The Chronicle Gambia

When Ndumbeh Died – Part 2

Abdou Nying – one of the purest, most humble persons to have graced the soils of my grandfather’s house. He came from Senegal many years before my birth. My grandfather let him stay in the house, then incomplete. The area was sparsely populated, all pathways were narrow and bordered by tall grasses and shrubs.

At the time, the occasional snake still startled the unsuspecting passerby, slithering across the path right in front of them, and the occasional drunkard still wandered into unfenced compounds, leaving random piles of faeces in the pails and pots left outside by the unsuspecting inhabitant.

He stayed there alone and he guarded the house. He wore plain, worn out clothes – still does, and although he never puts on perfume, he always smells clean and fresh.

When I was born, when I grew old enough, I noticed how radiant and refreshing his energy is. He was my friend and I had my own name for him. Once when I was 3, he climbed up on the roof of the house. I, five meters below and staring up at him, called his attention to a rot in the roof a second before he stepped in it. He would’ve fallen right through the corrugated sheet – and possibly die a gruesome death. He liked to talk about it and it made me feel special.

Abdou Nying – he might be a saint of sorts.

Two months after Numbeh died, he came by on a Sunday as he often does, but something was different. He said he had a dream. Ndumbeh was in it, and Ndumbeh was in despair. She wasn’t clear what the problem was but there was something. When he woke up, he said, he had an urge to visit her grave.

He went there on a Saturday, there was no burial that day and the cemetery was quiet. The leaves that had fallen from the trees carpeted the ground, they piled over tombs which had been abandoned, their occupants perhaps forgotten. They rustled in irritation at the disturbance of living feet.

Abdou Nying said he found Ndumbeh’s tomb had crumbled along the side where her head lay. Some of the debris had fallen within –  they lay inside with Ndumbeh. He said that a brick lay against her chest. He saw this when he cleared the debris away. He took the brick off her. It must have been heavy, poor Ndumbeh.

Abdou isn’t one to lie, he sat there in the living room and he said these things. He suggestively, with knowing eyes told us that he liked what he saw when he went down there to get the brick off her. He smiled and thanked the heavens. It made me feel strange. Perhaps I shouldn’t have listened from behind the door, I should have kept on walking.

He might be a saint of sorts, that Abdou Nying.

So I believed him.

Ndumbeh could send messages through dreams. Ndumbeh had enough life in her to be disturbed by a brick which lay against her chest. Ndumbeh might as well be on a vacation. Ndumbeh was coming home. He said he liked what he saw. What did he see? Was she lying there writing odes in honor of those with whom she shared the dark earth, smiling, listening to Garnett Silk as she so loved to and tapping her foot in turn with the beat?

Was she down there, listening to the rain drops hitting the earth above her and writing poetry from the heart, melancholic, mourning all that she loved, just as we mourn her?

Does she still have a heart, or had the children of the moist earth reclaimed what once was theirs? She must! Abdou Nying said so and he is not one to lie.

Ndumbeh was coming home. I unpacked the boxes and returned her things to their rightful places. Her combs, her toothbrush, the birthday card from years ago which she took out every few months to look upon and smile. Her books, her shea-butter, the slip-ons she wore everywhere. I arranged everything as she left it. I ignored the questions and the worried stares. Couldn’t they see, Ndumbeh was coming home. I had to get ready. Abdou Nying said so, he doesn’t lie. Ndumbeh was coming home. I fetched her paintings, her scented candles, the beads she wore on her ankles. I ironed out her favorite shirt and hung it over her chair.

On the day she came, a cool breeze wafted through the windows, just as it did on many other days. But this time, it settled over everything. It condensed into mist and settled over my head. I clawed at it, tried to yank it off. It held on tight. It seeped through my pores and into me.

It was then that I saw her. She sat at the table and talked, like she never left for the hospital and didn’t come back. She talked about sea shells and falling in love, about morning dew and the ache of longing. She talked about the future and the past. She spoke of mundane things, caterpillars, dust, menstrual cramps, hickies. She spoke of war and politics, blood and oil. She lay on my bed and we philosophized, asking the questions that have always been and those stirred anew.


A few weeks later, she helped me zip up my dress and tie my hair, then we all went to the hospital. There was a man in a white coat. He coughed a lot and avoided my eyes. He wrote “disturbed…illusions…paracusia…detained…further observation…response.”

I laughed and looked at Ndumbeh, she laughed too. We held hands as we were lead to our new home,

   Dramen Salle Psychiatric Facility

Ward 3

Room 16

Ndumbeh came home to me.

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