I have lived with pain guilt and regret. As a parent, there are nightmares you never want to have. Dreams you want to wake up from. Pain stings you all the 86400 seconds. I regretted sending him out. I looked for him in my pocket.
Thursday, 2:30 PM my phone rings. I wake up to get it. Uuuh it my alarm. It time to wake up. And prepare for my shift.
I work as a machine operator in one of the big factories in Baba dogo. A place I have worked for over 10 years. I started as a casual worker. We would be paid eight hundred shillings every Saturday. Then I was a young man, living in a single room in Mathare for two thousand shillings.
Life was good then.
Until I enrolled for a diploma in mechanical engineering. By this time, I had been upgraded to supervisor. The youngest of the 10 of us. I would leave Baba dogo at 4:30 PM and be in class at 5 PM. Classes would end at 8:30 PM, but would only get home minutes to 10 PM.
Today, I work in shifts. 3-day shift, 3-night shift and 3 off days. It was the second day of my night shift. Tim was my second born and an acting lastborn. A smile just like the father. A very bubbly boy. Like me, he is an extrovert.
He would come and stay by my bedside, till I get up. This Thursday afternoon, he was out and when my alarm rang. He stormed into our bedroom. He had been outside playing.
“Enda kwa Jimmy akupatie lollipop” (Go to Jimmy and buy a lollipop.)
I took a 20-shilling coin from the bedside table and handed Tim.
An hour later, I was done preparing and was about to leave. I called Justin, our first born, I needed to let him know that I was about to leave. Louise, my wife was just minutes out. There was a high chance we could meet on our way. Since she also works in another factory in the industrial area.
That is even how we met. Walking work from Mathare and at times on my way back home we met, fell in love, got married and had children.
Justin came in alone. Unlike him. Unlike what is expected. He knew that they all get in after 4 PM. I asked him where his brother was.
“Alisema ulimtuma kwa Jimmy.” (He said you sent him to Jimmy)
Hajarudi? (He hasn’t come back).
It was almost two hours later.
I sent Justin to go check on him. I waited for 30 minutes. Justin didn’t come back. I had to go out and find my children.
Locking the door, I went out. Jimmy’s being my first stop. It was the destination my children had.
Justin was at Jimmy’s. He was there confused. He didn’t have answers. To questions lingering in my mind.
I asked Jimmy about Tim.
Sijamuona since jana asubihi alipokujia mkate. (I have not seen him since yesterday morning when he came to buy bread.)
But si alikuja hapa na 20 bob kununua lollipop ako wapi? (But he came here with twenty shillings to buy a lollipop where is he?)
I walked the four hundred meters back home looking left, right, left, right, front, back even down.
Tim was nowhere to be found.
I got to our door, Tim was not there. I went back to Jimmy. I asked him to produce Tim. He needed to.
At this time, anxiety was kicking in. I went to the nearby playing ground and no one had seen him.
I needed to find Tim. I needed to get to the work. Although this was not an active nerve.
When Louise got back home and found my safety boots she called to ask why I hadn’t gone to work.
Am not sure what I said but it was something that aggravated her.
In my frustration, I asked Justin to go to all Tim’s friends as I locate him out here.
I looked everywhere. I called Tim and no one answered.
At one point I went back to Jimmy and he was closing his shop. I asked him how he could close yet he hadn’t produced Tim or Tim hadn’t come to buy his lollipop.
It took two men for me to know I was screaming and banging on the door so that Jimmy doesn’t close before Tim showed up.
The men kept telling me to go home and relax and Tim would be found.
How do you calm down when one of your two sons who you sent to buy a lollipop is missing? How.
How do I explain to Louise that Tim is missing?
She left in the morning and Tim was asleep. She hadn’t seen him the entire day. I needed to find him.
At around 10 PM my boss called and asked me why I neither showed up for work or communicated my absence.
For the 10 years, I have been very diligent and have missed work or called in sick less than 10 times.
He called worried. But all I could manage was “Tim is missing.”
I can’t recall for how long he was on the call but I still held the phone in my ear and still shouting “Tim is missing”
I roamed everywhere looking for Tim. I entered all the apartments and flats on my way looking and calling Tim. More shouting Tim’s name than calling.
In my entering and exiting the building I found myself in a police station. I don’t know how but I did.
I tried to explain my situation. But “Tim is missing.” “Tim just come back.” And many more Tim’s. All this time my wife kept calling to ask me about our son as she sobbed.
At some point, I couldn’t pick her call anymore.
It must have been past 2 AM, that the police officers escorted me to our doorstep. To be honest, I was shocked to see our door.
Our door without our son.
Louise, my wife was not going to take it lightly neither was she going to accept me without Tim. It must have been the reason one lady officer accompanied me home.
She narrated the story to Louise as per the statement I had recorded. Louise could hear none of it. She kept asking me to tell her again. I shared again and again. But she kept asking me to produce Tim.
The officer finally convinced Louise to let me in.
I sat there I recounted every word I said. It haunted me the more. She sat opposite me and said anything. She sobbed. And sobbed more. I didn’t know what to tell her.
I sat there thinking the entire time. At some point, I heard some activities outside. I rushed and hoped it would be Tim. I looked for Tim under all the cars outside.
It dawned on me it was dawn. I began the hunt again. I did this the entire day. I looked for him everywhere and everywhere again.
One thing about day two is, I never ate or drunk anything. How could I eat or drink when my son was out in the wild starving.
Within that day our human resource manager called me to check me up. I remember her telling me to take time off till I find my son. She kept telling me that the company would support me till Tim was found. Today that decision made my journey bearable.
At around 9.00 PM that evening in my quest to find Tim, I was back to the police station to look for Tim. Nothing about Tim had been reported.
One officer asked me to sit. He handed me a cup of tea and mandazi. At that point, I tried to refuse but was ordered. They then lead me home. When I got home I couldn’t face anyone.
The officer exchanged the contacts with Louise. They would call in case there was news about Tim.
I went into the shower, I stood in there. For the first time, I cried, I sobbed and cried the more. For a time, I can’t account for, I just let water camouflage my tears.
When I got to bed, I wouldn’t sleep. Louise turned her back on me. We stayed up till morning. But often she would say, “Yani lollipop imenipotezea mtoto,” (A lollipop has made me lose my baby).
She continuously asked me what kind of a man I was to lose our son.
It devoured me from within.
For a whole week, nothing changed. I called everyone who would help me find Tim.
Friends of mine made posters. We distributed them all over. Every morning I would be competing with Daktati Kutoka Kitui posters (Sorry there is no translation for this one). I shared on my WhatsApp status and all groups. All with the hope I would get a call and hear Tim on the other end. Or he would walk back home.
I would call myself a Christian, but I never had those structured prayers. I never prayed about it. I just talked to the person above as I walked. As I put the posters on poles walls and anything I could find.
I would ask him to bring back my son.
For two weeks, there was nothing else other than finding Tim. Everywhere including hospitals. One of our neighbors asked us whether we had considered the mortuary. As a parent, nothing is as difficult as thinking your son could be dead.
We began checking. Sharing about our three-year-old son. At this point all I was looking for was convoluted. I got in there hoping Tim was not in one of those freezers. Because I wanted him alive. But also hoping he was there to get closure. To offer a decent send-off to my son.
My search never amounted to anything.
Our colleagues would pass by to comfort us, counsel us, or even stand with us. Patricia, Louise’s colleague brought food for us every day. She made a difference.
By the third week, pain stress and guilt became normal. Normal not that you get used to it. Normal that it is always there. We eventually resumed work. But the search never ended.
Louise and I have fought about Tim uncountable times. I got to a point of accepting the role I played in Tim’s disappearance. I hurt me, crushed me, deconstructed my entire existence. I was not getting out of this without finding Tim alive.
I enrolled for counselling. Session after session, they would never be closed up. I relived that fateful Thursday afternoon. Each time hoping, I never sent him. Asking him not to go out.
We chose not to relocate in case one day Tim chooses to walk back home.
Sometimes I think of our reunion.
I see his smile. Many times as I operated machines I hear Tim’s voice call.
Sixteen months later, Tim was still out there. Nobody knew where he was. Those who say time heals have not lost a son. Not dead, a son walks out and never to come back or be seen. It never heals.
The pain never goes down. It increases with time. Justin asking me when his brother was coming back, crushed me every time. The murmurs whenever I passed, ground and crushed me to pieces. Posters all around being a constant reminder of my failures as a father. Losing my son for a lollipop.
A day like today a year ago, we were trying to learn and navigate what the COVID-19 pandemic was. Everyone was in fear. I still kept hope alive. Like I had lived, these almost five hundred days, things would eventually look up and I would get to know Tim’s whereabouts.
I was walking out of the changing room headed to the canteen for 10 O’clock tea. I noticed over ten missed calls from four new numbers. It is not normal for anyone to call me during morning hours. I could either be working and phones are not allowed in the factory, or I could be asleep.
My heart skipped a bit. I didn’t know what to expect. Outside the factory, there is a shed we have nicknamed telephone booth because everyone sits there to make their calls during the breaks.
I sat there, randomly selected one of the four numbers and called.
“I guess we have found him.”
“Are you the one who lost a son some time back”
“Yes, my son has been missing for a few months”
“I think we found him.”
I don’t remember his name or anything else he said other than XXX Police station.
I got wild. I ran screamed and headed towards the gate. Later I would find out that I created panic in the factory. But who cares when they have news like that.
I called Louise and urgently told her to come outside the gate urgently. For four minutes that seemed an eternity, I was on a bodaboda waiting for her.
She came in a hairnet and shoe covers. Meaning she left everything. I got off and let her sit first then I joined her.
I tried to explain to her what was happening. All I could say is XXX Police Station. Nagging the rider to get faster. Am not sure I paid for that ride.
When we got there, I jumped and ran toward the office.
Midway I saw him. He was bigger, taller. But it was him.
He ran towards me.
I picked him up. Held him too tight. I cried. Sobbed. I was overwhelmed.
Louise came and together in one embrace we let out emotions flow. Tears flowed.
Nothing could stop us from our reunion.
Hours later we both called our managers to inform them of our absence and more so the joy we had.
hey were very understanding.
That day nothing, the police nor the ladies who brought Tim made it into our heads. The happiness occupied our entire mental space.
Today is Tim’s birthday. The day Tim was reborn into our lives. Rev. Mary, our chief guest for this day, shared on how COVID-19 brought Tim to life.
When the Ministry of Health guidelines closed churches, Rev. Mary was forced to relocated her church to a smaller place but big enough to run the online service.
While conversing with the landlady she mentioned about a boy she was raising among her children. She had enrolled him to school as her own. The landlady had heard about my story. They would then return to the police station she had reported about finding Tim.
From the occurrence book, there was an error in the reporting. Her names and contacts were nonexistent and the rest was illegible. There was no way they could find her. By God’s grace, I was found. They called me for my son.
Getting our son back, allowed us to give back to Rev. Mary. It deepened our faith. Ever since she has been our physical and spiritual mother.
When I think of losing Tim, Justin or even Mary our newborn, all the pain and anguish I felt for Tim, rushes through my system.
At the party, there were no lollipops. There will never be. I hate them with a passion.
It’s a Happy 1st Birthday to our almost 6-year-old Tim
NB: Names have been altered for confidentiality purposes.