It came down hard in my village. Trees swayed in the storm and wet dogs whimpered under awnings. Cattle stood stoic in this rain, heads bowed as if in prayer. The next day, it was discovered that the unruly water had breached a ditch that had been dug to redirect it out of the boma, and clawed the back of my simba. If ever there was a house clawed by water, that was it. It was like an animal had tried mauling the house from the bottom and got scared by daylight and scrammed.
My mum called me while standing by my simba and said something like, “You really have to send money to fix this house or it will be swept into the river.” I took the call in an ATM booth, phone pressed against my ear and shoulder. Even above the droning hubbub of traffic on Limuru Road, I could clearly hear the morning birds that usually come after the rain. I told her, I’ll send the money by the end of the week. What was the rush, right? Why throw money at a house you hardly stayed in?
Two days later my mom was dead.
And that was that. You want to die too. You want to follow her. Because the world suddenly feels vacuumed of any hope or reason. You are suddenly alone and the journey ahead seems dark and pointless. Everything is suddenly tasteless and colourless; it matters not if you wear a red or black shirt. You don’t remember the dreams you had. You don’t remember why you got out of bed in the morning. People who haven’t lost their mothers tell you, ‘It shall be well.’ People who have lost their mothers tell you, “I know how you feel.” You want to smash a small flower pot on their heads.
You cry a lot. Sometimes you are not even aware that you are crying. Even when you are not crying, you feel tears inside you. Sadness clings on your clothes and stains your heart like ink on a sponge. When you wake up you are deeply disappointed it wasn’t a nightmare. It seems highly improbable that your mother, your invincible mother, could die.
You know you will never get better. You are sure you will die sad. You want to die sad.
Sometimes even now – many years in – I see my mom in a crowd, in a bus going the opposite direction, in vivid dreams where I can’t speak to her, or I see her shoes on feet in the streets or hear her cough in a busy banking hall. Last time I saw her was last year, in traffic along Mombasa Rd. I was making that U-turn opposite Sameer Business Park to eventually head into Enterprise Road. As I got into the acceleration lane, looking to join the flow of traffic, I happened to see her. She was seated on the passenger seat of a banged-up pickup, the type with their front flanks written, “P.K Maina, PO Box 78 Nyandarua.” A man was driving. It was a glimpse, a flash of her face and the car quickly passed. In a moment of desperation, of madness, I raced after the pickup but I couldn’t catch up. I saw mummy in traffic, I told my brother, because he’s the only one who wouldn’t think this was fucked up. I narrated the event. That was probably her, he finally said solemnly as if he was the gatekeeper of the Otherworld. Grief is the manure from which insanity germinates from.
Sometimes I think we die and we come back under strict instructions not to contact our kin and kith. Or maybe you come back but your memory is erased. You start a different life depending on how you were in the previous life. If I die right this moment, I think I will come back as a donkey and do manual labour for some sins I have committed. Or maybe when you die you just die. You never come back. You stop being you. You are a breeze that dies on its own breath.
Death of your mom is like a tattoo in your heart, sadly everybody eventually gets theirs.
Today, nine years ago, my mom had one day to live. Naturally, I’m observing a week’s silence in memory of her. Rest in Peace, Ajim.
And to you with mothers, love them before you start chasing random pickups.
Oh, and Happy Mothers Day to mothers reading this.
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