the ones left behind

THE ONES LEFT BEHIND IV

Stories from the Diaspora

By Sheillah Maonga

To read part three, click here

We had entered a room where a man was sitting on a desk writing notes. He looked up when he heard us. I liked his face. It reminded me of my grandfather. He looked gentle and comforting, like my grandfather.

“This is the fiancee.” The nurse had said.

The doctor had stood up and held both my hands in his. They were warm and soft. My grandfather’s were warm, but quite rough. I preferred the doctor’s clasp to my granddad’s.

The doctor looked at me deeply in my eyes and I felt the urge to cry. His eyes looked so sad.

“Have you witnessed someone dying before?” He asked me, his voice soft and low.

I shook my head, wondering what a question that was. How did that apply to me, I thought? Then I remembered that medical people were notorious for their dark humour.

The nurse had interjected.

“The police have not told her. They just told her he’s in a critical condition.” She said, her voice resigned.

The doctor had told me to sit down. His hand still on mine. His eyes looked sadder and I could read bad news in them. Bad news specifically meant for me. I started shivering and felt bile rise in my throat, making me nauseous. I wanted to stop him from speaking but couldn’t find my tongue. The fear in my heart had made me numb and dumb. I suddenly sensed what he wanted to tell me. What the police should have told me. My head had started spinning.

I had wanted to call Juma, his best friend. He didn’t live far from me so could be in the hospital in half an hour. I would rather Juma received this unwelcome news than I. But my tongue refused to move. I willed it to stop the doctor from talking, but it refused to obey my command. I helplessly looked at him, my heart palpitating.

“Jared won’t make it past tonight. Death is imminent. We called you because we want you to say goodbye. We also want him to die with a loved one present. We don’t like it when patients die alone.”

I don’t remember much what happened after. To date, my mind refuses to remember the details. I see bits and pieces, but never the full picture. A lot of these images still don’t make sense. For example, I don’t know how Juma came to the hospital because I don’t remember calling him. I remember feeling Juma forcefully holding me in place so that I could let them wheel Jared’s body away to the morgue. Details of the funeral remain blurry, 6 months later. Sometimes, I am not sure if I attended it because I cannot remember much about it.

As I was playing this day on my head, I had been making steady progress on my journey home. I had covered a lot of ground on the 10km trek. It was a long walk, but I would rather that than sit in the same car with Jared’s mother.

She did not like me. Ten years I had been in her son’s life and her feelings towards me had not thawed. She never outrightly said she disliked me, but her comments and behaviour towards me were telling. She would often go on a tirade about my tribe. I believe it is because of my tribe that she didn’t like me. She would have liked Jared to marry a fellow Luo and not I, a Meru. I thus believed that the reason Jared had been hesitant to marry me was because of his mother’s disapproval of me. As much as this dislike of me was subtle, both Jared and I knew that it was there.

Consequently, I avoided her. I didn’t visit her. I didn’t call her. I didn’t attend functions she was in. Jared got used to seeing his mother on his own. This gave the mother more ammunition to dislike me. She believed I was anti-social. I wasn’t. I just didn’t like socialising with someone that disliked me for no discernible reason.

I had been shocked when she called me a few days ago and asked me about Jared’s last day on earth. It was a call that jarred me. The last time I had called her was the night Jared died. Juma had given me her number. I had begged Juma to break the news on my behalf, but he had insisted that I was better placed to do it since I was the fiancée. I don’t remember much of that conversation. We didn’t speak again after that call. I don’t recall speaking to her at the funeral. I don’t think I was in a position to speak to anyone at all. So, this call of hers, 6 months later, was unexpected. I had told her about the woods. She had said she wanted to retrace his last day on earth, so we had arranged to meet and take a walk there.

I did not expect that the visit would have gone awry as it did. I had naively thought that our loss would have quelled our antagonism. Introduced a common ground between us, whereby, maybe, a cordial relationship would have been born. I had thought wrongly. She disliked me as intensely as before, and I feared her just as before.

It took me three hours to trek home. When I opened my door, I found her standing in my living room looking at the photos on the wall. All those photos had Jared on them. Either alone or with me or with friends. He was in all of them, that’s why I hang them on my wall. To remember him. My living room was Jared’s shrine.

I had not expected her to be there. She must have got in through the back, since that was the only door that always remained open. I found it a bit intrusive. Only my close friends used the back door. She not even my distant friend.

She didn’t turn when she heard me open the door. However, she addressed me while her back was turned towards me.

“Finally, you arrive home. I was worried. What was all that about?” She asked. I could detect a mixture of sternness and relief in her voice.

“I had to leave you.” I replied curtly. I was not going to be fearful of her anymore. There was no need for that, now that Jared was dead.

“Why? That was so juvenile. You just ran away mid conversation. It is childish.” She chastised me. I fought the urge to run away from this conversation. But, where would I go if I ran away from my own home? I resolved not to be forced out of my home.

“I had to leave for my home. I couldn’t stand there listening to you as you blamed me for Jared’s death.” I defended myself. My voice came out weakly.

She turned abruptly and looked at me for the first time that evening.

“Someone has to be blamed for my son’s death. He didn’t have to die so young. Someone drove him to suicide. Someone took my son from me.”

“That someone is not me.” I said firmly.

She turned her back to me and continuing looking at the photos.

“Now, I want to sleep. When are you leaving?” I asked, pointedly.

“You are kicking me out of your house? Yet you were meant to be my daughter in law?” She admonished me.

“Daughter in law? Yet you didn’t believe that we were engaged.” I quipped.

“Jared didn’t tell me. He told me everything.” She shrugged.

I was getting upset. I needed this woman out of my house. But, how would I do that without seeming rude.

I moved close to her and pointed at one of the photos near her.

“Do you know where this photo was taken?” I asked.

She shook her head.

“And this one?” I pointed at another.

She shook her head again.

“I want you to point at any photo where you can tell the place it was taken.” I challenged her.

She shook her head and went to sit down on the couch; a gesture that made me worry that she was not in a hurry to leave. I wanted her to leave, so that I could remain with my thoughts.

“All these photos were taken on holidays abroad. Jared and I were always travelling. Yet, he never told you. Because of your phobia of plane journeys. You did not approve of him travelling by air. So, we kept it away from you. He spoke to you daily, that includes when we were on holiday. Not once did he ever disclose to you that he was out of the country.”

“What’s your point? That my son lied to me often?”

“My point is that Jared didn’t tell you everything. If he thought you would disapprove anything, he wasn’t quick to tell you about it. That is why he would not tell you of our engagement, yet.” I said.

She looked deep in thought. I thought she had not heard me. I decided to continue speaking. Because I was fed up of always holding my tongue when it came to her. For ten years, this woman had gagged me from speaking in her presence. It had to stop. Jared was dead. There was now no more need for me to be tactful with her. I was not in a relationship with her son anymore. All bets were off.

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