I was not sure of how we were related. What I was sure of was that every Saturday afternoon, just as we sneaked to the river to swim, he would call into our home, silence following him like The Invisible String.

Together with cucu, they chatted under the shade of mùiri tree, an old kaolin tea kettle resting at their feet like a fat ram. As they sat in the evening veranda of their lives, their talk would get animated. Bubu would nod several times, almost mimicking an ancient prayer.

His voice was in his hands. He spoke with fluid gesticulations, smiling amiably. I got so used to his gestures that at the age of 8 I could grasp what he meant. We later learnt that Bubu was not his real name but a name for a person who can’t talk or hear. But still, we didn’t get to know his name so we called him “the man who talked with his hands.”

The man is dead

One day he came and cucu told him that grandpa had died. I knew that they meant grandpa because he touched his beard a lot. I naturally watched his hands, expecting him to have a special gesture that indicated sorrow. But instead, he pressed a handkerchief to his mouth, as if to keep his anguish from escaping.

Then, for a long time, he emptily gazed into the sky, bereft of any emotion. Finally, he broke into tearful sobs, emptying his soul with a deluge that gushed through his eyes. He cried heavily, leaving no tears for future sorrows. Then it dawned on me: the gestures for sorrows are the same for those that speak or not.

That crying is my earliest memory of ever seeing a man cry. Fine, my uncle who used to drink a lot used to cry when drunk. But that was not crying but excess beer seeping through his eyes. Bubu’s tears were real tears emanating from a pained recess in his heart.

One morning, cucu took my hand and led me down the winding road to Kanorero village for his burial. At his funeral I expected to see a lot of people talking with hands just like him. There weren’t, which made me wonder why he didn’t have friends like him.

As they poured soil into the grave, the Anglican vicar, in his blue and white robes, sang:

 We will sing the song of victory,

With the heavenly angels.

Forever and ever…

After they lowered him to the grave, sadness weighed heavily on me, like unwilling sleep. But it made me sadder when I imagined Bubu, lonely in heaven for an eternity, since he could not sing, for he could neither hear nor talk.

All night, I was haunted by Bubu’s image sitting in a lonely corner in a place I couldn’t put my finger on. I had stopped wetting my bed. But that night, I woke up in the middle of the night, my bed soaked in my own pungent urine.

 My uncle heard of bed wetting and beat me up. The more he beat me, the more Bubu’s image haunted my sleep-and the more I wet my bed.

I wished I hadn’t known him.

Separation, or grief, manifests itself in children in various ways. One of them is regression to an earlier behaviour, like bedwetting. Most children do not understand why they have regressed to a behaviour they had stopped, like in my case above.Further,most parents do not understand what is happening to their children.

The invisible string

They can only understand such if they are exposed to age appropriate books that teach them about the grieving process.The Invisible String ,the bestselling picture book by Patrice Karst delivers a particularly compelling message in today’s uncertain times that though we may be separated from the ones we care for, love is the unending connection that binds us all.

The Invisible String also lets kids (and adults too!) feel a sense of peace and joy when they realize they are always connected to their loved ones.

You can purchase The Invisible String from Amazon by clicking on the link.

Gilbert Mwangi

Creative writer,dreamer,and Drum Major for all things true.

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