The most significant events in life are not always preceded by some premonition as many would have us believe. Sometimes we are going through the mundane routines of the most inconsequential days when a big event happens to change our lives forever. So it was such a day as this that I got the news of John’s passing.
I was in my little studio room in Mogadishu, Somalia preparing for my seven days off for rest and recuperation in August 2013 and as usual I was scrolling through social media timelines and messages; wondering what I would do with the girls during this break. We got such precious little time together since I joined the international civil service and because I work at a hardship duty station that is also a non-family duty station; I only got to see them during much anticipated R&R days as well as during my annual leave.
A message came in via Facebook Messenger and I opened it without even taking the time to read the sender’s name. The message was a simple one-line sentence and it read: ’Mwana Anne Bwomezi is dead.’ My mind went into protective mode refusing to understand the terrible news that was being conveyed with such simplicity. So I said to myself. ‘There go the haters again! Who would write to me saying I was dead?’ I use my full names for official business: Anne Mugisha Bwomezi, but many people choose to skip the middle name (my father’s name) and refer to me by the last name only. I added the name Bwomezi on 11 June 1994 when I married John. So now I stood there for about a minute in a stupor, wondering why someone would send me a message saying I was dead.
I pretended not to hear the hammering of my heart in my chest and my ears as I struggled to reject the meaning of what I had just read. I knew I had to scroll back up to the message and see who it was from. And there it was:
From: Colin Muhoozi,
Date: August 29 2013
Message: ‘Mwana Anne Bwomezi is dead. Get in touch’
Colin is my brother-in-law, John’s cousin. He was also like our oldest son when we lived together. He likes to prank and mess around with me for a laugh but some things he would never mess around with. I realized that the only error he had made was in abbreviation. He left out a coma after my first name and what he was trying to type was ‘Mwana Anne, Bwomezi is dead.’ Okay, now that I had sorted out the grammar issue and found meaning what was I supposed to do with a message like that? I did what perhaps many widows or bereaved person have done since the advent of the personal mobile phone: I called John. The phone rang several times and with each ring I willed him to pick up the phone and explain himself. This was not in our plans. I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago when the girls went to visit him in Uganda and we had plans for the girls but I had not discussed this particular move with him so I wanted an explanation.
Then someone answered the phone and it was not his voice. So I told them impatiently, ‘Please put John on the line, I want to speak to John. This is Anne.’ The voice on the other end broke and said ‘Bambe Annah.’ I switched off the call.
He had turned 53 on July 18th. He liked to remind me that he shared the same birth date with Nelson Mandela. I knew he had been ailing but the girls had visited him at the farm in Karwera, Mbarara only a fortnight ago and they came back home reciting all the crazy stories he had told them about his youth. I was not there to interrupt him when they visited the last time so he told them all those unfiltered stories that I would never have let him complete if I was seated there vetting as I was wont to do. They had come back with this hero-like image of their father. Now he had gone and died and left me with the responsibility of telling them they were orphans.
Oh John! There you go again messing up our plans. Typical – and leaving me the responsibility of dealing with the fall out. I could not deal with grief just then but I felt a certain familiar emotion and allowed it to consume me so that I could keep grief at bay. I was angry.
Colin interrupted my anger with another text message at 9:01PM ‘John’s wish was to be buried at Kamushoko next to his grandfather.’ Well I knew that already. He had told me before and showed me the place he wanted to be buried. I just wanted to be left alone with my anger?
At 50 I know that we are in denial of so many things in our lives that even when hard facts slap us in the face with such force and veracity we still find a hiding place in our mind to keep truth at bay and cling to that which keeps us sane, safe and ‘normal.’