Your heart doesn’t immediately stop when you’re dying. I would never have known this, had I not almost died.
If anything, it drops, like a feather blown gently by the wind. Nothing and everything is immediate at the same time, accompanied by a quite otherworldly whine in the background that you assume must be death’s grim soundtrack. Later, when they were telling me how it happened, they said it was a matter of seconds. That’s how fast life changes. Something like in the movies, but so much realer to you, because it’s happening to you – fast, but slow.
You can vividly feel every pulse in your veins because you know for sure that the next one must be the last one. The blood is oozing, spurting, out of you, even if you don’t know from where, and suddenly you’re bathing in a red lake you made. Did you make it? Or is it the other people in the vehicle? What about the other people in the…but then you can’t follow that thought, because you’re losing consciousness. You can barely think to protect yourself or send out that last text to someone you love. Do they know? Who will tell them? Do they know that in your last moments of coherent thought, it is them who appeared before you? Who even thinks of that? Who can reach their phone when their body is doing its best to impale itself on whatever part is protruding from the car you’re riding in?
Everyone always thinks they would know what to do when the end comes, but unless you’re lying in a hospital bed watching yourself flatline, you can never, ever be prepared. Which is where I ended up the day of the accident – on a hospital bed, limbs broken, mind shattered, life irrevocably different.
I had woken up that morning, planning my day as usual. I was meant to be travelling back in the city – something I had done multiple times before. I was buoyant – that youthful joy that comes from having the world before you, as it always has been. You would think that when life is about to throw you a fast one, there is some type of omen. What is it they say? Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning? The sky was clear that day – a bright, sunny, encouraging blue. The football team I played for in college, Shimo Strikers, had a game that I needed to get back for, and I had class the next day. And it was one of those complicated ones – a programming class, essential to my IT degree. Missing that class would mean many painful hours of deciphering my roommate’s horrible notes – horrible because his handwriting was nonsense, not because he was a bad student.
I remember mostly being excited about the game. Though in school for IT, football is and has always been my first love, from when I would play with my father, by Lake Victoria on Rusinga Island, the sun forming a fiery background to our fierce competition, to being spotted by the Kenyan Military Ulinzi football team. I still harboured a dream of playing for Ulinzi Stars in the Kenya Premier League, although how I was going to balance that with an office career, I had no idea just yet. I did feel like I was good enough. I had the audacity to hope so.
Hope ended that day.
The doctor came in. I’m sure he had broken worse news that day, to someone else, to another family, to another broken man. I should have been grateful to be alive, of course, that’s how I was supposed to feel. I didn’t hear his words about what the car did, or how people pulled me out of the wreckage. But I did hear him say that I had suffered multiple severe fractures to my knee and ankle, as well as serious injuries to my hand. After that, I heard nothing. Why? Because all that meant to me was that I was never going to play again.
I knew this in my heart – the heart that had kept beating through the carnage. I knew this even as I went to the field, when I went back to campus, to try and play again. I knew it for sure when my body absolutely refused to cooperate on the field, when my hand started throbbing in raw agony every time I tried to play like I used to. I knew it was over when I resigned myself, permanently, to the bench. For good.
There’s something else they say as well – if you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.
My friend Bob, who was a coach for the college team at the time, would not agree to let me sit looking sad and pitiful by the field – which I was still going back to, obviously, to mourn the end of my career in real time. I think he just got tired of seeing me moping around, despondently jealous of other players and their good health, doing things that I used to be able to do with ease. He would remind me that I used to be the captain of football teams when I was younger, and ask why I didn’t do something like that again? In fact, he said, I might as well help him coach the team, since I liked to waste time so much. He meant well, with his blunt words, and the bluntness is what helped me. I did coach for a while, but not seriously until I graduated from college, started working at Waa Girls as a teacher and then started coaching their football team.
The rest of this story is public record. I used my expertise as a former coach and player – and YouTube tutorials! – to propel the girls into top spots at our national football competitions, and have done so for the past three years. We were good enough to get recognition from the organizers at Chapa Dimba, who wanted girls’ teams for the competition as well. And the first time we played in the Chapa Dimba tournament, every girl on my team went home with 10,000 shillings and a smartphone. This, for girls who had never even owned basic phones before, to houses where their parents didn’t have phones either! Girls from this team are now playing at national level, and two girls are playing internationally.
I never really intended to become a coach. My dream was always to play and become a big deal, a football superstar – for me. But then again, dreams can change when destiny comes knocking on a busy country road in Kenya with a college student minding his own business in the back. Now my dream is bigger – I dream for these girls, to do more, to be more than I could be. I never really intended to be in an accident either, but we make plans, and God laughs, doesn’t He? This is probably where I was always meant to be, and the crash – strangely – steered me in this direction. If it, your dream, comes back to you, it’s yours.
My name is George Ammington Ojwaya. I’m the coach for the Kwale Queens football team. Football came back to me. And now I share it with the world.