My home has graves.
Graves inscribed with summaries
and similar surnames that say nothing:
Graves of memories of lives once lived.
Graves of pains never spoken.
Graves of absence.
Unmarked graves of children
dead before words could be mastered for comprehensive eulogies.
Children buried in a hurry to wave away the arm of death.
Deaths, silenced to avoid a dwelling of a kind.
Deaths, unable to yield spirits and send ghosts.
The death of a newborn remains a causal rumour.
A quick web search for ‘Grave’ avails five definitions:
(‘Grave’ is not a word to search meaning for. ‘Grave’ comes down to us with a conspicuous linguistic ease):
- A place of burial for a dead body, typically a hole dug in the ground and marked by a stone or mound
( Reference to ‘a dead body’ is made in the first definition. There are no names given here. There is no mention of life. No relation. No importance. No traces of life. A body. Just a body. No one speaks of my orphaned cousins and the debt I continue to pay because I feel somewhat guilty for their parents’ deaths. May be because my mother is alive. Because I am older.Because I am guilty. A body does not mean that someone’s life has been disrupted by its dying. A body is a shell. A body has no meaning of its own; only meanings ascribed to it. A body lies there. Dead. My family continues dying and the graveyard at home only has bodies. I think of decomposing. Smells and sights. Insects and bugs born in these bodies. I think of an archaeology of a family.
I am back in Nairobi. I continue to search for a house near a morgue. Or a cemetery. My friends do not believe me. I want to be haunted. No one understands. Perhaps to be haunted would be an exercise in exorcism. To live amongst the dead would slow down my everyday dying. My family will not allow me to dig up the remains of my dead relatives. An overwhelming desire.A morbid obsession).
- Giving cause for alarm; serious. “a matter of grave concern”.
(In the second quarter of the century I attempt suicide. Thrice and in the everyday I starve. I want to starve to death. My partner threatens to have me locked up at a psychiatric hospital for six weeks till I can eat (again). I have lost weight and I am no longer desirable. I no longer desire people and things. 45 kgs, my doctor tells me, is too little for my height. She says it almost like I care.
On the day I come home, my mother cries. I suspect she suspects that I might have HIV. It’s South Africa anyway. I don’t ask. She never mentions. I think of South Africa and sex I shouldn’t have had with people I should never remember. My partner constantly talks of breaking up. I want to. We both can’t. It is a relationship of pity, sympathy and shame.
Friends talk me out of suicide. They say I am being selfish. This is the most selfless thing I have ever done, I think. I stay alive. I carry with me the shame of failure: an unsuccessful suicide. Repeatedly. I live. I continue to live for nothing).
- Engrave (an inscription or image) on a surface.
(“We loved you” marks a tense. Past tense. “We Loved you” said on stones crafted in the art of a generic dying. I have written eulogies that morphed into elegies; obituaries detailing obsequies; paragraphs read as stanzas. Praise poems. I have told jokes at funerals, and relived memories of the dead, going into graves as bodies. Dead bodies.
By the time I turn 30 I know I hate my name. I begin shedding off all the Englishes that my name writes on my face. In Idutywa and Ngqoko I am renamed. (Who shall write my eulogy?) I do not want to be buried. I continue living sinfully. I stay sinful to discourage the Church from claiming me and sending my soul to the torture of an unknown heaven. I loathe my family. Then I love them. I imagine the funeral of a body that lives in the past. A past in which my present is erased. Dead. Given names engraved on a grave made in standard size. Misgendered to save the family from the shame of my living.
At 32 I start drafting my eulogy. The draft funeral programme has too many queer speakers. I shorten it. I write a memo to be circulated to NGOs so keen on hijacking funerals. I pack sex toys in one drawer and put a cousin’s name to avoid embarrassing my mother on the day she comes to clear my flat. I write invitation cards to my funeral and laugh uncontrollably. Psychosis).
- Clean (a ship’s bottom) by burning off the accretions and then tarring it.
(My brain starts bleeding. I start falling deeper into a hole. At 30 I drink everyday. At 30 and a half I carry whiskey to the office. I lose it. I withdraw, slowly then faster. I treat diseases with new diseases. I wear pyjamas all day. My partner wants to see other people. I sink. I break and repair.
Later, I nurse the hangover of a relationship gone bad. I quit dating. I quit sex. I quit everything. I break and mend a dysfunctional life. I continue being angry and find a drunken young man with difficulties finding more than two adjectives to describe me. He doesn’t know me. Yet.
A yearning for a solitude of a different kind. My body exits my mind. I float on memories of pills hidden in drawers and notes from a psychiatrist for airport officials. I remember the diagnosis:)
(At 29, the psychiatrist explains: Seizures in temporal lobe epilepsy include simple partial seizures, such as auras, and focal seizures with complex impairment in consciousness, otherwise known as complex partial seizures. The most common auras are déjà-vu experiences or some gastrointestinal upset. Feelings of fear, panic, anxiety or a feeling of a rising epigastric sensation or butterflies with nausea are also other ways in which auras present in medial temporal lobe epilepsy. Some people also report a sense of unusual smell; this may raise a possibility of a hippocampal abnormality or a tumor in that area.
She thinks I might also have an ancestral calling to become a traditional healer. I tell her my story on ukuthwasa in the Eastern Cape. I continue to search for my father. I then give up. Momentarily. The mood and dream diary stays unfilled through October).
- (As a direction) slowly; with solemnity.
(I quit medication. I stop telling people that I have Bipolar Syndrome. I stop explaining myself. I shut down. I shut people out. At 33 I spend days going through blogs written by friends who periodically exit public life. I continue slowly, then faster, then slowly. Again).
I start writing to cheat death and—
quit all the pursuit of happiness.
Will you say that at my funeral?