One can never be said to have lived life, until they have lived through a lurid chapter in their lives. Bad things inevitably and irrevocably find us all. Be it an estranged wife running away with kids, or being diagnosed with a terminal disease that has taken a huge toll on you, or maybe witnessing a once fulfilling relationship end just like that without reason. Or worse still, losing a person who is so dear to you; be it a parent, a significant other, a sibling or a friend. The bottom line is that at some point in our lives, we are forced to deal with an ache that will peel off the walls of our once upon a time cheerful hearts. At that point in life, when all odds seem to be having their way with you, and all your plans have hit an ice bag; your lives are scarred eternally with the choking memories. These are the times when you separate chaff from grains- who are truly your best friends, who have never been, and who will never (or forever) be.
In my last post, I shared the accident that robbed me of a friend I still hold dear to my heart. A lady who by all means and measure was the heart and soul of any company.
She might have lived for only two decades, but given the way she reached out indiscriminately to everyone she ever broke bread with, we will forever and a day live to remember her. I am not saying this because it is polite to write good things about persons who have suffered mortal injury.
I am not saying this because I have any vested interests in saying so, neither do I feel any compunction in not saying so. Rather I write this because of the simple reason that it is the truth. If I was wrong, then how else would you explain the numbers by which people turned up to bid her farewell? How else can I explain the hurt that still lingers around the campus vicinity? Because even now, days after the reality of her departure is already settled, we cannot help ourselves but wish that all these were nothing but a flash forward or better yet, a nightmare from which an alarm clock will deliver us from.
Last Friday was her burial. I attended, alongside scores of many others.
Everybody stood under the feet of God silently; mourning. Nobody talked except with the expression of the faces of the bereaved family members. The choir sang to some slow hymn in their local dialect. I could not decipher the words, but it was clear that it was meant to allay the heartache that the attendees bore inside. It provided a suitable soundtrack to this somber scene of our lives. The Kirugi Funeral Home was awake with a motley of relatives and friends, unified by the passing of a common denominator. All brought together by a common bond- to pay homage to a departed sister. I was flanked on my right by my lady friend from Northern Rhodesia. That is what death does- it brings together both friends and foes alike. She wept unceasingly, embarrassing my comforting skills. Her ashen handkerchief had now been darkened by the constant wiping of the mascara from her eyes, and as such blemished her beautifully applied make up. I let her cry. She had all the reasons to. There was no way I was going to lie to her with an embrace and say that everything was okay. I only gave her the one thing that I could afford. The only thing that I had and she needed most at that time- a shoulder to cry on. I tried to bury my head in the sand and pretend not to be receptive to all the suppuration, but everywhere I looked, I was confronted with a pair of depressing eyes. The only thing that seemed to be smiling was the sun, and the heat did not seem to make things any better.
As we lined up to see the body, I watched as people entered that room, and how they left. Most of them went in silently, trying so hard to soothe their machismo to help them keep themselves together. But as they emerged seconds later, all that went outside the window. They broke down and wailed…blatantly. I got petrified. I did not want to snivel. I had to stay strapping; not because I felt the need for self preservation, or to feed my ego, but rather for my Rhodesian friend, as well as the rest of the emotionally challenged students we had arrived with from campus.
‘Keep your stuff together Gee,’ I repeated to myself for the umpteenth time.
The queue grew shorter, and finally it was our turn. I let her go in first then I followed. The casket that accommodated her remains was pink. The Kikuyu ladies tried to drown the wails from inside with songs of praise. Maybe they wanted to take the edge off the pain that we felt seeing our comrade caged inside a wooden box. I doubt it worked, because as soon as my Rhodesian friend took the first look inside the sarcophagus, her feet wobbled and she came tumbling down fast.
‘NOOOOO! RACHAEL NO!’ She moaned.
I tried to reach out for her waist and tried to hold, to keep her from falling, but unfortunately my arms had become too weak, and she slipped off. Luckily enough, the women who had been inside the room came in to the rescue and supplemented my inadequacies. They broke her fall just in time, and escorted her outside.
All this while I had not yet lay my eyes at Rachael. The little scuffle courtesy of my Rhodesian friend had delayed the line, and so I looked back and peeped. At that point, ladies and gentlemen, it finally dawned on me that she had taken the perpetual nap. I looked at her face. It had some black spots on her face- I figured they were scars of the wounds that’s she sustained from her slight contretemps with the scythe. They had not plugged her ears and nose with cotton wool. Neither was her mouth sealed with clear tape.
She looked peaceful, and I wondered whether she knew the pain and hurt she had caused. I wondered if she realized that this was it. She looked darker than I last saw her. It immediately reminded me of my father’s open casket viewing. Flashes of his face came into my mind, and so I looked away. I found my way outside. My hands felt heavy. I did not know how to handle them. I wanted to pocket them; but I did not want to be seen walking casually with the lackadaisical ease of picnic goers. Not at a time like this. I felt like folding them, but again, I did not want to seem to be too down in the dumps.
So suddenly, my own hands became a yoke to me…my greatest liability. Somehow they soon found their way up at the back of my head, and as I eased out of the room, I remember asking myself…
‘How could we be so careless? How could we be so careless to have lost a gem so precious?’
The heat from the sun brought me back to my present disposition. My Rhodesian friend had failed to take charge of her feelings. I reached for her head and placed it on my chest. I felt my shirt soak with her tears a tad. Seeing her crying like that was more excruciating than I have words for.
‘You should be strong for her,’ one of the ladies who had helped her out told me as we walked away towards the gate.
‘How can I be strong for her, when I am not even strong for myself?’ I wondered.
As we approached the gate, Tutu came and took her way from me briefly.
‘There there…it’s okay’.
That is the one statement I feared telling any of the mourners gathered at the funeral. I did not believe in it, and I felt like if I was to tell that to anyone, at that time, it would not be true. I would be insincere. An elderly woman came over to us and hugged us. All the four of us clamped together in a loose embrace, as she mumbled a brusque prayer in Swahili. I bit my lower lip and tightly shut my eyes to evade the sting in my eyes, but however much I tried not to shed a tear, I could not help do anything but.
One heavy drop gave it all away. That one drop sold all my emotions away; and it is what explained the agonizing hurt I felt inside, when my fake smile could not cover up my pain. It rolled indolently down my face like a snowball downhill, and finally rested at the edge of my lips. It salty taste being a complete replica of the distress that had consumed my entire being for that moment.
The anguish at the funeral home was nothing compared to the church service; especially when the deceased aunt read out her mother’s final tribute. The words from that homage bruised the hearts of the congregation, and the apotheosis being when she read the last line amidst sobs. That final lexis of goodbye to her daughter placated the torment that the open casket viewing had failed to pacify.
I remember looking around trying to distract myself from the speech. I looked at my phone hoping that I would have a message or two that would divert my attention from the speech but all I got was nothing but a blank stare. The girl next to me, who had been standing fell to her seat, buried her face in her palms and drained her eyes.
The father’s address followed. He was much more composed at the beginning. He explained the shock he got at the receipt of the news of her daughter’s demise. He told of how he had also been involved in a road accident enroute to a mission in 1987. At that time I think I was still talk…or fluid. I wondered whether this family was jinxed, I was readily answered when he immediately said…(verbatim)
‘I am too scared to ask God ‘why’ lest He asks me ‘why not?’ and I fail to answer.’
He began talking fast, the shifted into pure Kikuyu. It was clear that his emotions were having a field day with his body, but in his final words I gathered something like…
‘Even if God was to bless us with another child, we would never name her Rachael, because my daughter, who lies in front of you today, is irreplaceable.’
The ceremony finally ended by the graveside. The bereaved mother was helped by two ladies. She was shattered and torn. It was everybody’s guess that her energy had been drained by the sorrow.
However of all the people in the congregation, the one person who broke my heart was Maggie. Poor Maggie. She was Rachael’s best friend. At the funeral home she had moaned after seeing her best friend incarcerated in that pink piece of furniture eternally. She wriggled in pain on the ground and cried out loud…like a child would cry for its mother on the first day of school. Not weeping, but crying. A ghastly wounded cry. A cry filled with so much pain I could almost feel it in my bones. A cry of helplessness. She had to be carried to the bus literally. There were no words of consolation for her.
As she stood and watched Rachael’s body being lowered, her heart sank deeper with equal measure. She stared helplessly as a handful of men decanted soil onto the grave. At this point, she was too weak to cry, but her eyes told all she did not have the power to express. I remember seeing her face as she laid the wreath on her friend’s grave. In her eyes, a yawning deficit was evident.
This evening, as I struggle to finish this post, I feel wretched for her the most. I know that some have told her that Rachael is only in her head, and that it is just a matter of time before she will forget. They thoughtlessly tell her that she needs to move on. They tell her that life goes on, but what they fail to realize is that she wakes up in the middle of the night and finds that she is all by herself. Rachael was her bedmate. They slept together most of the time. But now she was no more.
She had found a new bed in which she will sleep till the end of age. She will hold on to that duvet and cry incessantly. She misses her with every drop; and if tears could create a staircase to heaven, she would most readily be willing to climb and bring her back. They do not realize that she finds things to do at night because she dreads sleep, for the reason that every time she closes her eyes for as much as a wink, memories of a long lost friend come to haunt her. Reality, at this point, is far much better than her dreams. They fail to see in her eyes the kind of void that she is struggling to fill; but then, all her efforts are nothing but a blackout fiasco.
Their last conversation lingers in her head. She remembers it, just like I remember my first kiss. Only that in this case, she shudders at the thought. She blames herself for not having read the signs early enough and now the weight of that guilt is breaking her back. She recounts the fear Rachael had before boarding that bus. She recalls when her friend confided in her that she had a bad feeling about that trip. At that time, she may have brushed it off and instead shifted the blame to the undeserving butterflies in her stomach.
She is in desperate need of a friend. A person who will assuage the anguish of her loss, and help her make new memories. A boy preferably, because no girl will ever come close to her. She needs a boy who will make her believe that everything will be okay, however much that seems to be as farfetched as a Konza blueprint.
I hope that she escapes this grief. I hope that the world turns and that things get better for her and that one day she will have roses and sunshine once more.But what I hope most of all is that she understands what I mean when I tell her that even though Rachael may never be with her, sleep with her or laugh with her like they once did; she still loves her from wherever she is. With all her heart she does.
From her lifetime’s drive and desire to help the socially disadvantaged, it is clear that money and wealth are not the most important assets in life.Time is, and her friend’s time was finally up.