I used to believe in love.
In two hearts becoming one
To hold and to have
I used to believe in together as one
I use past tense because my reality took a shaking
I was robbed of what I held dear
I stopped believing
My heart filled with fear
I am afraid
To hurt so bad once more
To touch pain with my fingertips
To shake again to my core
I used to believe in love
But the makings of today’s love is deceit
Lies to honest hearts and knives to trusting backs
I still believe in love.
It often happens that I meet people I never thought I would again when I am totally zoned out while walking, thinking about pancakes or a cute puppy that I just discovered on Instagram, or trying to remember a new word I just read and forgot to write down so it slipped my mind. It happens a lot [everything from meeting these folks to recalling that bedlam means chaos] and most times, it is a huge pain, mostly because after the meeting and exchanging numbers, we will most definitely never talk. But sometimes, and very rarely, it morphs into a beautiful friendship that knocks my socks off [and you should know how much I love socks].
I feel like the second time we met was Heaven-sent, because that was the moment we became friends again. Before that, she was just someone in my past. I can confidently say that after my last K.C.P.E paper, she never crossed my mind. But one day, four years later, fate came into the picture [Ha-ha, I’m making this sound like a soap opera, right?] I was going for computer classes in April 2015, dreaming of going to Multimedia University of Kenya in September that same year [Yes, I actually wanted to go to MMU]. I was adamant. If they did not call me, I would go on self-sponsored program. I had told my dad this, countless times, but each time he just blew air out of his nose [same way you do before sending the four laughing emojis] and looked at me, probably thinking “does this one know university costs money? And SSP programs’ fees are much, much higher than where the university calls you”, but he still let me dream.
After classes (computer) I would walk with two of the people I was in class with to town then get a matatu home. On this day, as fate would have it [I brought up the fate thing so I could say this], I forgot something in the classroom (let’s say keys because my memory evades me). We were already in the CBD and if I remember correctly, the classes would be closed immediately the last person was out. But I needed those keys (if that’s what I had actually left behind) because how the hell would I get in the house otherwise? A girl had to go back and beg the cleaning guy to open the door so I could get my keys. And a girl had to go fast.
I wasn’t seeing what was in front of me. My brain was preoccupied with getting to the class and the keys then straight home before I got drenched in the rain. The world around me had faded to a blur, as it does most times, and I had not seen her until I was about two feet from bumping into her. I immediately knew who she was, but not exactly who she was. I don’t think you actually get that. I mean I knew where I knew her from…just not her name, or her face. It was her skin color. Ginger [that’s what she wants you to know her as] has always had skin that is almost yellow. She is the proverbial lightskin. And immediately I saw that shade of yellow I knew, without a doubt who she was, but her name evaded me. I didn’t tell her this, mainly because she called me by name which meant I would have hurt her feelings asking hers. She told me she was going to MMU, and even though I still had not received the nod from my dad, I told her I too would join her in a few months. I knew I wanted to go there, I just needed to convince him [which I did]. We exchanged numbers, and for reasons of my security, I will not tell you what I saved her as.
I’ve tried writing about her before, but it never felt right. The words did not move in the correct sequence and I just knew, in the way only I would, that it wasn’t the right time. There are a lot of things to write about when it comes to her, but this is AA, and she had a story on it, so that’s what we will read about today.
Ginger was in second year at the time. It was Friday afternoon and class was dragging as usual. I don’t know how the most boring of lecturers get the Friday afternoon class, but the government needs to set up a comittee that will be tasked with investigating the root cause of this problem. These classes drain you of your life force and leave you in desperate need of air and life, so it is only understandable that most campus students need to unwind come Friday night, and our sweet Ginger was one of them on this night. She got her posse together and after a fun time getting ready [because getting ready is the best part of going out], they went to a club that was frequented by students from all campuses around Rongai. It was one of these hip new places that have just opened and where students go because they need the selfies to prove how hip and up to date they are.
“Ey, you guy [I never understand why anyone would call someone this], did you go to ABC club last weekend?” asks random dude 1 on Monday.
“Yea man, I was there Friday. It was maad” says random dude 2.
“Really man? Coz I was there on Friday with kina Ginger and I didn’t spot you. Kwani who were you with?”
RD2: Aah, si you know me you guy my guy. I just chunguliad and left
RD1: Oh, heh, si Ginger killed manze, that dress my guy wooosh [because onomatopoeia was something they learnt in school]
RD2: I saw her snap man
RD1: By tha lemme see your pics on Friday. You must have been there when I wasn’t. Were there bad chilles?
RD2: Uh…Yeah man. So bad…uh…so bad that I forgot to take pics. You have to live in the moment sometimes G
Ginger was being totally “bad” this night [please don’t mistake being bad with being irresponsible, though a girl can do both in this era]. She was dancing. Ginger loves to dance. Anytime music plays you will find her bobbing her head or whining her waist polepole. She loves to move to music. In the midst of this unwinding, there was the taking of shots, the whining of waists, the bumping of heads and the dancing on tables, all her.
It will be important to make clear that I was not surprised, especially with the dancing on tables. Because if I was to make a bet on any of the people I know, the bet on ‘most likely to dance on a table on a Friday night in a club’ [and I probably need to find better names for these bets] would most definitely go to her. If some random person came to me and said “Hey, Mirriam, I saw your friend dancing on tables” and I asked “are you sure it was a friend of mine?” and they said yes… I know what I would say. I would say “Oh, that must be Ginger”. Not that my other two friends don’t have the DOT (Dancing on tables) gene…but the best bet would be her. She is the most upbeat person I know, meaning in a place with louder beats, she will definitely be up, literally. At some point, she blacked out. The times I heard someone blacked out because of alcohol consumption was at a house party and they had too much of it but were not active enough, ergo sitting down trying to figure out the meaning of life, and the alcohol got the best of them. But this? This was new to me. She doesn’t remember blacking out, just waking up next to a girl she did not know, in a house she did not recognize and… to top it all off, in Karen.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. What is it with Karen and these girls? Last week’s house without food had the same location. Right? Because me too! And I promise Stormi and Ginger are different people. Maybe this is the storytelling version of Déjà vu. You know? How all this is just too eerily familiar and all that. Maybe today’s story is last week’s déjà vu. Or last week’s is today’s? aargh I’m muddled [that just means confused, but there is this book I’m reading has me going back to the dictionary like I did not learn any English, so I thought why not throw that in there? Have us be a couple of muddled people. Muddlers Ha-ha] Want to know what she did? Well… she got her ass home and vowed to never go out clubbing on top of tables ever again. That’s what she did.
Also, I know what her name is. Please don’t think I have had her as a friend all these years without knowing her name. I am no boy.
[Send me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org if you have an AA story that you want to tell here. Remember, you get to pick any name you want. Isn’t that cool?]
The girl telling me this story has a cat. A beautiful dark grey feline with silver tips named Stormi. Like all cats, he is playful and fun and poops in the bathroom. But I was allergic to him [my first experience ever of being allergic to a furry] and it broke my heart. We had to throw Stormi out while she told me this story, and it may have been his sad meows at the door or my nose slowly blocking and my throat choking up that made this story a little difficult to follow. Some parts may be fabricated and some may have holes that the human brain may not be able to explain, but I thought it was a good story, and I hope you do too.
When I asked how she preferred to be referred to, she said I should “use something close to her name (wink emoji) something interesting” and in that moment, I wanted to call her Stormi. If I can’t hold the cat, I could at least use its name for something bigger than that. Stormi [the owner, not the cat. Try to keep up] had to tell this story twice to me, the first time in full- while my sinuses acted up in a way I have never seen before, and the second time- when I had her text me the first part of the story that led them to where the real story took place.
She and her friends (B, T, L and S) work hard during the week. They are all ladies in their twenties who are doing businesses to keep themselves afloat. For their hard work, they like to take themselves out, you know, just the ladies. See some nice sh*t, touch some wild sh*t and eat some good sh*t [I know someone who writes ‘isht’. Makes me chuckle every time].
“So my friends and I decided to go unwind and do something fun,” she texts on WhatsApp. “We were five girls [mentions names but says I should change them, hence the letters above]. After an afternoon at Giraffe Center we decided to go get cocktails at Galleria mall.”
While there, they were invited by T’s friend – Brian – to go out. They said they wanted to eat first before going out but Brian was having none of it. After all, here was 5 girls on a Saturday evening ready for an evening to remember. No Brian will pass that up. He told them to get an Uber to Westlands, to Djavu [a club, I gathered]. He would take care of the bills; alcohol, food, even the Uber. What bevy of girls is going to refuse an all-expense paid evening of food and alcohol? [PS. I’ve always wanted to use this ‘bevy’ word in real life. Can you see my dreams coming true or is it just me?]. They went for what Stormi calls a “G walk” behind the mall, and I am going to let you decipher what that is on your own rather than spoon feeding you my hunches. Then they got an Uber to Westy. “On getting there, this guy was so friendly, invited us in, ordered a bigger table so we could all sit, and got drinks and food. We had so much fun.”
Brian lives in Karen. He started hinting at going back to his place as soon as they were all tipsy. L and S, who are sisters, opted out. They claimed to have some work still left to do at home, so they had to go. Stormi, B and T however could stay out a little longer. They went to Brian’s place after the club. When this house was described to me, it felt like the White House. Serene and big on the outside, chaotic and cluttered on the inside. “It’s a big house,” Stormi said. “Big enough to look like a family lived there. Large gate, own compound. You know, the kind of houses you expect to find in Karen.
In the house was a couple, mzungu girl and her Kenyan king. She specified that it was a mzungu so I feel you too need to be told this. Counting them, there was now 6 people in this house – Her, B, T, Brian, and the couple. Now by this time, T and Brian had coupled up as well, which makes me think that this was the reason the girls were invited out in the first place. The table was laden with bottles of alcohol, “everything from gin to whiskey and vodka”. The kitchen had paper cups all over. The kitchen is brought up because B and Stormi, the only two people without cuddle heat, were looking for food to warm themselves up.
“Wait,” I interrupt. “There was no food?”
“Yes! Imagine there was no food”
I cannot imagine it. What house with human beings has all this alcohol and no food? No. scratch that. What house in Karen has no food? Where are people’s priorities? My M-PESA balance could be 0.03 but I will find a way to have food in the house! Call a parent, befriend the mama mboga, send a smoke signal for goodness sake. I was still stuck on the ‘No Food Phenomenon’ when the story suddenly transformed to where everyone was in bed. Three bedrooms were used; the mzungu couple in one, Brian and T in another and Stormi and B in the last one. Stormi too only remembers turning at night and finding B in bed beside her [I think she passed out with the shock of not finding food].
The next part of this story had me worried about a number of things, and laughing through the rest. This may also be the reason that parts of it are vague and some parts really stick out. Morning came, [and I am tempted to say birds were chirping and to give a description of a beautiful sunrise]. We wake up with T first, who slept with Brian. When she opened her eyes, she saw a girl, in her twenties, sitting on the bed just staring at her. I don’t know what goes on in your head when you wake up to a strange face looking right at you. No one can know this feeling, unless you go through it. and I could not find T to have her explain it to me. So we’ll assume she was freaked out, for lack of a better expression.
The new girl started arguing with Brian, she saying he was cheating on her and him that they had broken up. This went on for a while, with T and Brian still naked and the girl still on the bed. There was already a commotion, which got everyone in the house up and listening at the door. Seeing that it was not going to end any time soon, T got dressed while the two were still going at it and left the room to tell Stormi what had happened. She was hurt. Brian was a jerk. He had a girlfriend and still made a pass at her. She felt lied to. As T was pouring her heart out, the door to Brian’s room was slammed open and they came out to the common room, with things still heated up [This was a whole lot to absorb on an empty stomach, right].
“You still didn’t get food?” I ask.
“Oh, I didn’t tell you? Brian ordered some pizzas at night”
[Phew! We can now breathe through the fight] which went on for a long time. At one point, the girl, who Stormi refers to as “The psycho girlfriend” came out with a knife, claiming she would “katakata kila mtu”. Now you know you are where you are not supposed to be when something happens and the first thing you think of is “what will my mom think when she is called ati I was katakatwad in Karen and she pays rent for Rongai?” and that thought scared the sh*t out of you, because if you survive that hospital bed, your mom will hold it over your head for as long as she lives. She may even haunt you with it. Imagine it: you are a grandma of 68, your grandkids are out on the backyard playing and you see an apparition of your mother saying “You remember when I got a call that you were hurt in Karen? Yet I had called the previous night and you said you were in Rongai? Those were the days huh?” Now you are the grandma who poops her pants every time because your mother haunts you with a situation you had no control over.
Anyway, this psycho girlfriend and Brian were an on and off couple. The girl is the jealous type. Like crazy jealous. The boy says he has had enough, but still seems to go back. I guess everyone knows their poison. Also… did you notice they didn’t have breakfast?
I just think that house needs food. Blood sugar is dangerous when low.
[Hey you. Yes, you. Do you have an Alcoholics Anonymous story? Any experience with alcohol counts. Send me an email on email@example.com and we’ll work on telling your story. Cheerio]
[Remember to subscribe to MIRAWU]
I met Fred a few weeks ago while I was staying with an aunt. They go to the same church. We had not shared a total of seven words before the day he came over and I was alone in the house. There had not been an earlier warning, so I did not let him in until I had confirmed with mwenye nyumba that Fred was expected. He was. He needed to use the internet and the electricity in his apartment were lost [is that direct translation?]… or so he told me. We sat in the common room, me on the couch and him on the dining table. It was quiet. A kind of quiet that can only be held by strangers who know not what to say to each other. A silence that picks on your thoughts, turning them over until you are left bare. It felt too quiet to get up for a cup of water. Too quiet for a cough. So we sat. I watched two episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale with earphones on because I was afraid to disturb the peace that the silence had established.
There is a saying about habits. That if you spend a specific number of minutes or seconds doing something, it becomes a habit. Alcoholics Anonymous has become my habit. I look at people with alcoholic eyes now [perhaps I can frame that statement better]. My conversations have developed into alcohol-related experiences. I find myself slipping alcohol into a sentence and before you know it, I am being told about people in their ten-year-old pants looking for sips of alcohol, of fathers who restricted their wives from taking alcohol and of mothers who drank in the presence of their children. I have also become a somewhat better conversationalist… or so I think…because I have had more conversations in the last six months than I had in 2017 and 2018 combined.
At some point, in the quiet, the power followed the example of Fred’s place. He sighed, the first sound I had heard from him since he asked if I had been told he was coming. I took this sigh as an opening, because the only available buffer to the silence (a neighbor’s blasting Kenyan obscenities from his woofer) had now joined in the sovereign stillness.
“Stima imepotea?” I asked, to spark something. He turned. I felt on top of the world. For those two seconds, I was the negotiator on those movies where there is a hostage situation and FBI guys have tried talking to the bank robber to no avail, till a guy in jeans and a shirt with the sleeves rolled up strolls in and talks the bank robber to tears, having him release the hostages. The scene ends applause from onlookers who were afraid for the hostages and the guy [my guy] throwing a toothpick he had in his mouth all this time at the FBI guys’ feet as if to say “F y’all”. They beg him to join the FBI but he is better than that. He refuses and walks into the sunset to a piano playing in the background.
“Eee, na I’m not done with this work. I don’t know what I will do.” He looks at his phone.
“What kind of work is it?” I ask. [Am I crushing this conversation thing or what]
He says it is something for the government. Then turns back to his laptop, assuming the position he has held since he arrived. I feel the quiet threaten to return. It peeps at the door, waiting for an opening. I think about letting it. Slipping back into my comfort zone sounded so good. But then, I think, WWSD. WhatWouldSpongebobDo. He would badger this guy till he got what he wanted. And I wanted a story.
“When is your deadline?”
“Ilikuwa inasupposed kukuwa 12.30” [He said ‘inasupposed’… Would I lie to you?]
I look at the time. 1.03pm. He was way past his deadline. The lights were not back yet. All odds were in my favor. There was no longer a deadline to beat, and there was no electricity to back him up. We had to have this conversation. “What do you do?”
“A couple of things here and there. I dabble in a lot.”
“Yeah? Like what?”
“Writing…consulting. And other stuff”
His “stuff” sounded so much like ‘staff’. I swear. But I told someone about it and she said that I was probably hearing my own things. I guess you had to be there. I gathered he did not want to talk about what he did for a living…but he had said enough to catch my attention. I asked what he writes.
“These academic stuff [I heard it again]. Writers’ Hub. It pays well.”
Okay, so the writing conversation had run its course before it even started.
“Fred,” I said, because I wanted to rip off the band aid once and for all. “Do you drink? Alcohol.” [You and I both know we needed to be specific here]. He turned, again. Progress! I made a little jump inside.
“Why?” He asked.
I told him about AA, and MIRAWU, and my motivation behind everything. Then I caught myself, because I tend to ramble when I talk about things I actually give a fuck about. He sat there, nodding and staring at me till I felt weird about it and ended with asking the question a second time.
“No.” He said. I waited for accompanying information. I was not sure whether his no was to deny drinking or answering the question. I felt the quiet watching, waiting to stretch ten seconds into forty-five and make it awkward for follow up questions. I had to at quick. WWSD?
“Why not?” I saved it at the eleventh minute.
“It has never interested me.”
I looked at him. He is tall enough. Not the kind of tall that you see and say “damn, that’s tall”, but tall. He never shaves everything on his head, but he also does not have the fuckboy haircut [you know the one I’m talking about, don’t be coy]. His nails are always short, I think he owns a nail cutter and goes to work on them every Friday evening for church the next day. He looks you straight in the eye, either to establish dominance, or to prove he is listening. I am leaning more on the latter. He has watched all behaviorial videos that tell you where to place your hands and when to scratch your head. He wants to seem collected. Approachable. His feet are slightly parted, not to close to seem feminine and not too wide to achieve “male comfort”.
“Have you tasted alcohol?”
I laughed. He was beginning to seem like a modern day unicorn. A late twenties male whose lips have known no alcohol. It was surreal. Straight out of a Barbie’s Dreamhouse episode. So I asked about his father, because, I presumed, it was either he was a messy drunk or was absent all his life. “My dad died when I was in…class…2 or 3” he places two fingers on his chin, thinking. “Class two, yeah. And I’m the firstborn of 6 kids… I had to be responsible.” I point out that taking alcohol does not necessarily make one irresponsible. He agrees, but then he says “You never know where the line is between the two. I didn’t want my siblings to grow up without a father and on top of it have a sibling who was addicted to alcohol. It was a risk I was never going to take.”
“So you’re the Delmonte guy when your friends are hanging out?”
“Ha-ha, yeah. It’s not so bad actually. I get to be the designated driver, and I love driving at night.”
“I guess everyone has their place then” I say.
The time was 1.41pm. the lights were still not back. He asked for the link to MIRAWU. At 1.56 he looks up. “You have a nice font,” he says, looking right at me. I say than you and pretend to watch another episode. This conversation has run its course. He takes his phone and calls three people, asking if their Wi-Fi is still functional. Electricity is out in all three places. “I think all of Kitengela does not have electricity”. I look up. “Huh?” [I should get an acting gig]. “Stima zimepotea kila mahali.” He repeats.
The silence has won. We fought the good fight. We will be given medals of valor. But the enemy had weapons that our will could not tackle. It was two of us against an infinity’s worth of experience in haunting children’s nightmares and creeping into cementeries. We fought the good fight. I admitted it.
Five minutes later, he got up. “I’ll be leaving now”
“Oh?” happy dance in my head “Hii stima sioni ikirudi saa hii”
“Yeah” he hauls his backpack on. “Are you going to write my story? It’s not much to go on” he says with an open door before him.
I smile. “Biko says everything is a story.”
When he was 15 years old, his older brother woke him up at 4.30am to go get their father. The words used were ‘Let’s go pick dad up’ which makes the whole situation sound so mundane, like their father was stuck with his luggage at the airport with no Uber money. He is the middle child, meaning he, too, at some point years into the future of his time, is forced to have this same conversation with the youngest of them.
“To understand my story, I first need to tell you about my household,” his first text reads.
“Alright” I say, mainly because there is no other thing to say.
His parents are what he calls “busy people”. There are never around for a week straight… and if they are, they are cooped up in their respective study rooms [Yes, I too had to wrap my head around this. Each parent has their own study]. His father is a businessman. One of those who instead of using their early twenties to wild out and live by YOLO, were busy strategizing and working out plans to come up with the next big thing. He got into the shipping industry before people were even able to comprehend the potential ships held, other than sinking tens of people while allowing a flower-named woman to emerge with a tragic love story. He envisioned the company from his hostel room on campus and by the time he was graduating, he had secured funding to set everything up.
Business went well, and because it is an undisputed fact that every successful man has a woman at his side, he met a travelling agent when he was 25. She was just starting out, learning the ropes of a business she did not quite understand and he used his entrepreneurial brain to woo her. He helped her secure a promotion and she thanked him by proposing marriage. He said yes. He liked how aggressive she was. How she saw what she wanted and went for it…and she wanted him. What more could he ask for?
By the time he was 31, he had three sons. It was hectic, having to be responsible for four people in a span of just a few years. He had not prepared for it happening so fast and furious-ly, but it did, and he made the best of it. Work had to be his priority now. It was the only way he knew to take care of his suddenly big family. It did not help that his wife’s money remained just that, meaning all his money was what helped run the household. Late hours developed, which then became an issue with the wife.
What was he doing when he stayed out 4 nights out of five in a week? And what was with the going in to work on Saturdays? Sometimes Sundays? It was too much. The family needed him, not just his money.
The long hours were so he could make enough money to cater for the family. For clothes and school fees and groceries. But she would never understand that. She never contributed anything.
Did he just say that? Did he just say that to her when she is the one who takes care of their kids while he is out (mocking air quotes) “working”? The nerve of him. Such a man move. He could never understand what she goes through…
You know what, he is not having this conversation with her. (walks out)
She was a small town girl. Born and raised in Molo. Went to church every Sunday until she left home for university when she threw religion out the window because she was “sick of being forced to worship”.
“We never went to church as a family. Sundays were always family day when I was younger. My mom, and dad on the occasions he was present, always made sure we had family time. They said church was a waste of time. That the families who pack themselves into cars clad in their Sunday best were just pretenders, hiding in the supposedly sacred cloth of the church”
“Would you have wanted to go to church with your family?”
“I don’t know. I think so. Maybe it would have brought us closer…growing up believing in a higher being. You know this meme about fathers threatening to leave their families on Sunday morning?” I think I have seen something like it. “I wish we had that. But we didn’t. Instead, we were guilted to playing charades and monopoly with parents who spoke a total of two words a month to each other”
“Wait, it was that bad?”
It was. the more money they had, the more silent the house became. They talked amongst each other though, and he believes their parents’ failed marriage helped them bond more than they might have if there was a closer relationship. “We never had househelps. We ran our house. The three of us. Not that we wanted to. I remember complaining about it every night before bed. Mom always said that as boys, we were vulnerable. That you never know what strangers want with young boys from a well off family. She preferred that we stay alone than hire help. It was hell…but somewhere between the chores and writing grocery lists for our parents, we became the best of friends, and we have our parents to thank for that.”
One morning, at ungodly hours, his older brother woke him up to go pick their father up, and his view of their father’s constant frowning and solemn state shifted. He saw his father smile for the first time. A genuine smile. One that did not care about anything other than staying on his face.
“Dad has dimples?” he asked his brother.
“Dad is happy here. He is also drunk.” There is a bottle of Blue Label on the table in the airport’s lounge.
“What? But he drinks at home. In his study. I’ve never seen his dimples at home”
“Exactly, his dimples remain here. Do you understand? They remain here because they don’t belong at home.”
“Wow man,” he scratched his head in a confused daze. “What does this mean?”
“Nothing. He brought me here one day and showed me this side of him because he trusted me. And now, I am choosing to trust you. You will tell no one. Do you understand?” He understood. The brothers could be trusted with their father’s dimples, no one else.
“Do you think your mom has seen your father drunk?” I ask.
“No. She calls him a “responsible drunk”. He only has like a glass of whiskey while home. But you know… I have seen him drown half a mzinga on his own, while we wait for the sun to rise at the airport.” They always meet him at the airport, when his business trips end and he comes back home. That is their sacred time. Their church, and they could ask for nothing more. Their youngest turns 17 next month and they plan to wake him to show him their father’s dimples.
“Why does he get to see this at 17 when you did at 15?”
The youngest is their mother’s baby. They are not sure about him. Whether he will keep their secret or he will rat them out. He is unsure of their youngest because he sits with their mother, whispering. But he has never told on them in the times they vowed to keep something secret, and hey hope this too, will be among the brother’s secrets.
He does not know what happened to their parents, because their earlier pictures look happy. But those smiles faded with time. Now, they don’t take pictures anymore. It feels fake to smile when immediately after the flash it is back to business as usual. But he has photos on his phone, of genuine smiles, with his happy drunk of a father and older brother. He sends me one. There is an older man, with a dash of white hairs on his head and his arm placed over the shoulders of a boy of about 20. Their smiles are identical to the boy taking the selfie (the one I am talking to). The photo has the brightness of the first rays of the morning. It is a good picture.
“Don’t you think he is only happy to be with you guys in that time? And it is not the alcohol that makes him happy, but being with his sons, in an empty airport lounge while the sun rises?”
He says it is possible. But in that narrative, his father is unhappy in his life as a husband. He is unhappy to have said yes to their mother when she proposed, and that is something he does not want to believe, because that is still his mother and father, and mommys and daddys are supposed to be together, and be happy. So he is convinced that his father lives in this solemn state. He has embraced this fact. And he wants the world to understand that his father shows his dimples when he is drunk.
There comes a time in a man’s life when he has to sit himself in a corner and say ENOUGH! Enough of chasing and moving and playing. This moment varies in all men. There are those who are in the corner for two seconds and they walk out new men. There are also others who spend years in this corner and never come out. These ones spend their days telling themselves that things HAVE to be different. They need to move on up. To change their situation. But they remain in the corner not because they lack the will to move, but because they know nothing else.
As I read his text, I could not imagine what he was going through. Which corner had he ventured to and been unable to pull away from? I had so many questions, till he asked me the one question every guy asks me during our conversations.
“Do guys really tell you their shit? Like…boys?”
“I don’t know. (Lauging emoji) Because I listen. I don’t ask why they do what they do… I ask what made them do it.”
“I have never thought of telling this part of myself to anyone. Let alone a journalist!”
I laugh. There is stigma associated with the title ‘Journalist’. He is accusing me of doing what I studied in school, because of a few misgivings from a few of us. He is accusing me of telling secrets. And of lies tied into these secrets that make them extra scandalous and worth the tabloids. It makes me want to say I am not a Journalist. To disassociate myself from the stigma and stand as my own person. To be able to tell someone that I tell stories without them saying “nyinyi ndiyo hawa watu wa propaganda.” I crave this freedom… But then what would I be? A lawyer? Those are told they are liars. A doctor? They are told they give the wrong prescriptions [Plus my handwriting is too neat to qualify as a doctor] Anyway, let’s get into this before I transfer my existential crisis on to you.
At eleven years old, Jesse realized he was fat. It was not something he had noticed before, especially since his twin brother was the same weight as him from birth to December 2008. But he could not fit into his shirt on the morning of the first day of school and his mother had to go buy him a new one… then get more during the week. His classmates compared him to his brother all through the first week of school in 2009. “Ai Jesse, Kwani you ate all of your bro’s food during Krisi?” But the girls said he was ‘fluffy’ and it wasn’t all bad. He liked being called fluffy. They said he was “comfortable to be around”. He was okay with that. He says he was okay with it because he did not know what it meant, till he asked a girl he liked to be his girlfriend and she said the same thing. “You are just so comfortable to be around, Jesse. I would’t want to ruin that.”
When I was eleven years old, I hurt myself during the December holidays. I could not make the first day of school because I needed to have my bandages changed. My classmates were taught new things that day. I went in the next day, sat down and waited for my teacher. In between the lessons, she was checking everyone’s work, and as expected, I was a little behind than my classmates. She looked at my book and told me to ‘pull up my socks’, an idiom she had taught the previous day. I reached for my socks. My classmates laughed. I hate that day.
Being bigger than your identical twin has some strings attached. On one part, your grandmother will show you more love, and nothing is more precious than a grandmother’s love. But the downsides outweigh the good in Jesse’s case. The catcalling is worse when it is done by people you thought of as friends. I know this, because people pulled up their socks even on the day of our KCPE exams. “Friends are supposed to bring you up. To support you, and be by you through your ups and downs.” Jesse writes. He has all these quotes that may make him seem pretentious, even if they hold some truth to them. “But when you’re young, you think everyone you know is your friend. You don’t know about talking behind people’s backs because its meaning is above your thinking capacity. You cannot comprehend it, and that just builds into a lifetime of hating yourself and hating your past when you get to the point that you actually understand it.”
In high school, he was the fat kid. He tells me that in almost every setting, he was always the biggest person around. He was ashamed of himself. Everyone focuses on girls when it comes to overweight issues. There are programs made for girls, and sitcoms that are made to show that they are not as different as anyone else. That they too can love. They too can lead lives that allow them to get in a matatu without the conductor asking if they will pay for both seats. The boys have to fend for themselves. It was in form two that he discovered the wonders of alcohol. It never interested him at first. He always saw the drunkards sprawled in trenches soaked in their own vomit and decided that it would never be him. But Justin Bieber and cute Jaden Smith [I cannot speak for him now] said ‘Never say Never’.
“It started out as rumors. You know, you hear some guys in form two North have a mzinga and you have to give them your hard-boiled egg on Sunday to qualify for a sip. But that did not interest me. I loved my Sunday egg.” But not all boys share the same sentiment for eggs as he did, and one of the guys who fell prey was his friend (who we will name Larry –loosely based on Jackson Biko’s Drunk character).
Larry did not come from a fine household, unlike most of the boys in the school, which meant he had to try extra hard to fit in. He had to put in effort to be accepted. So he gave his egg for sips because the mzinga was being given by the more affluent boys and it was the only way he knew to get them to notice him. The exchange happened immediately after breakfast was served and it had to be quick, because Sunday mass was immediately after breakfast and you could never be late to that. There was a small window of five minutes between breakfast and mass, where they boys were allowed a bathroom break so as not to disrupt others during prayers. This was the egg-sip window. It seemed an easy trade for Larry. A full bladder for popularity. When he was hooked, the popular boys told him to bring his ‘fat friend’ along the next Sunday and they would both get to keep their eggs.
“I did not want to go” Jesse texts. “But when the popular boys want to see you in their sacred time, you get intrigued. Tempted even. And Larry tried so hard to convince me. He was my only friend then, because we were both losers in school. Poor kid, Fat kid. We were a team… especially when our adversaries were beating us behind the toilets.”
“Was your twin brother in the same school?”
“Yeah, but he is one of those people who blend with the right crowd. I would hang out with him and his friends, but it always felt weird. They would talk about things I had no idea about.”
“Like what?” I ask.
“(laughing emoji) like girls, and rugby. You know, normal guy stuff.”
When they got to the exchange spot, they guys had a bottle of Best. Larry got his sip, still holding on to his egg. He had gotten so used to bringing it that he forgot they had said he shouldn’t bring it. Jesse was Larry’s egg now. He would have gladly traded his best friend for a place at the popular table. Jesse did not mind it. He saw it as helping his friend. A charitable act for the guy who was always with him. His one loyal friend. The bottle was passed to him and for a second, he was confused.
“I was not really sure what they wanted with me to this point. They had only told Larry that they wanted him to come with me.”
“Where was it? This exchange point?”
“Ha-ha, behind the toilets. Just two steps from where they used to beat Larry and me up.”
The bottle in his hands caught him by surprise because his theories had not added up to him having his first taste of alcohol from these guys… and definitely not on that spot. This was going to change things. He would have preferred his first sip of alcohol to be bought by his last savings, in the comfort of his brother’s presence, probably as they were sneaking behind their parents’ backs, with the cover of darkness just behind their watchman’s shed [He did not say this]. He would have wanted the thrill he felt to be experienced somewhere other than the same place he had acquired unexplainable bruising.
One of the boys pushed the bottle to his lips and he hated it. The invasion of both his freedom and his taste buds. “I didn’t like it one bit. The taste was unlike anything else. When someone says something is a little bitter, you imagine sweetened lemon. That is what I had prepared myself for. Lemonade that messed with your senses. Instead, I got this cringe in my face that made the boys laugh.”
“Did you pass by those toilets again? Did you go to the exchange the next Sunday?”
“I had to! they would otherwise beat us up if we didn’t. you have to understand that we were losers in school. Being in the crew made us popular. We were cool. I hated it…but it was better to go behind those toilets to murder my tongue and throat than come out limping. That spot now had a double sentiment. It was either bruises or a sip…and Larry would have sold me out for that sip. I was just being smart”
[We’re back to AA. Thanks for being patient through the Mental Health break, but I believe we did some good work in the few stories we told]
Right now could be painful.
Right now could be filled with so much agony than you have ever experienced.
Right now could have the kind of suffering that can almost be equated to that of Jesus on the cross. You could feel helpless. Alone.
One of those moments you need mom or dad but remember they are covered in the dirt and you can never see them again.
And your heart,
Your heart could be breaking.
Into a million gajillion puzzle pieces that makes finding pieces that go together and placing them side by side impossible.
Your could be shattered to points that you yourself cannot recognize the reflection in the mirror.
Right now could be that time you have lost your innocence. That time your world is trembling to it’s core. That time you have stood up to face your demons so many times that they have robbed you of your strength.
It could be you have just lost a parent, a sibling, a true friend. It could be you have actually lost a part of yourself in the struggle to “be good”. It could be the loss of a job or the departure of a beloved pet. It could even be the failing of exams.
It could be that you lost your way.
That you believed in one day everything being better. Being clearer. Easier.
That one day something would come your way and you would recognize it’s immaculate essence immediately.
But you lost faith. Stopped believing in the one thing that kept you sane. Stopped believing in you. In Time. In God.
And you should never.
You should not put your sanity at risk by the things that time takes to heal, and because Time heals all wounds, physical and emotional, you too will heal.
Believe that one day, your worries will ride away in the most pure of carriages into the morning sun, and your days will forever be merry.
Believe that you will smile. That you will laugh. Because without hope, is life really worth living?
I wanted to name him after a city. Somewhere far that he has never been but where correctly shows the turmoil he has faced all around his life. I wanted to equate him to a busy city that is filled with life and laughter and lovers holding hands when its exterior is plagued with an excruciating calmness that threatens one’s soul. I wanted to name him Venice. But Venice sounds like a girl’s name. So I asked him what name he would like before I christened the poor soul New York.
“I get to choose anything?” he asks.
“Anything. Reach far and deep and get me something good”
“Cool. I’ll think of something”
He lives with his sister, mother and grandmother. He says they have raised him to respect women in a way that he never would have were he in a different household. “When you see three women of different generations overcome the impossible to get to where they are today, you gain a certain kind of admiration”
His grandmother fled from Somalia with his mother in 1992, just when the Dadaab camps were constructed. They were among the first refugees in the camps and were settled in the Ifo camp, which had most of the Somali refugees fleeing the civil war. His mother was 11 years old, and the only surviving child that her mother had. They clung to each other. There had already been too much loss to bear losing sight of one another for more than a minute. They sold camel milk to earn their keep. “The distance from where they would walk to get the milk and bring it back to the camp was insane. In the heat, they would walk five hours to and fro, every two days, just so they could get enough money for other needs.” He doesn’t have a lot of details of this time because his grandmother does not like talking about it and his mother was too young to remember.
When his sister had her first anxiety attack in 2014 he did not know what it was. He says they were walking home from school and her breathing got laboured. She stopped and clutched at her chest. Said she could not breathe. Could not see colour. She was sweating and shaking and he was scared. Then, out of nowhere, she got up and was fine. She warned him, in the way only big sisters can threaten you into submission, that if he told on her, he would regret it. He said nothing to their parents.
“You can call me Boot,” He texts.
“The name, that you asked me to pick… I choose Boot”
I think I should start talking to normal people.
When his mother was sixteen, she met a boy. Boot is not sure whether this part of the story is true or she was using it to warn her sister against guys. She sat them down one day, when Boot was thirteen and his sister sixteen, they sat in the kitchen and his mother told them the story of a young refugee girl, who did not know love beyond clinging to her mother all day and lying by her side at night. She knew nothing other than the white of camel milk and the smell it leaves under your fingernails until her senses learned of John’s cologne [It’s always a John]. She was going to get water or to buy something or collect a debt from a fellow refugee when she bumped into him. Tall, muscular John in army uniform. He was darker than anyone she had ever seen but he made the night brighter [must have had really white teeth]. She trembled. Glitter exploded in her and left her feeling warm inside.
John was a lieutenant. That’s what he told her…or she told them. He was older than her. Old enough that it would make people notice and women snicker. So they met with the cover of darkness. This was 1998. The girl was sixteen. She says the boy was in his 25s to 30s. She is not sure. She never asked. Love blinds you. The birds sing and butterflies flutter while your brain goes out the window. She was sneaking out of the camp to see him and by the third week of knowing each other, he began talk of ‘kichwa tu’; a lie that most girls fall for because their feet are swept and they lose their footing. She resisted. That’s what she says. That she said no, and told him no, and almost put on a one-woman musical explaining that she did not want to. But he coaxed her. And lied to her. And the head went further north than she thought.
After the anxiety attack, Boot noticed his sister was not sleeping properly. He is a light sleeper. “I can even hear cats walking by my window at night.” Okay, first of all, this guy needs to move from where he lives if CATS [notice plural] are walking by his window every night. Also…I think this is a lie. I can’t hear a cat in the daytime unless he/she does that annoying meow thing that they do that creeps me out. But Boot is here hearing cats walk?! Really? I think I was being measured here. Moral of the story: Don’t believe someone who calls themselves one part of a pair… [and please don’t correct my grammar, I know what I said].
Anyway, back to John and Boot’s mom [Knee-high boot Ha-ha]. Long story short, because mothers usually like to skip over the important stuff, she got preggo and went to him. She was at the barracks’ gate for almost two hours before John finally came to the gate. He acted like she was just another light-skinned refugee from Somalia. “Unataka nini madam?”
“Madam, sema shida yako. Niko busy sana”
“Can we talk?”
“Not here,” he whispered. “I’ll come later.”
She went back home, preparing a script of what to say to her John. ‘John, you see, when a man and a woman love each other very much…they sleep together and…no… I’m sure he knows that. John is smart. He is a Lieutenant after all.’ She got home and waited. When dusk fell she was at their spot, where the head went in search of a hat and where love was proclaimed. She waited until the crickets fell silent and the horizon turned orange with the rising sun, then went back to Ifo just as her mother was stirring awake.
“Have you been up all night?
“No,” she lied. “I just went to pee.”
But mothers know. They always know. During the day, she was watched like a hawk. She trying to avoid the older woman’s eyes while the older woman looked at the changes in her body. The curve of her hips and rise in her stomach.
“Whose child is it?”
“What? What child?… Ha-ha, mama you are funny. Ati..”
“I asked you a question”
She looked at her feet and whispered his name. It came out as the hardest breath she ever had to exhale. When she looked up after what seemed like many moons past, her mother was still staring at her, disappointment spread across the frown lines on her forehead and worry draped over her cheeks. She told her everything. From how they met, to the ‘kichwa tu’ conversation, to her saying no to the night of crickets and fireflies that were dimmed by the sunrise.
When they asked for John the lieutenant, there was none. “The guy I came to see here Jana. He is tall, and really dark, and makes me feel like glitter exploded to fill me with warmth” Recognition flooded the soldier’s face when he revealed to them how John the Lieutenant is a Cadet, and that it was a common thing for Soldiers to lie to get in good with the girls. That it was not frowned upon. John denied the kid, and Ms. Knee-length Boot. They left the camp and have never looked back.
“After telling us this story, my mom said ‘And that, kids, is why you should abstain from sex’, I don’t think there has ever been a more confusing moment in my life”
“Does she tell you these kinds of things often?”
“All the time. When she was telling me that stealing is wrong, she and my grandma sat me down and told me about my uncle who got his hand chopped off for stealing sukari nguru. But if she lived in a refugee camp, how does she know of this uncle? She was supposedly the only kid my grandma had. Before I joined high school, she said ‘You know I never went to high school, right? But I have managed to take you…so if you want to end up like me, then you should fail in the school I am breaking my back to take you”
“Why does she do that?”
“She’s worried about us. About who we will become. She wants better for us, so in her mind, she needs us to understand that taking the wrong path in life screws everything up. She gets panic attacks when she thinks about our future, upcoming exams and one time, what we would have for supper.”
“Has your sister ever explained what her anxiety attacks feel like?”
“I’ll ask her.” Ten minutes later he sends me a voice note.
“I don’t know how to put it into words. Colour fades…well…not literally…but something happens to your vision…and oh the ringing in my ears. That’s the worst part.” But you know what is worse than the ringing? The fact that everyone else expects you to wear your demons like a scarlet letter on your chest for you to seem like you are actually suffering. People think that if they cannot see it, then it is not really there. As if the pain does not exist unless you are bleeding or slung in a cast or staggering with a limp. Sometimes, the most painful of demons are the ones only you can see. “I feel helpless, and sad and worthless. For that moment, I am sure that nothing can get better. I convince myself of it. That I am a failure and that is it. I can’t breathe, I shake and sweat. It’s really terrifying”.
Boot’s sister has anxiety. His mother is Bipolar. His doctors say that when she gets into an episode where she does not differentiate reality from her imagination, that they should ride it out with her. That they should never try to correct her with facts. Ride with it. His sister’s birth certificate lists Annex Hospital Nakuru as her birth hospital and their father as Jeremiah (Boot); also the man who takes their mother for her monthly checkup and ensures she takes her medicine and pays their fees because…well… he’s their father.
“It’s crazy. There have been times that both my mom and siz are in an episode simultaneously. Some days are alright. We even go out, have fun and it lasts almost a full day! These are the best days. They remind me of how much I love them and appreciate their strength… especially when another episode kicks in. but I also hate it when the episodes are too far apart. They come back stronger. Like the calm before a storm.”
I know he said he is Boot. I know that. But I know him as Venice, and I don’t care what the world thinks. I think of him as Venice because of the creepy sense of calm that his voice holds. He does not stutter. His tongue rolls over each word perfectly as if he practiced it in a mirror. He is Venice for the tranquility of the water surrounding a city filled with tourists and lovers and architects trying to understand how a city so beautiful can be so chaotic. He is Venice for his calmness during the storm. Oh, and his second name is Karanja. They are not Somali.
We have one more Mental Health story before we get back to Alcoholics Anonymous… so all you with AA stories, how ’bout an email to firstname.lastname@example.org?
Patricia Kiwara is a complete 180 from last week’s mystery girl. And not only because she said I could use her name. She is different in the way she speaks of her past and in how she writes about her issues with self-esteem.
In her account of the events that led her down the path to self-realization, she says “Campus is one of those places where learning and books are not the only things you experience” and I couldn’t agree more. The one thing I took from my university years, [apart from my love of chapo-smokie] was that you can have people who will profess their desperate urge to ride and die for you, and they may believe it, and make you believe it, until it comes down to it and they forget their boots and pistols at home. Patricia wrote of three experiences in a series of two posts [If it were a movie I’d be greatly disappointed with two episodes], of how she got her heart broken without ever being in a relationship.
I have been stalling on writing this story. It’s been ‘just one more album’ on Spotify and ‘after I eat lunch’ and ‘just one more TED talk’ and the time now is 10:34 pm on Wednesday, which means it’s either now or never. I don’t know what’s wrong. I have the whole story on her blog, it’s just a matter of morphing it into MIRAWU format, but I’ve been procrastinating on writing this story since last Thursday. It isn’t writer’s block this time, because I have written the whole story in my head twelve times over. I just lacked the strength to give it life. At about 10:15, I called one person who I thought would understand, but he told me I should quit playing.
“You mean, you have a story already written down for you, and you refuse to write it?”
“I wouldn’t say ‘refuse’…” I tried defending myself, but he could have none of it.
“Ebu write that thing and do it justice. You can’t start playing like that.” Then he reminded me of all the times I called him crying about not having a story to write. “I actually thought it was that. I saw you calling and started rehearsing what to tell you to get you to calm down…but, are you kidding me?” Then he said some words that I would rather not repeat [mainly because I may need him next week].
Here’s the thing. I have known Patricia since 2015. We were in adjacent rooms on campus for the brief time I spent in the campus hostels. We shared classes, went to get food together, and laughed together. She is a creative as well, though her niche lies in radio while I cannot even speak in full sentences to people. She has a smile that lights up a room, iced by the fact that she always smells of coconuts.
In 2016, just fresh into campus, she “got into something with a guy and got damaged.” She gave her all. She was in it to win it. But this was one of those one-sided relationships that are never discussed before they begin, so while one person is investing time and emotion, the other is in it for the ride. And boy was she ridden. Rode? Rided? [Okay, I’m just playing. Let’s try this again] She was taken for a ride. [There. Better]. It went on for a couple of months, totaling to 12. See kids, that’s why you should always define these things. Tell people what you want and spare yourself all the hurt and telling yourself how stupid you had been for not asking.
Patricia asked what she calls “the dreaded question” after a year. But I don’t think asking what you are to someone should be ‘dreadful.’ It should be liberating. Freeing. To know exactly what you mean to someone, no matter the answer, because what they think about you should in no way affect the value you place on yourself. Free yourself from the uncertainties. From sleepless nights of whether they think of you when they cross your mind. Ask, and let it be answered to you. PS. I, too, have not always thought this, but I have also never allowed someone to string me along to some unknown love destination.
The second guy came on her 21st birthday. Well, came is a wrong word since he was always there, lurking in the shadows like Gotham’s dark knight, waiting to strike. What is it with male best friends and professing their feelings at the worst possible time? Do they think life is one big romcom? I’ve tried understanding this, and I think I might go mad [well, maybe further into mental destruction than where I already am]. Her first instinct was that he was lying. I asked her why she thought this.
“I didn’t want it to be true. He is a great guy. Up to now, I speak highly of him. I wasn’t ready for anything at that time and him actually meaning what he said meant I would be to him what the other guy [Guy1] was to me and the last thing I wanted was to see him hurt or unsatisfied.” In the blog, she says she did not feel like she was pretty enough for him. My question is, was rejecting him doing him a favor, or was she just saving her heart from all the hurt of Guy1. No one is pretty enough for anyone else. We are all here to love and be loved, and hearts are strange little things. They pump blood to our fingertips yet still manage to harbor love that is so big it puts shattered pieces back together. there is a reason to why it is “I love you from the bottom of my heart” rather than “I love you because of your face and body and what you look like.”
When Patricia began seeing herself as unworthy for someone else and giving excuses for other people’s feelings toward her, was when her self-esteem issues began. It was not because of Guy1, or her best friend, but because of how she saw herself. The person looking back in the mirror needed excuses for existing. She began being busy for her friends, claiming to be busy, when they had the same workload as her. She became busy for the best friend who professed his love for her but decided to remain friends. She ghosted him. But to quote Liam Neeson narrating for The Huntsman Winters War, ‘The heart is a treacherous thing; and love, love is nothing more than a fairy tale.’ She says she realized she “actually liked him and started texting him again.” [Don’t ask me. Girls are complex people. Scholars have tried and given up]
Then she met the guy who she says looked at her the same way Niklaus Michaelson looked at the blonde chic from Vampire Diaries. “Every time we were together, it felt right.” She describes this relationship as “very mysterious,” because, again, there was no initial definition of what they were getting into. Every rumor has an aspect of truth. A tiny sliver that makes it believable. She says it was rumored that Guy3 was in a relationship, and she is a journalist, so her Detective Pikachu skills took over. She could not find the girl. “Do not discredit my degree on not finding her,” she writes. I already think she was doing too much without starting at the very beginning.
“Okay, this guy, before uanze detective duties, did you consider asking him if he was dating? Instead of relying on rumors,” I text her.
“Actually yes,” she replies almost immediately. “He said they were ‘not committed.’ Very vague (shrugging emoji). But like I said in the blog, I already liked him, so I wanted it to work until I realized it couldn’t.”
I go back to her blog to read the 2-part series again. “I hadn’t set my standards,” she writes on the second part. “I knew that even if I did very little would change; it’s like putting a price on an already sold product. We continued to talk and flirt, but I was looking for the right time to set the record straight. With these things, there’s never a right time, so I just had to let go as soon as I could and then leave before I got burnt. Before I was too attached and things went too far deep, I gave him an ultimatum; to choose me or lose me. I should never be an option for anyone, right? Neither should you.”
She has listed a total of 5 lessons that she learned in this time when her sense of worth was so low that she allowed herself into situations that had her feeling even worse in the end. Her love destination became herself.. Her lovestination is seeing herself as a “high-value woman.” You can read these lessons on https://patkiwara.wordpress.com/2019/05/09/my-campus-love-stories-evolution-of-the-high-value-woman/
“My point is, from my campus love stories, I have learned my worth and value. That no one should play around with my emotions if they haven’t figured out their own. Finally, that I shouldn’t stick around people’s lives if I have no intentions to stay.”
PS. Just love yourself and the mirror will smile back on you.
[Still looking for more mental health stories, so if you have one send me an email on email@example.com]