Thomas is born, to wonderful and excited parents. Being newlyweds, this is their first child, and Thomas’ father is as emotional as ever. He walks into the delivery room, weak-kneed as ever but walks on and holds his boy, Thomas, for the first time, he hoists him in the air and holds him there, just as Mufasa the lion did to Simba his boy cub.
“I give thanks to the gods of fatherhood, I thank them for this gift of a son, may I live up to this miracle called Thomas and be a miracle of a father to him!”
Thomas’ father grew up without a father and swore from a young age that he will never do what his father did. At one point he tried to look for his father, everywhere, from the mines of Kimberly where he was last seen, all the way up to the Thaba-Bosiu Mountains in Lesotho where he was said to be circumcising young boys into men. But his father he never found, what he found was his wife, Keletso, who has now given him an opportunity to be a father.
Baby Thomas grows up a healthy and athletic boy, moving effortlessly from crèche to Grade 1 with his father right there next to him, taking him to school and back, assisting him with his homework, they form a formidable force so much so that one day Thomas mistakenly calls his dad ‘mom’, this of course ticking his mom, Keletso, off,
”If I am not going to be given even a lousy minute to spend with my son, then I expect that in the least he should refer to me as mom not you!”
“Come on Keletso it was a slip of the tongue, him and I laughed it off as a silly mistake, don’t think too much about it, you know you hold a special place in his heart”.
Young Thomas continues to grow as the world changes, a global economic depression soon stretches into South Africa and his father is retrenched from the factory that he worked in for 10 years. With Keletso being a stay at home mom and having no other alternative source of income, a cloud of desperation casts itself over the small family.
Over the next few weeks, Thomas’ father seeks a job anywhere and everywhere, but due to tough times he faces rejection everywhere and anywhere.
One day he passes an advertisement poster containing information about a touring circus company that will soon perform in town for free. He thinks of his wife and young son Thomas who have both carried the brunt of his retrenchment, ‘We ought to attend this, this should allow them fun and laughter and some escapism from the poverty at home’ he thinks, and later speaks to his wife who agrees that it should be a good idea.
The circus soon comes to town and Thomas and his parents surely do attend it. The circus show proves to be a great idea as the family laughs together for the first time after a very long time. Thomas is overwhelmed with all the acts, from the taming of the lion, to the gymnasts who swing on poles in the air…Keletso is less fascinated with the acts than she is with seeing her husband and son finally breathe and show joy…Thomas’ father is having the time of his life, especially with the last act, which is a magician who closes the show with some mind-blowing sleight of hand tricks including making everything disappear, from a white rabbit in a hat, to half naked women in wooden colourful boxes.
As the show comes to a close, a call out is made for any adults who may be interested in learning circus work, “Some money can be made from this for those who can be dedicated to it,” says the circus showman. And as desperate times call for desperate measures, Thomas’ father shoots up to the front and puts his name down for the training schedule that will soon follow. Keletso is unsure of what may happen but supports him, and Thomas is excited for his father, hoping that everything will be back to normal again at home.
On the next Monday Thomas’ father is first to be at the circus training. Soon other trainees join in and they are divided according to the areas that they desire to excel in. Thomas’ father chooses magic having been fascinated so much with that last act and so the training begins.
Overtime, Thomas’ father becomes good at his magic skills, he practices everything he is taught at home with his son Thomas. His sleight of hand is advancing, being able to now make all small objects appear and disappear from everywhere and anywhere. For a while the daily magic causes desperation to disappear, for a while poverty is replaced by an air of wonder and fantasy in the home. However one day Keletso soon realizes that the food that had been bought in bulk from her husband’s last payment is running out and reality soon resurfaces,
“What are we going to do, there is now only a few cans of food left, there is only a week’s worth of rice left and the meat is practically finished, only bones left, what are we going to do?”
“Keletso I will have to speak to the circus company to let me go because there seems to not be any money there”
“No, if you truly are one of the most hardworking trainees there, ask them for a job, they will surely hire you”.
The next day Thomas’ father arrives early at the training and asks for a job, to his surprise he is immediately hired, as second assistant to the resident magician! He jumps up in excitement, shocked of what just happened, but there is a catch,
“We are going on a country tour soon, and you will be required to be a part of it, you will be paid well but do not be mistaken, it is tough and grueling, most of the time we on the road and if you do accept the offer, it would mean only seeing your family again after every six months, so give it a proper nights thought and come back with your answer tomorrow”.
Conflicted with ambivalence, Thomas’ father rushes home soon after the training and tells his wife the news, her burgeoning excitement upon hearing the news is quickly replaced by a deep sadness as the gamble is presented to her,
“Keletso hear me out, the offer is really good, like really really good, but it would have me leave my son Thomas, which I cannot do, I would not do. If I go who will father him, who will discipline him if he becomes too much of a handful for you, who will teach him how to become a man…this is the hardest decision I ever had to take”.
Keletso encourages him by letting him know that whatever decision he takes, he will have earned her respect by being faithful to her over the years and to Thomas. Thomas’ father tussles and turns that night, unable to sleep, his mind consumed with the possibility of a new life away from his family. He thinks of the life he could now afford his family, an abundance of food in the house, a better education for Thomas, dignity, but he also remembers the devotion he made at the birth of Thomas, the promise to be a miracle to him and a father far different from his own.
Morning comes and a decision is made, Thomas’ father will join the circus in order to provide for his family. After two weeks, Thomas’ father kisses Keletso his wife and his son Thomas goodbye and leaves with the circus. Thomas is not given an explanation why his father is leaving and this embitters him silently inside.
Over the next months, Keletso receives a healthy stipend from her husband but that does not help young Thomas who constantly asks when his father will come back. Six months soon passes and Keletso waits expectantly for her husband at the gate. A few weeks pass and there’s still no sign of him… one day she receives a letter,
I know you are expecting me but I have received another contract extension which will pay me more money than the last time, I have accepted the offer and will see you after another six months. I know you understand and I love you for that.
PS, tell Thomas I love him and will see him soon.”
However another six months passes and the same letter comes, so does another six months and so does another. Keletso, exhausted and helpless soon sits Thomas down, who has now become a teenager, she explains to him that his father is a magician who is touring the country and the world. She tries as hard as possible to build an excitement around the ventures of his father, but Thomas is not a child anymore. He storms out the house and heads to the circus offices where his father was trained, but they are not there anymore, he weeps silently alone, and closes his heart. ‘Perhaps’, he thinks, ‘Father has become a true magician, perhaps in a great attempt at doing the impossible he performed a trick that made himself disappear and now no one can make him reappear again’.
Thomas walks back home consoling himself that he’s not alone, his father’s father was also a magician who made himself disappear at his father’s birth, and many of his friends have magician fathers who’ve also disappeared from their lives. Thomas jokes that maybe he too will be a magician one day, and maybe his sons too, and their sons and so on and so on.
Photo: Hazel Fasaha Tobo