the ones left behind

THE ONES LEFT BEHIND

Stories from the Diaspora

By Sheillah Maonga

We walked in the woods in silence. I was retracing my steps on that day. That fateful Wednesday that ended up being the worst day of my life. I was still in shock, 6 months later. It still hadn’t sunk in.

My companion, his mother, was silent too. She had been quiet in that hour-long journey we had taken from the city to these woods. If I was hurting, yet I was only his fiancee, what of her, his mother? I wondered. Her pain must be greater than mine, I thought. I wondered how she could bear it, because for me, I was steadily running insane for the grief. If I didn’t check myself regularly, grief would have overwhelmed me, and I would have gone under too.

“We sat on this bench for a few minutes and watched the squirrels.” I said, pointing at a forlorn looking bench that cut a lonely figure in the green forest. The trees around were leafy and majestic while this bench looked dry, old and knackered. A dead piece of wood.

On that Wednesday, the bench had looked warm and inviting. It had cosiness written all over it. We couldn’t walk past when it was beckoning us so. Jared had sat down and pulled me on his laps. He had lightly kissed me on my shoulder and told me to be still and look up at the trees. We had looked up and seen several brown squirrels playing on the branches.

“I love how carefree animals are.” Jared had said, finally breaking the silence.

“We are carefree too.” I replied.

“We are not. Humans, unless mad, can never be carefree. Not for long spans of time. Our minds can’t allow it. Sadly.” He had said, then had suddenly stood up hoisting me up, my legs automatically going around his waist. I had wrapped my hands around him, laid my head on his shoulder and felt his heartbeat, which sounded strong and healthy. I felt safe and secure feeling its thuds.

He had walked while carrying me, in silence, both of us savouring the stillness of the moment. I remembered thinking how perfect my life was with Jared. Our love was perfect, I had thought smugly. That moment had just felt serene and heavenly and I couldn’t help but think that I must have done something right in my life for the universe to reward me with such a perfect experience.

Then I was brought back to reality. My heart broke thinking that I would never relive that moment in this lifetime again. Not with Jared, for sure. I certainly didn’t feel very charitable towards the universe anymore. It had, without warning, thrown me a huge, massive curveball.

Presently, I now looked at that bench and wished that it would speak to me and tell me that it remembered that day. I needed someone or something to corroborate my story, for I was starting to forget crucial details.

His mother ran her hands round the bench, then fell on her knees and rested her head on it. I was worried that her skirt would get muddy for the ground was wet and murky. I wanted to tell her to get up but didn’t want to break her reverie. She looked as if she was praying. I remained standing, looking up the trees to see if I could spot some squirrels.

There were none.

The trees looked bare. I looked away from the trees for I was starting to feel that the squirrels too had left me, the same way Jared had.

I wanted to sit down, but the bench didn’t look inviting at all. If anything, it looked forbidding. Which was a departure from last time. The bench too looked like it had died. Like Jared.

The mother finally stood up and looked around keenly. She turned in all four corners spending at least a minute looking in the general direction. It was as if she was searching for something. She then let out a tired sigh, then resumed walking.

We walked in silence the entire length of the bridleway. The day looked dark, because of the thick leaves and spread out branches. It was not a light and glowing darkness as it was that day I was with Jared. That day; the leaves and the branches added to the romantic setting and we could not help feeling that our love beat to the rhythm of the universe. We felt that we were meant to be there in those woods at that time. Everything had felt so right that day.

Today, the darkness brought only silence- a heavy silence, not an easy one like the one I had had with Jared at this same place on that fateful day.

We came upon a clearing and the sudden light dazzled my eyes. On that day with Jared, when we came upon the clearing, and the light had blinded us, he had closed his eyes and started running with me still on his waist. I had feared falling so had wrestled to get on the ground, but his hands held me in place. I had screamed all through as he ran. Unlike me, he had laughed all along the duration of that run.

We had fallen down as I had feared. He had tripped on a tree’s root and lost his balance. He went on the floor laughing while I was screaming. Luckily, none of us was scathed. I was not pleased with him though.

I found Jared too juvenile sometimes. He said he found me too serious sometimes. It was a bone of contention in our relationship.

“Why did you stop here?” His mother asked, breaking my reverie. Unbeknown to me, I had stopped walking as I remembered the happenings of that day.

I couldn’t give her details of all those intimate moments we had at this clearing. I was not that close to his mother to have such conversations. This was the first time we were spending a considerable amount of time with each other. Normally, we steered clear of each other because we were very different people. Our only commonality was that we loved Jared.

“This is where he proposed marriage to me.” I summarised, tears suddenly welling in my eyes.

She looked at me intently, her eyes boring into mine. It was not a friendly gaze at all. The tears in my eyes dried up at her gaze. Her gaze was stern forcing me to look away.

“So, you were engaged to him for real?” She asked.

I felt like I had been kicked in the teeth. For the last 6 months, I was grieving him as my fiancé. Everyone knew he was my fiancé. Why would his mother question it! Unless she didn’t want me to be engaged to him, which wouldn’t surprise me at all.

“Yes. We were engaged. He proposed to me and I said yes.” I said, my voice a tad too hard. I was feeling defensive.

“He never told me you were engaged. I knew you were his girlfriend, not his fiancee. He just never said to me that you were engaged. You are the one that informed me you were engaged and that was upon his death. I had never heard of that engagement prior to that.” She said, and I couldn’t help feeling her tone was accusatory. I chided myself for thinking that. Why would she accuse me, I thought? There was nothing to be accused of. I reminded myself not to overthink stuff. Jared used to criticise me that I was an over thinker.

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