Fiyin hangs his head, leaning back against the car seat.
He has been sitting in the car for almost an hour. He knows he should go inside. A part of him wants to go inside, but a part of him is terrified. It is the same part of him that lived in terror every day of his childhood. Somehow, as he grew up, he had buried those feelings of terror, thinking that never giving a voice to them will make them less real.
But here he is, a grown man, a husband and a father himself, still paralysed with fear at facing his father again.
He picks up his phone, to call his wife. The phone hangs limp in his hands. What will he say?
“Hey baby, I’m sitting outside my father’s house and I’m terrified of going in, of facing him.”
His eyes fall on the scrapbook that his daughter Annalise had given him this morning. He smiles as he remembers her throwing her arms around him that morning and saying “Happy Father’s day to the bestest daddy of all times!” She had then told him to close his eyes and then proceeded to place the scrapbook in his hands.
When he opened it, flipping the pages, seeing pictures of him holding Annalise as a baby, him carrying her on his shoulder, him teaching her to ride a bike recently, that was when the urgent need to see his father again rose within him.
He knew his wife Tekena had helped Annalise with the scrapbook, printing those pictures out, then probably helping her to cut the pictures.
Annalise is five and the absolute light of his life. Annalise has never met his father, her grandfather.
It wasn’t a decision he had consciously taken, but somehow, after his wedding, he had moved away from the mainland where he had grown up, and moved to Lagos island.
It was as if he had been subconsciously distancing himself from the terror he had lived in.
Tekena knew some of it, she knew of the physical abuse, of the time his father had locked him in a room for a day without food or water, when he chose Drama club over Football club. When his father finally let him out, he went back to school and signed up for the football club and never mentioned drama club again.
There were the times his father had been so angry, he had beat him not just with hands, but with his feet then his belt.
Once he had threatened him with the gun he had been assigned in the military, and finally ended up hitting him with the butt of the gun.
These incidents were so many that Fiyin could hardly remember his crimes.
But he remembered the feelings of fear, hatred and confusion all mixed together. He remembered hating his mother for not being enough, for not doing enough to protect him.
What had she done? She had tended his wounds after different episodes, she talked to him in soothing whispers, telling him how his father loved him so much he didn’t know how to show it.
Fiyin remembers when he decided he hated his father. It was the morning he woke up and realized that the man had filled his JAMB form for him and sent it out without letting Fiyin have a say.
It was in the moment, he felt the hatred well up in him and consume him like a raging fire.
He had planned to pick a University far away from Lagos, from his father. He had also wanted the opportunity to choose his course of study. But the man had taken all that from him without so much as a glance in his direction.
When Annalise had been born, Fiyin had almost been too scared to hold her, because what if he was like his father? What if he couldn’t control his rage and he took it out on his daughter?
His phone rings, jerking him out of his reverie. It is his wife.
“Hey baby,” he says.
“Hey. What’s up? Did you…have you…seen him?”
“Not yet. I’m out here and I can’t seem to go in, TK. I can’t do this.” He says.
“Babe. If you don’t think you’re ready, maybe you shouldn’t…”
“No, I am. I want to. I just…” He sighs. “Okay, I’m going to go in. I’ll just knock on the door. It’ll be easy.”
“Um…I’m pretty sure it won’t be easy, but you have to do it anyway.” She says.
He finds himself smiling at her practicality. Tekena never believed in fantasies.
“Okay. See you later then.” He says
When she hangs up, he opens the car door and steps out. He locks the door and crosses the street to the red-bricked bungalow.
The gateman asks him who he wants to see and he tells him: “General Abayomi.”
There is no need to explain further, he resembles his father physically, in ways that make him uncomfortable.
The gateman points to the house and he walks up to the house.
He hesitates before he knocks. He is not ready when the door opens and he finds himself staring into the face of the man who destroyed his childhood.
He doesn’t speak. He can’t.
“Fiyin,” he says. His voice is still strong, he is standing there, tall, and in casual clothes, a towel around his neck.
“Yes sir,” he finds himself responding, automatically.
Then there are no words left to say, except the ones he had come to say.
He opens his mouth to speak just as his father says: “come inside.”
“No sir. I can’t. I just…I just wanted to say…I have a five year old daughter and I love her so much and…I can’t imagine doing to her all you did to me. I thought for a long time that that was what being a parent meant…being hard and difficult and tough. But…it’s not. You did it wrong. You were wrong. That’s what I came to tell you. You were wrong about so many things.”
Once the words are out, Fiyin feels lighter. He looks his father in the face, watching his reaction.
The man’s face is expressionless as usual. He opens his mouth and closes it again.
“You turned out alright,” he says eventually, a proud lilt to his voice.
“No, no, I didn’t.” Fiyin says.
And then he walks away.