Collision in time
It is a single moment, an instant, a story, they say, that changes the entire course of your life.
When I left my house this morning in faded jeans and an overworn top, I had no idea that moment would occur today. If I had, I would have avoided the mall altogether. I would have slept in the entire morning like I usually would on a Sunday. Even as I walked into the mall, if some agents of heaven had warned me, I might have avoided the clothes section altogether. I would have simply done my grocery shopping and raced out of the mall.
If only I had the slightest idea, I would have at least groomed myself for the occasion. Perhaps, I would have worn black, my favourite colour for strength, and probably added a leather jacket for good measure. I would have taken my mum and brother with me, as it’s only right that they witnessed this earth-shattering scene first-hand. Telling the story would not have quite the same effect.
But I didn’t have a clue or an inkling. The heavens didn’t warn me, or at least, not that I noticed. So I woke up, dressed rather shabbily, and went to the mall.
As I moved along the children’s clothes section, admiring the little dresses and wondering which of them would be the perfect fit for my goddaughter, I bumped into a middle-aged woman dressed in a beautiful Ankara boubou.
When we collided, her wallet dropped, and as I moved to help retrieve it, a picture fell out. It was a picture of a young man and a younger version of this woman, laughing with his hand around her neck. He looked at her with eyes filled with love, eyes that were very familiar, eyes that should be 6 feet under.
When I was younger, I lived in a yellow bungalow adorned with beautiful flowers all around it. There was a big poster at the gate that read “Big dogs here. Keep off!”. Well, truthfully, we didn’t own a single dog; Father was allergic to them. However, we enjoyed making strangers believe that we had them. There were times I was tempted to fake a bark or two, just to keep up appearances. Don’t ask if I actually did.
I lived there with my parents and brother – the poster family. My parents were the touchy type, always kissing and hugging at every opportunity. Younger me always yucked at them, older me thought it adorable.
On Sundays, my father would take us to a mall after church for grocery shopping, and whenever I raced by the toys section to pick another doll I didn’t need (which was every time), he’d throw me up in the air and put me on his shoulders, effectively distracting me from my not-quite-needed conquest.
One day when I was 9, my father travelled for a work trip as he often did, but that was the last one he ever took. The pilot, as we’d later learn, had lost control of the plane and everyone in the plane crashed with it to their deaths. Mom had come to pick my brother and me up from school when we heard the news. She immediately detoured to the airport, with us in our school uniforms and my mom clad in her black top and jeans like she had known grief was nigh.
The bodies were all burnt beyond recognition and so we had to bury a coffin filled with all his favourite books in place of him. He had a lot of favourite books, which if you ask me, defeats the purpose of “favourite”, but I wasn’t one to judge. The days that followed were filled with nameless visitors who sucked in all the air and energy I desperately craved at the time. Perhaps, that is why I still hate crowds now. The years that followed weren’t the easiest but even though mum became a shadow of her previous self, she tried her hardest to fill the gap dad had left behind.
“Excuse me miss, can I have the picture?”, I heard someone say, bringing me back to the present. It was the woman in Boubou. In a daze, I hurriedly gave her the picture back.
“Honey, do we have Nutella at home?”, I suddenly heard a deep voice say, referring to the woman. As the owner of the voice came into view, I saw a face that was familiar, yet so strange. It was a face that haunted my dreams and memories for several years; one that I had prayed to see for countless nights and days.
It was my father’s face staring back at me, albeit older, with a head now sprinkled with grey hairs. His basket suddenly dropped and a name I hadn’t heard in 20 years softly left his lips. A name only my father called me, “Bíbíre”.