“Son, sit here and listen to me,” I murmured, ushering the little man into one of those glass cubicles scattered around the drop off point at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
It was a chilly morning, and the two of us had not only woken up way earlier than usual to beat the two-hour grace period but also braved the huge pools of water that dot Airport Road from our house in Syokimau to the airport.
The young one had struggled to wake up, left the house without breakfast and yawned all the way. Only the hope of reuniting with a mother he mostly interacts with on video call kept him going, giving him a jovial face.
The mom, based in a country six hours away from us, is an important part of the young man’s life that he does not spend time with as often as his peers. That should shed light on the weight of expectation, anticipation and excitement I was dealing with, nestled in a five-year-old.
The light at the end of the tunnel would go dim in a fashion none of us anticipated, throwing me into an early morning crisis. You see, I had made the mistake of booking our travel visas using details in our navy blue old generation passports.
I had since been a good citizen and applied for the new generation E-passports, and Immigration outdid themselves by issuing the replacements in a record 13 days. As is the norm, they punched holes into the old ones, essentially invalidating them and by extension the visas.
Come D-day, the officers at the check-in counter were adamant that we could not be allowed on board because our passport and visa details do not match. Explaining such a technicality to a mature person is easy, but doing the same to a kid who can clearly see fellow travellers heading for the boarding gates is close to rocket science.
I took our passports, showed him the holes and used every word in my book to make him understand the situation. He listened carefully, nodding his head at every step in a manner that made me believe I had put him in the picture.
When I was done explaining, I asked him “have you understood why we have to go back home and come another day?” His answer was a flat “NO” that bordered on tears and tantrums.
OKAY TO BOARD
In his words, he would only go back home if I promised to sort the issue that morning so that we get to travel the very day, because all he wanted was to see the mom, and you could not blame him.
We got into a cab and headed back home in silence, my mind trying to calculate the amount of time it would take for the new passports to be infused into the system and fresh visas generated.
It was a long day, as every little thing I asked him to do came with the follow up question of “after that we go to the airport to see mom?” It was a question that cut me deep, and every reminder that the day was moving without us heading out crushed me.
Turns out all we needed was someone willing to go the extra mile and send an e-mail to the other airport explaining the situation, then an ‘Okay to Board’ would be offered and a young boy would be on a flight headed to meet his mother.
That hero was called Mr. Murunga, and he did just that when he reported to duty in the evening. By 10pm the same night the two of us were dashing back to JKIA, armed with our documents and an e-mail.
It is a situation I would not wish on any parent, where you’ve built so much hope in your child then all that starts crumbling down right before your eyes. Explanations in such scenarios sound like noise, and the feeling of disappointing a minor can only be understood by a parent.
It however took me to a hatchet from the past I was yet to bury, where my mother promised me something I longed to have and broke the deal. Her condition had been simple; score this number of marks and you get your gift.
I surpassed it by a huge margin, but then the promise was never delivered. All I remember is being scolded for a different mistake the day I demanded what ‘rightfully’ belonged to me, and the debt remained unfulfilled to this day.
My travel experience made me conclude that perhaps mom’s budget failed to come through as she expected but was ashamed to look me in the eye and explain. Worst case scenario, which many parents fall prey to, is that she underestimated my abilities so hitting those highs caught her by surprise.
The silver lining is that although I felt let down it was the beginning of my upward trajectory into the man I am now. I scrapped off mom’s debt that gloomy morning, plus all the others I could not remember.
Meanwhile I have learnt to keep information from my child until it can no longer remain a secret. That makes it easier to manage expectations and/or disappointments.