It was a bit surreal. I was here sitting in my dad’s kitchen thirty five years and a couple of thousand miles too late. My momentary surrealism was broken by a cockroach that had just broken cover from behind one of table condiments, looked me up and down and then disappeared as quickly as it appeared.
Three months ago this situation was never on the horizon. It had started with a simple message on Facebook.
“Is your dad called Richard Ellis?” the message simply said from a woman called Patricia based in America. I replied no not entertaining whatever latest scam some toad had dreamed up from where ever. A few days later the woman had messaged me back again. Now she was telling me.
“Your dads name is Joseph Richard Ellis.” “Your full name is Peter L Ellis and your date of birth is xx/xx/xx.”
“He goes by the name Richard as he used to have a pet dog called Joseph in Jamaica so he never liked using his first name”
Now she had my attention.
She left her number and a few days later I called her. She was a lovely woman who had known my dad for many years. He is a technophobe so he had asked her a few months earlier if she would help him to find me. She gave me his number and said she would only tell him that she has found me if I want her to. I said that was OK and I would call him in due course. It was a week before I decided to call. During that time, I would look at those thirteen digits over and over and wondered how my life could have been different had he given a stuff thirty five years earlier. I took the plunge and called him one evening. I could feel my heart beating away like a kettle drum. Our first conversation lasted just over two hours and as wonderful as it was it set the tone for future conversations. He was a man of least resistance – the total opposite to what I was. He would rather keep the peace and have a simple life than rocking the boat and making waves. I suspected that he hadn’t bothered to contact me sooner as his wife was still alive and would not have allowed him to. I kind of got that confirmed when I finally met his other child, my half sister Pauline. Pauline was his daughter from another women in Jamaica, not his wife. One of the things she was to tell me was how she never had a key to the door as his wife didn’t want her in the house without someone there. What dad leaves his daughter to either wait outside or in a library or wherever until one of the parents comes home.
I did actually ask him the same question and he was very uncomfortable and flayed and flustered out some half answer. In fact take a fish out of water and you get the same non-verbal representation. It became very apparent that there would be important questions that I would just not get a proper answer out of him and I would just have to leave it or I would invite resentment to fester on my side.
It would be a few weeks later that he would sent over the airfare and I would be hopping aboard a plane to see him for the first time in thirty five years. We smiled and we hugged at the airport arrival lounge for a long time before setting off to his house. He was overjoyed to see me and the first stop was to his best friend’s house so he could show me off. Then it was a about a twenty five minute journey to the borough of Brooklyn in New York city. He lived in a large brownstone two story house in a nice neighbourhood with a massive basement. The basement was a proper dark man cave that contained all the exposed pipework and boiler for the house. There was also another self contained flat that was no longer used and a workshop area that made you just want to roll up your sleeves and break something just so you could fix it. He had divided the second floor to a one bedroom and a three bedroom self contained flat.
He opened the door which led straight into his living room. Now I had heard about such things in Jamaican folk law but this was something else. He had the big imposing cabinet with the good glasses that no-one ever touched unless royalty was coming standing in the middle of the room. To my left and right the arm chair and three seater settee were covered in factory moulded plastic covers. They were thick enough that I could audibly tap. I looked down and realised that the entire living room floor was also covered in plastic. Straight out of CSI he could do away with me or steal an organ and no-one would ever know.
In the hallway he removed his jacket and I noticed the top of an adult sized nappy. Now it wasn’t my place to ask him why he needed one of those, so I didn’t say a word as we walked into the kitchen. I had just dismissed it as an incontinence nappy that he just had to wear.
That memory would unfortunately come back to haunt me and make sense years later.