It is with deep sorrow, mixed with enthusiasm, that I write you this letter from your village, Mlaha – do you even remember that name, your village’s name? Sorrow because I miss you so much my brother, and enthusiasm because this is the first letter I have written to you and because I believe it will reconnect us. OK, how are you doing over there? It’s been 25 years since you left home for loka (overseas ), 25 long dreary years. I was your favorite… remember?… and you had promised to come back for me, I was only five then. Do you even remember me, Onyango? I pray you still do, because just a mere thought that you might have forgotten my name, brings me down to tears.
When you left for the white man’s land, mother told us( me and our two sisters) that you were going to become pastor, preaching the message to the whites. We got very proud and bragged all over the village about it, about how great you were going to become. Anytime an aeroplane flew over the village, I told my friends that it was carrying you, and they believed it, because I believed so, too. Mom became the envy of the village, her son had flown on a plane, to the land yonder. You instantly became an inspiration. I remember the letters you sent home occasionally, mom kept them under her mattress because they meant so much to her. Once, I did still a letter to go and show it off to my friends, mom found out and I received a dog’s beating, but I didn’t mind, because you promised to come for me and the beating will be no more.
When I clocked Seven years and began attending school, your letters reduced to one in a year, we couldn’t understand why, but mom always told us that you must be busy preaching the word of God. That consoled me but still I looked forward to the letters. Eventually, the letters abated. What ever made you stop? Still, my childish heart trusted and hoped and waited. The planes flew above occasionally, but they brought us no news of you. Were there no pens and papers?
One day I found mom praying to God to take care of you, she begged God to tell her why you had stopped sending letters. I listened outside her bedroom hoping to hear what God would tell her, but no answer came. I heard her sobbing and I got scared, I found myself too letting down a free flow of tears wash my tender face. I was only ten years. From then, mom stopped talking about you. I took care not to broach the subject anytime she was around. Another day, our younger sister, Akech, mentioned your name and I could see nothing but marked dread in mama’s eyes. I could tell she was hurting inside, she just didn’t want us to know, or get worried. That day she went to bed early and when she woke up next day morning, she was sick. I retreated to that bush next to our home and cried my heart out, I cried for myself, and I cried for mama too. I prayed to God in those tears, those young tears. I begged Him to answer mama’s prayers, I implored him to, at least, send a message to you. I shouted to planes flying over the village to bring you back home, to let you know that we miss you terribly.
By the way, when grandma passed away, why didn’t you come? Did she not send you dreams of her demise? We waited for you and even extended the burial date, just in case your flight had been delayed, but nothing. We were really optimistic that you wouldn’t miss grandma’s burial. You had promised to buy her a car, and even take her to Nairobi before she dies, what happened to that pledge? I’m sure she is so sad in her grave, she did fight death, a gruesome battle it had been. She lived every second holding tight to those promises, they kept her alive. Like mama, she was haunted by your silence. She lived in despair till her dying day. In her eyes she still clung to a thin thread of hope, that one day, someday you would show up at the gate. And all the silense would be like a mirage. Some kind of a weird dream she had been having. She grew frail each passing day, until finally death wrestled breathe out of her withered lungs.
My brother, mum almost died that moment, when you didn’t show up for the burial. She got so depressed. It’s like she was trying to burry you with grandma, to ease her pain. She had a nervous breakdown, wish you had seen the anguish in her eyes. The agony of losing her eldest son. What pulled her out of it, was Okong’os return from… um… the U.K. He had gone there only five years earlier ,and drove back to the village receiving a king’s welcome. He had come home and gave mama some cash, saying he saw you and you sent him with the money, and that you promised to come home soon. And that you apologised for the silence. He brought no letter though. Was it true? That you sent him? We began the wait with renewed energy. We pictured you coming home, driving your own car. Probably, with a white wife. Mom was alive again.
Otis, do you have a heart? Did we, your family members, wrong you in any way? You know that you had been like a father to us after dad’s death, we all looked up to you, even mama. Why did you have to desert us? Was it a sin so heavy that you can’t forgive us? Mama died four years ago. She collapsed one afternoon and that was the end of her. The doctors said she died of a heart attack. Mama missed you to death. Thinking of you is what did her in. If only you had written a letter to her, it might have made a difference. Maybe she still would have been alive. We buried her and I tried to burry you with her like she tried to do with grandma, but I couldn’t. I almost lost my mind, but I had to remain sane for our lastborn.
Our other sister, Auma, got married, married to a man who is married to alcohol. She endures beatings and insults, and no matter how much I try to talk her out of the marriage, she remains adamant. All she says is: You don’t understand. Maybe she is right, I don’t understand. I managed to send our lastborn to a Teachers Training College and she’s graduating next year. I don’t have a formal job here at home and that has made it a living hell for us. I have cut down most of the trees on our land, for sale and others I used to burn charcoal, just to make sure Akech completes her training. Recently, I started making mud building bricks behind grandma’s house. From it I hope to raise capital to start a business. I had to leave school in Form Three because mama couldn’t raise the money for school fees, I don’t blame her though. It wasn’t easy being a mother and a father, but she did her best.
This letter, though stained with my tears and bloated in other parts, is all I could come up with. I couldn’t contain the emotions and I hope you’ll understand. Even if you won’t come back home, please try and write back. Just tell me that you hate me, even if you don’t explain why, I promise to understand. I won’t push any further. I do believe you are still alive, I can feel it. You don’t have to fulfill any promises, because I’m no longer a kid anymore, mama is dead and grandma is no more. I’m hurt because I love you. I’m hurt because I care.