She fell asleep for the first time in five days, and the universe conspired to make sure she was well rested by filling her sleep with nice dreams, alienating her from her tragedy. The next morning she woke up to loud murmurs from somewhere in the house, now a normal occurrence. In her village, when death visited your compound, with it came distant relatives, neighbours and strangers who talked like they were in a talking competition, only stopping to look at you with pity and mumble ‘sorry for your loss’ when they saw you. She glanced at the window and the morning sunlight shimmered from behind the bright coloured curtain, begging to be let in. She closed her eyes again, filtered out the murmurs and reminisced about her father, now lying dead in a morgue. How could he die just like that? And why did it have to be on the same day she had hoped to make peace with him? She found it difficult to believe that her mighty father, who walked with a walking stick because his ego was too heavy for him to carry alone, could simply fall in the bathroom, hit his head on the floor and die.
She knew she was being unreasonable but she had not expected that her father’s exit from this world would happen so unceremoniously. She had refused to accept that her father would go out like that until she saw him at the morgue. They had gone there the same evening and though the attendants and security guards turned them away, asking them to come the following day, they stood their ground and Maasai finally managed to persuade one of the attendants, a thin guy with yellow teeth, to let them view the body. The attendant had looked at his two other colleagues with asking eyes and they had shrugged before letting them in. But once inside, Amara refused to open her eyes. Once she saw that it was truly her father lying there, there was no going back. Her belief that this was a mistake would be wiped out. She covered her eyes with her hands till Masai placed his hand over her shoulder and said, “If you are not ready, we can always come back tomorrow.”
She would not wait until the next day. She slowly uncovered her eyes and looked. Her father, covered with a white cloth up to his chest, was pale. His nose was snowy. When she touched his icy forehead, her whole body trembled and without warning, tears washed down her cheeks. Masai had his arms around her all this while, leaving her to feel what she was feeling. He avoided telling her that she would be okay because he did not want to invalidate her loss. When she couldn’t be there any longer, she quickly walked out and Masai squeezed a one thousand note in the hand of the thin mortician before following her out. He had hovered around her ever since, only giving her space when she was with her mother, who had been shaken to the core and Masai couldn’t remember seeing her eyes dry.
Amara climbed out of bed and walked to the window. She drew the curtains and stared outside to see Masai issuing instructions to a group of men surrounding him. She knew he was issuing instructions because of the way his hands gestured and the way the men, hands behind their backs, nodded their heads. The compound was full. Near the gate, Achika stood, speaking on phone—she came as soon as she heard the news and she and Masai had taken over the funeral plans. Amara gathered the curtain in her hand and held it close to her chest. She looked at both Maasai and then Achika with both gratitude and remorse. Gratitude for what they were doing and remorse for what she had put them through. She had refused to be consoled, sometimes barking at them, but they remained gracious, doing the needful, making sure she and her mum were okay and that the burial arrangements were under way.
When Achika got off the phone, she looked her way and their eyes met. Amara smiled at her and Achika smiled back before walking towards the house. Knowing she was coming to her room, Amara went and opened the door.
“I hope you slept well yesterday,” Achika said. Amara opened her arms and Achika walked right into them. It felt nice holding each other like that. Being in the same space with Achika always lifted her spirits.
“I did. I am glad I took your advice and locked myself in.”
“I am glad too. Look, you need to get ready, we will be leaving for the morgue in a few,” Achika said. She stopped to stare into the empty space and said, more to herself than to Amara, “It’s strange that here you bury someone the same day you bring the body from the morgue. Where I come from, the body has to be brought at least two days before the burial.”
“That would only bring more grief, I think.”
Achika looked at her and said, “How is mum holding up? Yesterday she was a mess.”
“She will be fine,” Amara said. “She is a strong woman.”
“So are you,” Achika rubbed Amara’s cheeks like she was a small child and Amara smiled. When Achika left, Amara showered, dressed up in her black shapeless dress tailored for this occasion, and went to see her mother. She found her in her room in the company of her aunts, all of whom left when she walked in. She walked to her mother and wrapped her arms around her, and she found herself saying, “Mama, I am sorry,” and her mum rubbed her hands, telling her it was her loss too so she did not need to be sorry. They later sat on the bed next to each other and talked about her father, her mum telling her about his last moments.
“He was excited when she heard you were coming. I don’t think I had ever seen him so happy in the almost three decades I was married to him.”
Amara smiled. “Did he know I was coming with Masai?”
“He knew, and he was okay with it. Look, your father realised he was wrong. He was going to tell you that he was sorry for the way he treated you but . . . but—” she wiped the tears from her eyes and Amara placed her head on her shoulder.
“We will be fine, mama, we will.”
Her mother shook her head in agreement, though they both knew that they were not going to be fine. At least not for a while.
By noon, they had come back from the morgue and the funeral service was underway. As always, the service was characterised by long winding speeches from her uncles, aunts, neighbours and everyone else who had the chance to hold the mic. All the while, she kept glancing at Masai who stood next to the tan brown coffin, holding a copy of the program in his hand. She noticed he avoided looking her in the eye all the time their eyes met. But she focused on him, and the coffin, the image of her father, lying there in a black suit, doing rounds in her eye. When the MC, a badly dressed gentleman who shouted at the Mic called her to speak, Achika walked with her and held the microphone for her. She opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. Achika rubbed her back, whispering to her and asking her to take her time.
“My father used to call me ‘My favourite daughter’, even though it’s an open secret that I am his only daughter.” The crowd laughed. The kind of laugh that can be managed by mourners in a funeral. “I loved him. He loved me, though lately, we had had our own disagreements, the kind that you would expect from a father and her daughter,” she looked at Masai again and this time he did not avoid her eyes. She could tell, though, that his eyes were wet. She glanced back at the mourners and said, quickly to suppress the emotions building up, “But it doesn’t matter because he is gone and I am sure that His soul is in a good place.”
There was a brief silence as she walked away in the company of Achika, again, before everyone started murmuring. When her mother stood to speak, Amara walked away. She knew her mother was going to break down, and she was not ready to withstand that sight. She only came back when her father’s remains were being carried to the grave, where the presiding pastor, an energetic man who spoke with vigour, finally uttered the only words that bring everything to finality, dust to dust…
Jack had taken over the show. Fred, her producer, had told her to take as much time out as she needed, but she yearned for work two weeks after her father’s burial. She figured it would be easy for her to move on if she slid back into her life routine. On her first day back though, her fans mostly called in to empathize with her, some telling their stories of how they lost their parents and how they coped, assuring her she would be okay. She thanked them all for their support and tried the old adage that life must go on, but her fans wouldn’t listen. So she stopped trying to steer the conversation from her father’s death and instead let her fans console her. Others cracked a joke to lighten up her mood and a few actually made her laugh. But the moment she stepped out of the studio, gloom, dressed in a huge black coat sweeping the floor with its tail, covered her. The mood was further darkened with the heavy downpour. Everything was strange. Nothing was ever going to be the way it was. When she and her father differed, she had secretly hoped that one day he would call and they would argue, then talk, then laugh and she would be back to being ‘his favourite daughter’.
It broke her heart that that was never going to happen.
It was her fault. She should have followed Masai’s advice and made peace with her father when she still had the chance. Masai was right, after all, and she blamed him for being right. She blamed him for knowing that he was right but still chose not to ram this fact through her head if only to convince her to make peace with her father. She looked at the taxi window and stared at the dribbles of water running down the glass, envious of how free they were, free to roll down the window without a worry in the world. She looked at Samuel. Even he wasn’t his usual self. He had barely said a word since he picked her up and this, people being extra careful around her, irked her. She wanted normal. She wanted Samuel to be his usual self, to dive into details of the woman he picked at the bar the previous night and who almost made away with his hard earned money. Samuel’s stories always included women who wanted to steal from him and Amara often suspected he made these stories up, but she did not really care for they made her laugh.
“Samuel, you want to tell me all that while I was away, you haven’t run into trouble with any woman?” she asked. Samuel glanced at her from the mirror and smiled. “What can I say, miracles do happen after all,” and nothing else. He stared at the road ahead with exaggerated keenness, his hands steady on the wheel like a female driver who was hitting the highway for the first time. When Samuel dropped her off, she said, “Don’t worry, Amara, you are a strong woman. You will be fine.”
She smiled and stepped out. Being strong was not a good thing, at least not for her. She had pulled herself together, tried her best to make sure that she doesn’t break down and make life a living hell around her, but all this was doing her no good. Her heart was heavy. It was like a metallic ball with a chain had been tied to her heart and she was struggling with it. She climbed the stairs and as she was fumbling for her keys in her bag, the door flew open and Masai stepped out.
“You are home,” he said.
“I am home.”
When he pulled her in for an embrace, she felt grateful that he had stood with her all this time. She was also grateful that he was being extra careful around her without really showing it. He would ask if she would cook or if he should cook instead, even though he would lurk in the kitchen, taking the knife from her hand after she was done cutting the onions and tomatoes and everything else that needed cutting, placing it farther from her. She laughed each time he did that, reminding him that she wasn’t a small kid not to be allowed around sharp objects, and he would shrug and say nothing. In his eyes, when he wasn’t trying to be charming, was fear. It was like he feared she would harm herself. He feared that she hadn’t moaned her father properly. To him, proper moaning meant shedding tears that if fetched, would be enough to wash a baby with. But she did not cry mostly because her mother cried a lot. She had to be strong for her. And her small brother who was yet to fully comprehend the concept of death.
He had prepared dinner; white rice with chicken. They ate in the kitchen, her sitting on the kitchen counter and him standing next to her. Occasionally, they would lock eyes and Amara would notice that the usual lust in his eyes was not there. Either it was that she had lost her sexual attraction without knowing or he was good at suppressing his urges, not wanting to give her the impression that he was selfish and only thought about himself. So later, she stood in front of the mirror and scrutinized herself. Her hair was a mess. There was also, to her, a huge pimple on her forehead, one which she couldn’t tell where it came from and for how long it had been there.
“You haven’t touched me for a while,” she said as soon as Masai walked into the room.
“Is it because of this pimple here?” she pointed at the pimple. “Have I lost my sexual attraction?”
“Of course, not,” he said, “You look amazing.”
“Don’t you look at this pimple and all you see is a small horn?”
“I am serious.”
“How can you possibly be serious. I will need a microscope to see if there is a pimple on your forehead or not.”
“What about my hair?”
“Aah, your hair, aah,” He walked to her and run his fingers through her hair and kissed her on the lips. She closed her eyes as his mouth devoured hers and she felt alive again. She wrapped her arms around his neck and he was wrapping his other arm around her waist to pull her closer when she broke free from the kiss and opened her mouth to speak but he placed his finger on her lips to silence her, “No more questions,” he whispered. She sighed, smiled and kissed him, not caring that what she wanted to tell him was to be careful because this wasn’t one of her safe days.