The thick warmth of the air engulfs me as I step off the plane. “This is it,” I whisper to myself.
I slowly pull my phone from my coat pocket, letting my fingers linger across the keyboard before finally mustering up the desire to send the text.
“I made it.”
A few seconds later, my screen lights up, almost dismal in comparison to the glowing African sun. “Do you still want to do this, Lani? It’s never too late to just catch the next flight back. Be safe.”
I picture my mother, sitting on her dark leather couch, the phone never leaving her hand. A six-hour time difference means nothing to her. She wishes I never chose to come here in the first place.
I was supposed to be getting married next month. As I worked through the motions of wedding planning, it came time to map out the order of procession. I feared tackling that moment my whole life. As a little girl, I dreamed of the day I would walk down the aisle in my pristine white gown, but the image often pained me. I felt an itch, a need to answer the relentless questions that pricked at the back of my mind; a dull, but prominent nuisance.
I felt like something was missing. My father.
He had been missing for a long time. My whole life, to be exact.
I found myself waking up in the middle of the night recently, drenched in sweat, with the same recurring nightmare. Me…standing at the altar, ready to recite my vows…when my father bursts through the door, panting. “I’m sorry,” he pleads. It is already too late.
I was about to blend my life with another’s, ridding myself of the only thing I have left of my father – his last name. I had to meet him. At least once. I had to look him in the eyes and ask the questions that have clung to my heart for all of these years.
Does he look like me?
Does he have the same hearty, breathy, belly laugh as I do?
Is his walk rhythmic and steady, with the slightest shift in the hips as his feet graze the floor?
Would meeting him be like completing a complex jigsaw puzzle, or would I realize that the final piece had been ruined and would not fit?
These questions bring me here. To Ghana. To the place of the current chapter in my father’s story. My mother wouldn’t tell me much about him. All I know is that he is a writer, a nomad, someone lost in the world with no settled place. His home is everywhere and nowhere. That’s why he couldn’t find a home with us.
My mother talks about him with disdain, but her eyes tell a different story. When she mentions him, her eyes soften, her breath quickens, and her face flushes. She loved him deeply, yet he broke her spirit the minute he grabbed his suitcase and walked out the door. No phone calls, no birthday cards, no congratulatory messages for graduations or promotions. At every stage of my life, I’ve peeked around, expecting him to pop up unexpectedly with an explanation; a long, convoluted story about how he had been looking for me all along.
After consulting a few of his family members on social media, I found his most recent address. Without giving myself much time to reflect, I bought a plane ticket for the fourteen hour trip across the world.
As I grab my luggage, I keep walking forward, one foot in front of the other. I hop in a cab, hand the driver a slip of paper with the address, and watch as we drive by a blur of red clay earth, vividly and brilliantly colored fabrics against the gleaming skin of the people.
My pulse is racing. I can’t control the rapid beating of my already broken heart. Every thump and mile feels like it is pumping my heart back together after twenty-seven years of loss, confusion, and fury.
I want to scream in his face, to bang my shaky fists against a wall, all to make him see how his absence had been like an invisible cloak, always weighing me down. My entire life, I’ve chased men, begged men to love me, and clung mercilessly to anyone willing to get close. I wanted them to fix me. To complete me. To affirm that even though my father didn’t want me, someone did.
I step out of the cab, in what seems like slow motion. My black off-brand sneaker hits the dirt road. In front of me is an ocean, its depth mesmerizing and terrifying. The sight makes me still. I battle a range of emotions – anger, excitement, hope, anxiety – the calming inflow and release of the rippling tide brings me back to myself. To Lani, the joyous, lighthearted optimist.
I let the tension release from my jaw and allow my shoulders to drop.
I can do this.
I prayed for this moment. I am here.
Breathing deeply in through the nose and out through the mouth, I stride calmly toward the door. I lift my fist, my palm dripping with sweat, and knock three times. Thump…thump…thump. No answer. I listen for rustling inside, for any sign of it being occupied. I look at the Post-It note in my left hand one more time. This is the correct location.
I drop my bags in one motion, discouraged. I make my way to the back of the residence, hoping to catch a glimpse of my father. I tiptoe around, thinking maybe I’ve gone to the wrong side, wonder if my father has stepped out to run errands. Maybe that is it. He has gone to the arts and culture center to bargain for a new outfit, or maybe to the market to purchase dinner. I will wait. What else is there to do?
I return to the front and give the door one more hard pound.
I flop my suitcase down sideways and sit down. This has not just been a physical journey, but also an emotional one. I’ve always tried to be the best at everything. Thought that if I won one more trophy, or achieved one more accolade, my father would come running around the corner and congratulate me. That he would exclaim, “That’s my daughter!” That he would see me.
Here I go again, going above and beyond. Traveling to the other side of the world to meet the man who denied me. I want him to see me. To see the woman I have grown so tumultuously and delicately into. To see what I have become without him.
I feel a tap on my shoulder.
“Do you need some help, sister? Are you lost?” a man says. He doesn’t look anything like I imagined. “I live next door and I saw you sitting here for an hour. Can I help you?”
“Well, I’m looking for Benjamin Abara. Do you know where he is?” I mumble.
“Ah, my old neighbor. I’m sorry to tell you this, but….he…he left.”
“Left?” My pulse quickens.
“Yes, you see, he said he has a daughter back in the states. He heard she was getting married. He said he wanted to fix what he broke.”
“Whe…when…did he leave?”
“Well, ah, just about a day or two ago.”
I don’t remember how the conversation ended. I rise from my suitcase and run as fast and as hard as my feet will allow. The sand dances around me with every stride. I don’t stop until I am in the ocean, and the waves engulf me.
The waves crash around me, and I remember what it feels like to be free. To feel the rush of life take over.
He is looking for me. I am looking for me, too.
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