The morning was bright and sunny, with the
visible in the distant background. Even the River Wouri appeared swollen by the heavy downpour of rain the night before, giving the atmosphere around it a tremulous shimmer that Nana Njike noticed when he drove into Cameroon Mountain Douala. He was still musing on the impression when a nail punctured the car’s left front tire. Luckily enough for him, a mechanic’s shop was less than a hundred yards away. He trudged to the garage looking downcast and asked the owner to work on the tire and take a look at the engine. Assured that the car would be repaired and serviced by evening for him to drive his son around, Nana picked up his portmanteau and headed for the Bali neighborhood. He was sweating profusely by the time he made it to the intersection just before Hôtel Le Nzui.
He had envisaged his meeting with Hans with mixed feelings. What was the best way to welcome a son he last held in his arms as a three-months-old baby, the first and only time he felt like a father to his first child? That was twenty six years ago when he sneaked into the home of Johann Tanz to catch a glimpse of Hans before embarking on the voyage back home to German Kamerun. Now, it was twenty-six years after and he would have his son to father.
How he wished he had been there to see Hans grow up―bustling with infantile innocence, childhood inquisitiveness, adolescent defiance, teenage rebellion and the restlessness of early manhood. He had failed to be a part of those phases in his son’s life. What better joy for a man deprived of fatherhood than the knowledge that his son acknowledged and sought him, he thought.
Nana Njike increased his pace as he approached the hotel. Not until he walked into the yard did he become conscious of the increased throbbing in his chest. His heart palpitated so wildly that he even thought he was about to choke. He stopped for a moment, rested his hand on his chest and took a deep breath. Then he stepped onto the terrace and pulled out a photo of his son from the top pocket of his jacket. A beam appeared on his face as he regarded it for the umpteenth time. He wasn’t expecting much change from the face that smiled back benignly at him.
The photograph was among the collection of pictures given to him by Karina the last time he visited Germany. The memory of that visit broadened the smile on his face to the point where he could not shake it off as he approached the hotel entrance. He burst into the hotel glistening with sweat and walked up to the reception desk in a seemingly unstoppable and unheeding manner.
“Good morning, Tapang,” the receptionist Samuel Nana greeted Nana Njike with a warm smile spread across his face.
“Good morning, Nana,” Nana Njike mumbled, swallowed a heavy dose of saliva, and then licked his lips as if savoring something tasteful. “Is my son up yet?” he asked.
“Yes, Tapang! He is in his room on the second floor, fourth door to the right. I can even take you there.”
“Don’t worry, Nana. I will find it myself. I have been around to all the rooms before, remember?” Nana Njike said and laughed haltingly, “Thanks for that,” he added and hurried out of the reception hall in the direction of the staircase.
Nana Njike walked into the corridor breathing heavily. He was about to knock on the door when he heard the workers laughing in a tapered manner downstairs. He knew they were laughing at him because of his unrestrained anxiety. The thought brought a smile to his face. They are good-intentioned lads and certainly mean the best for me, he thought.
He found the fourth door shut, so he stared at it for a moment, wondering why he was so unprepared to see his son. His first knock on the door was timid, but the subsequent strikes carried a great deal of intensity with them.
“Come in,” a voice commanded from inside.
Nana Njike thought he was dreaming. The voice he had just heard could have been an echo of his own voice. It could not be the voice of the child he had last seen crying in Karina’s arms almost twenty-seven years ago, a child he too had cuddled afterwards. He did not want to believe that the mature voice could be that of the gentle face he had seen in the photo in his pocket. He hesitated for a moment before he opened the door. Sitting in a chair and holding a book was a mulatto young man with a wondering look on his face. It had to be his son. It was his son all right. Nana Njike ran forward and took Hans in his arms. They hugged and patted each other on their backs, then hugged and hugged again. Only emotional mumbling expressed the joy in their hearts. When Nana Njike held Hans at arm length and looked into his eyes, the unfamiliarity of his emotions made his lips to quiver.
“My son, Hans Wette Njike! My son, my son…my son,” he mumbled, fighting back the hot tears of joy threatening to trickle out of his eyes.
“Yes, Papa,” Hans mumbled back in reply.
Father and son spoke to each other for a moment in low and indistinctive voices, an incoherent expression of their emotions that nonetheless conveyed their affection for one another. With words too choked for comprehension as their hearts overwhelmed the efforts of their lips, father and son fell again into each other’s arms, clutching in an affectionate embrace. It turned out to be different this time around because they wept with joy.
“You look good, my son,” father said to son in the bar, “The last time I laid my eyes on you, you were a baby with an unusual vocal cord. What are you today? A man guzzling beer with me!” he added with a laugh.
Son sipped his drink and smiled. “Let’s call it one of the riddles of life. I am glad and relieved we finally met.”
Nana Njike played with his fingers on the table for a moment, looking thoughtful as he did so. “Well, Son, I understand, I understand. I know leaving
Germany was a hard thing to do. But doesn’t life present us with difficult choices all the time?”
“That’s what I call its riddle,” Hans offered with a shrug mingled with indifference. “I don’t regret leaving
Germany at all. It is a country fraught with danger for people like me. Besides, I am not the only one who has left. And many others are still leaving.”
“I understand. I understand,” Nana Njike said with a nod this time around. “Please bear with me. You have a home here, one that shall always accept you without reservation. You wouldn’t have to fear being what you are, who you are, and what you are working to become here in Kamerun.”
“I will hold you to that.”
“Trust me, if I must insist. This is where your future lies. Yes! Your future, the future of your family, my family, our family, is here in this underdeveloped corner of the world. You are my first son, Hans. Never forget that. Also, don’t forget that there is much you can contribute to make the Kamerunian Dream a reality. It is only a matter of time and you will figure out your special role. Son, I have great plans for my children and this land.”
Hans blushed uneasily. “I just arrived. I am yet to find my feet. I am not implying that I don’t want to be involved in the welfare of our family or French Cameroun.”
“Good. My plans are for all of Kamerun, the lands of the former German Kamerun,” Nana Njike said.
Father and son went on to engage in small talk, delving into Hans’s life during his school days―his fights, lessons learned, bruises sustained and illusions discarded. They also talked about his experiences while working in Rastatt, before they touched on the elusive purpose of Nazism in Germany.