The house was settled, in a dull way. It was full, but most of the patrons chose to remain silent. Mama was by the long sofa, with aunty Mary by her side comforting her. She was wailing softly, shifting back and forth on the sofa. It had been two weeks already and every time we had guests, she maintained the same posture.
I thought she was tired, but she had to keep appearance. She didn’t want to be termed as the woman who never mourned her husband.
Papa was forty five when he died. His death came as a shock to most, but I believe he had prepared us…somehow. Just a month before his death he went home with mama and showed her where he’d like to be buried. Two weeks before that he called me and talked to me as a dying man would to his family. He said, “Child, you have been strong and independent, don’t shut people out too much. I want you to find someone who can equal your strength, a man you can fulfill and build you to the person you can be.” But I thought it was his drunk talk, papa called a lot when he was drunk.
Why, he even went to visit grandma. They spoke of death that day, he jokingly said how shameful it was for a parent to bury a child, instead of it being the other way round. Grandma told him not to worry, that she had blessed him with long life. He laughed and said her blessings meant the world to him but if the gods decided otherwise, her blessings meant nothing.
You see, Papa did not believe in God. The last time papa went to a church, not for a function, but a service, was when he was twenty two. He went to church to ask God to provide for his new family. His work was stressful and money was scarce. And him being the only educated sibling, his family relied on him greatly. He finished his prayers and walked out the church feeling fulfilled. But then, right in front of the church, he got robbed. They took his wallet, his trousers and with them his car keys. From a distance he could see a clergy man pepping from his office window, doing nothing. He got robbed in the house of God and nobody helped him! He got back to his feet a year later from his own hard work, side deals and no prayer. He said the world was no place for God which was in great contrast to mama.
So you see, I was born and raised in a world of conflict. One parent thought it was okay not to have faith, while the other clung to it. One said I could go out dancing while the other forced me to wear tights under my trousers. I was bound to be a mess, or at least meet someone as confused as I was.
That’s where Jack came into the picture. We met at the University library. He was tall, very dark, handsome and outspoken. He had the whitest teeth that could light up any room. He loved cigarettes and his sweat smelt of tobacco. It’s weird considering I never liked cigarettes but I loved the smell of his sweat. They say you can tell a lot from a man’s sweat, especially his genes. He was bound to produce good kids if you liked his sweat. Call me crazy but I knew he was the one. We’d go dancing on Fridays, go to the park on Saturdays and church on Sundays. Then we’d drink all over again.
Nothing was ever too big or small for him, and I think that’s when I fell in love with him. Things weren’t certain with him but they were good.
So when I heard the news of Papa, he was the first person I called. Told him how drunk he was that night, and it was the heavy rainy season. I narrated how Papa bought rounds for everyone insisted to leave for home when really drunk. He said his wife was angry and if he stayed longer, he’d be paying for a counselor. So he walked home alone and drunk. People guessed with the heavy rains, he slipped on mud, hit his head on a rock and fell into a ditch. He lost consciousness then and must have drowned to death. It was two days later when his body was found floating on water.
Jack made a joke as he did when nervous. “Well, lucky him! At least he went out happy!”
I hung up the phone and expected him to come see me immediately but he never did.
My roommate Rosie told me he passed by two days later and left. She informed him later on their plans to come for the funeral but he never responded. Somehow, I knew he’d find a way to come.
More guests walked into the house to pass their condolences before going back to sit with the mourners outside. I could hear my aunties talking about me, they were saying I was so shaken I was not talking. And I was angry at the world too. Who would pay my college fee now?
It was funny how much gossip spread around in funerals. But I did not care, I knew everything would be fine, with or without Papa.
I wish mama would stop rocking and wailing for just a minute, I thought to myself. Someone handed me a glass of water, which I had not asked for…then aunty Joyce, whom we weren’t even friends held my back as if to embrace me and I snapped.
“Okay, I’ve had enough!”I heard myself shout, “mama, you need to stop rocking like that. We all know you loved him, you don’t need to put up an act for us any more, and you,”I said facing aunty Joyce,”you never once loved my father, you said he’d be better off dead so stop pretending to care or mourn if he’s dead. And if I want some water, I’ll ask for it, stop acting like I’ve just become disabled!”
There were a few gasps in the room. Suddenly I realized what I had done. My father’s coffin was in the middle of the room and I just stared at it. It was Papa’s funeral, not a day to make enemies.
I sighed, apologized and walked into my room.
Rosie was sent in by the women to comfort me. They must have thought I was struck with grief deeply.
But in my head, all I kept thinking was how I was going to punish Jack for not coming.