The Dead Have a Story

Name: Martin

Country: Tanzania

Age: 37

The world is a tiny place where jacaranda trees break the horizon into weird spots of unimaginable shapes and silhouettes. As clichéd as this may sound I am reminded every time of this when interesting realties meet.

Opposite my house a man died a few months ago. Our past had never crossed before because the ones that lived in the house were his parents; he had his life 200kms away.  He was a married man with one small daughter in his later 30s. In the last months of his life, his health deteriorated and the decision was taken to move him back into the house of his parents, and to the neighborhood where he played as a young boy. In the last week he was rushed to the hospital but after a few days just like many would say God loved him more.

As the customary practices dictate the whole neighborhood went to pay their condolences to the family and relatives. In his parents’ house mattresses were removed from beds and laid on uncarpeted floor and the living room was bare of the sofas that would normally be draped with embroidered pieces of clothes. The house embraced the melancholia of women in kanga with tears tricking down their cheeks and men with long mourning faces. When I heard, I went to pay my respect to the family that night.

I didn’t know the deceased and even in the second day when the coffin was brought into the house from the mortuary for everyone to pay their last respect, my curtains were drawn and the door was closed; I chose to stay inside. You see I don’t like to see dead people because they tend to stay with me for a long time, encasing me in a shroud of sadness. You see when I was a young boy I saw a man who was run over in the street. His face was not covered and up to today I can still see him; the sadness and anguish of his last seconds, the loneliness of those he left behind and the dangerous reality of machines. I didn’t want Martin to do it to me. I didn’t know him and I decided not to go to see his face.

But when the procession to the cemetery started I left my house and followed. The PA vehicle led the way, blasting mournful songs sung in monotonous tones. Then followed family members in open cars, their women crying and covering their faces with kanga. Then the rest of the relatives, friends and neighbors came at the end. After a small prayer was held at the cemetery, they lowered in the coffin. The sadness washed over me. They said he was young; they said he had so much to live for but God loved him more. The wife wailing with pain wanted to throw herself into the grave and the daughter who was too young to understand anything threw in a handful of soil in the grave.

And before long everything ended and the graveyard was deserted and all was left was a heap of soil with a cross on it.

Everyone has a story to tell and even the dead like Martin. Sometimes you just need the right moment to hear the story and marvel at how wonderful and tragic life can be.

A week before writing this I met a friend who knew Martin. During their childhood they played together on the streets after class and their houses were not very far apart. They parted ways in secondary school; Martin went to a boarding school. It was only after university that they reunited after many years. They were young men ready to take on life.

My friend went to visit Martin at his house where they talked about everything from their childhood years. In the midst of conversation they lost a sense of time. By the time Martin was escorting my friend it had gotten dark. When they were saying their goodbyes a hug was only natural. But before the embrace had been broken Martin went in for a kiss. My friend was caught off guard and he walked off from the awkward situation with a smile on his face.

Nothing of the issue was spoken and many years went by without communication between the two. We can only speculate what was going through the minds of the two men. Was Martin thinking of my friend? Did he ever want to speak to him about what happened between them? Did he want to kiss him again? We can only imagine what must have gone through Martin’s head.

One year before his death, Martin reached out to my friend after they had started chatting on Whatsapp following a mutual friend that connected them; by this time the two men were living in different cities and their lives hadn’t crossed paths for some time. After weeks of reminiscences of old school days the topic of what happened that night was revisited. Martin told my friend that he liked him a lot while growing up and that he had always wanted to kiss him.

He went on to confide in him that after that encounter he had met a man when he started working and in him he had found love in the arms of someone who loved him back. Though they lived in different cities, they were able to meet monthly and he always waited this moment patiently like Ennis and Jack on their finishing trips in the Brokeback Mountains.

But sadly a year before the boyfriend passed away in a car accident. Martin was heartbroken and he had vowed not to love anyone again. By this time he was already married with a daughter.

A day before writing this I went to see his grave. The jacaranda trees that scattered the carpet of purple flowers during his burial were now blossoming from the autumnal experience. His grave was exactly like it was before; the heap and the cross bearing his name and the year of his birth, death and burial, written in rushed italics.

I didn’t know him. I don’t know him. I don’t know what made him happy and neither do I know when he was the happiest. Was it when he was with his boyfriend? Was it when he was waiting for him to arrive?

As I stood there I couldn’t help but wonder how he felt when his boyfriend died in the nasty accident. How much did it break him? Did he share the intensity of his pain with anyone? Was that which killed him slowly?

As I stood there on the bed of the dead, the tranquility sweeping over me in a trance of sadness, my heart cried for the man I didn’t know. But I wished him well. Because in my heart I hoped that he found meaning in his life, that in the midst of living in the society that made him get married he was able to find himself in fleeting secretive moments that many didn’t understand, though people like I could relate to.

My hope is that he was happy even if it wasn’t at all times. I hope that he laughed and smiled and that he was able to enjoy who he was. I hope that he was able to feel the breeze caressing his face and gladdening his heart.

Although I didn’t go to pay my last respect, his face will remain with me through this story.

This story is part of his life.

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