I will want to cry at the dusty gates of Kiambu District Hospital, but I won’t. I can’t. Not with my grandmother looking at my brother and I straight in the eyes, her eyes expecting, no, daring us to cry.
I will hate her. My cucu, my grandmother. For her courage. Courage honed by years spent supporting the Mau Mau insurgency. I will hate her for her stinging words. I will look around, and I will see, without seeing, life floating by. There is a man selling sweets at the side of the gate. But I can’t see him. A matatu is hooting. The conductor is moving round the Nissan van, calling out passengers. Town! Town! But I can’t hear him.
All I can hear is the stinging message from Cucu.
“Maundu mothe ni mathiru, tuanjie gubanga wira.” Everything is over. Let us start planning the work.
She has been waiting for us at the hospital gate. And only after exchanging a few pleasantries she has thrown that sentence at us.
“Did you understand what I said,” she continues in Kikuyu. “That your mother is gone. So I will let whoever wants to cry do it, and we start the funeral arrangements.”
Just like that, my Naomi’s life ends. In one of the wards of Kiambu District Hospital, coated with a film of dust that hasn’t bothered anyone in a while, almost deliberately.I will avoid Cucu’s piercing eyes. I will look down. My brother will cough. “Excuse me,” he will say and move towards the beaten fence. He will break into tears. But I will not. Not because I am not torn apart, but because it is all very confusing. I don’t even know if I should do anything to stop him from crying. I will just hold his shoulder. Nothing more. Nothing said.
We will be allowed to see the body, still on the hospital bed. Covered with a hospital sheet. For a fleeting moment I will expect her to be asleep. It is all a bad dream. But she is truly dead. Cold dead. Her eyes stare at the ceiling. Lifeless. And her head is twisted to one side. Her mouth is also twisted. She must have been in real pain.
This is how it ends.
“What time did she die?” I ask with a voice that is not mine.
“Two a.m.,” someone answers.
And then I become slowly aware of my special gift, or curse. Because at two in the morning I woke up and couldn’t sleep again. And this was no bout of insomnia. I had felt the movement in my chest. Something leaving me.
I will not know this, then, but this curse will be with me nineteen years later. I will know when someone close to me dies.
Even as we meet other family members, and start sharing roles – family to be informed, preparations to be done at the family home in Njoro, this and that – I will be silent.
It has all ended.
There is nothing more to live for, really.
It is not until your mother leaves you that you start wondering whether you should have noticed something, anything. A sign, a silent goodbye, that you may have missed. I think I missed one. Three weeks ago. She knew she would not see me again. So she took me to school, despite the fact that she knew she no longer needed to, and took me to a hotel where she bought fries that she never partook of. She spent her time looking at me as I ate mine. She was saying goodbye.
She is the only reason I work hard. She has lived her life with one mission – to educate her children at the prestigious Molo Academy. And despite having no income and with failing health, she has managed it. My elder brothers have finished school.It has not been easy. In the last three years, the state of her health has worsened. She has taken me to see my father in Kapsabet, where he runs a clinic – despite having no medical education – and he has promised to send money, a promise that has not been met. A family friend has been paying my school fees since Form One.
I am now in Form Four. It is March and we have just registered for KCSE examinations. I inform my mom about my plans to do her proud. I will prove to her that it was worth the sacrifice. I have seen the things she has done to get me to school. And I will go to university, and take my family out of poverty. I am an adult before my time.A huge part of me will be buried with her a week later. I will go back to school. And since there is no longer anyone at the Njoro home, I will spend my holidays in Ngando. I will not make any extra effort to work hard. What for? Who for? But still, I will pass the exams. I will become a pool table addict. And I will literally be forced to go to campus where my pool craze will be fueled. It is in that campus, hustling my way on pool tables, that my writing journey takes its first step. A journey that brings me here on this Mother’s Day just to wave back and tell Naomi kwaheri.