“Have you ever lost anyone?”
The tone of his voice came off slightly condescending and impartial. I looked away to avoid his eyes. I didn’t know what upset me, was it his tone or was it the fact that I haven’t quite felt grief as intently as he had.
I have lost uncles, a great Kiswahili teacher and a grandfather but I knew I would fall short if I nodded and narrated my version of solemnity in death.
I didn’t answer. I wanted to avoid the discussion as much as I could. He brushed it wrongly or it brushed me in the wrong way. I wanted to stand up and leave but that would have made it worse. I pictured him running after me in an attempt to decipher whether I was offended by his question.
I reached for my mug of my chamomile tea and parted my lips a little too wide that it spill on my dress. He took a serviette from his front pocket and reached for my bosom but I stopped his hand midway with an awkward ‘I got it’ tone.
It was uncomfortable for a few minutes. The intrusive question, the chamomile spill, the kind gesture and the cat that passed between my legs. Its fur rubbed against my legs one more time as I tried to absorb as much of the tea before it seeped through.
I loved cats; the whole feline aura fascinated me. It would pass raising its tail so high I would feel my thighs quiver upon contact, a narrow smile would sneak up and it sort of made him at ease. The tension on his brows lessened and his heartbeat was running still like the tea in the mug.
I still avoided his eyes, it was too soon to make contact and the inquisitions were too sudden. He should have waited I empty my mug or perhaps should have asked via text, the disquieting finality would have made me more open.
“I have lost people, but not in the close range as you”
He apologized for his tone in the same tone he had used. I didn’t bother to decode the sincerity of his apology, I didn’t care for apologies. But he did, he went round and round explaining why he was slightly agitated but he noticed that my mind was far from him, far from the subject.
He placed his hand on mine and asked if I was upset, if he could bring me more tea, if I wanted anything else.
I shook my head and looked straight ahead, I stole glances as he talked but never looked at him again. Not directly.
He would often touch my shoulder to get my attention but I would soon resume staring at the tea in the cup and the cat lying on my left foot. It felt warm, warmer than the tea I was sipping. I wondered if it has lived its nine lives, whether it feels pain associated with loss and if my foot refracted its home and warmth.
“I lost my father when I was 5yrs old, I barely knew the man, and if he was to come back I would pass him on the street”.
I was empathetic; his voice trembled ever so slightly. I wondered why he had opened up to me so soon, I wouldn’t know what to say, how to say it and if I should say anything at all.
I wanted to give him my condolences but would they suffice his pain? Was it long overdue? Could I hug him and tell him that his father is proud of whom he is? But I didn’t know who he was; I didn’t know what he did and what made him tick.
I had met people who had lost their parents before. Either one or both. My reaction was the same; empathetic, delirious and a tinge of ‘I wish I could bring them back’. The same pain that washed over them is the synonymous with the one flooding his face. It never goes, it’s easier for them to mask as time goes by.
‘My mother killed my father’
The tea stopped mid-throat and so did my heart. My breath wet the top of my lip and my fingers tapped on the cup. My eyes stopped dancing around and fixated on him. Trying to gauge whether he is upset or vengeful.
Was it a family feud gone wrong or did it happen unknowingly? Is his mother incarcerated or is she in some distant island that nobody ever talks about. Or was this all bullshit and I missed my inoculation?