PATERNITY 4 XD
I was home in one piece for my parents that was enough. I tried to keep the images of my experience at bay and be normal or at least pretend to be. Instead of going to camp, I went home.
As usual, my safe return was a big deal for my parents and they invited our family friends and toasted to me. For me, the meal was enough and seeing my mom happy was a lot more than enough. The truth is I admired my mom, I knew she could have never chosen military life for me. I wondered how she managed all those years with dad, I had vague memories of her staying awake at night by the phone waiting for him to call every time he was out on a mission.
“You’re home and safe, allow us to celebrate that.” My dad smiled patting my back and shoving a beer into my hand.
Henry spotted me, just as I was putting the beer dad had forced in me back into the refrigerator. Alcohol would keep me up and I desperately needed sleep.
“Welcome home son,” Henry smiled.
“What did I miss?”
“Nothing noteworthy…” he replied.”Lindilani called asking me for your contact details.”
I opened the refrigerator and reached back for the beer. It had been four years. Henry was talking but I could not hear him. I drank a huge sip.
Lindi? What would she want?
“She’s back?” I asked. The last I heard was she was studying medicine in Cuba. She must be a doctor already. Wait, I knew she was back.
“It sounded like an emergency,” Henry added. “I’ve texted you the number she used.”
My phone vibrated in my pocket, I already had her number, all three times she changed it but never had the courage to actually contact her. I had a close friend at OP who I asked to keep an eye on her. I owed her an apology, I guess she was reaching out to get it.
“What do you think she wants?” Henry asked.
I shrugged.”It’s been four years I really don’t know man.”
“Maybe she’s getting married?”
I shook my head, she wouldn’t seek me out for that even if I was the one getting married. Lindi had her pride.
“So you will call her?” he asked.
“Well that’s what numbers are for,” I said looking curiously at him. He smiled.
“I was surprised to get her call, I can’t figure out what it’s about,”he said.
“Have you seen her lately?” I asked him.
“No, but I see her twin brother we work in the same building,” he replied.
“The accounts guy?”
“Yeah. Are you over her?" he asked.
I drank from my now almost empty bottle of beer.
"I think so," I said hopefully. I had time to heal and move on.
I called Lindilani in the evening and she insisted that what she had to say required us to meet in person. I had to admit the sound of her voice opened up a whole lot of memories I had tried to bury.
There is nothing like seeing someone after so many years only to find that they haven’t changed much. Lindi looked the same, still very beautiful.
I watched as she got out of the passenger side of a blue sedan, I caught myself wondering if the car was her boyfriend's. Was he the father of her kid? Just then the Yango signage on the car came into view. Lindi walked confidently across the parking lot to the cafe, adjusting her bag as she walked and checking her phone. She was wearing a blue Jean dress and a black biker jacket. I stood up when she neared the table and I was caught off guard when she hugged me.
It was a quick long time no see hug but it threw me off. I cleared my throat and offered her a seat. She lowered herself onto the seat and the waiter came with the menu. She asked for water, I needed another coffee.
"Sorry I am late, I forgot what Lusaka taxis can be like," she said setting her bag on the empty seat.
I smiled politely, her scent filling my nostrils and then it hit me how much she had actually changed. When we were at Uni her hair was always braided, now she had it neatly tied into a ponytail, she still wore small shiny studs but the silver pendant she often wore around her neck had been replaced with a gold chain with the letter T.
She sipped her water as soon as it arrived.
"How have you been?" I asked.
"Fine thank you." She replied looking up at me. Something in that look made me feel uncomfortable.
"I dont know what happened, why you left the way you did," she took a deep breath and slowly breathed out. I knew she was not here to get an apology, I knew it from the moment the smell of her perfume hit me. Unable to defend my actions I sat back and patiently waited for this important conversation to be over. She reached for her phone and slid it across the table.
There was a picture of a small boy, he was looking away from the camera but his resemblance to me was uncanny. I zoomed in on the way he was perched on the stair. His blue sweater had a small letter T. White sneakers adorned his feet and he had a mass of curly hair. I zoomed in on the face.
"There are more," Lindi said but I was already swiping and the more pictures I saw, the more I knew that this boy was my son.
"I tried to get in touch but you had already gone," she explained. "His name is Thulani."
"When can I meet him?" I asked pushing the phone towards her.
"I need to discuss it with my parents."
I realized this changed a lot of things for me. I needed to tell my parents. I know my mom will be ecstatic I just dont know what dad will say.
"How did you manage school and the pregnancy?"
"I got by," she replied evasively.
"I am sorry Lindi, I didn't know if I knew..."
"We both know you would have gone, maybe that's why I was the last to know, you didn't want someone holding you back. Anyway, that's not why I asked to meet. Let me talk to my parents since they have been taking care of him and I will let you know."
I nodded. "Can you send me ...the pictures?"
She nodded, my phone vibrated and I saw she sent me a couple. I sat back and stared at the picture of Thulani, my son.
Long after Lindi had gone I remained in the cafe staring at the image of my son. The son who until two hours ago I had no idea existed. My mind went back to that first time I came home and Henry told me Lindi was pregnant, regret gnawed at me.
I clicked on the picture and sent it to Henry. He immediately called. We spoke as I drove home.
'What are you going to do?' he asked.
'Not sure yet.'
Henry was apologetic but none of all this was his fault. Later that evening my mom asked me the same question and I was nowhere near the answer.
Oh by the way my parent's reaction was suspicious, especially that they were not surprised. They exchanged a look, but it was not surprise. There were no words of reprimand and it felt like my mom was happy.
"We have to make arrangements to visit the Lunga's, the boy is a spitting image of you."
"They must think very little of me," I said.
"It doesn't matter now, you can take responsibility for your son." Dad said. He had a point.
That night I couldn't sleep, I kept checking the chat with Lindi, but other than the photos she had shared there were no new messages.
She named our son Thulani, meaning consolation. Consolation for how severely I must have broken her heart. Eventually my phone vibrated.
'Hey babe, I have missed you so much when are you coming back to Camp?'
Chomba. The official girlfriend.