It’s been a minute.
And in that minute, I have been trying to write this story. I have sat in front of my laptop with my fingers tapping at the keyboard but ended up backspacing the hours spent here because, mediocrity. I have been trying to catch my breath too. Maybe because there’s a bigger story have been trying to tell – MY story. I’m at this empty page that stares at me blankly. Maybe it’s the beginning of the story I will leave behind that people will refer to when I’m 6 feet under. So as I figure out the best way to tell MY story, here’s another.
Atticus. I wish I met him earlier. Atticus for me is one of those people upon meeting you wonder why you haven’t met them yet. If I was to ask that, ‘where have you been all my life’ question, he would be on the receiving end. He played the fatherhood game so well, got all the moves right. Even with his feeble age and failing eyes, he was still tossing footballs around with his kids. Effortlessly throwing heavy balls of wisdom to them so gently that made it so easy for them to catch as if it would just momentarily melt into their systems as they held it in their hands.
He tells his daughter, Scout (Atticus’ daughter, also the narrator in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird)
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view-’
‘-until you climb into his skin and walk around in it’
And how it was all wrapped up:
(Scout) ‘Atticus, he was real nice…’
His hands were under my chin, pulling up the cover, tucking it around me.
(Atticus) ‘Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.’
He turned out the light and went into Jem’s room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.
Atticus reminded me so strongly of this man I met in 2014 during the first ever annual Islamic conference in Nairobi, Journey of Faith-Africa. He came in wearing his pants probably the way Atticus wore his, high-waisted with a brown leather belt to support it. He had on this large bulging forehead that screamed to me Somali. I was attending the event as a volunteer, in the kids’ section. My only job being to receive the kids from the parents, take down their parents’ details, and direct them to the playground, as the parents took their leave.
Well, until our subject of the day walked in.
Let’s call him Abdi, Mr. Abdi Mohamed.
He had four beautiful children, two boys, and two girls. Unlike the other parents, Mr. Abdi held the most worry and concern on his face, which his kind-hearted nature battled with a forceful smile. He tried to engage in small talk as well but only ended up asking a shedload of queries which can be summed into “Will they be okay?” I gave him a warm smile, assured him there were trained professional nannies, an ambulance and a group of other girls so they would be just fine. And then gave him my word that I won’t take my eyes off them. I didn’t.
Samira and Hannan, (may or may not be their real names) were jolly and loud. They laughed the way they played, with their whole bodies. Sweet and loving, and rough and unladylike, just like their aabo. Hamza, on the other hand, his last born, seemed a bit sickly. He didn’t cry, he didn’t laugh. He just said once that he needed to sleep and I sat down as he slept on my laps. Samira would come check up on him, go back and play then return with Hannan with more stories. By the end of the day, when their aabo came to pick them, they had fallen, and bruised themselves, with joy. And I fell too, for all of them. For how happy they were. And how naughty they were. The way they unrelentingly loved. But I could tell in all that they were, there must have been something missing. Something like a mother. That when the other girls complained how unruly ‘my babies’ (for the day at least) were, there was a story behind their happiness. A father who was working and loving twice as hard to cover an underlying truth that lay beneath their skins. A father who rolled up his sleeves every morning he woke up and said “Let’s do this”, helping them forget that which they lacked, and terribly needed until they didn’t need it anymore.
As I turned the last page of Harper Lee’s book I kept thinking about this man and his kids. I imagine he picks them up from school every day and they run to him the way they ran to him that day. He gets out of his car, adjusts his pants, and walks to the hall or the playground where they will be playing as they wait for aabo to come take them home. When they get into the car they let out their hearty laughters and aabo forgets all the things he has to worry about. And because he is always trying to win their love, he makes a point of adhering to offers like Terrific Tuesdays every week.
On the way home one evening Samira will tell him about one Miss. Nancy who keeps telling her that she doesn’t know how to eat, and she should learn how to eat like a lady.
“Aabo, today teacher told me I don’t know how to eat.”
“Did you tell her you finish all the food at home, macaney?”
Samira shrugs. She misses the joke while at it. But Aabo is so angry at this Miss Nancy right now. He makes a mental note to teach his girls how to eat. Because even after trying so hard with these angels of his, the world chooses to see their eating habits over the gracious angels they are turning into. Later that night over dinner he will teach them how to eat with a fork and knife. He will remind them though, that the fork remains on the right hand. He will watch as they tumble with their cutlery and new ways of eating. The way the mess becomes even messier as most of the food does not make it to their mouths. For some reason this sight warms his heart so he just keeps watching. He’ll do this with them every other night until they begin to get a hang of it.
Just like that they will grow into beautiful darlings made by their father. Their beloved aabo. Aabo’s beautiful darlings.
Every night after tucking them in bed he will set his alarm clock for four in the morning. He will wake up take ablution and lay down his prayer mat for sacred conversations with His Lord. He will cry to God and ask Him to protect his little girls for him. He will ask Him that He hopes they grow up to Beautiful God-fearing ladies. He will lay down all his hopes, and fears and ask that they be protected from this vile world.
And when they ask him about their mother, maybe he tells them that she is in a better place. And when they tell him that they don’t want to ever die, he’ll explain how there’s a better place than this world that awaits them. And he will say that death is inevitable. He will tell them that death is the beginning of a beautiful end. That the paradise their madrassa teacher talks to them about, can only come to pass after they die. And there they’ll live in a world with a mother. And what better world could they ask for?
I attended this year’s conference as well, not as a volunteer. But I kept thinking of that man, and whether Samira and Hannan were old enough to sit in the hall this time round. And if they had rubbed on their jolly ways to little Hamza. I listened to Said Rageah’s story of how he came from Canada, moved to Nairobi and fell in love with it. I fell in love with the way he pronounces Nairobi, underlying Somali base, and pour some Canadian accent to it. The warmth and the love he found here was overwhelming, which is where the journey began. The Journey of Faith. And for the last four years since thousands assemble at KICC for that love and warmth. To make milestones in our journeys of faiths.
Now for that other story..