“It’s my daddy’s birthday soon.”
She pauses, giggling, and stares into the distance. Nappy hair springs enthusiastically into intricate tendrils around her face, and a chubby hand pushes rounded glasses further onto a snub nose. She looks at me, eager. Confiding.
“Thirty days from yesterday. Comin’ up quick.”
I smile. It’s a patient smile, and one that comes easily. Besides, Gigi doesn’t need verbal encouragement. A listening ear is enough.
She leans back and wiggles a small boot. “I don’t know where he is though.”
My co-worker and I exchange an amused, long-suffering look. Gigi is prone to ambiguous statements, which often lead to commonplace explanations. My titian-haired co-worker finally takes the bait.
“What do you mean, you don’t know where he is? Like where he lives now, or what?”
Gigi looked at us mildly, shaking her head. When she speaks, her voice lilts upwards, as though sharing a child-like secret. “My daddy’s dead, you guys.” She continues to shake her head, seemingly pondering her own words. When Gigi speaks again, it’s with a slight bewildered wonderment. “Isn’t that sad?”
My co-worker disengages. With Gigi, that’s the easiest thing to do. It’s hard to know how seriously to take her. Everything she says is accompanied by either dramatic hand gestures, threats to punch some blank punk in the face, or manic outbursts of contagious giggles. However, today seems different.
I look at her vague, smiling face. Something in mine must have prompted her to continue.
“I was his favorite. His lil soljer.” Pride seeps from her very pores.
“He always taking me places, callin’ me miha.”
I nod. She giggles. “I never got to say goodbye, you know?” Fingers splay for emphasis, wide green eyes meet mine. “His mother and sister, they wouldn’t let me see him. When I got to the hospital, he was already dead.”
Chubby fingers play with a frayed thread on her coat. “My theo Raul held me back from the nurse. She wouldn’t let me see my daddy – he held me back, or oooo she would’ve gotten a beating, Lor’ knows.”
She laughs at my widened eyes. “I’m just playin’.” She looks down at the thread, now completely twisted around her forefinger, which had morphed into a violent shade of purple. “I’m just playin’.”
The tone turns conversational. “I blame myself, you know.”
“For my daddy dying.”
My hasty rebuttal is interrupted. “I do though. Before he left, he punched me in the face. My daddy always told me, never let a man raise a hand to you, no matter who he is. So I looked him in the eye and punched back. I had only asked him why I couldn’t go see my cousins, when my brother was with his friends. I guess he didn’t like that, thought I was talkin’ back.”
Petite thigh jiggles as she speaks. “After I punched him, he just shut down. Like his face went blank. Scared me. He said, ‘I never wanted you. Should’ve made your mom get an abortion before you were born, saved myself all this trouble’.”
A laugh catches in her throat, and tears shimmer in the wide, green eyes. “I called him horrible things back. Said I would laugh if he died in front of me.”
She looks up, eyes blinking rapidly. “What kind of daughter says that to her father?”
I am speechless. She breaks the silence with a giggle, while furtively wiping teak-leaking eyes. “Ooo, I am a mess, ain’t I?
There is another awkward pause. Gigi collects herself with a businesslike sniff and quick swipe to her traitorously leaking nose. “So, like I was saying…it’s my daddy’s birthday soon.
“I miss him.”
“I had a daddy, didn’t I? He wasn’t perfect and he certainly wasn’t the one I’d dreamed he would have been, but I had one all the same. And I’d loved him as much as I’d hated him, hadn’t I?” ~ Melodie Ramon, After Forever Ends