They had just had a big fight before going to bed when his phone rang. The couple had long decided not to take calls after 11:30 p.m. So he didn’t pick up and decided to call back the following day. A few minutes later the phone rang again.
“Ah, Baba Njoki, who keeps calling you at this time of night?” The wife asked, somewhat irritated by the ringing phone.
Before he could respond the wife’s phone rang too.
“Hi, Mama Njoki, have you seen Njoki’s school is on fire? It’s all over social media,” the person on the other side of the line said.
Meanwhile, a parent from the same school relayed the same information to Baba Njoki.
Decisions had to be made quickly. Since they had a new nanny, they decided Baba Njoki would go to the school as Mama Njoki stayed to prepare the other two children for school in the morning.
Baba Njoki started his journey to Njoki’s school which was two hours away. The phone calls increased. Efforts to speak to the school administration bore no fruits at that moment. As he left the house the only information he had was that a dormitory was on fire.
About two hours later he was outside the school gate with a number of other parents. It was a beehive of activities. The students inside were wailing and screaming. The teachers were trying to take roll calls. The watchmen were trying to prevent parents from going in and instead wait for the headmistress to address them.
They could see heavy black smoke coming from the dormitories direction and the air reeked of destruction. Mama Njoki kept calling for an update but he had nothing new to say. The parents were outside speculating and getting agitated.
After what felt like an eternity, the school head came and asked them to come inside.
“We’re sorry to keep you waiting but we needed to have credible information and take charge of the situation before engaging with you.”
“So what’s the situation?” One of the parents asked impatiently.
“There was a fire in the form two dormitory and unfortunately we have lost a number of students,” the headmistress said.
There was confusion and yelling.
“Which form two dormitory?”
“Do you have names?” The parents asked.
The headmistress called the form two parents aside and they counter-checked the names against the list she had. More parents were streaming in at the same time. Baba Njoki got the news, Njoki was among the students who had lost their lives in the fire. In denial, he asked other students whether they had seen his daughter. Mama Njoki called again, “Is she okay?”
“She…” he couldn’t talk.
Eventually, he was able to talk to her and told her what had happened. Mama Njoki began her journey to the school. By now the authorities involved had come and the burnt corpses were taken to a morgue. Since they were burnt beyond recognition they needed DNA samples from relatives for identification. Baba Njoki gladly gave a sample.
Mama Njoki joined the mourning parents and was apprised of the development. That was when another emotion surfaced- fear.
“Don’t they need another DNA sample from the other parent?” Mama Njoki asked.
“I don’t think so. I think one is enough,” Baba Njoki responded.
They then left and went back to the school. The parents hoped to get more information about the fire.
A couple of days later Baba Njoki got a call asking them to go to the pathologist helping with the identification of the remains.
After the greetings, they got to the heart of the matter.
“We are not able to make a positive identification because your DNA sample doesn’t match any of the remains,” they told Baba Njoki.
“Okay, so that means there must have been a mistake. Maybe Njoki was trapped somewhere, she’s probably alive,” Baba Njoki said desperately.
“Please calm down. We already went through those options.”
“What if you counter-check with my DNA?”Mama Njoki asked.
“That would be helpful.”
A few days later there was a positive confirmation of Njoki’s body. Baba Njoki had gotten the idea that perhaps Njoki wasn’t his biological child but had quickly dismissed the idea. Njoki had been the child they had conceived during their honeymoon. The only explanation for the DNA mismatch was contamination, he told himself.
When the DNA matched with his wife’s he suddenly remembered that she had asked to give her DNA sample from the get-go.
“She wasn’t my child, was she?” He asked Mama Njoki.
“What? Why would you say that?” Mama Njoki asked, feigning confusion.
“You know what I’m talking about. You wanted to give your DNA sample from the beginning of the process. You already knew it wouldn’t be a match, didn’t you?”
“I don’t know why you’re accusing me,” Mama Njoki cried.
“Tell me the truth! You didn’t seem too concerned that my DNA didn’t match. Mama Njoki is the child I’m going to bury mine or not?” He asked in despair.
“She will always be your child. You’re the only father she knew,” Mama Njoki responded.
Her words felt like someone had pierced his heart.
“You mean I have been raising a child who wasn’t mine for the past 15 years? What else have you hidden? Are the other two even mine?” Baba Njoki asked angrily.
“How can you ask me that? Of course, the rest are yours,” she tried to say but he walked out.
Baba Njoki took Leon who was seven years old and Jael who was four years old with him. They went to the hospital where he had a DNA test taken. He took the kids back home and decided to stay in a hotel as he waited for the results.
Meanwhile, the preparations for Njoki’s burial were coming along. Despite Mama Njoki’s betrayal, he decided that his love for the girl was greater than his anger so he did all he could to give her a decent send-off. As he stood watching them lower her casket he shed tears for a daughter he loved and for the lie he had lived for many years.
Days later he got the DNA results. Neither Leon nor Jael were biologically his. Darkness engulfed him, his heart broke into many pieces that couldn’t be fixed. He had married late in life and was going to retire in a few years’ time and he had just found out that none of the three children he was raising was his.
They found him dead in a hotel room the following day with a torn picture of his family next to him.
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