I'm a writer and freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.
“You’re so much like her,” they say, the muffled words wading through the murk of her blurred reality. She blinks, willing the present to return. Instead, the wall ahead fades in and out, it’s cream coat thawing to a light blue then the earthy grey of exposed stone and back again. She tries not to look at the pictures hanging off it, whose faces slip away into others like melting candles, that for a moment the smile of a toddler droops against the sober stare of a young man before one disappears into the other. “Just like her.” Someone touches her. She looks down at her lap to find a small bony hand over hers, the sight of which yanks her back.
The wall is now a glossy cream, a colour that had been heatedly debated over for weeks last year in preparation for the holidays. Several pictures grace it, their faces unwavering, some of which stare fixedly all around her with desperate wet eyes. They’ve been watching her just so all week. Thankfully, this cold and cloudy day was the day of the funeral, after which she would go back to her life where grown men and women didn’t follow her around as though she was the reincarnation of their dead mother. Of course she doesn’t tell them how uncomfortable it all makes her. Of course not. She understood, somewhat, that everyone grieved in their own way. And this, unfortunately, was theirs.
Makena sighs, waves of which reverberate around the stuffy living room, crumpling faces all about. She excuses herself before the first sob breaks and by the time she reaches the door two or three more have joined the first and fill the air in a cloud of wails as though grandmother Makena was dying all over again right before their very eyes.
She turns into the hallway that leads to the kitchen, the carpeted floor dulling her hurried steps away. She’s almost there too when the carpet gives way to cool plastic-covered ground, the sudden change of which makes her gasp. She stops and looks down.
Beneath her feet are the brown flowered patterns of an old fashioned plastic floor covering, now sparkling new. Behind, the red carpet continues towards the living room. A wisp of a line, marked by soot, divides the two and runs right by her heel, up the walls converging above her on the ceiling. On one side, the shadowed walls are a polished cream made dark by a gloomy house, while on the other bright streams of sun washing in through the kitchen doorway danced steadily over fresh blue. Makena shuts her eyes, anxiety creeping up over her. Other than being the apparent host to a ghost, she’d also been slipping in and out of reality all week. Today, however, the episodes had been more frequent. From the moment she woke up, the house had seemed to flicker around her like a dying bulb. She opened her eyes but the blue walls and plastic covered floor are still there. She moves to go back, her foot just hovering above the line when the quiet chatter of her relatives meets her. She stops, turns around and with an inhale, slowly starts for the kitchen once more. There were worse fates than entertaining a hallucination, she figured.
As she neared the doorway, she could hear a man quietly singing. The voice made her think of her grandfather, although this one sounded like it belonged to someone much younger. When she got to the door, she stopped and took a deep breath before peeking in. Inside, the kitchen looked as it always did. On their arrival earlier in the week, she and her cousins had guffawed at the absurdity of it all, “They have a 4K TV but upgrading the kitchen is where they draw the line?” She didn’t know what 4K meant but she did agree that her grandparents’ television was very impressive. Later they would all unanimously agree that despite looking very unpleasant, that kitchen did produce the best food they had had in a very long time.
The kitchen was a small square room with long benches lining the walls and that faced a large old fashioned furnace. There were pots and pans hanging off large metal hooks like sooty hats on every wall as well as two tall metal drums that were used to carry fresh milk into town every morning. It almost seemed like she had been rid of her hallucination, except the sun still shone brilliantly through the small window and there was a singing man in mud streaked khaki dungarees crouched by the furnace. The thought occurs to her that she should be terrified. After-all she had never before seen an actual person in her hallucinations. But for some reason unbeknownst to her, she wasn’t. She was, instead, mildly curious.
Makena watches the man in a spectator-like fashion as he pokes at the wood and frowns when it stays barely lit. To her surprise, the man looks up at her with a smile. Brilliant light brown eyes meet her then, and she thinks of her grandfather again, except these eyes sit on an unlined brown face atop which was a full head of thick hair.
Makena stands there, motionless. Should she engage? But what if someone walked in and found her? Where would she begin?
Instead he tilts his head and looks beyond her, as though he couldn’t see her at all. “No running inside the house!” he says.
She turns her head just as the sound of little patting feet arise to meet her. She sees two little girls running and giggling down the hallway towards the living room. The man gets up with a huff and rushes towards them. “Gacheri! Nkatha!” Makena watches the three cross the line and disappear. To her bewilderment, however, the brightly lit kitchen and it’s side of the hallway remain.
Curiosity moves her to the line and despite common sense telling her that it was just her mind playing tricks on her, possibly due to stress or perhaps the fresh mountain air invading her city blackened lungs, Makena skips over the line with two feet. Nothing happens to her. However, she turns around to find that the line is gone and so are the blue walls, plastic floor and sunlight. Quickly turning back she falls into the large bosom of her auntie Gacheri. The older woman takes hold of Makena’s arms to steady herself.
“I didn’t see you there,” Auntie Gacheri says.
Makena apologises but her auntie does not release her. Instead she watches her face silently for a moment.
“I’m so glad your mother named you after her. You’re so much like her. She had a quiet disposition too, just like you.” She smiles at her. Makena smiles back, unsure what to say. “Peaceful women,” Gacheri says, more to herself. “With you here, she is never truly gone.”
Her grip softens but she does not release the young woman.
“It must seem so strange to you. Traditional superstition. But we have things like this for nothing more than comfort. At least, for myself.” she gives a short laugh then finally releases her. “Come, the service is about to start.”
Makena lets herself be led by the hand into the living room. All the other relatives are already outside but the room is not empty. At the other end of the large room, right by the main door, are the two children, now seated on the floor with the man playing a game. The line divides the living room into two rough halves. One side harbouring cool dull light and modern furniture, the other looking warm with sunlight and flower patterned wicker chairs.
She steps outside and stops suddenly as she dazedly takes in her new world. Her auntie has to tug at her hand to get her moving again. They join the family at the edge of the farm where a grave has been dug. One by one, aunties, uncles, cousins, friends and finally her grandfather get up to the front. As they speak, she sees some of the stories they tell in the sky, in the farm, by the small wooden gate, moving about, disappearing only when they cross the several lines that now divide the world from the ground up to the blue, grey and black sky. When the last of the red soil hits the ground, Makena finds herself a little sad as all the stories fade away.