I have an old picture. It’s of you balancing me on your belly, with my back to the ceiling. I couldn’t have been more than a year old. A steamy cup of tea is on the table with a spoon pierced inside, and the TV is frozen at CNN.
I have a memory. Of me waking you up every night and saying I’m hungry so we can go have tea and bread. I remember how you’d spread one slice with jam and butter on the other. And you’d dip it in tea so I could chew faster and let you go back to bed.
Sixteen, seventeen years later, and I still spread my bread like that.
We’ve always had a nice relationship, you and me. We played football and exercised and kill rats together. When I’m not taking afternoon naps or holding a book during the weekends we watch football together. We’ve made eggs and changed car tires. We’ve even poured beer together.
Mom tells a story, that I once broke free of her hand and crossed a busy road because I was running after you. I don’t remember her screaming in shock.
I don’t know what it takes to be a parent. I don’t know how you muster enough energy and spend shreds and chunks of your life sorting and shaping someone else’s. You work twice as hard just to make sure this person lives fairly well, food, a roof, a school, a shoe. But I’m not worried about that.
You see, some of the people I interview are parents. And I ask them, what has this kid taught you? And, especially the mothers, they say things about love that touch your core. But everyone says parenting is something you learn on the job. So no, I’m not worried about being a parent.
Right now I’m worried about being a son.
I know you think I’m damaged. I know you think I need to see someone, a shrink maybe, because I’m not saying much. I know you silently hope that mom doesn’t walk out of my room with a concerned face and six rumpled packets of cigarettes ever again. I know you ponder over what my character is having on my sibling, Krystine.
I know it bothers you that you don’t know if I’m addicted to smoking, or drinking, or both. I know when you go to church you pray that my faith stays solid. I know it never really hit you that my compass had deflected up until I told you I don’t want to be in school. When I showed you just how bent my idea of life is.
I feel bad about it, worrying you like that.
We keep things to ourselves, you and me. I think that’s how we were built. We wear opaque layers. So I’m writing this to let you know more about me. To be transparent, let you in. Fancy, this will be a good place to start if I’m ever going to figure a way to thank you for being a dad.
I’m writing this to say things we wouldn’t normally talk about, things that will blur the line between parent and friend. And things that, I hope will put things in perspective for me. As a son.
Sometimes I wake up in the morning without any wood. And it scares the hell out of me. My body is switched off all the time, expunged of energy. Feels like a flat tyre.
Any drive I had to take care of myself has been mopped away, along with my regard for bedroom hygiene. My duvet got slightly charred one restless night when I accidentally dropped a lit cigarette on it. Mom is going to have a field day with my ass when she finds out.
Speaking of cigarettes, I stopped.
This time for good. I stopped the day you told me you were diagnosed with diabetes and I might be next in line if I don’t take care of myself. It was right around the time Krystine –who I should really write about more- said she was worried about me. That all I do is stay in my room and bury myself in books and don’t make time for family. It took my sister to make me see it, and it shamed me a little.
I was so consumed in becoming a better writer, to be that guy. I did everything I could too, even if it meant dragging on cigarettes to invoke false cancerous creative spirits. I lost sight of important things like health and family.
In my hunt for success I also punched holes in my friendships. I became stroppy, lost my patience with the world.
Sometimes eating becomes a laborious injection of tastelessness. I don’t do it. But most times I eat anything I can find in this house, like my insides are lined with brass. And then I complain about the size of my belly. I’m starting to think this thing is genetic, ama?
I’ve lost touch with religion. I’ve questioned it so much it can’t take definite form in my mind. I can’t remember the last time I was in church, and as much as I deny it I think my faith is weak, like a moth’s wing. And I can never find your eyes when you ask me if I pray.
I rarely do.
Among other things, I want to change that.
I think, as I get older, I’m becoming more and more like you. When I comb my hair people say I look like a younger you. I like taking naps and keeping a small social circle. Nowadays I have a lighter foot on the gas pedal when I drive, and I generally avoid confrontation, especially with the girls we have in this house.
One time, I was at some club. It was past midnight. I didn’t like the taste of whatever I was throwing down my throat. People were on their feet, dancing, intoxicated in perpendicular expression. I felt out of place, like a pigeon in a falcon’s nest. There was a girl with a pretty face seated by me. Neon lights bounced off her lipstick, and her cleavage. Yet all I wanted was to throw my feet up on a couch with and grab a book.
I say less now. I read more. I want to get acquainted with Twain and Tolstoy and Austen. I want to bloat myself with literature and grime my head with knowledge. And I want to satisfy this clawing hunger to learn things political. Just like you.
This letter is to tell you I’m learning a torrent of things every day. I want to go back to running every morning because it makes me feel good, beats cigarettes anytime. I’m learning not to be as glib, to think twice. Writing about people teaches me to listen, and to judge less.
I want to mend my friendships, close the distance I slapped in between. Maybe even text more. There are those who haven’t written me off as a jerk, well, not yet anyway. Going back to school, I’m not sure I’m too enthused, but I’ll do my best.
This letter is to tell you, somewhere along the way I lost my footing, like everyone else does once in a while. But I’m learning how to slow down, how to take a step back and start a fresh.
This letter is to tell you that I might be spotting dreadlocks soon, and my obsession with Nyashinski might have something to do it.
And, for all the support you’ve given me with the writing bit, I want to make something of it. Something that’ll make you proud, maybe even get you that Merc you always wanted.
This letter is to tell you to worry less, you have done your part, and that I have my eyes back on the ball.
Now you know.
PS You probably won’t see what I did there, old man. But I still love you.
Oh and thanks to those who shared their dating stories with me. They will be running this week.
Happy Jamhuri Day, Friends.