Four years ago one Friday afternoon I held my daughter as her body wrecked and heaved in grief,having just learnt of her friend's demise,killed in a car crash two days earlier. Friday afternoons are my easy days. She had just come home from school and she had gone to lie down in her room. Barely 10 minutes had passed before she came out of her room and as I looked up from the book that I was reading,the shock I saw on her face before she said anything sent a chill down my spine. In that same instant her face crumpled to evident agony and she screamed something I couldn't quite hear and I shot up to hold her. "Mama" she kept saying. She stopped and looked at me and said "Dean is dead!" I didn't ask anything,I just held her. I knew her friend Dean,and the instant she'd said that his face flashed in my mind,with his sweet kind smile,and as I felt her tiny body tremble,my heart fell to the pit of my stomach and I could only imagine what she was feeling. I let her cry it out,and she did,silent one minute and sniffing the next and wailing another. Her best friend had just died,way too young at 19,a freshman at university! Gone toosoon! When I was in third year of varsity one Sunday I left home to go back to the school residence and hugged my brother, (our mothers are sisters) little knowing that would be the last hug we would share and that the joke and that intimate moment would be our last. He perished in a car crash that same night. I remember the shock of it reducing me to my knees. Lele,a great friend and a flat mate at the time,held me and let me go like I did my daughter last Friday. I remember going into and out of it in the weeks that followed but what I remember precisely is how my heart split into a million pieces and tumbled to the pit of my being. It felt like it was in a vice that week,that would tighten and wrench it and leave it and let it go and then grip it again and,squeeze it tighter than earlier,a million times each waking moment of those days,with a constant lump in my throat that threatened to close my breathing space completely. When the earth swallowed the remaining physical evidence of his life in the cold box that his body lay in,I passed out. The weeks and months that followed were hard. My brother died in September,smack in the middle of our hot summer,but I wore his yellow Timberland jacket in the heat. I removed my boyfriend's picture and put his in its place (not an ounce of protest from him,he says he was terrified to even as start the discussion)! I clutched at anything that reminded me of him,I was desperate and angry and unbelieving. I cried at the end of that year when I started to struggle to remember his face,something that happens with me with all people passed. I felt I was failing him. I couldn't possibly be forgetting my best friend. The only person, save for our parents, who knew what each pitch in my voice meant, the one person who knew my fib before it formed in my mind,the one person who knew I needed him to hold my hand when I was scared,even now at young adulthood,the one person who had held my hand all my life,and knew just how and remember which squeeze meant what,and it always seemed so seamless and easy for him to find my hand when he knew I needed itand it was the most comforting and amazing feeling, and here I was forgetting his laughing eyes,his sweetest of smiles. I shouldn't be,I kicked myself; I was unforgiving of myself. Like Dean,he was way too young when he died,twenty-one at the time. And I had known him all those years of our lives. Born six months apart,I older,but he took role of big brother for as long as I rememberand he loved protecting me. He wasn't a fighter but nobody messed with me. I remember him trying to hit a boy who was trying to hit on me at my fresher's ball. He was the unchanging constant in my life, he was loads of fun, with a hearty laugh that almost got us into trouble all the time, the silliest of boys,the Trevor Noah in our household.
We dungaree'd through our childhood together,his would have blue buttons and mine red or pink so people are reminded I am the girl. Half the time no one remembered, myself included. The only way to tell our bubble gummers apart would be that his would be two sizes longer,although that didn't stop me from trudging around in them. Our parents always bought us the same clothes and as a result I had very few girl clothes. There is pictures of us when we were about five or younger and he is 'pretty' in my dress,and oh boy do I treasure those,not for the reason you are thinking,no; they were ammunition! I always threatened to show them to a girlfriend prospective when we were older,to have him do something for me and it worked like magic,poor dude! Those were the corduroy years and we had them in all colours and styles,bellbottom being our favourite. Crèche was the best years of our lives,we walked to and from it all by ourselves,save for an elder person helping us cross the road the first few months,and we always walked with the other's hand over the other's shoulder,singing nursery rhymes and doing recitations. We ganged up on other children and teachers too,especially when they tried to separate us. Separating us was a mission until we realised we were two separate lives and personalities that could actually live separate lives,and that realisation was slow coming. One weekend when we were about five my mother laboured one Saturday doing my kinky afro into nice plaits for school and the following day at the barber's I cried to have my hair cut too when he was having a hair-cut and mother didn't win this one and for a few years following we had a barber bi weekly tradition.
It's been nineteen years since my brother died and I have felt all sorts of emotions over the yearsbut I have made peace with his passing. I have also come to appreciate and treasure the time I was afforded of his seemingly short life,even the not so great times. When Dean died and my daughter wept for him,and the years they won't have together anymore,but only the memories of times past,my brother died all over again. As I held her,pain sliced through my body knowingly and I cried for lives lost so young,leaving loved ones in unimaginable pain. My daughter isn't as strong as I am and I am worried about her and I have told her it's very important that she grieves her friend. That first weekend was hard. The first night she asked to sleep in my bed and I held her till she slept from the fatigue. She refused food,she refused to come to church on Sunday and spoke only when spoken to. She was in her bed the entire weekend. At the time she was in her last year of high school and had an important exam at the end of the year but that weekend she didn't touch her books, I let her. Two weeks later I sat at the edge of her bed and said to her "My darling daughter,I won't refuse that you're hurting,but as painful as it is and maybe even unfair, our lives must go on. You have an important exam, and a life ahead of you and your best friend would want all things great for you even in his absence." The day of his burial I asked her if she was ready with her speech and she said she was. I asked her if she thought she'll manage speaking and she said she didn't know. I asked her if she wanted to see him in the coffin,she was not sure. I was worried for her,but asked her to think about what might help her with closure. She chose to see him,and she lasted through her speech,and she spoke well. I had to travel out of the country that afternoon, but when I later called her to see how she was holding up,there was a light and high in her voice I hadn't heard all week. I was afraid to think it was even a cheer of some sort,I could almost even imagine her bouncing about in front of the television talking to me and watching a song video. She was alright; something had given it to her in the day. Maybe it was speaking about her friend in front of the masses that had come to bid him farewell, maybe it was seeing his lifeless body in the coffin,maybe it was seeing the earth swallow him, but something did,and boy was I glad. She still hurts I am sure,but to know that his life short as it was, was still a gift,is the ultimate wisdom. For my brother, Botlhe, and Dean, and a lot others whose lives were lost too soon,I pray that your beautiful souls lay in paradiseand for us whose lives you touchedto have gratitude that we had you in our lives,it was for a reason. To each one of us who has lost a loved one,it is hard,to imagine that life should go on without them,but it must and there's a grander reason,let's live,hard as it may be, past the pain. To life,past and present and to love felt,forever!