Five years ago today, the man I called baba bowed out of this life. He had a heart problem – an enlarged heart, the doctors said. There wasn’t much that could be done for him – it was left too late. But five years ago, we, his family, didn’t know that. Or maybe we knew but still thought the vibrant man we saw could weather any breathing problems, heart palpitations, fluid retention – all classic symptoms that had him admitted in hospital just four months before his demise. Baba never complained. Never said he was feeling unwell. A month or so earlier, he had come for a checkup with his doctor, himself deceased now thanks to Corona. I met him at the doctor’s. We had a late lunch at a nearby restaurant. He made his usual jokes. I drove him home – it was late in the evening and it was threatening to rain. Nothing in that interaction told me it was the last time I would see baba.
Monday 15th February 2016. 7.30am. I receive a call just as I am parking my car in the office basement. It is my brother Dave. He seems to be laughing and I cannot understand a word he is saying. I am walking towards the lift when I finally get the message. He is crying hysterically. Something about baba. We must go home…immediately. Two colleagues get in the lift with me. I look confused and maybe I tell them what I just heard. One takes my phone and calls my husband, as he settles me at a desk. I am in a daze. Soon we are driving off, first to pick my sister and then head home. Home, where baba’s lifeless body is still lying on his bed. He is still warm. I have never been that close to death. He doesn’t look dead. He is just asleep. And I finally have my moment of hysterical grief.
Five years it has taken to recount the events of that day. They say grief comes in waves, sometimes out of nowhere. Yesterday my sister shared a picture of her four year old son. He was born in 2016 – 7 months after baba left us. He is named after his grandpa. A man he never met. Someone commented how much he is turning out like his senior namesake. That gutted me. But I now have the courage to remember the man that was the pillar of not only our immediate family, but the extended family too. I may not put it as well as my brother did in this tribute but Mukabi is a name I am proud to be associated. A legacy from baba.
Life has taken its twists and turns for the past five years. Faced with some challenges, I sometimes wish he was around to offer some sound advice. Baba was a man of few words. But you didn’t forget what he said. He would say it and the next minute when you are looking for some clarification, he is nowhere to be found – you could say he was a master at the naenda hivi na-come lingual! Which sometimes made him stubborn as a mule. Once baba was convinced of something, hell could freeze over before he could change his mind.
The reason the heart problem was left too late was because of this stubbornness. At least ten years earlier, a doctor in a major hospital had suggested surgery to implant a pacemaker. Baba was in hospital then for a totally different problem – knee replacement. His few days in hospital had left him feeling too confined, and the fact that he was leaving hospital using crutches only made him more agitated. The doctor’s recommendation to follow up with a heart checkup therefore made baba fly off the handle and convinced that the doctor didn’t know what he was talking about for there was no way his heart was going to be opened up! Bringing up that subject later would only invite a naenda hivi na-come moment. I am just grateful for the ten years we got with baba after that diagnosis. He lived life to the fullest and any discomfort he might have felt was hidden well or explained away.
I have no doubt that baba loved his family and people in general. Like many men of his generation, he didn’t say it in words but his actions did. The closest I came to see baba cry was when my brother and I were being prepped for surgery, one to give a life-saving organ to the other. He later commented that not knowing whether both of us would make it out alive was the most excruciatingly painful experience he had to live through. For a man who feared hospitals enough to live with a heart problem rather than go through a surgical procedure, I can only imagine how that was like.
It’s five years today. Another Monday. I wish I could call baba and hear some joke. An off-the-cuff remark that will take me an hour to stew over. I miss his silent wisdom…I miss Mr Mukabi.
…to be continued (maybe)…