I wasn’t at the hospital on the day you were born. There is no real story behind it. I was at the joint drinking. That’s where my father was when I was born and where his father was too. Your mother sent her sister to inform me but I still didn’t go. I stayed and drank some more. Don’t get me wrong I was happy you were born maybe even elated but I was a drunk —– I am a drunk and for this I’m sorry.
Your birth was difficult. Your mother tore so badly that the doctors kept her for a week to recover. I didn’t come to see you then either. Hospitals are not a place I like; besides I was brought up as a man to be the head of the home and not waste time visiting hospitals. Hospitals are for women and bars for men. That’s where I met your mother, at the joint. Then we were both young and free. I had never seen any one as beautiful as her and till today I still haven’t. She was wearing a green dress that hung on her body. A body that looked a mismatch to the untrained eye but to me was expertly created. She had a long slim head that was shaped liked a fat banana covered with short dark hair that felt like silk when touched. The top half of her body was skinny with tiny breasts that she complained about and worried if she would be able to feed you with them. Her bottom half was thick and there seemed to be excess body wherever you looked. Maybe it was the beer but it was love at first sight.
‘Eh, eh, brreutifful girrll. Come sit here I want toooo tell you something. My spriti tells me you arrr my wife.’ She laughed, her laughter so deep and loud that it shook the joint. I thought like the other girls before her she would ignore me but to my delight she sat down beside me. That was how I met your mother. A year later we were married then I still had a job. I didn’t have to steal money from her purse to buy my drinks. I know it’s a thing of shame when a man steals from his own wife but that’s the power that drink had over me. Not that I would have admitted it back then.
She was the one that wanted to have you. I wasn’t sure if I did. Where will I get the money to feed you? There was only the income from her salary as a civil servant. I lost my job. No, it’s not because of the drinking. OK, that’s not true maybe the drinking was part of it. But there was traffic a very bad traffic and I couldn’t make the meeting. I had to present our latest venture to the visiting white investors. I got there two hours late and yes I reeked of booze. When I told your mother she said, Nkem (that was the pet name she called me) don’t worry God will provide another job. But he never did, maybe it was because I didn’t look.
Please don’t cry baby, please let me finish my story. Maybe then you will be able to forgive me and maybe one day you will be proud of me.
I never cheated on your mother. Believe me it was very easy if I wanted to. The women that came to the joint came for two things. The warmth and safety the cold beer gave them and the comfort found in the embrace of married men. Before I met your mother these women played a major part in my self-deceit. I made excuses that I slept with them because I wanted to, that these women were my type of women, but the truth was in the mornings I couldn’t remember how I ended up with them. Your mother was different, the morning after our first night together the image of the night before was still vivid to me.
Her mother didn’t want us to get married. She said she could see it in my eyes; that I was lost to alcohol. She said I was the type of man that would lose his job, sleep around and beat up his wife. The only thing she was right about was the beating. I did beat you mother but this only happened once. It was a mistake I can’t even remember what led to it. What I do remember clear as daylight was the look on her face after. I was drunk when it started but sober when it finished. She lay there on the floor, her face bruised and covered in blood. But what sobered me, what broke my heart like the relief of a glass wall colliding with a car, was the look in her eyes. It was one of surprise, contempt, deep sorrow but most of all disappointment. I ran to her; knelt beside her and cried. I cried like I was the one that just received a beating. I begged her to forgive me, promised it will never happen again. I tried to hug her but she flinched and my heart broke even more. That was the first time I didn’t drink for a week. I didn’t because that was how long it took your mother to welcome me in her arms again— to forgive me.
Please baby you have to stop crying. I need you to understand you have to listen. You need to understand why I’m telling you this story. You need to know.
Our house was always a happy place but after your birth it seemed like that happiness transcended to another level. Your mother sang all day, she sang when you cried, sang when you slept, sang when I nearly dropped you staggering in my drunkard state. Then one day that singing went. They say her death was not quick, they say that she didn’t die after the truck ran over her and dragged her over a couple of meters. They say it was in the hospital that she died. They say the doctors at the teaching hospital were on strike. That they refused to treat her even though she was dying and the people that brought her to the hospital had no money to bribe them. She died on the doorsteps watched by the people that could have saved her. That day the happiness in our home died, but most of all my already dead soul was finally buried. You were just six months at the time
I tried to be strong, brave, tried to take care for you but I just couldn’t. On the first night after her sister had returned back to her marital home (she had spent a month teaching me how to take care of you) I forgot you were there. I heard your cries, heard you poo but the booze helped me ignored you. I sat there and watched you. Stared at the face that seemed carved out of your mother. People told me I had to retaliate that she won this round with you. That our next baby must look like me. I smiled and nodded but deep inside I was glad you looked like her and not a reflection of my shame.
People told me to get a house-help someone who would look after you. It’s not a man’s place to look after a baby, they all said and they were right but I couldn’t let another woman live in the home that belonged to your mother and I. So it was just you and I and how you have come to last another month without me killing you? I still can’t tell.
Good baby, good baby. I knew you would listen. I knew you would stop crying. I …………
The day I woke up to find the cot lying on top of you that was the day I decided to make my promise. I looked in your eyes and saw fear. Looked at you struggling to breath, the weight of the cot on your chest its rails across you and thought what I have done? Right then I promised to be a better father. One that your mother will be proud of, one that she believed I could be. I promised to feed you more than once a day. To hold you when you cry. Rock you to sleep at night and tell you about how beautiful your mother was and the love we had. I promised to get up and find a job maybe God will finally answer my prayer. I promised to love you and protect you like all fathers should their child. I promised to stop drinking and spiking your formula with booze to make you fall asleep, but most of all I promised to look you in the eyes and not wish that it was you that died instead of your mother. All these promises I made and I tried to keep them I really did, but I only managed all of two days and for this I’m sorry. I’m sorry I couldn’t keep them, I’m sorry because I am a drunk. I have always been a drunk, just like my father and just like his father even though I am just letting myself acknowledge it.
I pray that one day when you are finally old enough and you have read the letter I wrote. I hope that you will forgive what I did. I hope that you will find it in your heart to forgive that I took the coward’s way out. I hope that you will forgive what I did in the living room. Hanging off a ceiling struggling with the noose that tightened and took my last breath while you sat in your chair crying your eyes calling out for me to hold you. I hope that you will forgive that I took my life instead of trying to nurture yours. Your mother’s sister will take care of you better than I could ever have done. This I am sure of. Please don’t think of me full of shame. I had to go, go to your mother. She is the only one who makes me whole.