As he turned the pages, he glances at his shaking hands. The letter falls into his lap. Geoff closes his eyes and lifts his head, sweeping away the stirred memories of his childhood and the dark shadow of his past. Tears rolling down his cheeks, trailing down to his chin. He twiddled his thumbs with random thoughts clouding his judgement. His mind racing from one memory to another.
Geoff saw his mother kneeling on the dirt path outside their house, in his mind’s eye, begging their father for mercy. He recalled his father’s arm, whip in hand, raising it once more to lash her. Her grey dress, bloodied and soaked in a gentle drizzle and her perspiration. His brothers were screaming, calling out to their mother, as Geoff bravely asked her to look at him, as they huddled at a distance behind their father, out of his reach. She looked up at Geoff and gathered the courage to charge her father, moving swiftly from her kneeling position, aiming her shoulders at his middle. Her shoulder smashed into his pelvis. Their father was caught off-guard, clearly alarmed by both her speed and reaction. He fell, head first into the gravel patch behind him, with a crunch and a small cracks. The sounds echoed off the side wall of the house, magnified, alarming Geoff and his brothers, as they screamed in hope and relief, that this once, their mother over-powered their dad, during one of his disciplinary episodes.
Soon, their mother’s shadow is cast over their dad. He lies there, eyes closed, trembling. His eyes flutter open, as the boys approach. They pounce back, fearing him lashing out once more. Then they notice the whip lying at a distance. Geoff reaches for it and runs with it, throwing it into the fire at the edge of the compound, to burn with the rest of their trash.He draws his breathe deeper and more freely, racing back to stare down his father, alongside his mother. Neighbours suddenly appear. First one then three and soon, most of them are standing over their father. He jerks, as if to scare them off, abruptly sitting up to fend them off. Their faces are filled with anger and disgust, at the recent and past scenes burned deep into their minds. His trembling gifting them more courage.
Mother looms in larger and closer. Her face is menacing, as she stares him down some more and evenly delivers her final words, ‘This time, it is you who will leave. I say this once and should you ever think to come back or even imagine you can lay a hand on…’
‘We will be wathcing out for you. You are not welcome here, EVER! ‘ the chief interjects. ‘if you do, we will finish you off!’ The crowd cheering their support. One man roughly pulling dad up to his feet. All his pent up anger and power suddenly unavailable and unthinkable. He is out-manned and head down, avoiding all eye contact but face contorted with remnants of his rage. The man smacks his shoulder, daring him to a final tussle. He capitulates, falling onto his knees, face racked with tears of more furor. He is unrelenting and hurling insults at their mum. A few punches are landed by angry housewives smacking the back of his head. His friend and neighbour lands a final punch on his jaw, sending him sideways into the dirt. His reaction is silence, as the din of voices and murmuring grows into shouts of accusations. The Chief calls everyone to attention and the crowd disperses, as he raises dad onto his feet, quickly cuffing him. He hangs his head, unwilling to look at his family, relieved to leave the scene and spend time away.
Mum huddles and hugs us, as they walk off down the trail to his hut. Our youngest brother wailing after dad, calling him home, unable to understand the turn of events, at the tender age of two. Our four year old brother watches and follows my lead. Mum beams at us with a sad face, then finally, realising the nightmare may finally be over, she squeals with delight, jumps to her feet and swings our youngest brother onto her hip. Martin takes her other hand and I follow, feeling less anxious and hope washing over me, as we walk into the warmth of our hut, leaving the kitchen fire gently burning and a pot stering away the contents of a mixed dish of legumes and maize.
Our neighbour, whom we call Aunty joins us, chattering away with mum, celebrating her courage and casting glances at us, as she prepares to feed us. Little Jamie is fast asleep on Mum’s lap, with the back his neck leaning on her arm, between her elbow and up-turned hand. His feet sway as she works to shed the peas into a basket, dropping the pods onto the floor. A baby goat scampers in, picking at the tasty green pods. Aunty shoos him out and follows with a scattering of succulent pods to keep him outside. We eat quickly, eyes searching the door, hoping dad will not return. Mum tells us he will not be back and ends all conversation, sending us promptly to bed. We gather on our bed of straw, onto the blanket and pull another one over our heads. Jamie snoring lightly and soon Martin follows suit.
The letters fall onto the floor and are soon followed by the photo album’s loud thud. I sit up, opening my eyes, to seek out and pick the scattered pages and photographs. The last picture of our Mum, glowing, happy and smartly dressed at my wedding stops my momentary clean-up. I stare at her smile and realise how much she has endured over the years.
My wife walks in and stares at the letters and photos I have placed onto the coffee table beside me. She sees the photo of my Mum and smiling, she sits next me and kisses my lips gently and longingly. Her eyes flutter and she opens them, looking at me intently. She places her head on my shoulder and lingers there, still smiling. I stop and consider my luck at ever finding her. An intelligent, practical woman, small in stature but with a strong but caring heart. Her 154cm frame is slim, with a small paunch around her middle. Her legs are long and slender, as are her arms. She keeps her hair short now. Her small heart-shaped face is very pretty, and her inner glow is accentuated by her elegant pieces of jewellery. The scent of vanilla gently wafts off her soft skin, with the warmth of her neck teasing my senses. Mwara sits up and pours me some coffee, a good cup of Ethiopian espresso. I take many small sips and the warm liquid reminding me of how deeply I am loved.
When we met in 1965, at Nairobi’s Royal Technical College, I was graduating within five months and she had another two years to go. Our courtship lasted seven months and we married, as she continued with her studies. We postponed having children for another two years. She graduated with honours, after I barely scrapped through. It did not matter to her and I threw myself into my new role as a medic at a government dispensary. She later enrolled as an teacher assistant a city primary school.
Mwara understood my family background and her relationship with my mother, led me and later my mother to a place of healing. She loved us to renewed comfort within ourselves and gifted us with hope of a bright future. My father just died and I find my history catching up with me, drawing out all my troubled and forgotten issues. My mother spent her days busying herself but mournful about the few years they had shared. Once he left, he never returned, after earning himself twenty-one years in prison and then a short marriage to a very drunken, selfish woman who terrorised him into an early grave. I came out unscathed and now it is time to say goodbye to the stranger I still call Dad, after nearly a five decade absence. We raise ourselves off the couch and head to the door and down to the Church for his Memorial Service. I am glad I will never see him again, but a twinge in my heart tells me this notion will take me time to come to terms with. We both sigh gently, as we take our seats next to Mum. She is quiet and quite serene in her demeanour. Service over, we exchange greetings with Dad’s wife and leave for the safety and comfort of home, with Mum in tow, to spend the afternoon washing away the last vestiges of a difficult past, over good Kenyan tea and samosas. It is done and I can draw a deep breathe once more.