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On a cold lonesome evening in September, a call from my widowed mother changed everything. Having lost my dad when I was young I grew up fending for myself thinking no one really cared about me. This being so I seldom put another person’s needs and concerns before mine. But this was to change when my mother called.

 “What is wrong?” she asked after a while. I was taking time to answer. I already knew where this line of conversation was leading to. “How comes you never send me any money when I ask? I am sick. I am in need of your help.”
“I understand but…”
“You keep on saying you have no money,” she interrupted. “How do you survive in Nairobi? Don’t you know that I am your mother? Don’t you know I breastfed you? Remember, I am your mother,” she said hanging up.

 As her last words echoed in my ears I recalled what had happened only a year before. Though all of us were Christians, our relationship was never cordial. After so many years of soul searching I finally resolved to confront her about my biological father. I was prepared to go to any lengths necessary to get the kind of answers I already felt, deep inside, I knew. I was totally convinced that knowing my biological father would set me free. I reckoned it would pave way for the fresh start that I was yearning for.

I left Nairobi early in the morning to visit my mother up country. On my way there I made a stopover in Kisumu town where Candace, my sister, was staying with her husband and two children. When I arrived Wendy, her daughter, ran into my arms. As we stood there hugging it occurred to me that Wendy, having been born out of wedlock longed for fatherly love and affection. Her step father had never hidden the fact that she was an unwelcome addition to his family. I don’t know why but I strongly felt Wendy had to accompany me on my trip home.

About three hours later Wendy and I left hand in hand. It was inside the bus as we sat side by side that I gave a serious thought about what I was going to do at home. I was finally going to get the answers I needed to help me start a new life. I knew this would begin the moment I knew the identity of my biological father. My childhood had never been a walk in the park. I grew up feeling something wasn’t right. Inside me was an empty vacuum that waited to be filled with fatherly love, acceptance and appreciation. Because of this, I grew up having the lowest of self-esteems.

This began after the man I had thought was my dad passed away. I was thirteen when it happened. What happened next is still clear in my mind. Immediately after the funeral my mother, my four other siblings and I gathered with our relatives in our grass-thatched and mud-walled hut. The meeting was convened for the purposes of convincing our mother to get inherited by one of her in-laws the way our traditions dictate.

Since my mother refused to do so, our relatives warned her of the dire consequences that would befall our family. We were still too young to realize the impact of this simple decision. We were declared outcasts throughout the whole village. Children from the village were warned not to associate with us. Soon everyone began waiting for us to die from chira, a disease that attacks anyone who dares go against our traditions. Years came and went and nobody died in our family. But we suffered from hunger since my mother wasn’t allowed to work on our farm. Our house soon began leaking while its walls caved in from disrepair. But despite all this, our mother stood her ground.

With my dad’s death came the shocking revelation that ruined my relationship with my mother. My aunts and grandmother soon started treating me as if I didn’t belong. They started treating Gregory, my younger brother, as the first born of the family. It came to a point I started thinking more about my biological father whom I had never known. When I confronted my mother about the issue after I had completed my high school, she refused to tell me anything. This made me withdraw into a shell and a wall that no one could penetrate.

I was deeply wounded and I felt betrayed by my mother who would soon drag me to church every Sunday. I loved going to church because of the good things Christianity has done. But deep inside me was a vacuum that prayers alone couldn’t fill. I began drifting along without purpose. For many years, I spent my life seeing another new day slowly pass by. I was helpless. My mind was in turmoil. Though I knew mother had made the right choice in bringing us up as Christians I struggled with the meaning of life. I saw no reason of living. I would wake up in the morning and go to sleep at night seeing fresh regrets merge with older ones. I was, in short, a dead man waiting for his burial. I grew up, after our relatives had passed our collective death sentence, staring in the eyes of death.

Things only changed after I joined and dropped out of college in my two attempts. That night I took stock of my whole life. I saw my only shot at college disappear and with it came my turning point. As I sat down looking at my packed bags I thought about my death. I thought about the kind of things my relatives would say and write on my tombstone. It was there and then that I decided to do something worthwhile with the rest of my life. I looked deep within for something that I would call my own, something that came from God. It was then that I remembered that everyone, including my teachers, had advised me to become a writer. I asked God to help me become the best creative writer whose writing would touch and transform other people’s lives in Kenya and the whole world. I was only left with one mission – knowing who my biological father was.

Sitting with Wendy in the bus gave me the rare opportunity of putting things in a clear perspective. My aim of traveling upcountry to see mother was to know the identity of my biological father. As Wendy and I sat side by side, I thought about the issue of fatherhood and being a man. I thought about my biological father who had made my mother pregnant. I knew he had not been a good man. Had he been good he would have married my mother. All he had done was take advantage of my mother’s naivety before abandoning her at the time she needed him most. I examined myself as a man and seeing the many instances I had taken advantage of women I fell short. And though I was yet to hear a woman say I had made them pregnant I decided to be responsible.

“Mother,” I said when we arrived home.
“Yes, my son,” she replied.
“I would like you to tell me about the man who eventually married you and became my father.”
“Your dad, may God bless his departed soul,” she said with a twinkle in her wrinkled eyes, “was a very good man.” For the first in my life I sat with my mother on the same chair without feeling ashamed. I listened as she narrated how she had fell pregnant and dropped out of high school. She told me how her parents had mistreated her due to her pregnancy.
“I had met so many men who had abandoned me on hearing I had given birth to a baby boy out of wedlock,” she continued.
“And what did my dad say when you told him about me?” I asked as I heard my heartbeat echo inside my eardrums.
“He said you were and will always be his son.”
With this revelation I turned a new page in my life. I started counting my blessings by being grateful for what I had. My mother and I got reconciled and before I returned to Nairobi I promised to support her.
That had been a year before. Now she wanted me to help her. About two days before a friend at our prayer group had given me some money so I could pay, which was already overdue. In fact I had, just before my mother’s call, promised my landlord I was going to wire the money to him. But as my mother’s last words echoed in my ears I suddenly knew what to do. There were no two ways about it. My mother needed a grain of happiness more than I did.

      • Africa
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