Ten years ago today, a friend died. I was devastated. If you have ever lost someone young and close to you, you will understand that mystifying moment that can last a few hours or forever if it is someone like Job.
Job was a special friend to me. He had a big heart, physically and metaphorically. His heart was big and one could see and hear it beat. He had battled with Rheumatism and that had left him badly weakened ever since he was a child. He was thin, weak and exhausted. He could not do any physically exhausting task. Just walking the kilometer to our primary school and around the market was enough to have him whimpering, panting and his heart beat beating dangerously fast.
His was the saddest and tragic short story I know to date. We only met in class 7 and our friendship was to last only four years before the death struck. We had an unusual friendship and coupled with precociously informed minds, we would discuss and analyze world affairs and his quick incisive mind was a puzzle to me. He took a philosophical outlook at life and he had accepted his fateful and terminal body condition in good and cheerful faith. Once or twice, he confessed to me that he won’t be long in the world and that never really prepared me for the news that fateful Saturday when Sam broke the news to me that he was gone.
He had a juvenile fascination towards Foday Sankoh, the rebel leader who was the face of the Sierra Leone civil at the turn of the millennium. He didn’t know better then but we have all had this misplaced captivation towards scumbags such as Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and Charles Taylor. Same way women, hanker after Lady Gaga, Rihanna and more empty headed ones like Nick Minaj, or wait, the Kardashians and their entire family.
Job was intelligent, sharp witted with quick humour, bold in spite of his weak built and stature. He was never afraid of anything or anyone. Particularly, I remember when we were selecting schools in primary school. The preceding class had not performed well in the national examination and our teachers were adamant that we must select schools from within our district. Personally, I wanted Starehe for a national school (haki don’t laugh), then Kanga Boys for Provincials. The teacher responsible was crystal clear on that: ONLY A SCHOOL IN THE DISTRICT SHOULD TOP THAT PROVINCIAL LIST OF CHOICES.
Of course I was in a D.E.B school where making it to a national school was out of question. I gave in to the teacher’s stern command and settled for the best school in Gucha District.
Job did it differently. He wanted to go to Kisii School and he selected Kisii School. KCPE results came. He came second; I came third with a difference of about ten marks. He went to Kisii School. Then I went to Nyamagwa. Nyamagwa, was a good school, save for the name. And the location. Nothing is so far in Kenya than that school. I envied Job for sticking with what was on his heart and he always poked fun at my school, given that it was a cadre below Kisii School. I learnt a special yet simple lesson: To always follow my dreams and ignore dream cock-blockers.
Had he gone on to finish, he would have been affected by the 2004 cancelling of the KCSE examination due to irregularities at the school. 197 students were affected by the Ys, but if you critically think about it, not everyone in a classroom can cheat. There are always selfish guys, bright guys and saved guys who don’t cheat. On that one I am sure that the blanket condemnation affected innocent students. Nevertheless, he would have passed in the second round and went on to pursue either Engineering or Law. Either way, he would made a distinguished engineer or lawyer.
That was never to be.
I remember in Form one went to Kisii Agricultural show, purposely to meet him. We must have written each a letter, or I can’t remember how we were to meet. But we met anyway. President Moi was to preside the opening of the show.
Then I did the most incredibly and laughably stupid thing that I would regret later. As we were getting into the gate, many people wanted to gatecrash, literary by breaking the gate to get in for free. I was with Job as the scuffle begun, given that he was weak and could not run, I had to stay with him.
Then the policemen in their horses unleashed their whips and started to rein them on the crowd. Afraid, I ran and left Job behind. In the momentary confusion coupled with the dusty and anxiety, I lost my mind. Somebody had in the meantime unstrapped my pullover or is it called a sweater from my shoulder. I had actually borrowed the sweater from a friend.
After 15 minutes I went back to the now settled scene to search for Job. I found him in the adjacent building, calmly watching guys getting into the show ground. I went there and this is what he had to say;
“Silas, why did you run and leave me behind? I am weak, you know I can’t run and you leave me behind! Where is your sweater?”
I was ashamed of my shameful act. I regretted. I was stupid and cowardly. Job, the weaker had proven the one with balls.
“You didn’t have to run that far. I just stepped back to this verandah and watched as people were being whipped,” he said enjoying his brief heroic moment.
We spent the rest of the day talking just about everything under the sun. We didn’t have money for any food or snack, but he was such a magnificent friend and a good a conservationist that food didn’t really matter. In 2001 and 2002, I went to the often historic annual Adventist Rally for students held in Kisii School every third Saturday March (hope I am right on the date).
Purposely, I used to go there to meet him and just talk, talk and talk. He was the brother I never had. In 2003, he died in January and even though I went for the rally it was never the same and I don’t remember attending the 2004 or 2005 one.
During the December 2002 holidays, I had gone visiting my grandmother and I had not seen Job. It was after Christmas when I went back to my home market with just about a week to go back to school. On the last Saturday before opening school, I saw him with some other boys and we were both excited to see each other. His jovial, charming and infectious smile is still etched in my mind, as he called me out.
“Yaa nkai konye ore?” (Aye, where have you been?).
We were both excited to see each other. But it was running late, we couldn’t get to talk at length as we always did. I was with my senior cousins and we about to walk up the hill to home. We agreed to meet before reopening and catch up. That was never gonna be.
On Saturday, January 25, 2003 as I was supervising students prepare for the Saturday inspection I saw Sam come through the door. Sam was my best friend in school and we came from the same place and had gone to the same primary school. It was not unusual for him to drop by in my dormitory for a word or two. But that late morning Saturday face he was wearing had bad news written all over it.
He came up to me, and he was forthright,
“Have you heard anything about Job?”
That was it. He didn’t have to tell me anything. It was done. Pity. Job was gone. He had developed a complication that moved pretty fast and took him away. I was dazed and I had to stop my prefecture and delegate the duty to somebody else. For a whole week, I was mourning Job, waiting to hear the date of the burial. We learnt the date and since it was impossibly difficult to secure permission to go and bury a friend, we had to cheat that he was a cousin and luck for Sam and me, we were given that permission to attend the funeral.
Seeing Job in that Kisii High School uniform in the casket was a painful experience. He lay there, quiet and seemingly at peace with the cruel world that had sent him away too fast.
To me, it still hurts why he had to die too young. Job would have probably turned up as a one of those chatty nerds. Would have probably loved hip-hop by Nas, Common and all those bearded rappers and neo-soul artists. He would have gone to the University of Nairobi and would have possibly landed himself a good job like that. So bright, greatly gifted, yet he had to die before he even turned 18. God will have a lot of questions to answer.
Every so often I do take up my album and look at his picture just but to remember the best days we had. I will miss him and can never forget him. He taught me to be thoughtful of those who are weaker, not just physically but even emotionally. He taught me how to put my selfish interests aside and sometimes help others out as much as possible. He taught me, no matter how ill or disabled one is, never lose your good cheer. It is the life and happiness that we put into our lives that matter and not the number of days we live that matter.
Once, he bluffed me that he was after the prettiest lady in the market. I felt a twinge of jealousy and asked him to pass her up. He wrote a letter, and in the letter he stated that I should know better than take him seriously. He said, he was too weak to pursue her and told me I should go ahead. He signed out with some French phrase, which I forget. From the letter, I learnt yet again that I was irredeemably stupid to have not seen his bluff.
All in all, I hope he is in heaven. And if I need any motivation to go there, I can give anything to see Job again. To talk some more. To laugh again as we laughed when we were young.
Keep smiling down on us boy. Keep smiling. RIP.
Miss you big.