When Mama called, I was watching the Africa Cup of Nations 2019 qualifier between Kenya and Ghana in Nairobi. It was a Saturday afternoon and I wasn’t expecting her call. She is one of those people whose calling schedule is predictable.
Moreover, I normally don’t make or pick calls while watching football. Who does that? Who wants to miss a mouth watering goal or a match defining moment? Definitely not me. That call can wait for the final whistle, can’t it? You know, we men just can’t multi-task. However, sometimes we can text or tweet during a game. But we definitely can not hold a conversation over the phone. Well, unless it is Serie A game.
There are people who call just to say hi or to ask whether it’s raining. Or those who call and talk for more than a minute, probably with free airtime, when your team is counter attacking. Come on man, if it’s not an emergency, it can wait until at least half time, if not after full time. But this was an emergency.
There are those calls that come through and you immediately sense something is not right, even before picking up. The abrupt startling vibration and the suspiciously sounding ringtone kind of warn about incoming bad news. Sometimes, you can just feel it coming. I dread such calls. I hope I will never get to receive those heartbreaking phone-calls.
I stepped out to pick the call and the first thing I heard was her calling my name in distress. She then broke the news and started sobbing uncontrollably. I was left speechless. The only words that made it out of my mouth were “What!?” “Waah!” “I’m so sorry Mum.”
She hang up. Her sister had passed on. My aunt had died. I had last seen her over a year ago and she was full of life at that time. I let the sad news sink in then called her back. She narrated how she had been called by her niece to urgently go and see her sister, only to be referred to a hospital where she found her bedridden.
Mama was right there beside her when, after a word of prayer, Aunty took her last breathe and went through St. Peter’s gate. Mama was left heartbroken. She is the last born daughter in their family and this was her second elder sister to pass away as far as I can remember. Her home was like a second home to us. Whenever I was in Kitale, I always popped into her house for the night.
I don’t know how it feels to lose a sibling but I could feel the pain and anguish in her voice. Death comes incognito and violently robs us of our dearest and closest people. Death doesn’t give a warning. It just shows She was a grandmother, a mother, an aunt, a sister, a teacher, a wife and a daughter. Death just claims the people we love the most. It was a shocker, especially because many of us didn’t even know she was ailing.
A week later, I travelled down the Valley for her burial. I canceled classes and other things. You see when you die, people travel from across the country to come and send you off. They cancel all their plans to be there when you are lowered six feet under and covered with earth. They don’t leave until you are stuck beneath the ground. But when you are alive, you will never see them visiting you, even those who live just around the block.
They wait until you die to contribute money for your burial. But when you were breathing, they didn’t even care whether you had something to eat or not.
Nothing brings people together like death. Not even the happiest of occasions. Not everybody will come for your graduation ceremony, wedding day or birthday party. But on your funeral, the whole clan will come to bury you. Some will come and cry rivers of tears. Others will come to eat and will not leave until they have eaten to their fill. I met people that I had not seen in years. Some had grown so big, so tall, so fat or so old that I barely recognized them. I couldn’t put names to all those faces yet we are all related. There are those that recognized me and those that had to be introduced to me.
We are all so much absorbed in our daily hustles away from our real families in different cities, towns and farms that the only time we ever get together is during funerals. To bury one of our own and then head back to our busy lives until another one dies. Maybe you can meet a girl somewhere and fall in love with her only to find out later – when it’s a little late – that she is your first cousin, or aunt, or grandma’s sister.
On the eve on the burial, I found an elderly lady seated at the fireplace with some other people. She asked me whose son I was and when I told her, she was pleasantly surprised. She told me that she knew me when I was a small boy and that she was my grandma’s younger sister. Grandma, as she insisted on being called, said she was waiting for her daughter who was on her way from Nairobi and who was almost there. “If you knew her you would have travelled with her”, she said. A few moments later, as we sat by the fire talking, her daughter arrived…
Rest In Peace Aunty Mary, until we meet again. Cancer has claimed so many of our people, but will one day be defeated.
If a man can stop watching football to pay attention to you, unless it’s a Serie A game, marry that guy. They are very rare those ones.