I went upstairs to where Mum was wiping down the shelves in her bedroom.
“Mum, it’s saying Dad’s ID number is invalid. Do you want me to call them?” I was trying to register both she and Dad for a government health plan online.
“It’s O.K.” she said, “I’ll just go there.” She picks up a frame with my brother’s photo and wipes underneath it. “And do it manually. Get ready,” she says.
“Mum, I’m not going anywhere today,” I answer. Mum has a habit of trying to get me out of the house as much as possible.
“You’re not going to drive me to the hospital?” she asks.
“Your aunty has called to say Guka’s there.” I stayed quiet, trying to figure out what all that meant. I was confused, because Guka had been in hospital back in January, but he was at his home now for 2 months with a nurse and all the care he needed. Guka was diagnosed with cancer some years back, but within the last year he suffered the most, moving in and out of hospital.
“I told you he didn’t look well on Sunday,” she continued.
“What else did Aunty say?” I asked, knowing that there were some pieces she had left out. She said something that didn’t really answer me, as she dropped a miniature virgin Mary she was dusting behind.
I went back downstairs and checked Whatsapp to find a message from my uncle, D, saying Dad has rested. I was shocked, caught off guard. My eyes welled a little and I went back upstairs to find Mum cleaning the bathroom and again asked,
“Mum, what else did Aunty say?”
“I know what’s happened,” she said, mopping the linoleum tiles of her bathroom floor.
There was an engineer in the room where they hold the bodies. The coroner had stepped out and the engineer asked if we were okay to see Guka unsupervised. Mum said it was okay and non-hesitantly lifted the multiple layers of sheets until my grandpa’s face appeared. He was wrapped like a burn victim, every bit of his body but his face wrapped in gauze. He got burnt out. Fought hard. But lost. His face was so familiar, yet not at the same time. His inverted skin tags, eyelids closed, though if you looked close enough you could see his right grey eye creeping through, his face just fully stretched out. It was like every muscle on his face was at its most relaxed. Skin, tinted yellow, I guess that’s the pale equivalent for light skinned complexions. No tense lines, no frown, just a resting face. I wanted to keep looking at him and cry. Mum touched his face like she was feeling for a fever, then asked,
“He looks peaceful?”
“Yeah,” I answered. Not long after, they put him on a stretcher, covered him in a green body bag, and drove him away to the mortuary.
Before showing up at my uncle D’s house, I stopped at KFC to get a chicken burger. Mum had gone with one of my aunties to the house. She called to ask where I was and told me to get a pizza for my teenage cousin. My grandpa’s dead and I’m ordering pineapple on pizza.
When I got to the house, I saw my aunt, L, sitting outside with her aunty. She had been crying. I hugged her and went to get her some water. Inside were my older aunts and my mum. I went to the kitchen and my cousin, S, came in and hugged me. She told me when she heard the news, she left a note on her bosses desk saying she was gone for the day. We started eating the junk food I got and my little cousin, PC, found us and started digging in to the best pieces of pizza.
“When are those guys getting out of the living room? I want to play PS!” PC whined. All three of us caught up around the kitchen table, eating, reprimanding PC for being selfish, laughing at his stupid comments as he showed off his instagram page with over 19K followers, being awed by the huge-ass wide lens his dad had bought him, and failing at being sentimental.
Moments later, N, my aunt who’s the same age as me, stormed into the kitchen.
“This is fucking depressing!” She looked me in the eye like I should have said something, but I didn’t. No one did.
L and her younger brother, M, walked in after their sister walked out. L narrated to S and I about the moments leading to Guka’s last breath, and how she had found out. N had shown up to L’s workplace, tricking her that they were going to buy meds for their dad. As she was talking to us, her eyes bruised with blood veins, looking us straight in the eyes, she said,
“This is the worst feeling ever. I would never wish this upon anyone.”
People are eating food, drinking soda and tea. I thought I heard music. I heard PC upstairs swearing at his cyber mates over a first person shooter multiplayer game.
By evening, a funeral date was already decided. Already, different family members had responsibilities. It hasn’t even been 24 hours, I kept thinking. But maybe this is how they deal. Or maybe it was Uncle D drinking right before he left for the hospital at 1 in the morning. Maybe it was Aunty R being the first one at the hospital. Maybe it was Mum having that “funny” feeling that didn’t allow her to sleep properly the night of. Or maybe they haven’t mourned at all. Maybe they don’t allow themselves to and just numb themselves by making plans straight away.
Meetings were held. First for family, which was everyone but a few people, then for internal family, which was half of those people, then VIP family, which was about 4 people. Next thing I know, my older cousin, P, was writing Guka’s death announcement on her laptop. The plan was to send it in to the local newspaper by the morning. She called on S and I to help her with the names of our other cousins and their kids. I mentioned one particular cousin who isn’t technically blood, but still, we used to race to see who was faster. Without even looking at us she said,
“We don’t know him.” S and I just looked at each other.
The night went on, and Mum and I didn’t leave until midnight.