The memory of it is very vague but I remember struggling to blow out the only candle that had been lit on my cake. Papa and a vivacious woman helped me extinguish the flame. Papa carried me up high in excitement while the woman clapped and cheered. It was my first birthday.
“Papa, do I have a Mama?” I had asked papa when I turned four.
“Your Mama left us” he started to say. Then, he told me many things that I did not understand. I felt sorry for Papa. He finally grabbed me by the shoulders and plugged his crimson eyes into my innocent ones. “You need to be strong. Focus on your books and make Papa proud. Stop worrying about Mama.”
Andthat was it. I obeyed Papa for I stopped worrying about Mama or maybe I only stopped asking about her. It was always just papa and me. I lived for Papa and he for me. We ate together, did chores together and slept on the same bed. I was accustomed to hurrying off to Papa immediately the closing bell was rung at school. I guess I only went there because Papa wanted me to. Generally, I was a quiet child who wanted to always be with Papa. For reasons I could not and still cannot grasp, life did not seem desirable with anyone else except with Papa. And we had many moments of silence but we bonded so deeply in that silence.
“Jeje, I can’t believe you’re already a young man.” I was seventeen and leaving for the university. I had been unsettled since Papa had said we needed to have a very long talk before I left for school the following week.
“You know you’re all I have had since your Mama left us. She only stayed with us for a very short time. I cried and pleaded with her not to leave us but she left all the same. I have not been the same man ever since. I loved your Mama and we had agreed to be together here for a very long time but she broke that promise. I wanted her to fight for her life. I begged her to. I thought you and I were a good enough reason for her to fight but she gave in to death.” Papa had never betrayed his emotions with tears like he was doing now. At the most, he had very red eyes but never a tear.
“Papa… Was she sick?” I did not know what else to ask.
“Well, not exactly.” He continued, pulling himself together. “We were expecting another baby which came as a stillbirth and left your Mama with post-natal complications. I took you with me every time I visited her in the hospital. You innocently watched me hold her hand on those visits, pleading that she got better for me, for us. I told her that it did not matter that we could not have another baby but that you and I needed her to survive. I reminded her of the plans we had and the promises we made to each other. She fought for three weeks but gave up on that fateful Friday evening when I turned 35. I was very devastated and quite disappointed. Maybe I was angry too. I have lived with that hurt ever since. My life changed drastically. Son, promise me that you will come back home, after five years of study, as an engineer. I cannot bear another loss. My life would be empty.”
“Papa, I promise” I had replied in my soberness only suddenly realising how soaked my vest had become from the sweat and tears that the session had generated.
“Did Mama really break her promises? Did she really not want to stay? Was there something Papa was not telling me?”
I left for school the following week and did not even make it to school. As the bus I was on ran into a tanker, I saw Papa’s face flash before my eyes for the last time just before the bus went up in flames. I never got to know what became of papa. I guess life is really about the intermingling of both broken and kept promises.