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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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]
It is only fitting that this story is told today. This specific month and day. It becomes appropriate to talk about this girl today because I have saved her for so long that she began to think I had forgotten about her. She texted me yesterday, “Hey, was my story not important enough?” I think I made her feel less important by keeping her on the shelf. It was not my intention. I was waiting for the right moment. Not for me, I already know her. I have thought of her for weeks. I was waiting for you to be ready. To relate to her in the backdrop that this month represents. So here goes.
When I started this AA thing, I didn’t think it would go far. I thought I’d be done for by the time March rolled by, but here we are, In May, with almost 10 stories done. She was one of the few people who believed in AA from the word go. She reads every story, understands every word, every message. After the first AA post, she emailed me, a stranger, and told me she would love to tell her story if only to give me content, but that she was sorry she did not have any relationship whatsoever with alcohol. We became friends, as close as online friendships between two people in love with telling stories can be. After the second AA post, she asked me how I can form a story out of one’s confession. I told her my brain works and my fingers type. I only sit there and marvel at the masterpiece that emerges. Then she said she drank a lot in university, which, as it so happens, she finished in December, like me.
“You don’t drink anymore?” I asked.
“I do, but only wine. No whiskey, no vodka.”
“That’s specific. Can’t stand the taste?”
She sent laughing emojis. “No, that’s not it. I got to a point where I was numb to the bitterness of it. I’d see people cringe their faces and could not even understand what that feeling was. I think my taste buds died with my soul.” She was at a dark place in university, she said. Her heart was so broken in 2017 that she didn’t think it was possible to come out of it. “You know guys. You love them, and they destroy you.” Damn, I think, someone did a number on her. She refused to tell me what happened. Said it’s not part of the story.
May is Mental Health Month. Anyone who knows me well enough knows how much I advocate for this one topic, particularly depression and anxiety. You probably know how important peace of mind is to me. And I lied. This story is not for you. No. It’s for me. The last couple of weeks have had me reevaluate my life more than a billion times. I have been sad. Really sad. I almost went back to a place I had sworn I would never get to again. A place I had vowed never to sink to. But I was almost back there. I was sad all the time and worried about everything. So in as much as I have kept my promise to remain happy, I think I knew in the back of my mind that I would slip, and let other people’s words get to my head. But this time, I realized it early enough, and I remembered I had this tucked away. What better time to talk about mental health than now?
When she described what she went through, I saw myself in her. It was like I was listening to a recording of myself. She made voice notes, and it was like a dream. A flashback.
“I don’t know how to describe what I was going through”, she began explaining, “I was depressed. At least that’s what my psychiatrist said. But I didn’t know that at the time. I found myself crying in public most times, so I stopped going to school. People said I was pregnant, and you can never really understand the magnitude of a rumor until you get one about yourself. So I had to force myself back to school. I was a zombie. Color faded from my vision and everything became grey.”
“Like a romantic French movie from the 1940s where the woman is on a bridge with a cigarette between her fingers and a dress that seems to accentuate her figure even though it’s baggy and flare? Or a sad American one where the man forgets how important he is and a guardian angel has to be sent to him to show him what the lives of those around him would be like without him in it?” [I did not ask her that]
“I could not concentrate in class,” she continues “I am a pretty bright student. I scored As and Bs. But my 2017 transcripts are embarrassing. You know what happens when you tell someone that you are sad?” I don’t. “They say being happy is a choice. Like what to eat and which song to listen to. They tell you to ‘be happy’. Then they sing that song. I hate that song. It haunts me. It made me ask why I couldn’t just stop being sad. Why I couldn’t leave everything behind and let go. That song makes it seem so easy.”
“You don’t like Bob Marley?”
I like Button Poetry. I can listen to them for hours. As she spoke, I heard Sabrina Benaim whispering the words to ‘Explaining my Depression to My Mother’ [I think you should listen to it]. Sabrina likens depression to a fly in the hand of a bear one day and the next as the bear itself. It is more than just feeling down in the dumps. It is a struggle in the brain that drowns you until the breath in your lungs exhausts and the space left is filled with sadness. This is how she felt. Submerged in her sadness, like a submarine, with no oxygen in her tanks. She was broken, with no one to hold on to, and sad. A kind of sadness that even fish could not understand. That even dolphins could not save her from. So she started drinking. It numbed all feeling and, in her stupor state, she was almost happy. Alcohol became the choice she made.
She would go to class with a bottle of Dasani, only her water was bitter and had the distinct smell of Vodka. She killed the rumour of her being pregnant. But in its stead, came one that she had gotten rid of the pregnancy and was now using alcohol to fill the void. What made it worse was the guy who had “destroyed” her orchestrated this rumour. “He said things about me that no one should say of the devil. So I morphed into a state of constant hatred. I hated my nails, my face, my friends. There was always this thing in my chest that weighed me down day and night. I hated it. I hated myself for feeling it, and I hated waking up.”
Her friends held an intervention for her. I swear people should stop watching too many movies. They said she was going down a dark path and they cared for her. They wanted the best for her.
“That was nice,” I say.
“Until someone said ati ‘what I had lost should not define me. Ati they understand if I didn’t want to keep it and they still love me. Can you imagine the nerve! That a guy can come from nowhere and with no context accuse you of something that they were not even sure of.” See up to this point, she had not heard the exact rumor. Only bits and pieces that she made sense of in her head. When she heard she had lost it, she assumed it was the guy. When she heard she was using alcohol to fill the void, she understood the void he left in her life.
She had been binge-watching series all month, since she had no energy to be around people. She spent her time getting drunk and bingeing on series. It happened that on this specific day, while she was at her lowest, she watched ’13 Reasons Why’ [If you were not in the rage then, 13 Reasons Why is a series about a teenage girl who goes through so many things that destroy her will to live so much that she commits suicide]. She said that that could never be her. She could never let her mother suffer such a tragedy. So she called home and said she needed to see a psychiatrist. The date was 13th September, [I don’t know if it was a Friday]. And her road cleared up.
“Sometimes I still sink. It doesn’t really go away, you know. There are times that a series of events happen that make me feel unworthy, but I remind myself of how far I have come. That I am worthy. That I have forgiven myself for loving the wrong person, and for hurting myself for other people’s actions. I am still learning to let go, but I am more than halfway there, and that is all that matters”.
Kitambo, we used to be told that you should not stress yourself over small small things because you would get ulcers. Or H. Pylori [which I have, Ha-ha]. But our parent’s ulcers is our depression, and the effects are worse, because H. Pylori is cured by a kit of a week’s worth of medicine, while depression is a lifelong disease that is suppressed by blue happy pills that you have to take so you don’t sink back into the darkness.
Happy Mental Health Month.
[And if you have a Mental Health story kindly email me on email@example.com It doesn’t have to be AA related. I’m thinking of honouring the month then we’ll get back to AA in June]
It didn’t make any sense to him that Monday morning. He woke up to shouting from his parents’ bedroom. His mother’s voice was louder than he had ever heard it. It sounded like she was screaming herself sore. And so he did what any teenage boy would do if he heard his mother shout. He got out of bed, went to his parents’ door and knocked once. The voice went silent. “What!” “Uh, mom? Umm… Are you okay?” The door opened. His mother was in her bathrobe, her hair a mess and his father was seated on the bed. “Why aren’t you in school Mike*?” They had been on holiday for two weeks. He remembers his father bent over and supporting his head by the bridge of his eyes. He remembers his father’s exasperated voice telling her to ‘leave the boy alone and go take a shower’. Then, he remembers the door slamming in his face. He went back to his room, got in bed and went to sleep. It was a dream. None of what he had seen that Monday morning was real. When he woke up he smelled pancakes. Everything was back to normal. His father was reading the newspaper at the dining table, with his coffee on the table. He took his seat and waited for his pancakes. They had breakfast as a family. Like a normal family. Then his parents left for work and he watched cartoons.
That week, the air felt like there had been no raised voices in the wee hours. It was like everyone forgot that a door had slammed in his face. But it ate at him. He saw the door when he watched Samurai Jack and on his plate during supper. He heard it in his dreams, with his mother’s voice echoing in the background. “Why aren’t you in school Mike?” When he couldn’t take it anymore, he called his brother.
“Mom forgets things,” he had said.
“What do you mean, Mike?”
“She forgets things. She didn’t know I have been home for two weeks. And last week she put salt in tea.”
“Ha-ha… Come on dude. Maybe she’s just tired. I’m sure you don’t even help out at home anymore.”
“But nothing man. She’s mom. She’s okay. Don’t worry about it. And help her bring in groceries at least. Okay?”
He hung up. His brother didn’t know anything. It made him feel lost. So he did what any kid born in this day and age would do. He asked Uncle Google. He typed in ‘is being forgetful normal’ and says he got some hope. This has to be the first person in the world to have asked anything on Google and not found out he, together with his entire extended family, was already dead. So I take my phone out and type in the same thing. A girl needs hope in this tough and unruly world. ‘Many people worry about becoming forgetful as they age” comes my sliver of googled hope ‘They think it is the first sign of Alzheimer’s disease. But some forgetfulness can be a normal part of aging’. That is all the hope he needed. To be told that salty tea is part of aging, and he took it. He accepted his mother was getting old and went back to school when they opened and forgot all about his mother’s forgetfulness.
A few weeks later there was commotion in school. Mike’s class was having Social Studies, which he hated, meaning any excuse of a break was welcome. He would purposely not pee during break time only so he could ask to go outside during the class. But on this particular day, he remembers having been extremely pressed and was forced to pee when they were out. It was odd. Like hitting your toe on a table that was never in your living room [Okay, I don’t get that either].
The disturbance, it turned out, was his mother. He remembers looking out the window and his eyes immediately meeting with hers. The familiarity in them uncanny. He knew, before his eyes travelled down her bathrobe and sandals, that she was not herself. “It was weird. The way the look in her eyes transported me back to that Monday morning. I heard her voice. ‘Why aren’t you in school, Mike?’ I saw her at home, adding salt to my tea. It was the first time my heart broke.”
12 year olds do not understand empathy. All they know to do is laugh and make fun of their friends. They don’t know that a person’s mother cannot just come to school in pyjamas out of their own accord. Their immature brains cannot process the possibility of being held at gunpoint to wear the most ridiculous costume to your son’s school, let alone what Alzheimer’s disease is. //Mickey, si that’s your mom? // Kwani her problem is what? // You guys just wear like that when going out? // Ha-ha, hey guys, look at Mickey’s mom. Kwani you don’t own combs in your home? // Haiya Mickey! That’s really your mom? Na vile she is usually smart. Kwani what happened? //
Mike ran to her, this time his social studies excuse too dire to comprehend. She came to her senses as his hand touched hers and he witnessed first-hand what the realization of what had happened did to her mother. “Mom,” he said to her “It’s okay. Breathe. Just breathe. You’ll be fine. I promise. I’ll call Daddy and he’ll take you home. But I’ll take care of you till he comes.” He held her hand through explaining to his teacher that he needed to call his father. Held her hand through the waiting. Through his classmates peeping at them from the windows. Through the 12-year-old theories of what was wrong with his family. He held her hand even when there was enough sweat between their palms to fill the Red Sea. When his father arrived, they both got in the car and drove off. He never went back to the school.
“I can only imagine the kinds of stories those kids had to give. How many of them called my mom crazy, or said that I was mad myself?”
“They were just kids. Kids say things that they don’t mean”
“But kids also say the truth, right? I had been told that so many times and I started believing it.”
“You thought she was crazy?”
“For a time, yes. But I was young. And hurt. I had lost all my friends because of one thing. One mistake that my mom could not control herself making. My heart was broken. I was broken.”
His brother came home from campus. He convinced their father to seek medical assistance for their mother, who was later diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease [Yeah, I know. I expected something different too. Point for Google]. She was admitted at Mathari Hospital for five months and released, provided she took her medication. As Alzheimer’s progresses, brain cells die and connections among them are lost, causing cognitive symptoms to worsen. While current medications cannot stop the damage Alzheimer’s causes to brain cells, they may help lessen or stabilize symptoms for a limited time by affecting certain chemicals involved in carrying messages among the brain’s nerve cells. Mike’s mother had a combination of cholinesterase inhibitors, Donepezil (Aricept) and Rivastigmine (Exelon), which are prescribed to treat symptoms related to memory, thinking, language, judgment and other thought processes.
“My father became my hero in that time. I mean, he was okay, for a dad. He always took us out, helped us with homework and did dad stuff like a respectable…well…dad. But in the five months that mom was admitted and in the years that followed, he was spectacular.” I don’t think your dad is your hero if you can’t describe him as spectacular. He is otherwise just a dad who does homework among other dad stuff. “He became everything to us. He would go see my mom every day. We weren’t allowed in to see her, so he bought a polaroid camera and would come home every evening with a photo of her, so we would now she was okay. He made sure we were fed and went to school. We never lacked anything. My mom had everything she would have needed, and, in all this time, he never drank a single drop of alcohol.”
“How do you know?”
“I just do. He remained himself. He never self-medicated. He showed us a kind of strength that we needed to have in that time of our lives. I don’t know what we would have done otherwise. He was spectacular. He proved to us, my bro and I, that family is everything. That a man takes care of his own, builds what he has, so that when he stumbles, he has something to hold on to.”
[Remember to subscribe to Mirawu for more compelling AA stories…among other totally random things that you would never know of unless you were notified that they were posted]
Larry had hated his birthday by the time he was thirteen. He doesn’t care for it. He never gets that rush that hits on the morning of. His steps lack rhythm. It’s like any other day, he says. But it’s not, right? Who wakes up on their birthday and says it’s just a day. I mean, you can tell it to people, especially if you are like me and don’t like people to fuss over you… but there will always be something that makes you feel special about it. That ka-happiness that fills your soul when you open your eyes in the morning. The spring in your step. The rush in your bones. Instead, Larry feels sad on his birthdays.
If he were a woman and was turning 37 without anything to call his own at the time, I would understand. Society has put so much pressure on us to achieve specific things at a certain age, but guys have it easy. They get to cruise through life doing what they want and as they please without eyes judging them from the corners. And Larry is a dude [Duh]. A dude of 24. He is at the peak of his youth. His birthday should be a valid excuse to get shitfaced and sleep in the gutters. He says he wakes up sick.
The year is 2005. The boy wakes up on the morning of his 11th birthday to find nothing. Usually, there would be the sweet smell of his mother’s pancakes. He is immediately alarmed. He calls out to his mother, who on this day wakes him up with a kiss [I presume there is no greater joy to an 11-year-old boy than a forehead kiss and the smell of pancakes in the morning]. There is no answer. He gets out of bed, without the kiss. The atrocity! He walks with no shoes, thinking that maybe it is a surprise party. He had hinted earlier in the year that he would have loved to have one of those. Could this be it? He tiptoes. He wants to surprise the surprisers. To become the master of his ceremony [He-he]. There is no one. He straightens his back in the kitchen. No one.
He remembers being shocked, and then thinking that maybe that is what his parents wanted. His surprise could not be easy after all. They had to make him believe that there was no party to bombshell him.
The boy takes a shower and dresses in the clothes that were bought specifically for this day.
“What were they?” I can’t tell you why I ask this.
“Oh,” he thinks. “A pair of really nice jeans.” His face lights up “G-Unit. That’s it! It was a pair of blue jeans and a matching jacket. I don’t know if you know them, but they were the shit at the time.”
Oh, I know them alright. I still wear my G-Unit jacket today.
The boy leaves his room for the common room, (read sitting room), and finds nothing. Not even a single blue balloon to tell him that at least someone thinks of him. The thought that they forgot his birthday plays at him, but he dismisses it as soon as it floats in. They had been fussing about this day all month. /What do you want for your birthday? //A bicycle//But you already have a bicycle Larry//Yeah, but that bike is for kids. I want a mountain bike//Aah/ Laughter. /So you want a big man’s bicycle now, huh big man? // Smiles. The kinds of smiles that make your cheeks hurt. Smiles that make it impossible to hide your molars. Happy smiles.
The boy hears the gate open and rushes to the door. His father walks in, disheveled, “Like a person who had not slept for a week and only survived on coffee.” This guy watches too many movies. He remembers thinking his father had been up all night making arrangements for his big day. He stands infront of his pops to show him how well the clothes fit. His father looks right through him.
“Did you feel like Taylor Swift in Delicate?”
“What?” he seems puzzled.
His mother had left. On his birthday. She had packed her things and taken off with a man who his father described only as “that bullshitter from the office”. His world turned upside down. The father, who walked in the door with a smile on his face and arms outstretched for a lift to his shoulders, became a shadow of his former self. He stopped drinking only on special occasions and started “living every day to the fullest”. His clothes started getting tears in weird places. He would leave in the morning with a perfectly good shirt and come with it missing a pocket. His trousers started getting looser. Larry was sent to add holes to belts every other month. But he remained strong. He never broke.
On the 24th of May, the next year, he there was a knock on the front door at about 10:30 pm. I like it when a story has a twist like this. A knock at that time of the night can never be a neighbor asking for salt. It is always something else. Something trivial. Something that can only be understood by opening that door and facing the other side of it. He got up from his bed to get it and met with his father on the corridor. “Are you expecting someone?” his father asked him and he only looked at the older man with puzzled eyes. The knock persisted. His father opened the door to find his mother standing there, having lost a couple of pounds herself [I’ve always wanted to say pounds instead of Kgs. Hello milestone] Anyway, his mother walks in, hugs him and says “Happy birthday baby”. Then he remembered it was his birthday. He was asked to go to his room. See what money does? He was asked. In my house, unapewa macho and that’s it [For the sake of my non-existent diaspora peeps, this is loosely translated to ‘you are given eyes’]
The boy heard raised voices then they were hushed. Whispers that did not really whisper because they were of angry and hurt people who still had to remember there was a boy sleeping in the next room. He heard them, in parts, but the parts he heard made sense enough for him to understand. /what are you doing here? //He is my son//why are you here? //it’s his birthday. I had to see him//Okay, you have seen him. Go to your bullshitter//Darling please//DON’T TOUCH me//I have nowhere to go//We were happy, you know. We were getting back on our feet//What did you do for him today? //What do you care? LEAVE//I have nowhere to go/. Silence. Sobbing. /What are you crying for? YOU left. YOU took your things and left us//I know. I’m sorry/. Silence. /Get up. I’ll drive you to a hotel. We’ll talk tomorrow//I love you. I still do/. The door unlocked and closed after the voices. He heard the car engine start.
He hears this last conversation over and over in his head. That is why Larry started drinking. To drown the voices in the bliss of a stupor. When he drinks, all he hears is the car starting, and that is better than the hushed voices of his parents. Alcohol helped him to remain blind to the policeman who came to his door in the morning. He couldn’t see the strange man’s pitying eyes as they told him how much he had lost in that one night. He lived the next couple of days in a daze. He saw aunts and uncles talk without hearing what they said. He floated through the next few years, going to school and doing the bare minimum so he could be expelled… but he finished school and managed to secure a spot in the University of Nairobi.
One day, in his fourth year of campus, he saw a girl. She cleared up in his otherwise blurred vision as if he was meant to see her. “There is a difference between being happy and being distracted by happiness. She made me happy. She showed me that it was okay to laugh again. That my parent’s death did not define who I was.”
“Do you still hear them?
“Every day. I don’t think it is something that can just leave my head. But it used to feel like nightmares in the daytime. Now, it’s a memory. And I like that it is, because at least they were together in the end. I only wish I heard him say he loved her back.”
“Maybe he said it in the car.”
“Yeah. I formed versions of the conversation they may have had in the car. I want them to have made up. To hold hands. I hope they smiled at each other before the end and looked at each other in the eyes like the first time they met. I hope they were happy.”
“Are you going to tell me about your girl?”
“Maybe, but not today. I need to love her more. To hold her hand and look her in the eyes before I tell anyone of how she dug me out of the hole I never knew I could ever survive and how much I miss her face right now. Maybe it’s the way she says my name.”
There’s a difference between ‘I miss you’ and ‘I miss your face.’
[Have a lovely Easter holiday, My Lovelies]
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Girls are dangerous beings. They can lie through their teeth and smile at you like you are sunshine on a cloudy day. They can think thoughts so vile that they ferment fresh milk. They move mountains as mothers and break hearts while younger. Girls can be mean. They can destroy a soul so badly its restoration will be in vain. Don’t get me wrong. There are good girls out there. Girls who are roses with fewer thorns. Girls whose sole purpose is not the destruction of humankind. But these girls are a handful compared to the grains of sand with malicious cores. I’ll let you decide what kind of girl Ivy is.
She has a total of 2,354 contacts on her phone. She says she is in touch with each and every one of them. I must be living wrong because even with my 74, I can never seem to remember who some of those people are. Hers is an iPhone of course. She claims she doesn’t know how to use an android. This is a lie. Not because I know her or anything. I’m not one to judge. But for a ’96 kid, at some point in her life, she must have owned a Nokia C10 or an Ideos, to say the least.
Ivy is tall. She has the kinds of legs that people say are for days. She tells everyone she does not eat apples. I think it is because there is already one on her phone. Or maybe she just likes doctors. People enjoy being around her. They like her. She says she attracts crowds. You know… like the moth and the flame. She burns and burns bright. She was the one texting me with the story yet she had me blue-ticked a total of about seventeen times. At least now I know what guys complain so much about. Those blue ticks hold such anxiety, especially when they come under a “what happened next”.
She moves on quick. Says there are no second chances with her. Once is all you get and then you are done. But she does not warn you about this when you face your first chance. She doesn’t tell you that you will have no opportunity to redeem yourself. She lets you believe that you have a lifetime with her until you screw up and ask her something she doesn’t take kindly to. Something like what makes her add sleeping pills to a man’s drink in a club. Something like what her thought process is when she fakes pregnancies to get money from men old enough to be her father.
“Age is just a number,” [so is 1959. But the latter is also a year when Kenya had not yet achieved independence, and the year the man she most recently asked for money was born]
“How many times a week do you tell yourself that?”
It’s frustrating. Talking to Ivy. Usually I just text the first thing that comes to mind, but I don’t know what to text her. I don’t know when to put in a joke or when to feign seriousness. She seems so full of herself that she believes she is a superior being. A god among gods. She behaves as if she is a painting on the wall that can only be brushed ever so delicately by the feathers of a rare pelican. She is Athena. Precious. Priceless. And I hate her. I hate the way she types without vowels. I see her in nursery school disregarding her vowel lessons to take selfies with her paper phone. She is supercilious and snobbish and imperious. She didn’t sit with other kids in school because even at a younger age she was just as condescending.
“Tell me about your friends” I text, for obvious reasons.
Her friends, she says, worship her. They love her. It’s a requirement to be in her circle, that you love her. You have to do as she pleases. Ivy never asks you to jump over a cliff and you ask if there is water of cold hard ground at the end. You take the step because she asked. You never dispute her because, as she says, you chose to be her friend. She never chose you. So you go with her roll. You cough after she does. You cry if she does. You even pee after she has gone to the bathroom first. You are her friend. She isn’t yours.
I was at a dark place filled with hate when she mentioned her “light”. A little girl, Carina. This name reminds me of a soap opera villain with long blonde hair and green eyes that could turn the scales on a snake’s skin. A photo pops up on my phone of a little girl in blonde braids who looks more of the protagonist than the strange talkative little girl that follows the protagonist around in almost every telenovela ever written. She has these big brown eyes that make you fall in love with her instantly.
“Stepdaughter?” I ask, picturing the little girl up a chimney cleaning cinders till 3.36am.
“thts ma bby gal”
I open the picture again. Really? This is a weird combination. Like salt coming from water. Like pineapple on pizza. They look so strange together, but when you give them a chance, you find yourself with the perfect duo. This is Fanta orange and bread right here. “Where’s the father?”
I’m getting tired at all the waiting around because I was already writing this piece in my head. It began with the evil stepmother without a stepdaughter to put to misery and now, there she was, at the end of the opera with the perfect smile and the perfect little girl, standing by a pew singing praises at the top of her lungs. She had me in a twist. She gives these little anecdotes one after the other that are total opposites. One time she tells of an injection that gives false positives on a pregnancy test “in case the dde wnts 2 b thea wen u test” [dde is equal to dude. Who types incase in full then says “dde”?]. Some guys are easier, she explains. They prefer you send them the results on WhatsApp. With these ones, you can send an old picture taken during Carina’s time and all’s well that ends well. Then she will tell you about Carina’s second birthday when she had no money to get a store bought cake so she used pancake mix to fashion one and it actually worked out. She knows how to twist you and turn you until you end up around her little finger, then she keeps you there for when she will need you.
She apologizes for keeping me in blue ticks. It was long overdue anyway. But it is the way she delivers the apology that gets me. She says it like something she has said her whole life. Like it is her and she it. The apology comes as the most natural thing that you may miss it, even though it is there staring you in the face like that one big fly in a latrine. You know the one. “sry 4 kipin u waitn”. Kipin?
“Why Carina? Why not Tracy or Rita or Shirleen?”
She says because Carina was strong. You remember Carina of Storm Over Paradise? Yes, her. She says that Carina had character. She fought for love. “Didn’t the ones on the poster fight for love?” [Please remind me what the names of these protagonists were. I have racked my brain long enough to no avail]. She says they may have, but she didn’t really notice. She saw Carina burn cars and plot murders for the love of her life. “You want your daughter to plot murders?” I ask. She says Carina can do whatever she sets her mind to. That if she will want to raise hellfire then she will not stand in her way. She doesn’t let men do the things they do to her because she likes it. She lets them because it is the one way she can keep a roof over her Carina. Her Carina needs pancakes at breakfast and Kiwi for her school shoes. She will do whatever it takes. Whoever it takes.
She says she has no friends. That the people who follow her around do so for the things she has to offer, be it the men who buy her these things or the exclusive passes into Nairobi’s grand nightclubs. She says that she cannot call any one of them to ask for help when Carina is sick because those girls can talk of her to the grave. “They aren’t reliable” [I want to applaud her for remembering her vowels but I’m not sure if she is one to take kindly to cheesy banter] “They wld abandon mih in a hrtbit. Cnt trst em” Girls are sad. They wear so many masks that you cannot tell which is which. They lie so much that they start to believe the lie. “goin hme nw”
The time by my clock is 3.49am.
[PS. If you have an alcohol-related story that you feel needs telling, I am more than willing to help. Send me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org… And I know, I know. March was terrible. Happy April my lovelies]
Luke’s life changed before he could even understand the meaning behind the word itself. There was no exam. No preparation for what lay ahead. Just a sudden, violent swing that pushed him into a life he had never expected to lead. But that’s the thing about life right? You just never know what happens next.
He remembers being at his grandmother’s place. Luke is one of those kids whose grandparents are a 30bob fare away. Some people have it easy. If I want to see my grandparents, I have to climb up hills, go through a forest of fire, swim through a sea of ice and brave a storm. And that’s only if it doesn’t rain on that Got Agulu hill because that becomes a different story. He was dropped at his grandma’s by a woman whose name he doesn’t remember, but seeing that we are not using his name here, I don’t think this woman’s name has any significance. On him was a backpack with two pairs of trousers, three shirts and a game of monopoly. He does not know how to play monopoly.
Now all grandmothers, no matter how evil a mother-in-law, love their grandkids. His adored him. He was the light to her dimming eyes. Her face lit up any time she laid eyes on him. But she was old and weak. There was no way she was going to take care of an eight-year-old kid by herself. She considered boarding school but he was her grandbaby. He needed to be home, not holed up in some dormitory with random boys just because she could do nothing about it. Then grandma had an idea. It was a risk but it was all she had.
The next day, after breakfast, Luke was given a piece of paper that had instructions on how to get to his uncle’s place and sent on his way. It took him about an hour to get there. He stood by the door for another hour, gathering the courage to knock. The door swung open about two hours after he got there to a man he had never seen before. This man, in pyjamas, at 12:30 pm on a Tuesday, sported an unshaven face and dried up drool running a thick white line from the corner of his mouth to his cheekbone [you felt if your cheek has a bone too right?].
The man looked at him, and him at the man. Droolface asked what he was doing there. Was the little boy lost? He didn’t have any money to give to strays, he said. His uncle spoke to him as if he were a cat that had meowed him from his dreams.
“I am not a stray. My grandmother sent me”
“Well, go back and tell her I don’t know any old people, much less their grandies.”
He explained that his grandmother was Rose, from Roysambu. That she had sent him to live with him for a while, before his parents came back. He said his mother’s name. That seemed to have done the trick. He watched as sleep was cast out from the man’s eyes. They were his mother’s eyes. That was what assured him that he was in the right place.
Saying that the inside of that apartment was a mess will be an understatement. Luke uses the word ‘disarray’. Nobody uses a different word for ‘mess’ to describe a few clothes scattered while looking for an outfit. It is the only out of order word he uses so I know he must have looked it up. He says he did. There was a sufuria with mold at the door. He wondered how his uncle had not stepped in it on his scuffle to the door. Worn clothes hung from the ceiling and in the kitchen sink. There were clean clothes under the bed and he found a spoon in a couch cushion. He didn’t ask, because it was not his house. People don’t take it kindly when you visit them and start by asking what cutlery was doing in the seats. In his head, he was only here for a few days until his parents came to get him. Nobody came.
A month later, schools were opening. His grandma came knocking. She had his uniform and all needed effects to get a class 3 kid to school. She did not come in. She never did. Not for the 4 years he lived with his uncle. Any time he brought up his parents, his uncle, always drunk, would ask him to shut up. He would say he did not know. That parents abandon their children all the time. He was not special compared to these children. He should be thankful to have a roof above his head.
Before sitting for his K.C.P.E. exams, Luke’s teachers asked the class to fill in their details and those of their parents on a form. He asked if he could bring the form home to be filled, because he did not have some of the details. Details like his father’s name. His uncle, in his constant drunken state, always referred to his parents as “my sister and that prick that took her away”. The form did not have enough space for that. At home, he pulled out the form, woke up his uncle from another of his smashed sleep and asked for his father’s real name. The uncle got up and staggered to the wardrobe. He rummaged through the pockets of the one jacket he owned and came back to the couch. He threw folded pieces of paper on the table.
“There. You are old enough to understand this English. I have no answers to any and all questions you may have,” and with that, he slumped back to sleep. Luke picked it up and unfolded it. The first page held the face of a woman with his uncle’s eyes. The second page was the proceedings; from taking the body from the mortuary to the time the body would be lowered to the ground. There was no vigil.
His eyes rested on the eulogy page just as his uncle began snoring. It hit him. The gravity of what he held in his hands became so dense he felt his fingers give way as the pages fell to the floor. His eyes stung. For a minute, he forgot how to breathe. He wanted to run away but there was nowhere to go. He had exams in four days, plates in the sink and his mother’s eulogy on page three.
“She was beautiful, my mother. She had the same eyes as my uncle, but hers held a kindness I have never seen in this world. Hers were not bloodshot like his. Her eyeballs were the white of fresh milk. And you know what the cause of death was?” he lets out a bitter laugh. His laugh has known no mother’s touch. He pulls out his phone and shows me a photo of page three.
‘Cause of Death: Drunk Driving’