What's in a Name?
I am seated in the tent labelled ‘Family’, because that is what obedient kids do when they go to funerals of their relatives. That is what people like me, who are not attached to anyone else apart from our mothers and sisters, do at funerals; sit inside the tents, even when the sun scorches, and wait patiently for the ceremony to end.
I sit inside the tent because what else do people who have been ‘forced’ to a funeral do? What else do people who have travelled for over twenty hours do when they get to a funeral? What else does someone do at a funeral, when they’re constantly checking their email, because they were at an interview the previous day?
I sit inside the tent because I am quite removed from the place and people, and there is nothing else left to do.
Then, my phone vibrates and a text from Mother reads;
“D is somewhere here. Could you find her and please get her something to eat and drink? She might leave soon.”
I am surprised because I was not expecting you to show up. Because the funeral is many miles away from the comfort of your home. Because the last time I checked, your back and knees were acting up, and the doctors said you should limit movement.
I am surprised because throughout your sixty-something years on earth, I doubt you and the deceased have ever seen each other. And if you have, it cannot have been more than two times. Probably just during my mother’s wedding, and my birth.
Before I manage to reply the message, someone suddenly tugs at my arm and starts pulling me away from the tent. I look up and voilaaa! It is you! Your hands are still as soft as I can remember, and the brown dye in your hair makes you look younger; like someone my age, only with a ton of wisdom to their name.
When we are safe, away from the eyes and stares, you pull me into an embrace that lasts a little more than a minute; one of your hands brushing my hair, the other rubbing my back.
When we finally let go, the words come tumbling out of your mouth, one after the other:
“How are you? Are you okay? Do you need something? I am so sorry…”
Then, the tears that I have been begging to show up, just so I can look normal at a funeral, suddenly show up, and they are furious. They come in torrents, as if the walls of the dam that had been holding them back have suddenly crashed. As if they have been waiting for something/someone they feel safe with. As if they were waiting for you.
You do not say a word, but hold my right palm in your hands, gently rocking its back, as my other palm struggles to wipe away the tears that have started attracting sadness from onlookers. When my breathing steadies and the tears finally stop, you hand over your sunglasses to me, and we walk hand in hand to try get you some food.
It reminds me, this walking with you hand in hand, of the days back in time when I lived in your house. When at seventeen years old, I shared a bed with you because in your own words, “You are still my little baby. The one I held immediately you came out of your mother’s womb. The one who had her first cry right in my arms.”
It reminds me of the mornings you woke up earlier than me, made me breakfast, got my clothes ready, and watched as I left the house for work. It reminds me of your soft hands on my face when I came back in the evening, tired and worn out, dust covering my shoes, and you at the door saying, “My child, you work so hard, for a child your age. You are an incredible human.”
And you would hand me a cup of warm porridge, as you made dinner in the kitchen. Thereafter, we would walk hand in hand, and carry the food to your best friends. All the time, you would be saying to anyone who care to listen; This is my child. She carries my name; Harriet Mbabazi. And even though Harriet is not my name, you continued to refer to me that way, and I responded.
Sometimes, when people ask why my surname is Ugandan, yet I am Kenyan, I lack the answers. Why? Because I never have the right words to describe you, in a way that people would understand. Because even myself, I feel small whenever I am in your presence, and I can never describe the pride that comes with this name you bestowed upon me; Mbabazi.
How do I describe the most humble person I know on earth? How do I describe the one person whose name comes to mind whenever I think of home? How do I describe the one person who has been with me throughout all my firsts? How do I describe someone who has taught me about the world’s best places, which are found inside the people we love?
How do I describe you, who squeezes notes into my hands every time we meet, and when I unfold them, they are several 1000 bob notes? You who doesn’t care who has died, but travels all the way just to see me, because in your words “Whatever concerns you, concerns me too. We are one.”
Someday, when I get to 60, I hope I am able to live up to your name; our name. I hope the strength within me, which comes from you, doesn’t fade with time. I hope that my actions, in one way or another, reflect the dreams of your heart. I hope that when my soul tires, I am reminded of your zeal towards your goals, and that with time, this name I carry leaves everlasting memories in the things I touch.
I hope that when I am 60, I am nothing short of the woman you are, and when people ask me where my second name came from, I find the right words to describe you.