It’s funny, but I never knew that my granddad was not my father until I was almost eight years old. As far as I knew, Ma Lion and Rag & Bone (as I affectionately named them) were my mum and dad--in fact, they were really my grandparents.
Much later, I learned the story of my birth to an underage mother who delivered me whilst in the care of the local authority. The story goes that when my grandmother saw my huge saucer black-as-coal eyes, she was mesmerized and vowed not to leave without me. I was three months old and I lived with her until the age of 14.When I learned the truth about my grandparents, I don’t remember yearning for my real father. His name was never mentioned. It was as though I was a product of an Immaculate Conception or better still – that I’d fallen out of the sky!
Much, much later in life when my grandfather died, my thoughts turned to the father I never knew. I started to wonder what he looked like, where he lived, but the overriding question was – why he never sought me out? What was it about me that could stifle his curiosity? I heard talk among family and friends that he lived close by and that he’d fathered several mixed-race children, but I was never conscious of our paths ever crossing. I thought, like the perfect fairytale, my spirit would have recognized the blood connection if he ever came near.
Years went by and I gradually gave up hope of ever seeing the man who was responsible for my creation. But then, out of the blue, there was a message with his address and that he wanted to see me. I was amazed at the fact that he lived on the route I travelled daily. If he had looked out his window at any given time, he would have seen me on my various sojourns along that beaten path – back and forth, back and forth. Yet strangely, our paths never coincided and we never collided.I should have known that his summons was an indication of something wrong; he had cancer and wanted to make his peace. But where do you begin, this stranger before you who searches your face as you search his, studying every line, pockmark and mole – desperately seeking self in the reflection of each other’s eyes. Where do you start, what questions to ask, it all seemed futile. After all, he was dying and he knew it!
He just wanted peace. Did I have the courage to grant him absolution, give him penance of a few Hail Mary’s for the lifetime of deprivation?
It was sad, really. I was angry and bitter, but you can’t rail against a dead man and he was the walking dead – the soul was leaving and he was just a shell of a man. I did learn about his love of music and poetry, and his artistry is now my legacy. His funeral that followed was a dispassionate affair--father in name only. I mourned him as I would a distant acquaintance.