In Search of My Father

By Samuel Matendo

Nobody gets out of their own story.

I’ve suffered far too much and now I’m barely in pain at all, all because of what I suffered before.

My name is Akeem Limo, a name that doesn’t come from my maternal or paternal line like the names of all the children around me.

I will never forget the day I noticed that though I was the big brother of my little brothers and sisters, we didn’t share the same family name. I didn’t feel at peace in my own family. Sometimes my family went out without me, my little sibling always got presents but I was forgotten. I asked for things but I never got any answers. Sometimes I didn’t go to school because I didn’t have enough money for school fees. But my little brothers and sisters were provided for. They never missed an hour of school.

I didn’t give up hope. I held on because there was someone who cared for me and who was on my side and above all understood much more than I did. That person was my mother. I’m going to say our mother. She looked after our whole family.

One day I’d had enough and I went to ask my mother about my name. But I was scared to death. I called her a little way from our house, I took a seat and asked my mother to sit down too. My mother asked what was wrong with me. My fear multiplied, but I still opened my heart and asked her a question I hadn’t anticipated myself.

“Mom, why don’t I share the same surname with my little brothers and sisters?”

My mother told me to stop thinking about it and that I was still a child. But I insisted and told my mother I was in a lot of pain and my family didn’t know I existed. When the family went to a family reunion I was not invited, my school fees were not given to me, and my food was insufficient. She was very shocked. My mother told me what I had to do was to act as if nothing had happened.

I didn’t understand what my mother was telling me because my heart was about to explode.

My mother used her wisdom and asked me, “Can you remind me of my name?”

I didn’t understand, so I said “But Mom, your name is Mimoza Elena.

She added, “Who am I to you?”

“But Mom! You’re my mother.”

She asked me for the third time, “Do you think I’m your mother or do you know?”

With her questions, my anger subsided and I answered her. “I think you’re my mother and I know it very well”.

My mother spoke up and said to me:

“Listen carefully to what I want to tell you. You told me I was your mother and you said my name was Mimoza Elena. I was as young as you before you, my friends called me Mimy in my youth and I lived like a very happy youth. Don’t think that you already know a lot of things, you know what goes with your age and you ignore even more and you’ll still see a lot of things. This world is complicated and everyone thinks they’re clever and everyone pulls the world towards them to benefit their own personal interests.

You my son can tell me your suffering but I can never tell you mine and I can notice your suffering and you will never notice mine. I gave you the milk from my breast, I washed you and gave you every maternal care. Which means I understand you even though you can’t understand yourself. One day you’ll understand that I’ve suffered and I’m suffering now more than you are I wanted to prepare you for tomorrow, if I don’t prepare your failure will be my fault. Because your heart is swollen and you can’t control yourself now.

Open your toes and your heart and listen to me.”

I listened to my mother, sitting very attentively nearby.

“You are my son and I am your biological mother, your biological father is not here which means that your father who is raising you now is your stepfather and your brothers and sisters are related to you through me. You are all my children and I love you all”

I asked my mother, “But where is my biological father then?”

“Your father is gone…” But why did I ask my mom?

“Your father and I met in our town where your father’s parents were transferred from their town because they were soldiers when our country was at war with neighboring countries. The war ended and your grandfather and his colleagues didn’t return home because the country had abandoned them. They were no longer paid, they had changed their lives and they demobilized themselves and became civilians. They started marrying the women back home. And that’s when your father came into the world and his father’s name was Ndoto Shani, and soon afterwards the government started looking for all those who had fought in the war to return home. Your grandfather returned home without children and as you know, the size of our country is vast. It’s a long way from here to your father’s town. There were many children left behind by your grandfather and his colleagues. Your father’s name is Ndoto Mana. There was a time when it was rumored that your father’s father, your grandfather, had become wealthy and a very respectable man, because the government had rewarded them for their hard work and endurance. I loved your father very much and your father also loved me like crazy. After a week, your father left with your grandfather’s men. After your father left, I realized that I was pregnant and it was your pregnancy, my son, but no one knows about it because I hid the truth.

My family asked me many times, but I never told them the truth, but I’m telling you the truth. When you were born I suffered a lot, everyone abandoned me, but I thank God because I have you my son. When I look at you, I see your father in you, and that’s why I wanted to prepare you to be responsible and an honorable man in the future.”

“But why didn’t my father ever come back for you or hear from you?” After hearing what my mother told me about my grandfather, I was confused, so I asked my mother this question.

“He sent me a letter but I didn’t reply, he sent a second and third letter but I never replied.”

“But why didn’t you ever reply, Mom?”

“I had anger in my heart and I took this situation as if your father had abandoned me. Because I suffered too much with you, and the fact that I was alone without your father made me curse your father’s name. He sent me one last letter saying he was getting ready to come and take me. But it was already too late because I was already married to your other father and pregnant with his first child. I took the time to tell your father that he had nothing left here and should get on with his life.”

“Does my father know about me mother?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never told him of your existence.”

My mother put a stop to it, I felt very sorry for her. I asked if she still loved my father and my mother told me she didn’t have a reason to hate him.

“Your father had left by order of his family and answered his father’s call, I understood that after a while.”

I told my mother, “Mom, I want to meet my father and get to know him.”

“It’s a very long journey and neither you nor I nor anyone else has ever made it.”

“Can you at least tell me about this place?”

“You’re going to suffer my son and I don’t want you to leave me, you’re all I’ve got, I have hope in you, you are my eldest son and you will be the model for your little ones who come after you, tomorrow you may be our savior.”

“But Mom I’ll always be with you and if I ever find an opportunity I’ll come and take you and bring you together again.”

“So be strong my son, this is not easy. You have my blessing and may heaven protect you. For the trip, I want to see what I can do.Your father is in Dilolo, which is very far from here, my son, and you’ll have to be very careful on your journey.Dilolo is a province and you’ll have to look for your father from beginning to end, because I don’t know that place, neither the district nor the town nor the house, so I don’t know anything except the name of the province, Dilolo.”

After a few days, I was ready to leave.

My mother said,

“Akeem, my son, I have no other memories of your father than this photo of him, and I guarded it jealously. I don’t even know if your father will remember the photo or me.When you start your trip, ask for directions at every parking lot or station.Be polite and respect everyone, because you don’t know who’s going to help you.Do you understand me, Akeem?”

“Yes mother”.

The next day I began the journey to find my father, the place I didn’t know and where I didn’t know anyone. The journey was long and I suffered because I wasn’t used to traveling. I arrived in Dilolo province after two weeks travel.

Everything changed for me, the landscape, the language and even my knowledge. I found it hard to communicate with people. I used my photo to ask if anyone knew my father.

Several days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months.

Everything was difficult, I had no money, even my clothes were stolen, I slept wherever the night found me. All I had was the photo my mother had given me and the clothes I was wearing which I kept jealously in my backpack and was all I had left. I began to live a difficult life and I cried every day that came from heaven. I thought a lot about my mother because I had no means of communication with her.

I didn’t ask anyone for food anymore because everyone already knew me and some people thought I was a thief. So at that point I told myself I was destined to suffer. The photo I had was already crumpled, the rain and the sun not failing to take advantage of me.

One day my lucky day arrived, but it also arrived like a curse. I stole some food from a restaurant and was caught by the restaurant owners, who reported me to the police. The police threw me in jail. That day I told myself I was finished, but I I still held my photo jealously. I spent the night in the prison.

The next day I was sent to the province’s central prison, hundreds of kilometers from where I was incarcerated. When I arrived at the central prison, my hope of finding my father and seeing my mother again was gone. There, a head of government came and introduced himself as the new governor of Dilolo province.

He introduced himself by name, Ndoto Shani.

“I came here to this prison to give thanks to some prisoners who have no serious faults. I didn’t want to speak on television or radio, but I’m doing this descent into the field with honor and cause, because I too, have been a prisoner and then I was pardoned and released. It was a great day for me and I want you who are here today who will have this pardon to remember it and do the same one day in your life. It doesn’t have to be a prisoner, but someone who needs your help or your grace.”

The governor’s speech created hope in me.

That’s when I remembered my grandfather’s name, when my mother used to tell me in a certain story my heart was beating fast, like someone about to give up his soul to the Creator. I regained my strength, and at the end of the governor’s speech, I had this grace too, like other prisoners who are so lucky.

As we left, I asked someone for the name of the place we were in and he told me it was the provincial capital. I tried to find out how I could get in touch with the governor, but I didn’t leave near the prison because I had no one to pick me up or anywhere to go. I went to ask one of the prison guards. He told me I’d been working here for five years. I explained to him that I was looking for a person and I only have the photo, please if you can I have a look a little. Looking at the photo, the prison guard recognized him directly and said, “but that’s the new governor’s son. But here he is with a woman when he has no wife?”

I told him, “That’s my father and that’s my mother.”

The guard said to me, “So if it’s true that he’s the governor’s son, you must be very lucky my friend.”

“But he doesn’t even know I exist,” I said.

“He’s a very good man, he helps people he doesn’t know, and you say you’re his son.”

“Does he have a family, children or a wife?” I asked him.

“He’s never married and nobody knows why.”

“How can I see him, please?”

“I don’t really know, but I want to take you to my superior.”

We went to the head of the prison, he welcomed us in his office and I showed him the photo. The chief told me that he was a very respectful personality and if he called him, I’d have some explaining to do. The chief called him, and told him that there was someone claiming to be his son, the son of Mimoza from the town of Linga. While the chief was talking on the phone, he told me that he had just cut the connection. At some point he said that the governor’s son, Ndoto Mana, had sent him to pick up the boy looking for him and take him where he was because he was too busy. I thanked the guard and the prison warden.

I left with the man who had been sent to pick me up. We arrived and I saw the man himself, whom I liked very much and had even given up hope of seeing my heart was filled with joy and I was really terrified. Presenting him with the photo, he asked me, “Where did you get this picture? I replied that my mother had given it to me so that I could look for my own father. He asked me again, “What’s your mother’s name?”

I replied, “Mimoza Elena, while some of her classmates called her Mimy.”

I had time to tell the story my mother had told me from the time she left until I found my father.

The man said, “My son is coming into my arms.”

My father gave me a big hug.

At that very moment my life changed, I got food and new clothes, he introduced me to the family and explained to them all about me, everyone hugged me and kissed me, I had the pleasure of greeting the governor himself, who is my grandfather. I was able to communicate with my mother and siblings via a public telephone in town.

My mother asked me if I’d finally found my father, and I said yes and asked him about his situation. She told me that her husband had died a month before from lung cancer caused by smoking. And now she was a widow.

I arranged for my father to bring my mother and brothers to Dilolo. My father managed to get my mother to where we were, my mother and brothers and I were together again. My father told my mother that he never married because he never stopped loving her. Now my mother is back in my father’s arms and I’m happy to be living a life that does not lack the means. Myself, my brothers, and my mother have overcome our suffering and live in peace as a family.

I went back to the guard who helped me find my father and I found him a good job.

I am now my own father’s son.

3 November, 2023