Dreams of My Father

Moshood

“Everything gets to come back in dreams – the people and places you’re glad to see again and the ones you’d hoped you never would. Everything is still there, still alive, in our dreams. Whether we want it to be or not.” – Michelle Herman, Dream Life

My sister’s call came in while I was window-seated in the backseat of a trotro. It was a Thursday afternoon in October 2018. She sighed, then asked where I was and what I was doing. I told her I was on the way back to my place of residence at the time – a friend’s apartment I was temporarily sharing. She asked me to return her call whenever I reached my destination.

Back at the residence, seated at my friend Namata’s desk, my sister had news for me: our father had died earlier in the day in Ibadan, more than 500 kilometres away from Accra, where I live. Father’s driver had called to inform her not long after the occurrence. My heartbeat thumped for a quick second, and I must have shifted slightly in my seat – with whatever degree of intensity expected to come with reactions to such news having been deflated, probably, by my sister’s earlier call which, coupled with the prior knowledge of our dad’s ill health, hinted at this news. Her tone was devoid of hysteria throughout the call, and she did not cry at all; perhaps because she’d already done that in the moments that the news was broken to her. I, on the other hand, didn’t cry simply because I had no gut tears to shed.

Having been a Muslim during his lifetime, father’s burial had to be as immediate as possible. But it was shifted to the weekend, to make time for his children who weren’t resident in Nigeria to travel and take part in the ceremony. On the phone, Kudi said we had to be in Nigeria by Saturday for daddy’s burial. Off the cuff, I told her I wasn’t going to be able to make it, as I had crucial business on the same weekend that I couldn’t leave unattended.

I lied.

One afternoon, several weeks later, I visited a friend. It had been quite a while since we last saw each other. Inside their home studio, they launched into a catch-up. While I don’t remember exactly what they asked, I need absolutely no reminders of the fact that I was reclining in my seat, with my fingers in my hair, when I told them, in response to one of their very first catch-up questions, about my father’s passing. Their gut reaction had been very much in line with the way one would typically react to such news, particularly when it’s coming from someone dear to them. Their eyes widened as their face immediately turned sombre. In sync, they had flinched, the movement being most visible in the upper trunk of their body. A commiseration followed, “I’m so sorry.” Then, in tandem, there was a rapid pause and a disappearance of all emotion from their face. And then a calm, yet emphatic, “Still.”

In the very short time between the two reactions, my friend, I suppose, had gone back to some of the things I’d told them about my dad during the several chats we’d had about our respective relationships with our fathers.

I wasn’t fond of my father. It was a relationship I’d long summed up thus: “I don’t love him, I don’t hate him.” It is a relationship I probe occasionally. Like I did on Saturday, May 18, 2019, when I diarised on my laptop:

i won’t lie, i think about my dead father sometimes. like last night. i was looking for memories to revel in; memories of intimate moments between me and him. i scanned my mind, racked my brain. nothing leapt up.

actually, a few things did: him driving me to the ent physician for periodic ear irrigations; him taking me to a dentist to see about removal of one of my incisors, because i was embarrassed about a broken front tooth; him giving me my first phone, a silver samsung flip, at age 13 – or 14…

to my mind, a certain intimacy can be read into these very normal parental responsibilities when one considers that “father” was a subscriber to a way of being under which direct physical care and kindness – particularly between two penis-wielding individuals – is basically outlawed. one imagines, then, that men who subscribe to this way of being would find buffers. the above-listed acts, i reckon, were a few of my father’s.

but. last night i wasn’t foraging my memory bank for acts of mediated intimacy.

moments of tactile tenderness, yes! that’s what i was searching for. and, unfortunately, there was nothing…

*

Although I lived with Namata and therefore saw her every morning and evening, I didn’t tell her anything until a couple of days and nights after I got the news. On the night that I told her, I followed the telling with talk about a certain picture. It was a blurry selfie my other sister, Folake, had shared on her Facebook, to wish our dead father a peaceful rest. In the photograph were Folake and father. Both smiling widely, each one’s head and shoulder tilting towards the other’s, so that they are in tactile proximity and in frame. It is a rather fond image. The kind of image I was probably looking for when I scanned my mind that night in May, for memories of intimate moments between me and my father. And yet, something about it unsettled me, each time I mustered up enough vim to take a peep. Unsettling, each time, unfailingly.

I told Namata about this my uneasiness with the image. She proffered that perhaps it had something to do with my reckoning with what good could have been of the relationship between my father and me. That smile, to paraphrase beloved Namata’s profound thought, disrupts the essentially unwholesome image of father that I probably hold in my head. So, she adds “You would now be mourning the passing of the multidimensional and the relationship that could have been.” I still think about that. And, as well, about what the implications are, that the image – my father’s warm, wide smile in particular – always brings to mind these words on the dedication page of Alice Walker’s Previously Uncollected Poems: We Have A Beautiful Mother.

In memory of my father
Who, somber,
left me
his smile
(Proving magic survives
even under patriarchy.)

*

On the night of October 28, 2018, Kudi, who (together with our mother) had freshly returned to Accra, Ghana from attending the burial ceremony, showed me another image. It was a picture she had taken of daddy when she was last in Nigeria in his lifetime, which was only a few days less than a week before his death. In this photograph, my father lay on his hospital bed, frail and intubated.

If my reaction to father’s death had, up to that point, been of mixed feelings, this photograph acted as a sifter, sorting solicitude from passivity, and leaving me with more of the former. It didn’t help that Kudi kept relating pathos-inducing tales about daddy’s latter days – about how he became a changed, better person.

I remember thinking, when me and Kudi parted, about that peculiar kind of death effect that engenders a situation where unsavoury characteristics of a person are buried together with their body, and replaced with laundered accounts of their disagreeable doings.

The first dream I had about my father, posthumous, came a significant while after this night. I don’t remember the details of it, but he must have been in circumstances very similar to what he was in in the picture my sister showed me – on admission at a hospital, in a hospital gown to boot, oozing piteousness. I couldn’t claim to have any real interest in dream analysis. Notwithstanding, I am not enrolled in the “dream science” school of thought which essentially regards dreams as absolutely meaningless, useless.

Many months after the first, the second dream came. I met with my father in a compound somewhere. He was wearing a jalabia. I was sporting tattoos, which he was seeing for the first time. He neither fretted nor lost his mind at the sight of all the ink that I’d desecrated my skin with; very atypical of my father who’d always wanted me to be a gentleman: close-crop my hair, tuck my shirt in, wear nothing other than a watch around my wrist. He merely held the hand that had the three (inscription) tattoos and read them. On reading the one that says “Love Is Egalitarian’, he asked me what the last word meant. The dream ended after I’d explained the meaning of ‘egalitarian’, but not before a resigned expression from him that conveyed neither his approval nor disapproval of my ungentlemanly sin. Knowing my father, I was extremely bemused by this reaction.

When I woke from sleep on the morning of the third dream, I recorded the date – September 30 2019.

A week or two after dream number two, I had the third dream. In it, Daddy and I were riding in a car, on the way back from visiting a friend of mine. He was telling me about how much he loves all the African masks and art in copious display at my friend’s. Then he mentioned my friend’s close-shaven head, inquiring, rhetorically, if I could not have my full, braided hair like that. Now, although father was a Muslim and religious to a significant extent, he was not doctrinaire. There is, thus, not much to be mined from his appreciation of African artefacts which have been demonized by anti-African Abrahamic religions. The kicker is that I was wearing braids in my father’s presence in the first place. And that his approach to getting my hair in a state he desired, was conciliatory. That was just not who my father was in real life.

At several points between these dreams and my sisters’ eulogies, a giddy thought kept coming to me – my father’s ghost was doing a damn good PR job on his dead behalf. Another recurring thought: the Akan saying ‘Sɛ w’ewu a, ma weni ɛnka w’aminamu’ which directly translates as ‘if you have died, let your eyes remain in your grave.’ Which is to say, mind your dead business and leave my living sleep alone.

*

One Sunday morning in 2012, not long after I’d turned 20, my father rather foolishly escalated a simple argument, gave way, once again, to anger, and assaulted my mother, hitting her several times across her body. That same morning, irate, I dragged my mother out of her husband’s house. We went straight to her brother’s, because he was the relative who lived closest to us; and then later that day, returning clandestinely to collect a few essentials into this uncle’s truck, we went to her late father’s house. We would never return to live in my father’s place again.

Father is reported to have said that he waited a year or two for our return. And when that didn’t happen, he packed his things, leased the house to an Indian family and went to live in Nigeria. Our belongings? He carted them to a storage in one of his friend’s incomplete buildings.

Early in the third week of October 2019, my sister and I randomly decided during a phone call to finally go and see the things, check out what good was left of them. A day or two later, on the eve of the day, I called my sister in the night time to confirm our plans – meeting place and time.

Dream number four came at dawn. Unlike in the previous three, daddy was dead in this one. The setting was our former neighbourhood. Sun was bright and my father was lying naked, by a small, empty open gutter, in front of a neighbour’s house. I was perturbed, peeved that my father’s corpse had been neglected – left bare and inglorious in the scathing sun. I had anger for everybody else, and for my father, only sympathy and affection. In the morning when I woke up, I thought briefly about this dream, and then I got ready to go and meet my sister. A few moments after we met in her shop, before we headed on to go check out what good was left of our chucked belongings, Kudi asked: “why are you looking so much like daddy today?” Then she followed it up with another rhetorical question. “Do you know today is exactly one year since he passed? 17th October…”

Moshood lives in Accra, Ghana. He’s been published in a number of publications, both online and in print.

 

*Illustration: ‘Sorry Father For Being An Ungentleman’ by Sef Adeola.