NAIROBI, Kenya — Spoonerisms are words or phrases in which letters or syllables get swapped. It also happens when a speaker mistakes one word for another, giving a totally different meaning.
Now folks, this isn’t a literature class, so relax. It’s a story of how my father and I began having a row. It’s a story of how my father hurt himself while taking a cold shower, and I did a small jig in celebration. That’s right. I had laughter creases around my eyes as my mother tried to give the man a massage, a black towel belted around his waist, hee-hawing like a donkey every time his wife pressed fingers against his neck like a pro masseuse.
“The water was so cold. It touched my back and I contorted — I thank the gods I live to tell the story,” he narrated to a concerned wife-cum-doctor.
I guffawed from my room, not because it was funny, but because I wanted that dung to roll up his throat and tighten into a ball. A ball of dag. The war was on, and he had taught me never to back down.
‘It’s only brats that fall off roofs’
I know what you’re thinking: We’re a crazy family, right? Well, he is a crazy dad, because when I fell off the roof as I was adjusting the aerial, he laughed and almost fell off his stool while at it. My mother almost socked his face for finding it funny while I could have broken a limb, but the man said that annoying little pricks deserve a good fall.
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He croaked that at the time, between gasps for breath and a hand held on his pot belly, spittle spraying out his mouth.
“What’s funny dad?” I confronted him, wriggling inside the banana grove I’d fallen into. My voice registered hurt. My mother was already there, helping his son up. She turned me around to check for injuries, like I was a new dress she was checking out.
“Are you hurt?”
“Yes, mum. Not from the fall but from his sick laughter.”
Dad gave a feigned outburst, throwing a leg up in the air.
“It’s only brats that fall off roofs. What are you? A ripe banana overcome by gravity?”
I winced, and then countered, “And only their fathers that snap necks and hee-haw in black towels.”
And once again, mum witnessed the usual father-son chase around the homestead.
‘The fallopian tube is epileptic!’
I don’t hate my dad, and for sure he doesn’t hate me. It’s just that for some time we had been exchanging evil glances and mocking each other with hurtful comments. We were enjoying having a go at each other, trading scoffs. And it had all begun with a spoonerism, two days earlier.
I was with my dad in the supermarket, pushing a trolley that kept swiveling to the left. My job was to follow him. His was to pick stuff from the shelves and toss them inside the trolley. Being the beginning of a new month, the place teemed with heads like cotton buds packed for sale. The cashiers were doing an enervating job, working their fingers to the bones. After we had shopped for foodstuffs, we went to the electronics section, and that’s where our bad blood began.
“Yes please, how may I help?” the attendant behind the counter smiled.
“The lighting in my house is faulty. I can’t tell whether it’s the starter or the tube.”
All the while I stood beside him, both sweaty palms wrapped around the trolley.
The attendant leaned closer. “How so? Doesn’t it light at all?”
And that’s how my dad, worn to a frazzle, got hit by a spoonerism like nobody’s business.
“The fallopian tube is epileptic!”
The attendant’s face widened, and he was taken aback. In a snap, his face got wrinkled with something between amazement and a repressed laugh.
“I beg your pardon? The what is epileptic?” He blew out a ticklish breath.
“The fallopian tube!” dad repeated, this time accentuating it. Clearly he was dealing with a dull-wit; a hare-brained coolie who wasn’t catching his drift.
I broke into peals of laughter, so hard that everyone else turned necks toward us (but at least theirs never snapped). I let go the trolley and sat on the floor, laughing at my dad. Between the laughter, I yelled, “He-means-fluor-fluores-fluorescent-tube,” then went on and on, tearing and disorienting my ribs.
‘There is a Croatian fan who’ll sleep crying today’
He never forgave me. Since that day, he started on a journey of revenge — and he was going to serve it cold. Like when he found me watching the telly, he’d switch it off and say electricity bills came too high. Then, as soon as I walked out, he’d turn it on and watch with an evil grin. So I’d tip-toe around the house and switch off the power from the main.
Or when I asked him to help me adjust the aerial, he said, “Other kids are busy adjusting their grades. You? Adjusting aerials and underwear, which your behind keeps sucking in.” I shook my head and went up the roof. When I fell off, to him it was the joke of the century.
The World Cup finals had been longed for by the whole planet. Dad and I sat in the living room, eyes fixated on the telly as the players walked onto the pitch. This day, he was Croatian and I was French. I was a fan of Croatia, but I’d deliberately flown off at a tangent to hurt my dad. When France won, I did a number on my ribs till they ached.
“Mum, there is a Croatian fan who’ll sleep crying today. Walls will have to be repainted tomorrow because a fan will scooch in bed toward the wall and wash it with tears.”
My mum knew what I was doing, and she giggled. Dad clicked his tongue and switched off the telly. He wasn’t done yet. He replaced the decoder back to its box and ferried it to his room.
‘Son, you’re stupid you know. But I love you’
Anyway, we love each other. Our silly fight met the end of its road later that night as I played cards with him. I was picking up the cards after he’d beat me in the first game.
“Son, you’re stupid you know. But I love you.”
“I love you too, dad. Though you are the meanest. You don’t laugh when your son falls off the roof.”
“It was funny. You should have seen your ass swim mid-air like,” he said as he mimicked my helpless flailing. We laughed.
“And you don’t make an idiot out of your dad in the supermarket,” he said.
“’Fallopian tube’ – really dad?” This time our laughter was prolonged.
“It was a slip of the tongue you know.” His eyes glowed as I shuffled the cards.
“How about we play the silly cack of pards spoonerism game? What do you say, son?”
“I say bring it on, dad. As welcome as a rainstorm in hell.”
We bumped fists, and then I dealt the cards.
“Two of hearts,” I hollered.
“Who of tarts?” he countered
“Four of spades.”
“Spore of fades.”
“Four of hearts.”
“Whore of farts.”
“Six of diamonds.”
“Dicks of Simon.”
Our laughter cracked through the serene neighborhood.
“Fluorescent tube!” I nudged his rib with an elbow, flashing a toothy grin.
I gasped for air, the cards in my hand crumbled and spread on the floor.
“Dad, tuck that shirt!”
“Son, fuck that tart — oh shit. What did I just say …?”
The neighbors must have cursed us because we tore through their night’s peace as though our house was a laughing-gas chamber.