My sister was murdered. My sister was hacked down by a shovel, in her own home, in a gruesome case of gender-based violence. The heinous act was committed in the presence of my 3-year-old niece, who, for hours, was alone in the house with her… deceased.
My grandmother received the phone call at 11 pm on the day it happened. I heard the phone ring, at such an usual time, muttered conversation and then the stifled cry of grief. I knew someone had died, I just did not know who. I continued to pretend sleep, ignoring the distress from across the wall but I couldn’t do it for long. So, a tentative knock replied with a whispered statement, “Nora is no more.”
I was late to my sister’s funeral. I was 3 days late to my sister’s funeral. The body, having to be transported from another country and needing police investigations and extensive post-mortems, took a while to be laid to rest. I was late to my sister’s funeral, because I was writing an exam, a university exam soon.
I stoked the impression that I spent those 3 days engrossed in meticulous study. I did so, for my guilt, shame and self preservation demanded that I do. For 3 days, I stayed alone, and prepared to write my examination. I only actually studied for approximately 6 hours, and incidentally, they were sufficient. The rest of the time, I was under the yoke of despair.
I confided to my companion at the time. “My sister died, and I don’t have grief.” I couldn’t understand it. But, I was raked and ravaged by the guilt of not spilling mournful tears. She was my sister. I had undoubted love for her and we had only spoken months before in jovial connection over an internet celebrity. Now she was gone and I felt numb to it. And I hated myself for it.
I hate myself for a lot of things. And, my way of coping oscillates between ingenious and destructive. For those three days, I was more on the destructive end of the scale.
The outpouring of love, loss and affection for her on social media was immediate. My Facebook timeline was filled with sincere tributes to her life and legacy from friends close and distant. My WhatsApp status feed had a constant stream of pictures. Some pictures were of her alone, some were with friends, some with her three wonderful children but all a testament to the humanity she possessed, and the cruelty of her being gone.
I reluctantly “liked” many of these posts, in solidarity primarily. But that was the most I could do. I did not post anything at the time. I couldn’t. I couldn’t shake the feeling that doing so would be, in some way, pimping her name for the sake of sympathy. I knew people would “like” my posts if I did so. And I hated it. I hated that I knew they would and that I even considered it. My sister deserved more dignity that I afforded her.
I thought of her brothers, thousands of miles away and incapable of coming back home. I felt deep sympathy for that helplessness that they would feel. I thought of her parents, and the unimaginable grief it is to not only lose a daughter, but to lose her to the intentional stabs of a murderer. I thought of her daughters, and the lifetime of loss they would feel for a mother they would only see in memories and stories.
And, I battled, battled my inner self through all that time. Here were all these people, in need of my energy and support and I was unavailable. Lost in my own head; trapped in a spiralling state of guilt, anger and self obsession. This was freaking ridiculous. Damn.
So, I engaged in the more destructive of my indulgences. I chose badly. I binged on my abuse of self, angry and placating the anger through its indulgence. For three days, I thought of my sister, who I loved, her loved ones, who I felt for, and myself, whom I despised, and mutilated myself as much as I could to escape the sceptre of despair’s ugly head.
Having written my exam, I had free time. A couple hours of free time. I lied to people, that I was still busy studying and would come when I was free. Instead, I turned more strongly to my fix, revved it up to its potent best and did not see the sun or the stars for hours on end.
By the morning of the third day, I was exhausted. I was exhausted from academics, exhausted from the vitriol I spewed on myself, exhausted from self destructive behaviour, exhausted from guilt and shame and their debilitating assaults.
I was exhausted.
So, I whipped up my regular meal of baked beans, bread and Mazoe. I consumed my bowl in silent contemplation. I was full. I took a shower, changed into fresh clothes then opened the windows for some fresh air. Tennis, there was tennis on the television.
I watched three hours of Djokovic at the French Open and I felt at peace. It was escapism again. Of that I was aware, but I let the soothing nature of the harmlessness of its form and the calm of exhaustion wash over me in soothing relief. As it happened, I never did finish the match, and I hurriedly joined my family at the funeral.
I did not go see my sister’s body.
The fetish for gore in the air was palatable. A fascination with how she may or may not be mutilated as a result of the garish end. I could not participate in that. I felt a deep revulsion from its conception. I could not be one to gorge on my sister’s deceased form for morbid curiosity. She deserved better than that.
I did cry though.
I did cry on the day of the funeral. My tears were triggered by my sister’s siblings and the utter vulnerability they possessed, by the very nature of their gender, to a similar fate. That… that was too much to bear.
I remembered how one of my sister’s had come to me once. Having been physically assaulted by her intimate partner. “Scare him Valentine. Maybe he needs a man to scare him so he doesn’t do it again.” I did go to see him, but I knew that my capacity to intimidate him was negligible. I more so did it, as a show for support. To say I felt her pain. I knew her struggles and I wanted to help.
She had left him, and was with someone else now, but her sibling was about to be buried in the dirt. Who, what or why was murky. But her gender, and the overwhelming power of man was clearly a factor. I thought of the futility of gender conferences and women empowerment debates. I thought of the meaningless of my feminist tag and ally-ship card. I thought of the many people who had suffered like her, and the many others at risk of the same. Some right here with me, and I lost it. I cried.
The choir that conducted the mass was full of vibrant energy and the crowd that gathered was a testament to the different ways in which Nora lived a meaningful life. She was a wife, a daughter, a mother, a friend, a cousin, a colleague or an inspiration.
I felt relief that I had cried in grief, despair that I was helpless to galvanize my loss into meaning which would “changed the world,” but mostly I felt comfort. Comfort in that, in those final moments it wasn’t me, her loved ones or any other thoughts that pre-occupied me.
It was my sister, whose life was full and a blessing I thought of. And I wished her well, on her journey home.