He told me he loved me once. A week before his sudden death. Maybe it was the booze talking. Maybe his soul knew time was running out, to show me his love.

He rescued me from a nightmare that night…

“Wake up, Junior, wake up!”

I woke, and my eyes were huge. His were bright, star-filled, wondrous. Even the musty alcohol stench couldn’t distract me from them.

I was certain something heavy was to flow from his lips, beside the drool. But all that came was…

“I gave you my name because I love you. My son! My name!”

It WAS heavy. But I didn’t know it then because in the week that followed I was trapped in his game.

Heads or tails? When the sun wakes, do I get uTata or a tyrant.

Opposite him at the kitchen table, I ate porridge, but I didn’t see it once… trying my best not to break from his cold gaze. But I trembled, and drops fell to the floor. No chance to gasp, his roar drowned my heart, and my eyes did flood.

I shuddered to come home early after school that Friday. So I came late. Bad choice! When the sky spotted golden streaks on the horizon, I showed red streaks on my thighs. I knew uTata’s brown leather belt better than I did his touch.

Six days were all that was left of his life when he woke on Sunday.

Heads or Tails? uTata or a tyrant?

I sat upright at the kitchen table when he came in, smiling. Tata!

Sweet bread after porridge. Ice cream after church. Roadtrip to nowhere. He DID love me!

Three days left.
Heads or tails?
A tyrant!

“I was dragged out work cause you got in a fight! That white man won’t pay me for today! You know who’ll pay? You. Your stomach!” uTata said outside the principal’s office, on his knees whispering daggers at me, as I sat quietly on the bench.

When we got home he whipped me.

Bruised thighs, battered heart… to make up for the threat he’d resolved to not uphold. I was fed meat and potatoes that day. Usual portions, usual goodness, shocking goodness by a bitter hand. But my body ached so much I could hardly enjoy the taste. If the choice was there, I would surely have foregone the delicious food in exchange for no beating.

Heads or tails? Tata!
Sweet-faced in the morning, gentled-voiced in the afternoon, subtle at night.

Thursday came.
Heads or tails? Tata!
I got an encore performance of goodness. Thunderstuck!

Friday. His last day on Earth.
Heads or tails? Tata!
French toast in the morning. This man dared to smile at me.

I rushed home after school.

“He said he got a call from his Baas, he’ll come later. Here are the keys,” old man Mkize from next door said to me over the fence.

I was bouncy. Danced the sun away, until darkness sneaked up on me. He’d still not returned. Unlike him! My heart dropped. But when my aunt knocked on the door at 7pm, the thread holding it snapped, and my heart hurried for the floor.

He died. An accident. Tata!

In a week I saw… Hard, soft. Cruel, kind. Gentle, abrasive. Love, love. Tata!


This was one of the runners-up entries in the My Father essay writing competition. Click here to read other excellent essays from the competition.