Whatever time it was, it was way too early for my phone to be ringing. I probably had a hangover. That much I don’t recall.
Caller ID was my brother.
Me: Steven, ou ok? (Steven, are you OK?)
Steven: Marie-France, Mervyn in mor. (Mervyn has died)
I am suddenly fully awake.
Me: Ki Mervyn? (Which Mervyn?)
Me (a louder, panicky voice): Steven, ki Mervyn?
Steven (with a very shaky voice): Nou Mervyn. (pause) Bastienne
There was one thing which shocked me about Mervyn’s death and it took me many years to understand it. His death hurt me much more than any other I had experienced up until that point and just to put things into perspective, two years earlier, I had lost my father, a man I loved deeply. I never felt that I was particularly close to Mervyn, but there was just something about his tragic passing that tore my heart into pieces.
Mervyn and I grew up in the same neighbourhood and he was a very close friend of my brother’s. I re-call several occasions growing up when he will pop by my home with or to see Steven. He was a familiar face and that was that. Things changed when I joined the Seychelles’ Polytechnic in 1997. Perhaps Steven asked him to keep an eye on me, I am not sure, but he always seemed close. Of course, in true Mervyn fashion he never gave any of it away but I do re-call moments like when he gave up his seat on the bus for me or offered to buy my snack in the middle of a flood of hungry teenagers fighting to get served at the snack shop. More relevant to ‘Polytechnic’ perhaps, Mervyn became my maths tutor for a few months before he left for university. I still re-call his neat, perfect handwriting and how simple he made those impossible equations seem. He had a brilliant mind.
Our association though, is not what made Mervyn significant to me. Two vivid memories come to mind as I write this and they have visited me often since his death 14 years ago. His grandmother was the seamstress who made my polytechnic uniform and I had to make a couple of visits to her house to try on the clothes . That house was busy! There were so many little ones running around and I re-call asking Mervyn how on earth he managed to ever study (something I assumed he did at home given he was an A-Student but never stepped into the Polytechnic library). ‘I go to sleep early and wake up at 2,’ was his answer. I was amazed and it was one of the few times I saw the ‘serious’ Mervyn. You see, Mervyn was the funny guy. Now there’s funny stupid and then there’s funny brilliant. He was the latter. Everyone always expected a joke from him and he always delivered whether or not you were in the mood for it. It would seem though that behind the ‘funny’ Mervyn was another Mervyn, a young man on a mission to become something great – no matter what card he had been dealt with in life. So he couldn’t study during the day? No problem. He’ll be a night owl for a while until he got the job done.
His focus, as I discovered, extended also to other areas in his life. I will never forget getting off the bus at the bottom of the Foret Noire Road one Sunday afternoon and ‘catching’ him at the phone booth calling his girlfriend. He had made himself comfortable as if he was sitting in his living room and next to him was the most impressive pile of SR1 coins I had ever seen. A hundred maybe? I actually stood there infront of him for a good 10 seconds looking at the money with my mouth open. He shushed me away as I was clearly invading his privacy. I remember walking away hoping that one day a guy would like me that much…
The girl on the other side of the phone left for university a year before him. He was on his own that following Valentine’s Day and as a result of some plans which didn’t quite work out with my brother, we ended up going out for a pizza at Baobab and later we headed to Katiolo together. I cannot recall a single topic of conversation we had that night, but I do remember his laughter. His loud, hearty, infectious laugh that wrinkled his face and made his eyes sparkle each and every time. I remember wishing he would bring it down a notch at Baobab when everyone seemed to look our way every time he had a moment. Oh Mervyn.
He made the grades (no surprise there) which paved his way for his medical studies in New Zealand. I have no doubt, none whatsoever, that Dr Bastienne would have been the greatest doctor my generation would have produced – no offence to the others but Mervyn had magic in him. I am not just saying that because he died, but I know it in my heart to be true.
And here, today, comes a confession. A little under 24 hours prior to the call from my brother, on this very day, 14 years ago, I was walking into Teemoljee when Mervyn opened the door to the Air Seychelles’ office which was opposite the supermarket at the time in Victoria Arcade. He was extending his ticket so he could stay a few more days in Seychelles before heading back to New Zealand. He stopped when he saw me and I remember thinking I was too much in a rush to talk to him so I put my mobile phone which was in my hand to my ears and pretended I was in the middle of a call. I waved at him and made a ‘I’ll speak to you later’ gesture. How was I supposed to know that that was the last time I would see him? How was I to know that that was where our earthly paths parted ways? It remains to this day one of my biggest regrets. I cannot tell you how many times I have gone over those 15 seconds, sometimes in tears, sometimes in anger, sometimes with curiosity – wondering what would have been his final words to me?
That I will never know, but this I do know; on 25th January 2003, Seychelles lost a true gem. An extract from his obituary by John Adam reads,
‘His sudden accidental death, in the prime of his life, has been a great shock to all those who have known him, as well as a great loss to his family and his country since he was on the threshold of a brilliant medical career.
His kind humane nature, coupled with his cheerful spirit, made him admirably suited to care for people through his medical profession. It is no wonder that he had chosen such a noble career.
He was looking forward to completing his medical studies at the University of Otago, New Zealand, in two years’ time and returning to his homeland to serve his people.’
Tomorrow marks 14 years since his passing. It is impossible to ever truly forget him.