Brian stares at his phone for nearly an hour. He suddenly stands up from his table and steps out of the restaurant. He walks to the furthest end of the balcony to his right and heads to the smoking zone. There is no one there say for one guy who is done smoking and is on his way back inside. Brian says his hello, something he has to do every now and then because he owns the place. He comes back shortly and as though in a trance, quaffs the content in the glass in his left hand. He requests to step out again. The orange sun is slowly exiting. Soon, curfew will catch up with us if we don’t have this conversation. I check my wristwatch. Oh, boy!
Brian has been struggling with his identity and this he says is messing up his life. His mother downplays his urge to know his biological father. He has turned to what he thinks is his solace, alcohol. He is not married (though most men his age, 34 years, are married). He thinks having a woman in his life right now, is more than he can handle. He says he will marry when he wants. Fair enough.
I sit at the table lost in thought of whether to walk up to Brian or just wait for him to come back. It’s about 6 P.M. maybe I should go talk to him on the balcony, I think to myself. I am about to get up when Brian joins me at the mahogany made round table. His slender fingers are shaking. His lower lip is shaking too. It isn’t cold, I would know because me and cold don’t get along, so his shaking must be for another reason.
“Are you OK man?”
“No. I mean yeah. I mean I will be.”
“You know, we don’t have to do this. We can just reschedule and meet when you are ready. No biggie.”
“No. I am OK.”
He notices my eyes staring at his hands. I couldn’t help it.
“Don’t worry. I get edgy and nervous whenever I talk about this part of my life.”
“We all have a story about our lives we don’t want anyone to know. So I understand.”
“After am done telling you mine, then you’ll tell me yours?”
We both laugh then an awkward silence follows. By now, he seems more relaxed.
Brian takes a long deep breath before he finally manages to let out his first words, “I have three fathers.”
I try not to act surprised but I am drawn in, captured by what is about to unfold. Brian is a fairly successful man; he owns two restaurants in Nairobi and is set to open a new one (If you have noticed, I have not mentioned the name of the restaurant. Reason being, some of you may go there tomorrow not because you want to eat or have a drink, but because you want to go look for the owner to match the face to the story. So name withheld). So, to think there is a part of his life he would rather shelf is surprising. If it were up to him, he would erase that chapter.
Brian’s mother is called Susan. She met Brian’s father while in her final year in high school. One thing led to another and she got pregnant. She was in her final term and lucky for her she did her final exams without the teachers noticing something different with her body especially a protruding tummy. She did her best to cover it. She had to because if by any chance, she was found out, she would have been sent home. This in turn would have meant she stayed at home, gave birth and forgot about going back to that same school. The embarrassment and stigma would have been too torturous. The alternative was to look for another school.
Getting another school those days was not easy, someone had to get a letter from the previous school explaining why you needed to transfer. If your reason was something like, your parent was transferred from his/her place of work that would pass for direct admission. But if the reason was pregnancy, you’d be asked to beat it.
As soon as Susan told her boyfriend she was about four months pregnant, the man became elusive, and he was nowhere to be seen. Susan thought of getting rid of the pregnancy but her mother stopped her. She carried the pregnancy to term, gave birth to a bouncy boy and named him Brian, after her late father. When her son was about a year old, she went to college and left the boy under the care of his grandmother.
Years went by and Susan got a job as a secretary. She earned good money. She took her son and lived with him. Brian was about nine years then. Susan met another man who after a short time of dating, moved in with them. The man was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. When Susan got pregnant, the wolf that was in hiding came out to play. He would come home drunk and beat her up like a dog. It was a miracle she never had a miscarriage. Brian was too petrified to stand up to him and protect his mother. There was nothing he could do. He would find himself pee on himself whenever he heard people shout. He would wake up in his sleep screaming. He had never seen such violence.
“Why did your mother stay with that man anyways?”
“I don’t know to be honest. I once told her I didn’t feel safe with my step-father. She didn’t take me seriously at first until the day she saw him slap me so hard that his palm and fingers left marks on my cheek.”
“How old were you then?”
“I was about 12 years.”
12 years is too young for a boy soon turning into a young man, watch his mother battered. Little Brian withdrew from people. He didn’t want to go to family gatherings. He didn’t want to talk to anyone. But the day his mother saw that wolf slap him so hard sending him to the floor. That was her wake up call to end the madness. She had had it with him and demanded he leaves or she calls the police on him. The man left. A month later, he came back and begged Susan to forgive him and take him back. Susan stood at the door, slapped him and told him that was for her son and shut the door on his face.
Six months after that incident, Susan gave birth to a beautiful girl and named her after her mother, Eunice. Brian was happy to have a sibling. Years went by and Susan got promoted as the CEO’s personal assistant. This meant travelling with her boss from time to time. She enjoyed it. This meant better living standards for her kids. They moved to a bigger house, two-bedroom. Brian, the man of the house, had his own room. He was 16 and in high school.
A year after they had moved to their new house, Susan met another man while on one of her work trips. She had sworn not to entrust her heart to any other man. How she opened up her heart to this man is still a mystery. The things that people do for love. Unlike her first and second encounter with the fathers of her two kids, she somehow wanted to give love another chance. She talked to Brian about it first. Brian was not for the idea but again, he didn’t want to be the reason his mother didn’t love again. Besides, he would soon be going to college so the least he could do, was support his mother.
Brian was 18 when Susan and her newly found love got married. At least his second step-father had the decency to introduce his mother to his people. He seemed serious about having a family. He was five years older than Susan, and he didn’t mind that she had two children. A year later, they had a son. Brian had two siblings. All three of them with their own father.
“Your third father, what’s he like?”
“He is ok. Mum loves him. He treats her well. I am yet to call him father. I call him by his name, Tom. I am yet to meet my biological father. I don’t even know why I want to meet the man who took off when he heard I was on my way to this world. It’s crazy I know.”
“Brian, if today was your wedding, which of your fathers would you invite?”
“Hahaha… That’s no brainer, Tom. I mean the guy still calls to check up on me. Becoming a restaurateur was his idea.”
“If you ever meet your biological father, that’ll be great. You’ll have him answer your innermost, burning question, why he took off. Until then, you have a father in Tom.”
“Yeah. Tom is honestly the father I never had.”
“What do you guys mostly talk about?”
“Hahaha. The usual men talk but mostly business.”
“What about that big question?”
“You know… When are you taking a girl home?”
“Hahahaha… I am not ready for that commitment.”
It is about 7:45 P.M. Brian requests I have dinner before I check out. I am delighted to sample a dish on the menu. I enjoy the mouthwatering meal before I tell Brian I understand why he wants to expand. Despite the Covid crisis, he seems to be thriving.
“That was wonderful. Thank you, Brian.”
I request for an uber, minutes later, my ride arrives.
“Brian, I think you should give love a chance. I mean, your mother had every reason not to. But hey, what do I know?”
“I will think about it.”
“You should. I am sure Tom would be very pleased.”
He chuckles, “I am sure he would.”