Isaac Ochieng is no longer here. The gentle boy from Form Four Red is dead. The bland texture of these words ruins me. This loss stings every cranny of Maseno School. Ochieng was so young and full of youth. He had ambitions. He was a man with deep convictions and enthusiasm for whatever he undertook to do. The boy who made medicine seem so easy is now gone. Isaac Ochieng has checked out. What a tragedy.
I woke up to the tragic news this past Saturday. Disbelief set in at first. He’d been in surgery just a week earlier. He was so optimistic about it. We all were. His death came as a hard knock to all who knew and were affected by him. It dealt us a hard blow, far-reaching beyond the chest into the heart. I was left reflecting at this whole concept of life wondering why things sometimes happen the way they do. I was in denial, the first stage of bereavement.
I tried to recall the last time we talked but couldn’t. So I set out to my messages to find out. It was just a few months ago. Though it all seemed like ages ago now. Death robs us of our lives. But mostly it rob us of good people. It leaves us anchoring our pains to distant memories and to the inauspicious moments that we have in our routine-structured lives.
At some point I felt guilty. Guilty of not keeping tabs with some of my friends (Ochieng being one of them). I opened my contact list and saw his number. It lie there comatose in my phone under the Contacts Group ‘Class of 2015’. Staring at it wasn’t easy.
You try not to be angry at such times but it’s hard. It is only natural. You ask yourself questions like “Why are the good guys dying?” This life we live in, however, doesn’t always give ready answers. Things happen that defy our understanding. Tragedies, like this, happen leaving us grappling in a web of confusion with the weight of mortality on our shoulders. The strong ones often heal faster. The not-so-strong ones wander in the murky waters of bereavement, often stumbling and falling and rising until they overcome it at some point. Nature requires the living to keep trudging on with their burdens even when all seems dark. It’s a mystery, this life.
That morning, my uncle asked why I left my breakfast untouched. I didn’t know what to tell him. How could I take tea when Ochieng had just passed on? I wanted to process it all first. To come to terms with what this meant. To comprehend its magnitude. To understand its finality. This was a guy who had been so okay a month earlier. Just going about his routine and being a good citizen of this nation. Paying his taxes and being kind to people like he has always been.
I’d say I felt bad but that is an understatement. The feeling I had was a strange one. It struck me sharply and left me empty. Hollow. The finality of life gazing at my existence with some mysterious inevitability. It’s like an endless paradox that one finds himself in whilst having no idea how he got in. Need I mention how hard it is to decipher. I’d call it a difficult maze each unique with its own grief. And each worse than the preceding one.
Isaac Ochieng was a good man. An exceptional student who was so dutiful in everything he did. He had a gentle demeanor. He was humble to the fullest extent of that word. And he had a deep sense of self-awareness. You couldn’t mess with his esteem. You couldn’t get into his head no matter how hard you tried. He had unflinching courage. He had his act together when most of us were still being swayed up and down by the torrents of life.
Ochieng was a Math Guru in high school. He shone in contests. He aced Math exams and always aimed for the mythical sky limit. He was up there with the Math elites of The School. What is perhaps more inspiring is the fact that he constantly worked hard for what he got. If the word relentless was a person then it was definitely Ochieng. He was a spirited lad. One who never said never. Taking on Medicine is a testimony of his resilience. I can say with certainty that he could have made a very excellent doctor. He was definitely going to be exceptional. Then a brain tumor messed up things. The tumor ruined a lifetime of hard work. It cut short a vibrant dream. The tumor brought misery upon us (his friends, family and former classmates). Damn that tumor!
It’s hard to accept that Ochieng is lying still at some cold morgue in this city awaiting transportation to Western Kenya. The thought of it gives me a headache. I wish it was all a bad dream that I could wake up from. But here I am, woke to the fact that this is reality. As I pour out my thoughts and tribute in this room, I am sure that the sadness I feel here in Kasarani is the same for people in other places like Western, KU, Maseno, UoN, JKUAT, Dartmouth, Guangzhou and Singapore among many other places he had friends in.
The last words he ever wrote on his Whatsapp status are as follows:
“The success rate of what I am going for is 70% which is much better, 25% is of doing badly, and 5% is death. Tentative day is now proposed to be Wednesday, no fear or anything, but let the will of God prevail through. Though the body is weak to accept, I consent to it. Whatever the outcome, I accept it.”
He could have opted not to go for the operation given his slim chances of surviving. But he went on ahead with it. He proceeded knowing very well that he might never have made it alive when it ended. Such a brave soul.
Isaac Ochieng is gone.
What a brief wondrous life. What a sensation. What a man. What a brain. A hero has fallen. No dirge could ever fill the holes left in our hearts. We reel in sadness. We mourn a champion. We salute him. We pay tribute to the gentlest of men.
A warrior has exited. The kingdom has been shaken by the tragic occurrence. There are silent murmurs of disbelief. It’s cold all over. The warm demeanor of Ochieng is no more. Hearts are torn. Men are gathered reminiscing over the forgotten wonderful memories that they have of the brave warrior. Some are reaching out to others in a bid to connect their grief in some sort of quizzical solidarity. Conversations about Ochieng all over social media, most full of reminiscence with utter disbelief. #RIP Ochieng is a hashtag on steroids. Memories of the equator are flashing back at lightning speed. From the moments at the rugby pitch to the cross country marathons which were Ochieng’s forte. And to those nights of intensive reading in 4R from 11.30 pm into the wee hours of the morning.
Such tributes have been pouring from all over. Families. Classmates. Former Classmates. Acquintances. Friends of friends.
Maseno mourns. The class of 2015 mourns. We mourn our enigma. The pain is limitless. It’s cross-boundary, a testament that this was a great man. It cuts across from as far as Western to Nairobi to Singapore.
In Ochieng, we saw our essential otherness. We celebrate his short life. We shall tell our kids someday that a great man once lived in our midst. We shall forever have you in our hearts. We shall honor your memory by pursuing excellence with vigor. Just as you did throughout your lifetime.
Isaac Ochieng, I hope you are in a better place. I hope that you get to rest easy comrade. I hope that you play in the rain paddles. If there is rain in Heaven that is. I hope that you reunite with Ogeto and Wangwe, our other fallen comrades. I hope that together you guys can sing songs of happiness and share the wondrous love of brotherhood.
In peace may you leave the shore,In love may you find the next,Safe passage in your travels,Unto our final journey on the ground,May we meet again.