When you meet a stranger with thin lips, a light complexion and a figure like that of the friend who died in 2004, memories overwhelm you.
You look at the stranger, sitting next to you in a public transport, with a bewilderment that forces her to smile – not an innocent smile, of course, but one that warns you politely that your stare is making her uncomfortable.
And, in turn you give her back a smile. The same smile you could have given your friend were she alive but then you suddenly go back into a space in time. A space you only keep in memory but will never have it again.
When you meet a stranger who reminds of a long gone closest friend, you are reminded of how you had come to learn of her death: she had not suffered a lot. She had been sick for two (or is it three?) days, she had complained of chest pains and when they took her to the hospital, the doctors said it was pneumonia and they had just given her some antibiotics.
You remember that it was a Wednesday, that day they had taken her to the hospital.
You had heard the same day that she was not fine but then your JC examinations were just in session and you had said you would visit her over the weekend. It was not proper to be visiting a she-friend in the cover of the night, you had told yourself, and the weekend was just a better spot. Actually, you had set the 9 a.m. of Saturday as the time to visit her.
You were stupid, now you know, you never knew nature for as you returned from school on Friday you had found people gathered at her place and the women were wailing. You had spotted that voice of her mother – the one she had taken after – atop all the other voices.
You had rushed home to drop your books and, of course, thinking that you would hear what you never expected to hear but there she was, your first born sister tying a knot of her chilundu ready to go to the funeral.
“Who has died?” you had asked, tears forming in the corners of your eyes.
She had confirmed your fears. Your friend was no more. She had suffered for two (or is it three?) days and then…
Just like that.
She had not even said farewell, had not even held your hand as she slipped out of this life as many people say of their loved ones at their points of departure.
You remembered the last time you had talked. It was Monday morning. She had bought you a cheap card wishing you all the best in the examinations which she herself had already Jumped Carefully over the previous year. She had told you that if you would ever dare fail the examinations then you were a wizard. How hard both of you had laughed at that!
Then, you had rushed to the examination room, your heart full of joy, the card in your pocket. It was the invigilator who saw something bulging in your pocket and had stopped you only to find that it’s a card but still had forced you to surrender it; of course, after joking that even cards from girlfriends were not allowed in examination rooms. How you wished that to be true: the girlfriend part.
But, she was older than you: three years it was.
Not that that the age difference mattered but that just that you thought you could not have her. Besides, the signals she had sent to you were mixed. You were young, had never fallen in love (or even lust) before and never knew how to interpret the signs she sent through her actions.
When, in a public transport, you sit next to a stranger who speaks in the same way that a long gone friend spoke to you, you feel like crying; actually, you cry. You cry deep within yourself. You mourn inside the chambers of your heart and you remember the Sunday afternoon she was buried.
You remember how you had wept as her coffin was being lowered into the grave while her church members sang sorrowful tunes that were not really accompanied by sorrowful tones.
You wish they understood how this death was not just like any other they had sang at – at least not to you.
You remember how her mother – she was the only parent your friend had after losing her father to tuberculosis some years back – had cried for her first born daughter whom everyone was convinced was a genius. You remember how the mother had asked questions that nobody was ready to answer. Anyway, it appeared she was asking to nobody in particular.
You remember how with weak knees you had walked over to the mound of soil that now covered her as part of her friends that were to lay a wreath on her grave. You had wept before that mound of soil, your knees had completely gone weak and you had knelt there – praying for her, praying for you, praying for the world. You wished for the earth to crack and swallow you.
The time you travel in a public transport with a stranger who reminds you of a friend gone in 2004, the atheist in you that developed after her death as you questioned why a caring God would take away such a beautiful and caring friend from you starts to be beaten into some form of religious submission.
You suddenly start to believe that there is a God and an afterlife. You start to believe that you will, after all, meet your friend and exchange stories once again. You will tell her of the things that happened to you the time she was away and, most importantly, you will ask if it were true that she had died due to abortion complications as some rumor mongers started spreading weeks after her burial?