(My Father died exactly three months ago, on a date like today’s – 23rd – and at the exact time this blog post will go up – 11:44 a.m. These are some of the events leading to his passing. As well as my way of dealing with it.)
I stay with my father for two or three weeks at home; making him shitty porridge and humongous Ugali that he doesn’t even touch and helping him type work stuff on his laptop and sending mails on his phone and acting as his escort to wherever he needs to go because he’s weak and could fall at any given moment and would need someone to pick him up when that happens.
Then he leaves for the airport one brisk morning on his way to a hospital in Nairobi West; he’s accompanied by my Mum and one of his best friends in the teaching profession who offers to drive them to Kisumu International Airport (you have to say it full like that) in his car. That morning, he wakes up weaker than he has throughout the entire time I have been with him. His legs are swollen and he’s shaking and he only points at stuff he wants brought to him because he feels pain every time he speaks. My Mum tells me she’ll call me soon as they get to Nairobi and I wish them a safe journey. That evening, my brother texts, telling me the old chaps never made it to Nairobi and are still in Kisumu. I call my Mum and she says Mzee could not be allowed into a plane in the situation he was in; and so he was admitted at Aga Khan Hospital – Kisumu – ward, Bed 10.
For the first couple of days he seems jovial and settled and comfortable. He takes all the medicine provided by the doctor and even asks for more. He smiles with everyone that comes to visit him and tells them not to worry because, “…I’m fine, I’ll be back on my feet in no time.” And then he laughs so loudly it feels like the heavens are pulling apart. He talks to the Luo nurses in Luo and the Kikuyu nurses in pathetic broken Swahili because if there was one thing that man could not do even if it had a billion-shilling reward was speak proper Swahili; and he was unapologetic about it because he came from a place best known for sugarcane and the highest number of chang’aa drinkers in the whole county. A place the government – in 2009 – recognized as the most rural place in Kenya. A place people pay to be signed onto WhatsApp and Facebook. A place people could not pronounce the President’s name if they tried so they just call him ‘Ouru.’
He asks me if the money he left us for food and basic necessities back home when he was leaving for the hospital has run out and I say, “No, we’re still good for a couple or so days.” He makes as if to reach for his wallet and my Mum stops him, tells him to rest and not to bother himself about big boys. He laughs and tells me, “You heard your mother, you’re big boys now.” I say, “Yes, we are, we’ll find a way.” And, with that, he leans back on his chair and my mother walks me out as one of his best friends comes in to see him. Two seconds later, the laughter coming from his ward could deafen a family of bats. I say to myself, “Ah, he’ll be good.” And I run downstairs to the hospital cafeteria for a soda. Then I go back home in the evening because my kid cousin is alone at home and he’s already texting, asking what we’re having for supper.
I do not go back to the hospital for a while (and regrettably so) because, at some point, my Mum lies to me that the hospital has slapped a ‘no-visitors’ policy on my Dad. Then my brother texts one evening asking why I do not go to see Mzee and I tell him Mum said visitors are not allowed at the moment and he tells me that was a whole load of bollocks; that she was probably only trying to protect me because Mzee was getting bad. Real bad. I scrap around for fare from friends and make my way early the following morning.
I get there and my father does not recognize me. Just stares at me blankly, breathing in and out, stomach fattened. There are only a few things that can hurt a man deeply – texting the girl you think is your soul mate in 2015 and she replies in 2017; rushing into marriage with a woman because you ‘love’ her only to later realize her Chapos taste like tissue paper; and then there’s sitting two-feet from your father and him having absolutely no clue who you are, or why someone who looks like a Solex padlock is shedding tears next to his hospital bed. At some point my brother – who had spent the entire night by his bedside, together with my Mum – drops by and notices him struggling to turn over so he helps him do so, and then shouts in his ear, “Have you seen Ian? That is Ian seated back there.” But, still, he does not acknowledge or even make any movements in the affirmative; he just lies there shaking like a leaf in the winter. And nothing has ever broken my heart like that. Nothing probably ever will.
I continue coming every day after that.
And then, on Thursday – 23rd March – I get to the hospital and, after one look at him, excuse myself to go to the Gents. And I cry in there till a stranger comes in and, without even saying a word, offers me a tissue. And I say to myself, “No, that in there is not my father. Can’t be. Impossible.”
Let me explain;
The man I have known my entire life has always been Strong. The man we have all known has always been Strong.
In the wake of the very first year when my father took over at a little-known school in Siaya County – Rang’ala Boys Secondary – as the Principal, succeeding a hugely popular man, the students went on strike. One night, at around 10 p.m. (I remember because it was just after the News and we had been sent away to bed so the adults could watch ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’) the students – about 50 of them, by my rough estimate – surrounded our house and started pelting us with stones. At first, we hid in the bedrooms but soon as a stone went through and hit my sister, we converged at the corridors – as we figured stones could not pass through the walls – and we waited for the tension to die down, all the while taking care not to shit our pants. But those boys were determined to pelt us for as long as they could. So my father went into his bedroom, wore a heavy grey jacket, picked up this monster torch that was so popular in those days, grabbed a big ass rungu, told us to stay in the corridors and walked out the door. Alone. Less than twenty minutes later and those boys were back in class and silence and peace had been restored and he came back. One old man with a torch and a rungu; against over fifty students armed with stones. Folks, you can’t make this shit up.
See, that was my father. That was Thomas Omondi Were; a strong man; a fearless man; a man with balls of steel; a man who faced problems head on and almost always won; a man with a black belt in karate that he never even bragged about.
(I don’t know about you guys but if I had a black belt in karate, I would drop that shit on every conversation. I mean, we could be talking about how tasteless chicken smokies are or how shitty Infinix phones are and I would just blurt out, from nowhere, that “By the way I have a black belt in karate guys.”)
I exit the gents, head back to the ward and say to myself, “Yes, that is definitely not my Father. That man shaking like a frail bird with tears almost welling in his eyes and hooked onto endless pipes to aid in his breathing CANNOT be my Father.” And I say that over and over again in my head until the ward is filled with people – Aunts, Uncles, Friends – and the nurses ask some of us to make room. So I leave and go take a seat at a park near the hospital’s entrance.
About an hour later, I notice my Aunts and Uncles and Sisters coming out of the hospital breaking down. And I think to myself that maybe, like me, they’re just in denial over his present condition. But I decide to go check it out anyway.
I pass my mother in the hallway crying against a friend’s shoulders and, dreadfully, walk into my Father’s ward. I find my brother covering him while singing a song that, for the life of me, I just can’t get out of my head; “…I will sing the wondrous story, of the Christ who died for me…” And, at that moment, even though I’m in denial, it hits me that he’s gone. But I still need someone to confirm it for me. “He’s Dead,” my brother says, amidst his singing. I hear him clearly, but I pretend not to have, so I say, “What?” and he repeats the same words (just this time louder and clearer); He’s Dead.
Time Stamp: 11:44 a.m.
Date: Thursday, 23rd March, 2017.
And so, the story goes, my Father would die a week to my Birthday.
Here’s the thing; I will never understand Death. And I don’t know what criteria God uses to decide whom He takes and whom He leaves in this world. But what I do know is this; my Father did not deserve to go like he did. My Father did not deserve to die that way; frail, half-unconscious most of the time, unable to recognize his own son, unable to walk to the loo so pissing himself in bed and having my Mum and brother clean him up, with his stomach so swollen someone would have thought he swallowed an elephant whole.
The man that raised me – Thomas Omondi Were – did not deserve to go out like that.