MESSED UP GENETICS
Willing myself to be different
I scrub hard each day
Wishing to peel off the semblance
Waiting for a cuticle growth
Different from the most
I wince at my self-imposed disappointment
To curb a suppressed need
Recreating a new bloodline
For to be the same is to be disgraced
Thoughts I seem to embrace
It is 9:30am on a Wednesday and I’m strolling through the lobby of my dad’s company. Everyone is greeting me here and there like they would a governor. They must think I have the power to fire or promote them. As if.
The name tag on my Dad’s office door reads, ‘Architect Dr. Chief James Okaro -CEO/Director/Manager.’ I can already hear Falz’s voice, ‘Wehdone sir.’
I knock twice on the door and then push it open. “OH MY GOD! DAD!”
I turn away immediately, but it’s too late. The image is already burned in my memory– my dad standing legs apart, his trousers hanging low on his hairy laps. The girl with him- whoever she is- half-naked in a red, lacy bra that is way too small to pack her double D’s.
“We were just rounding up,” I hear dad say and the girl giggles— that high-pitched teenage Bieber-fever giggle. So annoying. I turn my head a little to get a glimpse of the latest James Okaro mistress. She is a small girl, definitely not above twenty, probably an unfortunate intern in her second year at the university. She scurries out of the office, making final adjustments as she goes until she is strolling down the corridor holding a file and looking as professional as they come.
Just close the door, maybe the image will go with it. Nope, it’s still right there, and now my dad is smiling. Of course he is. He doesn’t feel weird the way other, no, NORMAL FATHERS would if their child catches them in the act of juvenile fornication. To him it is just as normal as seeing him eat spaghetti. In truth, it’s not the first time. Laura and I experienced this so much growing up that we thought it abnormal when we walked into a room and he wasn’t doing something like this.
I still can’t look him straight in the eyes, and I definitely can’t get my nose to stop scrunching in disgust, but my sideways glance isn’t that judgy so I use that. “Happy birthday dad.”
I stretch out my hand to give him the single steamed rose I bought. A silent prayer: God please don’t let his hand touch mine, you alone know what moist areas they have been in. Whew! He collects it with no skin grazing whatsoever.
I take my seat on the leather rolling chair in my dad’s affluent office. To be the chief designer of the Mike Adenuga tower no be beans o. I watch dad smile genuinely as he replaces last year’s rose with the new one. Call us mushy, but the whole single stemmed rose has been our thing since I was ten years old.
But wait o, my dad is a really fine man. We are the same colour, the same height, we wear our beards the same way, except that his is fuller and has some grey streaks. But standing beside him girls will always look at him twice. And he doesn’t hesitate to take that harmless eye lock to the next level.
He takes his seat beside me and as if on cue, we both spin our chairs twice and stop at the same time, flushed and chuckling. Okay, now time to talk. He hasn’t asked about his daughter, so I remind him. He is so uninterested in that discussion and instead talks about Laura’s anti-Dad’s Birthday party which is what he calls them. I tell him it’s just an annual party that is coincidentally on the same day as his birthday. (In actual fact, it is an Anti-Dad’s Birthday party. Laura’s way of getting back at a father that abandoned her.)
I remind dad of his three-year old grandson whom he has never seen and calls Nathan instead of Joshua. But he still isn’t interested. He wants to talk about something else. So I stop and give him the chance to start.
“Her name is Crystal,” he says.
Wait, who is he talking… oh, his office booty call. Okay, so what do I say? Just nod. He is convinced I’m interested so he continues.
“She is 20 years old.” Spot-on guessing skill Jer.
“She is in her 2nd year at Unilag” Hmm, I should work for the CIA o.
“I asked her to marry me.” Wait, WHAT?
“WHAT?” I’m confused now. “But you’re married dad.”
“Hmm, to who?”
Is he joking right now? He is asking me like it’s such a normal question. I remind him of his wife – the 22 years old girl he married last year. And he tells me “Oh, that ended two days ago” saying it so casually and with the candour of an innocent man strolling down the street. I don’t even know how to react to this. So maybe I shouldn’t. I need to change the topic. To talk about something that will solve my confusion. Talk about Sarah.
“So I met a girl, dad.”
All I get is a nod, before he gets up, goes to the corner where the mini bar stands and starts pouring spirits into two cups.
“Her name is Sarah and she’s really…” at this point, all the synonyms of awesome are running through my head, so I pick one “amazing.” He still isn’t reacting the way I want him to. I take the glass from him even though I have no plans of drinking it.
“So what kind is she?” Dad asks finally, although, that’s definitely not a follow-up question and is very confusing. So I give him the confused face. I should have just nodded, now I’m listening to him explain how some men like their wine dry and some tart, others sparkling and so on. What in the world is he talking about?
“I don’t know.”
“So you haven’t slept with her yet?”
Of course that’s what my father would be asking. I give the simple answer. “No dad, I haven’t. I haven’t known her long enough.”
“Two months.” He immediately starts laughing, and my anger builds.
He tells me I’m trying too hard. Whatever that means. Frankly I don’t want to know but I find myself asking.
“To repress the gene,” Dad says. “You know what? I’ll save you the trouble. You like all kinds of wine and won’t be able to decide. Just like your father, your grandfather and his father before him. The Okaro men never settle for one kind.”
“That’s not true. I’m not like that.” The words come out between my teeth.
Dad shrugs like he can’t see his words are pissing me off. “That’s why you haven’t slept with her. I’m sure you haven’t even kissed her because you’re so scared to find out you can’t live with one kind for the rest of your life. Just stop trying too hard. In my drawer there I have over a hundred panties, I don’t know who they belong to. The girls come in here, do their business and forget their underwear so I keep it. My dad had a wardrobe filled with women’s clothes so that his ladies of the night don’t do the walk of shame the next day. And my grandfather was just a crude womanizer. And who knows what our forefathers did?”
I’m speechless right now. I should not be listening to him, yet I’m still there.
“You just have to be ready to hurt her Jer. I know you’re going to try to fight it and I know you’re going to convince yourself you’re not like that. I spent half my life doing that and to be sure, I married your mom. Don’t get me wrong I love you and your sister and I’m happy I got you guys, I just wish I hadn’t spent so much of my energy fighting the inevitable.”
I can’t take this anymore. I get up, and in three strides I’m out the door, banging it behind me so hard the ground shakes. Now I’m so glad I only get to see him a few times a year.
Laura’s house is filled with lavishly dressed people holding champagne flutes and talking with fake accents. I squeeze through the crowd to meet my sister giving angry orders to her chef. Laura is all high and mighty now, I guess marrying a rich man does that to a person. She sees me and immediately smiles. After the hug she starts complaining about how hard it is to throw these parties. As if I sent her message. I tell her dad asked after her and she says he can go to hell. I tell her he is getting married and she just laughs it off as if it is normal for her father to be on his 6th twenty-something years old wife. She is just like her father with the inappropriate laughter.
She doesn’t notice that I’m completely bummed out. I start to tell her I’m leaving but she starts talking excitedly with that cunning glint in her eyes. “So mom is here and …” Why is she smiling weirdly? She mentions Sarah and I know where she is going with this. She wants me to do that dreaded ‘Girlfriend meet my mom, mom meet my girlfriend’ thing.
Okay that came out too sharp. Now Laura is staring at me, confused. I just really want to leave.
Oh jeez, now I can’t.
Sarah has walked into the dining room and wawu, she is pretty. She is wearing a white jumpsuit that clings to all the right places. Jer take your eyes away. Take your eyes away.
But I can’t. She comes over and says hi and I reply like an echo chamber. I tell her she looks nice and she looks embarrassed. The look melts my heart. “You just have to be ready to hurt her, Jer,” Dad’s voice resonates in my head.
I look at her again and I feel a sting in my chest because deep down I know I’m right. Now I really must go. I excuse myself and the disappointed look in Sarah’s eyes follows me as I walk out through the back door.
In the parking lot, someone pulls my hand. I turn around to see Laura and she is not happy.
“What is wrong?” Her voice is laced with concern but still angry.
“Nothing. I just have to go.”
“You don’t have to be anywhere,” She declares, like she’s the mom and I’m a naughty twelve-year-old. “Why did you ignore Sarah? Are you guys fighting?”
Sigh. “No we’re not. I really can’t see her right now.” I’m trying hard to keep a bland face so Laura won’t figure out what’s going on in my head.
“It’s James isn’t it?” Laura and her psychic abilities.
“He is your father, just call him dad.”
She ignores me. “I told you to stop seeing him, like I have. Every time you see him, you become weird. What did he said to you that’s making you like this? I mean, a few days ago you were excited about your girlfriend meeting mom.”
I’m so defensive when I reply, “Sarah isn’t my girlfriend. We’ve just been hanging out.”
Laura won’t budge. “You like her don’t you?”
I nod grudgingly.
“The way you love your kitchen”
I never would have thought it possible, but yeah, Sarah rivals the kitchen. I nod again.
Oh wait. Now I see what she did there, but it’s too late to take it back, or maybe I don’t want to. No I should want to, I could hurt her.
Laura continues, “So if you like her, you shouldn’t listen to anything James says. He’s a terrible person and he is a terrible role model.”
“I don’t know Laura. I’ve never had a relationship that worked. Maybe it’s a sign.” I can’t believe I just said that. Dad really got into my head.
Laura is super angry right now. “Are you freaking kidding me? That’s because you were too busy for any of your girlfriends. Now you’re head chef. You’re the boss. You have the time. And Sarah is completely different. I say this not because she’s my friend, but I see the way you smile when you’re with her. Don’t ruin this because you’re listening to a womanizer who has no license whatsoever to give even the cheapest advice on real relationships.”
And with that she walks away, leaving me alone to battle my demons. From the corner of my eye, I see Sarah standing at the window, watching us. Don’t look at her, I think, but I can’t help myself. I turn in her direction and now we’re both standing staring at each other, a huge gulf between us. She wants me to stay and I can’t. I just can’t.
I turn around, go to my car and drive off.