I have always termed myself a super woman because I have helped my uncles in skinning cows and dehorning bulls. Even the sheep have tasted my prowess in chopping off those fatty tails of theirs. The only test I was yet to accomplish was bearing children. I was doing well in other areas, as a grown woman should. Bills. Salon. Rent. Transport. Check. Pizza, Guarana budget, check. Insurance policies, done. Churchill live, Yemi Alade concert, my pocket. Then good news came before I had rehearsed how to celebrate, baby was on the way sooner than I thought! Chingano was bringing fourth chinganolette.
Then it’s like my late granny, Kukhu Njekeche discovered I was not giving birth to her. The man, who broke her heart after marrying another wife, was reincarnating in my womb. I was bringing forth a boy! My grandpa had married a young girl. 16 years. Spring chicken, untouched. Intact. Eh, Kukhu Njekeche was not happy. She cursed Kuka Mengo. Those two never got along ever since.
So I think in the underworld, the spirit that was meant to look after me and my baby notified Kukhu of the good news. That I was in the family way…but bad news- I was bringing forth a bull. Omusinde. Not a girl. Kukhu snatched my son. She denied me the chance to carry him in my arms. When we reunite in the underworld, I won’t talk to her. She is an evil spirit.
Anyway, after my son’s unforeseen death, people around me felt I should see a counselor.
“How are you doing, girl?” One of my closest persons asks over the phone, solemnly, months after my son’s death.
“I’m fine. Don’t worry.” I say
“That’s my issue exactly. You can’t keep telling us not to worry,” she says.
“You shouldn’t really. I’m good.”
“Do you need to talk?”
“About what?” I’m getting angry. I can feel myself shake.
“About how you are doing. How you are holding it up. You know.” She speaks.
I exhale. What is wrong with everybody? Why is everyone creating such a big deal? I’m I supposed to be crying over child loss forever? I’m I the first? Or the last? Celine Dion has had uncountable miscarriages. Gabriel Union. Beyonce? And many other women out there, no? Heck, this is normal, isn’t it? Please don’t say no. Heck, I’m not crying again over this. I have schooled myself so many times. I have felt physical pain rip through my heart. I have heard my own heart break into pieces. I have tried patching it up. I have cried until there are no more tears. I have cried until emotions have left my body; I’m numb as far as loving is concerned. I am not going to cry anymore.
Over time, we learn that heart breaks happen all the time, with or without our control and will strike and kill the human part of us. It reaches a time that you walk empty, see nothing, feel nothing. I hate thinking about him; my little man. I hate thinking how much I love him stupidly, hopelessly, desperately. Yet, none of that love mattered when he just didn’t fight one more day. Just one more day.
I told that person calling me, “I’m fine, really.”
“No, you aren’t. I have this counselor friend of mine who-”
“Oh no! I’m not going down that road.” I wail.
“You have to”
“No way! I’m not doing that bullshit for white people.”
“Gosh, see you actually need help,” she concludes and hangs up.
I breathe in and out. Slowly. Slowly.
Heartbreaks, as I was saying, change us. They make us skeptical, slaves of fear. Paranoid. You become so afraid of loving yet you carve for the very love. Heart breaks make us question why we didn’t stick to the heart pumping blood and involved it in big abstract and nonsensical issues. But yet love is why we live, why we wake up, why we work. Love pushes us to go on even when everything is falling apart. We all need love; any kind of love, even love from pets. Its absence kills us softly.
I breath quickly. If he hadn’t died, he would by now be running around the house. I close my eyes. I see him on that tray in hospital, like a specimen. Boy, it killed me. He took my heart with him. It kills me every moment I open my eyes. Is he okay wherever he went? Does someone take care of him? Is he warm? Is he okay, dammit? Did he meet my maternal grandmother and she recognized him? Or is he lonely? A lonely child, on his own, mute, not talking to other fellas? Does he miss me? And his dad? Is he happy there? Is he well fed or is he still dying? Gracious Lord, it kills me every day. It kills me every night I close my eyes. It kills me that I love and want him, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I have died so many times trying to reach him, connect with him, breastfeed him. I have craved to hold him, just one time. But I can’t. I see him everywhere. I close my eyes and I see him staring at me with a smile. Sometimes I’m so sure he is alive. I see him, right in front of me. Right here! Right now! But when I stretch my hand to touch him, he moves back. Every damn time! He fails to hold my hand. He does not love me. I constantly have this longing to prove to him that I loved and still love him, if only he holds my hand. But he is just a ghost; I see him, I hear his coos and laughs, but I cannot touch him. Will my death enable me to hold him? To touch him? Will it?
Whoever had called came to my house, unannounced and I wanted to look at her through the window and ask her, “How may I help you, miss? Are you lost? Oh, you looking for Pamba? She doesn’t live here anymore. It’s been months since she died. Sorry.” Then I shut the window, draw curtains, lock the door and push furniture to act as a barricade.
“I got worried and decided I couldn’t take one more minute away,” she says.
“You are so dramatic!” I say to her.
“Now, once you see this counselor, you’ll feel better. You’ll open up.”
“Why do you feel the need for me to open up? The baby died and that’s it. Nothing can bring him back. Even if I talked for hours on end. Don’t you get it?”
She pauses, arranging her words carefully before speaking,
“I get it sweetie. You see you never tell us how you feel, how you felt, what you are feeling now. You ignore that topic and I think-”
“Because I don’t want to talk about it! Wacha tu ikae. Let’s just move on, please?” Was I shouting at her? My poor friend.
See, with death, you can’t move on. You can’t move on because your heart stopped beating when theirs stopped too. How will you move on without a heart? Aren’t you dead already, practically? Moving on implies that you are okay that death happened and you accepted its verdict. You can never be okay when death strikes. You cannot.
“Sweetie, I know you are strong. But something tells me you need help.” She says sweetly.
This girl has been there for me, all the time. See those girls you can trust with your life? She’s the one. For me. So, out of propriety, not love, I decided to see her counselor friend. I swore I’d just sit and tell that counselor straight up,
“Look, Mimi said I should see you and I agreed because she insisted. Otherwise, please call and tell her I’m fine.”
Miss Gachara, the counselor, is like an old matron or that old history teacher whose voice grates your nerves.
“So how are you feeling, mum?” the lady counselor said, after Mimi dropped me.
“Hey, I’m not a mum, I lost that right the moment my son died,” I snap and she looks at me, like I had just told her good news. She smiles.
“Keep talking, please,” She says.
“I’m not a mum. I was going to be a mum, but it slipped through my fingers. Right here, through my fingers.” I say, gesturing at the spaces between my fingers.
Have you ever done a marathon and you are a hundred meters to the finish line? The feeling is overwhelming. You are so close yet so far. I was this close to being a mother. That final lap. All I’m left with are ultra sound print outs. I leapt when I saw his incredible kicks, his gymnastics turns. Did I see a tear in his father’s eyes? Oh what a moment! I touched the beeping screens, all my teeth exposed. That was the closest I got to him.
All I’m left with are the blurred images of his scan. I study the scribblings about his dimensions and growth intently. I put them next to me when I sleep. Sometimes I hold them close to my heart and weep like it has just happened. It eases my pain, yet it burdens me afresh, that he was this close, yet so far.
On the night he died, the doctor did not allow me to carry him. I labored hard, still hoping for a miracle. He took him from between my legs and placed him on a tray! A metallic tray! I had his white shawls, but they did not wrap him. They left him all cold, naked and numb, at 3 am, on a tray, like he wasn’t human. I could stab that doctor, even today. I could dismember his body and place the parts on a tray.
“It must be a terrible feeling!” She says.
“It is not a feeling. It is a state. An eternal state of emptiness and torture. Empty. Like a vacant room.”
“Yes. I feel hollow. Like I don’t have a heart, flesh bones. You know. Just an empty body.”
“I know how you feel. I know that emptiness.”
I look at her wishing it was with renewed interest. She cannot possibly know how I feel. This is a scam! She has few strands of white hair. The skin around her neck is not folded; she’s not elderly. But looking at her depresses me more. Her voice is fading, becoming distant like an echo in a dark cave, then it ceases to be an echo and becomes a buzz. I can’t do this. I don’t need this in my life.
I can’t hear the rest of her words. I do not want to. I want to ask her just one question: does she know if my son flew? If it is true they grow wings. But if mine died before his time, did he crawl to heaven? Had his wings really grown? Have they grown now? Man, this pain is too much.
Rest my son. Rest.