Monday, December 6, 2021

Oceans apart-Confronting loss from thousands of kilometers away

China: Seat 4B, second cabin and the time was 9:32 in the morning when I embarked on journey from Wuhan to Yichangdong in Hubei Province, a part of China. It was my first time traveling on a speed train. During the ride my eyes were fixed to the views outside, taking in the marvel of seeing China from inside a bolting train. I saw it in fragmented pieces, one after the other weaving a mosaic like view. I thought to myself, what a fascinating way to see a place, where every view resembles a work of art.

Inside the train, especially an incredibly fast one, the fluidity of movement evokes a sense of freedom and stokes confidence in believing in the wonders of life. It is one of the amazing ways to feel connected to a place. I told myself then that if I ever lost sight of wonders I’ll simply hop into a train to reclaim the feeling.

When I arrived in Yichangdong I could immediately tell that it was unlike Beijing. When the night began to draw in I took a walk to the river with Omphitlhetse, a South African, who about four months ago was a total stranger. It was at the river, 10 minutes away from the hotel, where the new place truly presented itself as absolutely different from the capital city of China. The cool temperature provided quite an escape. The river snaked away down the slope from the city’s busy road.

After a cooling stroll along the river bank Omphitlhetse and I found a place to seat. It was a night nothing like the many I had had in Beijing. It was devoid of the capital city’s gushing bouts of rush. Here people seemed to appreciate the simpler side of life. Some had come with their dogs which would occasionally jump and out of the water. Young couples frolicked in the water with their small children.

The fitness fanatics, both young and old, jogged along the river bank, their faces beaming with excitement.

I never would have predicted that after such a colorful night I would in the wee hours of the morning have my life completely changed. I was awoken by a call and still half asleep I spoke to a female voice I could not recognise. I remember, as part of the conversation, that she kept saying my grandmother, ‘Mme’ as I affectionately called her, was not well and that she had been rushed to the hospital. She carried on the conversation asking about my life in China but when she asked what I was doing at that particular time and who I was with, something did not feel right. We ended the conversation and she promised to call back with more information about Mme’s health. I checked the time and it was 2.33 a.m.  Hardly five minutes later, the woman called back and by that time I was fully awake. I picked from her voice who she was. It was my pastor’s wife. On the second call Catharine began to describe the excruciating pain that she had seen Mme in when she last visited her at my aunt’s place. She didn’t say it but I knew then what had happened. “She is gone, isn’t she?” I asked, and the answer I got was not one I was ready for. I had been under the impression that Mme was recovering and had prayed fervently every single night from the time I was told of her hospitalization for God to grant her full recovery. I had been keeping in touch with my family getting updates on Mme’s health. She had been hospitalized for about three weeks due to sudden illness and was later discharged to go and recover at home. I later learnt that the story about Mme having been rushed to the hospital when the call came in was not true, she was home when it happened.       

Before going to bed I had set the alarm for 4.30 a.m. to go and watch the sunrise at the river. I thought that it would be something worth capturing on camera. I was still reeling from the news that had been broken to me when the alarm rang. I decided to still go to the river, in fact it felt like the best place to be. Just as I was about to leave my hotel room a message came in from Thobo Motlhoka, a friend and colleague from home, asking me how I was doing. He had randomly sent the message but his question had coincidentally been intuitive. I broke the news to him, he was the first person I told.    

When I got downstairs to begin my walk to the river I realized that it was raining. Undeterred I went back to my room to get an umbrella. Darkness still covered the city. I saw a few taxis on the road. The dimly lit tall buildings provided faint visibility and the night wore a deafening silence. I felt scared and the feeling heightened when I approached the river. It was a pitch darkness when I went down the slope to the river bank. When I reached the river I turned on the flashlight on my phone and set up my camera. I was there for about two and a half hours but still no sign of the sun. In the meantime I experienced a catharsis of screams and heavy tears. When the light came out there were a few passersby jogging along the river bank. I wonder what was going on in their minds when they saw a black girl with a camera in front of her and tears pouring down her cheeks.

I eventually flew back home to Botswana to bury Mme. On the flight I could tell I would soon be confronted with feelings only home could bring. If I had to answer Thobo’s question I would rather not because my mind still cannot fathom what I feel. The feeling is completely new. She was a tremendously significant part of me. Coming back to China after her burial continues to test my endurance. Going back to my words, I think that maybe I should hop on a train in the hope of reclaiming the wonder I held when I first arrived in China four months ago.

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