I often visit mythical lands, make merry with fictional people and come back to Earth to write their fantastical tales on my blog; THE WORDS OF A DYING FLAME.
“BE QUIET, TANDA!”
His father’s voice resounded in the dead of night as his mother sat next to him, wiping his tears away.
“I don’t care! You are a man! Keep those tears to yourself!”
“He said it didn’t hurt that bad!” the boy said while crying, “he said it was just a cut, that the blood would stop eventually!”
“It was a nasty cut,” his mother murmured, holding her son’s hand. The man looked at both of them, took a shot of his whisky and said again.
“You’re a man, Tanda. I know you’re feeling bad over Ayemba’s death, but these things happen. Pull yourself together.”
“But I miss him,” the boy whimpered, choking back another torrent of tears while burying his head in his knees. His mother hugged him tightly, looking back at the irate Mzee Kuboi standing over them. He sighed, nodded at his wife, and knelt by his grieving son.
“Shitanda,” he beckoned the boy, who slowly looked up at him.
“This is a part of life. Don’t you remember Aunt Anita? My sister? She went to be with her ancestors, and though I miss her, I cannot keep dwelling on her passing. This is the same for you.”
“But he was okay,” the child squeaked, “he said he was fine. I helped dress the wound on his head. He said it didn’t hurt that much…”
“Accidents happen. Sometimes we can’t walk away from them, isn’t it, my love?” he asked his wife. She stared into blank space, stroking her son’s kinky hair, merely nodding in agreement.
“And please, son,” Kuboi said, “no matter what, don’t go see him. If you hear his voice, don’t run to him. It is your mind playing tricks on you.”
“Bad things happen when a boy sees his dead twin. Very bad things. No matter what, Tanda, don’t heed his voice, okay?”
Tanda nodded as he lay down, his father smiling from the door.
“Get some sleep, son,” the father said, gently nudging his wife away. She kissed him on the forehead and walked out with her husband. As he walked behind her, he grabbed her ass and pressed himself against her, whispering in her ear:
“I see you’re also stressed. Why don’t I help you with that, hmm?”
“I have to go prepare the food for tomorrow. The others are waiting for me,” she spoke in a soft voice, sniffling. He ran his hand across her cheek, wiping the tear away and turning her towards him.
“They can wait. Your husband needs you now,” he said, pulling her towards their bedroom. He passed by his son’s room one last time, pushing the door open to see him climbing out of the window to meet another boy; he squinted at the other one, unable to see what he looked like as he was in the cover of darkness.
“See, I knew he would be fine,” he said to his wife as they walked in to their room. He pulled her close, kissing her neck and running his hands all over her body.
“I’m sorry, mama. I’m sorry,” he said to her, unbuttoning her blouse and fondling her breasts. She winced slightly at the liquor reeking in his breath, but was unable to pull away from her husband, whose embrace got rougher as his kisses got deeper.
“It was an accident, Mama. Please,” he slurred unbuttoning her blouse and pulling up her skirt.
“He was my…” she started to say, but he placed a finger on her lips, cupping her face as he smiled.
“Not now, mama. Not now. I need you. I want you,” he slurred. His weight pushed her down to the bed, and she closed her eyes as he ‘needed’ her, a tear escaping her eye.
Tanda lay on his bed, looking up at the ceiling as he reminisced on the events of the day while massaging his cheek. He knew his best friend was gone and wished he could be here with him, but his father made it clear that that wasn’t going to happen. Just then, he heard someone speaking.
“PSST! Over here.”
He sat up and looked around to see who it was. A figure waved to him from outside his bedroom window. Walking over to it, he saw his twin brother Ayemba crouching beneath it, covering his mouth as he giggled. He lay back down and covered his ears.
“Don’t heed his voice, don’t heed his voice,” Tanda said to himself, closing his eyes.
“You still believe Dad’s ghost stories?” Ayemba asked him as he climbed into the room and sat on his bed.
“Ayemba? But how...” Tanda started before Ayemba interrupted him.
“Ssshhh! They’ll hear you! Come, let’s go and play!"
“I thought…I mean, I’m not supposed to…”
“Come on! Don’t be a baby!” Ayemba insisted, to which Shitanda climbed out the window and joined him. As he did, he heard the door to his room opening and crouched beneath the window, his brother covering his mouth.
“You think he saw us?” Ayemba asked. Tanda shook his head while still looking at his brother in disbelief.
“Ok, cool. Come I show you something,” Ayemba said as he pulled Tanda up and ran behind the houses, all the way to the tent at the entrance to the compound.
“No, no! I’m not supposed to be here!” Shitanda said as he backed away. Ayemba pulled him back in, pushing him towards the coffin.
“Come on. You need to see it,” his brother said, his grip tighter than he remembered.
“But, I was told it was bad luck!”
“You’ll be fine. Come and see,” his brother went on, now carrying him towards the coffin. Shitanda was shocked at just how strong his brother was, but what was more shocking was the body that lay in the coffin; trembling in the suit, eyes bulging out as it looked directly into Shitanda’s eyes.
“PAPA!” Shitanda screamed before the body woke up and covered his mouth…
Mzee Kuboi placed a hand on his wife’s shoulder, wiping away her tears as they flowed freely. She sat up on the bed, put on her clothes and walked slowly out of the bedroom, sniffling as she did. Mzee was not happy about her behavior, but he somewhat understood why.
“She’ll get over it soon enough,” he said, gulping down a glass of whisky. He stood up and put on a vest and trouser, stumbling out of the room and into the living room, sinking into his favourite wingback chair. Next to it was a table filled with books, on top of which was a broken framed picture. He looked at it for a while, breathing heavily at the sight of a younger, leaner version of himself and his young wife each holding their twins. His smile could light up a room, and though he wasn’t the man in that picture, he always looked at it to remind himself of what gets him up to work.
“I need some air,” he told himself. The night breeze made him shudder. He reached out for his coat and walked into the courtyard that the other houses surrounded, at the centre of which was a group of women. Upon coming closer, he saw his wife weeping as she was consoled by the other women. She tried to break away from them, but they surrounded her, some even weeping with her. One of them saw him staring at them and moved away from them, the others doing the same. His wife wiped away her tears, dusted her clothes and went back to preparing the food for tomorrow.
Mzee Kuboi exhaled and ran back to his house, taking the entire bottle of whisky off the coffee table and gulping down a portion. He then walked outside and headed straight for the tent that sat near the entrance to the compound. He tripped and fell on his stomach with a thud, and contemplated lying there until morning. Only watching the whisky pouring out made him get up and go to the tent.
It only had one fluorescent bulb lighting it in the centre, below it sitting the coffin. He took a step forward and placed his hand on the coffin, exhaling before he started speaking.
“I – I’m – I just wanted to…” he struggled to say. He took another shot of whisky to help him speak clearly, but the sight of the coffin made him take another much bigger one. As he swallowed it, he trembled. His hand went to the side of the coffin, wanting to confirm for himself. His breath was rapid and his heart rapped in his chest, his eyes welling up with tears.
Just then, a loud thud from inside the coffin made him fall back on the ground. Without wasting time, he ran out of the tent and back to his house, straight into Tanda’s room. He saw his son dusting himself off and preparing to take a shower.
“Oh,” he said as he walked over to his bed and sat there, patting it for Tanda to join him.
“Can I get you some tea?” Mzee Kuboi asked his son, who slowly shook his head.
“Son, can I tell you something?”
“Sometimes, things do not go our way, Shitanda. Sometimes, things you have planned for go awry, and they can make you mad. Very mad. And that can make you do things that you may later regret. Some of those things may be really bad, and can never be undone. You understand?”
Shitanda shook his head again. His father placed his hand on his little shoulder, his voice shaky as he went on, whispering this time.
“It was an accident, Shitanda. It was a really, really unfortunate accident. I didn’t mean to hurt your brother like that…”
Sensing his father’s discomfort, he held his hand and squeezed it a bit.
“If he only listened. I told him to stop bothering me, but he wouldn’t stop. Had he, maybe I wouldn’t have…”
The man cleared his throat, took another gulp of whisky and smiled at Shitanda.
“We’ll talk about this more when you’re older, okay?” Tanda nodded as Mzee Kuboi walked out of his room and went to favorite chair.
He saw Tanda run towards him and hug him. He hugged his son and hummed a lyric to a song he used to sing to them when they were younger. He took his coat and wrapped it around Tanda.
“You should keep warm, young man. Your hands are cold,” he told him, watching Tanda fall asleep in his arms. As the liquor made him drowsy, he heard Tanda repeatedly saying:
“I’ll be better, Papa. I promise.”
The next day, Mzee Kuboi and Tanda were the first ones up, dressed in their matching black suits and welcoming visitors to the funeral. Kuboi’s wife stood at a distance watching them do so, and as Tanda waved at her, she looked away and went back into their house.
“Give her time,” Kuboi said.
“Okay. Do you need me to do anything else?” Tanda asked him.
“No. the service is about to begin.”
As the preacher spoke well of the deceased, Kuboi kept imbibing his whisky, nodding in agreement with the preacher. Meanwhile, his wife sat across them, glaring at Tanda, who merely smiled at her. Her eyes grew wider as she shook her head, squirming in her seat. The ladies seated next to her tried to calm her down, but the more she looked at him, the more restless she became.
“Are you okay, Mama?” the preacher asked.
“Oh God! Oh my God!” she screamed as she stood up. She looked at Kuboi, and then pointed to Tanda.
“SEE WHAT YOU’VE DONE!” she screamed at him.
“Mercy, please,” the woman next to her said as she and two others tried to sit her down. Eventually, she calmed down and sat, but her eyes were still on her son, shaking her head. She then whispered to the woman seated on her left, pointing to him. The other woman then stared at Tanda as well, then walked off.
“Well then, shall we proceed?” Kuboi asked. After the preacher finished the sermon, he and a few other men carried the coffin from the tent and headed to the newly dug grave. Wails of despair rang in the air as men women and children fell to the ground, beating their chests and holding their heads.
“OUR SON IS DEAD!” one woman screamed as the coffin was lowered into the grave, Tanda and Kuboi watching. Kuboi was about to gulp another shot of whisky, but Tanda covered the mouth of the bottle. Kuboi turned to his son, ready to scream, but there was a look that Tanda wore that made him stop. He felt a chill run down his spine, making the liquor wear off as he stared at the boy for a while before he excused himself and went back to his house.
As he opened the door, the bottle slipped from his hands and crashed into the floor. He leaned on the door frame, breathing heavily as he covered his mouth in shock. In the middle of the room, dangling from a rope attached to the fan was his wife. Her body twitched as it rotated slightly, prompting him to rush to her and help her down.
“Baby! Come on, please don’t do this to me! Please don’t!” he screamed while he held her in his arms, shaking her to see if she would wake. Instead, she breathed her last with the words:
“Tanda saw him.”
Before he could call for help, his son walked through the door. Kuboi looked at him, eyes bulging out in sheer terror.
“You heeded the voice, didn’t you? You went to see your brother, didn’t you?” he asked the boy. He walked forward, the wound on his forehead opening for his father to see.
“Oh God,” Kuboi whimpered as he backed into a corner while holding his dead wife, shaking his head in disbelief. He then noticed the suit they had made for him on the floor, and realized who he was looking at.
“Hi Papa,” the boy said.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry that I hurt you,” Kuboi spoke as he raised his hand to his son. Ayemba came close and hugged him and his mother.
“I know you didn’t mean it,” Ayemba said, “I know it was an accident.”
“I didn’t mean to hurt you so badly. I – I’m really sorry, my son. Please, don’t punish your brother for it,” Kuboi begged, “punish me instead. Please, bring him back.”
“I was a bad boy, Papa. I’m not anymore. Give me a chance to show you. I’ll be a better son this time,” Ayemba said as he faced his father. Kuboi saw the wound now gushing from Ayemba’s forehead, spurting onto his wife’s body.
“Anything you want. Just give Tanda back to me, please,” Kuboi begged him some more, curling up in the corner of the room as Ayemba held his face, smiling as he spoke in a deeper voice.
“Give me a chance, and I’ll give you your son.”
Among the Banyala sub-tribe of the Luhya community, when a twin dies, the other one is prevented from viewing the body and crying too much, as well as staying where the other twin stayed.