Remember the friend I talked about here? We buried him last weekend.
We took him to his village in Ugenya, at the foot of a hill called Got Rembo. It was sadness in all hues
as we mourned the 39-year-old father of three young children, dead with all his ambitions and dreams.
I saw how stoically his 10-year-old daughter stood at the open casket during the final prayers before the body was taken to the grave site.
She stood there looking down at her dead father with a passive face, as if death had forced her to be an adult.
Charming girl she is; confident and personable, like her late father. I thought how in another 10 years if she will remember her father, and how he took her everywhere.
How you could tell they were more than father and daughter, but best friends, like they had lived another life together. How they called each other “Abish,” a secret dialect that only them understood.
I met his five university friends, who had hopped on buses from Central Kenya to travel night and day into the very heartland of Luoland to send him off.
They stood there not understanding the cultural practices or the local language but knowing that grief itself is a language for everyone.
He, even in death, turned people into gentlemen.
The night before the burial we — a group of 12 men — sat in a circle outside the boma in an open field.
Above us hang a three-quarter moon that seemed not to move.
The outline of Got Rembo loomed in the distance. Someone had opened the boot of the car so we could listen to music.
We drunk from disposable cups and laughed as crickets chirped and village dogs howled in the distance.
Some of us were meeting each other for the first time, everybody carrying a different talismanic memory of him.
Although he was different things to different people, we all agreed that he was generous, gregarious, secretive, very funny, charming, ambitious, a great father even by all standards of fatherhood, and a great-hearted man.
During the eulogy, a church lady said it’s the handsome ones that go first, and the men, the Catholic Men Association of Kenya, roared with both laughter and protest.
The good ones, indeed go first.
Towards the end he lived a life we couldn’t understand. He lived within himself.
It was like he was locking most doors in his house, because he wanted to live in one room alone. He seemed to shrink his world. And that night under the big moon, we wondered if we could have done more.
We interrogated the idea of friendship, some of us wrestled with guilt while others wallowed in despair.
I remember him after the grisly road accident as he lay in hospital bed paralysed, one eye bloodied, growing a stubble over his sense of humour. I thought to myself, this is Sande, he can’t die, how can he die when he’s dedicated to church and he has more children than most of us?
Surely if God needs to save anyone, he will save him. And later when I saw him in the morgue, fresh in death, and I heard his only brother cry, and his cry cut the room like a saw, breaking down all of us in tears. I remember going to the barber from the morgue and the girl who gives me head massage after asking me, “why do you look so sad today” and I told her, “I have been crying. My close friend died.”
And later I remember mulling over the simplicity of that statement; I have been crying, my friend died.
Because that’s what friends do to you when they die, they make you cry. They make you feel guilty.
They make you scared to be alive. They fracture your world. They make you fearful as a father. They make you feel sorry; sorry that you didn't’ spend enough time together, that you didn’t talk to them more.
Mostly they just break your heart because they come from so far and worked so hard, then die with an oxygen mask over their face.
After we buried him and we all piled in the car to drive to the next town where we would catch the next flight back to Nairobi, a deathly silence descended in the car.
Julius, my brother from my own mother, who was driving — he who had stolen him from me and made him his best man and his best friend, stared ahead with grim concentration.
Paul, my brother from another man, one of the pallbearers whom I had also introduced him to and made him his best friend, sat at the back staring away at moving trees and houses, his shoes still dusty from the graveside dust.
I had lost him twice to these two gentlemen, if you wanted to look at it that. But if you knew him, you’d know that you never lost Sande, you shared him.
I wrote about his jeans here a few times. I always made fun of how shady he was wearing jeans with iron-line running down their front. And he would always call and tell me, “I don’t care how many times you write about my jeans. You will never break me.” I guess he broke me first.
Rest In Peace, Stephen “Sande” Odhiambo. I shall see you on the other side, preferably wearing better jeans.