My phone rang. The time was 4.01pm. The caller ID said Izzo.
“Hi Martha.” His voice sounded off. It lacked the usual goofy quality.
“Have you heard the news?”
“Lilian has passed away.”
Izzo wanted my brother’s number. But I thought my brother should hear the news of his closest friend’s death from me. So I called him. He picked up on the first ring.
“Hi. Have you heard the news?” I was still hoping Izzo had gotten it wrong.
“About Lilian?” That question, sinks all hope.
Just like that.
I check her WhatsApp profile. Last seen today at 10.06am. I keep checking. Willing it to change to ‘online’. But it sticks to its timeline.
By who? The person she was chatting with? That person didn’t actually see her. The person who sat next to her in the doomed Matatu? Maybe. The first people at the scene? Did they see her? I don’t know.
I last spoke to Lilian last Monday. We didn’t actually speak. We chatted. Barely.
“Hi. How are you?”
“Am good. You?”
“Remember, I wanted to write your story?”
“Yes honey. I do.”
“Well, I was serious.”
That was Lilian. So uncomplicated. Or maybe she didn’t think I was serious. But I was. I just didn’t think I’d be doing it so soon. Time pulled a fast one.
Lilian, this is not what I had in mind. I thought I’d write the story of a woman so vibrant and full of life. I thought I’d write of your struggles. Your triumph over the tribulations that life tossed your way. I thought I’d write of your inexplicable strength. Your hearty laugh. Your kindest of hearts.
I wanted to delve deeper. To chat over several of those tasty meals you were so famous for. But I wasn’t in a hurry. There was time. Time to polish my skills so I could do you justice. Time to wait for less hectic schedules because this wasn’t a story to be rushed. Time to peel layer after layer. Time to tell a story that honored you. Time to tell a story that cast a tow rope to many who felt like giving up.
Lilian, this story was meant to have many funny anecdotes; like the one about your dad and his dentures. Or the one about my dad, all those many years ago when we were all little tots. It was supposed to be filled with many happy memories; like the time we stayed up till 1am telling silly stories. It was supposed to inspire strength; like the time your baby’s father kicked you out with an infant and a fresh caesarean wound. How you summoned the strength to keep going. How you got back on your feet. How you journeyed every day. Faced every challenge. And how you created opportunity after opportunity to extend kindness.
Lilian, this was supposed to be a living story. A story we’d add to as we grew older. It was supposed to be a story we’d reminisce about when we became grannies. Way in the future.
Instead, I have only this. This sad ending to your life. This void wish that you were still here. This helpless yearning to turn back time. To last month; to last Monday; to the moment before you boarded that matatu; to five minutes before your ‘last seen’. Anything. I’d take anything. If only for a chance to alter this reality.
But time laughs
Because time negotiates with no one
We take only what it gives
Only what it deems fit to give
And when time decides to call it;
Our best skills,
Our fervent pleas,
Our loudest cries,
None could turn the clock back;
None could bring you back;
None could wrench you from the clutch of time –
None could give to us a choice
Except maybe to grasp the hand of time,
This cruel cruel time
And be grateful to it
For the time it gave you.
Fare thee well my sister.
Tendai couldn’t have asked for a better Mother.