In loving memory of Stella Ibukui Juma, the bright star that didn’t get to see the joy of dawn.
Or would you love me to still call you surgeon? It has been six years since I received the breaking news of your demise.
“Eunniah, umeskia Surgeon amekufa?”, the text read.
I saw the text after a couple of minutes and I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t you. No, it couldn’t be you. I was so scared to even ask for a picture.
“Surgeon Ibukui. Kwani unajua surgeons wangapi?”, the reply came almost instantly.
My fingers trembled. I do not know whether I had any other Surgeon in mind apart from you. I just didn’t want it to be you. I remember my whole body breaking into sweat. How could it be possible? A couple of texts followed with the same message, to which I never found the guts to reply.
Two days later, I learnt it was meningitis that cut you out, that to some extent it was the doctors’ negligence. I heard that you struggled to breathe, that you went into a fit before you finally rested. Where were they? For some time, I wanted to complain about the negligence, but would it bring you back? Well, I just wanted somewhere I could lay all the blame on. Closure? Maybe.
Sometimes I tend to blame myself for not being there on the day of your final journey. Sometimes I feel like I should apologise. My inner demons never give me peace at the thought of this. But then again, the thought of wearing a black t-shirt with your image engraved on its front scared my wits away. I dreaded the saying, “…and onto dust we shall all go back to.” I have always liked to think that there’s much better we can say.
To me, you were still alive, at least in my head, trying to find your way out of the maze. I couldn’t come to terms with the thought of your lifeless body draped in white chiffon or taffeta. I didn’t want to be engulfed in an atmosphere full of dirges and never-ending tears. You were worth more than mere tears.
Do you remember in late form two when we picked the ‘hardest’ subjects? And everyone else said we lacked ‘booster’ subjects? Do you remember being warned that our grades would drop significantly? Yes, I almost quit. But then you looked me straight in the face, told me that you believed in me, that I was free to do that which pleased me. Girl, who were you? So young yet so full of positivity. We weren’t close at that time, but I saw the zeal in you, the passion and will to live. And that’s how the name ‘Surgeon’ was birthed.
Today, I was going through our family album and I came across a picture of you and I alone, during one of those high school trips that we used to go to. I quickly flipped the pages because dearest, my eyes still get misted at the thought of you. I remember we didn’t share a seat during that trip, but then you clasped my hand in yours saying, “You know you’re the most beautiful of all my friends, let’s take a picture. Bam, you wouldn’t take NO for an answer, and that’s how that picture was born. Do you know that no one else has ever said such words to me?
And then there’s the other day in class when I was trying to teach you Biology. Do you remember us laughing at your inability to pronounce the word ‘exoskeleton’? You said it was impossible for a luhya to pronounce a word with x, s and k in close proximity. It was funny back then. Damn. And you told me I would make a good teacher. No, I haven’t tried my hand at teaching yet. I don’t think I ever will. Maybe the magic was just between you and me.
Do you remember how we both craved engineering? Our hearts danced to the tunes of engineering. Our love for Physics was way out of this world. Do you remember how we stared at each other any time someone complained about Physics? Ours was a scientific bond. You were the Physics and Mathematics genius, how you managed to be all that is still a mystery to me.
Do you remember laughing at me when the Mathematics teacher blatantly remarked that my marks didn’t match my index number? I had a forty nine percent and you laughed your heart out. You didn’t spare me. I almost hated you but then, you’re the one that held my hand and helped me out (I think I owe my Mathematics grade to you).
Do you remember our last interaction? Well, we didn’t know that was the last we were seeing each other. Our results were just out and you were bubbling with excitement. I remember you crying on the other end of the line because you didn’t believe it. I remember you sparing a seat for me on Thanksgiving Day. I remember us laughing through our hardships, all our fun moments when our peanut butter got lost, then our coffee, then our illegal sugar. I remember you telling me we had made it, that a lot was still ahead of us.
And then the unimaginable happened; you went away without warning. I remember us texting on the eve of the fateful day. You were so full of life and joy as usual. At the end of it all you said, “Take care of yourself.” Was it a sign?
Well, campus happened and I got out alive. I would have loved to read your version of campus. I know there are a lot of things you wouldn’t have agreed with. But again, it is this thing they call life. It just happens.
I miss you. I promised myself I won’t cry when I finish writing this, but here I am.
Continue resting well darling.
PS: I still look behind me and see an empty chair.