“I think I am going to kill myself.” She said it. She finally said the words that I feared most. In a quiet voice, relaxed, like she did not mean it. Or did she?
I looked up at her through the billowy cloud of darkness that had started covering her light face. The evening sun was going away, the darkness was falling, and the tender loneliness of a night creeping in. In the quietness of that moment, I could partly feel her profound sorrow sink down my heart without apologies. Like a drill bit boring through the walls of heart without a tip of mercy.
Did she say that she was going to kill herself? I wondered. I looked into her light eyes for a span of a time long enough to cause an itchy discomfort. But short enough for a human who was changing an internal gear of a gone-wrong conversation.
What am I supposed to say? What do people tell people that are suicidal? I asked myself. At that juncture, I knew that I needed to compose an accurate and comforting reply, a task that demanded of me to peruse the words I had either read or heard in films from persons and characters who had saved suicidal people. Multiple ideas were running through my mind, all entangled and jumbled like a cotton string in a toddler’s hands.
The voices in my head were now ringing so loudly. Loud enough for me to say the apparently life-saving words. I needed to say something. Something comforting. Something that would either break her already broken life or mend the crevices in her heart. At that moment, nothing else matters. Words. There was a violent pulse beating at the back of my ears. I could hear every beat knock and knock in that boring succession.
What the fuck are you talking about?
I thought of saying this to her but I deep inside me, I knew what she was talking about. Death. Murder. Taking away your life.
Jesus no, you matter and you can’t kill yourself.
It was the second line I thought of. This one needs a bit of dramatization, and there was no way I was going to make it sound real. So, I quit that option.
Oh, stop that, we will figure it out, please.
Maybe there wasn’t time to figure things out, I thought.
There was no time to think about my response either.
“Come on, you can’t say that!”, I finally muttered. Like a ghost that was in the wrong realm. Or like a commander at the battlefield who had just given the wrong command to his subordinates. A command that will see the entire troop slaughtered by a sharp enemy’s bayonets. So, I ended up telling her not to say about it. Was that even close to being right?
What else could I have told her?
“I don’t want mum to call me, so, take this.”
She hurriedly said as she reached out to her breast pocket and handed me a note. It was folded once, unproportionate enough that the note’s ends did not lap on each other. Before I could say anything, she pounced a quick hug on my shoulders. The kind of hugs that American kids offer their parents before they leave for school. So brief yet enough to keep the peace at per. I did not get to hug her back. She was already walking away. I looked at her walking past the lush green flowers, past the car park with a shed and loosely nailed pieces of wood for a wall, and into the house. There was a silent creak from the closing metallic door. She disappeared into the invisible insides of the huge house. Like a soul that had matched into a dark mausoleum in the 1200s. Never to be seen or heard from again.
Who knows? Maybe this was the last time to disappear. These days, we wake up to all sorts of surprises. Sometimes, you sleep with both arms and wake up with one or without any. You go to work with a happy face only to ride back home inside a bus whose driver will crash you all at the roundabout. You leave your house a healthy man and walk back through the doors, carrying a virus that will cost your parents life. Worse, you sleep with all yourself and wakeup without your head. You work in a warehouse, and from the warehouse, the ugly face of death is staring at you, calculating what to take from you and what to leave for you. Because these days, choosing to live is taking the biggest risk ever.
I picked up the rusting hoe and walked towards the gate. Too much time spent at their home and my mum would start asking questions. And questions were what I least wanted. Often, questions don’t always come with a hint of an answer. The least you can do is think about the questions and leave them to answer themselves.
Was she going to kill herself that night? I asked myself as I watched the bushy flowers walk against me. The well-trimmed fence at the compound was playing tricks to my eyes. Or maybe my mind was playing tricks on the bushes. I couldn’t tell. But in my mind, there were images of a baby elephant hiding in the bush, or a silhouette of a gene’s figure, waiting to pounce on me before I could open the gate’s knob. When the thoughts of suicide master the courage of your heart, you become a dwarf of your world.
The first time I met her, she was coming from the famous church, St Joseph Allamano church. Normally, she would take a bike home even if her home was less than a kilometer away. It was on a hot Sunday afternoon and apparently, the gods of rain had possibly gone on a summer vacation that the sun was so hot. In the middle of a sermon, my mother had asked me to go clean the house because tata wa harrier (the auntie who owns a harrier) was coming to visit that afternoon. She, the girl from the church, was going home because she thought the priest was telling so much about heaven and Israel.
She was on a long yellow dress which I would later joke about. That her grandfather must have been a Kamba because Kamba people are said to love yellow. We walked and talked about sports and animal feeds. We spoke about how many kids Moi had and how far a dog can smell its owner. She told me she loved avocados so much that she was once suspended from school for smuggling in a carton of avocados to school. I told her that I wanted to meet queen Elizabeth before she dies and she laughed at that because who gets to have their wishes fulfilled? We often get what is coming for us. Or rather, we just live and let things happen to us without control. We spoke and spoke. A lot more than we ever thought we could. But even in the entirety of the talk, I was never prepared for the dark stories laying ahead.
The weeks that followed were not any different. Their home was a few houses from our place and our parents were working together. Whenever my dad sent me to buy eggs from their place, we would chat with her at the poultry house as if we were waiting for chickens to lay the eggs. Sometimes, she would be sent to come to borrow our wheelbarrow because the chicken had shitted an extra layer of manure in their house. She would tell me that the guy who invented a wheelbarrow must have patented the invention.
I said I never had an idea of who first came up with the thought of a wheelbarrow. She said she did. I persuaded her to tell me this incredible story of an invention. She had then said that I should ask Noah of the Bible. And even from her comics and deep talks, there was no way for me to know what she was going through. Until it was too late. Maybe it was too late. Maybe. But only maybe.
I remember one Sunday when she told me a story about her yellow dress and her pink bicycle.
“Leave my dress alone, I can donate it to you if you want.” She detested, so religiously without a touch of its darkness.
“Why would you buy a long yellow dress in this century?” I had asked.
“Because. Because my dad bought this dress for me on my birthday. And I must wear it on Sundays because he doesn’t buy you gifts to wrap and hide in the wardrobe.
Okay, how do you feel about that, it is bad and good, I guess.
“Well, it’s mostly good. But sometimes the bright color does not always mean a bright gift.
“And how is that, Kitui mangoes have a yellow color and they are really sweet, right? I asked.
That day, she tabled a story of her misery with her dad and mum. A story that picked more stories from the archives of her mind and flowed from her soul like the waters of a huge river with dark humor. Just when you think that the bad things in your life have swum across your eyes, worse things on other peoples’ lives dive through your ears. Mostly, all her recollections were tied to the very first weird story she could remember. She did not tell her stories because she thought they had no life in them. Yet all along, the poison that would have her give me a note this evening was cooking up. Waiting to explode on my face, our faces.
It was her 7th birthday and they were living in Banana, Kiambu. Her small room was filled with Delamare bottles and biscuit wrappings from the yogurts and biscuits she always got after school. There were a few dolls on her cot and one big teddy bear with big cat-like eyes that was hanged to the ceiling by the neck. There was a study lamp on her small mahogany table. She had spent nights there reading Cinderella’s stories. But when she closed her eyes, there were images of a father’s penis rubbing across her small and tender hands. There were whole lots of her mother’s breasts dancing in front of her eyes, even after she was weaned more than five years ago. Only the huge teddy bear that was always committing suicide on her room’s ceiling witnessed her Sunday afternoons.
On that 7th birthday, her father, who was working in a military camp walked into the house and asked the nanny to go tend the laws. She had seen them a couple of times chat and place hands on each other at the tractor that was sleeping dead behind their house. Human touch, she thought. Sometimes she had seen them throw pillows to each other before slamming the bedroom door.
And even years after her mum had disappeared, the nanny had moved into her father’s house. They never stopped slamming the door after a pillow’s fight. It wasn’t her business, was it? As long as she got all she wanted, she was good to play with her dying teddy bear and her dolls. Or so did her life appear to be.
He had bought her birthday daughter a treat, quite bigger than the one he always brought before coming home, wrapped together in a carton with colorful ribbons. From Delamare yogurt to tomato chips, chocolate bars, and a variety of candies. There was also a separate carton with floppy shoes, she loved them so much that she still keeps them even if she doesn’t wear them. That was the first time she saw a penis. Her father had cuddled her with an old birthday song. He had kissed her on the chin because that is what good fathers do. He had kissed her again on her lips because that is what lovely fathers do. But he had kissed her hard. Harder than romantic fathers should.
That moment, she did not feel bad or wrong about it, as she recalled. Her father had kept the songs longer than birthday songs take, and the kissing had now become bubbling and calculated. She had not seen in her favorite cartoons. She thought her father was trying to make her birthday special. She smiled at him. Maybe she should not have smiled but smiling is what good daughters do. And so, the specialty of a birthday party went on. She had asked him if she could invite her only friend from school, Joy Ann, but he had said that Joy Ann’s mother did not like her mother.
Now she was here, together with a dad and a nanny, yet alone. Many times, we want to feel connected to the world but what we feel is a string of broken ties. Like you are all alone on a planet of billions of people. Like you are a single entity drowning in a vast and dark sea.
His father grabbed her angelic but feeble hands, saying that it was okay. It was already a birthday getting strange but the strangeness is what some good fathers bring. He touched her neck, and for the first time, it did not feel the same. It was like her skin had all of a sudden developed sensitivity to the same hands that had patted her back every time she went home. He had touched her chin slowly. And his hands crept through her tight dress.
He had finally opened the zip from where she had known lays a dad’s object for peeing. And there it was. She was staring at a dark flesh, jostling like an excited calf before suckling. He had asked her to hold it, with a rueful smile blend with a kind grin. She hesitated but she finally did. She had touched it. And she would touch innumerable times in the future. She did not cry or rebel or say a word. She just stared into his breathing which was becoming heavy. But she does remember a tingly feeling throbbing through her nerves at the face of a parent’s nakedness. A feeling she was quite familiar with but yet, here it was. Pushing the blood in her veins faster than she thought it should.
Her mother, who left her life when she needed her most, was loving and caring. Sometimes the kind of care or love you least need. She only remembers her gentle caress before she tucked into sleep. Sometimes, she read her the Cinderella’s story before undressing. She remembers her mother’s breasts, like two fleshy balls with a sharp and blacktip for her to pet and sometimes rub. Only her and the teddy bear knows the secrets of her room. And all this long, there was only one way for her to survive. There was only one way to keep the ball of her life racing. Keep her mouth shut. Keep the secret.
When they moved here, things were even worse. His father had been transferred to the 4th Brigade Camp. Their nanny had mysteriously died as her father had narrated to her. She never got to say goodbye to her nanny. Of late, goodbyes come in handy. Like a parable that you only get to hear and never live it. Worse still, you don’t get to say goodbye. People just leave. Or you just leave people. And before you know it, it is over like it never were.
It was no different for her. She had managed to keep the secret but the secret was tired of being kept. It started coming out of her own body. Her dress was becoming shorter and too fitting because her belly was suddenly growing like cancerous cells. The dress that her father had removed from her nakedness nights after nights. Rashes were developing from her groins and her protruding breasts were aching. Breast that her father and his work friend had frenzied on those cold nights.
“Would you love to talk to a counselor?” I had asked her. She did not say yes or no. She only said that her dad was fixing a doctor for her. After that day, we hardly got to see each other.
Until this evening.
I hurried to the store and threw the rusting hoe in the darkness. I rushed to my room and closed the door behind, shouting hello to my parents before they wonder what took me too long to come back home. I quickly opened the note. The paper had been torn off from a Farmers Spin entry book. The lines were hugely spaced and the paper mostly bare. But there between the lines lay the words.
Read Psalms 57:1-6. And be nice, because, it feels nice to be nice, and you don’t lose anything for being nice. I have always wanted to be a normal person. Thank you for being You.
I rummaged through the shelf to find the Bible. Why Psalms 57:1-6? Was it the verse that says what will happen to people who are not nice to suicidal people? Why would I think that she was suicidal in the first place? Was the verse talking about people who judge other people? Why was she thanking me for being me? Who I am? Who am I when secrets leak and sad stories are entrusted to me? Who am I when there is possibly no one else?
When we spoke over the phone last evening, she said that her rash was yet to disappear but the tabs were working just fine. Her councilor’s kids also like her and they are all learning how to dance at the balcony now that our health confines us inside our homes. She also said that she plans on donating her flossy shoes and her pink bicycle, which sounds like a fine thing to me. What serves as a bad reminder to you may serve as a powerful memory to someone else. When I asked her if I can tell people about her story, she said that I am free to tell every ear that can listen.
Parenthood and friendship. They are complicated. Especially when dark secrets are involved. And worse still, sometimes we don’t get a second chance to hear our friends talk over the phone. Sometimes, we don’t get to say goodbye. If you have read this, and you can, and you are there, reach out to him. Maybe that is the only thing that will save his life. Hug her. Maybe she needs that hug to save her from her dying soul. Life is too short not to connect. The human connection.