“Our Little Mistake”

What happened was because of our little mistake but every time something comes, it goes.
President Kibaki, National Prayer Breakfast, June 1, 2008

What do we owe the dead?

At first there will be remembering. Flowers and prayers, scents and words to counter rot and silence. We will be filling the void as we fill graves, incompletely.

We begin with soil and grass. We select flowers and creepers. Decorative stones and marble monuments. We seal our dead to imprint memories. We cannot let what they become seep out to haunt us.

Sealed in, voices cannot demand what we owe. And we can forget what we owe, that we owe.

What do we owe the dead?

Our leaders have told us nothing. Nothing about what we owe and that we owe nothing. We cannot pay nothing and so we cannot discharge our debt.

Owing nothing seems silly. It should mean we cannot owe. For to owe, one must owe something. Yet, we have nothing that the dead value or need. We have nothing and owe nothing. If we cannot give nothing, we cannot discharge our debt to the dead.

President Kibaki has urged us to forgive one another. We should forgive our leaders, our neighbors, our friends, our enemies. He tells us that even Kenyatta forgave the men who imprisoned him. We should take the high road. President Kibaki believes in forgiveness. He desires forgetfulness.

Forgive and forget. Forget. Forget. Forget.

If we stop talking about the dead, we will forget. Like our newspapers, which no longer discuss the dead. The dead are no longer news. No longer new. Old news is stale, rotten, unseemly, like dead bodies. Graves and archives. Archives and graves.

What can the dead give us?

Not forgiveness. Not forgetfulness.

The dead remain indifferent to Kibaki’s justifications. They remain deaf to his entreaties for forgiveness. They will not acknowledge that mistakes were made. They do not grant absolution. They remain silent, rotting.

They cannot say we have discharged our debt. They cannot even name the debt we owe. The debt we cannot pay. The nothing we have that we cannot give. We call this a paradox. Or tragedy.

It is too easy to forget that we owe a debt that cannot be discharged. It is too easy not to hear the silent debtors who never materialize, except as accidentally disinterred bones. It is easy to owe nothing, if we let ourselves.