There are fathers who sit in the house but their spirits are out there somewhere, probably floating on a heavily cushioned lounge, burning the ass of a cigar and laughing at another vacuous joke. They are physically at home but they are otherwise absent. They distractedly murmur at their children’s inquisitions, shooing them towards their gadgets or their mothers or anything that isn’t them. They look for the flimsiest excuse to sneak out of the house, to abscond domesticity, to be free of the responsibility of having to nurture their children. Their life at home is an endless sigh that doesn’t quite exhale. They hide behind the one-attired dogma of “quality time” when assuaging their guilt about the meagre time they spend with their offspring. They are barely floating in the tepid water of this fatherhood path they have chosen, sometimes choking on the brackish waters of their looming paternal failure.
That’s not how I pictured Vincent. He sounded like the inverse of the man described above.
How I learnt about Vincent is that we bungled Clare Abuodha’s book order.
Clare is Vincent’s wife.
She had bought my latest book – Thursdays – as a gift and made it out to Vincent, who she professed to being an amazing father to their two daughters. “Autograph something very cool for him,” she instructed in an email. I don’t know how we screwed it up but I’m pretty sure it was the devil. The books are processed by some people in a different area and then sent over to me in boxes for my autograph after which I send them back to the first location for dispatch. Anyway, she didn’t get her book the following day, as is the practice, or the day after and soon the weekend got here and I wasn’t signing any books on weekends because I was imbibing whisky and lying flat on my carpet on Sunday morning, rehydrating and thinking how I should just stop drinking and join a constructive group like the Catholic Men Association which, from the outside, seems like a group of men who just meet under a tree and drink juice from paper cups and discuss how the world can become a better place if they become better men.
Clare, when my team called her to apologise, was gracious. I got the call when I was in a bar on Saturday afternoon. (Curfew is at 10pm). I was seated next to a chap called Pinye (Peter Onyango, not the deejay) who was telling me about this business idea he had of opening a water purification plant in shags and something to do with kadogo industry. “I have been reading about dollar millionaires and you know why they are dollar millionaires?” he asked with liquor-fuelled enthusiasm, “Because they have not less than seven streams of income.” Then my phone rang and I said, “Pinye, ebu hold that million dollar thought.” I was being asked if I could sign a book for Clare. I said sawa but then the rider got delayed somewhere and soon darkness descended over us, which was great because it’s hard to autograph a book when you have a few drinks in you.
I learnt later that when Clare was called to inform her that her book wouldn’t be delivered again, she was chill about it, gracious even. I thought, isn’t that so cool? I mean, I’ve seen someone get a hernia in a restaurant because there was no salt shaker on the table. I told the team, “I will deliver Clare’s book personally, what’s the location?” They said Langata, an apartment address that sounded very familiar.
Using Google Maps, I drove out to Langata yesterday and it’s only when I got to the gate that I realised I had been there a few weeks ago. I had gone to the exact same block and perhaps floor to interview Shoba, the irrepressible, Guy-Fieri-look-alike who told me that the reason he’d never eat dinner before 6pm was because he’s afraid he’d get so hungry in the middle of the night and faint and die in his sleep.
I thumped the doorbell, stepped back and waited. A determined breeze blew through the corridor opening.
Shortly, a bespectacled lady with a friendly and approachable face opened the wooden door but left the grill door inside closed. I knew instantly that it was Clare, the lady of the manor. She had on a silky dera with chains running all over it. And short natural hair. Next to her stood a very pretty little girl with an abundance of confidence who was drinking from a small bottle of Fanta.
“Yeah,” she said, through the grill then upon seeing the envelope said, “Oh finally, the book!”
I passed it through the grill and she quickly opened it. The house, from what I could see from the doorway, looked like a place inhabited by people with discerning taste.
“I’m sorry about the delay,” I said.
“It’s okay, don’t worry about it,” she said, reading the autographed message on the book. I waited to hear a booming man’s voice coming from inside asking, “Who goes there, darkening my door with his long shadow? Identify yourself or get ready to cross swords and die by the thrust of my weapon,” …or something of that nature. But shamefully, this is 2020, nobody crosses swords anymore. People just thrust words at you on social media.
“Is Vincent home, by the way?” I asked.
She looked up, hopefully smiling from the autograph message. “Uhm, no, he took our daughter to the hospital. Why?”
“I wanted to see him,” I said, “I’m Biko.”
She really looked at me for the first time and then said, “Biko?”
“Yeah.” I said.
“Biko as in the writer?” She raised the book, like you see witnesses raise the bible in court as they are sworn in.
“Yes,” I said and as soon as those words left my lips she let out a sharp scream and ran back into the room where she briefly paced up and down saying, “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!” I thought to myself, okay, stop screaming lady, there are many gun owners nowadays, I might get popped by a trigger happy neighbour who’s mistaken me for an intruder. Nobody would believe I’m a writer, I wore a faded, old denim shirt and jeans and my beard poked out from under my mask. I fit the description of someone who would want to steal your TV. When she had calmed down considerably, she came to the door and said, “Oh, Vincent won’t believe this, he won’t! He is such a big fan. Come in, come in,” she said opening the grilled door while calling Vincent at the same time. I said, I was in a bit of a hurry and stood outside. She held the phone to her ear listening to it ring.
“Hi darling,” I told the little girl as she waited for Vincent to pick.
“Hi,” she said.
“What’s your name?”
“How old are you?”
“Baba, you won’t believe who’s here,” Clare said as Vincent picked. You should have been there to hear her call him “baba.” There are three colloquial types of baba; there is the “cheers baba” who takes many pictures of himself and his shoes on social media; there is Raila and then lastly the “baba” the revered man of the house. If you had any doubts about marriage and heard how she called him “baba” you’d get married the following day by midday. From the doorway I could see Vincent on the family picture atop the curtain box; clean shaven, calm, kind-faced. If I pointed him out seated in the banking hall patiently waiting to be served and whispered to you, “See that fella there? He’s called baba at home,” you’d have said, “Of course,” because only a true gentleman would be called “baba.”
She handed me the phone and I introduced myself and he didn’t scream or anything because, you know, we are men and we don’t want to scare each other with bursts of enthusiasm and adoration or shit like that. But he was adequately chuffed but also disappointed, “Oh no, this is just my luck today,” he said. I asked about their sick daughter, Eden [(10), I believe, and we spoke some more then I told him, “Anyway, your wife wrote in and said how present and engaged you are as a father and she bought you my book as a gift.” He kept saying, “Ohh this woman, man….this woman….” Look, if ever there is a time I would have shed a tear out of the sheer beauty and pride with which that guy said, “Oh, this woman, man…..this woman…” it was that moment. It was so beautiful, it filled me with such goodness and faith, I felt it sit heavy in my heart like an anvil at the bottom of the sea.
When I hung up, Clare was smiling hard and Elaine who’s six was sipping her soda nonchalantly and suddenly the world was such a beautiful place to be even though the virus was out there threatening us. I asked if I could take a picture of them and Elaine, who I could see had been affirmed as a child, said, “Yes! Let’s take a picture!” as the mom protested and said how she looked shabby and she had no make-up on and she wanted to spruce up and I knew if she went to change I’d be there the whole day. “You look good for a picture that way,” I said. She picked up Elaine who clearly loved pictures because she photographed easily because of her dynamite smile and personality.
Then I left.
There are certain things you do that just fill you with good energy and charm. Like nursing a bird with a broken wing back to life. Or giving your seat to an older person. This for me was one of them. I would have driven to Naivasha for that same feeling.
This is our last post this year. You guys have been fun and well behaved here. Thank you. I shall be back here on January 12th. However, I will be doing stuff on social media, nothing serious, just mucking around; short story spurts, the usual. Also, starting today, I will be picking a purchased book of Thursdays or Drunk and making one personal delivery every day until further notice.[To buy ‘THURSDAYS’, see details below].
Business number: 596419
Account number: [your email address] Amount: Sh1,099
Inclusive of delivery to Nairobi only.
Email your location and autograph details to [email protected]
Until then, mask up, eat your veggies, hydrate and stay safe.
Merry Christmas and a happy new year, gang.