I can't remember much from this day thirty years ago today. I can only say that it was a day that my black school shoes glistened with my tears. I have no memory of waking up that day, nor of getting dressed, nor of what I ate or even of my journey home from school. The norm would have been for my mother to collect me but I have some vague memory that my eldest sister picked me up from school that day instead. I was ten years old and still fairly new to the country having arrived from Ghana in the July, four months previously. I was the new girl at school, the only brown girl in my class, one of four mixed race children in a very white school and I was asked frequently if I used to live in a mud hut.
My memory of that day starts when I reached the door to our house. The front door opened and I entered the house and then I can simply see my mother, with her arms open to receive me. Her eyes are red and her face is worn, it is not typical for her to look this way and my heart beats faster. I am hearing her say something like 'Ive got something to tell you, we have had a phone call from your Uncle who has spoken to your Grandmother in Ghana and your father become more ill and he has died'. I think I see my middle sister raise her hands to cover her face and I look up to see my eldest sister with tear marks on her face now although she is silent but I may be constructing this memory as I write.
I begin to cry and I run into my mother's torso, my face pressed into her waist. I feel the tears come but I am confused and I know I should cry but I don't really imagine that my father is dead, obviously there has been some confusion. Whilst I am heavily distracted by the noise that is coming from my own body, the sound of my own crying, I wonder to myself why I am still crying. I feel annoyed that this mix up has not been sorted out and yet still my tears come. Still I see my mother's stained and red face and I do not like it. I see her biting her lip, trying to hold in her emotions and contain the quiver of her lips. She never does this. She never does this. She never does this. I say it over and over again in my head as I watch the drip drip drip, of the salty tears steering their way down the slope of my nose and onto my first pair of black lace up shoes.
Some of those tears don't make it onto my shoes, some fall in the space between my shoes. Some fall onto the old wooden floor. I try to see if any have fallen into the floor cracks but one of my eyes is now pressed into my mum as she squeezes me to offer comfort. The other eye is cloudy, swollen from prolonged upset. I don't know if my mother and I are still standing. I don't know how much time has passed. I don't know if I slept alone that night. I just remember for days and days, months and months and years and years thinking back to the day that my black school shoes glistened so prettily with my tears. I remember thinking that my dad had not really died on the sixteenth of November, that it was perhaps just I that needed to investigate the matter. I could still remember all of the places that he would ask me to accompany him to when he was frail and already ill. I could still remember him taking me with him to visit a hospital and hearing a man say to him ' you are so, so, so so thin' in that way that African's repeat a word for emphasis. My father, the doctor was being told by another doctor that he was 'so, so, so so thin'. I just needed to get back to Ghana and I could find my way by myself and find him either at the hospital in a place where no one knew to look or in Oda, perhaps staying with one of our many, many relatives, so many that perhaps Dad had lost his way and no one else knew where to find him. I could find him. Maybe he was in one of the places that he would tell me that he liked to go when he was a boy growing up in Oda. Maybe. Perhaps. It could be.
I saw my father in many places after that day. It was painful and tender on those occasions and I felt a pain, a physical pain each time. With time it grew easier but today I can hardly believe that it has been thirty years. I can hardly believe that I now have a boy that is the same age as I was when my father died. I still see my father in many places but it is different now. I see him in the dimple in my youngest boys cheek, I see him in the forehead of my eldest boy, in my dark lined knuckles and my strange toes. I see him in the stories that I tell of mango trees and master bobbi and rich oral history passed down. I see him in my name and in the names passed down from him onto my children, Allotey and Allotei. I see him all around, I see him everywhere and when I search for him now, it is only to tell him that I see him and will see him again. On that day I will make many more things glisten with my salty tears.
See here and here for previous posts about my father.