On that horror-filled afternoon, killers-for-hire hunted down and killed my husband, while I waited with two plates of lunch
Seven years is a long time, but not long enough for you to come to terms with a bizarre reality. Why is that gentle, smiling face splashed all over the papers and television? How can it be that he, who wrote the investigations and exposés, is the subject of casual discussions in newsrooms and drawing rooms across the country? Wasn’t it just yesterday when we were laughing together, sharing a meal, and taking long, leisurely walks?
Is this the man I knew and loved for more than a decade? And why is he not here with me now? Are you saying he won’t ever be?
But I must collect myself. Once more, I must pick myself up from the wreckage and walk. I must bury the pain that tears through my being.
On June 11, 2011, a few gunshots fired just a street away from our home, left me numb. On that horror-filled afternoon, killers-for-hire hunted down and killed my husband, while I waited with two plates of lunch. In the days and months that followed, the world expected me to react, but something in me would not move. I had shut down.
For months, I would walk the streets believing I was being followed. I would be afraid to talk about him or our life, not knowing who could be trusted. Panic attacks, nightmares, crying spells and always, that sharp pain in my gut when reality hit: these were my new normal. I was living through what psychologists term post-traumatic stress disorder.
In the meantime, as it all unravelled, my wounds were scoured over and over again. Media ‘reports’ that came out in the wake of the murder speculated on our life together, the choices he made. Passed off conjecture and rumour as news. Aimed to titillate. In addition to the gut-wrenching pain of loss that I couldn’t explain to anyone, I had to process the betrayal from my fraternity. In response to one such article, I wrote to the author: “I’m not asking for sympathy. I just want to leave you with one thought: what if this had happened to one of your own? Someone you knew intimately? Isn’t J. Dey part of that family? Am I not?”
I wrote to him about my endless search for an answer to the question that rings in my head: “Why would anyone do this to me twice over?” I never heard back from the writer.
But this, as I discovered, was the beginning of ‘the watch’. I was told I couldn’t dress the way I did. I was asked in open court about my personal life. Others would tell me, barely weeks later, it was time I moved on.
Always under scrutiny
For an intensely private person like me, to be thrust into the public eye like this was hell. I sometimes tell myself he had it far easier. He was known and respected only for the work he did, but his personal life stayed behind an impregnable wall. But for me, it felt like every act, every word, every move was suddenly under scrutiny. Where I go, who I meet, what I say, and oh, have I found another partner yet? Really, who can fill those big shoes? (It took me a while in our time together to reconcile to the fact that someone could wear size 11 shoes).
On the outside, I would talk, laugh and go through the motions. But the slightest mention of him, his work or the case, would open multiple wounds and I would take days to recover. I had nowhere to hide. My sanctuary was gone.
I did not choose his death, much less the way he died. We had planned to travel, to grow old together. But I was thrown into a void I could not and still cannot fathom. It has taken me seven years to learn how to take comfort in the routine I once knew and treasured. To learn again how to get up every morning, dress up, go to work, earn a living, cook, clean. To learn again how to talk, laugh, take joy in music, find calm in meditation, to trust.
In a vaccuum
I have to say this for the many, many people who care about him: I am still struggling to fill the vacuum, and I hope you understand my silence. Every day, I deal with an avalanche of emotions; every day, I remember our little moments together; every day, I talk to him. And when I cry, the pain feels bottomless. I am not strong enough to take questions from journalists yet. I am not strong enough to talk about my life, his murder, the investigations and court proceedings.
My way of protecting myself from reopening those wounds may be imperfect, but it is the only way I know.
The recent judgement presents some measure of closure. My faith in the judiciary has been restored, and it is a relief that those directly responsible for my husband’s gruesome murder have been brought to book.
It has been a long and trying journey, but the verdict has opened the door to hope for many like me. Has he been served full justice? I do not know, and perhaps never will. Have I been served full justice? The question of pursuing anything more does not arise; for one, nothing can bring my husband back. I am grateful to those who have persevered to keep the case in the public eye and ensure that the perpetrators were convicted. I am equally grateful to those who keep his memory alive, who respect him for his work, for the man he was, and who understand what it means to me.
He took bullets
I thank those who stood by me. I thank those who respected my need to grieve, those who allowed me to break down without getting embarrassed. I thank those who honestly admitted that they had no words to comfort me. I especially thank those who understood my need for privacy, who accepted me as one of their own, and helped me believe that I could have friends, live a normal life again.
There are parts of his story, our story, which I know intimately. And there is so much more I still learn about him each day that my respect for him only grows. It is not just me; my family and everyone who knew him feel blessed to have lived with a man with impeccable values, humanity and courage, someone who took bullets to write a story and could not be bought. I don’t know how many people in this world would risk that. Or go about it as quietly, as dispassionately.
Even today, I ask myself, for the smallest of things: how would J have resolved this?
The greatest challenge has been to live with the awful realisation that my teacher and companion will never come back, and that my life will never be the same again. To all those who care, I will say just this: I am trying my best to carry on, holding fragments of me together.
My silence does not mean it is a story I have forgotten or that I ever will, can, or want to forget.