‘Not Spies But Battalions’ by Gloria W Nanfuka

“Vaawo waano” she yelled, getting shocked at the sound of her own voice. He was back. The spirit that had haunted her was back and he wouldn’t stop mocking her. He had won, again. Kemi squinted into the sun trying to focus sore eyes that she had to will open and her gaze landed in the faces of two old women she didn’t recognise. They gave her that look that she used to give her son when he was trying extremely hard at something but failing nonetheless. A look that fell somewhere between pity and wonder; wonder at the resilience.

“Kasiita, no one expects me to have it all together. Ne bwenekuula ko waya” She thought to herself.

She found it funny that the only time a mother was not allowed to have it all together was when she was not a mother anymore. Many would argue that once a mother, always a mother and that no one could ever take the title of “Maama Emma “ away from her but Emma was no more. Emma had refused to wake up. Emma no more responded to her voice.

She vividly remembered it like it was just happening. The moment everything else ceased to have any importance in the world. She didn’t believe she had ever driven faster in her life and yet she wondered if even her arriving five minutes earlier would have made much of a difference.

Her thoughts were interrupted by whispers that she realized were coming from outside. Three ladies she couldn’t recognize were seated outside on the verandah and probably had not noticed that they could be heard through the window.

“Maybe, there is a problem and she needs to look into it”

“These things always come in threes”

“She needs to take some measures to stop these things”

“Bambi that woman, how do you recover from that? This is not how it is supposed to happen; parents should never have to bury their children.”

Before she could decide how she felt about their words, Kemi was thrown into a new wave of despair when she heard wailing from outside, another mourner had arrived, more salt was yet to be poured. Contrary to popular belief, crying with someone else is not necessarily comforting. If anything, it just spurs you on, reaches into your most protected parts and opens that dam of tears you had kept for all moments when pain overpowered any other sense in your body. Moments like these.

She clenched her fists as if to find some sort of footing in a world she was not so sure of anymore. She looked up to see her mother and lost the last bit of strength she had.

Kemi’s mother rushed across the room with the same urgency a new mother does upon hearing the scream of her infant. She wrapped her in her arms and broke down in sobs, switching between comforting her daughter and shaking her head in apparent disbelief. Kemi buried her head in her mother’s midriff and melted into a bundle of sobs that on occasion gasped for air.
Peter busied himself with making everyone as comfortable as could be given the circumstances. The shock and sadness was palpable. Kabuubi from the church at the boda boda stage was seated by the fireplace, trying to keep it from burning out and carrying hymns by himself. Every once in a while , when he started one that was familiar, others would join in and for a moment the singing would be louder than the heaviness in people’s souls. However, this wouldn’t last long. Someone would arrive and Kemi would lose herself all over again and with her taking everyone else. The women, freely gave into their urge to cry; the men, rubbed their eyes and looked for ways to be of help while the children, sat in confusion, asking why their friend was refusing to wake up.

As grim as all these songs sounded, Peter was grateful for the interruption to his own thoughts. He had been tested as a man but never had he anticipated a test of this magnitude

“Are you still a father if the one you sired is awake no more?” he wondered, and walked away from the crowd when he felt the sting in his eyes intensify. He desired a quicker pace but his legs did not seem to be on the same page. No amount of willing them was granting him strength but he needed to get away. Every time Kemi’s voice cut through the others, he was faced with failure like he had never known. This he couldn’t fix. This he couldn’t protect her from. This he couldn’t take away. Peter sank onto the ground behind one of the cars; made sure he was out of sight and cried into his shirt sleeve. He frantically searched his pockets for his already drenched handkerchief but the tears could not wait. He watched them fall first on his shirt, then on his shoes, and onto the dust and there was nothing he could do to stop them. There was nothing he could do to stop anything.

“But what happened really?” a young lady who just moments earlier had been posing for photos with someone who seemed to be her sister asked. She looked like she was probably in her second year at the University. That age when people have more confidence than wisdom. She held, daintily, one of those wide screen phones that make one wonder how they ever pick phone calls. Long manicured nails, hair in a perfect bun, traces of purple on her lips and a lesu that looked like it had been borrowed for the occasion just to cover up the fitted like glove jeans underneath. She stood out like a sore thumb.

Peter watched with a little bit of envy at how detached she seemed from the situation, that even though she was here physically, she was untouched by this death. He watched as two others approached, each giving the bits of the story they’d heard, whispering and trying to control their thirst for some good gossip. Did he have a right to be angry? he wondered. Did he have a right to expect that everyone treat this like the sacred life altering moment that it was? But whose life had been altered?

Emma’s pregnancy had been a difficult one. After two miscarriages and a still birth, he had no desire to put Kemi and himself through that again. But Kemi insisted. She would not rest until she had the title of mother. She had once declared that nothing she did in life made sense as long as she wasn’t a mother. If he dared to speak out about what she was putting herself through, she’d ask him if he found any joy in seeing her suffer. Emma was a miracle baby.
“Some miracle that was” a voice in his head scoffed at him “ a miracle that lasted only four years”

In the history of cruel jokes, this was the cruelest of them all. He believed, even though he knew Kemi would never agree that all the ridicule and disrespect was nothing compared to what he was feeling in that moment.

“Yet another thing you can do nothing about” the same voice from earlier told him.

He felt for his keys and wondered how far the fuel in his car could take him.

“Where is Peter?” Kemi heard her mother whisper to her sister just as the priest was starting the service. He said something about God being the one who gives and takes away but Kemi did not hear the rest because she was trying to remember the last time she saw the father of her now dead child. Emma had helped heal their relationship a small bit. For the first time in a long time, they had something they agreed upon. They had something that helped them focus on something other than each other or their lack of focus on each other. However, it had become increasingly difficult even with Emma around. She had started looking around for a place she could move into with Emma. She was planning on telling Peter as soon as everything was concrete. She was supposed to tell him tomorrow. She was leaving him.

“They can’t find Peter”

“What do you mean they can’t find Peter?”

“No one knows where he is. His car is gone. His phones are off. No one knows where he is”

“When was he last seen?”

Kemi pulled herself from her mother’s embrace so that she could face her.

“When was he last seen?” She repeated her voice a whisper no more. The priest looked in their direction with a quizzical look on his face.

“Oh Kemi…”

“When?”

“Yesterday”

Kemi’s mother watched helplessly as Kemi buried her face in her lap and her entire body shook with what she thought were sobs. She rubbed her back and kept squeezing the one hand she had a hold of. The entire place fell into a hushed silence when Kemi’s voice broke through laughing hysterically. She fell to her knees as tears ran down her face uncontrollably and she shook her head non-stop. The look on her mother’s face fell somewhere between fear and confusion, she did not know whether to reach out and hold her or just let her be. She sat down in the dirt and threw her hands up in surrender, oblivious to the stunned faces and the whispers from the crowd.

“He beat me to it Maama” Kemi said, addressing her mother,”That son of a bitch beat me to it!”

“Tugende tuziike omwaana wange!” Kemi said as she dubbed at her eyes with her lesu and started towards the burial grounds.

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