The moment the rain hit the ground, Sifa knew the rest of the event would be a disaster. There was something about how the raindrops kissed the earth, violently like a jilted lover forcefully seeking a reunion. Soon, it raged, beating on everyone and everything.
The pearl colored coffin lying half open was not spared. Its multi-colored garnets still flickered, but not as brightly. Jane had specifically wanted it customized. And that was not the only thing Sifa’s mother had wished for in her funeral.
“Don’t get me roses. They remind me of your wretched father,” she had said.
They were seated at the backyard, enjoying a Sunday afternoon. Sifa was separated from her chain smoking mother by a table while her sister, Neema, sat on the green grass fondling stones, her legs crossed like those of a Singh.
Sifa had known of her mother’s resentment towards her father; it angered her that he had abandoned them. She also knew too well that her mother was not perfect.
“But Ma, you also left us with aunt Wambui when you went away with Jim…Uncle Jim,” she had said, composing her thoughts.
Neema had thrust a stone towards her; shutting her up.
Jane had stood up and walked away, knowing only too well what she had put her daughters through years back, when she traversed the country with Jim, a lover half her age.
Sifa hated these memories. They swirled her heart, heavy and bitter like muarubaine herbs. She dismissed them like vapor and watched the rain. The wind swayed the trees surrounding the compound. The white wooden cross fell beside the coffin. Sifa rushed to put it back in place. It felt rough like sand in her hands. Her aunt Wambui sat motionless, her head bowed as if in prayer. The children beside her moved. They played and danced in the rain if unaware of what was happening. Wanjohi, the bald-headed man who was never sober, joined them. He shook his feeble bones break dancing in the rain, not thinking of his white sneakers now brownish red from the mud, or of the “Preserve water, drink beer” t-shirt that never left his body. Sifa watched him as he walked to the crowd.
“What do we do?” Father Peter, the parish priest, asked.
Sifa skimmed through the crowd—relatives, workmates, and one or two of her mother’s friends. Her eyes went full circle and rested on her aunt Wambui, her eyebrows raised for an answer. The sores below Wambui’s deep set eyes revealed she had been crying.
“We have to wait until it subsides,” she answered, rearranging strands of her hair.
Father Peter had been the only one who had accepted to bury Jane, not so much out of obligation but out of pity. It had taken an eternity to convince him, as Jane had not been spotted in the confines of the church for the longest time.
“Our ship hit a sand dune,” she had said of her relationship with God.
Sifa had seen this coming. The first time she went to see the priest, he had crossed his hands behind him and paced the room, bobbing his head even before she could speak.
“You know I cannot accept what you are about to ask…” he had said, stuttering.
Sifa had walked away, cursing her mother for dying and her sister for being a loser.
In one hand, Father Peter held his Bible. He lifted his white and purple robes to his ankles with the other. He shifted his whole frame towards the tent. Sifa slightly twisted her head and peered at the crowd seeking approval. Watching her workmates spurred an answer.
“Let’s go on,” she urged.
But people had suddenly scattered in different directions. They ran as if Spanish bulls were after them. The wind whistled. The trees danced to the tune of nature, chasing leaves off their branches. And the banana stalks swayed waving their goodbyes to a woman they knew too well.
The rest of the service, held at the yard of a little church, had begun well and had only been interrupted by Wanjohi the drunken bastard. Everyone else had played their part, giving elaborate speeches praising Jane. Even in the things she had not wished.
“I am not the best mother; don’t go praising me at my funeral,” she had once told them.
Her candid nature had surprised many. Even her two daughters had not known how to react when she fell into that state, jabbering her most intimate thoughts.
Sifa had read her eulogy. Neema had still not shown face. In her place, aunt Wambui had stood behind her, holding a leso.
Four months ago when Neema urged her mother to break off her engagement with James, a growing yarn of rage had engulfed her fueling a serious fight.
“Men are like the waves of the ocean, they come and go,” Jane had said, reaching out for a pack of cigarettes on one edge of the table. Sifa had always been supportive of the mother and wanted her to move on, become more stable.
Things turned awry when Sifa slapped Neema. She had not seen this coming. Neema had walked across the room and grabbed a flower vase that stood firmly beside the 60 inch TV screen. She thrust it towards her sister and slightly missing. It crushed against the wall, fragments tumbling down the polished floor. Jane’s legs had weakened and buckled. She had sat on the floor rubbing her eyes, sobbing. While Sifa rushed towards her, Neema had stood there watching them and in a split second dashed out to pack. She had left in a huff, saying a quick goodbye to their mother.
This memory grew in Sifa’s mind. She did not notice the manner in which the priest concluded his last prayer, reading lines in quick succession and skipping some altogether.
“From dust we came….to dust we shall return.”
This line brought her back. The thought that she would never see her mother again gnawed on her. She screamed, blacked out. Screamed, was dragged out past the choir clad in purple and white, past her neighbors gossiping, past the children staring blankly.
The remaining crowd put a handful of soil to the grave and left the rest of the work to the gravediggers. Three men shoved the remaining soil into the grave, taking care to dodge the water puddles beside the grave. Wanjohi joined them. He shoved the soil haphazardly humming a tune of Bob Marley. As they finished, he stumbled and fell into a trench that drove water downstream.
“Help me out!” he shouted.
The gravediggers laughed.
“You asked for it,” someone shouted and laughed.
Wanjohi struggled. He finally got out but left his cap swimming. He ran towards the house, not acknowledging the many apologies and gossip that followed. Sifa rushed to console him. Pairs of eyes followed them like torches.
Looking far out to the crowd, Sifa noticed someone standing tall surrounded mostly by relatives. Her brown dreadlocks matched the color of her skin. A black trench coat covered her to her knees. On the lower side Sifa caught a glimpse of her dark jeans and boots before she started towards the house. There was something about this woman that drew her.
Sifa noticed people staring at her as if she had done something that needed penance. She watched them watch her as she ran, pulling chairs to the tent and picking up everything else that signified life.
Inside the house, Sifa sat amidst choir members, children who had clearly come to eat, the men straight from the farm and the women who clung to their farm produce. The house was a playground now. The lady she had seen was Neema.
“I am sorry,” her sister said.
The whole room went silent. People sat watching, their eyes on Sifa. It was as if her mother’s resting in peace depended on this moment.
“What were you thinking?” Sifa asked.
“He defiled me. Jim defiled me,” Neema said, sobbing.
For a few moments Sifa’s mind revolved in her own world. She was a ship all alone in the sea. She thought of all the hurt she had held inside her heart. She thought of what her sister had just disclosed.
“Come here,” Sifa said.
Neema stood there, straight as a tower. Sifa went to her knowing they were like models in the limelight. She took her into her arms. There they both sobbed their tears in tandem while it started to rain again.
“Shhhhh! Let’s give mum a perfect send off,” Sifa said.
Jane’s portraits glared at them from the green walls.
Post image by Jes via Flickr
About the Author:
Margaret Muthee is a trained journalist and Freelance writer living in Nairobi, Kenya. Her first short story, The Escape, was written during the 2015 Writivism Programme with the assistance of mentor Richard Ali, and is published in https://www.onethrone.com/ She has also been published by Lawino magazine https://www.lawino-magazine.com/2015/12/trapped-short-story-margaret-muthee.html She is keen on developing her creative writing skills and hopes to get more published in future.