I knew this would change everything – but I just stood there transfixed – I felt helpless.
It was a weird, out-of-control, out-of-body experience, with my brain screaming away at me to do something.
I couldn’t – I just watched, and waited…..
What are you waiting for? Do something, you idiot!
Normally, I have a lot of respect for the voice in my head. But this time it was over-reaching itself. There was no call to be rude. I was just 12 years old, just out of junior school, and just so transfixed with the in-just-ice of it all! How was I to know how to react?
Throw up! Scream! Anything!
Nah uh! I wasn’t made of such stern stuff. I simply didn’t have the guts. That was my mother, for crying out loud! Sobbing all over the very crumpled collar of a very handsome, very lean man!
I immediately knew things were never going to be the same. This would most certainly change everything, but I was paralyzed from the toes up.
I didn’t want to be the one to ‘find’ out. I was no good at that sort of thing. I would rather be an ostrich.
Show yourself now or for ever be silenced!
Yeah! That was more my style. Like skulking around in dark corners instead of coming out in the open and speaking my mind.
I’d been like that for ever. Ever since I discovered that my father had abandoned us. It did something to my confidence, though I never admitted it to anyone. Not even my mother knew that I knew.
It had irrevocably changed me. From a bubbly eight-year-old who believed her father had died gloriously just months before she was born, I had become a recluse, an abandoned child.
My mother thought her baby was growing up. I could tell she imagined I was getting secretive and quiet just like adolescent girls are supposed to be. But it wasn’t that – it was that I was broken, shattered. Why had she lied? More than him, it was she – whom I adored – who had hurt me by lying.
Your father was in the Army, darling. He died trying to save his country.
Why did she have to lie? How could she defend a deserter – a man who had abandoned both his daughter and his country?
I hated my aunt Gogo for a long, long time after she told me. She said I was old enough to know the truth. She said, since my mum saw fit to pretend, it was up to her to tell me. I hated what she told me and I hated her too. Illogical of me, I know.
When I refused to believe her, she stumped me with evidence.
Why do you think nobody from your father’s family has ever visited?
That stopped me cold. Aunt Gogo had to be right!
Unlike my friends, I had no dada, dadi, chacha, taya, and no cousins from my father’s side!
The proof was irrefutable. Why hadn’t I ever noticed?
Aunt Gogo stopped visiting after that. She was my mother’s best friend, but I figured she felt she had done her duty and could move on.
Before this, my biggest fear had been whether acne would strike me this year or the next. Now it was replaced by that of losing my mother.
Suddenly I didn’t have a charmed life any more. I had been abandoned once. What if my mother wanted to get married again? What if my step-dad sent me off to boarding school?
This morning I had woken with a sense of foreboding and now my fears were all coming true!
For days now my mum had been absent minded, her eyes misty, and she kept jumping at sudden noises. I thought she was working up the courage to tell me something. Every time she would start and then change the subject. My senses had been on high alert for the last few days.
Every morning I woke with dread in my heart. Today was no exception, and then I heard the unmistakable sounds of my mother crying!
I ran downstairs in my bare feet, heart thudding – and stopped short at the sight that met my eyes…
I stood for a while, transfixed, feeling completely helpless. Then I slid, defeated, to sit just out of sight on a step. It had happened. It was curtains for me – I would be banished for sure.
I peeped around the banister to confirm that I wasn’t hallucinating – and found my mum kissing the man’s neck, and face, and … eew … his lips.
He held her in his arms, and lifted her up, kissing her back as gently as if she was the most precious thing in the world.
It was disgusting to say the least.
Then he made for the stairs, carrying my mum as if she was light as a feather. The voice in my head barely managed to utter a squeak of warning.
It was too late. I was discovered.
I expected embarrassment, consternation, even an angry reprimand from the man. Instead he dissolved into tears!
He set my mum down and knelt a step below me, gazing at me with the most awful yearning in his eyes. I should have hated it, but it made my bones melt.
The voice in my head was struck dumb, so I had to do my own thinking. He must be the devil, I thought.
He must be the Devil. He has hypnotized both my mum and me.
Peachie, my mum whispered. This is daddy!
I flinched. This couldn’t be good news. He was a deserter. What did he want from us so many years after abandoning us?
A considerable time later I had my questions answered and I can tell you my world changed.
It was my father, all right. A thinner, darker version of him. His body had never been found. He had been a prisoner-of-war all these years, locked up in a nameless jail in a soulless country.
He and others like him had been discovered quite by accident by a newspaper reporter, and intense negotiations had begun for their release.
My mum had read in the papers that ‘some’ soldiers were being brought back but the army couldn’t confirm their identity till they actually got their hands on the men.
So my poor mum had been on tenterhooks. She had wanted to share the news with me, but couldn’t risk me losing a father twice, if it turned out he was not amongst the returning men.
And aunt Gogo?
She and my mum had fought over something major and the ‘best friend’ had decided to get even.
My mum was shocked at first, but has forgiven Aunt Gogo. She’s advised me to forgive her too – she has had a hard life and that has made her bitter and cruel. Thank God my mum didn’t turn bitter – she has had the hardest life ever!
And why don’t I have relatives from my father’s side?
Because they disowned him when he married my mum.
You should see them swarm all over him now. And over my mum, but especially over me. Seems they don’t want to lose a son, and a bahu, and a granddaughter, twice over in the same lifetime!
I knew this would change everything and it did!
I no longer skulk in the shadows!
I talk, and I sing, and I dance!
I am no longer lost….
Author’s note: I published this short post on Sulekha.com
some years ago when I used to blog on that forum