His round face was neatly shaven leaving only a thin line of hair extending from his lower jaw, all around his face, before eventually meeting the hairs of his head. His eyes were wide open and looking right ahead, never blinking, as if staring at a gorgeous girl. His hands were crossed over his chest. This must have been a recent photograph, I figured; he was wearing a checked voguish shirt, and a not so expensive watch.
When I arrived, it was this portrait hung above Samwel Nyabote’s casket, that first caught my eyes. I kept staring at it from a distance as I neared the gathering. He was looking so young, so innocent, so alive in that photo that kept swinging to the rhythm of the blowing winds. There was a man seated besides the table containing his casket, besides him, an open bottle of perfume stood. I expected to see a solemn face, a restful face, a black and handsome face. But as soon as I cast my eyes down over the glass, I felt my strength drain away when I saw the man lying down there. No. It wasn’t a man, it wasn’t a person, it was just a face, a deformed face, swollen. It looked like it had been smeared with mud, lots of mud. I looked at it again and then at the portrait. What a contrast! It was when I was walking away that I first felt the stench, sharp, nauseating. It churned my intestines and made me feel like a pregnant woman in the morning. I was in a funeral, and we are not allowed to be disgusted, I swallowed the saliva that had welled up in my mouth, reached for my handkerchief and wiped the tears that had coursed down my face. I desperately wanted, no needed, a hug; but around me, there were only two old Kisii men. Men who rarely hug!
Sam was being buried at his childhood home in Kisii, Nyanemiso village, by a catholic father, outside his mother’s house. There were lots of people. Two or three cars were packed at the gate, but the rest of the compound was littered with bicycles and motorbikes manned by men in colourful reflector jackets. People kept arriving. All kept walking towards the body and staring at it. They probably knew him; maybe they had seen him grow up. Some had seen him as a young boy walking barefoot, shirtless. Others had swum in the river with him. Others had wiped mucus off his face. They might have shared a cup of uji with him, or roasted maize or bananas. Maybe others were just like me, strangers, who had never seen him before, but who knew a distant relation of him, and so had decided to show up purely for the sake of showing solidarity. Others still had come as a duty – sent by the government to represent the big people who rule this country, and to read a letter, signed by the president.
I sat behind a falling house that used to belong to his now dead grandmother. The sun shone so brightly that I started feeling embarrassed in a black dress, and black boots. There was a child seated beside me and he kept looking at the leather jacket I was holding that I quickly thrust it into my hand bag. The choir sang badly, the preacher preached for too long, and decided to forgive the Alishabab (can you imagine that) for all they had done. The man seated besides the coffin kept shaking the spray bottle and spraying every five minutes till there was nothing left to spray.
Halfway through the ceremony, my head started aching and I moved towards the shade just a few meters away from where ten or so young men were digging the grave. I looked at them, searched their faces but saw no emotion. They are the village gravediggers. They are used to digging graves and lowering caskets into the pits. They are used to the sound of soil hitting the coffin. They are used to the choked cries of women as their sons descend to the earth. They show no emotion. The cries and the pleading of distressed mothers do not move them. They have to dig and bury even an only son. They have to do their jobs, even when they know that they are burying a generation, a hope, an entire name.
After talking about the hundred thousand shillings from the government, and about naming a foot path after the deceased boy, they moved the body toward the grave and he was hurriedly buried. Two or three women fainted. A tear escaped my eyes. Soon there were lots of wailing as one shovelful after another hit the wooden box. Coldness descended over the crowd. A chapter had been closed. A generation had been buried; a family name would be forgotten.
The clouds had gathered in a few minutes and soon there were torrents of rain falling as the boys filled the hole with soil. We who value our hairs had to rush to the house, the house he had been born in, but only lived for a quarter of his life. I sat close to the door and watched as the rain fell without care, marking his first day in the grave. I thought of all the days when it would rain with him lying underneath. I thought of all the nights when doors will be closed, leaving him there. I thought of witches rumoured to prowl these lands under the cover of darkness, and wondered if they truly unbury dead people. I wondered whether they would dig up Sam and do whatever it is witches do with dead bodies. I thought of him, his dreams, and his life. The curtain of his life had been drawn into a close. He was gone to the land of no return, he had gone where his mother had gone so many years before.
The heavens did not leak for long. I looked around the house. There were three folding chairs, a table and three large sufurias. In one of the sufurias, there was rice, the kind that looks like ugali. Two other sufurias were empty. In one corner, stood a blue jerry can. There were two other rooms, one was locked. This is where he had spent his early life, in a three roomed mud house. He had visited last during the December holidays, three months prior to his death. Anyone could tell that Sam had plans with this house. The walls were freshly smeared, and outside, a new pit latrine loomed large. When he visited in Dec, Sam had planted maize. He would never eat the maize. He would never again sweep outside their house. He was gone. Just like his mother and father and grandparents and his uncles. He had left behind the small piece of shamba, his only inheritance from his parents. He had lived and died in struggle. No one else could hear his story from his own mouth; this is where his struggle would end, in his third year at the Garissa University.He would not live on to become the teacher he was being trained to be.
That is where it all ended for him, three sixty five days ago.