My father was a man of emotions, the strongest of which was love.
He loved us (his children) with a breathtaking intensity. There is no doubt in my mind we were his greatest vulnerability.
I think we were a vulnerability he either didn’t care to conceal or simply didn’t have the means to conceal. His love for us was fierce, overt and abiding.
My father was not a very expressive person. Yet his love for us was so incongruous with his nature – it forced him to wear his heart on his sleeve.
My father could never abide to witness the pain of any of his children. He was incapable of stoically absorbing any hurt we endured. If any of us got hurt – it always affected him deeply.
Considering what a tough and fearful man he was perceived to be – we found this trait endearing and slightly amusing.
My father would get so agitated whenever one of us got hurt, regardless of how minor the ailment appeared to be.
He hated not being able to protect us from getting hurt. I knew (and took for granted) that he would always try to place himself between us and harm.
My father could never endure the agonizing spectacle of our wounds.
I remember when I was about 7 years old and had tonsillitis. I got hospitalized and operated on. My father was tormented by every hospital visit – fearing that I might have died in his absence.
We teased him behind his back for a very long time after that. We laughed at how he would send an ‘advance party’ to my room to check that I was still breathing while he waited anxiously in the lobby.
One day, my big sister Shonisani stumbled, fell on the tarmac and scrapped her knee. My father made her miss school, took her to the doctor to get her knee checked out, insisted that they place a bandage on her scrapped knee (it was totally unnecessary) and then he purchased lots of unnecessary painkillers which the doctor had not even prescribed.
To be honest, I did not count her injury as being anything noteworthy – her pain of course was something else – but the knee didn’t look too bad to me.
But the highlight of my father’s fretful vigilance over our wellbeing occurred the day my brother Dalton came down with malaria (or something which presented with malaria-like symptoms).
To this day my father’s reaction is a laughter-inducing topic. It is probably one of my fondest memories of him. My laughter and my tears often accompany that recollection.
Dalton fell sick in the most random and undramatic fashion. I, for one, was totally unimpressed with his symptoms thinking that he was feigning the illness.
Part of my nonchalance originated from the fact that I was nearing the end of a fantastic thriller novel and could not afford any distractions.
We, the children, lived at home while my parents mostly stayed at the family’s business complex in the Siyoka village of rural Beitbridge. The complex incorporated a bottle store, a grinding mill, a supermarket and a vegetable garden/market.
My big sister had seniority, we all deferred to her and when Dalton fell sick – it was my sister who decided the ailment was serious enough to alert my parents.
Knowing our father as we did, we had developed a habit of not getting alarmed about minor injuries or ailments so as to not set him off.
My parents’ arrival was heralded by a cloud of dust swirling from afar as my father – true to form – sped to the homestead without a care about how many of the neighbours’ chickens he might run over in his haste.
It was an altogether hilarious sequence of events.
My father strode into the room, with my mother anxiously in tow (Dalton was the ‘baby’ in the family). My father instructed that Dalton be brought to the lounge immediately.
I ditched my novel long enough to catch the unfolding drama that inevitably took place when my father had a sick child on his hands.
I arrived in the lounge in time to witness my father laying out the last bottles of medications he’d brought along with him.
There were dozens of over-the-counter medications and pills on the table. I wondered whether he’d looted a pharmacy on his way home but that was unlikely – because Siyoka village has no pharmacies. This must have been his own stash kept (with dread) in case of emergencies.
My father proceeded to engage Dalton in the most unconventional diagnostic dialogue I have ever seen. It went something like this:
My father would ask, “where does it hurt Dalton?”
And my brother would respond with something vague like, “my head hurts”.
Without further prompting my father would point at some packet on the table and tell my mother, “give him one of those”. My mother would comply.
As soon as Dalton was done swallowing, my father would ask for the next symptom, “so what else hurts?”
And that question would also elicit another ambiguous response from Dalton who’d say something like, “my throat feels itchy”.
My father would then ponder that response while glancing over his collection of medicines before grabbing a spoon and saying to my mother, “hand me that bottle over there, with the green lines”. My mother would comply.
Then Dalton would have to drink a half teaspoon of whatever it was (probably cough mixture).
When he kept pressing Dalton for more symptoms he eventually got rewarded with a feeble description of how Dalton was feeling cold one moment and then feeling hot the next.
This particular set of symptoms seemed to leave my father stumped. He started reading some of the labels on some of the bottles to find out if they could remedy this hotness and coldness his precious son was enduring.
Eventually, it was my mother who (helpfully) ventured that it sounded like malaria, but didn’t that happen when you got bitten by mosquitoes?
My father immediately announced that Dalton had to get into the car – they were going to the hospital right away (which is what I had personally thought should have been done all along, but no one asked me).
Dalton got better. But I will never forget how my dad frantically tried to single-handedly
kill cure Dalton with his pharmaceutical ‘concoctions’.
That was my father. A man who watched over us vigilantly, who loved us with the entirety of his being.
He was a man of emotions. Ultimately, he taught us to love unconditionally or not at all.
I miss him. He did not live to see the woman I have become. I like to think he would have been proud.
In loving memory of my late father, Desmond ‘Dazzman’ Manavhela Ndou – who gave to me the gift of self-expression and taught me to value the counsel of my own heart.