He was considered a powerful man, feared by many but most honored him. He was a leader, and often made decisions many would not like, but he wasn’t dissuaded. He was a strict and pragmatic man; many quivered when he spoke.
This was my Father; he barked when consumed with emotion, but there was a part of him kept hidden from all who met him through their daily encounters. He was a kind and gentle giant whose bark was worse than his bite.
He was a husband to many wives; often caught in the politics of love and war. One minute he would bellow like an angry lion, all in the bid to attain peace at any cost and the very next I would see him wink at my baby brother staring in awe at the roar of his voice.
I have seen him share peanuts or elede, fried pork, bought from the roadside with his drivers-Moses, Tim or Andrew. I remember returning home from school to see his car turn the corner; surprisingly his car stops beside mama Okon’s makeshift stall. His window came down and he stuck his head out asking the woman to serve him some pieces of elede. Getting closer I heard him imploring the driver not to tell madam. “Please madam must not hear of this…” The driver laughed gladly with a nod as he got his share from the ‘contraband’- my mother was always on his case for health reasons.
I have seen him yell, bringing his wives to tears, simply because they failed to release the workers in time for lunch. Yet I have seen him starve these same men also to prove a point that order must be maintained. He was a stickler for rules, his rules!
In the village he was loved, city folks feared him. Many point and shrug when he walked by in the courts, he was either suing or being sued. He was always one to speak up for those with no voice or unable to defend themselves. People had a lot to say about him, either way whether good or bad, such opinions didn’t mean much to him. If at all it did, he never showed it and I never once heard him complain about it. The most he would say to his antagonists was “PEACE!” He believed to each man, his own.
Mostly referred to as master, boss or sir; I never saw him as any of these…to me he was just dad. He would tickle me, all the while laughing, until I accepted defeat and acknowledge him as king. This was our little game; I would win if I could manage not to laugh, but that was an almost impossible feat: I was ticklish. Though a busy man with a busy schedule, he always found time for us his children. When Misty died you would have thought it meant nothing to him, but he sat with me as I cried; we later buried my dog near the garden shed.
I was a bit of a tomboy growing up; never too far away from mischief or getting myself injured. My body wore many a scar like a badge of honour. Rather than go to my mom or stepmoms, I would go to him to help get splinters out from my feet. My mom would punish me for injuring myself while he would pull out the splinters and call me sissy when I cried; only to turn around to hide the tears welled up in his own eyes. He taught me how to use my first pad, when my period started. Mom was away at university at the time; on the account that she waited until after having four of us before returning to University for a degree.
This same man would shout in rage as his babies all cried at once- he had a thing for getting all 4 wives knocked up all at the same time! But I digress- he seemed to think his bellowing would quieten them down but it only agitated them more, so they cried even more.
My siblings and I would hide and giggle at his rage, all 18 of us, minus the four wee ones. Our mothers would shake their heads and smile, each calling out to him, “Darling please hold your son.”
Poor dad would stop and stare, and like a confused 6 year old, suddenly walk away; all 6 ft 10 of him; his frame stooped like Quasimodo, convinced we were all out to get him!
Life with him was full of fun; that is whatever little time we had with him. We shared him with a lot of people; politicians, business people, acquaintances and friends. I remember the day they brought the news, that my dad the giant was felled by a tiny illness but yet so dangerous. Before his passing, he had a nonchalant attitude towards his health. “What does the white man know about me?” He would boast. From a man of his stature and caliber you would expect better, but no! Dad was different and lived carefree. His saving grace to an extent were the cries of four loud women; crying, “Biko”, please, “If not for us, do it for your children.” They pleaded until he finally caved in to their cries to listen to the doctors.
True to his nature he quit cold turkey all the vices that caused his illness. The alcohol, sugar and meats; he did his best to abstain from. Okay the meat part was hard, but poor daddy did try. We were informed late one night over the phone that while returning home earlier that day, after a long day at work, he complained of heartburn…later that night whilst everyone slept, he was taken to the hospital.
We all went to school as usual in the morning, but when we returned home later that day, we called. Our young siblings were the ones to answer the phone, but the oldest of them Daniel said dad was not at home, but that all the mommies were crying, hugging and whispering to each other.
”Daddy died” was all he could whisper. He was fourteen years old at the time. I remember feeling numb. I had dance class that evening in downtown Houston and still went, but I missed all the moves and was asked to sit through…my siblings like me were all in a daze; confused and withdrawn.
The funeral was huge and more like a party. Though all was merry and loud, a direct look into the eyes of mourners, revealed deep sorrow and a sense of loss. This made me glad now that I look back; I feel better knowing that dad was going to be missed by all…not just us kiddies and wives.
As for his closest friends and companions….the drivers he spent the most time with, all wept like there was no tomorrow. Moses especially was the worst, all he said was “Oh my brother don go”. They said my dad called out for help, just before he took his final sleep. No one else was with him except his boy, Moses. The last words he spoke were “Tell….tell them I love them all, and please stay for me.” The last request was of course for Moses, he alone out of the three had been with him the longest.
After two decades of adventures together, he had become more like a son, friend and a companion.
I visited home two years ago. It’s been 22years since dad left us. I ran into our Moses – I was happy to see him. He was still here with us; a little stooped and all grey hairs now, but with the same gap toothed beautiful smile. When he finally spoke, my grin widened even more…he still sounded exactly the same!
As daddy had asked, he remained with us. Now too old to drive, mom gave him a pension at 65; he stayed, never marrying or having his own kids. He said, “Why go to all that trouble…when here I am blessed with everything, family, children and love.”
Moses is a reminder of everything my dad represented to me. He had friends from all walks of life and despite being an enigma to many; he was a simple man of honour who had a big heart.