these things go I have begun to seriously think about you. Don’t flatter yourself, I don’t mean thinking of you in the mushy way I think of Arianna Grande. Or Biko does of Toni Braxton. I mean think of you, in an analytical sense.
I once saw you by the way. There’s some album that mum keeps locked away and it has a picture of you. She was once perusing it and I caught her mid page. If a red-hot pan had been placed on her neck, she wouldn’t have reacted faster in snapping the album shut. In that one fleeting second, I saw all there was to see.
That was ten years ago and over the years I’ve seen plenty, but that photograph, excuse the cliché, remains imprinted in my mind.
You were leaning on a tree dressed in corduroy pants and a Brazil jersey wearing that silly expression I always put on while posing for pics. In that instant, I knew immediately who you were. The resemblance was so uncanny Ole Lenku couldn’t miss it. It was like a picture of me taken twenty years in the future. I didn’t ask mom about it and she didn’t volunteer anything. Despite my young age, I knew that this was not a topic to scuttle about.
It’s a decade later and I still cannot gather the courage to ask mom about you. Once my bro tentatively asked her about his dad and she cried for days on end. I had not known she was capable of that much emotion. Within one week her health went on a free fall. She wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t talk and wouldn’t even get out of the house. All she did was cry and cry some more. It was after KCPE and I had gone to spend Christmas with her at the coast.
Now, mum’s always been strong and very good at veiling her emotions so you can imagine the impact that question had to have, for her to break down like that. After that, we mutually agreed never to ask anything about that gray area. Whichever bums we owed our Y chromosomes to weren’t worth it.
The curiosity is still there, the temptation lingers, the desire to know you hangs about. Maybe you are somewhere reading this or maybe you got another family or maybe you are laying somewhere in an unmarked grave. Where it concerns you, the maybes are numerous. In fact, it’s one huge maybe.
How different would my life have been if I had you in it? Would I be as good with words as I am, as independent, as arrogant? What is it that I got from you? You had no specs in that photograph so that means my myopia isn’t genetic. What about my stammering and stumbling over words? Did you have the same speech impediment when you talked mom into letting you put me inside her? I can’t use the moral card on you, dad. Maybe it was impossible for you to stay, maybe you were forcefully conscripted into the army, maybe you were like Di Caprio in Titanic, living for the day. You came, you birthed and you went. Maybe you are the love’ em and leave ‘em type.
Maybe, maybe, maybe.
I am not bitter at you. If I knew the reason for your desertion, I could be better placed to judge but as I’m still in the dark just like I am as to why I am dark, I hold no grudge against you.
I have no complaints, if anything I feel like luckier than most. Gramps has brought me up virtually single-handed. If there was a person to whom the Nobel Prize should go to, it is him. Bringing up four boys in the rowdy streets of Majengo isn’t a task I’d wish on anyone, but he did it magnificently.
I might not have not had somebody to play football with, hunt with, teach me how to mend punctures, take to school on career day, send cards to on Father’s Day, but I had someone whose eternal support I was assured of.
Gramps, the father I never had and the mother I half had.
Gramps never imposed anything on us, he understood the need to be independent and left us to our own devices, to strum the guitars that were our lives and have to deal with the tune. He was always there to put food on the table, clothes on our back, and a roof over our heads. It’s because of him that I’m who I am. He read books on philosophy to me even before I could pronounce the word, let alone spell it.
Gramps would always encourage me to be my own man, to understand that I was what I was because of the decisions I made and the path I took.
He celebrated his 73rd birthday last year but he’s still as fit as ever. He’s made it a habit to come over to school every two weeks and when he does, we sit and talk about everything but studies. He tells me that that is my farm to plough. The phrases this guy uses! You’d crack up real good if I gave you his replies whenever I ask for girl advice.
You see, I haven’t missed too much dad. I’ve led a happy life and I’m grateful for it. In counting my blessings, I’m afraid your absence makes the top ten.
My desire to meet you, albeit strong, is not burning. I just think it would ease both our minds if we found a cool spot and caught up over tea or something and after that went our separate ways.