I have made it a habit, every time i go home (it’s been over 3 years now since i was home) I stand on the unfinished balcony and let the memories of that fateful day assault me with unrelenting brutality. They are the reason i no longer yearn to visit home, these memories. They attack me more viciously every time, the next worse than the previous one. They engulf me, choke me, strangle me and i feel their weight on my shoulders. I fight not to look at the 3 graves adjacent to each other; the memories twist my head and force me to look, to stare, to recall every last moment when heaps of earth covered the coffins. Dust to dust, dust upon dust.
First mum, granny followed in quick succession, grandpa hang on just a bit longer like the soldier he was, but ultimately death won the day.
Am a haunted man.
Mothers are the reason a home is called a home. Without them, home can never be home.
I have lived this day a million times over in my head. It’s been slightly over a decade now, but i swear i feel like it happened yesterday:
I ran all the way to one of the few neighbours who had a car, my heart was beating like a million zulu drums. I wasn’t sure she was gonna make it, seemed to be in pretty bad shape. I started talking to myself as i hurried for the car. No, mama, you gotta make it, No God, you cannot take my mama, not like this, not today, not ever. I kept praying, yet deep down i felt this was it.
No one had ever died before in our home after my mum’s granny passed on way back when i was a kid. I was not accustomed to the stench of death, the harrowing memories, the streams of tears i had to fight back, just to make the world believe i was strong. The endless shows of sympathy from mourners who seemed to be saddened by mums’ demise more than we were. Well, i mean, my bro and i were supposed to be on top of the mourning chain, right?
Grandpa had woken us up frantically, my bro and i. Our Thingira was behind the kitchen adjacent to the cow shed. No amount of air freshening would get rid of the smell of cow shit emanating from the shed. He woke us up twice, and we knew eish was serious.
“Your mum has been calling you guys,” grandpa looked worried, “I don’t think she is feeling well!” he kept pacing around in a confused way.
We saw no need to worry, right until we saw her, lying in bed. She heard us coming into her room and had to reach out her hands to feel us. i did not understand why she couldn’t see us.
“Dennis, Nelson? Is that you?” she called out. We held on to her hand. “Your mama is not well,” she said weakly, “pray for me, am gonna pull thru.” She begged.
We went back to the kitchen and just stared at the unmade fire. Mum had made breakfast, we tried to drink the tea and it was hard to swallow. We were worried. We were quiet, confused. Mama had been sick before but this time it looked rather serious.
The previous night we had stayed up late as we listened to Late date on KBC; mum never missed the show, this and Sun Downer. She was very elated over the prospect of getting a new job the next day. It had been long since she had been in employment and to say the least we were all excited about her going for the interview at a local hospital.
We had talked, like we always did; the 3 musketeers. Her, Nelly and me. Talked of brighter days, laughed at the memories, about the friends we had at Getrude’s hospital where she started work, discussed about me joining campus, about my bro completing high school. We talked about nothing and everything; then we had to go to our thingira.
You see, mum had struggled a lot to bring us up. Any single mother will tell you it is not easy raising two boys without a father. Father (sperm donor would be a more fitting term) went AWOL even before i was born. Rumour had it that he had been shot in the line of duty, he was a cop. That was just a rumour, nigger was alive in Nairobi, watching from a safe distance as mum struggled!
I will write about father (i’ve never brought myself to call him ‘my father’ or ‘daddy’) on Father’s day, thanks to inspiring fatherhood moments from bikozulu.
She took us to private school, right from kindergarten and made sure that as far as education went, we were getting the best. I have never walked barefoot my entire school life. In the village, all other kids with the exception of akina Carol (mum called her Caroline and company)went to public schools, barefoot with tattered uniforms and nothing for lunch.
We used to carry lunch, at times she would make us sausages and other goodies, which mostly ended up being gobbled by some bully chic who used to way lay us. i was never good at fighting back, Nelly was the bad ass who defended me, his elder bro furiously. Am so proud of him, he has more of mum’s genes than me.
When it was clear that mum was no more, it was Nelly i hugged and cried like a little baby, he did the same. We cried manly tears, desperate, confused tears that nobody other than the two of us saw. To the public we were just two bereaved boys who were facing the calamity of their mums’ demise with exemplary courage. I wish they knew how effed up we were inside, i wish they could only reach out and touch just the tip of our sorrow. The future looked rather bleak for us, i was already thinking of how i would burn charcoal to survive.
The entire week before her burial our place was thronging with mourners. Our cousins were there to make the demise feel natural; we even had comical moments an entire night we spent at the tent with only the moon as our source of light.
We buried her on Valentine’s day, it was on Thursday!
That’s when everything changed. The mourners started leaving just like they had come, they wished us well, said emotional, tearful goodbyes which we just took with faux smiles. Ultimately, everyone had left. It was just Nelly, our grandparents and i; all beyond shock, beyond consolation, hopes on the realm of despair.
It is the emptiness i felt that day that haunts me 14 years down the line. I could easily reach out and caress the emptiness, it felt like a heavy bear skin coat, devoid of any goodness. The nights were never the same again, i grappled with haunting dreams of the heaps of earth being spaded back into mum’s grave, hitting the coffin with a thud……..