It rained the day I came back home. Maybe that was the reason why I was late or maybe my heart just wasn’t in it. I had left Nairobi early, around five thirty. My car, a Jaguar XFR, is reasonably fast, topping out at about three hundred kilometres per hour thanks to a speed governor. My aim had been to get to the funeral by eleven, twelve at most. I got in at two, maybe two thirty. The compound was crowded, filled with people that looked vaguely familiar and some I downright just didn’t recognize. A guy in a Kenya Red Cross Society emblem directed me to where I should park my car, next to some pretentious rich guy’s Nissan X-Trail. I unplugged my phone from the phone charger, powered down the XFR and got out. The rain had let up, thinned considerably somewhere along the way. I remote locked the car and started towards the closest tent and settled down, opting for the closest empty seat.
The rain, despite its best efforts, had done nothing to stem the flooding of people. Some had chosen to brave the drizzle and its accompanying cold wind, standing out in the open, others choosing to stand in the verandas of the houses that made up the compound. I am not a big fan of funerals. To me, they represent the ultimate form of hypocrisy. People showing up to share lies about somebody most of them rarely knew. Even as a child, despite my mother’s best efforts, I attended funerals for all of five minutes before I slipped away.
My sister was speaking. I hadn’t seen her in close to eight years, going on nine. I recognised her, though. Eight years wasn’t enough to forget, or enough to change completely physiologically. I hadn’t heard from her in almost as long, and then out of the blue, the week before, she had called. She was eulogising our mother, ironic, considering she was the only other person who thought almost as little about her as I did. I leaned into the plastic chair, distancing myself as much as I could from what was going on.
I didn’t wait for the burial. By the time my sisters were done talking, I had gotten up, restless again. I wanted to get into my car and drive away. I wanted nothing more than to be chasing away the cold in the arms of my ridiculously gorgeous fiancée. I switched my phone on. I entered the pin, still walking. I bumped into something soft. I looked up, apology already out. I recognised her almost immediately. It took her a fraction of a second longer to recognise me as well.
We spoke at the same time, followed by an awkward hug and a moment of silence.
“Sorry about your loss,” she said
I murmured my thanks, out of habit. I didn’t feel bereaved. I didn’t feel anything.
S was my first everything. She is my kid sister’s best friend, two years my junior, and back in the day, a constant presence in my life. Maybe it was the fact that she was always there, or maybe it was the fact that she was, still is, beautiful. Either way, one thing led to another. The best one year of my teenage years.
“So how have you been?”
“I’m okay. Never better,” I reply honestly. “You?”
“What have you been up to?”
“I got my law degree, opened my own law firm in town. I heard you moved to England.”
“Yea. Been living there for close to nine years now.”
“A bit, yeah. I dabble.”
She digested this information in silence, saying nothing for a while.
“I should go back. Missy is waiting for me.”
She doesn’t wait for my reply, just walks by me. I hesitated for a moment before starting towards my car. I had had my fill of funerals.
A lot can happen in nine years. Before, it was a thirty minute drive from my grandfather’s compound to town. The town limit had grown, though. Bungoma had grown, expanding, filling up what used to be green fields with commercial buildings. It took me five minutes to drive into civilisation. It took me longer than the customary thirty minutes to get to the town centre, though. I was used to traffic jams. Eight years in a city almost twice the population size of Nairobi helped a lot with that.
As a kid, I had a favourite restaurant. It stood on Moi Avenue, the only named Avenue in Bungoma at the time. I took my time getting to it though. Like everything in Bungoma, the Coffee Garden had grown, expanding with the town. A second floor with terrace seats had been added, so had a car garage. I pulled up, handed my car keys to a valet and headed towards the restaurant. The major-domo inquired whether or not I had a reservation. I didn’t. He made a show of going through his book before informing me of an unreserved table.
The phone call found me as I was finishing up. It was my elder sister calling. I considered, for a moment, ignoring her and going back to my very late lunch. I didn’t.
“Where are you?”
“Stuck in a brothel. Something I could help you with?”
The ladies in the next table cast a glance at me, half horrified, half intrigued.
“Quit dicking around.”
“I’m having lunch in town. What do you want?”
“You left the funeral early.” She was stating a fact, not asking a question. S, you little snitch.
“Uh huh,” I replied. People hate it when I say that, for some reason.
“I was hungry.” Not true.
I heard her sigh. I can be infuriating when I choose to be.
“We are expecting you home this evening.”
Having delivered her edict, her majesty hung up on me before I could reply.
It took me the better part of an hour and a half to get back home. This is mostly due to some form of childish rebellion on my part, combined with the assistance of rush hour traffic.
I took a left, branching off just before I got to the railway crossing, down a dirt road. Unlike the rest of the town, my home estate remained resistant to change. The same shops that had inhabited the road side in my child hood were still standing, with the vague addition of a chemist or two the difference. There were women seated on the verandas, pointing at the road and gossiping, just like before. There were a few more stands, some selling fruits and vegetable and other farm products, others sticking to chips and the likes. I didn’t stop, merely slowed down since I was going downhill. I could feel there glares on the car, their questioning murmurs. The XFR is a beautiful beast. I took a right down, heading further down the rabbit hole. The houses that had populated the estate before were gone, in their place high rise apartments and mansions.
Somebody opened the gate for me. It was a kid, around ten, maybe eleven years of age. I didn’t recognize him, neither did he me. The XFR wasn’t the only car in the compound. I parked next to a Mercedes Benz and got out. The house hadn’t changed. It was as I had left it all those years ago. The other house that occupied the compound had been demolished though, a while back if I were to wager a guess. I stepped up to the stoop and pressed the doorbell, then waited.
We moved into the big house just after my twelfth birthday. It happened while I was stuck in boarding school. Still, the succeeding year was one of the highlights of my childhood, followed by eight years of pain and suffering. I learnt to hate the house a bit more that I did the owner. The house stood for everything that had gone wrong with my life. I remember once promising to tear it down after she died. In that moment, however, I couldn’t bring myself to care. I just felt tired. I wanted to pay my respects, appease my sisters before going back to my life.
I didn’t recognize the girl who opened the door. I wasn’t supposed to, so it mattered little to me. She stepped aside and let me in, never bothering to ask for my name. The living room was crowded, teenagers and little kids watching some crappy movie while sipping soda. The adults were in the room beyond, the dining room, seated around a table, murmuring amongst themselves. I wanted to turn and get out, consequences be damned when she spotted me.
I winced as all eyes turned on me, and my kid sister crashed into me.
“Hello, Missy. Long time,” I told her as she hugged me tighter, suddenly afraid I would turn and leave.
Missy and I are Irish twins. We were born within a year of each other. In the earlier years, we fought like cats. Somewhere along the line, though, we had gotten closer.
“I was afraid you wouldn’t show.”
“She called I came. Simple as that.”
My elder sister was approaching, my mum’s kid sister to her left. I greeted my aunt first, before turning to my big sis.
She nodded her greetings in return. She stepped aside, as if allowing me into the inner circle, before closing out my retreat behind me. People I hadn’t seen in years started offering their condolences moments later. It was promising to be a long night.
PS. Keep calm and wait for chapter two
PS. Based on a mostly true story.