By Marvin Elly
On the Saturday of 27th August 2016 at 3.58pm I received a text from my mum that shocked me to the spine “Go to Nyarach, Odhiambo is dead”. Even though I knew only one person named Odhiambo in Nyarach, that day I tried not to imagine the text was referring to Hillary Odhiambo. I sat on the chair, I could not weep. I could not shed a tear because the Hillary Odhiambo I knew could not die, it had never crossed my mind that Hillary, just like me or anyone else is mortal. When I sat on the couch I sent out a text to my friend Elias to inform him, that is also the moment I received a text from another friend , Emma asking me if it was true that Hillary had died. With that text from Emma the reality dawned on me. I was being asked to confirm the death of my friend. I decided to sleep on the couch and dream. I did not want to go to Nyarach because going there would just confirm my worst fears. I preferred to sleep and pretend I was dreaming. It was the only way I could console myself and hide from reality. I woke up at around 7.00pm only to see my mum entering the door from Nyarach. I then asked her just two questions “Is it true?” “Is it confirmed that Hillary is dead?” her answer to the questions just confirmed my worst fear.
I left the house to go on a stroll and let my brain adjust to the new reality. As I was walking I sent out a text to Cliff Oketch who is a brother to Hillary “Be strong for your mum and Brian” deep down I knew Cliff was devastated and that is why I didn’t want to call him. If by any chance I had called him and then he broke down on phone I would not have handled it. By asking Cliff to be strong I knew I was asking for too much from him but I did not have anything else to say to him other than that. At 0.18am I received a text from Cliff that they were travelling to Kakamega that night to transfer Hillary’s body to Kisumu. I now had to plan to go to Nyarach the following day when Cliff arrived. I wanted to meet Cliff so much, at the same I thought Cliff was in state of emotional breakdown that I even feared seeing him. Unfortunately, I could not meet Cliff on Sunday as he had to travel to Mori. I decided to reschedule my visit to Nyarach to Tuesday.
On Monday evening Cliff informed me he was already back in Rongo from Mori. On Tuesday at around 3.00pm I went to Nyarach. When I arrived there my body just became hot. When I saw people in Mama Hillary’s compound I said to myself “Omera what you have been doubting all along is true and you have to accept it” I made my way to the house. At the door when I saw Mama Hillary sitting at a seat just next to the door, I felt pain in my stomach; I felt like crying but on seeing how she was trying to be strong I decided to also try and have a strong face. That is the moment I wanted to avoid seeing Hillary’s mum. I could see sadness in her eyes. How could the earth be so cruel to her? Since my childhood I was used to seeing a happy ever smiling Mama Hillary. I did not know what to tell her. I only mustered the strength to tell her “pole…pole sana.” This I knew was not enough for a parent who had lost a child. I cursed death on that day.
By the time I got to Nyarach, Cliff was not in the house as he had gone for some errands. After sometime he arrived, I must admit when I saw Cliff my heart got happy. I was amazed by the fact that Cliff looked strong. Seeing Cliff being so strong emotionally gave me the happiness in a sad moment. For that I write “Cliff I will forever remember your strength in adversity. You were sad in your heart but your face showed strength. I know with you by her side your mum will get the strength for she has a strong son in you”. Then there is “last-born” Brian, a boy with amazing spirit. Seeing the two brothers Cliff and Brian inspired me. In the evening when I wanted to leave, Brian asked me to stay through the night, I decided to stay. If all Brian wanted me from me was just to stay through the night I was going to do it. In fact I stayed a whole week since being with Hillary’s family at that moment gave me joy in my heart and the opportunity to reflect on Hillary’s life. I wish I could stay there for a lifetime.
Fast forward on 4th September 2016 at around 1.15pm Hillary’s body arrived at Nyarach from Kisumu. That day I saw darkness in my eyes, the moment I saw Hillary’s casket being carried from the hearse was the first time I cried since Hillary’s demise. The reality hit me hard. How could Hillary die? I asked myself. I have experienced the pain of death previously, case in point being the passing away of my dad and a friend named Hans Marvin but the pain I felt on that day was the worst. Maybe it was because I was now a grown up and I understood things better. My friend Hillary was dead and I would never see him again, we would never spend time together, we would never discuss football together. He was gone, and gone forever.
Later that evening we took Hillary’s body to his paternal home in Mori. We spent the night at their home, a night of no sleep. The following day on 5th of September 2016 was the day we would bury Hillary. I could not believe it had come to this. How sad it was to bury a friend, a friend with whom you once shared a plate? After breakfast I decided to go and view Hillary’s body one last time; for the very last time. He was just lying there lifeless; I felt bitterness in my heart, I thought to myself how I never spent enough time with Hillary when he was alive, schooling issues put a distance between us. I wrote the condolence book, a book I hope not to write for a friend again. That morning I was so emotional but I tried my best not to let it show, I wore sunglasses to hide tears in my eyes; I was eventually overcome by emotions and had to leave the compound to some nearby bushes to weep in private. I was weeping because in the last five years of Hillary’s life we never spent enough time together. Occasionally, Hillary would pay me a visit during holidays to play “FIFA”; I knew those occasions would never happen again. Hillary would always say “omera pang ball” loosely translated as “omera arrange football/tikitaka”. RIP Nyakwar Okebe.
At around 4.00pm that day Hillary’s body was taken to the grave side for burial. I could stop myself from crying because I had to let the emotions out for one last time. The sight of Cliff crying just made the situation worse. At that moment a stranger came to hold me and comfort me but that just made me more emotional, I decided to let myself cry instead of restraining myself. When my emotions calmed down I picked up soil in my hand and threw it into the grave on the coffin. It was so painful throwing soil on my friend. Hillary owada wabiro romo chieng’ moro kendo. What more will I say?
That one day we will be like Hillary, as dead as dodo. That one day our friends will through soil at us, help our parents carry the casket to the grave, the thought of that day is just too traumatizing. A wake up call to make good use of today, serve God, serve others and do all that we can, because if it happened for Hillary, it might soon happen to me, and you too. We are here for a short time and always remember this!
Writing this article greatly helped me recover from Hillary’s death. I put my emotions on the pen.
The Writer is Marvin Elly a childhood friend of Hillary Odhiambo.
Contact Marvin Elly through: email@example.com