I can almost tell what will happen the moment I open that door in the evening from work. Daisy will not come running to my arms, her laugh will not fill my soul with life, fire and desire. Her little smile will have faded and will not brighten up the evening like the fireworks of New Years. Most certainly, her little questions and little-uncoordinated stories will n0t be what she will be telling me. Not that she will not be there but because I know I will have failed her. Terribly failed in one simple task. A simple unwritten agreement between a man and a daughter because my boss decided to keep my salary a little longer.
I can almost tell the conversation the next morning before I leave for work. My wife, my beautiful precious wife, queen of my heart and song to my life will not be graceful as she always is in the morning; she is a morning person. When other people wake up with tousled hair looking like bushes below the Nyandarua Ranges in the dry season, she wakes up with a smile like the sun that rises on the horizon of Lake Victoria in the morning. She will squint from the edge of her eyes as she places the tea flask on the table before me. This time, she will try to look cheerful but we both know it will be like starting a fire in a puddle of water. She will smile, not for herself but for me; a forced reassurance that I will have to take and keep because without that, a fire will start. A horrendous inferno.
I can almost see how irritable and upset I will be when the conductor in the matatu decides to overcharge me a little extra. Kenyan conductors are the worms that feed on the dead, buried in the grave. They do not care that you are already down. They will still push you to the ground and wash the floor with your face. They do not care. So when a little light shower begins, the fare will shoot from KSh. 40 to KSh. 70 and there is nothing anyone will do about it. It will be like drowning, struggling to stay afloat, yet with the same amount of effort getting closer to your doom.
These are the calculations I am doing as I leave the Human Resource Office on a Thursday evening. There is no money, a small statured mean looking man had screamed at me inside the office. We call him the Hawk in the fun office where we work and do not get paid sometimes. He is a man of mystery, a man of powerful political connections and shrouded secrecy. He pulls the strings in the company and even the Directors dance to his tune. A meticulous cunning man whose every moment is precise and methodical. The word Hawk came from his razor-sharp features but hooded eyes that often reveal nothing. An enigmatic man who hired his own kin in secrecy and spied on our office jokes, just so he could have his show at the culmination of the month. The company has no money! He said and I had walked out.
The next few minutes, seated on my desk, are a haze of dread and delirium but then a man must wake up and do what he must. Paulo Coelho in his book, Brida, tells of the two types of attitudes in human beings; Builders and Planters. Builders, he says, have the joy of creation during the lifespan of the project but eventually, when the building is complete, they are held with the walls of their own creation. From then on, life loses its meaning when the building stops. Then there are planters, those who endure storms and the difficulties of each season, barely ever resting. But then, unlike the builders, the growing never stops, and the garden never stops growing and with that, they are always able to enjoy the joy of creation, over and over with each season being a great adventure.
In my mind, I know that this is a temporary hitch in the season but Daisy would barely understand why Daddy did not buy her Cake on her birthday. Her mother will try to understand why the bills on rent, electricity and water are late but the calls from the companies will have altered her peace to the last nerve. She will be prickly, more than usual, in an involuntary way and it is just the way she is and there is nothing you can do about it. The meal she will have prepared for Daisy’s birthday will be delightful but you will not enjoy it. Daisy will be turning five and her mother will be showing off her cooking skills. All around me will be achievers and me, the joker who could not get his salary on time.
I turn to my watch, it is thirty minutes past four. I better head home now, I think to myself. Daisy would be arriving home from school at this hour; dropped by their school bus and excited about her birthday evening. I grab my trench coat and my laptop bag, barely ready for the events that are about to unfold.
My father, unlike me, never forgot my birthdays. He was a party man – still is in his old age. Every ceremony had to be celebrated the right way. My mother, on the other hand, was a record keeper, creating logs of thousands of Kodak Images from the first birthday to the moment we left home. A reminder of the importance of being a reliable parent to your children. I thought about this and the wall that held me to calm begun shattering brick after brick. Parenthood is like receiving higher education from a mediocre university. You spend years learning about something that you will have no clue about when you come to the real practical world. You almost never know what to do when you are a parent yet, all the same, step by step you raise a child that looks up to you as a hero and a mentor.
The first surprise that hits me like a surge of electricity is when the conductor forgets to collect my fare. I actually do not realize it until I am walking past the gate and then I notice that I was still holding the money meant to be bus fare. I must have been too distracted that I never noticed him missing me as he collected fare.
On getting home, I take a deep breath before sliding the door open. Something smells delicious filling my nostrils with an ambrosial fragrance reminding me that I had eaten absolutely nothing the entire day. Daisy is busy setting up the table for supper before she stops and comes running to embrace me. Her mother shouts from the kitchen advising her to let her father wash her hands first before jumping into my arms. Daisy ignores her. She does that often, especially when her mother is acting overly paranoid about cleanliness.
She begins blubbering about all the dishes mommy had prepared for her birthday and does not stop until her mother walks in with hotpots in her hands then walks up to me and gives me one of those long, warm welcome home kisses that makes me wonder why I ever leave home. Ewwwwww, Daisy screams, go wash your hands, Daddy. And I do as instructed only to find them seated at the table waiting for me to say the grace before we eat.
No one mentions a birthday cake through the whole dinner. No one mentions bills. It is just Daisy and her mother blubbering about this and that; they are talkers. Talking at the same time to me the guy with only one pair of ears.
I tell Daisy about the missing birthday cake and she smiles between a mouthful then expresses that she would be so full after the meal with no space left for cake anyway. I tell her mother about the late bills and she says that she called the agency for a deadline extension of ten days and everything was okay. She also says this in the middle of chewing. So alike and so beautiful that they look like identical twin sisters. Everything is going to be okay, I repeat her words in my head.
Nairobi is the city you survive paycheck after paycheck but it never means you have to be miserable. It is difficult for a man, even with a delayed salary, not to smile at this beautiful site.
Happy Belated Mothers Days to all the mothers here. You mean everything to us.
Feature Image by Mukiri Gitiri.