Standing by her bedside table, she turned to look at the clock. It was 6:03am, Christmas morning. She could feel it coming, the panic attack. Her heart was pounding out of her chest. Her hands were shaking like those of a malaria patient. Beads of sweat were forming on her brow. She could feel the light-headedness start to take over. She sighed, took a seat, and closed her eyes for a few seconds to try and steady her heartbeat. Her mind when back to the day when it all begun.
It all happened on the night of Christmas Eve, six years ago, when she was seventeen. The night had taken a turn she did not anticipate. It was supposed to be a good night, she was supposed to have been reunited with her elder brother, Faraja, whom she hadn’t seen in months. He was coming home for Christmas. He had promised. He had called. He had said that he was on his way. But alas! In a cruel twist of fate, the rug had been pulled from right under her feet.
She remembered coming home from school to find a meal fit for a king on the table. Her parents had gone above and beyond to prepare for Faraja’s homecoming. There was pilau, chapatis, nyama choma, roast potatoes, roast chicken, an assortment of vegetables, and maziwa mala; all Faraja’s favourites. There were party signs all over the living room. She remembered how elated they all were. They had last seen Faraja last Christmas season when he had spent Christmas with them before heading back to university where he was studying to be a paediatrician. Since the university was so far away and his study schedule was very hectic, he could only afford to see them once a year, and they all agreed that Christmas would be the time when they all got together. They had waited with big smiles on their faces and when that doorbell had finally rung, they had all clamoured to the door, their hands wide open to give him a huge hug. But it wasn’t him. Instead, at the door, were two policemen, there to announce that Faraja was dead.
“We’re sorry to come bearing bad news, especially since it’s Christmas season. There is no easy way to say this, but Faraja is dead. He was involved in a hit-and-run accident. A drunk driver run him over. He was hit while pushing away a little girl from the path of the car. He saved her life. He was a very brave boy.” The officers had said.
The words themselves were soul-shattering. She could feel her world coming to an end. It was like someone was ripping her heart out of her chest. Her chest was constricting, she couldn’t breathe. Her brain fogged up. She vomited onto the floor before letting out a loud wail and collapsing from the weight of the grief.
They had buried him a week later, and life had never been the same since. The following year saw her fail out of high school and hence lose a scholarship to a prestigious university and her chance to go to university. Her parents’ marriage broke apart because her father sought solace in the bottle and became hostile to everyone. Christmas had forever become a tainted holiday to the family.
Now, six years later, she was still grappling with Faraja’s death. And although she had done better – she had redone her high school final exam, she had gotten into university where she was studying to become a paediatrician to fulfil Faraja’s dream, and she had gotten a place of her own in the city – it was always during Christmas that it was the hardest. Her family may have stopped celebrating Christmas, but the rest of the world hadn’t. The Christmas songs, the Christmas lights, the Christmas cookies; even the Christmas shopping offers, brought her to her knees, overcome with emotion, every single year. The Christmas season remained to be the saddest days of her life, and this year was no different. To her, Christmas would forever be a reminder of what she lost: a brother, a guide, and a friend. She sighed, shook her head, and walked to the bathroom. She took a lengthy cold shower then headed back to bed. She put a pair of headphones over her ears, plugged them into her laptop, and blasted out Stephen Foster’s Beautiful Dreamer to drown out the celebration that was happening all around her.