Everyone is writing about you, prose and poetry passed around, read with avarice by all who knew you. Everyone is writing about you, an attempt to celebrate everything you are, a futile attempt to list all that you embody, to keep you alive.
Maybe that’s why I can’t write about you. Because my mind cannot process your death, it refuses to. It chooses instead to consider you somehow away. Perhaps you’re still in Dubai, held back by some business or other. Or perhaps it is I who is still away. Maybe I’m not really here. Maybe I never came back and all of this is just a product of some nightmare or other.
Two weeks before your final arrival to Khartoum, I began to hear wailing in my ears. It would come and go, scaring me awake in the middle of the night, leading me to bolt out of my room, sure that the fateful call came in and I had just slept through it. I’d make it halfway down the stairs before I realized that it wasn’t real, that it was the whistle of the water pump, the neighbor’s dogs.
As time passed, the wailing in my ears became more frequent, and louder, until that Sunday when the call came in and the wailing stayed for good. It was now colored, customized, specific – my mother in a heap at hajja Zeinab’s feet, her voice hoarse from calling your name, a courtyard’s worth of the women of your family crowded around her, moaning almost in unison. I still hear it.
I feel useless. I want to comfort your children, carry some of their pain, craft some duaa that will infuse sabr into their hearts, but all I can say in response to their hunched shoulders, their heavy sighs and their tears is “alhamdulilah“. What can I say, when every fatiha I recite with a new guest is not for you? I don’t feel it. In my heart, I am praying for someone else’s soul. It can’t be yours.
I’m angry. I’m angry and I don’t know why. I’m tense. I’m annoyed. I don’t want to be here anymore. Just like that, you’re not here anymore. I’m angry because they’re already talking about you in the past tense, easily, as if they’ve always done it, as if your absence is license to erase you.
Everyone says, “it feels like a dream”, but that’s not even it. It feels like being away from you, and even though we haven’t asked about or heard from you, we’re still certain that you’re there, in your living room, waiting for us to come back, wearing that smile that none of us deserved.
At the hospital, they made me go in to see you. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to take up space reserved for your children. I didn’t want to see you that way. I stood back, and as I looked through the glass, I felt nothing. I looked to your children’s faces for guidance, some emotion I could mimic, and in the end just left. I didn’t want this to be my last memory of you.
I didn’t want to greet your casket. I didn’t want to take up space reserved for your children. When they brought you in, I watched them place you on the bed. A cousin grabbed hold of me, and I let her, thinking she needed it more than I did. As I read your name in ink on the wood, I felt nothing. I was reading someone else’s name, looking at someone else’s resting place.
I cried the first two days, mostly out of a combination of disbelief and exhaustion. I can’t cry anymore. I want to. I so badly want to cry for you, to alleviate some of this crushing weight I feel in my chest. I want to cry because I’m worried the people around me will mistake my stoic face for a cold heart – you don’t know this, but I’ve never been one to react appropriately to death.
I want to cry because then that means that I comprehend this, that I accept this. I don’t want to live with this.
The day I left, you sat in your living room and apologized for not taking me to the airport. I laughed it off, but I wish I told you how small it made me feel. I left that day without asking for your blessing or forgiveness, and now I’ll never get it.