I looked at the women throwing their arms in the air as they sobbed and I cried.
Growing up, I knew that my ‘tear-pot’ was dry. I hardly cried, however bad the situation was; what is worse than the death of a loved one? Even in death I never cried. Surprisingly I shed a tear whenever someone threw a kind gesture my way. Like a lady giving up their seat on the bus for me. Gosh! That got my eyes wet – but I was always quick to wipe my eyes clean for I hated to be drenched in an emotional sea.
In 2009, a friend of mine, Pamela, lost her mother. She died of stroke. It was so sad! It really was, but while everyone broke down at the news, I remained standing. I had no emotion in me to evoke tears. I tried, I really did – God can testify to that. I remember searching my entire being for tears to cry but found none. All I could do was give words as soothing as honey to the now throbbing hearts. That came easy. So rather than fake a sad face and cry fake tears, I resorted to being true to self. I comforted them.
I sat at my father’s burial like a spectator. I was like a clueless (female) spectator in a stadium save for this situation, I knew that the lifeless figure in the casket was of one of the major contributors to my DNA.
A few days before, I was at enjoying my long form-four holiday at an uncle’s place (mother’s in-law and long-time business partner). It was one of those lazy afternoons. We had just downed a heavy village meal when it started raining. I sat down on a mat, in a smoke-filled kitchen with other ladies among whom was my cousin brother’s new bride and his younger sister. Twice, I attempted to reject my mother’s phone calls because of the heavy downpour. But she insisted on calling. I figured it must be something serious, so I picked up the third call. She demanded that I go home immediately. My efforts to establish what was going on went futile.
I looked straight at my cousin who sat directly opposite me, trying communicate with my eyes that something was wrong. She returned the same look. Confused, I looked away. I looked at her again as if to insist. In my head I was thinking, “you don’t understand. Something is actually wrong!” she did like before. I left it at that.
Shortly after, I announced my departure. My cousin pretended that she needed a break from the boring village. She escorted me home.
Mother sat quietly and very composed in one corner of the sitting room. In her company was her best friend. I greeted them and headed straight for the bedroom to drop my bags. She called me back and attempted to break the news. I had no clue but I expected the worst.
“Martha, your father has died.” She managed to say before she burst out weeping. I did not move. I showed no reaction. Perhaps she thought I had not heard. She attempted to repeat herself but the weeping could not let her. I moved away.
I headed for the bedroom and started arranging irrelevant things for the situation. My mother came to check on me to ensure that I was okay.
Then thoughts started racing through my mind, “this is news about your father, why are you not crying? I even had the audacity to ask myself how I felt. Truthfully, I had such a numbness that I felt no remorse whatsoever. Some of our neighbours were shocked at my not being sad. I also found myself bizarre. The worst of it was that in such situation when everyone was feeling sad on my behalf, I just laughed. I countered their sympathy with a genuinely big smile as a said it was okay. My mother questioned what had happened to me that it made me so stone-hearted. I could tell from her tone and gaze that she feared for my state of emotions. She looked at me so strangely as if to say that she did not knew me.
I am an only child who has been raise single-handedly by my mother. Ironically, I wondered if I would cry if she had died. My mother’s only consolation is that probably it was because I had hardly known him through my life. There was a lot of truth in that assumption.
The body was to be laid to rest in Jinja, at the ancestral grounds. My mother and I travelled from western Uganda through the night. It took us more than 9 hours to arrive. Somewhere during the journey, I wondered if I could put my Christian faith to task; I wondered if I could pray and bring my father back to life.
It was my first time in Jinja. The cultural differences and language, everything was new to me. I remembered some of my favourite articles in newspapers when writers would go to new places. I felt like a tourist. Or a writer on an escapade. Thankfully it was only in my thoughts – otherwise how ridiculous!
People went out as others came into the house. Most of them women; who were dressed in gomesis. They threw their hands in the air and wailed. I sat quietly as I observed. Time and again I tried to meditate the pain of losing my father. Instead, I got agitated by the mourners’ wailing, so dry void of truth. Most of them were simply making noise to fill the air but their faces were as dry the face of a desert. Now that hurt me. It was at this moment that I cried. I shed a few tears. How could they pretend to cry? What were they doing making noise the whole evening anyway? Clearly, they were not hired mourners- just members of the vicinity. This is my father’s death they are dramatizing! That did not go well with me. After a few drops of tears however, the tear pot dried again. If I so loved drama, I could have desisted from wiping tears off my face and ensured that my mother saw them. So that at least she knows that I cried for my deceased father. I cleaned them off anyway.
Years passed. I do not know how the story changed. All I knew was that I cried at almost everything. Yes, I remembered asking God what was with me that I was so unaffected by sorrow – emotionally. Though there are those times when I wished I could go back to the girl who never got emotionally socked up. I cried when I lost something; cried when I failed to beat my deadlines; cried even when I did not even know why I was crying. I was about to tell God to take this ‘weak’ personality back to where it came from. But then I tried comparing which of the two is more human. I would rather I cry than be void of any sorrow. Yes, I know we have to be strong, if I could not cry for my father then surely I can manage to tame tears and stupid emotions.
I recently went for an interview – which I passed- I was asked a personal question that made me cry. So much to the shock of the panelists. So now I can say, the tears gashed. Perhaps God filled an otherwise dry spring of tears.
The night before the interview, I received a call informing me that a very close uncle – the same as earlier mentioned – was fighting for his life in Nsambya Hospital. He had been battling illness most of his life, but he was a fighter; he had many come backs. I prayed to God so hard that night for him to live. I was almost sure God had answered my earnest request but was disoriented to get news of his demise at dawn.
The next morning while the rest of the family travelled from Kampala to western Uganda for burial, I took the opposite route, to Mukono for the interview. I was a few minutes late.
I am not the kind who fears interview panels. I was very prepared. I had read the requirements and criteria over and over again to ensure that I clearly understood what I was in for. I had even rehearsed the interview questions and answers in my head. I knew they would ask me about my seriousness or commitment.
However, I was shocked when half-way into the interview I broke down crying; bringing discomfort to my formerly tough-faced panelists. I could see some confused faces. They did not know why I was crying, later on know what to say! The more I tried to explain the more dump stricken I became with streams of tears rolling down my cheeks. I decided to keep mum and sobbed till I was quiet enough.
The question about my commitment had been asked. I wanted to summarize how for the sake of this interview I had abandoned my mourning family, with the intention of taking a bus later for a five-hour long journey alone that night. Instead, I sobbed.
I was shocked at the transition from a stone-hearted girl (as they called me) to an emotional drench. I re-composed myself, gave a small explanation and went on with the interview. But of course the incident changed the atmosphere in the room.
The only reason I can give for this is that God gave me a change of heart. Ezekiel 36: 26 says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you a heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” What more can I say?