I have been staring at this blank word document for the past half an hour trying in vain to find the words that would attempt to bring out this story the way it happened. The way it felt. Words that would exemplify the shock and grief that has overwhelmed the Parklands Class of 2014 for the recent twenty four hours. I have failed, miserably. I do not know how to wed pen and paper to draft a story that ends with a teardrop. I do not know how to post a narrative in which I am forced to kill a character, and maim several others. It has already caused enough pain. Maybe telling it will only exacerbate the burgeoning pain.
See, I am an old school kind of person. I like happy endings, nay, I love them. But this ordeal has forced me to break a custom. I do not even know whether it is okay to echo transpired to the rest of the world, while the horror still terrifies the minds of those who survived it. I am not sure whether or not I should wait until the final wound is healed. When the final tear has dried on our cheeks, and the very last drop of blood has coalesced the orifices that manifest the slash of death. My heart breaks at the kind of words I have been forced to use on my friends. Words that have become common since around 10.00 am yesterday. Cold, lifeless words and phrases such as ‘fractured’ ‘broken’ and ‘critical condition’. Hell, I have been racking my head, trying to find where to start, and this blinking cursor is getting on my last nerve.
Life is pleasant; and death is peaceful. It is the transition from the former to the latter that is painful. It was only last Friday that I had been talking to Munagi. She had been excited about going for the mission to Marsabit. She had already asked for permission to be out from her CPA classes for that week. As a matter of fact, she had been waiting for this trip since last year, because she did not manage to attend last year’s. Plus she is our C.U class mum. So this was a big deal for her.
My phone buzzed.
‘Hey George, unaenda mission?’
We had been talking about this for months since we closed for long holidays, and so I felt embarrassed. I felt mortified that I had psyched her up for the longest time only to wet blanket our plans.
‘I’m not going, regrettably. I have only raised like half the cash needed for registration.’
A momentous pause. Her silence only meant that she felt disappointed. But she would not tell.
‘It is okay’, she mumbled curtly.
‘When are you leaving for Nairobi?’
‘Tomorrow, at six in the morning, and I was thinking we would travel together’
‘Anyway, the trip is two days away. I think I can raise the remainder and make it on time. Tuonane tu Nairobi.’
‘George, we are leaving for Marsabit at the crack of dawn on 24th, and that is why I have to leave early for Parky.’
‘Kwani what is the date today’
I look at my phone. It says twenty first.
‘George, its 23rd. you will not make it if you do not leave tomorrow.’
‘In that case then, you will be my emissary. Though I need to warn you; watch out for any Probox with a wariah inside, if you spot any, run! I need you back in one piece, sawa?’
‘Sawa George’. She chortles at the quip.
I love the way she mentions my name in every sentence like it is a punctuation mark. It tickles my heart. Plus she calls me by my first name, something that not so many people in campus do. Most (including me) prefer Magunga. But I guess she does not jump with common spirits. You see, Val is rarity in femaledom. In campus, it is not every day you meet a girl who thinks green is a beautiful color; who would rather have ugali and those matawi that lunjes call mboga. rather than fries or pizza or burgers from Windmill; who someone would really have to work hard to annoy; who cares much about her own birthday as much as I care about the price for athletes foot medicine.
Other girls find consolation in confiding in her about their travails with men, and details about their dysfunctional relationships. She would not mind feeding you as long as you walk into her room at around nine (those are the times of my visiting hours). She is the Mother Teresa of our time. That is why her room has become the de facto headquarters where C.U peeps hold court. She has given up the privacy of her own room to the public for nothing in return.
The next time I talked to her, she was lying on a hospital bed, nursing a server neck injury, and a it is also alleged that her arm is broken. From her voice, I can tell that pain is having a field day with her body, but she pretends that she is okay. That is so her. She will say that she is okay when she is not, just so that you do not worry.
‘Sasa wewe msichana wa ingo, is this your idea of coming back in one piece? Sorry, I was not clear enough, I meant without bandages or dislodged necks and arms’
‘Aki George, it is not like we planned for this, it just happened.’ She struggles to reply.
It turns out that there had been a grisly accident as they were on their way to Marsabit. At 9.15, or something in that neighborhood, the bus driver tried to overtake a lorry. He was a little reckless, and instead the bus veered off the road. Suddenly there was a smell. A reek. Not like a carcass, but something like the burning of tyres. It was soon followed by a continuous warning sound. The sound resembling that hospital thingamajig that is set to monitor the life of people in the ICU. The students asked the driver if they could stop and inspect what was wrong, but the driver boisterously declined, saying that he had everything under control. Harrison was seated next to the driver on the left side, and when this happened he jokingly shifted his seat saying that that place was too dangerous. Some people laughed. Was it instinct? Was it divine intervention? An intuition perhaps?
Well, whatever it is that made him make this move saved his ass from the clasp of death. Because minutes later, the driver tried to pull the same stunt again. This time it was an army tanker along the steep slopes of the infamous Meru-Isiolo road. The same steep slope that claimed the lives of Loreto Msongari, and left just a wreckage of pitiable little children; some limbless, some sightless, and others lifeless.
When he tried to overtake it, he lost control of the bus, and it swerved off the road again. This time he was not lucky enough, because as he tried to bring the bus back to the road, he noticed that right ahead of them, was a cliff. He tried the brakes, but failed.
Screams. Fright. He tried again, but nothing happened. More screams. Shrill terrified cries of souls threatened. Some of the passengers fastened their seat belts, and held tight the armrests. Perhaps someone shouted the name of Jesus. They were rolling fast, the gravity pulling them swiftly to their end.
There was nothing the driver could do, so he looked around for a means to bring this raging carrier to a stop.
They were now going at past a hundred and fifty kilometers per hour, with no brakes. He got desperate and pulled the handbrake. Still no response. They were closing in on the cliff at a high speed, and just as they neared, he saw the only thing that would save them from the ultimate yet untimely perpetual repose. A nearby electric post. He had little choice but to ram the bus onto it. The impact was deadly. The bus overturned and rolled over a couple of times. The forces of inertia launched some of the students who were on the right to the left at over a hundred kilometers per hour. Then the bus spun severally, like a compass in that overturned position before finally coming to a slow halt.
This was on or about 9.30 am.
Then came the frantic phone calls, text messages and Facebook updates. Those of us who got the news first started calling others. I tried reaching Munagi, but some lady on the other side told me that she had changed her name to ‘Mteja’. I tried reaching all my other mates who had enrolled for the trip to no avail. I only got that lady. This did not sound good. Ideas started getting into my head.
I tried hard to shun any thoughts that they had not survived that daytime nightmare. I could not bring myself to imagine that one of their bodies was lying there comatose. I tried not to imagine the ghastly scene of the accident, or the smell of blood on the scene of the calamity. It was in the middle of the communication rumpus that ensued, that we started getting confirmations about the extent of damage and casualties. They started trickling in one by one.
Apparently, Munagi had broken her neck and an arm. Harrison had suffered a deep cut in his finger, while Cynthia and Helma’s conditions being described as grave. Others survived with minor injuries. Perhaps a scuff on the back, a bump on the forehead or a dent on the leg. Basically, very few, the fluky few, managed to break out unscathed. The ones who now coordinated the transmission of the news and seeing the transportation of the hurt and injured to the hospital.
‘At least nobody has passed on,’ I thought to myself.
I was wrong. That was just the tip of the shark’s fin; because before I could breathe out that last lungful of air, my phone buzzed. The worst had happened. The worst news I have heard in years. The grim reaper had made his harvest. One of the ladies, a second year, who had been involved in the fiasco had succumbed to her injuries and had been promoted to glory. I re-read that message, and felt my bile boil. This could not be happening. Surely on that Saturday morning there were more than enough people who were better placed to die. Not her!
I am sure there must have been a fugitive out there hiding after taking the life of somebody somewhere. Or a thief, a serial killer, a member of an outlawed sect, a pedophile, a rapist or even a prostitute who had just transmitted the terminal virus to a client somewhere in the dark alleys of the infamous Koinange Street the previous night. There was a rich pool to choose from. Not some true Christian enroute for a humanitarian mission to save the lives of those who had been beleaguered upon by the blows of hunger, famine and strife.
I felt my felt faith in God dwindle slowly like a diamond in dirt. I felt like shedding tears, but I couldn’t. Even in this trying moment, I still felt the need of self preservation. She was not a stranger to me. We were both in the same Mizizi Class; she was my prayer partner. Yes, I do pray damn it! I did not know how to break such news to the rest of my classmates. They were calling me, trying to confirm the latest news. I could not restrain my own emotions to bring myself to relay such messages to the rest.
Then Nas called.
‘Hey Magunga, please tell me what I am hearing is not true.’
I heard her sniff. It’s obvious she had been crying. Her emotions were undisciplined. She could not keep herself together.
‘I… I am sorry Nas’
She broke down, and then the dialing tone followed.
I logged into Facebook immediately. My page was filled with words of condolence from her classmates. Politicians shedding crocodile tears with their words, when all they are trying to do is actually to get more votes. Elections are just about. And did someone just ‘like’ that status update?
Everyone was pouring out there last moments with her. How they had hugged goodbye before they boarded the bus, how they had spent an hour by the flyover, waiting for other people to arrive from town; how she had called them asking whether or not they were coming for the trip.
I wanted to write about how she asked me to pray more often, how she was excited when people turned up in numbers for a fellowship a few weeks back. I wanted to write about how she always kept the Mizizi classes alive with her charm and zeal. I wanted to write about how ardent she urged me to form a dance crew after my performance at the Bible Study Trivia extravaganza. I wanted to write about the last time I saw her. It was during the sleepover at Karen.
However I could not. My thumb went down for the count. Instead I just logged out and lay down for a while, as the reality of our great loss sunk in.
I lay there wondering whether she died peacefully. Did she feel pain, or did she just smash her head on the window and passed on instantly? I questioned myself whether she saw her life flash in her eyes as her spirit slowly departed from her body. I wondered how her folks would receive the news about her demise. Her mother would probably zone out and her would dad possibly cry every night henceforth in his bed. I wondered whether she had a boyfriend. She did not deserve to die like that. She was on her way to save lives, but lost her own instead.
I have blamed the driver of that bus for what happened. I have imagined the worst things. Maybe if I was to be given just a minute with him, I would create a crater on his face. I have blamed God for taking her away from us without notice. It’s unconstitutional! I have cursed Satan and his demonic plans. This time he has succeeded.
I have blamed myself for not being there. Perhaps I would have made a difference. Perhaps I would have asked her to buckle up her seat belt. I would have done something. Anything. Her death has left a heartache that no one can heal. It has created ha yawning void that will take almost an eternity to fill. Her departure has left a memory that nobody can steal.
That is why I will not shed any more tears than I have done. I know that Saint Peter has ushered her into the Pearly Gates of Heaven, and that she is getting her rightful place at the right side of The Father. She is getting acquainted with her heroes, the one she had only watched movies about, and read in books. She is happy wherever she is right now.
Heaven has become a better place because of her presence there, and the earth, a lesser place; and that is why hers are tears that I can’t cry.
Her name was Rachael Njiri.