When you go through a difficult time in life, it is like a sandstorm. This is not because sandstorms are difficult things to go through. It is because of what happens when the dust settles. And I will tell you why.

Losing my father was my sandstorm. The experience was meant to be the easiest sandstorm in my life but it rocked me hard – too hard maybe. The death of Dada was inevitable. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The doctors caught it late. It was already at Stage 4. The family knew that he had a minimum of two months and a maximum of six to live. We were afforded the opportunity to prepare for his death. And, oh we did.

We held big family gatherings. No, call them parties. We did it as often as we could, especially after he crossed the first two months ultimatum. Every week, we had a reason to gather. We met to celebrate. Dada’s life was worth celebrating. We wanted him to know that he was loved, he lived a good life and he influenced many people positively. So, we made merry and ate in his honour.

All of these gatherings ended with tears. We left each of them knowing that any moment after that Dada could be gone. My family and I told ourselves stories of Dada and his exploits – his wit, his humour, his love, his kindness and his faith. We sang songs – of thanksgiving, of praise, of worship and of sorrows and goodbyes. Then, we cried. We cried a lot.

We prayed too.

Death was kind to us. It gave us too many opportunities to hold these family gatherings. Dada lived for eighteen months after his diagnosis. At some point, we questioned the doctors’ judgement. We made a mockery of death. We were happy. Maybe, even happier than some of the days Dada was healthy. The irony, right?

Little did we know that death was playing a trick on us. It made us think that we were preparing for Dada’s death when nobody could ever be ready its sting. The day it finally came, it came as a sandstorm.

We were at one of these gatherings, celebrating another week of so-called victory over death, when the rolling beast of sand and rocks visited us. It was merciless – not with Dada and definitely not with any of us gathered there. Dada coughed blood for well over twenty minutes. Nothing we did could stop it. We knew it was pointless to rush him to the hospital.

“It is time… It is time… It is time”.

These were the words that went around the compound as we watched death rise like the desert to overthrow life and claim my father. I watched Dada caught up in the fight between life and death. He was not fighting. He knew it was a lost cause but life did not receive the memo so it battled on his behalf and Dada suffered the consequences. Finally, life gave up and let the old man go on the path he was meant to have taken several months ago. Peacefully, I think.

However, there was nothing peaceful about watching that happen. Nothing prepared the sixteen-year-old boy I was for the day I watched my father lose his breath. Nothing did. No amount of partying, singing, crying and praying made me ready for such a spectacle. So, death, the sandstorm, rocked me so hard.

Months after Dada’s passing, I was still lost in the storm. The sand blinded me. I lost every sense of direction in my life. At some point, I became the storm, destroying everything and everyone in my path. I was hot and electrically charged and broke through virtually anything. I was the ultimate ruin machinery.

I quit school and became insubordinate to my parents and older siblings. Eventually, I moved out of the house. I took to smoking. First, cigarettes. Then, weed. I graduated from using the weed to selling it when I could not afford the money to buy it.

It was interesting how time stopped or slowed down when I made a wrecking ball of my life. I practically had time to launch my destructive best. Time stepped out of time to became a spectator of my folly. Everything happened in slow motion so I did not become overwhelmed by the havoc I was causing. I could appreciate it – the havoc. I kept going and going and going…

That’s what the sandstorm did to me.

But that was not the difficult part. The biggest challenge was when the dust settled. When the storm was over and I was left with myself and the havoc I had created. It was tough – tougher than the sandstorm itself – because I realised that I was a mess. A mess beyond repair. At this point, I woke up to the fact that something in me – probably, the only thing that kept me sane – had slipped through the cracks. And there was nothing I could do to switch myself back to normal. A mess beyond repair.

How did I know?

Exactly six months after Dada’s passing, I was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

I killed my mother.

In the days of the storm, in a fit of rage, I pushed her down the stairs. She hit her head against the rails as she somersaulted down the flight. I watched her too caught up in the fight between life and death.

That particular moment was when the dust started to settle.

And it was too late.