Hanging out with my father, and my brother and sister

 

Prof. R. J. Olembo, UNEP

robin-cook-african-american-angel-smoking-cigarette

So I thought about my brother and sister a lot this weekend. It’s not like me at all. You don’t count on people just, sort of vanishing. I’ve been talking about death since I was born, so with my Dad it was kinda different. I knew he was dying.

It was strange. We both knew and we had to skirt around these two issues – I was gay and I was making films, not money.

You know, I’m Kenyan. We’re both African men. I’ll leave that there.

I remember telling him, immediately I found out, in some London pub. This gay thing had almost totally destroyed everything, and it’s not true that you know when you’re born.

I didn’t find out until year two, University.

The steak dinner was pushed around the plate. My Dad was frustrated at the UN – nobody was fighting for the animals, the earth, everyone just wanted the Red Passport and for him to run for Parliament.

I think he was frustrated at the glass ceiling – he was trying to learn French. Imagine. I found it funny. He couldn’t stand it. And spoke French like a Luhya. I laughed. In hindsight, I wish I had gone to classes with him – he never told anyone.

As you get older as an African man, you don’t tell anyone what you’re going through for your family. You don’t even tell your spouse.

Anyway. We called it a night. In the morning, at the airport (we were always meeting at airports) he looked at me and said – if you’re going to be a pioneer, it’s going to be very difficult, and I don’t think you’re strong enough. But I see God in you, so you must go on. Do me a favor though, don’t tell your Mum.

Of course I told my Mum as soon as I saw her. She threw the Bible at me and I threw the damn thing right back – I’d just finished reading it. The. Whole. Book.

This post isn’t about me, or my Dad or being gay. It’s a post about my sister and my brother.

Lumumba never judged me. And we fought only once, in all our lives, and that after some drunken evening.

Caroline didn’t care what I did, she loved me completely and thought Michael Jackson was lucky I was born Kenyan.

Without Caroline I would never have made it anywhere. Her self-esteem was impenetrable. She taught me that who I am, is enough; is still teaching me now, that who I am, is enough.

So when she lost her baby, we cried together. It was a bitter, bitter loss. All other women seemed to have choices. Caroline had one shot at it, and lost the girl at full time. Justine was her name.

My mum says we were talking when we were born.

I can tell you the moment I knew she was dying. It was the same moment as when we split to go for University. She told me she had cancer, and I told her that she can act on the other side – that it would be OK.

We never spoke about it again. It was like when she got married. I had to step aside. Still, we were always, kind of, one person.

Lumumba took me completely by surprise. He was my Dad’s best friend.

They both died on the same day, Coroline and Joe, and that was it. I went to India and found his University, and tracked down his hospital, and sat in his room.

For all three, I did not grieve, and for that I am thankful. Death does not frighten me, it never has, I know what lies on the other side – yet I live here on this side, and Caroline is not here, and neither is Joe.

Their phones don’t work.

I bought a very expensive Nokia to use in Kampala for my sister’s wedding. Uganda was ahead of Kenya for the briefest period back then. I buy expensive phones ever since…a little too expensive.

Joe.
When I just want to take him out, I can’t find him.

So I thought about them alot this weekend. This big man, Dad – larger than life – his best friend Joe – man of the people – and my precious twin, Caro – my friend.

I thought about them, and I thought about migrants, and pictures of father’s crying, and Gaza, and Syria, and addiction, and Cancer and murder. I thought about the people gone, and those left behind, how it always, always changes everything…

I thought about these things and felt a smile.

You see: if you get it right this time, this one time, you’re going to die well, and be alright when you do.

If you can think – I am beautiful, I am free, I love you… If you can think – thank you, I did my best, I need no apologies… If you can think this way when you wake up, when you interact with the people you love, when you encounter those you don’t – you’ll be alright.

You’ll be OK.

♦pictures♦ Richard Cook at Stock Illustration  & Professor R.J. Olembo at UNEP

                                                   -words move-

Card trick

life, cancer, poker, gambling, memories,
Dance music,
Damp heat and talk

Drifts to halcyon days of,
Seventies groove and Afro’s ruffled,

In the political funk of,
Freedom fighters and platform shoes,

Cadillac language,
Smooth and languid,

Dripping off honey colored lips like,
Melting chocolate…

It’s a card trick,
And we are mesmorised by,

Furtive glances,
Over fanned cards,

Fascinated by the sleight of hand,
And the afternoon light,

Our soft voices and loud giggles,
Caught in a trick of time,

Heavy with love and breakfast.

-evocative short poetry-