15 February 2009

No Title For This

On Thursday night, Michael and I sat down to watch the next movie on our countdown; Platoon.  After enjoying a disturbing and serious film it came time to clean up before bed.  This means for me that I do a quick email check, turn off my computer, cover it, lock up the house and go to bed.  As I was locking up I noticed that a loud noise was coming from outside.  Usually, when we go to bed the bar behind our house plays loud music until very late.  It has become part of the nightly white noise.  Along with the high-pitched hum of the mosquitos and the banging of the kamikaze beetles who crash about the room making a loud racket just as you begin to feel the weight of sleep pressing your eyes further down.  Also, last Friday we heard a strange noise and it turned out to be an outdoor showing of the Passion of the Christ, which sounded like a riot in the town center. 

I hesitated as sound persisted and as I began to realize that it was not music.  Feeling inquisitive I went outside to have a listen without the door acting as a sound barrier.  The mob-like sound became more distinct as I walked out the back of the compound.  I did my best ear-against-the-door-with-a-glass impression while standing.  You know what I mean when I say that.  You cup your ear and lean out over your side as if a few inches and a hand will amplify sound.  As it got louder and louder, I realized that it was a person screaming.  Not in agony or in need of help, but a wail of grief.  Other voices became noticeable as a chorus of cries were being sent into the cloudless night. 

We had been told that when a person dies who is Luhya (Kenya's second largest tribe that all basically live right here in Western Kenya) the family mourns by wailing at the top of their lungs.  You know a person has passed on because of the cries.  For the funeral, the body is carried through the hometown of the individual's family on to their resting place.  This was something that was expressed to us when we were learning about Luhya culture.  I did not think much about it because I did not think that I would have to encounter this.  Not to say that I would not be confronted by death at some point, but that it would not manifest itself in an immediate way.  In short, I did not expect to see a person die or immediately after death.

Realizing that these cries may in fact be due to the death of a person, I ran in to get Michael out of bed.  I hesitated for a moment at his doorway thinking that I may have been mistaken and foolish for bothering him shortly after retiring to bed.  Hesitation gave me a second chance to listen to the noise and gave me enough reason to knock.  He said to enter and I asked if he heard anything strange.  To my dismay he said that he had not heard a sound.  I conveyed my thoughts and convinced him to toss on some shoes and go outside to listen.  Outside we listened for a few minutes and thought that it may have been people crying but were still unsure.  We determined the best idea was to gather a flashlight, arm ourselves, and brave the night to find out what was happening.  It is silly not to think that I had my leatherman in one hand and the flashlight in the other, but I knew that it could have been a dumb idea to head into town at 10pm.

We walked out the property with the flashlight until we reached the road.   100 feet shy of the road Michael said to turn off the light so as to not draw attention to ourselves.  Over to our right we could see a few lights that looked like candles moving towards us with people crying.  As we met the road I realized that they were not candles but brake lights on a truck.  A group of young men came upon us as we stood fixed on the dim lights like a fly to our outdoor light.  We asked if they knew what was going on.  The told us to follow to see.  Naturally, we joined the invitation.  As we strode over to the truck the men told us that it looked as if someone had been hit by a car.

The realization of what lay before us gave me cause to stop.  All of a sudden the cries became real and directed no longer at the sky but us.  It was a cry of agony.  A declaration of pain more real that the moon's light, as stars poked through ether to give an appearance of black.  I was overwhelmed by grief that was bellowed by a middle-aged man.  Baying in tongues and walking in circles around a pebble in the ground.  The unfettered emotion he unleashed wrapped itself around me and terrified my being.  Next to the man was a long mound of blanket, blood soaked and motionless.  I was an unnoticed observer of the most private.  I could not go any closer.  Sickness flowed downwards from stomach to knees and gave cause to double over.  I fought the demand crumble. 

The man was either walking or riding on the side of the road when he was hit by a truck.  I can only guess that he met death the instant he and the truck collided.

I have seen my share of death, but this was more vivid.  It was as if you could see his very soul escaping from his body as the last of his blood spilled along the street.  A tragic and sudden end to life that could have been avoided.

I did not know the man and still do not know who it was, but it is an event that I still am unable to comprehend.  I put off writing this blog with the hope that time would reveal some sort of greater meaning or at least give some sort of peace to the event.  Unfortunately, I have been unable to shake that night.  The thought of it overwhelms me to the point that I can physically feel myself grow ill as the remembrance grows.  I can only express what it was like at the moment of seeing what had happened.  I have never been so deeply affected by a person who I never even met.

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