This is the first story to launch this space! Yay! I wrote it a year or so ago. Well at least the skeletal system of it. Lol. Don’t blame me abeg. My father is a doctor. My mother is a biology teacher. Ehen…of course I am writing things like ‘skeletal system’.
While this story is kind of cliche, it also has a twist that I like. Anyway let me know what y’all think in the comment box.
They call me from the office around 1 pm. They wait till it is almost lunch time before bothering to wonder what fate has befallen me. Eniola does the calling but I can hear the Chairman in the background barking out questions that she repeats nicely to me over the phone. I am sorry, I say. I was not feeling too good and overslept. I will make up for it tomorrow, I promise. Extra hours, whatever it takes, I assure Eniola and indirectly, the Chairman.
It takes 4 minutes of back and forth over the phone for us to reassure the Chairman and get him off both our backs. I can hear Enilola breathing as she walks away from his office. A door shuts and Eniola’s voice takes on the motherly tone everyone at the office love her for. She asks if I am alright and I hesitate but only for a minute before assuring her that I am, albeit with less confidence than I did about working overtime. She sighs and repeats her mantra; “It is well”, she says and I am reminded of my own mother and I almost smile.
I say goodbye hurriedly to Eniola and head back to my table before the doctor can bail.
“So explain this to me again.” I say continuing from where we left off when my phone rang. “Explain again so I can wrap my brain around it. Explain how I am not able to have kids and yet my wife, your patient has given birth to three healthy children. And while you are at it, explain why and how they all look like me if I have been shooting blanks all these years? Do you need a refill? Your glass is empty. Some more alcohol might loosen your tongue, no?” I signal for a waiter as I speak.
I already have the answers to the questions I am throwing at the man before me. I have had them since the night I bumped into my old family doctor at the airport. I had been taking the kids to visit their grandparents in Abuja when I ran into the man that had nursed all my childhood aches and pains. The old man had hugged me like a long lost son. I introduced my children to him and explained where we were headed. The old man had stared at the children I introduced as mine like they were aliens. He had finally taken my hand and congratulated me on my ‘miracle’.
“He is a prayer answering God, a miracle working God,” had been his response to me. Those were the words that had started off the chain reaction that had led to the table in the fine restaurant where I now sit.
So here I am; father to three children who look like me and yet DNA test results say differently. It is strange how the truth stares us in the face, bites us in the buttocks, makes our heart stop; and yet we always look to others to reinforce what we have always known.
The man sitting before me looks around the restaurant we are in before his eyes finally settle on a spot on the floor. It has been that way from the moment he walked into the restaurant and picked out me out from the lunch crowd. He can’t bear to look at me. I am not sure whether it is from pity, shame or because he, like me, is remembering three different occasions where he presented three different children to me and congratulated me on being a father. I want to strangle the man. All these years, so much deceit …
The truth has two eyes exactly like mine. He is my favorite person in the world. He fought off bullies for me in primary school, hooked me up with the hottest Jambites in the University, and stayed up with me nights when I couldn’t sleep during NYSC in Gombe.
The waitresses keep finding excuses to pass our table. I catch one’s eyes and she lowers them in apology. I do not blame her. People have stared at us for as long as I can remember. We are used to it and when we were children, we reveled in it. As adults, it is just annoying.
I myself cannot seem to stop staring at the man in front of me. Recently he started growing a beard which he had joked was for the purpose of helping my two year old tell the difference between her daddy and her uncle. My older children could tell the difference between who wore suits to work and who always smelled like hospitals, but little Nadia couldn’t. Now I think of the irony of it all as I smile bitterly and down my drink.
The signs have always been there for me to see but I chose blindness for a reason and this lunch date with the doctor is merely a journey to re-discovery. I and my wife waited 6 years for our first child to be born. Six years of one fertility treatment after the other until we had finally settled for in vitro fertilization. My brother accompanied us for every visit to the specialist. My wife had insisted- he was her doctor after all and I had seen nothing odd with it.
He reaches out for my hand now from across the table. There are tears in his eyes as he tells me how no one else needs to know. For all purposes and intent, they are my children. They will always be my children. He tells me he never touched my wife but I know that already. He would never do that to me. They must have found a way to exchange my seed with his during those long and exacting IVF treatments.
“How long have you known I was…?” I struggle to say the words “Impotent “ and “Infertile”.
He sips his drink and clears his throat. His eyes shift to the floor again and I find that I am fine with that. I am not sure I want to see the pity mirrored in his eyes.
He starts to speak. “It was just around when you started seeing the IVF specialists. Your wife came to my house one day and showed me test results. The test showed that IVF was going to be a waste of time. Your wife was inconsolable especially as she knew how much you wanted your own child. My first child, Aramide had just been born then because I remember coming home from my rounds at the clinic and meeting Mama cradling her outside. Mama was there as your wife drove into the house looking lost and confused. You know Mama. She can get anyone to do anything. She got her to spill the beans about why she was crying. Afterwards, Mama held her while she cried and made her dinner. She sent her home after getting her to promise she wouldn’t say anything to you about it. That night, after Aramide had been put down for the night and my wife had gone to bed, Mama told me what I must do.”
‘Mama knew?” I ask, my first surprise of the day.
“Mama always knew. Remember when you had mumps as a child?”
That would explain the family doctor’s surprise. It seemed like everyone else knew my secret apart from me, its rightful owner. My mother, my childhood doctor, my brother, my wife… Was I that weak that they feared to tell me the truth about my manhood?
“I have no regrets, Kehinde. You are my brother, my twin. It is my job to look out for you, to do anything in my power to make your dreams come true, ” My brother says, looking in my eyes for the first time. This time, I am the one that looks away.
He is right. He is my brother. He is my best friend, my twin, and the father of my children. If I were in his shoes, I would do exactly what he did, everything to letter, everything except not telling the truth.
“You should have told me. All of you, one of you, should have told me…” I start to say before the lump in my throat cuts me off.
The ‘ugly truth’ they call it. Does that apply even when it looks exactly like you?
I collect myself and wipe the tears away before the next pesky waitress can pass by.
“She must never know that I know.” I say at last to my brother. I do not need to tell him who I am referring to. I leave him sitting there, his head bowed, his heart broken in the exact place mine is.
Somehow I make it back home without an accident even though I can barely see through the tears that won’t stop flowing down my face. I sit in the car for the longest time and watch from the driveway as my children play in the grass. Damilohun is eight and was my introduction to fatherhood. She lights up my life with her twinkling laughter and a soul that is older than her eight years on earth. Oredimeji was our second chance; an opportunity to make up for the mistakes we made as first time parents with Dami. He is five and looks exactly like I and the Doctor did at his age. And Nadia; Nadia is everything, everything you dream about when you hope for a child of your own.
They have their mother’s eyes and their father’s build. They, however, have my heart. As I sit in the car watching them, I find that it is enough.
Photo Credits: Unicef. Don’t forget to give back. Kids all over the world need us.
Song of the day: Jason Gray- Remind Me who I am