Your head tries (in vain) to find rest on the reading table of a hotel room, as you study for a not-so-low-stakes examination when you’d rather binge on YouTube videos of Daniel Caesar, H. E. R and Skepta tracks. You can’t tell what it is, but you know you are distracted. You keep trying to assimilate anyways, and somewhere in all this, there’s room to mull over what’s been going on around you lately.
Well, nothing major, Nothing actually. Just mails that you can’t get around to following up on, texts un-replied, platforms left to the mercy of virtual cobwebs and impending oblivion. You can’t put a grip on it, but you’re losing interest in everything, and everyone. You shun the potential networking events, you cancel “come over” invites twenty minutes after the “could you please show up? ” texts, not caring if she had already started doing her makeup when you pulled the plug on the rendezvous. You stop the conversations when you’re one voice note away from soaked underpants, you hang up before the deal-sealing sentences, you back off when you are one text away from being allowed to feed your curiosity about the dimples on the small of her back.
Last night you sneaked into one of the city’s lesser known pubs to grab a few beers, and the prettiest girls in the room took welcoming glances at you, but you opted for bland sociability, unwilling to be anything remotely close to spontaneous. It’s unlike you to pass up on the wit, or leave out the double entendres, but these days it’s all about handshakes and smiles that manage to mask the emptiness.
You stare at your phone. The call log is bereft of activity.
Serah is probably less enthusiastic about pleasantly interrupting with the dials and cute texts. She’s probably tired of trying to get through to you, worn out from struggling to break the walls you’ve erected around you. Faith and affection can only do so much. In time, it gets difficult trying to fix the pile of broken pieces, and they trudge away slowly, eyes tearful and drained of light. Like Barbara, when she sent that long sad text, and swore to stick to sending best wishes on your birthdays.
Like Tochi, when she called you ‘scum ‘and slammed hard on the block button on all social media platforms.
Like Lois, who got tired of waiting for the playlist to switch up from the blues.
Like Mimi, who cut you in quarters and eights with “your words are sweet, but I don’t believe you anymore”.
Like Ruth, whom you wouldn’t let in on what was going on.
Marie got tired too; Yvonne saw to it that you were found in fragments beside your bedroom wall. Lana is almost passive now.
No psychologist can work you through this.
No prayers can shake this up.
You are out of excuses, full of contrition, armed with resolute desire, but picking the phone almost seems like drawing milk from a hen. You simply can’t, you think unsuccessfully of means to process a phone conversation. You cheat the dim light by staring at your reflection in the mirror, one that screams of exhaustion, and the possibility of being alone at your bedside in your life’s final hours rings across the floors of your mind. You look around the room, an image of you stuffing your 40th birthday cake into your mouth in an apartment devoid of company briefly flashes, and you sigh once, and again, attempting to process what’s wrong with you.
You are Tired.
You have lost interest, in anything, and anyone.
There’s No Methodology to Grieving“When you get past the gate, turn right, there’s a road that leads straight down, then turn right again, you’ll see a black gate marked ‘No. 19’. Call me when you’re there”.
You read the most recent message in your inbox for a second time as you try to find your way to her apartment, the unforgiving Monday afternoon sun causing involuntary creases on your forehead. This visit is long overdue, and in many ways you wish the reason why you left your end of town is a lot different, but you have taken one rain check too many, and you really have to do this before it loses its essence. She lives in a fairly elite neighbourhood, and you could have easily hailed an Uber, but you opt for the public system of transportation instead, feeling the need to take advantage of a longer commute to process all your thoughts.
“He’s gone. His kidney finally caved in”.
Memories of that Thursday morning flood in. There is no good time to receive a text bearing that kind of news, but you felt that there was something too eerie about your phone beeping at 4.17am. You recall how you spent eleven minutes thinking of how to respond before typing an uninspired “oh my God”, how you bit your left thumb as the first tear hurtled down your right cheek into your flattened pillow, and how you buried your face in your palms until dawn announced its arrival with significant indifference. Her husband’s demise was not particularly unexpected – you had once listened to her weep on the phone for eighteen minutes as she told you how the frequent dialyses were taking a toll on her sanity – but still you had hoped that he would fight some more, that the will to live would overpower renal failure, that the evil day would not come as soon as feared.
“Hey, come in”.
You heave a huge sigh, and then another, as the gate opens. The hue of her eyes are a lot different from the day you first saw her at Café Neo where you traded stories of dependence on antidepressants as lyrics of The Fray’s “Say When” seeped from the café’s speakers, or the following week when your stares almost cracked her glasses while she sipped coffee at the city’s most crowded mall and countered your argument that Prince was the superior artist when compared to Michael Jackson. These eyes look like they have sailed through four of the six stages of grief, they bear an imperfect mix of resignation and anger, they speak of a dirge.
How do you stop the tears of another, tears that rush from a source which you have no power to cut off? What do you do when someone who means a lot to you, loses a part of themselves? You wish they’d stop weeping, but at the same time you fear it would be worse if they went numb.
A hundred mutters of “I am sorry” will not assuage the hurt; no long voice notes will soothe the pain. You can’t flirt with time either; you’re no Doctor Strange, nor do you have any Infinity stones.
How do you help her get back from watching her husband close his eyes for the last time in her arms? What can you possibly say?
You are helpless, and this is why you break, into tiny little pieces, by the minute.
It starts with the long stare, and then the longer hug, then the di-syllabic pleasantries followed by the deflective enquiries, before the tears start flowing from both ends. Jokes follow, and then statements that point to memories: you can never have too many instances of “he would have said that” and “he loved to visit that place” in the space of ten minutes.
The tears resume, and as you both hold hands, your short breaths betray the difficulty in processing it all. His photo hangs right over her head, and he appears to wink at you both as she asks if you would love a drink. Fortitude is a gift, and Loss never lets us in on the dimensions in which it plans to submerge us.
“You need not say anything”, you say to her as you stare into her gap tooth. You know what you mean by that: her silence and the texture of her eyes tell you all you need to know. Grief doesn’t come with handles; its weight is fully distributed.
“Eternal rest grant unto him, o Lord, and may perpetual light shine…”
How do you tell a motorcyclist that you are headed to the cemetery? How do you pay respects to a man you never met? But these are the things that come with love, with friendship. When someone dear to you loses their soul mate to the Grim Reaper, the least you could do is be present.
It’s heavy, all of this: the priest’s prayers bidding the deceased a safe passage, the widow navigating handshakes and nodding in acknowledgment of condolences, the tears that gather behind the sunshades, the finality that permeates the atmosphere as the coffin is lowered to ground, all of it.
“Give it time, Love, give it time”.
You’re not quite sure of what you mean, but you say it anyway. She smiles and her face gets brighter than yours as you hug her once more. You don’t know it yet, but you would be proven right, per the functionality of Time: in the coming months she would move to a new apartment, her name would be part of the title for your new manuscript, she would plunge herself into a promising music career, and she would be reminded of moments shared with him as she drives through certain parts of the city. But at that moment, all you can do is watching her shake silently, putting up the bravest of faces as she comes to terms with the interment of the man she loved.
Jerry Chiemeke @J_Chiemeke is a columnist, culture critic and lawyer. His works have appeared in The Inlandia Journal, The Johannesburg Review of Books, The Guardian, Honey & Lime, Bone and Ink Press and Agbowo, among others. A lover of long walks and alternative rock music, Jerry lives in Lagos, Nigeria where he is working on a novel. He is the winner of the 2017 Ken Saro Wiwa Prize for Reviews, and he was shortlisted for the 2019 Diana Woods Memorial Award for Creative Nonfiction.
Banner: Crescent by Robert Frede Kenter