I remember the first time I saw her.
I must admit, it was not as I had pictured it.
It was a hot sunny day (I could have sworn the doomsday environmentalist’s prediction had come true, no ozone layer or something like that). She was in blue jeans, a t-shirt, and sports shoes. I was in black jeans; blue shirt and sweating like a pig. She was not across the road from me; we were on the same side of the road.
When our eyes did lock, she had that look that said: “deodorant, buy some!”
We went about crossing the road and midway through, she fell into a manhole.
When she did emerge, I bet she regretted that deodorant idea. Nairobi sewer lines… God bless them hahahaha. But for some reason (blame it on my upbringing), while everyone else burst out laughing I extended a helping hand. And in that rare moment of kindness to a total stranger, I saw something in her eyes, a gentle sense of being… and I will never forget that smile, a smile that said she was ready to laugh at her ill fortune.
I pulled her up asked her where she was headed. As it so happens she was headed in my direction.
Two things about men, the car is holy, it’s more than a vessel from A to B (unless it’s not mine) and two our cars are clean, we can live in a dirty house but the car… one look at her jeans and my good upbringing disappeared. No way, was I going to let her get into beasty with that smell and that drench. So I offered to walk her to the bus stop. (Yes I know I can be mean too)
As we got to the bus stop people kept their distance on account of the drench (I doubt Moses parted the sea as fast at the crowd at the bus stop split.) As we got to the front of the line, the conductor informed us that there was no way she was getting into that bus….
It was at that moment that I first saw that look, a look that would come to overwhelm me every single time. That damsel in distress look that appealed to the knight in shining armour in me, (told you I was hopeless)…
Suddenly I changed my mind and thought of letting her into my car. I looked at her and said, “If you don’t mind a few rounds across town, I can drop you home”
She looked up and this next look she gave me… let’s just say I have lived every day trying to recreate that look as many times in a day as possible. It’s a look that every man should look for in his woman, a look that says she is happy, content…
So we walked up to beasty and took to the road. As I dropped her off at her house she did something that she had never done before (according to her at least) she looked over, kissed me square on the lips and asked for my number. (Which took me a while to recall because in that moment I could have sworn that my entire future flashed past me in an instant.)
A minute must have passed before I heard her ask me for what must have been the umpteenth time “can I have your number?”
I gave it to her and pulled away, driving in the wrong direction, on the wrong side of the road, for what must have been a minute or two before I recovered my faculties. As soon as I got home she called and asked if I had gotten home safely.
“Did you recover your driving skills, are you aware that this is Kenya, we drive on the same side of the road as the queen…’ she asked.
‘Hmm… beauty and a sense of humour to boot’ I thought to myself.
The next day she called me up and said, “I know first impressions count and as far as first impressions go, our chance encounter was… let’s just say I would like another go at making a first impression”
I remember thinking to myself, ‘I already have a lasting impression, the goodbye kiss that took my breath away.’ And then she went on to say “plus it would give you a second chance to reinvent our first kiss, hopefully, this time, you, take me by surprise…”
How could I say no?
The first date lived up to its billing.
She was in a long blue flowing dinner gown, thin silver necklace, pearls and a silver bracelet, 6-inch heels. I was in a broken suit: striped lilac shirt, grey coat and black trousers, black shoes.
We walked into the lounge at Best Western’s reception area, too early for dinner. Waited till she sat down to take mine. We talked for what must have been hours as we waited for our table. She laughed at every joke, smiled at every touching moment, and told her own jokes; which were not funny, but I laughed anyway.
The waiter showed us to our table at Pablo’s restaurant and I pulled a chair for her (again upbringing) We ordered, I recommended the chicken and mashed potatoes for her and a steak with roasted potatoes for me… what I liked the most was the fact that she did not pull that class act people try on chicken, no my girl went native hands first no apologies (passed the first test, be yourself, go ghetto on the chicken.)
We walked to the car, I unlocked the passenger side of beasty (keys, none of that central lock remote alarm nonsense) then walked around the back of the car to the driver’s side, as I did so she leaned over and unlocked the driver’s door (test two passed.)
The drive home was silent with the occasional reassuring look and smile between two people who had clearly said enough for one night. I pulled over and walked her to her door, and just as she was about to disappear into her house I pulled her back and sunk a long kiss, this time her knees gave out and she leaned in fully, feet off the ground in one synchronized movement that almost caught me off-guard and almost sent us to the floor.
When she let go I said good night and left as she caught her breath. Six months later, I got down on one knee and asked her to marry me.
But here we are one year into our engagement and a week away from our wedding… But I am crying helpless and pleading with the Deity.
Last week she came back home in a medical bubble, you see she’s an aid worker one of few who still had the heart to stay in West Africa and fight Ebola. As an epidemiologist working with Mèdecines Sans Frontières (MSF) she was at the forefront of the development of a vaccine.
I remember our last phone call; I should have asked her to come home!
“Hi darling, I miss you so much,” she said.
So I said, “Then come home.”
“I have to stay, but I promise I will be back one month before the wedding” she replied.
We had a deal. I was a journalist specializing in war and conflict and she was an epidemiologist, we had promised never to stand in the way of each others line of work regardless of the dangers involved. The plan was to change the deal after the wedding and settle. She was to transfer to a local disease control centre and I was to take up an offer as a consultant at the UN on conflict management.
So when she asked, “But if you ask me to come home, I will be on the next flight back tomorrow morning via Kigali”
I remembered all the pictures she had put up on social media of children dying, parents looking on as men in biometric suits took away the bodies of their children. I hesitated for a moment before saying “they need you there more than I need you!”
She was about to make a breakthrough in the development of a vaccine; it was to be her life’s work, her chance to leave a lasting mark on modern medicine. How passionately she had talked about the vaccine ‘we must succeed, I cannot let one more child die on my watch’ How could I ask her to give up her dream? I could not stand in the way of her ambition, she was had cast herself as saviour in the one battle I had no experience in…
We said goodbye and ended the Skype call.
Then two days before she was set to come home to prepare for the wedding, the call came. At first, I thought it was her until the male voice broke through.
‘She is injured…” he said.
A riot had broken out in one of the quarantine zones. A group of youth who claimed that Ebola was a lie propagated by the west broke in and moved the patients out of their beds. In the ensuing chaos, one of the patients had clang to her for help asking her to keep him on the treatment.
“She was not in her bio-suit!” I held my breath as he said the dreaded words. “I am afraid she has been exposed to the virus.”
In that moment my phone dropped to the ground and I felt like I could faint. My sister picked up the phone and continued the conversation. They talked for a while then my sister asked: “is there, anything you can do for her?” The look in her eyes told it all.
Last week they brought her home in a UN plane chattered by MSF, she had wanted to say her goodbyes, see me one last time before she died. I had spent everything we had saved up for the wedding to get the biocontainment unit that would enable her to travel home.
I had wanted to take the journey myself but; the government had banned all none essential travel to West Africa. I had even tried flying crossing the border into Kampala, the plan was to go from there to Kigali and catch a flight to West Africa, but then my friend who is the Immigrations Cabinet Secretary, told me that she would see to it that I never left the country.
“You are a danger to yourself, I know you want to go see her, but you would only put more lives at risk if you came back with the virus,” she had told me.
I remember the sight as she disembarked from the flight in the biocontainment unit carried by four men who looked like pallbearers at a funeral; ferrying her in a glass case. The media both local and international had made a public spectacle of it. I finally knew what is meant to be the subject of attention; I could hear journalists narrate the story. The empathy in their voices as they mentioned my name over and over again, then the questions, “can the government contain the virus?”
I walked over towards her as they walked her to the waiting ambulance. The Media went wild but thankfully whether out of respect for me as one of their own or for fear of the virus they kept the perimeter. We drove in the ambulance under police escort to a private facility in which MSF had hired a whole wing for her specialized care…
I have eaten, slept, showered, and lived here ever since she came back in hopes that like many other stories we have heard from West Africa, she would recover. But fate has been cruel; she gets worse by the day.
Every day as I look through the glass biocontainment ward, all I want is to hug her, kiss her on the forehead, and tell her it will be ok. But all I can do is go into the room in a bio suit and hold her hands. I see the adverts on TV about Ebola, don’t touch, don’t wash dead bodies, don’t clean up after them when they vomit. Before now all I could do was imagine how it felt for thousands of people in West Africa, to watch their loved ones slip away, no compassion or care in life, no dignity even in death, and no last respects. It was a world away then, now I am living it.
It’s not the same, the feel of rubber, it cannot compare to the feel of human skin, holding hands through this medical barrier. It breaks my heart every single time to see that sickly look on her face, to hear how much she worries about me from the hospital attendants, to see the pain in her eyes.
She is gone now, and I am looking at her through the same glass case she came home in. They did not even bother to dress her up for the funeral, her hair is out of place, it’s taking every last bit of self-restraint for me not to try and fix that one hair, put her favourite lipstick on those dry lips, take off her engagement ring, hang her silver necklace around her neck, put peal earrings on her ears, that silver bracelet back on her wrist.
They are lowering her body into the ground now.
My tears are spent. They pass me the shovel; I can barely lift the dirt into her grave.
They are laying the wreaths now. I am lifelessly moving about the grounds, a robot programmed on funeral ritual. The sun is setting, and I am still standing here by her grave. I haven’t moved an inch since they laid her to rest.
I pray “Dear Lord if you could hold back night, I am not asking for you to bring her back. I just want to stand here by her grave forever, don’t make me go back to that empty house filled with memories of her, the car she drove parked outside, the curtains she chose, the seats she had made, the kitchen we cooked in, the shower we used, the fights over the toilet seat (so silly now) and that bed she picked out, the first time we made love on it, the times she brought me breakfast in bed, the coffee stain when I brought her breakfast in bed during our anniversary six months ago… her scent in the perfume drawer, her clothes …”
It is dark now, I can feel my sister’s hand on my shoulder, but it takes mother’s persuasion to make me leave the graveside.
“Goodbye my love, goodbye.”
As far as I am concerned we are two nameless people with no past, no present, and now no future. I am walking away from her graveside. Just what I would not do for one last kiss by her bedside, even if it turns out to be proverbial KISS OF DEATH, for even without her kiss I am already dead!
Henry Githaiga is a communications specialist with a passion for writing tragedies & enjoys writing poetry. He is also an aspiring filmmaker with a passion for photography. Find more of his great work at www.countryboysays.blogspot.nl. Here are some posts you should check out beyond and 60 seconds. You can also find him on Twitter at @henryGithaiga.