I entered my teenage mileage in 2007. My estranged father sent my paternal aunt to give me a gift on my birthday, it was a photo album.

Prior to that day, I used to sit and wonder why he didn’t try forming a relationship with me. I thought my gender displeased him, my face was repulsive, or he saw me as unworthy. I used the hours I should’ve used playing, speculating ‘why’ until my head pounded from the tears that were born out of those conclusions. After crying I’d look into the mirror and be astonished at how a brown face could have flushed cheeks too.

“Your father sent me to give you this,” my aunt said.

My heart instantly felt a long-awaited elation. I was overly ecstatic but I retained a composed exterior because I didn’t know how I was expected to react.

“Thank you,” I said.

After my aunt left, I opened the white plastic and took out the photo album – it’s cover was brown fabric with blue, orange and white embroidery. I regretted not sending a message to my father, but what do you say to an adult stranger at thirteen?

He finally acknowledged my existence, finally I’ll get to know him… we’ll take a lot of pictures together and I’ll put them in the album, I said to myself with the widest smile.

The heavens must’ve wept when they saw my hopes.

Days passed and he was still absent, weeks passed and a void began to form, months and years followed and he’s still a stranger.

I developed a great companionship with the photo album. In my moments of melancholy I’d close my eyes and touch its cover, tracing my fingers on the embroidery like it was braille. It felt like I was reading a manual of how to mourn for a living person because I was really grieving at that time.

Sometimes I’d hold on to it tightly and wish it would become a magical portal that could transport me to a world where it could be just us and he’d answer the questions that still lurk in my head causing me insomnia.

The photo album also acted as a page-less diary that housed no ink. Every emotion I could’ve jotted down I put in there with a touch. It was a diary that could read me, a diary that extracted the feelings that whimpered in my heart but I failed to mutter out loud because my father was a taboo subject, even to my mother.

I guess the photo album became so important to me because I had spent over a decade of my most vulnerable years yearning to be of significance to him and the universe granted me that plea for once. I guess that’s how I held on so tightly, because it was a piece of him.

I’ve never been able to put a single picture in the album; I always thought doing so would taint it. Its purpose is to wait for me to miss him and touch it. It’s stored at the top of the wardrobe holding imaginary pictures of a stranger who played a part in creating me. It’s so sacred, it’s my something special.