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Dream Life in Paris

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Remembering Jimmy

Tribute from a Deaf Friend. 

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land,
Where you can no longer hold me by the hand,
For I half turn to go yet turning to stay.

Remember me when no more day-by-day
You tell me of our future that you planned
Only remember me, it’s all I ask
For it is too late to counsel now, just pray.

Yet, if you should forget me for a while,
And afterward, remember, do not grieve
For the darkness and corruption leave,
A vestige of the thoughts I once had,
Better by far, you should forget and smile,
Than that you should remember and be sad.

  ~ Christina Georgina Rossetti.

The Bible is replete with saints. Ordinary people who lived extraordinary lives did great things in their time. Things that impacted those around them and exited the stage as quietly as they had lived. You won’t find the name of James Chomba on the annals of history because he wasn’t a big name anywhere.
Perhaps if another Bible was written and we’d have a chapter similar to Hebrews 11, he’d probably feature somewhere in that spiritual hall of fame because he was a saint in every sense of the word.
We met during the annual youth camp at the church headquarters in Nairobi. They did not know how to penetrate my world, those youths. They did not know how to relate with me and could not differentiate between a deliberate snub or the reality of being deaf.
They assumed that if I could talk, then I could as well hear; otherwise, it was pure arrogance. They could not grasp that one could be deaf and still talk normally. They found me a curious case, an object of fascination. I learned to forgive their ignorance.

Then he came. Short, dark, and handsome. He was sturdy, with the muscular body of a man who kept himself in good physical shape. He had small, intelligent eyes, a thick, heavy black beard that complimented his clean-shaven head, and a smile that could light a cave.

I was having breakfast at the church canteen, seated at a corner table, when he came over, held out a hand, and said,

“Shalom. I am James.”

Then he had beamed, brightening up the canteen to a hundred watts. The smile had been automatic, instant.

“Shalom James, I’m Becky. Welcome.”

“It is not fair at all,” he had said ruefully, sitting right opposite me. “People need to be more accommodating, more understanding. How can such a beautiful girl be without company? Without friends?”

“Newbie syndrome,” I had pointed out. “And it’s not every day people get a special case on their hands.”

“That’s exactly my point. They’re not even trying to be friendly. And it’s bordering on something I don’t like.”

“Like what?” I was beginning to warm up to him. The dear man.

“Well, you’re from the Western part of the country. And the majority here are from Central Kenya. It’s such a shame.”

“I am not complaining. I’m doing just fine. Besides, I’m partly to blame. I suck at friendship.”

He had shaken his head. “Still, it’s distasteful. I wanted to apologize for their lack of courtesy and let you know that if you ever needed anything, you only have to ask.”

“I will remember that, James. You’ve been most kind.”

He had shrugged. “Someone needed to see to it. It’s wrong seeing you so excluded, so disoriented.”

The retreat lasted ten days, and we struck out an unlikely friendship: him, a popular, charismatic evangelist. Me, a new convert, deaf, reclusive.

He learned my mode of communication and learned to move his lips so effortlessly I had no difficulty reading them. He went out of his way to make me comfortable, to feel at ease. He shared with me notes on topics covered at the workshop. He introduced me to his friends and made them understand me.

We talked about life and purpose, about youth and virtue, and spirituality. We discussed Bible prophecy and its fulfillment in the contemporary world. His understanding of the scriptures was so rich and vast that I found it very intriguing. We talked about tribalism between Luos and Kikuyus. It was interesting because I’m a Luo, and he was a Kikuyu.

“Tribalism is overrated,” he said. “I mean, if you look at it from a rational point of view, there really isn’t a difference between the two tribes save for the slight difference in culture. Like Kikuyus, Luos endure the same effects of corruption and bad governance. We all feel the pinch when the economy stagnates, and it has nothing to do with our tribal affiliations. I mean, we are all Kenyans, and at the end of the day, we revert to the original tribe we all belong to, the human tribe. Tribalism is just like racism. It all stems from superiority complex, this sick notion that some people are better humans than others. Yet, in the end, we all face the elements that are naturally human. Like death and decay. It is ironic, and it stinks.”

We stayed in touch. Text messaging was our main medium of communication. We met occasionally, and it never occurred to him that he had a way of bringing out my innermost temperament. 

He had a wild, raw sense of humor and was surprised I could be so talkative. It helped that I was naturally aligned with the opposite sex and got along with guys so easily. Over the years, our relationship grew closer. 

He was an expert at seeing through people. One day, he confided something in me that sounded flattering and somewhat unsettling. 

“You know what I think? I think behind all that façade lies a woman who is intelligent, imaginative, and realistic. I see greatness buried beneath that aloofness. I see so much untapped potential. I see a woman who only needs a chance to prove herself.”

If those words had come from anyone else, I would have brushed them off. But with this man, somehow, I was at a loss for words. 

“I don’t know what to say; I don’t suppose any of that is true.” He looked me right in the eye and said, “I mean everything I’m saying, Becky.”

Ironically, none of us had developed any romantic feelings for each other. Our friendship remained platonic yet so affectionate. It was founded on understanding, mutual respect, and the love of God. His first fiancee canceled their engagement, and he nursed the rejection and heartbreak with such stoicism I was left with a painful admiration. He later proposed to the woman he eventually married. A few weeks before the wedding, he sent me a text message.

“Finally, I’m going to taste that thing.”

“What thing?”

“That thing that made Jacob labor for fourteen years, costed Samson his life, made David commit murder, led Solomon to keep a million women…”

“Actually, they were a thousand,” I corrected him instantly.

“Yeah… I believe you get my point. Isn’t it a mystery? That sweet power you women possess. It can create and destroy lives. It’s a powerful, double-edged sword, and I’m finally going to taste it.”

I was at work when he sent that message. I had laughed so hard, much to the chagrin of my boss and colleagues.

“You lucky bastard!” I laughed.

“Yeah, and do you want to know something else? I am going to do it almost every night and am going to fall asleep knowing that God approves. If that’s not happiness, I don’t want to know what happiness is.”

“You lucky idiot of a man! Just be careful not to end up like those guys up there.”

I imagined him beaming at the other end of the line, lightening up wherever he was. I remember feeling so happy for him. So happy for my friend.

The wedding was simple yet tasteful. He was smiling throughout, making the event as beautiful and colorful as he only could. After the wedding, I deliberately cut back on communication to stay out of love’s way. When we reconnected a year later, he was full of regret.

“That was so selfish of me. Goodness Becky, you’ve been alone all this time, haven’t you?”

“Are you kidding me? With all the hot men around? You needed space to enjoy your thing. By the way, how was it?”

The laughter was refreshing. I later asked him if he was happy.

“You know I didn’t marry the woman I wanted to marry. But I made peace with life and learned to love the woman I married. I am content with my lot, and yes, I am happy.”

Yeah, just like Isaac and Rebecca, I thought nostalgically. Love is not for the faithless. You only find it if you believe in it.

When his wife had their first child, his text was a missile loaded with excitement.

“I am a dad! finally!”

“Wow! Congratulations! When did he arrive?”

“A few minutes ago. His name is Archie Chomba.”

When Archie was a year old, he traveled to see me in Nakuru. I was recently laid off from work, so I was rather stuck. My decade-long depression was taking its toll on me, compounded by my joblessness. He was there for me in ways I couldn’t have asked for. 

“You’re a strong woman,” he never tired of telling me. “You’ve overcome worse battles; this too shall come to pass. I want to live to hear your testimony and your story of triumph.”

Three weeks later, he came again, insisting that it was his duty to reach out and watch over me. I remember feeling so guilty.

“I can manage,” I had protested. “Your family needs you more than I do.”

“Do you think I’d be here if my family weren’t fine and comfortable, Becky? Do you think I’d just neglect them?” 

“Well, not really. What I meant is…”

“I am a blessed man,” he had cut in. “Blessed in so many ways, and I thank God I can manage to share those blessings with others.”

Before he left, he taught me to memorize 2 Corinthians 12:8-10. 

“I want you to know this verse by heart. I want you to find comfort in it whenever you feel down. I want you to draw strength and inspiration from it. I want you to make it your personal mantra.’’ Then, he went ahead and quoted the verse.

Concerning this thing, I pleaded with the Lord three times that it may depart from me. And God said, My grace is sufficient for you. For My power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore, most gladly, I’d rather boast in my infirmities that the power of Messiah may come upon me…for when I am weak, then I am strong.” 

Two months later, Solai Dam in Nakuru burst its banks and overflowed, killing and displacing many. When the news broke on national television, he was on the phone.

“Just seen the news. Are you safe?”

“Very much safe,” I replied, touched. “I stay some distance from Solai.” He had been most relieved.

In late April 2018, he invited me to attend a church function organized by the local church in Nairobi. 

“You should come,” he said. “Mama Archie is looking forward to hosting you.” It had been the most inconvenient time for me to travel. 

“Listen, can we forgo the event and reschedule the date? I’ll visit your family in early June; then we can spend the weekend together.” It had been a deal.

On 16th May, Jimmy and I chatted heartily, reminiscing about the old days. He told me he was ever grateful for my presence in his life.

“Don’t misquote me,” he said cheekily. “I love my family, but it’s also good to have someone else besides family love you so unselfishly.”

We talked about faith and what it meant to bear one’s cross.

“Some people were offended by what I stand for and believe in. As such, I’ve lost some good friends and missed out on great opportunities.”

“Do you sometimes regret it?” I asked, “The lost opportunities, I mean?”

“No,” he said with a strong conviction. “I don’t regret the things I suffer or lose, for God’s sake. If anything, I am convinced that it’s a blessing if you endure rejection and hate for what you believe in. I’m also convinced that everything and everyone will fade away eventually. Not even our present problems or comforts will endure to the end. Only two things will: your soul and your God.” He paused, then added almost as a parting shot. “So hold on to your God.”

We didn’t talk again after that. The following day, I was unusually busy. In the evening, I remember feeling so restless, the food tasting so bland, the TV so boring, and toying with the idea of texting him, but something held me back. It was a force so strong, unseen. I’ll talk to him in the morning, I had decided. 

Again, that Friday morning, I was unusually busy. In the course of the day, I remember feeling so gloomy, a dark cloud hovering around me, engulfing me in a mist of sadness. It was a sadness I couldn’t quite understand. As I was preparing to leave work, I received a text message. It was from Bon Jimmy’s best friend, who also happened to be my friend. It read;

“Shalom. Have you heard about Jimmy, our bestie?”

Instinctively, I was on high alert. I felt my flesh crawl. My mind was racing. What about Jimmy? What news? We’ve been talking almost every day. I am gonna text him this evening, yeah, this evening. What do you mean?

“What news? We talked about a day ago. Something the matter?”

It seemed Bon took forever to answer, and when he finally did, it was a vague “Ooh, everything will be okay. By the way, which neighborhood did you say you moved to? I want to visit you.”

I saw through the deceit. My fears were confirmed then. Something had happened to dear Jim, and Bon was trying to get around the best way to break the news. I began to tremble.

Clutching the phone tightly, I texted back, fighting the frustrations of texting. 

“What has my location got to do with Jim? What’s going on, Bon?”

To prove that he was playing some sick joke and I was overthinking, I texted Jim.

“Hey buddy, you okay? Please reply to this text and let me know if you’re fine. I don’t like what Bon is insinuating. Remember I’m coming there on June 1st. Please stay safe for that day. “

I waited for a good two minutes. No response. Then it came. From Bon.

“Listen to me carefully. I want you to give the phone to a lady friend or neighbor, someone you trust. I want to talk to her, and then she’ll tell you what I have to say.” 

It sounded so ridiculous I wanted to call him and scream. Since when did he need a third party to communicate with me? I looked around. Anita, the only female colleague in the store I worked at, was off duty. I hesitated a moment, then approached Eddy, another colleague. 

A minute later, the two men were on the phone. I watched keenly, trying to decipher the conversation. Sensing my tension, Eddy turned and faced another direction so I wouldn’t read his lips. The insensitive idiot! Forcing myself to stay calm, I waited for him to hang up. The instant he did, I was on his neck.

“Well?!” I nearly screamed. “Say it!”

He avoided my eyes. I grabbed him by the lapel. He gave me a sympathetic look, released himself, and moved to the back of the store. I followed him.

“Damn you! Give me back my phone.”

If there was ever a time I wished I had my hearing senses, it was that time. The frustration was overwhelming. Fighting hysteria, I got on the phone with Bon again, thumping furiously on the screen.

“The interpreter idea flopped. Why don’t you cut the crap and come up with something smarter? But first, tell me what I need to know, and tell me now!” And he did. 

"Jimmy had an accident and passed on last night."

For a long time, what happened after that remained a blur. But now I remember it all so clearly. I remember the ground rushing to meet us, my phone and I. I remember grabbing onto something and, too late, realizing it was a stack of tissue paper on the shelf. I remember letting out a sharp, wounded cry and customers stopping and turning to stare. 

I remember the store manager coming over, picking up my phone, and making a call. I remember him hanging up, leading me to the back room to cry in private, and saying sorry over and over. I remember him giving me some cash and telling me to go home. I remember not boarding any vehicle and walking the entire two miles to reach home. I remember mumbling under my breath as I zombied home, No, no, no. Not Jim. Not Jim. Not Jim. 

I remember getting home drenched, but I don’t remember if I was wet from my tears or the slight rain that poured from the gray sky. I remember Isabel, my then-eight-year-old daughter, asking me why I was crying. I remember telling her that Uncle Jimmy was dead, and I remember her crying, us crying. 

I remembered the sadness that had engulfed me the previous night. The night my best friend was dying. Being hit by an oncoming car driven by a drunk. His body hurtling down from his motorcycle and onto the cold, hard, unforgiving tarmac of Ruiru bypass. Lying on that cold, lonely highway in the dead of night for a whole hour before being bundled into an ambulance to spend the night on yet another cold morgue slab. 

My heart went out to Jane, his wife. I imagined her in the kitchen, busy preparing dinner for her family. I imagined her feeding Archie and putting him to bed. Then, waiting for Jimmy to come home as usual, only to receive that dreaded phone call. I never wanted to imagine what happened next.

How can death be so cruel, so unpredictable? That night, my pillow was drenched; sleep didn’t dare crawl into my bed. Jimmy had been my Jonathan, and like David, I composed my own poem, my own song of the bow:

Can Jimmy die as a dog dies? 

On a cold, dark night, by a wet, lonely road?

Can Jimmy die as a dog dies? With his gentleness and his kindness? 

With his beautiful smile and his generous soul?

Can Jimmy die as a dog dies? In his prime, in his youth? 

At the age of 32? 

Your love for me was wonderful, surpassing the love of many men.

Can Jimmy die as a dog dies? With his abundance of self? 

With such a young wife? With such a young son?

When I sent Jane my condolences, she replied in one simple sentence:

“Please just pray for me.”

The trip to Nairobi was traumatizing. With regret, I recalled how he had begged me to travel there a few weeks ago and how I had preferred convenience over time. Was it death’s premonition? Was it his way of wanting to say goodbye? I had taken it for granted that we would both be alive by June and had postponed the trip. I had banked on tomorrow. A tomorrow that never came.

We went to pick him from Fargo Funeral Home in Thika. He lay in a simple, white coffin dressed in his wedding suit. That suit he had worn on his happiest day less than three years ago. His head was clean-shaven. His thick, heavy beard was as black and beautiful as ever. Except for a small dent on his lower lip, he was still the same Jimmy, handsome, unchanged even in death. He looked so graceful and at peace, like he was just napping. 

I had known his wife as a woman of strong faith and spirit. But even the strongest have a way of breaking. Flanked by two motherly women, I saw her break under that heavy burden of pregnancy and death. She was clutching the coffin and saying,

My love, why have you left me so soon? Left our son, left our unborn baby. Why have you left me alone? What am I going to do now?”

And we all wept.

We buried him in Mwea, Kirinyaga, inside a banana plantation near a stream of cold, clear water opposite his mother’s house. He had been an expert at creating friendships. His personality was like a magnet, drawing people to him. He used the languages of love, kindness, and generosity, and those languages were powerful; the deaf could hear them. A very spiritual man. A very righteous man. He was a prominent evangelist of the Church of God 7th Day.

Many people came to bury Jimmy. Church members from different parts of the country, neighbors, and friends ( there were hordes of them). His workmates: stakeholders in the transport industry. He had known so many people, he had been known by many people. Because he spent his life investing in people.

I bumped into Bildad by the graveside. We hugged, wept, and hugged again. He then led me away from the echoing chorus of wails, songs, and spades shoveling thick, red soil, and we reminisced about our happy days with Jimmy.

“I am thankful,” he said. “Thankful to ever have known such a wonderful soul.” And I wondered how one could find such grace in grief.

He was a saint, our Jimmy. He lived by the principles of the greatest commandments. He loved his God and loved humanity.

“The time between his departure and ours is a matter of minutes, even seconds, before God. I would love for us to meet again on the other side, the three of us, I mean,” Bon pursued. “So I’ll keep the faith. You keep the faith, Becky.”

On 25th May 2018, exactly a week after that horrible accident and two weeks before our planned get-together, we left him to rest inside that banana plantation beside that cold, clear stream. He was 32.

Except for the death of my son a few years back, no other death has ever gutted me like the death of my best friend. He had been more than a friend; he had been my confidant, brother, mentor, and benefactor. 

It took a long time for me to come to terms with his death and five good years to get the nerve to pen down this tribute. The void he left has never been filled and will never be filled. 

I have, however, found comfort in the hope that we shared. A hope inspired by the faith that brought us together, the hope of eternal life. I remember his last words, and I try, as best as I can, to hold onto God.

The daughter he never saw is now five years old. Archie is now seven years old, handsome and cheeky, a spitting image of his father. Jane, being the strong woman she is, is still fighting her battles stoically.

Blessed are they who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the spirit. That they may rest from their labors and their works follow them. Revelation 14:12.

Do you know why you rest so well, my friend? Because you know you are blessed.

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Teri O'halo McMahonn

Teri O'halo McMahonn

Writer & Blogger

I’m just like you. I’ve gone through pain in its various forms. I’ve lived with the pain of neglect and abandonment, watched my baby die in my arms, nursed multiple heartbreaks, and buried all my best friends. Like you, I became numb with every blow life dealt me. That was until I realized talking about these unpleasant life realities is a great coping mechanism. By confronting rather than suppressing my suffering, I was able to heal and find acceptance and closure. I’m not saying it was easy. My resilience and strength were severely tested. And yet, “Still I Rise.” That’s why I can easily relate to your current pain, no matter the tragedy. That’s why I’m here to help you cope with it by talking about it. It’d be an honor to have me tell the world your story.

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Teri O'halo McMahon

I help families bring out the beauty and character of their dear ones by writing obituaries, tributes, eulogies and mini biographies that define their legacy. Obituaries that go beyond the usual bland and dull announcements, capturing the essence of their true selves.

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I help families bring out the beauty and character of their dear ones by writing obituaries, tributes, eulogies and mini biographies that define their legacy. Obituaries that go beyond the usual bland and dull announcements that fail to capture the essence of who those people really were.

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