The first time my father spoke to me was at a bet shop.
I turned from the Vanguard Newspaper I was reading to meet his stare. My heart fluttered and the world around me seemed to fade away as the weight of that moment sank in. My father was right in front of me.
“Nwoke, print this slip for me,” he said, alcohol wafting from his breath as he slid a crumpled piece of paper and a two hundred naira note across to me.
I took the paper, stealing quick glances at him. This was the father I never knew I had until a year ago. This was the man mumsy told me died in an armed robbery gone wrong only weeks before I was born. It was a lie she maintained until I became sixteen last year.
She told me he had abandoned her when he found out she was pregnant with me. But she had refused to give me a name or anything worthwhile in finding him. Three months ago, I found his picture and a pregnancy test wedged behind her wardrobe. It took me a week to find him. He was living at a rundown bungalow on Ojuelegba street, eleven buildings away from where I lived with Mama.
In the past month since I started working here, I have watched him come in almost every single day dressed in flip flops, dirty three-quarter jeans, and a black sleeveless shirt. Not once had I summoned the courage to speak to him. Not once had he given me a second glance. Until today.
The resemblance was undeniable: the slightly curved left eye we both shared, the lean stature, and that nose my mother called an oxygen collector. This was my father. It felt like I was staring at my reflection twenty years from now.
There were a hundred questions I needed answers to, questions only he could answer. Like why he left my mother. Why he never visited even though he lived on the next street. How could he stand right in front of me and not notice the obvious connection we shared?
But when the moment arrived, my tongue betrayed me.
“See your change” were all the words I could summon as I passed the slip and a hundred naira change back to him.
He smiled at the slip like it was some long lost treasure he found.
“This 17 odd go pay,” he said retreating to one of the benches by the screen.
I watched him from the counter. His eyes roved from the screens to the slip he cradled in his palm. I knew I was supposed to say something, yell at him and announce to the world that I was his flesh and blood, but for the life in me, I did not.
“Chai, Liverpool don cast my ticket,” he suddenly cried, burying his face into the palm of his hands. He tossed the slip to the ground where a growing number of failed bets laid, littered and forgotten. He crossed the room to the counter where I was.
“Abeg, print another 17 odds for me,” he said handing me another paper and the change I had given to him earlier.
I turned to the sea of white papers and failed bets on the ground. And at that moment, the answer came. Maybe that was what my mother always was to him.
Another bet slip wey cast seventeen years ago.
is a Nigerian author, novelist and poet based in Anambra State, Nigeria. He is the author of the Award-winning novel, Give Us Each Day, which he began writing while serving as a corps member in Ibadan, Oyo State. The work, originally written as a short story, was expanded into a novel and published in October 2018. Samuel graduated from the Nnamdi Azikiwe University with a B.Sc in Environmental Management. Over the last seven years, Samuel has authored over 60 articles and 12 short stories published both home and abroad. One of his recent works appeared in the Aké journal 2018. He is an editorial staff and social media analyst for Cedar Publishing of Love Ambassadors Ministries, and has served as a columnist for the faith-based publication Aflame with Love. He is a trained and certified story plot editor with professional experience in editing and engineering non-fiction and fiction manuscripts. Samuel has extensive experience in writing and teaching thrillers, fantasy, suspense, society and maturation genres. He is a cartoon lover, an avid reader who enjoys reading fiction as much as he enjoys writing them. When he isn’t writing, he dabbles into mobile development and digital marketing.