Yalla nako yalla xare aldiana
When I saw those words posted onto Facebook this morning, I knew it had finally happened. The big tree, which had been leaning and creaking for years, had finally fallen.
Whether to call someone who is so far away, desperately trying to keep the tree up is a very serious judgment call. You don’t have the benefit of monitoring how they’re doing–how they’re really doing–and whether your call, sickeningly sweet with prayers and words of strength and encouragement, will be the thing that keeps them going that day or the trigger that pushes them over the edge.
I consulted the Mr. just a few days ago, after Yaye told me “Mais, Marissa, il est gravement malade…grav-eh-MENT, Marissa”. He sighed and replied “Je ne sais pas… moi, je ne sais pas.”
Neither did I, which was the point, and so I interpreted it as a “no”. In any case, it probably would not be long before a call would be obligatory. The Mr. realized that; his voice told all. He knew he would not be there to show strength when the inevitable took place, and that felt wrong. I decided to hope, as I always do, for a miracle–even one of the Nelson Mandela variety. Just hold on…
We cannot call God’s shots. Yalla rek mo hom. Yalla rek mo def.
The phone call is obligatory now, though I still don’t know how soon is too soon or not soon enough. My best friend in Senegal, my uncle-in-law who is really old enough to be a big cousin, has finally lost his father. The father has been sick for a long time, ever since I’ve known him, and because of that, I have only ever seen him a few times. When I received the nod to visit him in his house this spring, it somehow did not occur to me that I would not see him again, because even his sickness just became his state of being for me. He was not supposed to die.
His passing is not tragic in the most palpaple sense of that word. He was very, very old. But is that not what makes his death such a dull blow to those left behind? The longer one lives, the more memories, the more moments, that many more plates of thieb shared together. His passing is the death of more than just one individual. He is an old griot, and so decades of stories and traditions–as only he can uniquely possess them–pass along with him. Today, everyone will remember every lesson, every piece of advice, every smile. Even the punishments he must have meted out on his many children as they grew up will now most certainly be missed. By tomorrow, he will be buried, and all the most tangible evidence that he ever was feel as if it has gone or is trying to, very disrespectfully, sneak away.
No matter how old you are, even if you are married with your own children, losing your father and your grandfather is always brutal. The void is always deep. The house always empty, with its glue gone. The sun will not rise in your life for some time, even as it burns hot over the compound and everyone continues with the monotony of their own stability and fullness, cleaning the chickens, feeding the goats, going to and coming from work. You will smile and not mean it, tell yourself and everyone else “Yalla bakna” and not really mean that, either. You will think often to yourself “1 day ago, I had a dad. 2 weeks ago I had a dad. 5 years ago I had a dad.” And you will try to remember what that felt like. And when you remember, you will not know if you feel better or worse. And then you will be strong for the others, wishing that someone would be strong for you. And then you will remember that he, too, must have loved and lost, and he survived. His family reunion began today. You will hold it down for those united on the other side of this hot sand, patiently awaiting for the September rains and December winds to blow away the present grief, and you will do your best to believe that everything you have ever believed is true.
Yalla nako yalla yeureum.