If you know anything about music. You’ve heard of Aaliyah. A sweet sweet songstress who blessed our world in the early 2000s with her music. She passed at 22 leaving us a rich legacy of all things music. What is particularly interesting is her last record. Which was released after she passed. She recorded it but never released it. She thought it was boring. The song, “miss you,” starts off by breaking my heart where she sings….
The song feels almost similar to a funeral dirge with an upbeat beat. It feels apt to play it today, in my head at-least. I am seated on one of those dark grey City Council benches. In a garden along Lang’ata road opposite the KWS gardens. All I can see are rows and rows of flowers. My heart is glad to be here, but still there is an unexplainable sadness within me.
It is July, so the cold is trying to get intimate with me….it is succeeding. I can feel it in every part of me. I pull my scarf a little bit closer. I am wearing my daughter’s favorite dress. It is white with yellow flowers. The flowers make her happy, she says if I get her a dress like that, she will be a beautiful as I am. I blush every time. My husband loves it for another reason. The deep neckline contributes to that love.
Aaliyah’s song is playing in my head while my daughter plays some 10 feet away from me. She looks beautiful, innocent even. Her only care being the ice cream her father promised to buy her after this. He will try to get out of it but he will still buy it. Using money we desperately need for tonight’s supper to make his daughter happy. He called her Anyango Jr. after her mother, me. He told me, that one of me was not enough for him. He has always been a little slick with his lines. So I share him, gladly, with our child. He is standing next to me, staring. He says nothing, letting me enjoy these quiet minutes with my baby.
She starts to run off towards the fence and I call out to her. I promise to beat the foolishness out of her if she moves any further. I have turned into my mother. She stops and comes back slowly towards me. She goes back to playing with the stones on the ground. I wonder what game she’s playing. I am tempted to ask….I do not. We sit in silence. Her father watching me, me watching her and her watching her flowers and stones.
She starts to sing. “Hapo Zamani mama, sikuwa hivi.” The seminal record by Miriam Makeba. My husband always insists that I am the one who sung that song until she memorized it. But what does he know? She sings terribly off tune. I forgive her. The women in her bloodline were given many things, the ability to sing in the correct key was not one of those things. God is hardly ever fair. The song is about a drunkard who sings to his mother, telling her he was not a drunkard in the past. Blaming his current drunkenness on the white man and his alcohol. I always loved the song. The way the drunk man reminds his mother of a past that was better. “Hapo zamani mama, haikuwa hivi. Hapo zamani, shauri ya pombe.”
She stops singing for a bit and looks at me. Her eyes have the same brownness I found in her father’s. She holds my gaze for some seconds until I am tempted to look away. She makes me blush. She is after all her father’s child. She continues to sing, “Hapo Zamani mama…..,” this time she starts walking, tottering really towards me. I open my arms to receive her and as she falls into them……
“Anyango,” my husband calls out to me. I do not hear him. He calls out again. This time with some annoyance in his voice. He won’t let me hold my child in peace. As if me bringing my daughter here is wrong. And yes, I know it has been 6 months but what is time. I look up at him, and instead of seeing an angry face. I see kindness. His voice jolts me back to reality. And the garden gives ways to rows and rows of tombstones. Replacing the flowers that stood there moments ago in my mind.
“It is time to go,” he says.
I ignore him. Willing myself to go back again to my happy place. Instead all I see is my reality….depressing. Where my child stood moments ago, a black tombstone stands. The words on it read;
Kerry Anyango Jr.
As if my mind would need to write down anything to remember every detail of her. It is my daughter’s graveyard. The words on the tombstone, a concise simplification of her existence. She lived, then she died.
I have come here often this past 6 months. Almost daily since we buried her. It is my happy place, my penance for letting her go. Today is the last time I will come here. My people insist it is unbecoming of a mother to wallow in pain. Especially when there are other children to care for. I do not agree. What do they know about pain, have they ever buried a child? My husband coughs again. I pity him, sometimes. Apart from dealing with the pain of burying his child. He still has to deal with the business of living. Which is why I agreed to this foolishness of stopping to come here. He is after all my baby too and he needs me. He insists that we have to leave. Says something about closing hours and darkening skies. He touches my hand, helping me to rise. I allow it!
I stand and move closer to my child’s tombstone. I touch the words inscribed there…”Hapo Zamani.”
My husband’s idea. To remind him. To remind us. That once upon a time she existed.
I would have preferred a longer epitaph….”Hapo Zamani, haikuwa hivi.” To remind everyone that once upon a time, it was not like this. I lay my bouquet of roses down on the small grave. Hoping they will keep her warm now that no one will visit her tomorrow. I bend down and kiss her name on the tombstone.
It tastes like granite. I stand up and leave.
Goodbye my love, life calls.
This story is inspired to some level by a gentleman I saw yester night. Sleeping in a puddle of his blood due to the habits of some matatu guys😭😭😭😭. Take care of each other out there. Stay safe.
Ps…..we welcome you sharing this piece with your family and friends