(For the silent nights that go unnoticed, because all the memories we have of them are tear-soaked pillows. For the lights that shine a little bit too bright, even in the darkest of hours. For the wide uncertainties tearing through life.)
(In loving memory of Emmanuel Obinda. Not all kings wear crowns. Some, like you, lower themselves to everyone else’s level, so you build them up without even noticing.)
A friend of mine died on Sunday. People close to me, like Daughty, and Chris, and Imma, know and understand we were super close. Of course, not a go-to-friend. Not those whose phone numbers are etched in my mind. Not those who I talk to everyday.
A friend of mine died on Sunday. One who has been here, with me, long enough to understand who exactly I am. One who, when I was starting out in campus, was there to hold our hands and show us the way. One whose random message saying, ‘I am sending you cash for food, because I know you need it’, still brings tears to my eyes.
I remember calling my friends, passing on the news, and realizing just how much distance there still is between me, and the reality of his death.
Me: Daughty, Manu amekufa/.
Daughty: Manu yupi? Ule mmoja tulikua tunaenda kula kwake?
I do not know about you, but campus was so tough for me. On the outside, I was as charming as little girls are. I made friends, easily and quickly. I laughed loudly most of the times. I offered people a helping hand. I made them laugh, sometimes, or gave them a reason to live for another day.
Why? Because my struggles were never written on my forehead. I never wore them like a crown. Only the closest of my people knew when I was going through hell.
Like the time we were so broke, did not even have money for food. So we walked over to Manu’s house, Daughty, Imma and myself, and asked for food. And all he said was, ‘this is like your house. You can come over whenever you want, cook whatever you want, and eat to your fill.’
I remember that day like it was yesterday. There were rolls and rolls of chapati. Beef. Chicken. Rice. Ugali. Litres upon litres of soda.
I remember the laughter. Reminiscing old times. Sharing inside jokes. Laughing, again, at his natural humour.
Like when we said the water was dirty because the jerry can had green moulds on the inside. You know what he said?
”Ati maji ni chafu? Nani amechafua kwani? Tuliweka kwa hiyo mtungi ikiwa safi, na hatujawahi guza. ”
Or the other time we asked him why he wears slippers of different colours on each leg, which are too dirty, and worn out to the extent they have holes at the heels. You know what he said?
”Nyinyi shida yenu ni nini? Si bora mguu haikanyagi chini? ”
If you, a stranger, had walked into the house that evening, you would have thought it was a party. A laugh party. Only that there were only seven of us, with loud music banging from the speakers. And yes, it was the age of the Zigo hit, and all of us were struggling to explain the perfect size of a zigo.
This happened. Not once. Not twice. Not three times.
I still remember Chris’ voice on the other end of the line on the day Manu died.
“What happened?” I asked.
“He just collapsed, and died. ”
I have never had such a hard time connecting dots. Looking for reasons. Looking for answers. Finding weakness within myself. Begging my tears. Blocking my ‘whys’.
Ever since the history of death, I have never been the one to convey the bad news to others. I have never been the one to feign strength during the calls, just so the other person doesn’t break down. I have never been the one to give a deep sigh at the end of it all, hoping the other person at the end of the line is still breathing fine.
Never have I ever imagined I would do this for one of my closest friends, for the very first time.
I remember Chris’ shaken voice over the phone saying, “It hurts that we cannot even travel home to give him the final send off. I do not know how to feel. ”
I am reminded of how death has a way of reminding us how easy it is for our hearts to break. How, just like the wind, memories suddenly die. Sudden and final.
Like a phone snatched from the window in a matatu, and you spend the next couple of minutes figuring out what just happened.
Like a memory card which suddenly reports ‘video format not supported’, and you wallow in pain for the next couple of days, mourning over the memories buried in photos and videos.
Like a pregnancy. And suddenly, nine months later, a whole human’s existence depends on you.
I still do not know what to do with his number. I never know. I never delete them. It seems like you have given up on them. You are deleting memories. Yet, I have so many beautiful memories of him, and me, and us.
I like associating myself with Mombasa. Mostly because I spent the anchor years of my life there, 18-24, which means most of the things and notions I subscribe to were nurtured there. Because most of my meaningful friendships were born there. But most importantly, great memories were born there.
Like in 2016, when I was holed up in my house because of a shitty attachment for 4 weeks. It was hard, now that all my friends had travelled to different parts of the country for the attachment. It was lonely, the house, because even Challo, my immediate neighbour who made life in the weird neighbourhood bearable, was away.
But what did Manu do? Made it his job to make sure I was alive. Happy. Content. At peace.
Like the day they came visiting loaded with kilos on kilos of minced meat. Never in my life have I ever had that much minced meat in my house. I didn’t even have a chair in my house. I do not remember if there was a bed. All I know is there was lots of food, laughter, and good times. Manu, Chris, Kbet and I.
But then again, someone said the dead receive more flowers than the living, because regret weighs more heavily than gratitude.
Here I am, still trying to find courage in my tears. Trying to piece together the scattered memories of our time, and fixing them on a plain canvas. Trying to let go of the will to find reasons behind his death.
I have stopped saying it is untimely, because truly, no one knows when death will ever be timely.
In Daughty’s words, we were super close. I am allowing myself to wallow in the pain. To grieve as much as I can. To do all I can in a bid to cope with his absence, because one thing I know about death is that we never get over the loss. We never fill the void. We never forget. We only find ways of living with it, happily.
Today. I lay my final rose for Manu.
Wherever you are, I hope you find peace. And, happiness. And contentment; just like you strived to do in your life, and passed it on unto others. In your memories, I hope I drown myself enough to a point I find a way of celebrating you each day.
I hope, in my darkest of moments, your voice will sneak in and remind me of the vast opportunities ahead of me.
And when I fail to find more reason to celebrate you, may you find it in your heart to understand that I am human, still trying to look for coping mechanisms in your absence.
Rest well, my person. Rest well.