Thursday, July 31, 2008

My January Friend

Two days ago it was the anniversary of my friend’s death. I hadn’t planned on writing two sad posts so close together and in truth I’ve been struggling with whether I should write about Johnny at all. It’s personal and all but I’ve decided I will. He deserves to be remembered. I hope I’ve made the right decision. Here is a story I wrote about it, close to when it happened:


My mother has drawn the letters of the alphabet up on the wall. Each big letter has a little one next to it with the corresponding picture. B is for buffalo, F is for frog. M is for Miranda and J is for Johnny. But we are not next to each other. This is a problem. We insist that my mother change it but she’ll have nothing of it. “you can’t just change the alphabet” “why not?” we ask indignantly? “You just can’t.” She eventually gets round this problem by drawing in walkie talkies. That’s great. We’re extremely happy with this. Reminds us of Maz. We had walkie talkies in Maz but they didn’t really work coz we’d never let each other out of our sights. We do everything together. Everything. Even our birthdays are 2 days apart. January babies. We pretend to be chickens, and sit all day long on big stones in our nests. We eat mulberry’s til we turn purple, stick soya beans up our noses, fish with our hands.

One day, at Chibembe, we are chased by Aerosol, the elephant that hangs around camp. It is early evening and we are near the kitchen when Aerosol emerges from the darkness and gives a screaming trumpet. We run as fast as we can behind the grass fence (which provides the illusion of safety) and into the kitchen. I don’t remember being that scared but Johnny hides under the kitchen table for two hours. Nothing can lure him out. He eats supper under there. He is absolutely terrified.

We spend the next few weeks getting our revenge on Aerosol. We want to hurt him really badly, maybe even kill him. We set traps. Little piles of sand with upside down bottle tops and toothpicks in the sand. We check our traps religiously every morning, each day more surprised than the last that we have not managed to inflict pain on Aerosol. One day we find a footprint on one of our piles of sand. An elephant footprint. We are delighted. I suspect that Isaac did it; he’s good at making pretend elephant footprints. Nevertheless we are delighted. Revenge is a wonderful thing to a six year old.

They didn’t shoot the elephant that killed Johnny 20 years later. I don’t think that kind of revenge would have made anyone feel any better. I am speaking for myself – maybe it would have for his family.


Chris and I are walking through the reception at Mfuwe Lodge and hear Jo on the radio
asking if any of the lodges have a doctor in camp. No one seems to be responding to the radio so we decide to scout around the park and see if there are any game drives with doctors on board. It is a beautiful calm afternoon and we decide that it’ll be nice to get out – it’s a good excuse. Jo tells us that there has been an accident on one of their walking safaris. We don’t know what the problem is but know Johnny is the guide so we are not worried.
“Lucky its Johnny whose the guide, he’s experienced enough to handle any problems” I say.

So off we head into the park. The sun is getting low on the horizon, but we probably still have an hour or so left of daylight. We are on a rescue mission. What fun. We play at being heroes. We only pass one car, having sundowners at Wamilombe lagoon. Everyone is out the car and cheery, drinking gin and tonic, celebrating life and the sinking of the sun.
“Is anyone here a doctor?” I ask, feeling a bit foolish, like we’re in a B grade movie.
“Ah!” relief, we are heroes after all
“I’m a doctor in Biology – what can I do for you?”
Everyone laughs. Good joke, we’re all happy.
“Would you like to join us?” asks the Biologist.
“No, really, thanks but we must find a doctor” We say this even though we realize our search is futile by now, it’s almost dark and there are hardly any cars around. We drive a bit further, see no other cars and call Jo on the radio. It is dusk

“Hi Jo, we can’t find any doctors in the park. Over” (this sounds absurd!)
“That’s okay Miranda. Emergency over. Over”
Chris and I look at each other
“Miranda” (its Jo), “Where are you? Over”
“Umm, at Wamilombe Jo, why? Over”
“Oh, okay, nothing”

Chris and I are chatty “Oooooh, emergency over, I wonder what THAT means. I guess they’ve sorted out the problem. Shit, I wonder if the client got attacked by a buffalo or something. Hey, shit, maybe he died and that’s why the emergency is over!” I’m excited with this theme, but “Naaaaa, Johnny’s the guide, he’ll know what to do, I’m sure he handled it fine”. We’ll hear it all from Johnny soon enough no doubt.

We get back to the lodge and go to the room. I am cleaning my teeth, getting ready for bed. Debbie comes in. She has just lost her father; she knows how to break bad news. She tells me that there has been an accident on a walking safari. An accident with an elephant. Johnny was the guide. He is dead. She says it straight out, the way it should be done.
I drop my toothbrush in the sink. Chris is next door.

He grabs Debbie “She thinks you said Johnny is dead. Tell her properly. She thinks Johnny is dead”
“He is” Debbie. “Jo radioed and asked me to pass this on to Miranda. She knows they were friends”

Utter utter emptiness in my soul.




I say it many different ways, silently, in my heart.


I sink to the floor. Blank.

The next day I am selfish and possessive over my grief. I wake up in the morning with that hole and dread in my solar plexus. Not quite sure at first what it is but it doesn’t take long to remember. I am angry at people who didn’t know him as well as I – how dare you be upset. He was my friend, this is my grief. I am angry at people who knew him better than I for the past few months. He was my friend, how dare you have claim to some of my grief. I am selfish and awful and I hate it. My throat is raw. I cannot be alone.

Nor can Julie. We bond only as people can who share the same grief. Her and Chris are the only people I am not angry at and whom I do not mind crying as much as me. I feel possessive about him. I knew him before all you people. He was my best friend. We were inseparable. We tried to change the alphabet so we could be next to each other. He was my friend.


Chimera said...

Again a womderful, moving post. I love the story of the alphabet and the walkie talkies.and the gut wrenching relvelation behind the story of Aerosol. the world twists...
Sending love,
T x

Dumdad said...

A loving and moving tribute to your friend.

Reya Mellicker said...

I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. It's a wonderful tribute to him, and an incredible, succinct portrait of your "lifestyle" as we would say in the States.

I can't believe there was an elephant named Aerosol. Wow. And that your friend heard an echo of his destiny all those years before it happened.

The love you had/have for your friend is palpable in your post. What is remembered, lives.

Thank you.

Miranda said...

Tanvi - thank you for kind words. The world twists indeed.

Dumdad - thank you. I was dubious about posting on this, but glad I did.

Reya - welcome and thank you! Lovely words. Thanks. xx

Anonymous said...

Beautifully expressed - you are veyr brave to share this. Thank you.