Dear Lucy, Happy Birthday
My dear sister, I have started this letter only about a million times. And a million times I have crumbled it up and thrown it away. As the years have passed the pile of words and paragraphs have sat in the hollow chambers of my heart; collecting layers of regret and sorrow. I have tried to make keys and lock them away in darkness, but the doors never seem to lock. The letters unfinished beckon incessantly to be put to their final purpose, haunting me with your face alight with that smile so seared in my memory. It’s all I had and it is all I have now. But the memory of you is a weight I can no longer carry. Life, my dear sister, it marches on you see. I fear I must heed its calling, lest my days in the sun pass me by. And so this I must say to you. This I must reveal to you. This I must unchain from my soul. This I must retire to the depth our past. These words to you my dear, on this most auspicious of times, must be set to light on this brand new day.
How do I even pretend to imagine your pain, your hurt, your loneliness? How do I erase it all away with words that come a little too late? Time I can not reverse, but the future awaits me to shape her. I must not wallow in my own regret. Even you wouldn’t have me drown in the shallows of what I cannot change.
You have waited for me I know, to say something, to say anything. I have tried so many times to come and failed. I have known the way and yet I continue to hesitate. At the fork, I stare down the meandering road until it disappeared in the distance. For these many years, I have been turning left for home, wishing I had had the strength to do otherwise. For these many years, you have waited to no avail. For this I am truly sorry.
You see, mother has been afraid of me leaving. She thinks I won’t come back either. She too misses you terribly. It is a sort of sadness written on her soul. No prayer goes without a wish that the truth wasn’t the truth; that there was still chance; that this cruelty of fate wasn’t woven in the fabric of our lives. I sat once in the garden with her, seeing if she would change her mind about letting me come. A few billowing clouds wafted across a plate of glassy blue sky. The wind was ushering in the season’s daily rains. The flowers she tended to so lovingly seemed to bow in resignation, as she looked at me with tears in her eyes.
“You must not go,” she said, “she’s no longer there.”
I remember thinking of this truth, and wanting to fight it once more, shove it back with the words unsent and the memories lost. I wanted the news that I received almost three years earlier not to be true. You were no longer there but yet I knew I had to come and do something. What, I did not know.
You see, the day we separated in Nairobi — you heading to see grandmother in Juba and me going to see grandfather in Masindi — almost felt like it was normal. I was never supposed to lose you for good. Perhaps I should have cried or protested more to stop it. I wish I had known more at the age of four. Or maybe you should have done something since you were older.
Oh, how I have lamented the sorrow you must have felt from not knowing where I was. I was told a terrible war waged the minute you reached grandmother. I waited for you to come, not understanding why you wouldn’t leave and just come, not understanding what war was. I wrote letters that never seemed to come back. I prayed prayers that never seemed to reach you. The seasons passed and the winds blew and the stars shimmered and the sun rose and set and the moon glowed and our reality became clear. You were not coming for me, nor would I ever reach you in time.
The call shook me from a deep night’s slumber. It was Uncle Joshua.
“I have news, are you awake?” he asked.
You had passed away a year before I started looking for you. I was at university and hoping to find you before I graduated so you could attend. I know you would have been proud of me. Mother came to watch me give the graduation speech. Father made a big meal for our party. I felt empty and guilty. I remember spending that summer so gutted, hollowed and haunted. I slept in fathers bed crying for days. I’d never been closer to him.
I have been so gutted in my soul for over a decade now. I think it is time I forgave myself. What do you think? Can I truly forgive myself if I don’t know if you forgave me? I will never know if you did or not. So I must make this choice to do so, because at the very least you would have wanted me to be OK. You always tried to make sure I was ok. So on this day I vow to make the best me that I can be, because of you. On this day I vow not to be sad but optimistic and hopeful that a new future is possible.
Wherever you may lay, know that on this very morning, a new kind of day is dawning. One that I think you and so many of us paid the ultimate price for. Please tell whoever is laying next to you that today a nation is born. The winds sway the tall grasses above you, shaking the morning’s dew from their sinewy leaves as they reach for the new morning sun. Today we awake to a new future full of possibilities, full of promise and hope. I hope you can see us celebrate, I hope you can hear the drums in the distance. I hope you can feel the stomping feet. I hope you can feel the joyous sound. I hope you can see our new flag shimmering in the morning sun. And I hope that you know, I wish you were here to celebrate with me.
Happy birthday Lucy, this is our day in the sun.
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