It has been 58 days since my father died.
It has been the weirdest 58 days of my life. Having lost my mother more than 10 years ago, I thought I had handling grief down to an art. I thought when the inevitable death of my remaining parent happened, I would boss out that shit.
I was wrong.
Back in 2003, I had my friend to ramble my intelligible ramblings to. I spoke through the night and he listened patiently. I do not remember what I told him in that dark seldom-used room in Ibulanku, with the earth still fresh outside after we laid Anne Wandawa to rest.
My friend, who later went on to be my Best Man, gave me an anchoring that he might never really appreciate. I know I didn’t run off stark raving mad and part of it is because he helped stay the forces that were lurking underneath my skin.
We cannot be in the places we wish to be in at all times. When my Dad died, my Best Man was very far off and very different from the guy who sat in that musty room. He’s long been married and twice a father now. He and I are on two different continents separated by uncountable trillions of ocean water.
My Dad and I spoke on the phone the day before he died. He was in a jolly mood and he was in fact looking forward to attending a wedding. The next day, when I called his phone to follow up on the previous day’s conversation, an unfamiliar voice told me, coldly, that my dad was dead. I will never forget the way he said it.
I must now step up. At the funeral, I was appointed as his heir. In effect, all his affairs and plans were handed over to me. I am the continuity. I have been placed in this place and I know I am not qualified; not by a mile.
The world always moves on. The world has moved on. It is funny how what goes around comes around; back in a previous life working in the newspaper business, I always marveled at how the main topic of the day obliterates yesterday’s issues. A bomb blast in Lugogo is forgotten and the news is focused on some musician of no note.
So, the world seems to have moved on. There are some people newly come to Ibulanku who will never know there was an old man who lived there and died only a few weeks ago. There are people who will have forgotten about his passion for education and for the future of the young people in the village.
As the son of a dead man, I cannot move on.
This dead man gave me my life; I took the roads that I ended up taking because of him. I read widely and eventually I ended up becoming a writer because he encouraged me to read and to write. I remember him bringing books on different topics and encouraging me to discover the new worlds therein.
I remember him discussing different aspects of the life around us.
One day when I was maybe 4 or 5, we took an evening walk. We walked along Buganda Road towards Wandegeya. We lived on the NHCC flats and for a small boy, that was a long distance to walk. When we got to the playground where Buganda Road Primary School holds its sports activities, I remember him telling me to look up to see the flock of birds.
Then he explained why they moved in such formation. He told me the lead bird at the apex of the formation leads for only a few minutes then falls back to let another one lead. The lead bird gives the flock its direction and pace.
I don’t know why tiny anecdotes like this one stayed with me. I do not regret that they did.
My father endured a lot of misfortunes in his life but I learned one virtue from him from his experience; to never expect the world to give a damn. He handled pain and suffering like a boss. The ailment that finally brought him down caused a lot of pain. He was in excruciating pain at the end but he did not utter anything to those around him. He must have thought that if he has handled it on his own before, this too would pass.
I was not with him at the end, just as I was not with my mother at the end. I was however not too beaten up about that. Before I left the country, I spent an entire day with my father. We just did normal things the whole day. We talked about him growing up and what king of parents he had. He told me about his experience with loneliness.
As a child, he was sent to live away from home more than one for extended periods of time. It was not a punishment but it was necessary as his mother, my grandmother, was a widow who was not going to let the circumstances dictate how she brought up her children.
From a young age, he learned to be self-reliant. And that’s one lesson I want to pass on to my children.
In a way, I think we both knew this was probably good-bye. I was moving my young family out of the country to an uncertain future. There was no saying when I would get a chance to travel back. Yet there was a lot that he realized we had never said out loud.
I could not stop him; he was a river. He spoke about everything. He looked back as far as he could remember; 80 years back. His tale became urgent as the day wore on. After that, he knew I would be too busy with the last preps and he knew he was not going to “escort” me to the airport as many Ugandan families do when a member is leaving the country.
On that day, we said our silent Good-Byes.
We shall meet on the other side, Israel Wysua Mulawa.