From the moment. I stepped on the street, my heart started to beat a little faster. I knew where I was going,I had been there before. After several steps, I realized the taste in my mouth was back. Since I was told of Gwen’s death, the proverbial bitter taste has stuck with me. I remember this road all too well. Now if I could stop sweating and just breathe, I’ll get there sooner… breathe obii, breathe -but I’m just not ready.
The black gate seems heavier then usual as I push to walk in. Vanessa is sitting right in front and she recognizes me. “you’re her friend from RUN” it’s more of a statement than a question,the way she says it. Vanessa… I squeeze her shoulder… How are you doing?
“I’m okay, I’m okay. come- wow, thanks for coming”, what?
I shake my head refusing to accept what she is giving.
“Come, my Dad is here…”
We walk to a group of men and I finally meet him, the man I spoke to mostly during my first year and during my graduation. He had a small smile for me. I touched his leg and went on my knees.
“Daddy I’m so sorry”
He holds my hand, “you have to accept God’s will. It’s God’s will”. The statement does not burn as much has how he says it. Gwen’s dad has accepted God’s will… but I can’t I? Why won’t I?
Just take heart, he says again… It is God’s will.
I look into his eyes and think I am finally going to cry… This is it. However, it doesn’t happen.
Come sign the register. Her sister calls to me, so I get off my knees and Gwen’s headshot is staring at me in a Queen’s College uniform. Full regalia like the day we did back-to-school in year one. I remember the picture we took together and almost lose it.
Obii breathe… So I open my mouth again, my nose is not as keen. I sign the register and leave no comment.
There’s just a handful of people when we walk inside. Vanessa is talking to me but i hear nothing, my ears are ringing. We climb the stairs. Gwen’s mom is sitting in the midst of some women. I greet all of them, again I kneel. I am holding her hand but she is squeezing mine, so I squeeze back because I need to, because i understand.
“Mummy take heart… I-”
“Ah my dear… I’m tired of crying, I’ve been crying from day one” i know she means it because her voice is hoarse, Gwen-has-a-cold hoarse.
“How did you hear? Vanessa says to me.
I got in from Yenagoa on Sunday and Hyelni called me. I let them wonder who Hyelni is.
She started to speak again.. “Sit, sit” -just like Gwen. The same husky tone, the same fragility -might as well have been. Okay, now i would cry. But i didn’t – i couldn’t. not when everyone is calm and accepting.
I find my voice “So it happened on Sunday?”
“Since the 1st” they both respond.
She goes on to tell me how Gwen celebrated her birthday with a lot of people and still struggled with recovery but couldn’t make it through, she was in so much pain. she asked to go.
I almost lose it when she tells me Gwen asked for me. She wanted to ping me. i tell am which hand you wan use?
From the corner of my eye, i notice Suzanna and i go to her.
“Sister Suzy, how are you healing?”
“I’m fine she says, thank God it’s just my legs. God knows why it all happened this way but thank you for coming. Thank you.” I shake my head vigorously and look away.
If everyone in this family could stop thanking me, I just might survive this evening. Can’t they see I didn’t do anything? i wasn’t there.
“I’m here on behalf of my friends, Mummy told me about the arrangements, so I’ll be back here on Thursday and Friday.
“oh really thank you so- i wasn’t listening, i was walking away. not another thank you. ridiculous
Ii go to Mummy and hold her hands again, i have to go now
but you’ll call me abi?
I will. I already took her number from Suzanna.
I walk away from the house a little more than numb. When i get home, i think there is a look on my face because my sister asks, what’s wrong, is it your back?
“i went to Gwen’s… ” a tear rolls down. i walk into my room, sit on my bed and the damn breaks free. For 20mins i keep at it, gasping and breathing hard. I cry for Gwen and how she suffered. my sister comes in and comforts me, she wipes tears off and tells me to stop crying , it’ll be okay. “she asked for me”, i tell her. she rubs my back in response.
I cry for her parents and how they accepted God’s will, how they’re healing and hurting, I cry for myself- finally. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there” I whisper… and the tears stop.