My dearest Ayinza,
This photo was taken four days after my wife-also known as your mother, auntie Mary’s sister, jjajja’s daughter and countless other titles – broke the news that we were expecting you. Our faculty had a postgraduate poster competition and I was participating in it. Basically, we were to explain our PhD projects as clearly and attractively as possible on a huge, A1 poster. I had entered the competition several weeks earlier and had worked on a version that was far different from the one in the picture. Without going into much detail, it simply was rubbish (mostly because I really hadn’t put much effort into it, but also because sometimes, I can be rubbish at designing things).
On that day, I walked from home to the university a new man. I had walked that route more almost every day for more than two years. I could walk it with my eyes closed. I knew everything along the way. First, there was the grocery store that for almost a year had advertised that it was up for sale but had not changed management. Then, you’d turn left past our local health centre that I had only visited twice or thrice before, and was to now be the place we frequented for prenatal classes. Opposite it was a Methodist church and charity shop from which I tended to buy most of my clothes (to the chagrin of your mother). Further up the road, I’d get to Hyde Park, an expansive, very well managed green space that your mother and I surprisingly hadn’t frequented as often as other parks in the area. And then you got to the University.
I knew this place like the back of my hand. And yet on this day, everything seemed completely new to me. The cold, cloudy autumn weather I hated all of a sudden felt refreshingly chilly. The grey clouds weren’t dull and off-putting; they were a fascinatingly sure promise of a quintessential British drizzle. Even the strong wind that often left me really wishing I was home felt like a welcome spectator; embracing and cheering me on.
As I walked to the hall at which the competition was being held, my left hand, quite uncharacteristically, was in my pocket the entire time, just the way it is in the photo. If you had met your grandfather, you’d have known that this is exactly how he walked most of the time. Left hand in pocket, shoulders slightly hunched and his gaze always straight ahead. But it wasn’t your grandfather I was trying to imitate. Or anyone else for that matter.
It was you, I was holding on the promise of you.
I was walking with my left hand in the pocket because in it, was held one of three pee sticks that had read positive. See the night that she told me you were coming, I asked how many times she had tested. She told me she had bought a set of sticks, tested thrice and then, just to be sure, went to our GP (at the health centre I told you about earlier) and had a blood test done. She showed me the sticks. They were all positive. In the absence of a bump (at the time, you, my dear, were the size of a sweet pea!), most pregnancy side effects (your mother never had any of the stereotypical pregnancy signs. Ok apart from a monstrous appetite and getting tired a little sooner than usual), the only visible evidence of your presence (for me) were the three pee sticks.
So I held onto the proof of your presence and walked. When I got to the hall, I quickly set up, stood by my poster and held onto you. Everyone that came to my stand got a handshake, but my left hand never let go of the promise of you. People I knew passed by and reached out to hug me and I gave them those awkward side hugs with my right side, but my hand never let go of the promise of you. Like your grandfather before me, I talked to everyone that came to me with my left hand squarely tightly holding the promise of you. At lunchtime, most people went over to a table not so far off to get a snack. I didn’t. I held on to the promise of you and told you and your Creator all manner of stories about what you could expect when you finally made it to this side of life. I think if anyone observed me from a distance, they would have thought I was an arrogant prick that couldn’t get his hand out of his pocket and was well on his way to running mad given how much I was talking to myself. I didn’t care. I kept holding on to the promise of you.
The general public that was walking through the hall, looking at our posters and asking us about our projects had been asked to move around the room and vote for their favourite posters. Their votes would be tallied and although they counted for something, a panel of judges had been appointed to determine who had won. At about 2 pm, we were asked to gather around the judges as they delivered their verdict. I walked up to them, left hand in pocket. Squeezing tightly around the promise of you. I was hoping for a third-place finish or at least a mention.
The second runner-up was called. It wasn’t me.
The first runner-up was called. It wasn’t me either.
Then the winner was announced.
“And this year’s poster competition winner for the Faculty of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences is…Mewganzy…Ish-raza,” the lead judge announced.
It took a few seconds for me to make sense of the accent and the name, but only a few. I smiled. I walked over. Now I couldn’t keep holding on to the promise of you. I had to shake her hand with my right and receive the certificate with my left. The winner’s certificate.
I was torn.
Should I just keep pocketing? Should I let go of the promise of you? Was I simply being too dramatic in my symbolism? But wait…dramatic? Of course! Everything about that moment was dramatic. Everything about your impending arrival was dramatic. Heck, everything about your conception was dramatic. Why stop now? But the promise of you wasn’t just in the pee stick I was holding onto. Everything that day held a reminder of the promise of you. The refreshingly chilly and breezy weather, the drizzle that had by then started to drip down from the heavens… And now, there was a winner’s certificate being offered to your father. Of course. It all made sense now.
It wasn’t just a win in a poster contest. It was a win over the doubt that you would ever be a reality. It was a win over the tears and the pain of almost having you. It was a win over the voices within and without, that had- sometimes convincingly – made the argument for alternatives.
It was your win my daughter.
It was your certificate too.
You were coming first too.
So I let go of the promise of you, and I held on to the acknowledgement of you.
And when the thanking and chitchatting was done, I quickly went back to the poster and asked that a photo of me be taken.
With my right hand holding your first place certificate and my left holding on to the promise of you.
Mukama waffe, mwana wange, Ayinza
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