The Chronicle Gambia

When Ndumbeh Died

When Ndumbeh died, it was just like any other day. It wasn’t a particularly windy morning, it didn’t rain. There was no  persistent tremor on the left eyelid which is believed to signal impending bad news. There were no freak accidents and ceramics breaking in unexplained circumstances. None of those little things we try to attach to utterly disconnected events; addicted to the thrill ignited by the possibility that we’re special, that we somewhat, by some mysterious means, are able to sense occurrences of the future

It was another hot Friday. I had seen her two days ago, sick, but still herself. I had gone to see her. I bought her a bottle of Lucozade. The lady lying on the next bed, she was thin. I could see her skeleton; her lips already drawn back like a long dead cadaver’s, revealing her front teeth. She motioned to me. Made a drinking gesture. I thought she wanted some Lucozade so I looked to Ndumbeh for permission. She showed me where the extra cup was and I poured some out for the lady lying on the next bed – she was dead and she was alive. I gave her the cup but she flung it from my grip, the liquid spread across the sheet and dripped onto the floor, spreading and birthing new paths. It made me think of blood spreading through dried up veins.

So I looked into her eyes, searching. How can and why would one so frail and weak summon energy for such act as meaningless to a dying woman as sending a cup flying from a kind hand? Her eyes were big, white and hopeless. She wanted water and she was tired of being misunderstood. She died 30 minutes later. I had my back to her. I didn’t turn around when I heard the nurse call out. I tuned out every sound except the scuffle of shoes against the worn ceramic tiles. They rolled her away wrapped in the sheets with the Lucozade spilled over it. Maybe I caused her death. She might have lived a little longer if I didn’t try to be kind.

Ndumbeh started crying. I wanted to hold her hand but I didn’t because hospitals are repulsive and reek of death. I should have held her hand. I missed my chance.

Ndumbeh died two days later. People made sure to point out that she died after asking for a bath, and during Jummah prayers. They said she was lucky and blessed for that, they took it as a sign. They even said the day was abnormally hot. Just another of the instances when we connect absolutely unrelated events to convince ourselves of…  of what we desperately want to be true. Signs which validate truths that we question in those quiet minutes of thought and even as we bow in pious devotion.

When Ndumbeh died, I got home from school.

It is like an unspoken taboo to the family, to wail in distress, to cry out in agony, to lament aloud or to lash out in fury. You learn without being taught.

So I walked in, to quiet sobs and averted eyes. Numbeh had died, I picked up my baby cousin and sobbed into his little shirt, which had “cryday” written on it.

Hers was the first dead face I looked upon. She was merely sleeping, lips slightly pursed.

They said she put on weight after she died, and implied that it’s a sign she was going to heaven. They also said that her skin got shades lighter after she died, that was a good thing too. It also screams of how deeply damaged a people we are. If her skin got darker, she’d be going to hell.

But this narration is not about Ndumbeh’s death. It’s about Ndumbeh coming home after she died.

To be continued.

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