“When will they stop calling and asking for money?” He hung up, hurled the mobile phone into the pocket amidst the vile outburst. He then picked up his stone chisel and mallet and continued smoothening the stone blocks, his seventy second foot in the third hour. His skin looked like worn leather and no longer produced sweat even under the January scorching sun. He was forty six but looked sixty from the hard work, poor nutrition and pyrosis. He laboured at the quarry for twelve hours a day, cutting rock boulders to cuboid blocks and ‘cleaning’ them for five hundred shillings wage. Age was a limiting factor as he could only manage three work days in a week, adding up to one thousand five hundred which is six thousand shillings a month. Six thousand shillings for a man who is expected to support two children in the university, one joining form one and two more in primary school, not considering basic requirements at home and his own.
He fished the phone from his pocket, took an easy loan of a thousand shillings from Mshwari vowing to repay before the end of the month, deleted the reply text message and sent five hundred to the son, enough to push him for a fortnight at Kenya Polytechnic. The son is studying something in engineering, cohabits a rental house with three other classmates in Landi Mawe which is behind Nairobi Railway Station and a walking distance to school. The house is made of tin and the fifth house hold in the small compound. He had a girlfriend who ran off with a senior year student.
A week earlier, the man had paid school fees for the daughter in nursing school. He counted on the first two to finish their studies and help educate the last three. The demand for money was rising as was its scarcity.
When in such a financial low, our man looks to the sky at night, not for the fun of it but thinking. I imagine he is seated outside his house, smoking roosters and looking at the stars without seeing them. Do all children call their folks at the same frequency asking for money? Does he speak the truth or is it some fabrication? Is education this damn expensive? Sometimes he felt like giving up but he wants a better life for his children. A life which they wouldn’t have broken backs to make ends meet. He wants them to complete school, not to help him for he shall be long gone but to break the curse. He has fears though: that they might fail him or fail to see the sacrifice he makes. Sacrifices like living in an old thatched house, poor dressing and avoiding any luxury. Another major fathers’ fear is that about their sons. It’s logical; he looks like you, represents you, and is you by all definitions. You expect him to bury you, to take care of his mother, the only woman who coped with needy you, to take care of your daughters when they are sent away by their husbands and even collect their outstanding dowry when you are gone. You have unsaid worries that he might start playing basketball and sag his pants, or the sophomore son would join rugby and break the collar bone or that he might get absorbed into a cartel and sell cocaine(he better sell marijuana it’s closer home). Fathers are weird though, sorry, they think that growing a beard is synonymous to joining Alshabaab. They also think it’s 1975, the year Jomo lived and orders were orders but we love…no like them. Its erroneous to say, I love my father. You say, I like him, I look up to him, such. Imagine loving him with his bald and you stroke it during bonding.
“Aki Dad, your bald is so shiny and slippery.”
“Aww son you noticed. Touch it.”
“It’s soo soft. Like a baby’s butt. Do you gel it?”
“Did you say babe or baby?”
“Err…(both) A baby, like Mwas.(Mwas is your youngest brother.) And you chatter off for the next half an hour. You touch. He blushes. You blush and touch again. Then you look at each other in the eye giggle like school girls.
Fathers are also complicateɗ or just enjoy complicating stuff for example they are the only people deep in this century when we speak of SDGs and not MDGs who still measure distances in miles and yards.
Back to our man, the doctor had advised him against hard labour, smoking and restricted his diet. It was impossible to end that; he would strive on and take his troubles to the grave. Two weeks had gone by after he was diagnosed with acute stomach ulcers thus the pyrosis. Sometimes he could taste blood in his mouth. Antacid tablets could no longer work like before, he was going down hard. As a father though, he had to be strong for his family. He vowed not to even wince or show any signs of desperation before his emancipation, if he was going down, he would do so fighting.
The phone buzzed in his pocket and gave him chills. Of late most of his phone calls were bad omens. The quarry owner could call and make a fuse over his diminishing efficiency, the doctor would remind him of his long due appointment for an MRI scan. He fished it out anyway; it was his son, the rogue son.
“How is home?”
Destitute. Breaking down. Your siblings are home because the headmaster could no longer have them in school.
“Everything is fine son. How are your studies?”
“Dad, I am doing well. The last transcript says I could make first class just like the former one.”
“Keep trying. Did you get the money?”
“I did but it wasn’t enough for rent and the laptop repair. I needed twenty five hundred for all, my savings were one thousand so i needed you to support me with one five.”
They had had that conversation.
“Look son, things are pretty difficult here. First pay the rent and let’s handle the laptop issue mid-month. Is that okay?”
“I will try to see what I can do. Good night.”
He stood up, shuffled towards the house in short weary steps as if the weight of his problems balanced on his shoulders. He felt bile rise and the now often iron taste in his mouth. His wife was through with the cooking, potatoes and sukumawiki alone for supper. One plus though, she always wore a smile, even when things were pretty hot and was solely the reason the family was still intact. She served him a generous plate of food with a smile.
“Soon we will be gone, but they will lead a life better than ours,” she said and winced and hoped the lump in her breast would pause long enough to let the smaller ones finish secondary school.