When I was in high school, we were handed the fairy tale of “The Outside World”. We were told of a time in the near futures of our very young lives when we would do what we wanted, be where we wanted and eat whatever we wished, and no one could tell us shit because we were in that magical land. I wanted so bad for it to be true. They told the same things at home. /Enda usome…then when you finish school you can watch all the Kim Possibles you want/ But when we finished, Kim Possible was not on anymore…so, fellow Outside Worlders, weren’t we played?
Now, as I sit here to write to you, for you, I realize I was never personally fascinated by this notion of a better time in the future. Granted, I liked the idea of a time when I would be free to read my Nora Roberts without hiding inside my locker, but I was not fully sold on this fantasy of being at liberty to do whatever you want. I realize this makes me sound like a drag, but I wasn’t. I never said it out loud. To be honest, I’m not even sure I knew this is how I felt during that time till a few days ago, when it came closer to my graduation day.
It dawned on me on three instances; when the dean to my Faculty stood to call our names and my classmates stood to shout their last hurrah, when I took my cap to throw it in the air after the names were called, and as I shed tears during my graduation lunch, overwhelmed with gratitude.
I start this story like this today because I felt I needed to acknowledge that. To acknowledge that I have closed a chapter, while in the midst of a million other chapters. It rained the morning of graduation day. My mom dropped me at the gate and went on to Ongata Rongai to get something that I actually do not remember. Let’s say snacks. As I dug into the mud in my heels, someone approached me from behind.
“Hi, you’re Mirriam, right?”
My first thought was to run. I did not want to deplete my social battery before the day even began. But I was caught. It was drizzling, my gown acting as a raincoat cum trench coat and my feet making tiny holes in the mud that a Jack could later throw in some beans and get to meet his giant. Fee Fi Fo Fum.
I didn’t run. “Yes?”
“Oh, thank God. My name is Rain*” [I picked the name this time. Can you tell?] Then she stood there, me waiting for her to state her claim, she waiting for me to acknowledge her. [God I hope she is not coming to me ‘as a woman’] I pray.
“Can we speak under the tent?” I ask, fearing I will drench my seatmates. She is okay with that, the tent part, not the drenching.
As we waddle like penguins to the tent, she too in high heels, I try to think of all the things she might have wanted with me. Maybe this is the campus version of “kufunga na mtu”, where in primary you would settle all scores with people you had beef with on the last day of school. [Lion of Judah, I’m a good girl. You know it, I know it, these warthogs that you created know it. Don’t let me get a beating from someone unknown to me and most importantly, on an issue whose details I know nothing of. Thank you for this day Amen]
“You’re the Mirriam that writes?” she says as soon as we find shelter. I say yes.
“Awesome. I have wanted to get in touch with you for so long now. I want you to write my story”
For me, these conversations always happen online. A random email notification pops up, or a Whatsapp message from someone who was referred to me and, as of very recently, on my Instagram DMs. I didn’t know how to react. “That’s cool”
“It’s not a pretty story”
“Does someone die in it?” I ask.
“Doesn’t everyone die?”
Not the answer to my question but I brushed it off.
“Is there alcohol?”
“It’s all alcohol,” she says. I notice she is unable to maintain eye contact which brings me to either of two conclusions. One: That this story is something she is ashamed of. Something out of her control. And Two: That it is all a lie.
We were silent for another 16 seconds. I know because I counted.
“Sssooo…how do you do this?” she asked, and I broke from my counting.
“You can text me? I said, trying to make it sound like a suggestion when it was actually the one option I was giving. She took my number. “Congratulations by the way,” I added as I said the last digit.
“on what?” she asked. She was wearing a gown similar to mine.
“Graduating, I guess. Aren’t you psyched?”
“Psyched for what? An overpriced, oversize, used piece of black cloth that I have to return here in 7 days? Naah. I’m good.” She shrugs. “I just want it over with.”
I stayed there for another 16 seconds, watching as she walked away. I am still waiting for her text.
[I wanted to tell you about Rain first because of the relevance of timing. Also, I am hoping that she sees this and texts me. Sneaky, right?]
I know what you’re going to say. I do. That I owe you an apology. That I went MIA like a scorned lover and did not look back. That I left you, and now you have someone new. And I know you want to turn your back on me, say “to hell with her and her shenanigans”, but you just can’t, right? That’s why you are still here, waiting, with your heart in your hand for me to pocket once again. I know what you want to say. But I have heard it all, because I have been telling myself the same damn things on repeat. I’m so crappy. So irresponsible. I left you with nothing. With no one. I walked away even though I had promised I would always be here. But I’m here now. Let’s focus on that. And I did not write for anyone else, I promise. Now, allow me to break your heart once more.
“I only drink wine too. I read about the girl you wrote about on Table 9 and I thought…why not also share my story? Though mine varies greatly from hers,” was on my DM on Instagram on Sunday at 10.36am.
“Are there other similarities in that story to yours?” I asked.
“Possibly the fact that both our mothers were present on our first experiences with alcohol.”
Her mom was a heavy drinker. She liked her liquor strong, unlike the men she was always tangled with. At age 8, her mother would stumble home in the wee hours with a man who would barely stay 2 weeks. She met these ‘uncles’ all her life. Random men who came home with a woman to the shock of becoming a father. “Some of them went straight back out the door. They would find me on the couch sleeping, look at my mom and say ‘Oh I’m sorry honey. I thought we were just going to have some fun. I’m not ready for this kind of thing’ and then run back to the club to look for a more available woman.”
She preferred these men. Those who had the balls to leave immediately they found a situation that did not favor their wants. The ones she hated were the fakers. The ‘Of course I can fuck a woman with a 10-year-old on week one but leave by week three when the kid asks how to solve a fraction because the commitment to being her temporary father just became real’ kind of men.
It’s no secret that she was over heels with the first man that looked at her twice. In fact, it is almost expected. “I was a virgin till campus. I know, a prude” I refuse to accept that. I tell her there is no wrong in waiting. Heck, you can wait till marriage and still be the freakiest person alive. I tell her that labelling yourself as a prude for waiting till you were ready hurts nobody. No one looks at you and shrieks in fear because you are a twenty something that has not pulled off your panties in front of a man. Or woman. I told her that I, too, lost my V card in campus, and that made us sisters. We moved the conversation to WhatsApp because what’s more intimate than that in this age?
“I was going to get lunch. I still hadn’t decided what I would have. My roommate was with me” [because in campus your roommate is both your confidant and the person you walk to get food and literally anything else with as you struggle to grasp on the freedom with both your hands] Then he walked past.
She felt goosebumps in the way he turned to look at her a second time, doing the classic full body turn and walking backwards towards his destination while he grinned at her. “I swear I felt my bodily functions stop. All of them, for three seconds.” They had a full on conversation a few weeks in, after weeks of grins and shy smiles and backward walking and an almost trip session that might have been embarrassing, but which he later said “would have been worth it.” Oh the many ways a man can dupe a girl.
The first time they got time to themselves, he could barely speak. “He was so quiet that I had to ask the questions. To steer the whole conversation.” I ask how this went.
She: So…umm. What do you study?
She: Ooh, that’s cool. [Silence] I’m taking Public Relations.
She: Do you like it? Is it what you always wanted to do?
He: It’s a’ight
She: You stay in the hostels? (He nods) How many guys?
She: Where do you live?
She: Oh, that’s cool. I’m from Naks
I tell her to stop because I am getting a headache from this reenactment of the worst movie scene ever created. “But the next time we met he was actually a lot different”
“Oh? Do tell” I say, already rubbing my palms together like a villain in a children’s movie.
It was later that evening. She was in her hostel room watching an episode of The Flash. She remembers because the next morning they cuddled in her bed and finished the series. “I however had to re-watch it later because all the blood in my brain seemed to have drained with him so close to me.” He texted her to go “visit” him in his room. She got out of bed, threw on a hoodie, took off the sweatpants she was wearing and pulled up a pair of black tights.
As she stood before door number 16, she started second guessing herself. It was 7.23 pm, still early by campus standards. But her gut told her to run. She didn’t listen. After all, what did her gut know about boys that she didn’t, right? She texted him to open the door.
She remembers the alcohol. There were bottles everywhere. Strewn on the table, some on the beds and even in the sink! He apologized for the mess, but said they were boys, like boys don’t know what cleanliness entails. Like when the lesson on cleaning up after yourself and keeping your environs neat was being taught, all the boys in the classroom were asked to form a line and walk outside in an orderly fashion because God forbid boys ever found out about air freshener and wiping a surface. The alcohol did not phase her. She had lived picking up bottles in their house so much it had become a norm. The smell, too, was nothing to lose her mind over. Her nose had become accustomed to it long before she got her period.
“Come sit next to me, its cleaner here,” he said. Oh, so he knew it wasn’t as “a’ight” as it should be?
“Do you take this?” he asked. She almost scoffed. If he only knew. She took the tumbler from him and drained it. The boys cheered.
“Ey bro,” said one of his roommates. “Huyu umetoa wapi?” asking where he had found her. The premise to this question was that most girls would either refuse the drink or nurse the shot and sip at it all night. She quickly became a unicorn and she loved it. They doted on her for the next few hours, throwing compliments at her feet like gold at the Pharaoh. How her sense of humor was amazing. How pretty she was. How much she surprised them. “They kept saying I was perfect. No one ever called me perfect before. I was smitten.” But the thing is when boys give you compliments, usually, you don’t know what to do with yourself. Where to put your hands, how to sit perfectly, what to say or do…and so to compensate, she drank. She drowned shots way past her limit. Past the buzzing in her head that told her it was enough. Past logic.
She recalls the boys leaving, one by one. /Gotta go see a friend about a class thing/ Off to the shop for airtime/ Fresh air/ And just like that, they were alone. She doesn’t remember much, which means she doesn’t remember saying yes. But she woke up the next morning with her head pounding and her abdomen ‘feeling a little funny’. “I thought it was cramps, so I got up, took a shower, put on a sanitary towel and went back to him still in my bed. He had watched more episodes than me so I couldn’t concentrate on the movie. But sometimes I think I did not concentrate on it because of a comment he made, together with the weird pain I felt ‘down there.’”
“What did he say?”
“Immediately I settled back in bed, he said ‘you were amazing last night’. And I’ve watched enough romantic scenes in movies to know what that means. At first, I thought it was the way I had interacted with his friends, the jokes i cracked…that we had had fun last night. But the statement wasn’t ‘last night was fun’, because that would have given me a little relief.”
“Did you ask him about it? Whether anything happened?”
She says she didn’t. She doesn’t have the ‘guts’ to ask. She doesn’t want to know. Knowing will make it real so she would rather live in the doubt than confirm her fears. Confirm that she was intoxicated and violated.
“Are you alright?” I ask.
She sends the thinking emoji. You know that funny one that is seriously pretentiously thinking about ending racism in the world, right? “I think so. I am honestly not so sure. It’s still too soon to tell. I’m trying to focus on school. But what makes it hard is that every time I bump into him or any of his roommates in school, they ask when I’m going to visit next. And I want to shout ‘LEAVE ME ALONE. I KNOW WHAT YOU DID TO ME’ but I have no proof. No one can back me up. No one knew where I was. So I remain alone, in my mind, turning that night over and over.”
“Have you talked to anyone about this?”
“I’m talking to you,” she says and send me the smiling emoji.
I tell her I am grateful that she trusts me with this…and that I will do my best to keep her identity anonymous. But I also ask her a favor, that she seeks help. Professional help. I do some research and ask her to get in touch with Wangu Kanja Foundation. It’s the best I could do. But after a while as I sat thinking, I realized that she may not be alone. That there are numerous girls out here fresh into campus and overwhelmed with a freedom like no other. Girls who don’t know any better than walking alone to a boy’s room or house or car. Girls who don’t tell other people where they are off to. Who are hurt for not knowing any better, and it breaks my heart.
“So that’s why I only drink wine. I have some resilience to it. I don’t get as drunk or as fast compared to whisky or vodka. Plus, wine is a little expensive for me and people my age. It allows me to avoid getting drunk. The other plus side, and by far my favorite, is when you tell a campus boy that you only drink wine, they think you are stuck up…and they leave you alone.
[I will still apologize. I was graduating last week and was so busy in the weeks leading to that. But MIRAWU is officially back, with a backlog of stories and conversations not yet converted to stories, so buckle up buttercup. Let me take you on an emotional rollercoaster]