(A Story written by Kaluba Emma Musakanya)
It was the sound of the laugh that woke her up. It sent her running blindly through the dark corridor, falling over her feet as she went. She heard it; she knew she did. It sounded faint and distant, but it was his laugh. It belonged to him. He is in there; she thought and pushed the door open with force. She stood staring into the living room, her eyes wildly searching but there was no one. Her chest rose and fell heavily as she tried to catch her breath. Why couldn’t she see him? She turned on the lights, but the room was still and
unmoving apart from the thin white curtain, that faintly blew from the air that managed to pass through the crevasse of the windows. “No,” she whispered frantically, “No, no, no”. Where was he? She ran out of the room and began to turn on every light and open every door until eventually she was left standing in the middle of a house that felt emptier than it did when she had woken up. All that remained was for her body to sink into the ground, dismayed. Crouching down on her haunches, she buried her head in her knees
and her arms protectively wrapped themselves around the whole of her. The tears fell one by one onto the marble ground and faint cries left her throat. A hand, soon, startled her from her mourning and she looked up to see gentle and saddened eyes.
“I heard him” she tried to explain through tears. “I thought-“
“I know”. Her sister held out her hand to bring her off the ground. “I hear him too sometimes. Like an echo in the back of my mind”.
“I promise I heard him”, she wiped her eyes with the front of her shirt, “I did”, she said with more conviction. Even then she knew she truly hadn’t. How could she? He had been buried and he was gone. All she heard was the remnants of a dream because there was no one in the room. He was not waiting for her with open arms. It was only just a dream. The truth was that he was still dead; she was still alive, and their worlds no longer merged. She was ushered, like a small child, back to her room where she climbed weakly into her bed and allowed her
sister to cover her. Yet, she still woke up again that night and looked for him. For weeks, this is what she did over and over again. His voice would sound in her mind and she would search for it knowing it would never be found. Though, somehow, in a part of the world that did not exist to her, he was there. His soul watched this child run aimlessly around searching for him. Physically, he felt nothing as she passed through him not even realising his presence. All he would be to her is the air that she breathed and all he wished for her was for this time to pass and her heart to settle.
So, every day he would return to his daughter; his hand would stroke her hair and tiny sparks would leave as he would try make contact. He would kiss her forehead when he saw the tears run down her face as she dreamt of him. Sometimes they would stop, and she would be calm and other times she would awake in a start. The blanket would be thrown off and she would be gone out the room and down the corridor looking for him.
The one day she just walked out in the rain and called for him. She fell on the grass and once more the gentle hands of her sister came to find her.
It was a dream from her childhood, that time. She had dreamt that she was a little girl walking behind his long strides. For every step he took, she would take two or three little ones. He had stopped in front of her causing her to bump into his legs. The laugh he released was full and from his stomach. Large hands reached out to her and she grabbed them with all the sureness in the world and looked up at him with a toothless grin. The walk was long, so he dropped down to her and cupped her cheek affectionately.
“Shall I carry you?” he asked her and took the cap off his head and placed it on hers. She nodded quite much like a bobble head. It was her favourite thing when he carried her.
“Right then,” he scooped her up in his arms and she wrapped her arms around his neck. The breeze passed blowing his scent into her nose; soap, cologne and safety. There was no other place as safe as his arms. There was no sound as calming as his voice. This was the first understanding of protection and love that she knew. They walked and he hummed, and she sang with him. These were the dreams that would cause tears to soak through her pillow and for her to wake up crazed looking for a man that no longer breathed
air into his lungs. But in his corner of the world, he still had access to them; to his girls. He was there. Surely, he was and when one of them was not coping, he would hold them much like he did when they were children. His arms would wrap around them like a protective cloak and slowly he would hear the rapid beating of their hearts still and the painful memories would become bittersweet ones that could make them smile. He would hold them close and sing to them and for some reason unbeknownst to them, the wickedly cruel day they were having would start to brighten up.
One day he asked another one like him why they could stay and watch on.
“Does this not cause them more pain? If we are gone, maybe we should stay gone? I watch them mourn differently. One of them behind closed doors and the other like a mad woman searching for something she lost but knows she will never find. It seems unfair”.
The one like him simply smiled. “I have been gone from this world for a long time and one day they will be fine without you but sometimes they need to feel all that there is before they can begin to feel without you”. She sighed and nodded towards this newcomer. “One day you will watch them less frequently. One day you will not need to fret. There will still be days when your invisible presence will need to be there. Perhaps on a wedding day, or on the birth of a first child and sometimes the day will be normal but still, you will be needed”. She shrugged, “this is all we do until our time is up and they will meet us here. We watch and guide silently. We are the sound board in their heart that bears fruit to good actions. We become their subconscious”.
“Do they ever get to see us?” It seemed that in his death, he was taken back to a younger self, when he was vibrant and energetic. He had not yet lined his face with age. He had not yet suffered illness that could diminish him. The version of himself that watched was a man, young and able. It was the version he wished he could have remained. It was the version that would have stayed alive. He wondered how it would be for them to see him well. Would it give them peace? Their last memory was pained of him dying in white linen sheets in a cold white room; the smell of clinical antiseptic everywhere.
“They never see us but sometimes they feel us. Much like the breeze that blows open a window reminding them to lock the house at night. Or like air that snatches papers from their hands as they cross the road, forcing them to look up before an accident is caused. We are what makes fathers run faster to their little ones before they fall”.
He nodded his head in understanding. His little ones were no longer little now. They were not even little the day he left. They were grown and fully functional. They were adults, yet in his mind they were still the gap-toothed girls that ran around the house breaking things at the expense of his sanity.
And now in their womanhood he worried for them. Panicked that he did not leave them with enough knowledge. He was scared that they would not be protected from certain realities of the world. He would not be there to walk them down the aisle. He would not be there for his grandchildren. He would not be there.
“What about the men they choose to marry?” he asked. “What influence do I have on that?”
The other like him let out a light-hearted laugh and patted him heavily on the back.
“You can only do so much in the affairs of the heart. This is one area we are not to intervene. Who they love cannot be tampered with. All you can do is comfort bad choices”.
“What if he is the bad choice?”
“Then you do as you have been doing; you stroke her hair and kiss her head”.
And only months after this discussion did one of his daughters show up with a man. And not long after this did this man, she claimed to be just a friend become more than just that. He laughed with her, cried with and fought for her. Their bodies moved in sync with one another unknowingly and it seemed she fit into his body quite much like she was sculpted for him to hold. And when he would ask her about the things she loved, the light in her eyes would shine and she would tell him that she was taught about her passions from her father. She was taught about how to love and how to find gratitude in the simplicities of life.
Sometimes, she would walk away from this man for a moment, and he would look around him and whisper to the air. “With all due respect sir, I’m glad you’re dead or else I’d be compared to a living breathing thing that would much harder.”
The days leading up to him proposing, he would speak to himself and remind himself why he loved her, and he realised it was simply because there was nothing else he could do but love her as carefully and gently as she had loved him. And she loved him with all of herself but not loudly or brashly. It was a soft tiptoeing love quite like a butterfly that lands safely onto a flower. He wanted her to know she would always be the butterfly that would be able to find safe landing in him.
And on the day he proposed to her, on bended knee, in a garden with lilies, birds of paradise and sweet scented honeysuckles, she cried and cried and he could not understand her tears.
And he asked why she cried this way, with more sadness than joy?
Through her glistening eyes she told him, “I was scared to never be loved more than the love I received from him. And when he died, I thought that any unconditional love for me, that existed, died too. I have never been so happy to be more wrong”.
It was a moment her father had witnessed from a distance. His nearness to her now, seemed to fade more and more each day but his presence in her heart only grew. The day came that she wore her dress; she walked down an aisle of rose petals and as she reached the man she would marry, she whispered to him.
“Can you smell that?” her nose was pointed to the air and through her veil he saw the purest smile on her face. But he could not smell what she did. She shut her eyes and sniffed once more, “It smells like soap and cologne. It smells like love and safety”.
She could not see him, but there her father stood. He had walked her down the aisle and was ready to hand her over even if she did not know. And he would watch her from a distance as she would be taken care of and loved. Now he would be waiting only for the moments she needed him.
As time passed and her home grew in love so did her belly; four times over it grew. Each time was easier than the last but the last time her belly grew, the little one inside did not make into the world. When she pushed the child from her and she held him close to her chest, kissing him for the first and last time, her father already had taken the child to the place where the innocents go. He heard the baby’s first cry and saw him take his first breath in their invisible world. But the baby’s mother and father held their little child and took a photo to remember him by as they lay him to his final rest, little did they know he was doing just fine on the other side of life in the part of the world they could not reach, in the part of the world where they were watched and overseen. This little baby with no name would do just fine with his grandfather.
They watched his mother grow older. And one day when almost three decades had passed, he looked to is grandfather and asked, “What is my purpose here?” His mother had grown ill and was becoming weaker each day.
“Your purpose is to be the calm that finds them when they don’t know where to look. Your purpose is to be the relief that they feel after the tears have been shed”, his grandfather said softly. “One day you will go elsewhere and there will be others, but we start with those that we came from and came from us”.
The boy nodded still looking much like a boy but much wiser than a man, “What happens when her heart stops?” he stared at his mother, frail and weak in a hospital bed. Wires attached to her and all forms sticking in her throat and liquids being dripped into her bloodstream.
“She will find us”
“This is why you have not gone to another family?” he asked, “You wait for your daughter?”
“As I wait for my wife, and as my daughter will wait for her husband.”
On that day when he spoke to his grandson, they stood outside the hospital room and stared through the glass doors. The line on monitor went flat and the sound of the beep echoed through the room. It was the cruel declaration of her soul’s departure from her body. The children that she bore threw themselves onto her and her husband kissed her lips tasting the salt from his eyes on them as he did so. He held her hand and the family were left without a mother and a wife.
In the corner of the room in the place they could not see, she looked on at them, sorrow filling her, but it was her time to go. Beyond them through the glass door, she saw a man standing with wings spanning wider than two whole lengths of him.
Though he was younger than she remembered, she knew who he was. She realised too, that she seemed younger; lighter and smaller. And as she looked down at her dress, she remembered it. It was the one she wore as she tailed behind him as a child except now it fit her as a young lady. Immediately, she remembered all those times she bumped into the back of his legs. She walked through the door to him, and they said nothing but simply looked into each other’s eyes.
He stared at her and laughed at the dress. It was one of his fondest memories of her, when she was an innocent bright-eyed girl with nothing but love for her father. She reached out and touched his face and she could feel his skin.
“It was, you, weren’t it?” she asked her father. “Every time I heard you laugh, every time I smelt you; you were there weren’t you?” The tears fell freely down her cheeks as she looked at his wings and then into his eyes. “You were my guardian angel”.
“And now you will be theirs”. He said and nodded toward her family that still hovered over her body. “Sometimes it feels like we have left but we are still here. All we are is the manifestation of your heart’s love. We are birthed from that love to take care of you as you were birthed from their love for you. Now you will take care of them”.
Only then did she notice her own wings. They broke free from her spanning almost as wide as her father’s. “Your memory will live on as mine did in you. You will carry them when they can’t be carried and love them when they forget to love themselves. And they will know that you are a part of them that can never die”.
He kissed the top of her forehead, and just like when she was a child, she wrapped her arms around his neck. Large wings of her father encompassed her like a protective shell. He chuckled softly and she breathed in the smell of her father; the first man that loved her unconditionally. She held onto him not wanting to let go as her fresh tears wet his shirt.
“I don’t want to let go”. She spoke through laughing tears. “It was too long ago that we were able to hug”.
Her father gently pulled her from him. She realised she was not so young. In fact, she looked like she could be the age when she was married. But her heart was that of the little absent-minded girl that tailed him, and her eyes were wider than they had been in a while.
“It’s ok to let go”, he said with fatherly pride. His eyes beginning to glaze over with tears, “because this now, we have all the time in the world”.