The black car snaked it’s way quickly up the tree lined driveway. It was eerily calm outside. There were no birds chirping in the night, no sounds of humans going about their lives. It was the calm just after a major storm. It was his first time in a Mercedes… the new edition. You could smell the richness of the tapestry. The leather gently massaging your back and neck. Almost as if to say, “Sorry Sir, you had such a difficult day.” And the things the inbuilt massager did to your ass…. heavenly.
He however felt none of these things. His mind was miles away. His gaze looking longingly at the stars above. Almost as if his eyes were searching for something. The eyes of God perhaps. His heart uneasy, his breath labored. Breathing was a constant battle between his heart and lungs. One wanting to give up and end it all, the other well just trying to keep him alive.
You see Nick had just come back from somewhere in Nyanza. He wasn’t coming from a holiday considering this was January. And as a nation we have an annual migration to our ancestral homes. In fact, his home was on the other side of the country somewhere in Taita country. His reasons for being in the countryside were unfortunately a lot less joyful. He had just gone to lay his love to rest.
I always wondered why they chose that phrase, lay to rest. As if language could in a way dilute the tyranny of death. The suddenness of it all. Bringing to a screeching halt all the plans that occur in the business of life. Not really caring whether you were having the best year of your life, or the worst. Sometimes, it feels a bit more palatable, when you saw it coming. The long illness of someone you value, death coming in to end their long suffering. You welcome him as you would a trusted friend, coming in to relieve you of a long held burden. This was different though, death came as a thief in the night. I wondered how it felt, as she breathed her last. I bet it felt like when your favorite character in a book dies suddenly, in the middle of a sentence.
They had been planning to get married you see. She was, he thought, the best thing that had happened to him in this life. I know, I also thought that was a little cliche. But you should have seen him when he was with her. The tough man melted slowly into warm butter in her hands. Then, there was the way she called his name. In a whisper…. But you felt it, even on the other side of the room. You felt it. Like his name was made for her mouth. God taking hours to craft it, before asking her to kiss it before giving it to him. They were in a way foolish in love. This is not to say she was a heavenly being. Or that he was the perfect man. On the contrary, they had their vices. But you know what love does to you, makes you stupid.
So he set out to see his in laws to be. We asked him to wait until after the elections. He was from the wrong tribe you see and the political climate at the time did not encourage such alliances. He was, as I said foolish. He insisted, he didn’t see the need to wait when the universe was so perfectly aligned. So we set it up… quickly. The journey to the in-laws. We hustled, begged, borrowed and threatened every one in our circle of family and friends until we had a sizeable crowd. Why you ask? Well, in our culture when one goes to see future in laws. One demonstrates strength. It was important for us to show that she would be coming into a family capable of holding its own. Plus, the young lady had intimated that her people appreciated style. After all, nyadhi must be met with nyadhi. Style with style.
After deciding on the dates. It was time to make the preparations. In Kenya, the traditional ceremony is everything. His girl was determined that it would be the best ceremony ever witnessed in the village. You know how girls are. They want 7 different outfits for them and their entourage. They want gold and silver for the elders. They even want to drench the village drunkard in 13 year old Glenmorangie. Not considering the fact that he would not appreciate the exquisiteness of the brew. Nick obviously got stressed. You see, our boy here didn’t come from money. In his yester years, he had an intimate relationship with poverty. Poverty to him was an ex he had no desires to get in bed with again. Thus, every part of his disdained spending on non essential items.
He tried to stick to a budget which really was not much. His girl didn’t listen. They fought, heavily and bitterly. She thought he did not want to spend on her. He thought he should save for her. They were always passionate about everything they did together, whether it was laughing, fighting or even making love. I knew about, because he insisted on giving me a play by play of what his girl could do. Which was something, compared to my own whose version of excitement was wearing clean underwear.
Their argument got worse day by day. The planning however, continued in earnest. I had been appointed the chairman of the committee. Part of my responsibilities apart from the mundane things like transport and catering was ensuring when we showed up, we would epitomize stylishness. As such, I assembled the finest troupe of young ladies I could find. Ladies who need not bear their thighs to prove they are fine. No, those were fine fine girls, you could smell their sophistication from a mile away. They need only look at you to get your gonads awakened. Though you would be just as quickly chastened if you made any untoward approach. Our girl would be in good company when she was officially handed to us by her elders. Nick however, was taken by the girls and was not particularly good at hiding it. His girl being the brand of crazy that she was, quickly assumed there was some mischief happening.
She confronted him the night before our departure.He was drunk and that night they fought like never before. It was the type of fight where you say everything you should never say. Everything you have ever pent up. He wasn’t normally much of a talker, so he had a lot to say. Plus, the alcohol had a way with lubricating the tongue. So he let her have it, even dragged out that one time she cheated. He was supposed to have forgiven her. He had not. She slapped him. He almost punched her. They broke up and with finality this time. She angrily decided to go home. To see her parents. She took his bottle of vodka and her car keys. He did not give a flying hoot.
As she walked down the stairs, she staggered. He thought to stop her. But he was in pain, and it blinded him. She got into the car, she couldn’t get the right key into the ignition. She stopped and took a swig from the bottle. That’s when it hit him that this was serious. He walked over to her and tried to get her to come out. She was adamant. She was always stubborn. She finally got it to start and with that she was off. She tried to slow down near the gate but still clipped the gate man’s shed.
He ran back to the house to get the keys to other car. He knew she would try to go all they way to her parents. He comes back out quickly, her back lights still visible in the distance. He thought of going after her. Pride stopped him. He went back in and slumped into the sofa, thinking this was exactly why he had never been a fan of relationships. He slid into a deep sleep right there on the couch. He was woken up hours later by the doorbell. He wondered who would be at his door so early in the morning. He quickly washed his face, and opened the door. Her sister was at her door. Her face forlorn from hours of crying. Just behind her, 2 cops stood. Uneasy at the news they brought. Her sister crying, Kenyan cops at his door, his girl nowhere. They did not have to say it. He knew.
The cops drove him quickly to the scene. It was the first time he rode on the passenger side of a police vehicle. He was more accustomed to the pack with a couple of handcuffs to boot. As they came nearer, he saw it. A familiar car in an unnatural state, looking almost as if in a trancic hug with a tree. He wondered what song the tree and car might have chosen to dance to. Perhaps, Michael Bolton’s “Said I loved you but I lied.” There were a lot more cops now, some directing traffic, others keeping passer by’s away. There was the odd boy trying to get past the cops and get a photo of the wreckage. A handy slap from out of the officers quickly brought his wits back. Nick finally got out of the car. His world held only by a thread. His mind telling him it was her, in the wreckage, his heart lying. If only to save him, that it was someone else. He moved ever closer, everyone moving out of his way. Almost as if they felt the enormity of his grief. One of the medics at the site removed the white cloth they had placed over the vehicle. He saw her, his legs buckled. He fell.
He could not quite piece everything together after that. He remembered some cops holding him up, his legs not quite as willing to do their duty. Someone asked him, if this was her, his girl. He said no. Her head was on the steering wheel. Slumped over in a heaviness that was uncharacteristic of sleep. On the left side, a deep gash made by a tree branch. He was not sure if the branch was always red in color, or maybe it was blood. He saw it, the bottle of vodka on the passenger seat. The last thing her lips touched. His heart broke a little more. One of the medics, wore gloves and gently raised her head. Her eyes open. Her face still intact even in the midst of such calamity. Her eyes lifeless but still holding on to the power they always had over him. He moved to touch her. He felt it, her skin cold as ice. His mind went blank, he fainted. It was her.
Slow music plays in the background
….The Mercedes slides silently over the gravel and stops. We are back home at last. He asks me to leave him. I am not sure about it. He is not in the best of shape. He has had the same blank stare for the last week. He looks me dead in the eye and says it. “I won’t kill myself, she would not want that.” With that my heart is at peace. If he believes in nothing else right now, he still believes in her.
Slowly he walks up the steps. He fumbles with his keys. The jingling sounds almost ominous in the night. A dog barks in the distance. He stops and looks up, then continues his search. He finds it, the right key. He pushes it in and opens the door, with that he is gone.
I imagine what he is doing. He is probably haunched on the other side of the door. Alone since he got that call, that stopped his life. He will look around the room and every inch of it will remind him of the woman she is… was. The glass half empty with her lipstick smudged on it. She always like that cheap red lipstick. Said, it tasted like lavender and roses, whatever that is. Her shoes thrown carelessly all over. It always drove him nuts. On the wall, her picture in a frame. Not the sad official one they chose for her funeral. No, this one is alive, all her teeth fighting to be included in the frame. It will break him. Then he will do what all men do in silence, cry. Silently at first, his manhood fighting to hold on to the last vestige of dignity. He will breath in deeply and when he let’s it out. Every part of his being will quiver. As every tear, every hurt, every love he has ever held back will come out. And in his tears he will honor her. The woman who should have loved him eternally.
Funny ain’t it, the people we love. Never love us back enough not to die.