That’s what my father would say when caught ‘red handed,’ and I wondered why the ‘oh!’
I cannot now remember when my father first aged until long into his terminal illness at a ripe old age. But I remember the ‘oh!’ exclamations, as clear as yesterday with his ‘mischievous ‘ smile.
That exclamation comes about once a year, usually on a very busy Monday morning when everyone in our large household would be scrambling to get ready for school or work as it were.
Fully dressed before everyone, father will suddenly start looking for his eyeglasses. Of course, every other thing will cease as the whole house scrambled in search of his eyeglasses. These days that we love giving names, we would have called it a ‘lockdown.’
After everyone would have been thrown off gear, our last sibling would be the one that will usually point at father’s face with a smirk, ‘daddy, it is on your face.’ Father will touch his face and exclaim, ‘oh!’ And everyone will go back to business with the additional tension of lost precious minutes, often hours.
Every child wonders about his/her parents, praying they do not embarrass them amongst their friends someday. And so, my trepidation in bringing up such a discussion amongst my class gang. But I did one day. My surprise was the silence after my story as I was expecting the usual guffaws and laughter.
The first to respond and calmly too was Ikechukwu. “Oly, you are lucky it is eyeglasses your father looks for in the morning. Can you imagine my father, he sent us searching for his wristwatch for two good hours last week Monday morning. That was why I was late for school and got punished for lateness.
“We would have still been searching for the wristwatch till today if our mother had not walked in from morning mass, walked up to dad and pulled his long white shirt sleeve up. Lo and behold, the watch was sitting pretty cool on his wrist. And he simply said ‘oh!’ and went out as if nothing happened.”
“Yours is even better,” said Nnamdi. “We nearly spent a whole morning searching for my father’s favorite black shoe with a stripe. Mother even brought out his other shoe, got me to clean and polish it, yet he insisted on the striped shoe. We went back searching. He concluded a thief must have broken into the house the night before. On a second thought, I bent down to look under the chair he was sitting on. Behold the shoe was there. When I grabbed the recalcitrant shoe, my father screamed. The bloody shoe was on his leg. Our mother went ballistic.”
“What did your father say?” asked Nick.
“He said, ‘oh!’
Tochukwu cleared his throat and we all looked at him. Definitely the ‘oh’ bug couldn’t have affected his mercurial father, always dressed in immaculate white that gained him the name, ‘Mr. White’.
“My father’s own is unbelievable. Of course, you all know his trademark white dressing. One day, he had dressed up and put on his stocks and I brought his shoes. Instead of putting on his shoes, he grabbed another pair of stocks and started putting them on. I asked, Papa, what are you doing?’
“Won’t I wear stockings?” he replied angrily.
“But you already have your stocks on both feet,” I said. He looked at the stocking on his hand, looked at two already on his left foot, looked at the one on his right foot and said, ‘oh!’
We could not believe what was going on with our fathers but we gained new confidence amongst ourselves that all our fathers had unusual problems. We left it at that.
Last Monday morning, yours sincerely dressed up in my most expensive suit. I hardly wear suits. I got my bag, keys, books, all ready to go. Suddenly I remembered my eyeglasses. None of the children was at home. I started searching. I searched everywhere including places I never dreamt were in my house, yet no eyeglasses. It had gone into thin air. Thirty minutes gone into my appointment, I was still searching and had started sweating inside the useless suit. Then ureka!
I remembered I had gone to the toilet that early morning. The toilet was one place a man can find peace in his home, all alone, naked and thinking. I often wore only my eyeglasses inside that special room. I dashed in, put on the light and as I suspected, behold my eyeglasses staring at me from the bathroom mirror. It was on my face. What came out of my mouth was ‘oh!’
I then realized why all our fathers said ‘oh!’ so many decades ago.
I removed the eyeglasses from my face, removed all my clothes, sat on the seat and started thinking about exclamations and their meanings, appointment forgotten.
Did your father say ‘oh!’
Mazi Oluchi Ibe, from Amuzi Obowo, Imo State, Nigeria, is a Historian, based in the United States