“How much longer did you except her to live?” she asked with a calm voice, her eyes slowly but steadily studying our reaction to that question. She was probably expecting to get an answer. The silence in the room was evidence of the discomfort the question had brought. What were we supposed to say? We had lived with her for almost a decade. She wasn’t just grandma to us, she was part of our everyday life. If you give a direct timeframe to her question, it would imply something else and if you don’t, like we all didn’t, it would imply that you know and actually accept that given the situation at hand, there was nothing you could have done to pretend or postpone it. And even if there was a way to postpone, you are still not willing to give a specific time that would have been appropriate for you. So basically, it was a question she knew she would get no answer to; but it would make us see our only option in the case was to learn to live with the reality.
That was the most difficult question I have had to face this year.
It’s now been a little over two weeks since the burial. Everything in the house is still intact. Nothing much has changed. Except she is not here. It’s too quite. It’s the same; but not quite.
The sequence of events on that day are still fresh in mind. Making me wonder daily is there any way things would have gone differently? A question I know too well is not healthy to ask. But still…
27th January, 2018. Saturday.
My parents, my elder sister and I had travelled home (shags).
It is the memory of how I got the news that overshadows every other activity of the day. I was at a cousin’s home; my phone was off. I plugged my phone in the charger and when I switched it on, I had six messages from Lynne (my younger sister) who had stayed in Kisumu with my Aunt and grandma. They were not good. She was updating me on grandma’s condition during the day and she was shaken and after reading her texts, so was I. I tried chatting her up just to get her mind off everything; then I got a call from Mum’s number, but it was Arnette (my elder sister) on the phone.
‘bado mko mbali?’
‘tuko tu karibu kutoka. Kuna shida?’
‘sawa wewe kuja basi’
And she ended the call. That was unlike Arnette so I called her back using her number.
‘hey.. kwani nini mbaya? Unanishtua’
‘wee kuja nikuambie’
‘woi Arnette si useme tu ndio atleast nkikuja nikue najua kitu ya kuexpect’
‘aa.. wee kuja’
She ended the call once more. I know my sister so well and she is not one to keep anyone in suspense. She speaks her mind no matter where she is and at what time. Her tone in that phone call and how she kept insisting I had to be there was worrying. I decided to call my mother’s line. She picked up.
‘hello.. Mummy kuna shida? Arnette ananipigia na nkimwambia aongee anakata simu.’
‘where are you?’
‘we are just about to leave kwa kina Allan, I was charging my phone to a manageable percentage. It had gone off’
‘it’s ok. If you are on your way, then you just come’
She ended the call. My mum’s voice is usually so soft when she talks to me on phone. This time round I could tell she was struggling to maintain her voice. By that time, I had already told Allan (my cousin) that we needed to get back home ASAP. I called Lynne to see if she had perhaps heard something I should know.
‘hey.. have you heard anything from Aunty since aende na Kukhu hossy?’
‘no.. hajanipigia. Wewe have you heard anything?’
‘no, but Arnette has called me and the way she is talking she is really scaring me. It’s not her usual way you know..’
‘what’s she saying?’
‘nothing. Every time nkiuliza anasema ‘wee kuja’ then anakata. Am really worried. Can you try talking to her maybe she can tell you’
‘sawa, then get back to me.. ok.. bye’
I turned to Allan and asked him, “how fast can you drive at night?”
“as fast as possible. But uko sure you won’t freak out? My driving scares you”
“I won’t freak out, just drive. Fast. But carefully”
Lynne never got back to me. I sent her two messages that went unanswered. It doesn’t take a genius to know all those signs pointed to something being very wrong. When we got home, I rushed to the house. The sitting room was empty. I headed straight to my mother’s room already panicking and scared. My subconscious had been trying to process everything for me based on the details I had but I kept fighting it. I wouldn’t want to even imagine THAT being a possibility.
I opened my mother’s room and lying on the bed was my Mum and sister, quiet. Arnette lifted her eyes to look at me when she heard the door close and that’s when I knew. I knew it, I just didn’t have the energy to ask for a verification. Her eyes were red and still very watery. A clear indication that she had been crying for a long time. My Mum turned a little and I could see she had her eyes closed and a handkerchief on her left hand. I turned back to Arnette and the look she gave me this time round broke my heart. She was talking to me with her eyes, but I didn’t want to listen. I didn’t want to tell myself what I already knew; I needed to hear it from her. She wiped a tear and looked at me to speak…
“We’ve just received bad news…”
“Kukhu?…” I could not recognise my own voice. The weight that word put on my chest as it came out hurt more than anything I’ve ever felt in my life. I could feel a warm tear already on my cheeks as my heart was sinking further. Her next words were bound to be the confirmation of painful truth that I had not wanted to let myself believe. There was just no way… As if studying me and hoping her words don’t break me more than I had already started breaking, she slowly told me what I didn’t want to hear, and yet needed to hear. Every word had its own weight of pain. Each more painful than the previous. They are words I can never un-hear, they are words that are stuck with me as they are the words that cemented the undeniable, yet the most painful truth ever. Just a few words…
“Yes, she has left us”
I only told four people about this; people who know me so well they know better than to ask me ‘how are you doing?’ when they know I won’t answer. I did not share the news on social media. I did not want to. Yet somehow I felt I owed some of my Facebook friends, and even other friends the truth. I just never knew how, and wasn’t ready. My Facebook friends were occasionally entertained by short stories on my grandma. She had so many fans. Some even requested me to be doing a special category just on her. It was a brilliant idea; but I never got to actually doing it. I never wanted to write old stories; I wanted new stories. And I got so many then new stories, they are now old stories… memories. Beautiful memories…
I have been away from social media trying to get myself back to normal. After further assessment, I realised normal is not really the goal, for it cannot be accomplished. It is living with the reality that is the goal. And I am working towards that. The most progress I have made is documenting the events of that day. One step at a time, right?
It is the nights that I dread the most. The darkness, the silence. Every night I lay awake in bed thinking…trying to understand the whole concept of death, loss and grief from a whole new angle. Every time the same thoughts come to mind, yet every time I don’t get an answer.
I hate the silence not because it keeps me thinking, but because it’s a constant reminder that she is no longer there. Kukhu was always praying at night. She would pray anytime she woke up until she drifts back to sleep. Most nights I would stay up just to listen to her talk to God. Her voice at night was always a reassuring factor that even if I sleep, I am protected. I stay awake this past few weeks in the silence trying so hard to remember her voice, her prayers. I wouldn’t want to forget her voice. I would love to always remember the words she said, even if it’s just a few words.