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March 19, 2021

Fare thee well.

In memory of my dear friend Dr. Patricia Njuki.

I sent you a hurried text inquiring about some work-related info (as I often did). That was on Wednesday February 24th. I didn’t think much of it when you didn’t respond immediately. I figured you were probably busy with work. Very early the next morning came the response – yes, you have access to the info I needed, but you and your son Raphael were at home recovering from COVID; and so you would send me the information when you were feeling better. As soon as I saw your text later that morning, I reached out. I asked if you had energy for a phone call, you said text was better. (In retrospect, I should have just called; at least then I would have heard your voice one last time). So, we chatted for a little while on WhatsApp. You told me you were worried about Raphael. I reassured you that the evidence so far suggests that children are generally not as severely affected as adults. I then told you that I was worried about you, but you assured me that everything was okay, and that your main concern was Raphael.

Some days later I texted to check on you. You dropped the response so casually and in your usual calm manner: “Still unwell…I’m in ICU…Raphael asymptomatic…My parents in HDU.” I was stunned! But you reassured me that it was okay and that all you needed were prayers. Immediately we ended our conversation I texted my parents to let them know that you and your parents were hospitalized with COVID and that they should remember you in prayer.

A few days later I sent a text to check on you…silence. The following day I sent another text, still no response. So, I decided to disregard your wishes this time round and tried calling, but I received a notification that the mobile subscriber was unreachable. A slight panic checked in. I briefly thought the worst might have happened but quickly told myself that you probably had switched off your phone to focus on recovery. You were in the ICU after all, and mobile phones can be so noisy (both literally and figuratively). I searched for your sister Winnie’s number in my phone contacts, but that number had long been lost along the way over the years of changing phones. I made a mental note to try you again in a couple of days.

That was until I received the phone call from my mum later that night, at 10.33p.m. to be exact. Immediately she asked me whether my friend Patricia had recovered, I knew you were gone. She said she had come across a WhatsApp forward with an obituary of a mother and daughter, and she thought that it was you. And it turns out it was. As soon as mum forwarded the obituary to me, I saw your photo and I couldn’t stop crying. I just let the tears flow down my cheeks. I was gutted. “This sucks!”  I thought to myself. And yes, it does terribly suck! For very many reasons but mostly because your greatest pride and joy, Raphael, is now left without his mother at such a young, tender age. (I have no doubt that he will be very well taken care of by your family, but it still sucks.)

I have a very vivid memory of the day Raphael was born. I accompanied you to the Royal Adelaide Hospital, Australia – your sister arriving from Kenya a day or so later. I remember everything being so calm, contrary to what I had expected from the movies! I never told you this, but I was seriously panicking about the labour and delivery. What if something went wrong? Would it be as bad as I had seen in the movies? But alas! We would spend hours just talking and laughing in your hospital room until little Baby Raphael made his arrival.

I struggle now to remember how we met. So many years have gone by, so much has happened. Not that it matters how we met, but suddenly every memory I can capture of you seems so prized. Something to hold on to. I have memories of lunch and dinners on Rundle Street in Aussie, memories of staying in your house during my last few months in Aussie as we also waited for Raphael’s arrival, memories of long phone conversations and WhatsApp chats; but mostly memories of a dearly cherished friendship.  When I learnt of your passing I had only two regrets:

That we never made it to have that lunch that we had been planning to have for several months. Remember how every time we spoke on phone we would laugh about “our lunch plan that has been happening for months” – and then we would proceed to speak at length about anything and everything. Love, life, men, politics, philanthropic projects, past happenings, future plans, recent achievements on and on. And whilst I will terribly miss our long phone conversations, how I wish we hadn’t let work and life get in the way of our lunch plans.

That I didn’t invest more time in our friendship. This I really regret. You were such a good person, the kind of person that is worth investing time in. One of the kindest people I knew – so invested in uplifting those less fortunate than you. You cared so deeply. Never had an unkind word to say about anyone regardless of the situation, so full of life, had such a brilliant mind and I was so proud of all your achievements. We made the mistake of assuming that time was always going to be on our side. We should have known better. Had I known that this was how it would end, I would have been more deliberate about making time for our friendship. I would have had so many more lunches and dinners with you even amid all of life’s demands. Lesson learnt. I will do better moving forward. I sincerely hope you knew how much I valued our friendship.

I hope one day Raphael gets to read this and to know just what a brilliant, phenomenal woman you were; and how much you meant to your friends. It is so difficult referring to you in the past tense (‘were’), but I am so grateful for the time we shared on this earth, because you truly enriched my life.

Rest well my dear friend.

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