The Fabrication of Presence by Mofiyinfoluwa Okupe 

I

‘​do not remind me that I am from a lineage of men who do not wait 
who are always on the road. 
running from love or the appearance of happiness’ 

-i will one day grow to love you with my presence 
by Adedayo Agaru 

It has been three years since my father left the house and what I miss the most is his humming. You see, my Dad would wake much earlier than the rest of us and he would hum his favourite hymns as he moved through the house. On so many days, that quiet vibration created in his throat was my awakening. I would smile a small smile and crack my eyes open to the soothing timbre of whatever tune he chose that day. My mother would wake us up with shouting or exorbitant noise but my father, true to his gentle nature would wake us up with soft nudges and melodious humming. Perfection on a lazy Saturday morning. Perfection. In the early parts of my life, that was all my father ever was. It started with our shared love of books. He would drop a new title in my hands as though planting a seedling in moist soil. He would water the tree, tending to my mind, watching me blossom into increasing brilliance. As a child who was neither very beautiful nor praised for athletic endeavours, the world of academia and intellect were my first haven and the cornerstone of my morphing identity. For this reason, my father’s labour was even more important. All I had were books and my father; an army of a thousand friends. But my people, the ​Yoruba​, say that twenty children cannot play for twenty years. It was in my eighteenth year he left us. My people did not lie.

 ******

  II 

“You live in my house, feed your belly with my food, put your behind on my bed because you’re my son. It’s my duty  to take care of you, I owe a responsibility to you, I ain’t got to like you! Now, I gave everything I got to give you! I  gave you your life!” 

– Troy Maxon (Fences) 

In my culture, most fathers approach fatherhood strictly from the angle of financial provision. They believe that once they have paid your school fees, put a roof over your head and food in your belly, they have gone above and beyond, owing you nothing more. It is often said that many Nigerian women are single mothers, raising children practically alone with men who are fathers only in name. My father was nothing like that. My father was present, so present that he was my shadow. The Parent Teacher Association in my primary school awarded him as the father with the highest attendance of meetings. In my brief erratic phase as a shot putter, my father was at every athletic meet, cheering me on even as I came in last position. The magnitude of his presence is such that it formed a wealth of memories, an endless well I pull from when I feel the need to fabricate his presence. Nothing is quite like it.

His humming, his laughter, his perfume, I can hide behind all of these or I can just tell you the truth. I miss his presence. I miss him physically taking up space in my life. I detest the fact that the man I dated for two years only met my father twice because although he frequented my home, he only ever met my mother. What I mean when I say I miss his humming is that I miss his voice. I miss discussing meaningless nothings and hearing him talk about his father with a far-away admiration reflecting in his eyes. When I say I miss him, I mean that I miss the unmistakable warmth of positive affirmation when I suffered severe self-esteem issues as a child, and nobody else understood or seemed to care. When I say I miss my father, what I mean is that I miss vocal declarations of my beauty and worth. When I say I miss my father, I mean that with him, words were never just words. They were always followed by emphatic actions, leaving no room for doubt of his care, of his efficacy and ultimately, of his presence. It was just not a thing you could doubt. An aged mahogany tree exists with its roots so deeply entrenched in the ground, no one asks how they got there. The same way my father’s presence had always been a foregone conclusion in my life, a given. It was not something I had to beg for, coax, grovel on my hands and knees for. It was a mahogany tree with roots planted so deeply into my life, there was no questioning it. With the assurance that the sun would rise any morning, I was sure that my father would always be where I needed him to be. Until he was not.

 ******

III

‘Give me a new thing to cry about / & I do not mean love or my father’s disappearance or my mother’s tears 
gathering to form an ocean
…………. 
give me a new thing to cry about / not my father’s despicable smile / or my mother constantly asking god to guide his feet home’  
— by Adedayo Agaru 

Our house is different now. My books lay scattered haphazardly around the house, no libraries to house them. This is a clear sign of his absence. He would never allow my books to be homeless in that way. If my father were living with us, I would have a shelf in his library where my books would lay, chronologically ordered. He would curate my literary endeavours, treating them with great importance, simply because they were important to me.

There is a silence that accompanies absence, the deafening silence of departure. No one hums anymore. On Saturday mornings, our home theatre no longer blares jazz by Hugh Masekela or reggae by Bob Marley and the Wailers. It is devastation when you cease to hear a tune that someone was singing just for you, so even when it’s gone, no one else can hear the absence. I feel my father’s departure differently from everyone else. I had a habit as a small child. Whenever my Dad would come back from work, I would untie his shoelaces, take off his shoes, all the while looking up at him and smiling with euphoria. Those little moments remain etched in the fabric of my memory. His presence at home was to me Christmas, New Year’s, the joy of a birthday. His presence was celebration. Perhaps I am mourning now. Perhaps I am mourning because in recent times he has become obsessed with the colour white and I want to beg him to come live with us again because our walls are painted white. He will feel right at home. Perhaps I am mourning because some days, I retreat into the deepest parts of myself that only he had a special talent for bringing me out of. Perhaps I am mourning because I have begun to reread Soyinka and I know he would be the perfect person to share my thoughts with. No one else at home will read Soyinka with me. Perhaps I am mourning because I know that when he gets home now, there is no one to untie his shoes, to welcome him, to celebrate his very existence. Losing someone is grief, so perhaps I am right to mourn.

******

IV

What does presence actually mean? Are we forced to confine the entire concept of presence to physical manifestations? I guess not: there are other ways people can be present. They can come and visit you in school. They can buy you earrings for your birthday because they know how much you like white gold. They can take you and your boyfriend to see a play and have dinner after, laughing like old friends who have shrugged off the stiffness of strangers. They can visit you on the morning of your birthday to pray with you and take pictures. They can FaceTime and smile a smile so bright, your eyes crinkle from dancing in the light. They can do all this, but if you cannot hug them at the end of a bad day, are they really there? If you cannot wake up in the middle of the night and find him bent over his computer, still humming and squinting his tiny eyes, is he really there? After two years of a long-distance relationship, I can tell you this for free: there is absolutely nothing like physical presence. There is nothing like the physical manifestation of a person’s body visibly taking up space in your life. There’s no fabrication for that. There is no contraption you can cook up in your mind. There is no duplicate, no substitute for a hug, for a kind look at the end of a long day. There is no replacement for unuttered sentences communicated with teeming eyes. What I’m trying to say is that ever since my father walked out of our home, he stopped belonging to me. All the ways in which I have managed his absence, by fabricating his presence, have proven futile. I have failed every time.

When you grow up a Daddy’s girl, you can never imagine a life in which you can’t just reach out and grab your father. I have had the extreme displeasure of not just imagining this life, but being abruptly thrust inside it. What I have learnt of this kind of pain is that sometimes you fabricate presence when you cannot have what you desire. You turn FaceTime calls into hugs, steal his clothes when you go visiting and sleep in them. Your brother hums just like him and on some days you close your eyes and convince yourself that he’s still here. Sometimes, you go as far as dating men that subconsciously remind you of your father. It starts subtle, then all of a sudden is undeniably ubiquitous. The gap teeth, a predilection for the arts, a patience and tenderness that I first experienced in his hands. The laughter that tumbled from his chest and coated his face in pure radiance. You could draw a straight line from my last partner to my father. Even in my romantic endeavours, here I am still fabricating presence.

******

V

Last Christmas, my father and I went to Bogobiri to eat goat meat and listen to John Friedman and The Black Roses serenading us with the most hypnotic reggae renditions. As I sat across him, watched him with his eyes closed, head tilted back and humming along to the band, I smiled a small smile as I was hit with the weight of an epiphany. I realised that regardless of wherever he lives, his presence is etched in my heart, in my mind and whenever I look down upon my toes, exactly like his, his presence is etched in my body too. There is no running from one who is partly responsible for my creation. There is no need to fabricate what is already written in blood.

Mofiyinfoluwa Okupe @fiyinskosko is a young Nigerian woman and a reluctant lawyer. She is addicted to Twitter and occasionally publishes pieces on her Medium account. Her work is published on The Kalahari Review and Agbowo. Her work majorly revolves around the complexity of human emotions and how we as human beings deal with them. When she is not writing, you can find her affirming the beauty of fat black women.

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