We are in a funeral… I see someone I know. She is a friend of Mama’s. She is Rosaline. A devotee of the Holy Ghost faith. She is busy, busy washing utensils. I walk past her and smile. She smiles back…
I’m in a “matatu” ‘’a public service vehicle.’’ I’m dressed in a custom-made company shirt. It is white with blue cuffs protruding longer than my blue slim fit blazer’s.
I alight at bus station. To darkness. Blur and nothingness.
I’m back at the funeral. I don’t see my blazer anymore, but I can feel flip-flops under my feet.
My cloth is grey and Ba’ is showing his last respect. He is in khaki shorts, he is not sad. He smiles. He talks with self-pride, and the letdown is him addressing the mourners from the back of the tent where they are seated.
It is in rare circumstances that he talks, at funerals and no one laughs. Today is such a rare day. No one laughs at the flirts he punches in between his speeches to break the, “she was, we did, we planned to do” monotony. Seems they can see through him. Sorrow blending behind his smiles.
I’m feel hungry.
I go into the carter center and I walk into my classmate. The only one in the funeral.
We don’t talk a lot, in school, but she is here. I give it to her. Foes in happiness and friends in grief.
Wait! She’s been here longer. I saw her yesterday, at St. Josephs Milimani parish (My home parish). At the requiem mass. I’m not sure she was with Bobo, Mel or the other one. What’s her name? (Hitting my head for it).
I’m not sure what they call her but, believe me she’s shorter and thinner than Chao, Bobo or Mel. Very short… I have Chapattis in my hand and I’m in the company of some other friends.
I can already confirm that Nelly is here, Mswaty is doing his DJ Shitty thing… we are all laughing at how funny he does it… (Bruh… I garrah go).
…I’m back at the funeral and all these friends aren’t here except Chao. (My friend/foe). I ask her if I can get fried fish. With not so much interest in talking to me she says, “Fauzia’s in charge ask her.” (I’m thinking duh, this is a funeral, ‘SIS’. Drop the attitude. What did I ever do to you anyway? I can’t remember).
I leave for Fauzia; problem is, I’ve never met her, but seems the person I directly approach is her. She has short silky Afro hair and her skin is fairly light, certainly Swahili. I’m just as surprised as you are! Her bowl is full with thick Samaki (Fish) stew and it looks like she is savoring the last remaining part.
Everyone is leaving. My sister Magi and a young boy are carrying a (geneza) coffin. They are only two but the balance is real. It beats the laws of science and the power of humanity. She is holding it with the left hand; at the far left corner and the kid is holding it on the right. They are coming to me.
Magi open the coffin with the right hand (probably to confirm if she is still inside)
“Who.” you ask?
I too have no idea. Unless I look inside.
They begin to stagger at my feet. I peer into the coffin to see mama inside.
I hurriedly join them and June my younger brother and probably the most physic (If you’ve never met Dennis) of us all joins in.
You say Peter would be the strongest?
No. I say he is fat. You ask why I ignore Young’s muscles. I say he is young – lazy.
Don’t even proceed to Bobby and Jimmy. Come on. Cut it. They are just but kids.
Looks like we are going round my Couto house, what my people call Simba (Lion).
We are at the back of the house and it is clear that it is not my backyard. It is mamas. There is a pile of soil on the left, adjacent to the guest room, at the back of the main house.
It’s spread as though, a new grave, no open hole.
We are pushing towards it then an unnatural force pushes us off to another, an open grave. A real grave.
A 6 ft. deep hole.
I can identify it already.
It is where my mother was buried. I remember the place. Vividly.
I pretended like it doesn’t hurt any more. Like her death dawned to me already (when I got that call, in the middle of the night) and I accepted her demise. Just like that. Without putting up a fight – hurling my phone – face to wall, and beating myself up and breaking glasses and doing all stuff ‘hurt’ people do.
Because I was HURT. And when you are HURT; you sink in worlds, in words. In your sorrows. Your soul floats. You don’t know what you feel and when you cry, you can’t feel tears wet your face. You try to talk about it, words choke. You are torn apart. You cease living and feeling your surroundings.
That’s how you know your loss is bigger than words can describe.
She was gone, gone with the sheds of the moon, whose embers didn’t reflect outside anymore, when I looked through the window, after the calling line dropped dead silent?
Is it truer that the night of 19th April 2017 got darker than the others which I have lived through?
The moon must have been ashamed to face me and explain why it couldn’t protect Mama Hours longer. One more night. 5 more hours I would have asked. For that and it’s other musings, he hid under the clouds for the rest of that night.
Truth is, I miss her (even more, now, that I’m beginning to take writing seriously).
I wish she was here to read my stuff. She was the happiest woman alive when my article, (“Kiswahili taking a beating nationally” appeared on the dailies, the comments section, 11 years ago).
The, anyone would have guessed that I would become a print journalist. Then high school went and I said, I want to become an information technologist. A few months into the program I dropped out – it wasn’t my thing. I’d be a marketer instead. And here we are. Back to the beginning. A writer.
Story for another day.
I remember the telephone conversation of when she passed the results of her cancer diagnosis, two years ago. And we both broke to tears on each ends. We had never imagined that her chronic sickness would be anything so serious. My friend, then, my shift manager (Brian) was however around and sorry, so sorry and close enough to comfort me with words like, “Manze ni ngori… But mum ata-make. Sir God yuko.”
Then there was Ruth Wanyange… Constantly checking in… Mum akoje? Can WE take her to Kenyatta?… My dear, India is not an option… Why do you even consider that…? WE’VE got the best Cancer patients here… I will refer you to one. He takes care of my friend with cancer… and the conversations continued and continued, never-ending…
Days passed then week’s hen months, we were in this together; friends and family.
And I frequently called her… and we talked. Longer… Our conversations always beginning with, “Mum, how are you. Is there anything you need?”
In sullen voices she said, “Panadol, then, Ibuprofen, then, she was put on morphine…” and more morphine she wanted but her Doctors wouldn’t give a ton more and at some point I thought I’d introduce her to marijuana if she continued to cry of pain.
Later, her receiving my calls became a task contingent to the mood she woke up in. At times she was ok, other times she did not want a phone to ring/vibrate near her, (it scared shit out of her). It’s on such lengths that either of my younger brothers got back and advised when to get in touch (When she felt better and was not crying of an excruciating pain of the liver).
Other times she would be the one making the call, to hear my voice and to find more hope to live on. She said my voice and assurance comforted her. I going back to school to continue with my programs made her happy.
And I learnt to keep the patterns of our conversations and gauge how better she felt; when to force my way to Kisumu, for her, regardless of how tight my schedule was.
The other monkey in my closet would be the bills. I had to know when not to visit (Not to mean I didn’t visit when bills lurked) without cash for her hospital bills (Bills made her worry. Always. And WE weren’t ever going to let her die of stress. Not when the family was still stronger, together in this).
Two weeks before her demise, I would go to Kisumu to see her.
She had long been admitted at Jalaram Hospital under advisement and care of Kisumu Hospice. My sister Jackie was there, always there, my maternal grandma, Mercelina (Marceline) had also refused to move by her daughter’ bedside – staying in the hospital, in hunger, against all odds.
Often times singing and praying. (She is catholic)
Then came this time when she had me on a sit down. To talk about my mum, “how favorite a daughter she was, to them. How it was unfair to live for 85 years or so to see her child struggle with disease and die before her.
How she’d wanted to spend more time with her (my mother) (When we were young). And mama kept telling her that she couldn’t leave 8 children (us), uncared for. She more needed to be here than there.
And now that we were all grown, she (grandma) was hopping that they would recover for the lost time. Then this disease came.
Not to forget Aunt Syprosa. Mama’s elder sister. This alien wind cancer, in the family had brought us together. Again. Duties and responsibility shared.
Waking up from her longer sleeps, Syprosa would tell her in our dialect, “Ken ni ka.” “Ken is here’’
In disbelief she replied, “Iwuonda.” (You lie). She sounded exited though.
Seeing my face one last time. Sleeping on her back.
Her skin had turned dark and her lips dry in the sickly, sullen beauty, over the months.
Her sight of me seemed a relief. A glowing smile faded on that once chubby face. Now protruded with cheek bones, jaw bones and deep hollow spaces exposing her skull and other body skeleton.
For my kin, her condition had slightly improved but, to me she was far worse. That’s a son’s judgement from 26 years of mama care and more important from my 3 year old memory of her. In the slum where we lived.
I remember coming home, from school, a young boy, a slow learner (It took me a great part of my infantry to pronounce my name, Omollo). Leave alone spell it. Samson Onduru, an infant friend still calls me Amada to date, my pronunciation for Omollo.
Mama was at home seated on the kitchen floor. Legs spread straight on the floor. Preparing a local delicacy; “boo gi apoth” and singing catholic hymns.
For lack of better English words, Swahili comes in handy, “Kudondoa Kunde na mrenda.” (Don’t bother googling. Google too doesn’t know the exact translation either. It strikes kudondoa. Which I think distorts the whole meaning as intended. They’ll however show you a picture of the complete delicacy and its recipe. Check it out.
Just so you know, it was my first day at school so coming back home after 4 solid hours was kind of a big deal.
I missed both home and her and what better way do I express my feelings than jumping right on her laps and hugging her? Without noticing my shoes on her greens? (The nutritious greens).
Mama doesn’t mind. It’s never that serious. She’ll wash them and we will still have that mrenda for lunch. She embraces me.
My shoes new, and it is back when BATA was Manenos.
I was on blue shorts (tiny) with a white shirt and maroon socks; the school uniform for St. John Church Bungu Cathedral nursery school. The school stands to date.
Now, to the spoiler, my shorts were wet with urine and an innocent boy’s poop which would drop on mama’s greens. (We didn’t have diapers then). Garbage out at the right time, wrong place. Don’t hate, try to empathize with me.
I was young, innocent, you know.
Lunch cancelled but the baby has to be washed and taught never to poo on his shorts again. I’ll leave the conclusion of that story to your most trusted judgement… if you had a black mama you should know how it ends.
Truth is, she taught me everything I know. She planted story telling in me. She taught me mathematics when I was stuck. (You may never know this, but she was good at it). Don’t even consider asking how! When you already know that she dropped out of high school.
I guess she was a genius, in silence. And in the hospital I knew she wasn’t fine and the situation wasn’t getting any better as everyone else wanted me to believe.
“Keta uru abed piny.” “Help me sit,” she said.
The love of her life my Ba’ Mr. Sam Ochieng and Syprosa would help her sit on a chair deserved for visitors, not patients, not even a broken arm, not spongy – for her bones. But wait, again, what other options do we have?
The hospital has very few resources. Those comfortable wheel chairs are so very comfortable but countable and we aren’t rich to get our own! We aren’t going to afford to pay extra, of anything as the situation already is. Bad.
So, picture this.
A patient who’s been bed ridden for months finally wants to sit down but what better seat does she have? My home office plastic chair, better. May be we should just leave it at that.
I sit on her bed then I remember I am the reason she’s sitting and she isn’t going to stay seated longer. I start a conversations which I assume she would love to listen to,
“You are soon going home Ma’, your doctor has said that as soon as you’re done with your 3rd round of chemotherapy you’re free to go recuperate at home.” Of course it’s not true, she’s too sick to leave.
But months of stay here have made it feel more a prison than a hospital. You too would want to leave. If was in her shoes.
Especially when the confinement inside the green curtains dividing, for walls is real; with a space so tiny and enough for a 31/2 X 6 bed.11/2 inch left for visitors to stand.
Another scary thing, she can’t stand the wails of relatives of the dead – every other night… death… death… death… and the constant fear that next it could be her.
“Agombo dok dala,” (I’d love to go back home) she says.
“Aweyo ka odumbi osechiek, wang’ni gibeyo” I reiterate continuing to telling her how nice the maize have grown in the farms.
Then we notice that if she utters a few words she gets hiccups. She gets tired. She crumbles by each word coming out. Ba’ cuts short our conversation by telling her that I’m travelling back to Nairobi on the next morning, plus, she needs to rest. To stay stronger for the medicine.
Since I started traveling on my own she has prayed for me for journey mercies and today though very sick, isn’t an exception.
She insists to pray for me if I will be leaving that soon. (The last I hear her speak)
We all close our eyes and she begins, “Wuonwa ma ni e polo…”
We say Amen and greet again. It is custom.
She is as tired as though she was tasked with carrying a single, lit candle by herself, in a procession to the crucifixion of Jesus (St. Joseph Milimani symbolic play during Easter). George Guda – Pontius Pilate. Collins Mlongo – the thief on the left. Bernard Ondari a Pharisee and Kenny Wafula among the people beating up Jesus to death. Soldier. Good old days.
Mama is carried back to her bed and she sleeps… Sleeps until today we are carrying her coffin and its handles break our arms.
The Ochieng’s forced by an unnatural force to a sealed and cemented grave.
I wake up from a four-hour sleep and the horrifying part of this story stays true, transformed into a dream.
In my sanity I remember a book I once read by Edgar Alan Poe and he begins, “Some people dream, others have premonitions.” Your job is to find out what your subconscious mind relays.
P.S – It is my mum’s anniversary week. If I don’t post anything sooner, assume, I am still grieving and make sure to follow the blog for when I’ve dried my tears and taken some coffee to stay awake forward. For you guys. My avid reader.
I’ll post a continuation of Because you loved me over the coming week