Father carries the yellow spray pump on his back. We are headed to my grandparents’ home to spray the goats. Ticks and fleas are running the show and it is time to close the curtains. I convince father to let me show him a shorter route that we have discovered and he hesitantly agrees. I panic a little when I realize our path is overgrown with grass but we swim through it.
I am seven. Standing alongside other students of my nursery school, performing the sounds animals make. I am the frog and I do the frog move and sound and get back in line. When the show is over, we file behind one another to go down the stairs from the platform but father moves to the front and calls me out of the line and lifts me off the stage and kisses my face.
I am seven, eight, nine, and ten. I sit at the back of father’s bicycle as he pushes it up the hilly dirt road. At the end of it, he boards to cycle down the rest of the stretch into the forest, the echoes of the sounds of the nomads inviting us to itself. Cheerful hellos are said, even to me, and then I sit at the foot of a tree as father goes about the well business, fetching water, building the trough before the goats get here. And then he sits with me in the mud and moulds giraffes and cows and elephants with me.
I stand at the edge of the farm, setting fire to the trash, and then watching the flames and smoke. I pout and cry because I am not going to study medicine. If the government won’t take you, I will sell this land and send you to medical school. Father says, his voice unwavering, and I would never let him sell the land of my birth and growth. He hugs me and I say it is fine.
I am sixteen and in high school. Homesick from not going for midterm breaks. I call father and say I miss home. Father hops on the next lorry out of Marsabit, lies to the school that I have an appointment, and takes me out to eat. We spend the day strolling the streets of Meru town and he brings me back to school in the evening.
I am a teenager in high school and it’s a school function. Father arrives, samosas and fries disguised as documents in envelopes because the school policy prevents parents from bringing food and drinks for their kids.
I am twenty-nine. When my father calls and I know I don’t have money, I don’t pick it up because he hears the brokeness in my voice and will definitely, at the end of our conversation, ask if I need money and I’ll always say no and he’ll always say he feels like I need money. “You give me everything you have, why won’t you tell me when you need me” and I do what I do best. Cry. And then fill up with gratitude. Daddy loves me. Of course, he does.
I am thirty and it is the evening after my birthday. He calls in the evening to say mother just told him it’s my birthday. “Why didn’t you tell me?” And I say it’s alright dad, it’s no big deal. But I can tell he’d have loved it if I’d told him, and he sends some cash. I make a vow to tell him more, and I do now.
We have performed together, endless list of activities. Cooked, baked, weeded, harvested, planted, constructed, fixed, demolished, cleaned, slaughtered, skinned. He has shown up always without fail, even when he didn’t know what his presence was supposed to do. Stood there and said I am here, if you will need me. For every one of my heart’s desires, father has been the universe and the providence.
My life is forever stretches of father’s presence, and I am grateful for the place we are getting to, where there’s an ease that allows me to accept his love, a place without resentment, and I can tell we are both recovering from something and recovering something.
I am lucky to have had the safe love of my grandfather for as long as I did. Tainted at no particular point in time. I am grateful for all the ways he was present, for all the ways he showed up always without agitation or anger, with patience that I am only now, learning to master. I am grateful always, for the tenderness with which he loved me all the years of his life. I miss him dearly. And I pray he has all the love where he is. He’ll always have mine.