Your phone will brrr into life. Mom calling. You are indicating right onto Ole Odume Road from Argwings Kodhek, a wary eye on the gangly raggedyass bus barreling down from Kawangware. The phone rings out; one missed call. An hour later you will shake hands with the people you have just finished the meeting with. You will placate them with words that have no legs it was nice meeting you; let’s catch up later; I will send you an email to start a conversation. You will walk out and stand outside your car in the beautiful sunlight and dial mum. Or maybe you will return it after you have had your lunch of salad because you are trying the whole healthy thing. Or you will return it from the office balcony with your back to the glass door, five floors up. Or outside the office block, leaning on a slab, because mom can go on and on and on….But you will return it, eventually.
What if you return it and someone, a relative, a househelp picks up and through choked words breaks it to you that your mom is dead? You will probably chuckle. Or even laugh. Or you will click and say, “put her on the phone.” But then what if she’s really dead?
Wait, I know what will happen. You will stand there; rooted to the ground, in the shoes you wore in the morning when you thought nothing could break your world, when your world was solid, when you felt invincible. You will feel like a dead tree, gnarled into the ground, anchored on a myth. You will feel like ashes. Like the wind will blow you and scatter your broken pieces all over. Your world will turn darker than you ever imagined it would be, even though it is high noon.
You can’t believe how fragile your world is when you still have your mother alive. I used to envy people with mothers. I really did. They’d say stuff like, “I’m going to see mom over the weekend.” Or “ I’m going to pick mathe from the airport” or “ My mom called yesterday…” And I’d want to punch them in the throat. Then steal their wallet. But after a while, after my mourning period settled down, I became cool with it. Then one day I realised that I wasn’t doing too badly, because mothers are just very tragic heartbreaks waiting to happen. People with mothers are walking on thin ice.
Mothers are like a train on the verge of derailing and the crash will resound in your being and bones for an eternity; the clanging bones, the twisted carnage, the smell of pain and smoke from your wrecked scorched heart, a single most event that will leave your soul yawning with a hunger that will never be satiated. You will be destroyed, my friend. Your mother will break your heart.
The other day I ran into this pal Andrew who I haven’t spoken to or seen in ages. And I remember wondering why his hair was turning white yet he’s slightly younger than me. And I started making fun of his silver hair and all, asking him if all hair on his body was going white as well, hehe. Then he told me casually, “ by the way, did I tell you mathe died not long ago?” And I was like, “The hell? Jesus! I’m terribly sorry, man. Why didn’t you tell me?” Then he said ati si it was on Facebook. Seriously? Like I spend time going through my “friends” updates on Facebook just in case they have lost a loved one!
Anyway, later I thought, damn, you lose your mom and your hair grows white. That’s the power of mothers. They will discolour your hair. They will discolour your sense of security. They will discolour your life.
My mom was a talker. She would call and go off on a tangent. Because she was terminally sick I would always pull over to take her calls, or talk to her while driving. I would walk out of a meeting and stand there and listen to her tell me about her beloved chickens. (For chrissake!) Or something silly my dad did that annoyed her. Or ask me to talk to my little sister who was then having massive problems in her marriage to leave that prick. (She did, but after my mom had gone. Nkt.) And I would stand there with the phone pressed to my cheeks thinking, really? Now?! And I would tell her politely, “Ne’ mummy, abiro gocho’ni bang’e, sawa?” [I will call you later.]
Sometimes I would forget to call her. Or I would probably call her the next day. You know how it is, right? We get busy, no?
Our last conversation was on Friday 2, May 2012. It was shortly before midday, I was coming from Gigiri and had nipped into the Stanchart ATM at Oilibya, Limuru Road. I pressed the phone between my shoulder and left ear as I worked the ATM.
She asked me where I was that sounded so hollow and I told her I was in a police cell. She laughed and told me that it had rained hard the previous night and she was inspecting my simba and she felt that if I didn’t send money a.s.a.p. to have it fixed I will find it swept away into the river and right into the lake. I smiled and rolled my eyes. (She was ever so dramatic, Jane). I will send it on Monday I told her, only Monday she was long gone.
She died that Sunday, exactly three years ago tomorrow. She passed on during the rainy season. When all that rain was breathing forth all sorts of life into nature, filling it with energy and renewal; the grass turning green and the flowers blooming, the cows’ flesh filling out and the crops sprouting, my mom’s life was trickling out of her toes. My mom died that Sunday. And for the longest time I wished I had called her on Saturday but I came to learn much later, after I had unraveled the thread of grief, that such thoughts are foolish and unnecessary because when death comes it sneaks under doorways like an odourless and colourless smoke. You can’t prepare enough. You remain a sitting duck.
Here is some good news; when your mom finally dies, you will remember distinctly the last time you spoke with her on the phone. Every word. Those words will pull a chair and stay in your head. You will relive that last conversation in your head, a million times. Her voice will never go away.
But for now, this sounds like something removed, something abstract, something written by someone who obviously needs a drink. (Looks at watch). You will read this and look for a snack or chat up Lucy from accounts at the water dispenser. You will remain gloriously unaware, naive, unmoved in the face of death and its dastardly ways.
But that’s not even the worst thing, the worst thing is when you sit there and imagine your mother will always be there. When you imagine that only other people’s mother’s die. That death isn’t for your family, that your family is protected by a special prayer, that your mother has never been healthier or happier, that you put her on a Sh.4.5million InPatient medical cover so she’s protected by the forces of economy and by the blood of Jesus Christ. You are sitting on quicksand, my friend, because your mother will break your heart when its time for her to break your heart.
The only way you can beat death is to one day sit back and say you treated your mother right, that you did not squander your moments with her, that you resolved disagreements in good time and didn’t let them drag on for months. That you aren’t still sulking because she called your girlfriend a toad, or a turd.
She won’t always be there tomorrow and when she is gone, because she will go and I promise you that you will crave for her like you crave for water on a dry hot day. You will see an old photo of hers that will drag your emotions into this furious whirlwind of nostalgia and pain and loss.
So call her. Call your mom today.
Happy Mother’s Day to all Moms. Alive and departed.
You may have heard by now, we (yes “we” as this blog is not just about me) won the Best Creative Writing Award category at this year’s Kenya Blog Awards. Again. Three years in a row! It’s inexplicable, the faith and commitment you guys have in this blog. And I’m speechless. I’m grateful that the random ramblings of my thoughts captured so many loyal fans. Is thank you, enough? Can it start covering my gratitude? I doubt it. But thanks for being here, for reading, for sharing and for running into me in public and resisting the urge to stare at my forehead. I’m humbled.