The bees in the air buzzed louder that afternoon. Audibly angry. The shovelling of the soil had stirred the hive; somehow. The gravediggers dug two graves that day. The first had to be filled back in; they’d dug his grave in the wrong place. My mother caught the error around noon. They had to start again in the hot sun. Shovelling the hot soil maniacally to get the grave ready in time.
My eyelids felt like scraps of sandpaper grinding over my tired eyes, over and over again, all through the day. For two weeks now, I’d cried every single day. It’s meant to be therapeutic, apparently. It felt like nonsense to me though. When you cry that much, it’s bound to show. I couldn’t even look in mirror. If you cry like a leaky bucket I’m sure you’d look like a leaky bucket.
The mirror thing. We looked alike. Too alike for an eight year age difference. I wouldn’t look at a mirror again until after my birthday. In 11 days time. I would gradually forget what that pain felt like and have my life overtaken by a cool, icy numbness like someone sprayed a cooling spray on my soul. Peppermint for the Pain.
They dug another grave. Removing dry, red, fertile soil, forming a hole in the earth that matched the hole in my soul. There’s a big M-shaped void in the universe. The void, evident in how they looked at me. At us. It showed in how they spoke to me.
“What should we do? With the body?” My mother asked me, right outside the house in Karen, the morning after he died. My uncle- a close family friend, had just walked into the house, through the garage where we were standing, from the tree I’d seen him crying under. I’d rushed home for a family meeting. Summoned by yet another family friend. It was a sunny Saturday in Nairobi and I’d been lazing in bed. Down the road in my own house.
“Does it make sense to bring him all the way to Nairobi just to take him back?” She continued to speak and I looked at her dumbly. I was yet to find my voice at that point. My cousins had picked me up from Galleria and I’d left them to struggle with opening it, as I walked into the compound.
That’s when I saw my uncle standing under the tree in the garden. From where I stood I could see his tears. Imagine a six-foot Maasai man crying tears in the middle of the afternoon like a one-foot toddler that’s lost his milk.
I went into the house through the garage entrance. As I shut the door leading to the garage, I turned and was confronted by my mother surrounded by a gang of female relatives. I can’t remember which ones. Yet, I remember the look on her face. A blend of sadness, disappointment, and a high concentration of soul-sucking sympathy. I knew who was gone. I knew where the pain was. I knew exactly where the light in my soul had gone off. Looking at her face, my mouth formed a silent scream and my gut amplified the sound. My throat was closed but the scream came from me. That much I’m sure of.
Someone held on to me when I started to fall, that hot afternoon in Narok. It’s probably the same hands that supported me when I had looked into my mother’s eyes and threatened to embrace the darkness that sunny mid morning in Nairobi. That afternoon, all through the service, we quietly sat, watching a sea of red Maasai shukas. We quietly listened to a comedic sermon by a local pastor. We watched his agile histrionics. He preached like a properly filled Pentecostal bible man. So much pomp, glamour and a flurry of activity.
My body felt like a husk of dry maize. Everything was hot and dry. The afro that I’d meticulously twisted and undone in the morning had dried and was raspy to the touch. The cotton mouth I’d kept shut all day as if I’d swallowed a tube of super glue, was struggling to find some vestige of moistness. My eyes. Oh my eyes. Hidden behind large sunglasses so that I could drift in and out of sleep without embarrassing myself, felt like I’d collected years of sandy scales from all the crying I’d done in the past week.
I cried for him, with every fibre of my being. Everything I was, cried out for M, as he was. Just as he was, then, on the eve of my 28th birthday. Eleven days will count as an “eve”. My eyes shed tears, my soul shed every emotion- no more birthdays, no more holidays, no walking down the aisle to give me away, no hospital visits, no cries of “Uncle M”, none of it. My ears burned with words he said, and words he did not say. My brain boiled with thoughts about what would have been.
We’re the last two children of a great man, and now an even greater woman. That bond was meant to be unbreakable. Yet I found out just how breakable, and broken it had become. I was staring at his grave listening to the bees buzzing, feeling dust particles, and the pollen they collected settle on my skin, pore by pore and thinking, “Who’s left?”
“Who’s not yet got a ride home?” I asked the friends I was with that night. We’d a work reunion and I needed to make sure everyone got home OK. Needed. Not wanted. If you hung out with me at that time, you got a friend AND a minder.
“Are you OK?”
“Are you good?”
“How are you getting home?”
I became that friend.
“Oh, you drank?”
“ Are you driving yourself home?”
“ How are you getting home?”
The bees in the air buzzed louder that afternoon. Viciously angry.
Like he didn’t want to be dead. Like he wasn’t ready. Like he never wanted to leave. To leave us. To leave me. The bees in the air were my sign from him. That he didn’t want it to end this way.