My father was the light in my life — until he left. A setback, for sure, but my mother and I persevered. Now I know courage bows to no obstacle.


(Shutterstock/Anna Ismagilova)

This story was co-winner of the first prize in News Decoder’s 10th Storytelling Contest.

To brighten is to illuminate. To illuminate is to give the eyes purpose. I attribute my sight to my father, the bulb who shone his light so effortlessly and gave me the gift of seeing. “A joke always occupies the space of stress,” he would eternally state. Indeed, when the pressures of school seemed to overpower me, his comical taunts stripped me of any excess weight I possessed. In the same manner that the sun is a constant part of nature, he too was that permanent feature of my life. I could not fathom life without him. But, no man is the sun. He, too, was only a bulb whose light had an expiration date.

The heart is many things. I have learned that a fortune teller is one. One Saturday morning, it told a tale that shattered my spirit. I could feel my light dimming, subtly but certainly. “Where’s Daddy?” I asked my sombre mother amidst the tears and phlegm that wanted to bar my speech. With burning eyes and a shaking mouth, she released three words. Ones that seemed to have been stuck on her throat, understandably so, because of their mammoth nature. Words that erupted a cornucopia of emotions, from pain to anger to confusion. My mother said: “He left us.”

What does leaving mean to the living? Where did he go? Who then would be the light? As this deluge of questions flooded my mind, my mother gripped me tightly, her tears illustrating that she too was lost for answers. I was now blinded, without any sense of what the future held for us two. At that moment, I resorted to being a pillar for my mother, but I proved a feeble one. There are very few things as powerful as a mother’s tears. To have her cry is to have a generation crippled. Slowly, I could feel my being deteriorating.

After my father left, new plans started to take shape.

When lightbulbs flicker, it is a sign that their passing is imminent. Yet, how does one explain the sudden flicker more negligible vanishing of light that used to be? As my head depressed my mother’s chest, I sought answers in her heartbeat. Did she chase him away? Was he returning? When? These questions flowed through my 13-year-old mind, only they flagrantly did so with the violence of dark lightning and not the serenity of seas. Soon, it was not a heartbeat; my ears registered. It was thunder — the thunder of a woman shaken. And what do tears add to an ocean but a mere insignificant contribution? I could not bring myself to continue crying too.

In the absence of light, everything is opened up to vulnerability. Our lives took tolls in many regards. The lack of school fees money today, no house rent pennies tomorrow. Like the abrupt nature of my father’s departure, so too were the sacrifices we now had to make. My education was one. I had to drop out to save money for day-to-day expenses. The weight of this action tore me apart, ripped me to shreds, and caused my being to cease to be. I thought of how my dreams were slowly slipping away. Yet, sometimes in our shortsightedness, plans for the better, ones we never fathomed, come alive in the turbulence.

My mother and I loved baking. Many material things were stripped from my family, but our gift for cooking dough remained. This soon became a gateway for sustenance. We began baking and selling a cornucopia of confectionary goods. While she was at the bakery, I was in the streets, pleading with the common man to have a taste of our offerings. From this experience, I learned the art of car chasing. When you want something badly enough, your legs will amaze you. Inadvertently, I began building my communication and negotiation skills with customers. In my quest to help put myself back into school, it was increasingly clear that I could gain life skills I otherwise would not have gotten anywhere else.

Two years elapsed, and I managed to return to school. I took the national examination and got a scholarship to one of the best schools in Africa. While I still do not fully understand why my father left, I know that a flame within me serves to illuminate the darkest of situations. Those hours under the scorching sun gave me more than just excess vitamin D. I learned what it means to care in a world that has inflicted hurt. Working with my mother taught me that proper courage bows down to no obstacle. The setbacks I face are only setups for something greater than me. I miss my father, but I will not allow that to make me miss my opportunities to grow and, hopefully, positively impact others. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Three questions to consider:

  1. What does the author mean by the expression, “A joke always occupies the space of stress”?
  2. What is the significance of light in the story?
  3. How would you describe your relationship with your parents?

Elizabeth Tina Fornah is in her final year at the African Leadership Academy. A citizen of Sierra Leone, Tina Fornah enjoys Chemistry and Economics and considers Writing and Rhetoric to be her favourite subjects. She loves sports, especially football, and is currently the house captain in her school.

Share This
WorldAfricaWhen my father left.
%d bloggers like this: