Dear reader, after almost a years’ hiatus, I am back to scribbling. I had decided not to bore you with the details of why I went MIA but because I enjoy torturing you with long prose and unnecessary loquaciousness, I cannot bypass such an opportunity.
The year 2021 has been a year of growth and important milestones for me but at the same time, has been the most sorrowful. Since I enjoy your disquiet, I will dwell on the sorrows and hold back on growth, joy and prosperity.
The year started off not so well with my new neighbour Mali’s house hunting near-disaster. After hearing her woes, I retreated back to my life that was choke-filled with worry for my ailing Daddy. Daddy had been ailing for some time. He had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease some years back and we watched him progressively deteriorate. The thing is, the disease was eating away at his mental faculties but his physical strength remained great, thanks to Mummy’s expert nursing and loving care.
However, sometime in late 2020, Daddy was rushed to hospital with pneumonia. He was treated and made a full recovery. However, he was not the same after that. The disease started affecting him physically and he became weaker by the day. He moved rapidly from self-feeding to being fed and then from solid to semi-solid foods. He spent most of his days and nights sleeping and barely walked. Before the pneumonia attack, he would take thirty-minute to one-hour walks around the village each evening. He also stopped speaking.
In March 2021, the COVID vaccine came with the elderly being given priority. Daddy and Mummy got their first dose of the vaccine, the second dose being due at the end of May. A few weeks after the vaccine, Daddy got another pneumonia attack. Since difficulty in breathing was one of the main symptoms of COVID, he was isolated in the HDU as COVID tests were done. The tests returned negative for COVID, much to our relief. He was treated for pneumonia and made another full recovery.
After that, Daddy was healthy and seemed to have regained his strength, taking walks around his hospital room and in the garden outside. He even spoke to my mother, asking for porridge and other foods when he was hungry. The date of his discharge arrived and he asked my brother where they were taking him. When my brother said that they were taking him home, he got upset and refused to walk or talk. We theorize today that Daddy did not want to get out of the hospital alive, the disease had fatigued him.
He arrived home and had to be carried around by my brother and by his caregivers. Exhausted by the physical exertion, my brother consulted and we agreed that it was time to buy a wheelchair. We had been putting this off for some time as we were in denial of Daddy’s physical state. We had been hoping against hope that he would regain his strength and walk again.
Daddy’s feeding remained poor, with him only preferring liquids. He refused even the semi-solid foods and we were worried. He never spoke and was constantly asleep. However, on the evening of 2nd May 2021, just after refusing to take his evening porridge (this after also refusing to have his lunch), he told his caregiver Sylvanus, “Do you know that my visitors will fill this compound tomorrow?”
Silvanus looked at Mummy in confusion and Mummy, excited that Daddy’s speech had miraculously returned, engaged him further, “What visitors are these Joe? Are they your friends?”
“My visitors will be milling in this compound from tomorrow and for the next few weeks so you had better get everything ready,” Daddy said.
Excited that Daddy was talking, Mummy did not think much into the meaning of his words. In fact, that evening when I called her, she sounded more upbeat than she had been on previous days and she told me that Daddy was now speaking. However, her efforts to get Daddy to speak to me on phone failed as he had clammed up once again.
Mummy is an optimist and decided to go into the house with Daddy and do a short thanksgiving prayer for his imminent recovery signalled by the regaining of his speech. She opened her Bible, read a verse and then began singing a hymn. After one stanza of her hymn, Daddy joined in the singing. However, he was singing a different song. He sang:
“All to Jesus I surrender, all to Him I freely give,
I will ever love and trust Him, in His presence daily live.
I surrender all, I surrender all.
All to Thee, my blessed Saviour, I surrender all.”
Mummy stopped singing and listened to him. That night, Daddy asked to be taken to bed early at around eight o’clock because he felt tired. Mummy and my brother attributed this to his refusal to eat his meals the whole of that day. After watching the evening news, mummy also went to sleep. Daddy was fast asleep and even snoring.
On the morning of 3rd May 2021, Mummy woke up as per habit to say a prayer at 4:00 a.m. This was something she used to do with Daddy for very many years before his illness. When he got sick, he would remain asleep during the morning prayers but always said “Amen” at the end of the prayer. In fact, when he stopped speaking that would be his only word the entire day.
However, this morning, Daddy did not say his Amen and Mummy switched on the lights alarmed. She touched his face and it was warm and then she touched his feet and they were as cold as death. She lifted his hand and it plopped back onto the mattress, lifeless. Worried, she rang my brother who stayed in his separate house within the compound. My brother rushed to the scene with all the caregiving paraphernalia in hand: temperature gun, blood-pressure machine, oximeter, among others. There were zero readings on all of these gadgets.
They rushed Daddy to hospital and my brother and Mummy watched in futility as the hospital staff struggled to resuscitate him. You see, with Daddy’s disease, he went to hospital for regular check-ups and had become a darling among the hospital staff. They just couldn’t accept that he was gone. It is my brother who had to step in and tell them to accept it and stop the struggle.
I got the call at 5:30 a.m. I was alone in my room as my husband had travelled for work. For some reason, I got out of bed and was standing up to take the call. To this day, I don’t understand why. Anyway, when I got the call, my legs turned to water and I found myself lying in a heap on the cold tiles. I did not cry. I could not utter a single sound!
Still on the floor, I rang my husband. His phone was off. I tried his driver – phone off as well. I lay on the floor looking at my phone like it had an answer to a question that I had no courage to ask. My eldest sister had informed me of the loss, broken and tearful, and now, my second sister was calling, also broken and tearful. My mother’s sister Rephar called, also in a state of collapse.
Then calls started coming in and I ignored them all. For some strange reason, I calmly rose from the floor and kneeling beside the bed, went to the Kenya Airways and Jambo Jet websites searching for available flights for that day. We were all home in my father’s compound by 6:00p.m. that evening and the home was abuzz, just like my father had predicted the day before.
After the funeral I returned to Nairobi and, on Mummy’s advice, went straight to work. “You will feel less lonely surrounded by work and colleagues,” she told us. I took her advice and dove into work with both feet.
As the month of May and the rest of the year progressed, I noticed one thing. I just could not write. Not even a sentence! I felt like it was a struggle, a burden. Like I had tied a millstone around my neck and was walking up a steep slope. I had started working on my third novel before Daddy left us but I just could not work on it any further. I did what writers do – put it away and come back to it after a few weeks to see if my writers block had lifted. However, when I returned and read what I had written, I hated it. My story was ashy and my characters lifeless, just like my father. Just like Daddy!
The other reason I knew there was a problem is that my mind was quiet. From the moment I collapsed on the cold floor after getting the call, my mind was quiet. I don’t know about you, but I have never had a quiet mind. My mind is always talking. There is always a sort of committee in my mind having a debate or a deliberation. The committee was gone.
This is how I discovered that Daddy was my muse. Daddy was an avid reader and it was he who introduced me to the wonderful world of storybooks. He had bookshelves with novels which I read and reread and still read. I never get tired of those books. I now have a library of my own.
Anyway, when I write, I always feel that I am writing for Daddy. Every writer re-reads their story over and over again and each time, I read it in Daddy’s voice. I hear Daddy telling me, “That grammar does not sound right,” or “Your grandfather would have used this proverb to illustrate this point.” Now, I did not have Daddy’s voice within me as I read over my work.
Another strange discovery I made from this deep silence is that because I write for Daddy and read my work in his voice, I cannot write a book with a female lead character. I have tried several times, and I have failed. I have these dead stories sitting in my computer complete with titles. They include; Simakhulu, Ambura the Rain Goddess and Nanjala Tracks a Poacher. I did succeed in writing a short story with a female lead, “The COVID Outlaw” published by Langaa Publishers but this woman had to have strong supporting male characters for me to be able to tell the story.
My second novel, Wakhaba will Marry, was actually initially titled Bwibo. Bwibo is the title given to a princess of the Wanga kingdom and one of her praise phrases is having seven legs, meaning that she can marry up to seven husbands and still overpower all of them. Bwibo, the novel was therefore going to be about the seven relationships of this Wanga princess with her finally settling down with the seventh one. As you know, Daddy’s voice was at the fore and Bwibo turned to Wakhaba and the story of his six lovers.
These discoveries about my writing were very eye-opening and in January 2022, I decided that enough was enough. My mind was too quiet. I felt lonely and wanted my committee back. I wanted Daddy’s voice back. Daddy was alive in my heart and in my mind because, I believe that an African does not die! I just had to dig deep, past the shock and the grief and find Daddy’s voice.
Suddenly, I remembered a poem my brother had composed and posted on Facebook in 2016. I felt the strong urge to re-read that poem for I felt that it had a message for me. Going to Facebook, I searched for my brother’s profile and then scrolled through all his posts. I relaxed when I found what I was looking for. The poem that was only resonating with me today –
“An African does not die!”
“My grandfather once told me,
An African does not die.
My educated self,
Thought it a lie.”
“How could it be,
That mortals did not die?
I challenged his wisdom,
And so he explained.”
“The body is a vessel,
Which ensnares our souls.
It is only when the vessel breathes its last,
That the soul is free at last.”
“Now in spirit it is free to live,
At home with the ancestors,
One with nature,
Free to fly above the clouds and explore the depths of sea,
Free to see what the vessel could not see.”
“So when he died,
I did not moan.
I knew he was free,
Perhaps sat atop my favourite tree,
Preparing a place for me.”
“An African does not die!”
This poem by Nikola Joseph Wamukoya rekindled Daddy’s voice in me. My writer’s block lifted. The committee in my head returned. This post is the evidence. Look out for the next post as I am here to stay!