Celebration of Life

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I had gone back to my roots last week. It had been quite a while. The last time I was there, I was still a four foot dwarf rocking Caterpillar underwear. So when I set foot on the sandy makeshift of what was a simulation of a bus stop, I kind of felt like I had been here before in other life. Déjà vu came to mind.

The milieu had not changed much since I was last here. The menacing solar heat still fried throughout as if it’s always midday in these neck of the woods. And little whirls of wind blew up dust and rubbish from the town’s little market. However, the supermarket had grown from a hamlet that it used to be into a self service convenience store. There was more traffic. Mead joints played less of benga and lingala tunes and have since reverted to riddims and a little bit of crunk. People seem to be watching too much MTV and Zuku given the sprawling satellite dishes on assorted roof tops as well as the rising popularity of Nikki Minaj’s signature look- brightly colored braids and weaves among the lady-folk. Dudes gladly giving credence to the gravity of hunger in skinny jeans that are meant to accentuate their behinds, but show off their butt-bone structure instead.

The black spell of Nairobi fashion had preceded me.

As I waltz my way around the town center, it seems like I had been left behind in the dark era. The era when the difference between men and women was a disparity evident on the face of the record. Now men look like malnourished women in those gripping pants. An age when a lady and a wrench had different lifestyles…and dress codes. The times when fish nets were actually used for fishing real fish and not men. But do not take my word for it. I am just a fashion ancient man walking in a stoop with a pair of fitting (not skinny) jeans, shirt and sport shoes. No wooden pendants of a religion that I do not follow. And definitely no supras.

I was in Siaya County (Njeri, Siaya is not in Kisumu). My father was brought up here. Same to his father and the father before him…all the way back to the seventh generation of forefathers. So in that respect, I was home. I felt at home, so I made myself at home. Calling it shagz makes it sound so crass. But it was not my father that brought me here. Neither is it my uncle Odinga. And no, it’s not my grandfathers’ second wife’s adopted son’s nephew, Obama. I had gone home for the celebration of life of a man I shared the one thing that is more important to me than my own reflection. I had gone to celebrate the life of a Magunga.

A motley of relatives stood in silence bequeathed to the seeing off of one of their sons. A son of Alego had taken a walk into the dark woods. The forest whose path only shows footprints of people going, but none coming back. Some say that there was once a man who came out, and they even have holidays to his name, but no concrete proof of the veracity of their allegation. But then it is akin to human nature that where science ends, religion begins. And with religion comes faith and hope of a life after death.

So as we stood at the edge of the six foot pit that was going to house this son of Alego, the only thing that was written on the faces of the mourners was pain. The pain of loss of their beloved. The pain of despair as to where this son of man was destined for- the glorious land of milk and honey or the bottomless pit of raging fire. Fire fueled by brimstone and sulfur. The pain of failure of faith that their own would not be departed from them. The pain of an added burden of responsibility.

I stared onto the brown casket in which a fellow Magunga was caged in that had now been closed for the final time. In it lain a man who I had never seen with his eyes open. The only time I saw him was at the requiem mass that had ended a few minutes earlier. During the viewing session. His face was pale white. Almost camouflaging the pieces of cotton that stuffed every opening on his face. He looked cold, regardless of the scathing noonday temperature. His eyes shut as if he was dozing off the heat. That was the only time, for as far as I can remember that I had seen him in flesh. And now I would never see him again. Not in this life, that is if the good book is anything to go by. So for all its worth, he is my family I would never meet with both our eyes open.

The old women of the rural choir provided a grim hurtful song in Luo that served as a soundtrack to this scene. This scene that God was now watching as angels opened up the heavens to receive yet another soul. I could hear Him sigh in anticipation of his arrival. On my left was his daughter, my cousin, who could not restrain her tears. Her mother, who was the only fort of comfort left, buried her head on her shoulder and let soak her with the salty waters. Then on my right was her brother.

“Take it as a man” is an expression (mis)used to console broken hearts, especially those that were betrayed by a woman. Heartbroken he was, but it was not in the hands of a female. It was in the hands of fate. A fate worse than death itself. Destiny had flexed its muscle against this teenager, but then even at that point when his ship had sunk and hit rock bottom, he still managed to count his blessings and take it as a man. He is barely (my guess) a major, so I expected him to lose control of his emotions. But then he stood there next to that six foot deep pit that was his dad’s new home till Armageddon without as much as a teardrop. But in his eyes, though hardened, I could see a boy grieving. A boy mourning the loss of his father. I doubt I could match up to his level of threshold for pain. I doubt I could be so sentimentally mature.

I stood behind him, nonetheless, because in times like this, one can never be too sure when knees would lose their fortitude. I had been in a similar situation seven years ago, so I knew the feeling.

I felt a sense of compunction because there was no feeling in my chest. I could not even pretend to be upset. I figured the honorable thing to do was just to keep a straight emotionless face, than put on a show of hurt for a man I had only interacted with for no more than thirty seconds…in death. Pity, though worthless, was all I had to offer.

Then the Man of God began the rigmarole…

“For as much as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother here departed, we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ…”

And with that he sprinkled soil onto the casket, and with the drop of the first grain, an old woman in the crowd plunged into a wail. Then the rest of the mourners followed suit and soon, the air was pervaded with wounded shrills.

One does not leave a funeral in the same way that he has come. He cannot help but have death on his mind. He cannot help but be aware that such is the end of all life. And the next day as I left, all that was in my head was my namesake. The one Maurice Ogombe Magunga.


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