Papa never laughed.
Even Sisi could not remember if Papa ever laughed. But Madam Hatchet, the old lady that has the salon where Papa takes me to get my hair cut said Papa used to laugh once; a long time ago, but he stopped laughing again because there were not so much to laugh about anymore.
And after Papa lost Mama when I was born, Papa could not remember how to laugh. Sisi would say it was all my fault, and life was easier before I came along. But I don’t think she really remembers much of life before Mama died any more than me. But Sisi liked to always feel like she knew much.
Papa also never talked, the same way Sisi never talked too. They were alike that way, but I always feel like I got something to say. And when I talk, Papa would grunt and say with a growl,
“Men don’t talk so much.” Or,
“Don’t be a tattle-mouth like a woman…even Sisi don’t talk so much.”
And Sisi would stick her tongue out at me from behind Papa and all I would want to do is yank it out of her mouth and stamp on it in the dry dirt on the floor.
I always knew Papa loved Sisi more than me. It was one of those things you just know, you know?
Madam Hatchet said ’twas cos Sisi was so much like Papa in everything and all and I was more like my Mama. But that didn’t make any sense to me because at least I was a man (well, going to be) like Papa and Sisi was not.
But Papa would always yell extra loud when I asked him lots of questions when we worked on the farm. And he would say that I must stop asking questions so much and if I put all my effort into the work than talking, I would do the work much better.
Papa would complain that I didn’t rake up the leaves in the orchard well enough. Or put enough mash for the pigs food. And even though I am the same age Sisi was when she began driving the tractor, Papa wouldn’t let me go near it.
During the harvest when he and Sisi would go out to the field to bring in the maize, Papa would tell me to clean the chicken house and put in fresh water. But no matter how hard I cleaned, Papa would make sure I cleaned it again when he got back. He would be standing behind me the whole time with a long broom in one hand and a rake in the other and if I missed a spot, he would either poke me with the rake or sweep the broom across the back of my legs.
“You’re much too lazy!” He would yell and add, “If you don’t start acting like a man, you’ll end up like a bum!”
And Papa would start the story again of how when he was a boy, he would take care of both his father and uncle’s farms and how he would carry a sheep on his back while using his foot to drive in the chickens to the coop.
And then, one day, something happened that didn’t quite change Papa, but changed everything else.
One of Papa’s favourite sheep had gotten missing and Papa had been in a sour mood all day. He had spent all morning looking for it and still couldn’t find it. I can’t remember now what I had done, but Papa was so angry with me that he smacked me hard across my back and yelled,
“I wish it would have been you and not the sheep that was missing”, and he stormed into the house and banged the screen door shut.
I had seen Papa mad before, but not like that. That moment, I knew that if I had to prove to Papa that I was not completely useless. And so, I put on my shoes and went out into the woods beside our farm to find the sheep.
I used to go into the woods before with Sisi to pick wild berries, but for one thing, Sisi knew the woods better than I. And for another, I had no idea that a storm was coming until the sky suddenly turned so black, you couldn’t see your hands in front of you and the winds blew so hard it slapped your face.
By the time I had realised it was a storm, I did not know where I was in the woods. I walked and walked but it seemed like I was moving round in circles. I soon got scared and then I stopped being scared. At least, I thought then, Papa would be happy. He would get his wish after all.
As I staggered through the woods, I tripped over some undergrowth and fell down a hill, twisting my ankle and losing my shoes in the process. So there I was, at the foot of a hill, lonely, hurt – and as the winds became harder – cold, because my shoes were missing and my feet were bare.
I tried to fold them under me to keep them warm but my ankle hurt too much to move. Then, I became scared again. I wished Papa would come look for me, or at least Sisi or anybody. But I didn’t even know if anyone had noticed I was gone.
I began to cry and soon fell asleep. Then I woke up as soon as the first drop of rain hit my face, but it was not the rain that woke me up. I had heard my name. And as I looked round in confusion because I had forgotten where I was or what had happened for a moment, I heard my name again. And then again and again, and I recognized Papa’s voice as he called me.
“Papa!” I called out back to him as the rain began falling harder and steadily now.
And Papa soon traced the sound of my voice to behind the hill and came down and when he saw that I could not walk because my ankle was twisted and sore, he lifted me into his arms and carried me back up the hill. It was the first time Papa had held me probably since the day I was born I think.
As he walked home with me in his arms, the rain pelting us hard, he noticed I was shivering and saw then that my shoes were gone. Then, he stopped and placed me on the ground as he removed his boots, one after the other and placed my legs gently inside them and he lifted me up again and carried me home as the storm finally raged down on us, wetting us to the bone.
Madam Hatchet and Sisi were nervously waiting by the fire with blankets and hot cups of tea and cocoa for me. And immediately we got in, they changed my clothes and bundled me in bed. And as I lay down underneath the covers, Papa came to my side and for the first time since he found me in the woods, looked at me. And I looked at Papa and suddenly realizing , said,
“Papa…the storm…the sheep”.
Because the storm was in full force now and the sheep would be caught in it. But Papa looked at me with something in his eyes that I could not understand and said,
“Never mind the sheep”.
And as he said it, I sneezed so violently the warm cloth on my head flew to the floor. And as it did, Papa’s eyes came so close together and he made such a face that I had never seen before. And that was when I knew that Papa had done what he never did before.