When somebody you once loved dies, a part of you also dies. You won’t realize it because that love was two decades ago, brewed in the 90s to the soundtrack of old school R&B. But it was your first love. Back when your heart delicately unfurled itself for the first time to romantic love. Before your heart had ever been broken. Before you learned how to put your guard up. Before you had been taught how to hold back. And so you gave everything. And received everything. Because that’s what makes first love so special. And it was beautiful and pure and full of possibility. Then life comes at you and changes you. Hardens you. Darkens those rose coloured glasses. Steals the innocence from your eyes. Leaves your heart with a mosaic of callouses from years of cracking and being patched together again.
Two decades later, hands clutched together and trembling, you stand looking down at your first love and he looks so handsome. Except his prostrate body is covered in a funeral shroud and red roses line the length of his body. You think you can still see the stubble on his face. Perhaps if you reached over and rubbed your palm across it, the once familiar roughness would muffle the screams in your chest. Because in that moment your heart breaks again. But it is unlike anything you have ever experienced. This time the cracks let in a wind of loss. It is final. It sweeps in and rattles around the dark cavity, letting out a mournful whistle, and displacing once forgotten memories.
And in that moment you are 15 years old again. You sit next to a boom box, listening to Hits not Homework, two fingers poised over the play and record buttons, ready to pounce the moment the right song comes on. Having already curated the songs you want on this mixtape, you patiently wait for them to appear through the radio waves, alert so as not to allow the presenter’s voice to intrude into the seamless love story you are weaving. Side A will be filled with ‘Your Songs’. For Side B, you wait till late at night, when there is no risk of banging doors and interfering conversations. Then, you whisper into the boom box, recording 30 minutes of your voice. Because this is a time before whatsapp voice notes, or mobile phones. When you waited 15 minutes to get a dialing tone on the landline and had to rely on the person being home, their line not being busy, and fighting off other family members wanting to use the phone. Voice was precious. So you’d hoard every spoken word, listening to it in the dark. Rewinding and pausing and inhaling and exhaling and smiling.
More memories start getting dislodged.
The grainy newspaper cutting of him in his Team Kenya Hockey uniform when they beat Uganda.
The scarf that housed the distinctive musk teenage boys wore in the 90s, before you sniffed the scent away.
The heart shaped pillow with the red satin weave that he gave you before he knew you hated shit like that.
It surprises you how much you are affected by this. After all you haven’t been in each other’s lives. You don’t talk. You aren’t even Facebook friends. Then you realize you are mourning who you both were at that time in your lives. Before every passing year, chipped away the what could be’s and turned them into what will be’s.
So you mourn the 15 year old girl whose shoulders were yet unburdened by the weight of societal expectations. She lived and loved in the moment. She coloured outside the lines, threw away the eraser and joined the dots as she pleased, certain that the picture she created would be a blueprint for life.
You mourn the 17 year old boy with the poetic spirit and athletic prowess. Deep, sensitive and with a heart so full of love to give. He was a thinker, at once both reflective and mischievous. He shunned the way he was expected to be, adamantly insisting on being true to who he was, whether people liked it or not.
For the first time you were both rebels, untested yet by society’s determination to chisel you into acceptability. But the years would chip away at both of you. For this is the nature of this world. But at the end, before it could try to claim his story, prop up the sculpture of what it made him into, and say this is who he was, you find yourself urgently typing away. Because you know better. You know who he used to be. Before the shaved blade got to work on both of you. When you were trees whose branches instinctively stretched out towards the sunshine.
So you look at his 3 year old son and you want so desperately to tell him that he may not understand it yet, but his father was a great man. One the world didn’t understand what to do with, and will be poorer because of it. One whose glittering wings are hopefully stretched out, gliding into the afterlife, where you pray his soul finds joy, freedom, peace and home. So you write him as you knew him, to record the impact he had on those who loved him. And you write to honour his legacy. To stop and pay homage to love. Because sometimes we can forget to do so.
The next few days after the funeral, the radio is filled with ‘your songs’. At first it seems peculiar. How could you all of a sudden be hearing songs you haven’t heard in several years. One after another. Every time you turn on the radio. Then at 8:05pm on Chiromo Road, when the co-incidence feels too eery, you burst out into sobbing laughter. He always was playful. Perhaps this is him sending you a mixtape, from wherever he is, so that you can remember….remember the girl you were at 15 years old, when your heart was full of possibility, full of hope, full of defiance. To remind you not to lose her, because she’s still inside you, simply waiting for you to make space for her to come and play.
Photo Credit: Suzyhazelwood