The smell of freshly painted wood intermingles with the stench of body preservative and slightly decaying body. The Kisumu sun hits the iron sheet roof in earnest. We have just arrived from the New Nyanza mortuary.
Inside people sing….in the wooden box that is on the table at the center of the room is the body of my cousin Achieng’. Her mouth is covered in cotton wool…she looks like a black doll.
My younger sister who has been her best friend since childhood sobs silently in her white handkerchief. She just cries so painfully, her tiny body frame shaking, her nose running, the salt inescapable.
My mama’s voice can be heard, distinctly singing:
Mayienga roho yiengo piny….
Mayienga…roho yiengo piny….
The mighty one is shaking the universe…the mighty one is shaking the ground. The mighty one is shaking the world that He created with His own hands….
My sister still cries. She just holds her stomach and lets out a deep scream. She reaches for the wall and turns against the casket. So sadly. So helplessly. So f painfully. Then she squats when the weight of the sorrow and mourning overwhelms her and cries some more.
“Ghai….ghai….mimi siskii poa…naumwa na kichwa” she whispers as tears slide effortlessly and seep through her closed eyes when my big sister goes to hold her.
My mama sings.
My mama she claps and sings.
“Madibikonya loyo lweny Yesu Lwanda….” Come help me fight these battles….the song says.
Her voice rising like something urgent that needs to be released. She solos the songs and people join. My aunty’s voice shakes….she tries to sing, but she cant, so she cries too.
I sing with my mama and others. Voices rising, people clapping till the voices and claps merge into a deafening cresendo, drowning my aunty’s cries. Drowning the slow sobs emanating from my sisters body.
With that one irrational stroke of finality, my cousin alters EVERYTHING. I will tell you how….
Let me start from the top….
I was asleep when my mama called….
“Achieng’ has committed suicide…”
“my sister’s daughter killed herself..”
I remember my stomach twisting- I remember nausea rising- I remember getting an instant headache slowly forming at my left temple. I remember thinking about my cousin Achieng’.
Tell me. What do you say when your little cousin, at 19 years takes a rope and hangs herself in her mother’s compound.?
When the demons inside her drown the good voice and whispers incessantly that she needs to end things. When the demon clasps her soul and makes her do something that changes the fiber of the entire family.
I cant write this without crying. I hate what depression can do, I hate how it can drive someone to a corner till all they see is stark blackness. I hate how depression can blind someone till they forget that there is a way out. I hate how life can seem to be so damn hard and then the devil sneaks in and whispers that the only way out is to end it.
When I call my aunty later that day, her first words are: “Shetani alimuiba, shetani alimuiba ndio akafanya hivyo….
“the devil stole my baby.”
The words sound so eerie and creepy. Something inside me just shifts.
Oh Jehova, I will never, even in paradise, forget those words. Never!
And then the battle begins. My aunty tries to speculate what could have driven her go getter child to kill herself. She seeks for answers. We help her….we ransack her room to see if she left a note. We call her friends, we go through her phone. We look, we search the whole fucking house. We get into her facebook….
Then my aunty breaks down when she cant find any clue. Like a defeated mother. We hold hands and we cry because when the sorrow is too thick, when the confusion is too heavy, when the pain is too deep, words are inadequate. No words. But even in that silence, in the unspoken words, we wondered….
What would drive a 19 year old into committing suicide?
Ati while my aunty was bent on the scorching sun, planting sukuma wiki her fingers deep in the dirt, inserting roots into earth, Achieng, my cousin was in the cow shed considering which chord would be strong enough to wrap around her neck, lift her from the ground, elevate her body and terminate her life….
I imagine her watching her mother bent over and I do not even want to think about the turmoil in her head as she held that rope and made that damn final call. I feel so sorry for her….so fucking sorry…
I imagine her hollowness swallowing her whole.
I imagine the inadequacy that could have filled her for her to cut out her breath. I imagine the inner pain…and then worse, I imagine the selfishness…of how she didnt think about the broken things that she would leave behind.
How she didnt think of her best friend my sister, with whom they went to school, my sister who shared a bed with her and they talked about stuff. I wonder if she thought about my sister.
I just imagine…
“I went to the cow shed to get a bucket, and I found her…I found her hanging, alone, tongue stuck out, and I know I shouldnt have, but I just rushed and held her, because I thought she might still be alive….but she was dead. She was gone. She was so cold. Then the police came and cut her off, and she fell so hard on the ground that her forehead got a deep dent…” my aunty said so slowly, so fucking painfully, that I cried.
At the funeral, my aunt threw herself on the casket screaming blood curling screams… as only a mother could, “Achienge’ My baby. Achibooooo, Achieng’ Mayie Achibo….My baby, mayie nyara, my daughter….”
She cried until I felt something charge fiercely at my heart. I felt the worst feeling. I felt soooo sorry. And all I could think of was: I am so sorry….
AYAYAYAYAYE, Baba, NIKILEMEWA NISHIKE!
Oh dear Lord, Just I am without one plea…..laaaaaamb of God I COME!
Oh No! …the night is nigh. The end is near. I fear getting into the night!
So, we gather around that hole that is ready to swallow my little cousin, and my mother leads us into singing:
Hodi hodi nyumbani mwako bwana
Ninabisha nifungulie, nimekuja nyumbani mwako leo…
nakuja na sala zangu eh bwana, nakuomba uzikize….
and then Achieng is inserted that hole and dust is thrown upon her…and her mother cries. And my sister…she goes on her knees…she cries near that hole. And then my mama holds my sister….oh NO!
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, Rage, rage, rage… against the dying of the light.
And my heart was shattered.
A thousand tiny pieces.
Then my sister tells my mama days later that she cant get images of Achieng’s body hanging on a noose off her head, off her dreams, off her everything. So, my mama, she tells us all to light candles and pray for Achieng’s soul to rest in peace.
Oh Lord in heaven…forgive us our sins. Forgive us our mighty sins. Forgive our moments of rush decisions. Forgive us our trespasses…because we have danced with the devil, we have drunk from sinful pots, now we return home to you…
After Achieng’s suicide, I thought about my Aunty Monic’s words repeatedly,” Shetani alimuiba. The demon got hold of her”
And it made sense.
When we feel extreme and inexplicable darkness. When we try to take a step into the future but we cant lift our feet. When we we are going through difficulties, when we feel the soul getting heavy, when we feel weary inside….he is the monster living in that abyss, he is the one who magnifies things till they seem so impossible. He is the one who takes an issue, and makes us worry about it. He is the one who plunges us into the shitty hole of depression. It is the devil who gets hold of our thoughts and blinds us from the fact that the darkest hour is next to dawn. He is the one who spews hate and steps on our energy.
Unfortunately, Achieng will never know this…. She is dead. Along with her radiant smile.
Oh Jehovah, deliver us from evil….
So, I am here to tell you today, you who feels like things are not going right. I am speaking to you who feels like you are misunderstood. You who sometimes feel like there is a void so huge in you, it can only be filled by death. I am speaking to you who feels like your relationship has hit the proverbial rocks, you feel like you are not loved, you feel a deep sense of loss, you lost a loved one. I am talking to you whose name is being shredded all over, you who people have stabbed, you who has lost hope in humanity, you who thinks people do not care, you who thinks that the darkness is too deep…i am here to tell you that someone CARES. That people care, sometimes they may never know how to express that they love you….
Listen, the past, the present, they may be too painful for you. You might be so confused right now, you might feel hopelessness soaring inside you, the finances might have gone down, you might be looking at the future and thinking, you will not make it, but HEY, look, it only lasts for a while. I know it sounds cliché but it is true.
Maybe you got a bad diagnosis, maybe you are seeking for inner happiness and you cannot find it. Maybe you too have contemplated ending it, but maaaaaaan, the pain you leave behind when you do it, it is too deep, everything just changes. And death is so permanent, you could have just hanged on on the other end and see how beautifully the flower blossoms.
I too have been there, I have gone through that pain, and I am here to tell you, it lasts only for a brief while, and then slowly, joy creeps in, and you become whole again. There is a chance for restoration of the self…if only you hang on.
People care. Really, they do.