Our people say that when the child of the deaf man buys his father a radio, he is fixing to hear the story of how he was born. The first time I heard this proverb, I had skipped afternoon lessons and had gone to play football with Kayode and Moyosore — the children of the neighbors in the downstairs flat. I would have gotten away with it, like all the times before, but you had left work early and chose to pick me up at the Lesson center. I remember how the quiet tears graced your cheeks. I found some amusement in watching them dance between your tribal marks, the little drops confused as I was about why you cried. I remember the ache in my arms and knees from the punishment. I remember the cane on the ground facing away from me, like you did when the proverb left your mouth.
You have not done common entrance, and you’re running off with boys?
I didn’t understand the fuss, and as if you heard my thoughts, you screamed at me.
You’re a woman! What games are the dog and leopard playing together? Ah! You are not my daughter. You are not, Jumoke. You are not.
It was what you would say every time I did something wrong. It had stopped making me feel bad, but not today. Your words were no greater than a mumble. I heard God, I heard Taiye, I heard about burdens too heavy to bear. Like the sudden calm after the storm, the tears and the mumbling stopped, the ache in my raised arms did not. You stood up and went over to the big box where all the special things are kept and brought out a photo album.
That is how this child of a deaf man heard the story of her lineage. My mother had not died at childbirth. And you weren’t a lovelorn widower. Like a child sired from the accident of a ripped condom, you did want me. You told me this. Your twin brother and his wife had you named as next of kin. After they both died in an accident, you dumped with this infant that wouldn’t stop crying.
Knowing this didn’t make me love you any less. Even without your words constantly reminding me how much of a sacrifice to your full bachelor life, raising me was. The sneaking around with your many different girlfriends told me. It was why I tried to spend as much time as I could away from the house. I don’t know why you didn’t just put me in a boarding school and just forget. I don’t know why you always laboriously went through all my homework with me. Or why you always came for Open Days and PTA meetings.
I never did anything right. My skirts were too short. My grades were not high enough. My rice was too soft, my eba was too hard. Somehow, some way, there was always something wrong. But I never hated you. As if with each critique, you drew me closer. You challenged me to love you. You felt a woman’s place was in the kitchen, I don’t know why this made me even more intent on being as far from it as possible.
I get it now. Somehow, you knew. You saw a bit of yourself in me. You must have felt it a dangerous thing for a woman to be as headstrong as I was. You were worried that airheadedness of your many floozies was airborne, so you moulded me into everything they weren’t. If only you knew, how much I wanted to be your daughter. How much I wanted your tribally scarred cheeks to crease in fondness for me. I realize now, that you never got remarried, not because you were picky with women. It was me, all me; your duty to me. You were worried about no woman jelling with your small wife, as your friends called me.
I miss you every day. I wish I had been home to bury you. A part of me suspects that you stopped living when I shipped off to school, so you had no other choice but to die like your other half had. I don’t hate you for leaving me. But I’m mad at you for not letting me make you proud, for not letting me love you and give you my life in duty as you did for me.
Even though you’re not my Father, you will always be my daddy.
I love you, old man.