Phoning the Past

It’s often a wonder how life seems to unfold right before us but yet off our sight. We are often surprised by the time that has managed to sneak past us.

We are pulled back to the realization by the mundane of things. Be it a government form that requests for your age; a stranger that addresses you as ‘Mzee’ or ‘Mama Nani’; a night out where you can’t hold the bottle as well as you used to; or the gibberish lingo that kids have decided to communicate through that you never understand anymore.

With the rise and fall of the sun, the annoying screams of the alarm clock, and the cozy hug of the blankets as you turn in, life goes through its ebbs and flows. And while we sail our boats on these waters, we are sometimes too focused on the happenings in our boat that we never stop to gaze upon the vast sea. We miss the boats that float right next to us, blaring their horns to get our attention. We miss the views of the islands on the horizon — the horizon that can’t seem to hold the secrets of the affair between the sun and the island as they tuck in together each night, orange lipstick all over.

We are too focused on our boats. We paint it here, put up a decoration there, fix a light bulb here, wipe a stain there — lest the rest of the sailors think we are not doing great. Some will pass by our boats and admire, others will sneer at its looks, while many will pass by and… nothing. They will only pass by and in the most, wave. But only pass by, sailing on.

Mike’s boat had been sailing on life’s waters for a while now. His life had begun, began again at 18 after getting his national ID, and also began at 40, as they say. Now he sat on his deck, looking out to retirement in the horizon as it drew nearer.

He had lived life on the edge, chasing after his dreams, catching up to some, crashing into others — life on the fast lane. He had built his family a beautiful house, provided for their needs, gathered enough respect within his peers, and grown to the heights of his career. He had lived a good life.

Yet, his face took a slight frown as he faced his current predicament, a phone sitting on his right palm and a family photo on his left. He could feel tears welling up his… not his eyes. The depth of his tear glands was too deep to fill up to his eyes. Years of the societal definition of what it meant to be a man had buried his tear reservoir too deep from his eyes.

He tried retracing the steps, tried sailing back to when it had all fallen apart. He had tried before, all in vain. Maybe if he could figure out that particular act, that moment, he could mend it all. He could get them back.

Mike had two sons. Or the government said he had, the photo albums showed that much, and the utter resemblance in their faces was proof enough — no need for a DNA test. Still, he felt like he had had two sons, once upon a time.

“Why should I have to bear this burden?” His grip tightened on the phone. “Didn’t I provide for my family? Weren’t they well-fed, under a roof, and enjoying the pleasures that money could buy? Money that I worked hard to provide. Could it be that I worked too hard?”

It didn’t make sense. He pictured his father, a hardworking farmer who had tendered to his animals and plants religiously every single day — a man who knew no day-offs. He could have sworn that his father had mentioned the farm among his final words — his dear farm. And so he, the son of a hardworking farmer, had also tended to his career religiously, catering to its beckoning needs. And for a second, he wondered who had been the true master between his father and the farm?

Mike now sat on the deck, a phone in one hand, a photo on the other. It was his favorite photo. It held the memories of when the boys were much younger. Back when they called him “dad.” Back when they ran all around the small house they used to live in, ducking behind chairs, bouncing on creaking beds, and sitting at his feet as they all gathered for a family movie night.

He remembered the day they took that photo, their mum almost having a fit trying to calm them for a quick flash of the camera. He wondered if they remembered that day, the silence of his current home echoing behind him.

He dialed in the phone number, a slight tremor running through his hands. It was time to get this sorted out once and for all. And as he filled the phone number to its 10-number slot, he hoped he would be able to mend up the missing years — to fill up to his son’s age.

First published on Medium @mbatiawrites

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