I never knew I could be an embarrassment until Elsie turned 10. The situation reminded me of one thing- payback is a bitch. Back in the days, some of the acts my dad did could embarrass me in the presence of my pals. These were not just pals. They were the inner circle of people who I had to impress. I, therefore, didn’t want anything that seemed to put me in their bad books because that would elicit some kind of ridicule that will follow me to the grave. Negative words eat me. they stick onto my heart and every time something reminds me of them I shudder with fear, reminding me of my physically present weaknesses that can be used to hurt me every second of my life. So in a way, I could try to throw my dad into the cool loop without him knowing to protect my name amongst my peers.
Last year Elsie was 10. In other words, she became a woman. I keenly observed numerous changes that had taken place. Suddenly, she was spending more time before the mirror (apparently, she had boys to impress. I can’t blame her; she has to look cute for the boys because, really, at 10 all you know is to impress boys. Then you grow up and discover you first need to look cute for yourself.), she ate more decently, dressed in better attires and somehow got to know where nice clothes are retailed cheaply.
The thing I couldn’t help but notice was the distance between us. She wasn’t interested in her mother or me as much as she was interested in the boys in her school or neighbourhood, or the girls in her school. She had, in a way, become initiated to a clique of girls who have just realized that they’re beautiful and special so that they used this as a tool to earn privileges such as fame and favours.
I can’t deny that beauty is a gift. It is also a curse. Because beauty can make you arrogant, it can make you full of yourself, it can fill your head with pride, so much, that it is the only thing that matters. It was happening to Elsie, under our watch.
I remember telling Alexa “If we are not careful, soon enough Elsie will be pregnant.” I don’t know if 10-year olds can get pregnant but one thing I know is that I know signs of attracting pregnancy. There is a certain way that a woman or a girl can behave so that when you look at her, all you can see is a protruding belly. And sure enough, a few days or months later, her front will be sagging dangerously, carrying a life. A life that will grow, perhaps, without a father because he ran off when he received the news. The father didn’t run away because he didn’t want the baby, but because he was scared of the whole ordeal. Therefore, a kid will come along and grow minus a father figure in his life.
All they will know is that the father was a bastard who ran away because that is what the mothers will tell them. These kids will harbor hate towards people they don’t know, people they might never meet, and go to the grave angry with them. What a miserable life!
I got disturbed by Elsie’s behavior. I knew what was happening to her but I bet she didn’t. To an extent, I understood that maybe it is the body that was starting to change and the hormones were trying to work out a way of making her a woman, so they were driving her back and forth in the effort of shaping her to be a woman.
One day when Alexa was at work, I sat her down and told her how things are. She didn’t seem to listen. She was too preoccupied with her own demons, looking at her nails and occasionally staring at me with boredom pasted on her face. After exhausting my words, she said nothing. An uncomfortable silence stood between us. It was an awkward moment I must say. I never imagined that a time would come when Elsie and I would sit quietly in a house and lack something to talk about, or even a time when we would treat each other with contempt.
“Dad, are you finished?” She asked.
Just like that, she disappeared into her room. It did hit me that I was failing as a father. It was the first thought that hit me, so bad that I left the room to walk in the streets of Paddington. Paddington is such a beautiful place because of its diversity. It is like a small centre full of cultural presentation simply because it harbours residences where travelers take a rest while they move around London.
Paddington is beautiful. You need to see it so that you can know the definition of beauty. It is in the heart of London, having all kinds of things that a person can desire. I walked along Oxford Street, mostly admiring things without registering them in my mind because my mind was preoccupied with Elsie’s behavioral change. I ended up in Sheldon Square and sat on one of the terraces next to a white couple. The green, soft grass felt good under my feet as I put my sandals aside.
For the first time, I felt like a stranger to myself. I was certain that I was not feeling okay. That is the thing about me; a small thing can throw me off course for a long while. Even a small thought can burden me for hours.
When I got home that day, I slept a sad man.
But that was not as worse as the day I went to pick Elsie from school while in a pair of shorts. It was a mistake, only that I didn’t know because I have always picked her up while in a pair of shorts. The school is 3miles away from where they live. That is less than 3 minute’s drive. Since everyone else in the school is picked up and dropped by their folks, we also decided to do so, so that she doesn’t feel different.
Most, if not all the time, Alexa is at work. You know how doctors can be. She thus hired a chauffeur to drive Elsie. That decision takes me back to Transporter 2 (I guess) where Jason Statham chauffeurs this tycoon doctor’s kid to and fro school, and then one day to a doc for the kid’s check-up only to be met by different attendants, who apparently are gangsters planning to abduct the kid. I often picture the same happening to Elsie.
Anyway. On this particular day, I got to drive to school to pick Elsie. Oh yes, I have a valid DL in London. I don’t know what told me to get out of the car. I did get out, hoping that Elsie would run into my arms as she always did before things got rough between us. To my shock, she went past me and entered the car and sat in the backseat, slammed the door and wore a sullen face. When I took the driver’s seat, she asked me, “How could you embarrass me like that?”
I couldn’t believe my ears heard that, so I asked, “Say what!”
“How can you come to pick me up from school in a pair of shorts dad? My friends don’t like your skinny knees. They always taunt me about them.”
I didn’t say a word. Yes, I got skinny knees but I’d never known that they could be an embarrassment to someone. We probably had the longest three minutes of our lives that day. No one talked to each other all the way. As I pulled up to the parking lot, I looked Elsie through the rearview mirror, she was still disgruntled. I killed the engine, got out, and without helping her with the door, stormed to my bedroom for a quick nap. The idea of me being an embarrassment was heavy on me. I wanted to sleep and forget she ever said that.
Deep down, somewhere within me, there was fury roaring to life. There was something poking me to bang Elsie’s head against the wall. I could have done that gladly were it not my kid. But when I thought about it, after a peaceful rest, I understood where she was coming from. She was becoming a woman. She didn’t understand what she was being involved in. Something was controlling her, something her small mind couldn’t control.
That night I went into her room and knocked at the door softly. She was listening to music. Her room was fresh and warm, I liked how it felt.
“Can I come in?” I asked. She offered me in.
I sat on her bed. I wanted us to be in the same books, good books with each other because we’re family. We forgive what we kill others for. I tried to explain to her that it doesn’t matter what other kids think of her or us (her folks). “There is something greater beyond the physical. It might be one or many, things we don’t see (some we do), things that we feel, these are things that matter. A family that loves you. Having good health. Food on your table. Clothes on your body. Peace of mind. These are the things that matter at the end of the day.
“These kids will tease you and all that, but at the end of the day what do they gain? Have you ever imagined what will happen, if you didn’t give attention to what they say about me or you? Do you know that they tease you because you allow them to by giving them your attention?”
I wanted her to understand. I was talking to her like I would talk to a grown-ass person. It ended well. That is what I love about kids, that they forget things easily, collect their happiness, and wear it. It was an easy night for me.
A fortnight ago, I went north coast of Mombasa. There is a very flattering resort there called Flamingo Resort, bordering the beach. Pine trees line along that coast for kms. And in the midst of that jungle of pine trees stands a laidback resort on beachfront along the Indian Ocean. To spend a night, you must have 15Gs with you. Otherwise, you are not going to let your back feel the nakedness of any mattress in that hotel.
I had been invited to take part in a wedding shoot, as a photographer. As you know me, I don’t turn offers down unless it is from satan himself.
This was the reception and it was an amazing place to shoot for a number of reasons. The first reason being that the weather was thoroughly conducive. The sun did hide all day hence offering us great pictures. Secondly, there were like five of us. Three photographers and two videographers. This means that I didn’t have to be everywhere at the same time. We captured moments happening at every corner of the reception.
I slipped into where the brides were resting. Y’all know how women can be when they see a photographer. Suddenly, they find reasons to smile even if their moods don’t allow it. This kind of witchcraft needs to be shared with men too. It can be stressful finding the perfect photo poses for a man unless he is a model.
I spent time taking photos with them. As many know me, I am a simple man, calm and generally nice to people. It is a good thing to have these qualities. Yet it is bad to have them at the same time as people will take them for granted and abuse them. A man has to find a balance between machoism and humility. While I have that balance, I mostly prefer leaning on humility until I’m forced to ride on the other wave.
The celebrations continued into the night, meaning our working hours extended too until midnight. I didn’t shift my ass. I found the aura exuded by the group so alluring. I felt like I was home, a home that didn’t belong to me. during the conversation, one lady said, “So Mr. Nice Guy, why don’t you say something?” And just like that, Justine Mzangila became Mr. Nice Guy.
Until we parted ways, I was Mr. Nice Guy.
Honestly, I don’t like the name. No one wants nice guys. Anybody? Not even you Damaris? Okay. You see now. No one likes nice guys. That is why I don’t like it. When we flew back, I didn’t tell anyone about the new sobriquet that some lass gave me. I knew if I told my crew the story then they’d start calling me Mr. Nice Guy. That doesn’t disturb me. What I wonder is whether Elsie will grow up to one day call me Mr. Nice Guy. Truly, that would be the end of me.
I want her to grow up and see me as the first man to ever love her the way she will ever want to be loved. I want her to grow up and when people say shit about me, she stands and bangs the hell out of them. I hope one day, when she grows up, she’ll say something like, “I am proud that you’re my dad.” Because nothing else will matter, not even the lass who called me Mr. Nice Guy.
Mr. Nice Guy.
Where shall we go, we who wander in this wasteland in search of better selves?