But my Pa is getting old, worked up and about to die. Everyday he lies on the raffia-woven lounge in the patio, beckoning on death to come. When the frightened voice of my sister; Ada, begs him to come into the main house he would say; “Death is coming for me, I don’t want to give it a hard time finding me when it comes.”
As soon as Ada would hear this, she would run into the house, crying and hugging my Ma. Ma would laugh over it and tell her that the old man was just using death to cajole us into pampering him, into letting him have an extra helping of sweetened corn porridge and fried potatoes. “Don’t mind your father, he is such a big baby now seeking for attention,” Ma would try to quieten Ada’s fears. Then she would hug my Ma tightly and they would laugh together, frightened spells of laughter, hoping against hope.
These things have been happening for a long time, close to a year after my Pa’s prostrates were removed. I failed to notice, not to care, to be wrapped up in my own world, never caring about my poor Pa. Don’t blame me, I am not that wicked. I care, or rather, I wanted to care. I wanted to know what it was like to fit into the role of a caring son, just like my sister did as a caring daughter.
I wanted to fuss all over Pa, to cuddle him like the little babe that he has degenerated into, to tease him of his kolanut stained dentition, to stroke his white beard, to be in his world. Yet I sit down on the sofa in our living room, connecting to a virtual world that left me disconnected to a real world, getting Instagramed, tweeting, boosting my new blog and all up on Facebook.
Maybe if I was not doing those things I would have noticed my father’s worry-ridden eyes stealing quick glances at me from time to time. Maybe I would have noticed that he could not lift himself from the lounge unless Ma or Ada was there to assist him. Maybe I would have sensed his yearning to tell me the stories he told Ada; stories about our lands, palm trees and ancestors. I still played disconnect, a rotten son that never cared. Something dark, something scary, kept me on the run from my Pa, pushing me away from everyone.
Even Ma noticed all of these things. She would call me into her bedroom and chastise me with her pepper-tongue. “What type of son are you?” “Why are you so wicked and insensitive?” “How would you feel if your own son did this to you?”
Ma’s questions sublimed into rhetoric because she never gave me a smidgen of a chance to answer them. Her heavy breathing, sweat-beaded face and the translucent gaze of her eyes could melt any heart.
Yet it could not melt my heart, mine was clogged with something far, something forlorn. Still, I would promise Ma that I would try, that I would try hard to perform my filial duties. I would leave her room and head straight to mine to witness Ada’s drama. Ada cried easily, in a most irritating manner. My sister would start with muffled sobs, then transcend into endless rivulets of tears before she started mouthing incoherently and managed to voice out something that sounds like; “Obi our father is dying.” It made me want to choke the life out of her. She had no right to judge me and torture me psychologically.
I would then push an unwilling Ada out of my room, lock the door, slump on my bed and then bite deeply into the duvet to suppress my own tears. I would crack open like a shell and let out my soft insides. Insides that I dreaded anyone knowing about. Insides that I knew my Pa understood because it was quintessential of an African man not to show how he felt, especially if the feelings were identical to the ones your Ma or sister had. I would cry myself to sleep or pretend sleep. When I woke up, I would pick up my iPhone 6 and thank whoever was above the fluffy clouds for technology that helped me slip away into a ghost mood or utter disconnect.
Even in my most controversial posts on Facebook, or my most liked pictures on Instagram, or my internet-breaking hashtags on Twitter, or my most active chats on BBM, I still felt the presence of the fear that I tried to run away from. Soon the luminous color graphics of my phone’s screen is replaced with scattered pictures of my Pa.
There were too many of those pictures that clouded my eyes. I recognized and vividly remembered them; tightly packed memories of when Pa was strong till when he became an old man counting his last days.
I just wanted to pretend that everything was normal, at least it would stifle the fear of losing my Pa. I wished that someone would understand me and, maybe, hearken to the voice of my reason. I wished, among other things, that Ada would know how I sometimes eavesdropped on the stories Pa told her. I wished my Ma knew that I lie on my bed all night, tossing over the bedraggled sheets, long after she and Pa retire for the night. But if you are reading this story, do not tell my Pa, do not tell my Ma, you may whisper it to Ada.
Night soon began to call on us, in jet black and pithy dark voices. The willowy palm trees in our compound casted shadows on the walls of our house. Soon the neighbors power generating sets began to give out loud eardrum-bleeding hums. We had no power generating set, Pa said that the sounds and the fumes that comes out from that thing could drive people crazy. At one time, he had told Ada that his long awaited friend, Death, would be frightened away by the nerve-charring sounds of a power generating set. I knew better than to believe those white lies, Ma and Pa could just not afford that luxury.
I was on the verge of posting a picture on Instagram when my phone’s battery went dead. Trapped and even more disturbed would be my fate if my phone was not charged up tonight. I hurriedly put on my T-shirt, coiled my charger around my neck and headed for a neighbor’s house to charge my phone. In calculated stealthy footsteps, I opened the front door as quietly as possible. As I tiptoed pass the patio, I made sure not to wake my sleeping Pa up.
“Where are you going?” A sleepy voice asked.
I stopped dead in my tracks, shaking like a rain-beaten leaf or better still; a Parkinson disease victim. How did he wake up, he was asleep just now?
“I want to charge my phone at Uniem’s house,” I answered with a quivering voice. I could not see my Pa’s face in the darkness but I knew what it looked like; “a dying father looking for connection in his son’s disconnect.”
“Do you ever leave that phone alone? It is fast turning into your new family,” my father commented, hopefully with humorous intent. He laughed now in sparsely dry cackles.
Just then my Ma shouted my name from the main house, her voice ran like thunder. She called me by my full name; Obi Mgbelu, red alert! I grumbled before running into the house to answer her.
“Obi, Obi, so this is how you want your father to die before his time? You want him to die heartbroken?” The silhouetted voice of my mother asked me. There was no light in the living room, Ada was using the lamp in the kitchen.
“What have I done now?” I asked myself. I just wanted Ma to spare me her dose of how-be-a-good-son lecture.
“You run off like a squirrel to charge your phone. Telling the whole neighborhood that your parents cannot afford to buy a generator,” Mama’s voiced was subdued into a whisper.
Obliviously, she did not want Pa to hear our discussion. But I knew that Pa was hearing every bit of it clearly.
Ma tried to grab my hand but I wrenched free from her grasp. I hurriedly ran outside while muttering; “Is he not your husband?”, under my breath. I was at the door post when something tripped me. I sprawled on the floor and my phone slipped out of my hand, fell on the rugged concrete and shattered into many pieces.
” Oh, oh, my phone! Ma, have you seen what you have caused? You guys have succeeded, your prayers have worked!” I was groping, trying hard to put the jagged pieces of my phone’s screen together. I could hear my Pa’s stifled laughter, soon my Ma joined him and then Ada.
In my room, the walls were as though as they would cave in on me and the floors threatened to roll over. I found myself trapped in a world web, a web so complexly intertwined that I could not figure out how to extricate myself. I tossed and turned, begged for morning to come. All I could hear was the mingled chatter of my family that clamped tightly around my skull.
“At least he would come out of his shell!” A thunderbolt that sounded much like my Pa’s voice struck me into a troubled slumber.
Morning came, as always. The humming birds sang away the dawn in their lavish voices. It was a different kind of morning for me because I had started to see things, to notice things. The golden phalanges of the sun hit the brilliant edges of the window pane, reawakening an unusual glimmer in the windows for me.
I stepped outside just in time to see my Pa consulting an endless list of his ancestors. He looked stronger, quite atypical for someone beckoning on death. He retied the knot of his wrapper every now and then while giving thanks:
“Ngugi I thank you, Adichie give us wisdom, Wainaina give us guts, Nwamili bless us, Achebe guide us, Afolabi give us prestige…”
He went on and on and then stopped the automation. He turned his head, looked at me and then smiled. I went to his side and offered to help him sit on the raffia-woven lounge.
“I am not that old,” he replied heartily as I laid him, carefully, on the lounge. I stood there not knowing what next to say or do, then I remembered that I had not even greeted him.
“Good morning Pa, the man whose loins sired me.”
Pa looked surprised, I hadn’t greeted him like that for a long time. He had become used to my usual; ‘Good Morning Sir. His eyes shone and he whispered to me; “Those loins have gone dead since that dammed prostrate operation.” We laughed out so loud that I became scared of my present state of ecstasy.
Pa’s eyes were now glowing with a feeling I could not fathom. We talked more and laughed even harder and soon Ma and Ada who were eavesdropping behind the curtains joined us. For a moment, the void I had created for many months seemed to be bridged in a matter of minutes and we would never be disconnect again.