An entire community converged upon a tiny Baptist church in the village of Salisbury, Dominica, one sunny April day in 1993. They came to see the mouth of a man who made them laugh, who dominated their conversations, who sold them bread, who bought their agricultural products for resale, finally silenced in death. People of all stripes of life lined that white bungalow, bringing their memories of my father with them: one brother from Antigua, another from England, my mother from New York, business associates, religious friends, customs’ officers, relatives, neighbors, the community. From far and near, from villages and towns they came, packing the church and spilling into its yard, determined to have the last word.
In that village of about two thousand people, my three brothers and sister eulogized my seventy-three year old father. They said that whenever he came from the family garden he first divided his ground provisions and then religiously sent his children to distribute to our neighbors. They shared that when he shopped, he always got exactly what he wanted: the biggest head of fish, the leanest cut of beef or the firmest ripe fruit. They remembered how he made fun of himself and had everybody that came to buy his bread, laughing. They said that he insisted that his children never steal, and commanded us to return the limes we sometimes stole back to the owner’s farm. They revealed how he made his children bring back the extra change that the shopkeepers sometimes mistakenly gave us when we bought groceries. And they troubled my father’s ears with the gospel songs he often made us helpless children sing at his house church every Sunday.
But I was not there. I was not at the funeral. And it hurt. It hurt that I was not there to forgive my father in person for the times he called me monkey and stupid when I did not knead the dough the way he wanted me to, and when he said I was worse than a prostitute when I spoke to boys while I was still a virgin. It hurt that I could not tell my father I forgive him because as an adult I finally understood he cared about me even though he used the twisted means he knew how to protect me from what he thought were the ravages of youth. It hurt that I could not tell my father’s silent ears that I had picked up the phone numerous times to forgive him but was afraid to speak into his open ears. It hurt that I had lost the last chance to let my father know that I needed to hear him say, even once, that he loved me.
Will my father ever know about the letters of forgiveness I wrote him, in my mind, before he died?