The questions went unanswered. Not only did her mother go mute when Jessica asked about her father, but also her close relatives. No one was willing to accommodate that conversation.
It was frustrating for Jessica. She had a strong feeling there was something she was not supposed to know concerning her paternal parent. This motivated her to dig deeper. Unfortunately, she did not know where to start digging.
Let me go to grandpa again, she thought to herself. The last time she had asked him about her father, he had called her grandmother. He had done it so fast that she had not found time to stop him.
“Jessica, after I asked you to stop all these nonsense, you are still at it? Why are you becoming wayward?” Her grandmother admonished her. Jessica looked at her grandfather desperately but his eyes were fixed on the cup of tea in front of him. Jessica had left disappointed yet more curious.
She was back again. “Grandpa!” She called him, her heart beating fast. He was on his favorite seat, reading an old copy of Time Magazine. The TV was on low volume. She adored her grandfather because he had been a father figure for her all her life.
“Jess mummy, what’s bothering you?” Her grandfather said concerned at her gloomy face.
“I need to ask you something and it has to be between you and I.” Jessica said , fast before he called his wife to rescue him again. He stared at her for many seconds then he sighed.
“My dear Jess, it’s about your father again, isnt it? ” She nodded. Then he studied her again. “Jess, why don’t you just forget about this whole search.We do not want to see you hurt.”
“Grandpa! Please, just tell me. I am sixteen years, I can handle the truth. Was mum dating a married man? Am I a product of an illegal union? Just tell me,please!” She pleaded.
“What is it Jessica?” Her grandmother said in a dangerous tone. She was standing by the door scowling at her granddaughter. Jessica had never seen that look on her face directed to her. It was only directed to the chickens when they would get in the house and dirty the room she had just cleaned.
Jessica was puzzled at the heightened exasperation her grandmother displayed towards this issue. She had always dotted on her and often called her ‘my sunshine’. Her cousins many a time complained that Jessica was their grandmother’s apple of the eye. Something grandma would laugh at but not deny.
“Grandma…I…I” Jessica stammered more comfused why the matter of her father raised such tension. The TV interrupted with the sound of the 1 o’clock news music. The anchor was all ready to read the news. His first piece of news was about the now popular story about their local politician’s corruption scandal.
Both grandparents made a move to switch off the television. Her grandmother got there first and with a click in her mouth put the thing off. Her grandfather limped back and sunk in his chair. Jessica knew she would receive a mother of all scoldings.
“Jessica, I order you to STOP THIS RUBBISH or else…” She threatened perilously.
Her grandmother walked away mumbling to herself angrily. Jessica was bewildered! Her grandfather was now resting his head in the couch,his hands behind his head his eyes closed not as if asleep but in deep meditation. Jessica having no other thing to do, went to the television and switched the tv on.
Her grandfather opened his eyes startled. The corruption piece of news was still being discussed. He woke up from his seat with fast steps to switch the tv off.
“Don’t do that again, go and read some books or do something!” He ordered. Jessica was surprised her grandparents were exhibiting a side of them she had never seen before from them. The passion to hide from the truth made her all the more eager to know her biological dad.
She did appreciate what her mother and grandparents did for her but she felt an urge to know why she did not have a father like many of her schoolmates. Their third names were their fathers’ but for Jessica, she only had two names. Even the few with single mothers had a third male name .
She had confided to one of them, a close friend, Jamie that she did not know who her father was, Jamie expressed her thoughts.
“Maybe he is married but your mum is afraid to tell you that she is a mistress. Like my mum. Someone called her a homewrecker one day. She was mad!” Jessica albeit somehow irritated at her friend’s candid reasoning agreed with her. She had then decided to find out. But all she encountered was barrier after barrier.
One day after her grandmother’s vexed outburst, she was in her room, on her reading chair. The page on that book before her had been open for thirty minutes. Jessica had never been a book worm. Her concentration span was like that of a toddler. That day, the mood to read was worse.
She was alone in the house. Then she heard a knock on the door. It was her auntie, her uncle’s wife. On seeing her, Jessica almost closed the door on her. The woman was trouble!
“Jess, Jess, I want to tell you something.” Jessica pushed the door to shut it but her auntie stopped her with the utterances, “About your father.”
“Yes, I hear you have been asking questions about your father. I have all the answers. Jessica pulled her in quickly and gave her a seat. Her aunty had that smirk on her face.
It would not be wrong to call her aunty the trouble maker of the extended family. She had a row with every one, including her parents-in-law. Frequent times her husband had ordered her out of his house which she would, vowing never to come back. But she would return after a week or so with promises of changing her behaviour.
Here she was now, ready to reveal the best well kept secret to the anxious teen.
“Ehe, tell me auntie please before mother comes back.”
Seeing her niece’s point and driven by the urge to be the one to burst the bubble, she licked her lips and began,
“Jessica, your uncle told me this yesternight. You see this life that you are so comfortable with? Fanning jikos, or washing utensils from the ground outsise there or living your life in this small house. This is not your life.” She said excitedly.
“Aunty, please tell me what I want to hear.”
“Jess my dear niece, your father is stinking rich. That wealthy politician can make you forget this poor life with a snap of his finger.”
“Who is he?” Jessica cried.
“The answer is there,” She said, pointing at the television. “Especially now that he is always appearing on the news.” Jessica’s auntie was speaking when they heard a loud knock.
“Peninah!” It was her grandmother. Peninah opened her eyes wide at the voice of her mother in law. She rushed to the corner of the room and took a chapati pan then rushed to the door.
“I was borrowing this pan so that I make some chapatis for you all.” Her mother-in-law law squinted at her suspiciously. Although the three homes lived independently, they would sometimes share food to the other two families. Food such as chapatis, pancakes and meat were the common shared foodstuff.
Both women left. Jessica dropped on the chair her head already starting to piece puzzles together. Her mother and grandparents always changed channels or switched off the TV when news about Senator Theodore was being broadcast.
Jessica also recalled her mother’s vehement outburst when she was in form one when the school principal suggested that they apply for Senator’s Theodore bursary fund. Her mother had impolitely turned down the offer stating that she would pay her daughter’s fees herself without any assistance.
Ironically, when another politician, MP Grace offered funds for school fees, Jessica’s mother rushed to apply for the financial help.
Could Senator Theodore be her real father? How did he meet her mother?Were they lovers and he broke her heart? Jessica had to find out. That evening, she borrowed her mother’s phone in pretence of doing school research.
She googled about the Senator. News about him flooded the internet. He was involved in a recent corruption scandal with his Governor. Months before, he had hit the headlines with a sex scandal after his wife caught him cheating with a young girl.
But what caught Jessica’s eye was a blog that praised his good work. She was excited about the paragraph that revealed that he always held a ‘meet-his-people’ session every Friday in his office in the local town to personally listen to their grievances.
“Mum, I need to do more research on the cyber cafe. Can I please go to town tomorrow ?” Her mother never turned down any request concerning her studies. She nodded and continued with her chores.
Jessica could not wait for the night to end. She was wide awake when the first rays of the sun cracked through her bedroom. She even heard the first cock crow. But she knew she had to conceal the excitement so she waited until her mother woke up then she helped with making breakfast. When she finally prepared, her heart skipped a beat or two when she finally started her journey.
Nothing could discourage Jessica’s plans that day. Not even the long queue outside the Senator’s office that was waiting to see him. She thought of the Bible’s prodigal son as she imagined how the senator would react when she revealed that she was his daughter.
“It’s your turn!” The woman on her left nudged her. She felt her legs tremble and her hands become sweaty. She knocked on the door and his voice boomed a hurried welcome. She opened the door and saw him. He was writing something n a piece of paper, his phone on his ear.
She studied his face for any resemblance and thought his nose looked like hers. Then he glanced at her, and saw the grey eyes that he usually hid behind his spectacles. Nobody in her maternal family had those eyes, only she did. Her heart satrted to dance.
The Senator still on phone, handed her a piece of paper. She took it and read through it. He saw the confused look on her face and asked the person on the other end of the call to give him a minute.
“What?” He snapped. “Is it not a bursary fund you want?” Jessica shook her head. “Then there are no jobs available now. You can go!” He said dismissively and went back to his call. Jessica stood there as he completely ignored her. Then the door opened and the woman waiting to see the senator after her came in.
He handed her a paper which she filled enthusiastically then made a thankful bow to him and left. He seemed not to notice her even as she stood in his office rooted on one point even as people came in and left. Jessica finally left.
One look at her and her mother knew something was terribly wrong. Jessica fell into her mother’s arms and sobbed uncontrollably. When she calmed down, her mother led her to the house.
“You went to see your father?” Jessica nodded and spilt from A to Z. Her mother listened keenly without any interruption. Them she finally spoke.
“Jessica, your desire to know the whole truth has made me realize that you have to know about your father. Yes, Senator Theodore is your father.” Jessica listened as she wiped her tears.
“I had just finished my secondary school education. He was then the local MP. A friend of your grandmother knew him personally so she organised a meeting for her and the MP to get me a job. My mother was asked to bring me along. Then he requested that I come to his office alone the following day.” Jessica’s mother was narrating , tears flowing from her cheeks.
“He raped me.” Jessica’s mother announced. Jessica was aghast! “I came back home and told mother and father who angrily stormed his home. They were thrown out like stray dogs. The next day two men came here and warned us that if we continued with those stupid allegations, then there would be fatalities in this home. They broke father’s leg to show they meant what they said.”
Jessica understood why her grandfather walked with a limp. She did not know what to make of what she had just been told.
“He does not know he impregnated me. We feared he might kill me if he found out. I think it was a nice thing you did not tell him. He would not want another scandal about him with the corruption scandal already taunting him.” Jessica’s mother said causing her daughter to take a deep breath as if in relief, like she had escaped immense danger.
When Jessica went to bed that night,she sobbed quietly. She wanted to have a cry that she would never have again in her life. A cry for her poor self for being a rape product. A cry for a loving mother who had loved her unconditionally despite the unwanted conception. A cry for adoring grandparents who had overprotectively shielded her from the painful truth.
When she had cried enough, she wiped her tears. Her life would never be the same again. She felt like an univited guest but in a home whose hosts had warmly welcomed her with open arms. She knew the only way to appreciate them would be to dig deep in her books. That is what they had always asked of her.