For me, the grief is still too close!
September 15th 2003, The day I first landed in Belgium; Four years, one month and two weeks it’s been since! Nobody tells you that, after living in a place for four years, you get so attached to it!! Well, I guess that’s because it’s common sense, right? But that’s just the problem! The heart doesn’t have any! It is moved by emotion (and of course ventricle valves)! I had known for a while that I was leaving Belgium and had even run the entire scenario through my mind: “Raymond, you are going home, to marry a girl with huge bum! And hopefully hair that doesn’t reek of brimstone!” and it all made sense! Then came last Thursday evening, when I had to start saying goodbye to my friends, I then realised, that the heart isn’t moved much by huge bum consolation! Besides, in the past, I’ve actually seen my very own sisters use hair products that were clearly labelled “SULPHUR”!
I got to Julian’s apartment at about 7:30pm, he was preparing some salmon sandwiches. He told me how sad he was that I didn’t get the job at Electrabel after passing five interviews (I won’t even get into that!)! He told me that he was travelling to England and Morocco with his mother for the fall break the very next day, so I knew that this would probably be the last time I saw him.
He wore a white t-shirt with the Greek flag and the words “Greece”, his jeans had a “1969” label etched into the leather patch above the back pockets, I tired to remember as much about the moment as I could while he spoke: The way he signals with his hands to pass him something, the way he’d hold his forehead with the tips of his fingers as though pushing them into his scalp as he’d say, “Man you can’t imagine…”
I kept remembering all the great times we had together: going out for drinks, movies Hectors chicken, Zizi! Swimming at ULB! Shopping together at Colruyt for groceries in bulk just short of dislocating our shoulders as we carried the bags back to the apartment! Watching Top Gear together and laughing like nuts! The Lord of the Rings Trilogy marathons! Him bashing Uganda while I had to google Costa Rica just to find out some dirt to hurl back in vengeance! Julian hated and was irritated by the very same things that I was! The true test of friendship! I tried to fight back the thoughts because I could feel my emotions beginning to override basic visual system functions!
We went down to my old apartment where Coucou and Germans now live and had dinner, Titta joined later, it was a good laugh. When dinner was done, I took the elevator with Julian to his apartment and after he’d shut the door and we were standing in the centre of the room; I said,
“ Man, you have…” and I just broke out sobbing! I couldn’t finish the sentence, tears were way past my shoelaces now and forming a little puddle, but I was wearing timberlands!
HAHAHA, that’s just reminded me of the time we were in a shoe shop together and after I’d shown him a pair of Timberland boots that I absolutely loved he said, “ Man, you can’t be serious!! Really?! Those are carpenters shoes!! That’s what carpenters wear!” I saw the light that day! Debonair marketing had been selling me carpenter shoes all these many years!! I never bought another pair since!
“…been one of my best friends I have had here and I just wanted you to know I appreciate you and I am going to really miss you!” Gave him a last hug, he had started tearing as well, and said he would miss me too. I hurried out the door with what shards of macho-ism I had left because I was seriously breaking down!
Friday, 7pm, there I was, standing at the stairs of the Gare Centrale Metro station, the very stairs that only two years ago, Shruti and I had sat at and spoken for hours for the first time! We’d walked together from university on the last day and ended up on those very stairs, where she told me all about her friends, family and how she loved Sharuh kahn (I’m sure I’ve botched the spelling) the Indian actor!
Finally, she arrived, wearing long black boots in which she had tucked her jeans, her long hair resting past her shoulders, looking beautiful as ever! She gave me a big hug and started apologising for being late. I wasn’t really listening; my thoughts were far and away revelling in all the times we shared together.
Shruti ordered a panini(she said that she hadn’t eaten all day) from the sandwich counter close to where we’d met. As she did, my eyes welled up with tears. She turned to me and said, “Don’t cry, you are going to make me cry!” It was too late!
I had just remembered the day she bought me flowers, white roses! (She is, in my opinion the sweetest person in the solar system!) Then the time she asked, “ So who is the new girl in your life?” I told her that I was too busy looking for a job that getting a girl was really the last thing on my mind. Very shocked with the mother hen look she’s perfected, Shruti said, “You’re not serious Raymond! Anyway, do you like Rwandans?” I nodded in affirmation “… because there is this really nice girl at work, she is shorter than you, so that’s already a good thing, plus I’ve told her everything about you and she wants to meet you, I think you’d be perfect together” she continued. I was so touched! Isn’t she just the sweetest? She is more concerned about my love life, than even I am!! I’ve never had a friend like her!
Everyone needs at least one Indian friend! She’s the one that talked me into sitting for the GMAT and TOEFL exams and now when I think back, that’s one of the best pieces of advice I have taken! She even helped me study for the tests, getting me all the text books and CD’s.
I recalled how at university, she would bring me containers of Indian food almost every fortnight or so. She once visited when I used to live with my dad and Stella and brought such a hot chicken dish that her memory was indelibly etched into my father’s mind, “The girl that brought us food with chilli enough for a battalion,” he refers to her!
I vividly remember that day, after university, it was raining as we walked to my empty apartment. Shruti had come to help me set up and assemble my huge reading table and book shelf. I remember how after we’d finished, we stood back looking at it very proud.
I cried on and off for over one hour as Shruti tried to comfort me, telling me that we’d of course see each other again! Most people passing by must have either thought I had lost someone and they would be right because I really can’t imagine my life without my pyar!
I am going to miss: how she claps her hands, skips and does a little jig whenever she is very excited, how she holds out one finger then proceeds to wave both her arms backwards almost as though she was trying to fly whenever she is mad, how she pronounces “w” as “v” and says “thingy-do”.
By the time she left on the train to Antwerp; I felt so weak and dizzy!
I set off for Steph’s apartment after leaving Gare Centrale Metro. I found that both she and Benedict had been waiting rather long for me to arrive. We sat round their dinner table like we’d done times past
Me, thinking all the while, how it was probably going to be the last time! Thank goodness for their cocker spaniel “Suki” that helped distract my tear glands as I attempted to befriend it.
French music played in the background, as I had what I can only describe as, one of the longest moments of silence! We all didn’t really speak this time, which was really weird because usually, Steph and I can talk till the cows come home; and die! But I guess it was because I was dealing with so much emotion and so were they! It almost felt like I was talking to strangers.
Steph is a great company, we’d go to restaurant with, order a meal or a cup of tea and talk until they close. She once made the fatal error of accusing me of talking a lot ( which is true) only for me to quickly turn round and remind her about how she’d once spent over 3 hours explaining to me in detail, how to go about delivering a baby (she studies midwifery) in a restaurant! I can confidently declare that thanks to teas and dinner with Steph, I can deliver a baby, all on my own!
I left at about 11pm, hugged them both goodbye, I thought I was all cried out from the Shruti ordeal but as soon as I got into the elevator, it started all over again! I got home feeling like some department in my brain had illegally hired a jackhammer crew that worked the graveyard shift, my head hurt! My eyes felt like the palms of an ogre!
On Saturday evening, Jerry took me out bowling and then for dinner after. Originally from Ghana, he’s one of the first friends I made from my old church. Although we never did hang out as much as I would have liked, every time we did, it was always a blast and we had a good laugh, a really great guy! He got me a rugby ball as a goodbye present! When I finally got around to saying goodbye, I really didn’t think I’d cry but I did! It’s official, I’m a bitch!
At about 10pm that night, Titta called me up and invited me to dinner at Maison de crepes ( The pancake house) in La bourse. I must mention at this point that as much as I hate using clichés, Titta is who they had in mind when coining the phrase “You meet someone and you feel like you have known them your whole life!” I’ve never known someone for such a short time and gotten this close, where it actually feels like we used to fight over LEGO toys in another lifetime!
She tells a story and you feel like you’re right there, like you could smell the meatballs and potatoes! A story she told comes to mind; we were once seated at the table and I was complaining about how I hate the winter and snow and she shot back: “ I love snow very much! It’s the best thing about Finland! When it snows! I remember when I was young, we used to live in a flat and every time it snowed and I made a snow man, the bigger boys would come and destroy it and I would cry! Then one day, when my parent showed me the blue prints of the new house they were going to build, after they left the room, I got a pen and drew snowmen into the blue prints and rushed full of excitement to tell my parents, ‘Ohh, 8 snowmen can fit in the compound!!’”
We talk about everything! From: Alex’s new shoes, the EPDP party (EU politics), to our future plans, dreams, to chicken dances, to pink dots, to pigs (don’t ask!). She is the most organised and planned person I’ve ever known and she really inspires to change the way I think and behave! (Apart from the binge drinking of course) There are so many things about her that I am trying hard to adopt and emulate!
We had pancakes, talked a bit and then headed to Gallery Louise ( discotheque). As we walked there, Titta broke one of her heels of her boot, so we then headed off to her apartment where she changed into another pair. We finally made it at about 1 AM, it was loud, filled with lots of people and yes, smoke! Yalcin got us free entry, (I don’t know how he does these things).
We sat in one of the semi circular couches as they brought huge ice boxes filled with ABSOLUT and Redbulls ! I steered clear of the ABSOLUT as everyone was busy mixing ABSOLUT-Redbull cocktails!
Titta got really pissed a couple of hours later when some floozies nicked her pack of Marlboro that she'd placed on the table! She was seething about how she was going to go over to them and kick butt!! What Marlboro will do to a lady!!HAHAHHA!! At 5am, I told her I wanted to go home. Titta said , “ NOO! You’ll sleep when you get to Uganda, lets enjoy your last night” We finally left at about 6AM after having a debate about whether we should add or subtract one hour, as it was now Sunday morning, the daylight time adjustment date, 28th October.
I gave her a big hug as she got into a cab to go home, I was too exhausted to cry (at least so I thought) when about 10 minutes later, just I had reached Palais du Justice ,Titta called. As soon as she said that she was going to miss me, that was it! The Sahara irrigation scheme was fully functional once again! I let her know how much she meant to me and then she said, “You are the only Raymond and if in future I meet someone else that is called Raymond, I’ll tell them, ‘ Noo! You can’t be Raymond, because there is only one Raymond and I know him! So you can be Ted or Bob, choose, but not Raymond!” Even though I found that hilarious, it totally shattered me! Stuff like that just destroys all resolve to respect all the signed non-tear treaties!
I am going to miss: how we always had to stop walking just for her to light up a cigarette because she can’t light it and walk at the same time! How she purses her lips and turns her head a little sideways with her large beautiful eyes when she is shy, embarrassed, or asking for help! How she shakes her head up and down with the broadest smile as she laughs with all her heart!
I just remembered when she was explaining why she had started smoking again after trying to quit , “ I got an apartment with: a balcony, a table, a chair and an ash tray!!” HAHHAHA That was reason enough to start she claimed! Titta! Titta! Titta! Titta! I'm going to miss you!
We once TRIED taking a picture before a movie marathon: Impossible!Alex would laugh at nothing and then get us all started!
FINALLY! We took the picture!
Alexander, my Coucou, one word (actually I think it’s more of a sound) describes her “HAHAHHAHAHA” She has an amazing sense of humour , she can find humour in the most concealed places! I remember walking near one of the European Union buildings in Porte De Namur when she noticed there was a fork stuck in the concrete of the sidewalk; she almost fell over laughing!!
We have had our serious times but we tried our very best to keep them at the bare minimum! She hates it when I poke her shoulder (which I do intentionally), and she always gets up, chases me around until she gets me and exerts her vengeance through : kicks slaps and punches! There have been times we literally wrestled on the floor!! HAHAHAH! All for a sweet or a slice of salami!! She is the person I am a total kid with! A blast!!
The most special thing about my Coucou, is she can cook up a storm! She makes the most amazing beef steak with fresh steak peppers and cream! And she’s taught me so many cool recipes! I am going to miss all the experimental dishes we would concoct together!
I am going to miss how she would twirl her hair with her fingers whenever she spoke! How she really loves music and dancing, even more!! She always had this jig , where she would move her hands together in circular motion as though stirring a cauldron!
How she loves Latin American guys and calls them “Caliente”!! HAHAHA !! As a goodbye present, she gave me a jar of Mayonnaise with truffles that she knows I absolutely love and also a special vinegar from her mother that is used to make the béarnaise sauce! Which, if you have been reading this long enough, know is what I feel should be the rightful ruler of the planet!! I LOVE Béarnaise sauce!!
On Sunday afternoon, after picking up my wind chime, from my old room, she started crying as she hugged me goodbye. In the middle of sobs, she told me that her mother is going to write out the very detailed recipe of how to make it! And that she would send it to me by e-mail! Coucou, I know you are reading this, I am sending you a big dragon kiss!!
German Duran, my house mate for the last two years; Now I must admit, that we have had our differences and I probably was harder on him than he deserved but I let bygones be bygones!
He is a fun guy, a real party animal, goes out clubbing EVERY night of the week!! Got the smoothest tongue, and can sell you your own soul! German is probably the closest I will ever get to knowing a porn star! He’s got charm no doubt about it!
I will miss how he adds “Eh” before every word that starts with an “s”
I will miss the way that he always gave a speech about all the countries he had lived in EVERYTIME he was trying to make a point:
“You know I lived in Australia for three years , travelled to Switzerland , been to Turkey, lived in Belgium, Miami, and I have had all these different experience and I know that….” And this would be totally irrelevant since we would be talking about something as simple as taking out the trash! What has Turkey got to do with that?!
And if we ever argued, he’d chronologically list every single thing he had ever done since we met!! Regardless of its significance HAHAHA!
I will miss how he would wake me up, if he had to, just to ask, if his shirt , jacket and jeans matched every time he was going out!(Ok, I am lying I will definitely not miss that!)! How there were more feminine facial and hair products in the bathroom than do L’OREAL boutiques!! HAHAHA! How he was always LATE, not just by minutes, but complete days!! I had a policy of NEVER waiting for him!(ok, maybe I won’t miss those either)
The greatest things about him are that he is very friendly and kind, if ever anyone he knew was in a tight spot, he would always try and come to their aid even though if it was taxing for him, he’d always go out of his way. German would always make people feel warm and welcome!
Sulaiman, he was the only other African (from Sierra Leone) in my class for four years! His mere presence was always very welcome. He showed me where to find a good barber!( Only an African could find me one) He was always very generous with me, he’d help me move stuff whenever I needed to in his van.
I would like to state for the record, that he probably contributed most to my first class degree! In fourth year, he and I formed a study group and every Saturday evening, we studied: MBC ( Money, Banking and Credit) and in the last semester, Finance. If it wasn’t for those hours of serious study we put in, I doubt I would have gotten the 87% averages that I did!!
Somehow (and I am sifting my mind for how this came to be), I became his designated relationship coach! He would always confide in me about his girl problems! And I would offer what little tips I could concoct. Funny thing is, just a couple of weeks back, he got married!! And the coach (that would be me) hasn’t even gotten around to proposing to anyone at all!! I am so happy for him! He is in love!
He took me out to dinner to and Congolese restaurant in Matonge (African enclave) where we ordered roasted goat meat with fried plantain! Only a fellow African would know how that meal hits just the right spot! After we’d finished the meal, he dropped me off and walking into the apartment, I felt so glad that I had gotten to know him the way I did! As I walked up the stairs, I realised how much I’d miss the way he says
“ My man!!” before and after every sentence, with his Creole accent.
They say that one of the ways to judge the closeness of people, is whether they have nicknames for each other! I remember it was in First year , Oliver, Marc and I were in the Metro from university, when a punk walked past, I said, “That’s one thing you’ll never see, a black punk!” Oliver shot back, “I have seen a black punk in Luxembourg, had a Mohawk, piercing, chains, the works!” I broke out laughing and from that day Marc and I referred to each other as Punk! It got to a point when some first years wondered whether it was really his name! HAHAHA
This was really the hardest goodbye, for me, Marc was my best friend, the entire four years, nobody was closer! We always had lunch together, walked to the sandwich shop together, he showed me around parts of Brussels I didn’t know, went to record shops with him to buy CD’s, watched movies and most of all, we had the same passion: Olives!!
Punk being a Spaniard, had a serious passion for good food! He would call me all excited just to say, “Guess what I just bought? A huge container filled with olives! You want me to invite you right? Huh?” I’d be there in a jiffy depleting the olives numbers. He always invited me over for meals whenever he’d have sea food like Salmon, Squid, shrimp!
I’ll miss how he’d call me up almost every evening to ask, “ So are you still dwindling your thumbs looking at the ceiling stretching out your toes?” to which aptly would reply “ Yes, and scratching my back as well!”
I remember a period when we had no water in my apartment because they were cleaning the tanks of the entire flat, Marc told me to go over to his home to shower. It’s the little things you remember…
The very first time I ever saw snow, December 2003! Marc chased me all around Brussels pummelling me with snow balls like he was trying to kill me!! He had such resolve that even after I had my guard down and thought he had given up, when I stepped through the university main entrance, he hit me with three snow balls he had made and hidden behind the door!!
I’ll miss how he’d look at me in disbelief whenever he’d mention a rock band I didn’t know who the heck they were!! “Raymond, you don’t exist!” he’d say very concerned. And would take it upon himself, to educate me about music! He was quite the music collector and owned ENTIRE discographies of almost all the rock bands and other genres as well :AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Nine Inch Nails, Redhot Chilli peppers, Smashing pumpkins, Jimi Hendricks, Marilyn Mason, the complete Bowie collection including all his LPs , Bob Dylan ,Bob Marley, the kooks, Brian Eno, Beck!
He had great taste in movies too, a little esoteric: a lot of Stanely Kubrick movies, Barry Lyndon ( which I enjoyed immensely) I had never seen and some cult classics like the Big Lebowski, DAS UTERGANG ( if I spelt it right) Amadeus! Until I met Marc, and now I exist!
Marc got a job in an accounting firm in Barcelona and so about three weeks back, he left Belgium permanently. Back then, I thought that’d get to see him one last time, I was planning to visit Barcelona for a week and say a proper goodbye but alas, that was the very last time I saw him.
I can’t tell you how much I regret not getting to see him one last time. I called him up on Sunday night. That has got to be the saddest phone call I have had in a long time! He could even hear it in my voice and told me not to be sad , that he’d come visit Uganda next summer for a Safari. I type this out in tears even now, when I think that I probably won’t see him again..*sigh*
This is the first time; I’ve come to Uganda and felt like I wasn’t truly home! I just want to see my friends!! But, I can’t! I have to move on, adjust! You know, they say that the friends you make at university are the ones you’ll always have for the rest of your life! Where does this leave me? All my close friends are in Europe, I can’t express how bad I feel inside!
It’s been five days since I left Belgium but for me, the grief is still too close.
This is my last blogpost, I want to just say a very big and special thank you to Minega, he is the one that got me blogging in the first place, I am a huge fan of ALL his writings! Back then, he told me I should give it a shot but I was reluctant, I always felt insecure because he is so bloody good! I felt that I was total crap in comparison but I am glad I got into this, it’s improved my writing quite a lot that I am even flirting with the idea of writing a book! Minzo, thanks a lot! I have really enjoyed this, and now, I will always have many of my memories of Belgium documented! Thanks to everyone that’s stopped by over the years, whether you left any comments or not, I appreciate it. I guess this it…
THIS IS END!