The three-and-a-half miles from Belefuani to Warta seemed more like a path where elephants trampled than an actual road.
Our bus crept along wearily for over an hour. I imagined seeing leopards described from Daddy's stories bouncing on their tails and berry-stained juju rags hanging from vines overhead. But the only threat we faced was a flat tire from dipping in holes the size of an oversized cheese grater.
When we pulled up to the mission compound, two men stood on either side of the entrance, their strong arms swinging wide and fast, creating a gust of wind with every flap of their thick palm branches.
"Welcome. Welcome. Welcome to Warta!"
Palm fronds waving over the bus gave me a sense we were being ushered into a holy city, though riding in on a donkey may have been more fitting than our oversized and dust-covered VW Combi.
When we stepped off the bus, a crowd gathered, all vying for a place in front of Daddy's camera, excited and eager to be seen. Daddy beamed as he staged a group in front of hibiscus plants, his expression like a man who just returned home.
Once the camera stopped clicking, the children separated from the adults and rallied around Bertie and me like kids at a carnival.
Two girls grabbed my hair and snuggled their noses against my split ends while another held Bertie in a face lock, caressing her cheeks like a pet kitten. "How did you get White?"
Rosy and Becky smirked from the sidelines, unharmed by the disorderly groping.
In a way, Warta differed from all the towns we had seen on our journey that day. Glowing faces expressed a sense of hope and peace not present elsewhere.
And the children wore clothes, though some were mere remnants of fabric.
I recognized a few pieces—garments I remembered mysteriously disappearing from my closet. A pink pleated skirt Grandma Hungerpiller sent me for Christmas one year, a floral nightie Mommy had sewn for my fifth birthday, and a pair of shiny red shoes I once picked out of a missionary barrel.
Harris and Joanna Wiah visited us in the city on occasion, and in exchange for a taxi trunk load of fruit, Mommy gave them our outgrown clothes, school supplies, and sometimes our baby dolls.
Mommy found shelter on the bus and waited for the excitement to settle. Daddy, on the other hand, seemed to relish the attention. He invited the boys to test his strength, and I watched as they grabbed onto his bulging forearms, their legs dangling and kicking below. He pumped his arms and let out a hearty laugh as he lifted them effortlessly into the air.
"Our Daddy nah come," one of them said.
Another repeated, "Yes, our Daddy nah come, oh."
Within a few seconds, the whole gang broke into song, "Our Daddy nah come, oh… my people, oh… I tell you… our Daddy nah come," as if Santa Claus had just shown up in their village.
Their squeals were more than I could bear.
Why were they saying and singing that their Daddy had come? This was our Daddy. Bertie and I were happy to share him with Rosy and Becky, but not with this band of songbirds wearing my old clothes.
A hammer slammed through my consciousness, and the truth I already knew in my heart pounded my ears. Our Daddy wasn't solely ours.
Daddy's capacity to love and care for the "least of these" became his legacy years before Bertie and I ever existed. We had arrived too late to have him all to ourselves.
I knew Daddy would give up his life for any of his daughters, but I would also need to accept he would do the same for these unknowns in the Bush...
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