Don’t Come Looking for Me, Father

Jaiminho, the son of Dr. Carlos Tati, wished to have a talk with his father but was unsuccessful.

            Dr. Carlos Tati was an anthropologist, educated in Kinshasa, at least according to his calling card. The card was a bit problematic because the name that appeared right in the center was “Doctor Carlos Tati,” which, at first glance, might mean that his name was Doctor. But that was a naïve reading that those who had known him for some time seldom made since they would never call him by the supposed name, but just Carlos or Tati.

            Besides the name, Dr. Carlos Tati’s card also mentioned his profession– anthropologist–and included a supreme innovation, a color photo in which he appeared wearing a striped brown coat, yellow tie, and a green handkerchief with black polka dots. If color photography had never been invented, I don’t know what would become of Dr. Tati.

            Dr. Carlos Tati was so effusive and imperious that his son couldn’t look him in the eye, much less speak to him. His father’s phrases, always delivered in a tone of absolutism and superiority, fell on his head like huge stones that devastated him in such a way that he always felt crushed, squashed, flattened to ground level. A worm. Worse, a useless insect, because worms at least possess some potential for menace, which obliges and legitimizes their destruction. Jaiminho, on the contrary, felt like a nullity, a zero to the left, a nothing.

            Actually, he was a sensitive youth full of doubts. It can be said that, in theory, all young people are like that, but in the time period when this story took place it was inadvisable to be so. It was a complex era, one in which young people had to be tough, self-confident, and decisive since the examples they received from earlier generations were not exactly edifying. Therefore, the young people of his time killed, stole, and fornicated from a young age. (I read somewhere I don’t recall that these constitute the three vital functions of human beings in times of crisis). Thus, Jaiminho felt like a true stranger in the nest.

            He would have liked to talk with his father about it. But the mere thought paralyzed him with fear.

            Before we explain Jaiminho’s terror — if the diffuse fear he experienced is even explainable — it is worthwhile for us to know, briefly and succinctly, some of the theories defended by Dr. Carlos Tati regarding the future of Angola as a nation.

            The anthropologist was an obdurate defender of the Bantu underpinnings of Angola. He even argued that they were the only ones that must be considered. He used the verb “must” with complete naturalness, a dangerous symptom, as anthropological realities are not formulated by decree. But I say this protected by my position as narrator. Jaiminho experienced a slight but particularly incisive shock when his father made such statements.

            “We are a Bantu nation and that’s all there is to it! The rest is nonsense…”

            Dr. Carlos Tati was also a champion of the ancestral Angolan nations. One day he had a major confrontation during a television debate with a journalist who liked to call himself an intellectual. This man reminded Dr. Tati that those ancestral nations — which, he said, were not yet “Angola” — no longer existed. The journalist quoted an Italian statesman who, it seems, said at the beginning of the twentieth century: “We have created Italy; now we must create Italians.” To the journalist, that is what must be done in Angola.

            That day, Dr. Carlos Tati arrived home especially upset. Jaiminho heard him say, as he paced about the house: “We need an Idi Amin… We need an Idi Amin…”

            His son opted not to comment with him on the television debate. He chose, rather, to retreat to his room and read a strange book.

             Another theory of Dr. Carlos Tati’s was that there is an intrinsic relationship between individuals’ names and their identity. He railed against the fact that many parents gave their children Portuguese and, above all, Brazilian names like Ana Cristina, Vera Lúcia or Rita de Cássia. In the same way, he detested supposedly revolutionary names, like Marx, Fidel, Nkrumah, or Mandela, not to mention Eastern European names, revolutionary or not, like Natasha or Svetlana.

            “People with those names cannot be Angolan… Shit! Why don’t those parents give their children authentic Bantu names?!…”

            Yes, I have noted that Doctor Tati’s first name is Carlos. And that his son is named Jaiminho. What’s the problem? As I have said over and over, human beings are complex and inherently contradictory. Besides which, if literature is not for explaining something, it is much less for understanding anything.

            Jaiminho’s father spoke fastidiously correct Portuguese in the style of Coimbra — which was in fact his native tongue — and Lingala, a creole language he had learned in  former Zaire. He barely spoke Kikongo, the country’s mother tongue. However, he accused Portuguese of being the “language of the colonizer” and defended the urgent prioritizing of the African “national languages” spoken in Angola. This was another of the theories that he considered essential for the future of the nation.

            When the President, in a speech that became famous, classified those languages as “regional” given their limited range, Dr. Carlos Tati almost had a stroke. Days later, he wrote an article asking if the president was crazy or merely misinformed. Nothing happened to him, which proves that the absence of democracy in Angola is, as said by supporters of the government, “a maneuver of imperialism.”

            All these assertions were expounded by Dr. Carlos Tati with such vehemence that his son Jaiminho knew it was practically suicidal to disagree with him. His father’s personality was omnipresent and omnipotent, to the point that it not only smothered, but annihilated him.

            Jaiminho was incapable of having with him the special conversation that he sheltered in his fragile and seamless heart. Every day, his doubts grew.

            He was Dr. Carlos Tati’s youngest son, the only one who lived with him. His father was on his third marriage, to the secretary of his department at the university. She was a young woman from Huíla, a descendant of the Cuanhamas, slender and well-spoken, and Jaiminho’s mother. Dr. Carlos Tati had three other children from two previous relationships, all of whom lived with their mothers. In addition to Portuguese, Jaiminho’s mother spoke fluent Cuanhama, her native tongue, and Nyaneka-Humbi, the language of the Huíla region. All that diversity irritated her husband, who one day expressly forbade speaking other languages in the house.

            “Portuguese is the only truly Angolan language — because all of us at least understand it!” he said, quickly adding, “How am I supposed to understand what you say in those bizarre languages?”

            The truth, however, is that Jaiminho had an almost inborn difficulty in dealing with hypocrisy. His father’s position mortified him.

            He was a sensitive youth with no known friends who spent most of his time at home reading strange books he showed no one and listening silently to what was called “foreign music” by Dr. Carlos Tati. Tati’s musical knowledge was limited to the songs of Urbano de Castro, a popular Angolan singer of the 1970s who plagiarized from old Latin American merengues. Ray Charles, Jacques Brel, Patxi Andión and other musical preferences of his son were for him more cryptic than the languages his wife insisted on speaking at home, especially when she received family members from what he called “the backwoods.” Jaiminho had become acquainted with that music through the writer Freddy da Cunha, and he listened to it mystically in his room at night. He had an inexplicable admiration for da Cunha, who he had approached at one of the frequent activities of the Union of Angolan Writers.

            Before independence, the writer had studied abroad. And it was overseas, alongside influential authors, that he learned to know and love this kind of music. . When Jaiminho, who was twenty years younger then he, approached him and spoke of his literary trials, Freddy da Cunha lent him books by Mayakovski, Eluard, Neruda, Lorca, and Guillén, saying:

            “You have to read, young man, read a lot… To be a writer it’s necessary to read a lot…”

            Later, upon returning from a trip to participate in an international literary symposium, he brought back for Jaiminho a package of blues, jazz, and protest music. In his view, Jaiminho needed to increase his general culture, without which he could never be a writer.

            “Have you ever thought of spending some time outside the country, for example, to study?” he asked.

            Jaiminho made the writer his master, albeit secretly, as not even Freddy da Cunha had any notion of it. There was one aspect of the writer’s personality that Jaiminho had trouble accepting: Freddy da Cunha was a womanizer. Without his knowing why, that saddened him.

            Dr. Carlos Tati never met the writer. He didn’t know whether he was Black, White, or mulatto. He was unlike those Angolan legislators, who years back had made the strategic decision to include “race” on ID cards. That was why, when Jaiminho arrived home with the jazz records given him by Freddy da Cunha, his father didn’t hesitate to let escape that surprisingly original and creative phrase:

            “Jazz is mulatto music!”

            Jaiminho paid no attention.

            The truth is that by then Jaiminho had completely given up the idea of talking with his father.

            His dilemma was now a different one: did he want to be a writer or a musician?

            His attempts to transform into literature his doubts, anguish, desires, and plans had turned out to be a total failure. Freddy da Cunha’s hints seemed more and more useless to him. Besides that, he couldn’t help remembering that the writer was an inveterate womanizer.

            Maybe his path was music. He didn’t want to dedicate himself to jazz, despite his continuing to listen to it every night. When he was more depressed than usual, he wanted to make protest music. The problem was: protest against what? And how?

            He felt he harbored a repressed scream in the depths of his soul. But finding out the nature of that scream anguished him profoundly.

            In addition, how could he communicate it at that unique and special moment so that everyone might hear and come to respect him the way he would like to be respected, with his desires and choices? His father, Dr. Carlos Tati, would die from displeasure.

            Jaiminho found out what to do the day the anthropologist brought home a newspaper whose front page dealt with homosexuality in Luanda. His father was painfully peremptory:

            “Jaime, take a look at this shit… Queers in Angola? Where are we heading? This is contrary to our culture! Homosexuality isn’t part of Bantu civilizations! It has to be the influence of those gringos in the United Nations, those NGOs, those consultants who run around corrupting Angolan youth!… Or else TV Globo… The petty bourgeoisie in Angola spend all their time watching Globo soap operas… Angola is truly lost! Homosexuality is the direct manifestation of the roots of evil. If I had a son who took it in the butt, I’d beat him to death!…”

            The next day, Jaiminho left home, leaving just a note asking his father not to come looking for him and above all not to worry about him anymore.

(Translated by Cliff E. Landers)

JOÃO MELO, born in 1955 in Luanda, Angola, is an author, journalist, and communication consultant. Founder of the Angolan Writer´s Association, and of the Angolan Academy of Literature and Social Science, he currently, splits his time between Luanda, Lisbon and Houston, Texas. His works include poetry, short stories, articles and essays that have been published in Angola, Portugal, Brazil, Italy, and Cuba. A number of his writings have been translated into English, French, German, Arabic, and Chinese. He was awarded the 2009 Angola Arts and Culture National Prize in literature category.

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