just as I had already understood it would be: I had thought it would be
It is unfathomable
that Keita no more exists.
But certain things I had not understood: such as the
importance of remembering small things and noting them down. There are several
diary pages without any notes. Keita and I were at Eva’s on the eleventh,
twelfth and thirteenth of March. But all I know of these days is that Keita was
resting and bleeding slowly from his nose. But surely there were other things
happening? Precious little things and conversations, just ordinary things which
will now never happen again and which I just wish I could remember. Keita was
alive then! We said things to each other and I can’t remember what they were
and that breaks my heart.
I can remember travelling across the Bridge of
the Martyrs in Guida’s car –Keita’s last journey- on our way to Point G
hospital on Sunday the twentieth at sunset. A large red sun hung low over the hazy Niger river: “Is that for toubabs Keita?” I
tried our ancient joke again and Keita replied like he always did: “yes that is
for toubabs”. But he said it so quietly I could hardly hear him...
slipped into unconsciousness from Tuesday twenty second onwards. Before that I made
a mistake: I thought there might be something
he wanted to talk about before he died. It was clear to me that he was dying,
so I said gently” you may be leaving us Keita, is there any thing you wish to
clarify?” But Keita just replied: “who says that! Who says that I am going to die?” So of course I
backpedalled and said “noone Keita, no one says that, don’t worry cheri”. And I understand now that he was fighting for
his life and wanted to keep fighting . That fight does not allow any
conferences about after death arrangements...
And Keita did fight, oh
yes. Even after he had slipped into unconsciousness on the twenty fourth and
twenty fifth of March his poor bruised and traumatised body kept fighting and his great heart kept beating at breakneck
speed , refusing to give up. During his
last night he developed a high fever- it went up to 41, and we were unable to
get it down although we wrapped him in ice cold towels. His body was burning as
he tried to stay alive but his feet and hands were icy cold- the blood had left
them to serve his vital organs.
His fever continued the
following morning and his breathing was short and very laboured. I still held
his cold hands and spoke to him since I thought that maybe he could hear me
I was not with him when he died, we had left him for a few minutes while
he was being seen to by his doctors including Guida. While I was waiting I
looked out of the window and suddenly the lyrics and melody of the Bob Dylan
song Knocking on Heaven's door came to me out of the blue. It was a favourite
getting dark , too dark to see I feel I'm knocking on Heaven's door..'
door opened and they all came out and sat down. "We have lost him' said
About ten minutes later they
brought his body out lying on a trolley , wrapped in the sheet I had bought at
Azar Supermarché a few days earlier. I remembered last summer when we had seen a body being taken
down to the morgue wrapped in a flowery fabric, it had passed that very place. “That
will be me soon” Keita had said with uncharacteristic pessimism.
I walked with his body to the morgue, holding on to his feet
and saying Hail Marys:
..... Pray for us sinners now and
at the hour of our death....
The idea of his body lying all
alone in the morgue was tormenting me that night, and for days after I could
not seem to separate the idea of Keita’s soul from his body, but thought of him
lying under the earth. “Que la terre lui
soit légère “ say the French condolences (May the earth rest lightly upon
The funeral was very big, many
hundreds came from Djenné, from Kayes , from Mopti and Sikasso. Keita was
deeply loved and is mourned by by many. His three children came down from Segou
and I brought them with me to Djenné. Now
they are gone and life is clamouring for my attention in other ways: there is
the Djenné festival and I have been roped into making banners and feel better
when I am working anyway so I continue to muddle on as best as I can in this
new, cold and unfamiliar place which is
life without Keita.
This is the last picture of Keita, taken on Saturday nineteenth at Eva's under the great mango tree. Keita spent the day there with his old friend Levy, they had tea and lunch and chatted with the guards who loved Keita too.This was the last pleasant time he spent with friends.