How My Father Looked

By SULAIMAN ADDONIA

I think I have a way of finding out what my father looked like. Yes, finally! Excuse my excitement. My father died when I was very young, and to this day, I have never seen a picture of him. My search for his face goes back to when I lived in a refugee camp in eastern Sudan.
It was around 1977 when we arrived at the camp on camel from Eritrea, then under Ethiopian control and fighting for independence. My father had been murdered, but at 2 years old I had no understanding of the circumstances. Sudan promised a new beginning.
For the next two years, we lived in a hut, and my mother did odd jobs, but it wasn’t enough. She finally found work as a servant in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and left us with our grandparents in the refugee camp. I was about 4. Each day afterward, her image became more vague and abstract, just like my father’s. It felt as if I had never had parents.
My mother couldn’t read or write, but she used to record tapes and send them to us. She told us about her life in Jeddah. I would stay in our hut and play the tapes over and over again. I tried to focus on visualizing her face. That was when I started trying to create portraits of both my parents. I imagined my father’s features like mine, with pronounced nose and eyes, and I reinvented my mother’s warm smile. Drawing their pictures in my head, I believed, brought me closer to them.
Then one day, three years after she left, my mother finally sent us a photo of herself. We hung the framed photo on the wall, the only bit of color against the pale mud. Oh, my beautiful mother! I missed her madly.

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