She starts off with a ballad. Professing her deepest desires. The ballad is of other people. People living their lives, creating mental pictures and passing messages. She sings this song for a little over a minute, until you realize the whole thing is one huge ballad. “Back then I thought that all you needed to do was have a good voice, turn on the microphone and use that particular platform” But after high school, she realized she needed a little bit more education to compliment her good voice.
For her, the roadmap was through poaching. That’s how she thought it would work. There are a lot of realizations she comes to in her life, and she quickly realized the poaching thing only worked for animals that were already seasoned. No young ewe was getting poached. The meat was too tender. Too inexperienced. She needed to follow her journey, according to her, her destiny.
The first time Stella, shortened to STL Yamumo [because what do you need vowels for anyway?] got to interact with radio, it was with a vernacular radio station. It was an internship she did while on campus. “This was the first time where I was supposed to be very fluent in my mother tongue and unfortunately, I wasn’t.” It was, however, a starting point for her. The young ewe was released into the jungle, and the poachers were readying their blades and oiling their spears [who knows what poachers do, anyway]
“I got to learn a lot. The team was very amazing.” She was taught, encouraged and laid the founding blocks of her destiny. “After campus, you think it’s going to be easy to get a job [spoiler alert: it isn’t]. I was listening to the radio [a station that she insists closed, just so you guys don’t go applying to them now to test your destinies] and the presenter, who is now an established actor, said ‘You know, if you’re out there, you’re passionate about radio, you wanna co-host with me, come through and co-host’.
STL Yamumo went through with the message and got a DM back. If she was in Nairobi, would she come to the station at this time?
It was traffic that did her in that first gig. Nairobi traffic can be a pain, you’d think with all the running we’re known for, we would have figured out cars are not really a great thing to have around in large numbers, but a girl can only hope. She was a few minutes late, but it went pretty great. “That was one of the best times I had on air! It confirmed to me that I was on the right path.”
Fast forward to getting her first radio job. There were 2 rounds of auditions, the result of which you can only speculate as she was hosting a mid-morning show on Youth Empowerment. “I remember my first day on air (she chuckles) like it was yesterday. I had done a lot of demos and shows, but my first time doing a three-hour show ALONE, with the producer over there, giving me prompts, queuing me in, telling me to back up from the microphone, introduce a song, have a conversation, all that. By the time I was done with the three hours…whoa [I always picture rono.h doing the whoa when I hear whoa. Am I alone? I may never know] Niliskia ni kama nimetoka mjengo. I was tired, mentally, physically, [All the allys].
Her laugh is vibrant. She has one of those laughs that has you turning to see who it is. A laugh filled with bubbles and flowers and puppies. It vibrates in your ears from her throat. You feel it in your chest, as if you made the sound. A laugh that ripples through people. It is a laugh that I would not mind hearing on the radio while driving down a dirt road. A laugh full of color.
“And I can tell you for sure that many people don’t look at being a presenter like it’s a tiresome job. Whether you’re on radio or TV, people don’t look at it like it is. They think you just walk in, you talk, you play music, you talk, and before you know it, you’re done.”
It’s a lot because you have to give the listener new information. On the radio, as she tells me, you speak to one person. [Light bulb; that’s why it’s mpenzi mtazamaji, na sio ile ya kukata maji. Singular]. “Every time you feed the music then turn the mic on, or the cameras come on, what new information are you giving this person? Sure, I was tired but I chose this path, so I knew I had to keep walking, like Johnny Walker [Ah, that laugh again. But also, and I realize I’m putting a lot of my thoughts into this telling, the whiskey joke is totally hers. I promise, I didn’t hold a gun to her head and ask her to say it. I will say, however, that I was very glad to hear it]
“You keep learning as you move, sometimes you forget to turn on the mic, you’re talking and then the producer is like, ‘your mic is off’, other times you’re flowing and forget to turn off the mic and then the producer is like [say it with me, kids] ‘Yo, the mic is on!’ Then systems in the studio will simply fail you, songs will not play, so you have to learn along the way and keep getting better as time goes on” But definitely after the producer has said ‘Yo, the systems are failing you’ or something of the sort.
Talanta Mtaani is a show that celebrates talent; something that STL Yamumo wishes existed when she was growing up. “I am one person who is crazy about talent. Every Tuesday, on my radio show, I get to hostTalent Tuesday.” She calls herself “an artistic person. She emcees, does radio, TV and podcast shows. “I always feel like if I started earlier, I wouldn’t have struggled so much with my shyness.”
She and her friend started by working on radio and ended up on Talanta Mtaani together. “It was at a time in our lives where money wasn’t coming through from the radio [no one told them to send 90 bob to a number], so we wanted to do more.” So they brainstormed TV ideas.
The year was 2016, the month April and their minds were working overtime. They took their first idea to a particular TV station and spoke to the head of production. Producer loved it. Producer asked them to shoot and edit and bring the whole thing to life, then sell him the content. They were dumbfounded. “The only thing we had were the skills and the idea,” she says. Producer told them not to worry. Who was he after all? He could sort them out.
They did a script and planned for the shoot day. “It was this amazing, grand idea. Trust me, when I say it was big, it was big.” I trust her. At the end of the day, exhausted beyond exhaustion, beyond taking so many takes since, as she says, it takes a lot, they had the footage. They handed it over to the editor.
In broadcast, when you slot a program for 30 minutes, it means the show should be about 24 minutes. You have to consider the ads, you know, where most of the money comes from. By the time the editor finished his shenanigans, STL Yamumo and her friend’s show was 12 minutes long. She laughs again.
They go back to shooting. “For continuity purposes, you have to try to wear the same clothes, have the same hairstyle [another laugh]” The footage gets back to the editor. It was July. and they were done with the pilot episode. The TV station shut down.
With their dreams down the drain, they never even got to see their own pilot episode. They went back to the drawing board. Well, as much drawing as people behind microphones and cameras do. Good thing was, this time, they had a backlog of ideas from the previous brainstorm sessions in April. They pitched their ideas to different TV stations.
They met someone who couldn’t understand an idea they pitched. “I tell him, he doesn’t remember much of that story, but what he remembers is that he saw I was talented. He called me a week or two after pitching and said he had an idea. He was asking her to host it. He told her about this talent show that he wanted to start, and she was like, “Talent is my thing so here I come!”
And that is how she became the host of Talanta Mtaani Show.
Preachers’ kids always come with an elaborate backstory. You will not find one without a story. They live double lives, become gangsters, altar boys and economists. Not that there is a line that shows where the robe gives way to the face mask. You have to figure them out yourselves. They can be slippery. They have mastered the art of living in tales. Average is not a word that has been associated with any I have met, and I would definitely like to be proven wrong. PKs are a special breed. Their parents preach the gospel while they serenade the streets.
His father stood on the podium every Sunday, and he in the streets the rest of the week. Both preached the gospel, saving as many souls as they could. The son emulating the man. People understood his need to stand on the pile of sand at the side of his mother’s shop as he echoed his father’s words. His mother’s shop was next to a hotel and a construction site. The perfect concoction to generate the ideal audience for a young performer. Vince was 4 years old and commanding the attention of crowds. Tell me this is not a true child of the church.
His body moved before he realized his voice could move the hearts of girls all over the nation. His first love was dance. Saturdays were for Club Kiboko and working on choreography. “I was 9 or 10 and had to go to choir practice. I would make choreographies for the church. The congregation each Sunday was of about 250 people. They would give a decent round of applause and it made me feel like I was doing something worthwhile.”
He went to boarding school in Class Five [show me someone who didn’t]. That was when he realized he had some serious pipes too. “It was only right that I started out writing gospel songs. I was from a religious family [and he was just being practical. If he started with secular, his father may have rebuked the devil that was in him]. He was a 10-year-old lyricist, penning choruses and “little raps”. He was the go-to entertainer at school. The guy who sang for guests and read poems to his peers at assembly.
It did not come as a Eureka moment for Vince. It was in him. He woke up on Saturdays pumped for practice. No one had to drill the excitement into him. It came pouring out. “Why do I do what I do? I do it because I love it. Because I love to put smiles on other people’s faces. Because I like seeing people dance. To laugh, cry. I like being a part of people’s moments.” He also does it for himself. It makes him feel good about himself. Pouring his soul into others fills him in ways he never imagined possible.
As he stood on the sand emulating his father, he remembers being liked. He was the kid hanging out with anyone and everyone. The child hiding between the feet of grown men under shade, preaching the gospel like his father. The 4-year-old who knew what he wanted before he knew anything else. Crowds drew to him. The child talking about a man he knows not. The child that preaches and sings and dances and choreographs for the church. At some point, however, even the preacher’s kid realizes music comes in many forms, and he succumbs to the ways of the world.
Vince was sitting in a boring oral presentation class in Multimedia University of Kenya. He was dressed in a suit, waiting to give his kickass presentation. The group giving their presentation was not as interesting as they hoped to be, and Vince was bored. He chuckles when he says this. He has had only 2 hours of sleep and has a voice so groggy it forced me to listen to his voice note more times than I actually needed to. Back to him in class. He opens Instagram and the first post he sees is by King Kaka.
The post asked for singers. That those with sultry morning voices should belt out the latest song at the time by the King, and see what happens. It was all very mysterious.
Class ended at around 2pm. He went home in his presentation suit. He did not change clothes, recorded the video of himself singing in suit and tie [Cue J.T]. He showed them a few things his voice could do. They loved him. They invited him to Kaka’s studios. There were three winners, Vince, Brandon and Ethan.
“I was 2 hours late to meet with the guys. The others had met with him and mimi ndiyo walikuwa wananingoja.”
They hung out around the studio and started singing. “King wasn’t there so we just started singing. We were like; Oh my God. Yeah. This is nice. Mh nice. You have a nice voice. Oh, I have a nice voice? No, you have a nice voice. Oh stop. Gush. Sigh.” [I exaggerate a little but you get the point]
King [Yes, I am forcing this first name basis] wanted to create “the next big thing. The next singing group, band, group thingy [Vince’s words]. None of the three minded doing it, and Jadi began its serenade to Nairobi’s rooftops. “We realized our dreams were based on the same path, and we wanted to walk down it together.”
Jadi means tradition. Your roots. The smell of rain in your hometown. Your mother’s special Sunday evening stew that you tear hot Chapatti into. The sleep in your eyes when you are woken up by the matron for preps. Okay, maybe not that last one. “We wanted our name to remind us of our tradition. We want to always make music that we love. Music that we think is substantial and resonates with people.”
“Meeting with the guys has made me into a better singer. Before Jadi, I was singing on campus, going to events, and performing. I was singing everywhere I could and that helped me develop more as a singer. It helped to make the audition easier. Now, I am producing my songs and can confidently say that I am following my dreams. I’m giving it my all and am not going to stop doing it.”
Things have definitely changed for him. He understands things better now. He knows about the music industry and business [which he says are totally different. I have no knowledge in this business/industry and will take his word for it].
“I think I have become a better musician over time. We have made some money. We have faced hardships. But hard times make the journey interesting. I have grown tough skin. I have improved on my skill set too. I was just a singer when I joined Jadi. Now I am a singer, a pianist and am becoming a producer. I’m getting better.”
Vince has identified a problem he has. That of needing appreciation. He relies on people telling him he did great. He sings well. He is talented. Vince feeds on compliments. He lives for the applause. They boost his spirit. He recognizes this is something he needs to stop doing. To stop waiting for validation, but the business thrives on it. Charts and comments and views and compliments. The business of a performer is directly influenced by his audience’s reaction. Their satisfaction. Their reviews. Validation. “I am big on opinions. It is something I have recently learned I need to change. I take people’s opinions to heart, whether good or bad. I appreciate it so strongly. People who tell me they believe in me end up motivating me. People love to hear that stuff. To hear ‘you’re awesome, keep going’, you know? [I do know]
Also, the other thing that has changed is his parents now take him seriously as an artist. Jadi has a lot to offer in the music industry and business and they are chasing the bag. “We have had some hard times, and I hope more are not coming, but I’m ready for it.”
Well, I am still facing procrastination hurdles but at least the day is not yet over, right kids?
When you discover a secret, you have two options. I say discover because a secret is not made to be found out, except only by accident. I say when because most secrets are easy to discover, and your two options are pulled by a scale. The lowest end, the part with less weight, the easiest and most humane thing to do, would be to keep it as it were. To leave it be and walk the other way [much like your lecturers when they discover your answers while walking around an exam room]. The second option, and the one that will earn you pats on the back even as you feel like the shittiest person [because unless you are a rock, you will] is what you, as an arsehole will do.
There are two secrets that ruled Newton’s life. The first was kept from him until he was old enough to handle it, though he doubts anyone can ever be old enough to hold the gravity of such a secret. The second one, he kept because he did not know he was keeping it. He did not understand it even though it lived in him.
“I’m bipolar,” he starts. “I recently got an accurate diagnosis from a psychiatrist I have been seeing since February.”
Newton did not grow up with any information about her mother, other than the fact that she was dead. “She passed away when I was a baby. That is all I was ever told whenever I asked my uncle.”
He doesn’t remember half his childhood, and not like you who recalls nothing below the age of 8. “There are moments of time, sometimes very long periods of my life that I do not remember. I used to make fun of it in school. We would be in class waiting for the next lesson and when the teacher came in to start the lesson I would not understand shit because I was basically not around when previous classes were taught. I mean, I sat in for the lesson, but I had no memory of it. I was present but only by my body as an empty shell.”
He didn’t really understand what was happening. The only reasonable explanation for him was that he was a slow learner. “I always thought I was not book smart, but I remembered everything I studied half the time. I just always said I was average.
The first real episode that he remembers was a party. “A friend from school was home alone since her parents had travelled. So she was throwing a party and invited everyone who could come. My uncle was never going to let me go. He never let me do anything, so I didn’t even bother asking for permission.” He snuck out.
“I told my uncle I wasn’t feeling well. Probably a stomach thing because a stomach ache is easier to hide than a headache.” Newton’s Law states that: A stomachache can be feigned by holding onto your abdomen and doubling over, accompanied by just the right facial expression. “A lot of frowning makes you look like you are pooping, and a bit less than required makes parents think you are not really hurting.”
So he snuck out, and went to the party. Only, he didn’t go. “Listen, to help you understand it, you will need to believe this shit. Most people don’t. I went to that party. I swear it. I went there and I met my friends and we had an epic time. EPIC. I know that because I have memories of it happening. I still smell the alcohol from that night. I do.”
When he got to school on Monday, his friends were furious!
“Ah Newt wewe ni mtu bure sana”
“Why sasa? Why would you make us wait on you and you don’t show?”
“Newton man, I always thought you were a solid guy my guy”
“Newt btw mimi I can’t even. I just can’t”
“They were relentless. And I tried telling them that I did not understand what was going on, but before I got the chance to, the bell rang. I was so confused.” They all settled down to class, his mind far from stillness. He wrote a note to his desk mate.
/Jay, kwani what is going on? /
Desk Mate opened the note and shot him a frown. [Not the same as the stomachache one but frowny enough to let him know they were on murky waters] Desk Mate handed him back a note
/Dude, you chezad us bana /
/What did I do? /
/You didn’t show up man. (Frowny face emoji)/
/What do you mean I didn’t show up? I came/
Desk Mate shook his head in disappointment.
“Turns out I never went to the party,” he finally says. “It’s a weird thing, being bipolar. I have episodes where I am irritable and I don’t even know why. Sometimes I am manic, other times depressed, then there are long periods of time when nothing happens. Nothing. And I forget. It takes up to months! There was a time I went for 7 full months. Then I had the worst depressive time of my life. I almost killed myself.”
When he turned 18, his uncle sat him down because he was “old enough” and told him the first secret of his life. “My mother killed herself. They think it was postpartum depression that did her in, but my uncle said she was just like me. She could shift through moods like she was flipping through a flimsy book.”
His mother, bless her heart, did all she could. She had met a man, fallen head over heels, opened up to him about her mental condition and he had said he would love her through it all. He still left. Newton’s uncle does not know when exactly. After he was born, his uncle had dropped by to see his nephew and found his sister in the worst state ever. “He said she looked like she had not had any sleep for weeks. She was distressed. She told my uncle that my father walked out on her because she was “too sad all the time.” Then she asked his uncle to hold him for a minute while she took a shower. She walked into her bedroom and never walked out.
He started making sense of everything he had been going through when he did research on his mother’s condition. He studied everything on post-partum disorder and mental health and particularly bipolar disorder. “There are so many types of bipolar disorder, some don’t even have names one can pronounce as of yet. Each person reacts differently to it. The levels of hyperactivity(mania) and placidity(depression) are different in everyone. It’s all very complex.”
His psychotherapist is heaven sent. They began by unpacking all his unresolved feelings towards his mother. “I started seeing him a few months ago, and I talk to him any time I have an episode. He is amazing at helping me manage my episodes. I learnt that I would forget things I did because I was physically there but my mind was in an episode. That I could be perfectly calm on the outside but be fighting for my consciousness to be one with my body, and that by fighting it, I was sinking deeper into the episode. I am still learning. My therapist says I should learn to let go of everything, and that I should stop trying to act normal, because I’m not.”
Newton had two secrets in his life. The one he hid from the world in his mind, and the one his mother and uncle hid from him. Turns out, it was the same secret.
[May is Mental Health Awareness month and this week, we are learning about Bipolar Disorder. I found a really helpful article by Chiromo Lane Medical Center here. You can read through it to learn more about the disorder, it’s symptoms, and what you can do to help someone in each of the extremes. Stay safe kids]
It’s May! It’s Mental health awareness month and this morning, I just heard Biko say he does not believe in “writer’s block”. It is a foreign concept to him and he has written for, get this, 13 years! 13 is Taylor Swift’s lucky number. 13 is also considered to be an unlucky number. Maybe that’s why Taytay likes it… but if you were to count the things that superstitious people believe to bring bad omens, then black cats and jumping over one’s outstretched feet have nothing on Thirteen.
Did you know Judas Iscariot was the thirteenth dude to sit at Jesus’ table during the Last Supper? Yup, the guy who openly kisses another man in the Bible is also considered bad luck because he was late. Maybe he just didn’t want to eat in a room full of extros but hey, all the bad things that follow are directly linked to his arrival, though late. No one likes late things. Ask us girls. Anyway, luck is not a number because if so, then Maureen wouldn’t have gotten so mad at me when I beat her with an equivalent of 13 marks on our KCPE results. I’ll probably reach out sometime in 2023 and make a joke of it, after say… 13 lucky years.
She was in a hall the first time she thought back to the incident. A long hollow room that housed her and more than a hundred of her friends and classmates who she would remain in touch with just but a handful. She was 13 years old, coincidentally, trying so hard to recall the answer to the social studies question 57. The answer to the question was either Kabaka Mutesa 1 or Kabaka Mutesa 2. Such a close tie. She needed to think critically of her answer, so she sat back and opened the floodgates to her memories.
“I wish I never sat back in that seat. I wish I never tried to remember which Kabaka was exiled by Andrew Cohen because then I wouldn’t have remembered being between his thighs and not knowing any better.”
She must have been six or seven years old, which when you add up brings you back to Judas’ Digits. Her mother worked a lot. Her dad, not so much. Sure he spent his days out of the house but everyone knew where to find him. Her mother was the one bringing in the bread. She worked her ass off and to help her, she had some of her younger siblings stay with her, to help raise our girl, who by now deserves a name. She has however not responded to my text asking which name I should use, so as the Hogwarts Houses sorting hat, I deem her a Sophia.
Sophia grew up with her aunts as role models. They gave her breakfast and helped with her homework and taught her how to hold a pen. They were her big sisters. Her protectors. She felt safe around them. Turns out she shouldn’t have.
As Sophia sat on her locker, the last paper on her desk with only three questions to go (she always did the Religion part first). She remembered him. “I can’t tell you if he was one of my uncles or a cousin to my aunts, or maybe a childhood friend of theirs.”
“How sure are you that it wasn’t a stranger? Someone who was not as close to the family as you suggest?”
“Because he feels familiar. The environment we were all in feels surreal, since it is all in my memories, but it is definitely familiar. There is this feeling in my heart and in the pit of my stomach that tells me, assures me even, that they knew that man. They actually knew that man and it disgusts me”
Sundays were for Sophia and her mom. Strictly. She would wake up early as the sun glazed the horizon a golden hue and slipped into her mother’s bed. Her dad barely came home on weekends so the bed was almost always empty for her. She would snuggle into her mother’s arms and wait. Not a word was spoken. They would enjoy the silence that the morning offered together before embarking on a fun-filled day that began with breakfast, then church, then ice cream and then they would take the long way home for lunch. In those few minutes that she first got in bed with her mother, those sacred minutes, she relished in the joy of being with her.
“I loved Sundays. I still do. They were basically the only time I got to really see my mom. Probably the only time I ever felt safe if I think about it now,” she says. “There was this man, who I have never really seen in my adult life. He never really comes to any family gatherings. I know because I check. But I am scared that the moment I stop looking for him he will stand before me and I will not know what to do.”
When her parents were away, her mother winning bread and her father winning World’s Absent-But-Present dad, her aunts were free to roam. A cat and mouse scenario. They would lock her in her room when they had boys over and open only to give her food. She would be let out for bathroom breaks, of course. “I always knew when they came to let me out. The chattering would go down, the music silenced. She would be escorted, like a violent murderer in prison, and someone would wait by the bathroom door for her to finish and escort her back to the bedroom. A prisoner in her own home.
“I think that is why I loved being let out to stay when guests of the family came. I don’t really know. But it weighs on me. I honestly cannot tell you when I saw him first, or if there was a handshake that led to me sitting by him, and him having his feet outstretched on the couch, and to me sitting between those legs in a dress. But I can tell you I still feel his fingers between my thighs. I still feel his fingers going higher, and I still see my aunts both seated on the next seat, acting like they saw nothing.”
The man has no face, just the familiarity of someone you are comfortable being around. The familiarity of people you call family. These strangers that are closer to your parents or in this case, aunts, that you feel the need to call them “Uncle”, because your aunts have made it comfortable for them to be around. They have made the room familiar enough for him to run his fingers up your legs.
“Have you spoken to your aunts about it?”
“How would I start?” she asks back. “I have tried. I got to the point of having them sit down with me and I started asking it. But we were at my grandmother’s home, and I did not have the strength. Plus, I think they will just deny it. My family has developed this strange gift of making me sound, look and feel weird.”
I ask her how they do that.
“I don’t know if they know they are doing it, or if my aunts had enough practice bullying me when I was younger, but I will say something and they will negate it, or do something like try to help with the dishes and they will come in saying I’m not doing it right. Can you imagine that? I “washed a plate wrong”! I cannot really put it in words, but they whisper about me when I pass.”
“Like they know something that you don’t?” I ask.
“Yeah! Exactly. It messes me up so bad. I hate going to those family gatherings, but then I also feel it is my right to face that man when he shows up. If I can recognize his face…or his voice. I really hope I can recognize something about him. It might put my mind to rest”
As she sat in that hall, years ago, hollow in her chest as she realized what she was recalling, a tear rolled down her left cheek. “An invigilator passed by me, saw the tear and thought I was sad about finishing school. You know what my therapist says?”
I clearly don’t.
“She says that me remembering his fingers on me is real. That I should not think it was a dream. That my mind is probably waiting for me to get to the correct space to remember. She also says that I should be prepared to remember worse details. That the man might have hurt me. Invaded me. Stole my innocence at 6 or 7 years old.”
She told me the fear of the number thirteen is called Triskaidekaphobia. She has always had an irrational fear of this number, even before sitting on her desk in the hall staring at the Kabakas. She could never write the date when it was the thirteenth and always made a joke about being superstitious about Friday the 13th, saying she was scared of Jason. Maybe her Jason came with a certain familiarity.
[It’s May! It’s Mental Health awareness month. As usual, MIRAWU will do 4 stories on Mental Health. Reach out to me if you would like to tell your mental health story, journey or experience.]
Her mom died when she was 16. A form 2 student at St Mary’s Lwak Girls’ High School in Rarieda District of Nyanza. She remembers the face of the form one student who came to call her from class on that day. She remembers looking at the girl’s face and immediately feeling a cloud form around her chest. She knew before she was told. Before the Kiswahili teacher said her name out loud and asked her to the Deputy Principal’s office. She knew in her gut that something was terribly awry.
It was an accident that did her mother in. An exhausted matatu driver in the Kisumu heat. Her mother, in the seat right behind him, her bag clutched to her chest. No one in the vehicle made it to tell the story. The media relied on witnesses. People who were minding their business but who concluded that the driver “must have been drunk” because he swerved on the road like a madman. People who said “he must have not slept a wink last night” so he was dozing off behind the wheel. These people had no business making such conclusions to an accident that they were not affected by, but they were human, and human beings have the urgent need to explain that which has no explanation. “The truth is,” she tells me, “At least the way I recall it is, there was no head-on collision. In fact, there was no other vehicle that may have startled the driver on the road. There was no bend, no bump. It was a straight tarmac. But the driver still went off the road and caused an accident that killed 14 people, including my mother.”
She remained with her stepfather, her bio dad having passed away when she was 3 years old. Her memories revolve around stories she was told and three photographs, one of him, the second with her as a toddler and the third with her mother in it. She held on to these three photographs as if her life depended on it. She scanned them, framed them, had them reproduced just so she could immortalize the memory of her parents.
Now, living with her stepfather was not as bad as anyone would expect. She got along well with her stepbrothers so it was almost smooth sailing. But when you’re an orphan in a house of kids with their biological parent, you notice some things. You will realize that you never get the last piece of meat. That sometimes, the father picks his children from school early so they can go eat chicken without you. You notice small things but these are the ones that dig a hole into you, taking a piece of the soil each time.
“He made you feel left out?” I ask.
“On the contrary. I think he was establishing boundaries. Making it known whose father he was and whose he wasn’t. And I kinda respect it.”
“What do you mean “respect it”?”
“He didn’t try to be my father. I had a dad. He lived in the three photos under my mattress. This strange man who sired sons with my mother before her death was not my father, and he never pretended to be. But then he started drinking”
It must have been the stress of raising three teenagers on his own, or it was that time in a man’s life that he decides alcohol is the answer. A midlife crisis of sorts, except his Lamborghini, was the walking John and his friends. Nevertheless [Ha! I used it after school] he did drown, far and deep. Rain was forced to become a part-time mom to her step-siblings, but it wasn’t as hard as it may be thought. The boys were practically grown by this time. All she had to do was make the big decisions. Things like what to eat for supper and who to send for milk from the shop. Sometimes it got hard, really hard. The boys did not listen, she had a migraine, there was no food in the house, the stepdad had slept in yet another trench that night so he didn’t come home till the sun was well on its way overhead.
Then, one evening, right after they had shared the scraps of a collection of previous meals, her stepfather came home at 8.13 pm. She remembers because she always waited for the 9 o’clock news, and they had not aired yet. She remembers because when he walked in, even his own offspring was surprised. “Ah daddy, leo umekuja mapema aje?” they asked in delight.
“Did you not share the same enthusiasm as your brothers?” I ask.
“Step-brothers,” she corrects me. “And no. I think it was mainly because a part of me always sat down for the news to wait for his dilapidated body to show up on the screen, murdered by unknowns.”
“I didn’t know it before then,” she continues. “Before that night when he came home early. But on that night, as his sons were hugging him at the door, I immediately knew why I felt an overwhelming sense of disappointment.”
He came home that evening with a “guest” as he so amicably put it. “Huyu ni aunty yenu. Msalimieni.” He was in high spirits, and there was no percentage involved this time. “It was weird. One day, he was the big bad wolf. Huffing. Puffing. Breathing fire, and then…just like that, he changed.” It was like one minute he was chalk and the next cheese. Nobody understood it, but they accepted it.
For the first time, in a long time, he was present. The man he had grown into over the years shed his skin and there he was, brand new, her step-father, doing the best he could. “The first thing he did was secure a job,” she recalls helping him with his applications. They wrote and rewrote his cover letter to fit his ‘brand’. They went out as a family to pick out the suit he would wear during the interview.
“Just like that?”
“Yup,” she answers. “With a snap of the finger, we were having meals like a family again. He was asking about our progress in school. He became interested in our lives, and not just the boys. He talked with me as well. I mean like…actually ask my opinion on things.”
“How did that make you feel?” I poke. “Considering you had thought of him turning up dead.”
“I won’t say I wasn’t skeptical. In fact, I cannot say I was entirely happy about it. But there he was; a changed man. And you cannot hate a man for being his best and doing all he can to fix his errors. So now I love him, not because he changed, but because he became the father I never knew I needed.”
“Who was the woman that came in with him?
“Nobody knows.” She only brought him home that night. Her step-father insists it was her mother. That she had had wings, but he had also been a drunkard at the time. People generally tend to deviate from anything said under the influence. Heck, there are crimes you can get out of simply because you were under the influence. The words of a drunk man are not to be believed –Mirawu 2019.
But she says he still insists it was her mother that saved him. She says she remembers a woman bringing him in, but she cannot trace her face. She could not tell you if the woman had teeth or a scar running from ear to the corner of her mouth. She only saw a woman, and her step-dad saw her mother.
I was left not knowing what to make of this story. I didn’t know what to say or do so I just allowed the conversation to die a natural death.
“I love my dad,” she texted after a few days. “I don’t want the story to sound like I don’t. He is amazing. I know this because it comes so naturally to him. Being a dad. He is great at it. And he has shown me countless times that he is changed. I don’t care that he never apologized. Apologies are just words. “I’m sorry” and you think they changed. He showed me. Showed us. And I appreciate him for it. I love him for it.”
I texted back “Okay” because that is all I could afford.
I’ve been doing this thing, called it “No Write November”. It is a lie. A lie I told myself to console this evil thing going on in my head that I cannot figure out. I know. It sounds either cliché or weird, depending on who you are, but I have been thinking of giving you guys a post, and we are here, right. That’s for being with me during No Write November.
When I was in high school, we were handed the fairy tale of “The Outside World”. We were told of a time in the near futures of our very young lives when we would do what we wanted, be where we wanted and eat whatever we wished, and no one could tell us shit because we were in that magical land. I wanted so bad for it to be true. They told the same things at home. /Enda usome…then when you finish school you can watch all the Kim Possibles you want/ But when we finished, Kim Possible was not on anymore…so, fellow Outside Worlders, weren’t we played?
Now, as I sit here to write to you, for you, I realize I was never personally fascinated by this notion of a better time in the future. Granted, I liked the idea of a time when I would be free to read my Nora Roberts without hiding inside my locker, but I was not fully sold on this fantasy of being at liberty to do whatever you want. I realize this makes me sound like a drag, but I wasn’t. I never said it out loud. To be honest, I’m not even sure I knew this is how I felt during that time till a few days ago, when it came closer to my graduation day.
It dawned on me on three instances; when the dean to my Faculty stood to call our names and my classmates stood to shout their last hurrah, when I took my cap to throw it in the air after the names were called, and as I shed tears during my graduation lunch, overwhelmed with gratitude.
I start this story like this today because I felt I needed to acknowledge that. To acknowledge that I have closed a chapter, while in the midst of a million other chapters. It rained the morning of graduation day. My mom dropped me at the gate and went on to Ongata Rongai to get something that I actually do not remember. Let’s say snacks. As I dug into the mud in my heels, someone approached me from behind.
“Hi, you’re Mirriam, right?”
My first thought was to run. I did not want to deplete my social battery before the day even began. But I was caught. It was drizzling, my gown acting as a raincoat cum trench coat and my feet making tiny holes in the mud that a Jack could later throw in some beans and get to meet his giant. Fee Fi Fo Fum.
I didn’t run. “Yes?”
“Oh, thank God. My name is Rain*” [I picked the name this time. Can you tell?] Then she stood there, me waiting for her to state her claim, she waiting for me to acknowledge her. [God I hope she is not coming to me ‘as a woman’] I pray.
“Can we speak under the tent?” I ask, fearing I will drench my seatmates. She is okay with that, the tent part, not the drenching.
As we waddle like penguins to the tent, she too in high heels, I try to think of all the things she might have wanted with me. Maybe this is the campus version of “kufunga na mtu”, where in primary you would settle all scores with people you had beef with on the last day of school. [Lion of Judah, I’m a good girl. You know it, I know it, these warthogs that you created know it. Don’t let me get a beating from someone unknown to me and most importantly, on an issue whose details I know nothing of. Thank you for this day Amen]
“You’re the Mirriam that writes?” she says as soon as we find shelter. I say yes.
“Awesome. I have wanted to get in touch with you for so long now. I want you to write my story”
For me, these conversations always happen online. A random email notification pops up, or a Whatsapp message from someone who was referred to me and, as of very recently, on my Instagram DMs. I didn’t know how to react. “That’s cool”
“It’s not a pretty story”
“Does someone die in it?” I ask.
“Doesn’t everyone die?”
Not the answer to my question but I brushed it off.
“Is there alcohol?”
“It’s all alcohol,” she says. I notice she is unable to maintain eye contact which brings me to either of two conclusions. One: That this story is something she is ashamed of. Something out of her control. And Two: That it is all a lie.
We were silent for another 16 seconds. I know because I counted.
“Sssooo…how do you do this?” she asked, and I broke from my counting.
“You can text me? I said, trying to make it sound like a suggestion when it was actually the one option I was giving. She took my number. “Congratulations by the way,” I added as I said the last digit.
“on what?” she asked. She was wearing a gown similar to mine.
“Graduating, I guess. Aren’t you psyched?”
“Psyched for what? An overpriced, oversize, used piece of black cloth that I have to return here in 7 days? Naah. I’m good.” She shrugs. “I just want it over with.”
I stayed there for another 16 seconds, watching as she walked away. I am still waiting for her text.
[I wanted to tell you about Rain first because of the relevance of timing. Also, I am hoping that she sees this and texts me. Sneaky, right?]
I know what you’re going to say. I do. That I owe you an apology. That I went MIA like a scorned lover and did not look back. That I left you, and now you have someone new. And I know you want to turn your back on me, say “to hell with her and her shenanigans”, but you just can’t, right? That’s why you are still here, waiting, with your heart in your hand for me to pocket once again. I know what you want to say. But I have heard it all, because I have been telling myself the same damn things on repeat. I’m so crappy. So irresponsible. I left you with nothing. With no one. I walked away even though I had promised I would always be here. But I’m here now. Let’s focus on that. And I did not write for anyone else, I promise. Now, allow me to break your heart once more.
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Avert being worried, for this may be the time that you join another stage and start polishing your essay. The college software issue has become the most essential part the essay. Sadly there’s no surefire way of creating a college entrance essay. The body portion of the essay is pretty vital.
“I only drink wine too. I read about the girl you wrote about on Table 9 and I thought…why not also share my story? Though mine varies greatly from hers,” was on my DM on Instagram on Sunday at 10.36am.
“Are there other similarities in that story to yours?” I asked.
“Possibly the fact that both our mothers were present on our first experiences with alcohol.”
Her mom was a heavy drinker. She liked her liquor strong, unlike the men she was always tangled with. At age 8, her mother would stumble home in the wee hours with a man who would barely stay 2 weeks. She met these ‘uncles’ all her life. Random men who came home with a woman to the shock of becoming a father. “Some of them went straight back out the door. They would find me on the couch sleeping, look at my mom and say ‘Oh I’m sorry honey. I thought we were just going to have some fun. I’m not ready for this kind of thing’ and then run back to the club to look for a more available woman.”
She preferred these men. Those who had the balls to leave immediately they found a situation that did not favor their wants. The ones she hated were the fakers. The ‘Of course I can fuck a woman with a 10-year-old on week one but leave by week three when the kid asks how to solve a fraction because the commitment to being her temporary father just became real’ kind of men.
It’s no secret that she was over heels with the first man that looked at her twice. In fact, it is almost expected. “I was a virgin till campus. I know, a prude” I refuse to accept that. I tell her there is no wrong in waiting. Heck, you can wait till marriage and still be the freakiest person alive. I tell her that labelling yourself as a prude for waiting till you were ready hurts nobody. No one looks at you and shrieks in fear because you are a twenty something that has not pulled off your panties in front of a man. Or woman. I told her that I, too, lost my V card in campus, and that made us sisters. We moved the conversation to WhatsApp because what’s more intimate than that in this age?
“I was going to get lunch. I still hadn’t decided what I would have. My roommate was with me” [because in campus your roommate is both your confidant and the person you walk to get food and literally anything else with as you struggle to grasp on the freedom with both your hands] Then he walked past.
She felt goosebumps in the way he turned to look at her a second time, doing the classic full body turn and walking backwards towards his destination while he grinned at her. “I swear I felt my bodily functions stop. All of them, for three seconds.” They had a full on conversation a few weeks in, after weeks of grins and shy smiles and backward walking and an almost trip session that might have been embarrassing, but which he later said “would have been worth it.” Oh the many ways a man can dupe a girl.
The first time they got time to themselves, he could barely speak. “He was so quiet that I had to ask the questions. To steer the whole conversation.” I ask how this went.
She: So…umm. What do you study?
She: Ooh, that’s cool. [Silence] I’m taking Public Relations.
She: Do you like it? Is it what you always wanted to do?
He: It’s a’ight
She: You stay in the hostels? (He nods) How many guys?
She: Where do you live?
She: Oh, that’s cool. I’m from Naks
I tell her to stop because I am getting a headache from this reenactment of the worst movie scene ever created. “But the next time we met he was actually a lot different”
“Oh? Do tell” I say, already rubbing my palms together like a villain in a children’s movie.
It was later that evening. She was in her hostel room watching an episode of The Flash. She remembers because the next morning they cuddled in her bed and finished the series. “I however had to re-watch it later because all the blood in my brain seemed to have drained with him so close to me.” He texted her to go “visit” him in his room. She got out of bed, threw on a hoodie, took off the sweatpants she was wearing and pulled up a pair of black tights.
As she stood before door number 16, she started second guessing herself. It was 7.23 pm, still early by campus standards. But her gut told her to run. She didn’t listen. After all, what did her gut know about boys that she didn’t, right? She texted him to open the door.
She remembers the alcohol. There were bottles everywhere. Strewn on the table, some on the beds and even in the sink! He apologized for the mess, but said they were boys, like boys don’t know what cleanliness entails. Like when the lesson on cleaning up after yourself and keeping your environs neat was being taught, all the boys in the classroom were asked to form a line and walk outside in an orderly fashion because God forbid boys ever found out about air freshener and wiping a surface. The alcohol did not phase her. She had lived picking up bottles in their house so much it had become a norm. The smell, too, was nothing to lose her mind over. Her nose had become accustomed to it long before she got her period.
“Come sit next to me, its cleaner here,” he said. Oh, so he knew it wasn’t as “a’ight” as it should be?
“Do you take this?” he asked. She almost scoffed. If he only knew. She took the tumbler from him and drained it. The boys cheered.
“Ey bro,” said one of his roommates. “Huyu umetoa wapi?” asking where he had found her. The premise to this question was that most girls would either refuse the drink or nurse the shot and sip at it all night. She quickly became a unicorn and she loved it. They doted on her for the next few hours, throwing compliments at her feet like gold at the Pharaoh. How her sense of humor was amazing. How pretty she was. How much she surprised them. “They kept saying I was perfect. No one ever called me perfect before. I was smitten.” But the thing is when boys give you compliments, usually, you don’t know what to do with yourself. Where to put your hands, how to sit perfectly, what to say or do…and so to compensate, she drank. She drowned shots way past her limit. Past the buzzing in her head that told her it was enough. Past logic.
She recalls the boys leaving, one by one. /Gotta go see a friend about a class thing/ Off to the shop for airtime/ Fresh air/ And just like that, they were alone. She doesn’t remember much, which means she doesn’t remember saying yes. But she woke up the next morning with her head pounding and her abdomen ‘feeling a little funny’. “I thought it was cramps, so I got up, took a shower, put on a sanitary towel and went back to him still in my bed. He had watched more episodes than me so I couldn’t concentrate on the movie. But sometimes I think I did not concentrate on it because of a comment he made, together with the weird pain I felt ‘down there.’”
“What did he say?”
“Immediately I settled back in bed, he said ‘you were amazing last night’. And I’ve watched enough romantic scenes in movies to know what that means. At first, I thought it was the way I had interacted with his friends, the jokes i cracked…that we had had fun last night. But the statement wasn’t ‘last night was fun’, because that would have given me a little relief.”
“Did you ask him about it? Whether anything happened?”
She says she didn’t. She doesn’t have the ‘guts’ to ask. She doesn’t want to know. Knowing will make it real so she would rather live in the doubt than confirm her fears. Confirm that she was intoxicated and violated.
“Are you alright?” I ask.
She sends the thinking emoji. You know that funny one that is seriously pretentiously thinking about ending racism in the world, right? “I think so. I am honestly not so sure. It’s still too soon to tell. I’m trying to focus on school. But what makes it hard is that every time I bump into him or any of his roommates in school, they ask when I’m going to visit next. And I want to shout ‘LEAVE ME ALONE. I KNOW WHAT YOU DID TO ME’ but I have no proof. No one can back me up. No one knew where I was. So I remain alone, in my mind, turning that night over and over.”
“Have you talked to anyone about this?”
“I’m talking to you,” she says and send me the smiling emoji.
I tell her I am grateful that she trusts me with this…and that I will do my best to keep her identity anonymous. But I also ask her a favor, that she seeks help. Professional help. I do some research and ask her to get in touch with Wangu Kanja Foundation. It’s the best I could do. But after a while as I sat thinking, I realized that she may not be alone. That there are numerous girls out here fresh into campus and overwhelmed with a freedom like no other. Girls who don’t know any better than walking alone to a boy’s room or house or car. Girls who don’t tell other people where they are off to. Who are hurt for not knowing any better, and it breaks my heart.
“So that’s why I only drink wine. I have some resilience to it. I don’t get as drunk or as fast compared to whisky or vodka. Plus, wine is a little expensive for me and people my age. It allows me to avoid getting drunk. The other plus side, and by far my favorite, is when you tell a campus boy that you only drink wine, they think you are stuck up…and they leave you alone.
[I will still apologize. I was graduating last week and was so busy in the weeks leading to that. But MIRAWU is officially back, with a backlog of stories and conversations not yet converted to stories, so buckle up buttercup. Let me take you on an emotional rollercoaster]
Most girls don’t know the taste of alcohol until they go away to university. Most girls in this scenario are the case study girls of a typical life. You know? Nursery for 3 years [because kindergarten people have wine cellars], Primary school for 8 years [since academy folks’ parents have brandy in a crystal bottle on the desk in their father’s study] and high school [which I have no shade for because I absolutely refuse to utter the words “secondary school”] These girls probably join boarding school for a number of reasons, some never even wanted to go to boarding school, but since the parent is the law, you gots to do what you gots to do.
“I only drink wine,” she texted. “You can call me Rosé [My keyboard has refused to add the tilde on the ‘e’ so let’s make do with old fashioned Rose, shall we?]
When I read Rose’s text, I found her snobby. Why would she just ignore all the other liquor when they did no wrong in the world but exist? What kind of discrimination was that? To say you only want one thing when there are numerous other almost similar things that can serve the same purpose. Unbelievable. See, I’m a whiskey girl. You’ve been asking all year and now you know. So her statement hit home when she said it because I felt personal. Like she had a vendetta against all other people who enjoy something else. [PS. If my dad reads this, I like Fanta Orange]
Rose got her first sip from her mom. And before you judge, the mom did not know that Rose was eyeing her drink that afternoon. “We had this habit of going out every Sunday after church. We would go to the same restaurant around the area we live in. Tulips Restaurant. Quite quaint. It had a very homely feel. The swings were my favorite part. I would wake up in the morning and jump out of bed so excited. My mom always thought I was excited about going to church. Truth is, I couldn’t wait for church to be over, so I could go and play on the swing set all afternoon.”
By the time she was in high school, she started being conscious of her body. Her breasts were growing and she needed bras now. She could no longer jump up and down when excited on Sunday mornings. “I was kinda insecure. And my mom did not talk to me about growing up. She did not explain that things would change and that boys’ eyes would linger on me when I asked them something. I had to figure shit out on my own.”
She recalls her first sip of alcohol. It was on a Sunday. Church was longer than usual and she just wanted to leave. At Tulips, she was seated on one of the swings, not really doing anything, her mind building castles on beaches and in the sky simultaneously when her mom called to her. “Rose!”
“I looked to her and you know this thing that mothers do? Where if they call you and you are not next to them in two shakes of a tail [yes, she said that] then they tear the world down until you get to them? My mom is like that. She is the kind of woman who when she utters the first syllables of your name, you run like you are being chased by wild dogs”
I laugh at that.
The mother called. Rose ran. “I want to use the restroom. Nataka ukae kwa hii meza incase chakula ikuje (sit here and wait for the food)”
“Did you hear me?”
Mother likes eye contact and verbal affirmation. “Yes mom. I heard you”
She started walking towards the bathroom but a few steps in, she turned. “And Rose?”
“Stop daydreaming at least for the five minutes I am away. Drunkards are everywhere here, and most of them have not had any lunch, and you’re a young girl. Be alert Rose. Don’t go searching for fairytales in your head and get lost in there till our food gets stolen.” Then before Rose could respond, the mom was in the bathrooms.
Now, as a creative, I can tell you right now how hard it is to stop yourself from daydreaming because sometimes you don’t even realize you are doing it. It’s like a default setting in our brains. Like telling a tortoise not to go back in its shell. It just cannot be done. And if you have someone who is able to control it… please tell them to contact me. I need to be the first to discover that anomaly.
True to her nature, Rose found herself somewhere, lost in the intricacies that her brain could conjure up. “then this waiter came up to me, with a glass of wine. I knew all the waiters at the restaurant, but his face was unfamiliar. His badge read “TEDDY” and I will never forget it. I will tell my kids this till I am old and have cataracts in my eyes.”
Teddy didn’t know her as well. Didn’t know the powerhouse of Tulips that her mother was. But he said there was an order of a glass of rosé for table 9, and he placed the glass on the table then left.
God blessed and cursed Rose with an inquisitive mind. She started asking herself why her mother was drinking strawberry quencher juice on that afternoon when she never really did like sugary things. She leaned towards it, “just to smell it. I didn’t have any plans with the glass”. But once you smell a rosé your taste buds start playing malwedhe on you. You get a tingle in your throat and your tongue? Oh, your tongue actively wants it! It calls to it. So she lifted the glass and put obliged her lips.
“I would describe that first taste as…interesting. I mean, it wasn’t sweet, but it was also not disgusting. Immediately it touched my tongue I knew it was alcohol. I don’t know how, but I just knew. THEN I felt an adrenaline rush.”
She had her first angel-devil moment at table 9.
The angel said: Gurrl, you know thas wrong
The devil said: But did you taste it though?
Angel: Uh-Uh listen. That’s yo mama’s. She gon kill youuu
Devil: Pfft! Kill you? Over strawberry juice? Gurl come on
[For some reason, this is how I pictured this conversation and I just went with it]
Eventually, the devil won, because she was young, and she needed to do this so that you could have something interesting to read today. See how the universe works?
She lifted the glass, drained it, then placed the glass on the next table. Gotta get rid of the evidence.
Her mom came back almost immediately and Rose stood up to get back to the swing set, but she was dizzy. Gravity pulled her into the seat.
“Are you sick?” her mom asked.
“No,” she said. /But I want to be/
“Okay. Cos if you are sick then we will go home right now”
She shook her head. Then paused. Should she have shaken her head or nodded? Was the grass always this green? Her fingers tingled. She was smiling. “What are you smiling about?” her mom asked, now watching her closely. “Nothing” /serious face Rose. Serious face!/
Her mom now shook her head. Food came. Some everyday waiter now. Thank heavens! But twenty minutes into their food arriving, a woman started a commotion at the bar.
“Where is he? I have paid him already and he’s gone? Where is he?” she was shouting.
Everyone in the restaurant was asking where who was. Who the fuck was this who? Her husband? Boyfriend? Payer of the bills? But something moved in Rose’s stomach, and she knew, even before the words were uttered. She knew what was happening.
“Where did he go? He said I was his last table then he finishes his shift. And you people have started this paying upfront thing so you tell me. Where is HE!”
The waiters were all there, in their crisp white shirts and tiny bowties. Everyone in the restaurant turned toward the bar. The woman was hysterical. They had stolen from her and she was having none of it. Who did they think they were?
“Mom, nimeshiba” Rose said, unable to finish her food. Confusion was floating in the air. Everyone wanted to know what was going on. Whiffs of the story suggested she had paid someone for a drink who had disappeared with her thousand bob. Rose looked at the booklet on their table, knowing what was inside. “Let’s go,” her mom said, already standing up. “This might get ugly. Twende home tu” They left.
Over the next couple of weeks, they did not go to Tulips. “I felt as if my mom knew what had happened was somehow my fault. Or at least she suspected. But she never said anything. I drank that woman’s rosé. She blamed Teddy for taking her money and not giving back her glass worth, and her change sat on table 9, while the glass that housed her wine was on the table behind me.”
“Do you feel guilty?”
“Never have, don’t think I ever will.”
Then one day, almost 2 months later, her mom comes home, looks her in the face and goes, “I was at Tulips today.” And that was it. No follow up, no nothing. Those 5 words sent a chill down her spine. Her mom wanted her to know that she knew. And that look that she gave her, that look was everything.
[Have an alcoholic experience that you want to share? Send me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org or a DM on Instagram (@mir_awu). Let’s live a story]
Michael says he is happy. I asked the question about twelve times, and each time he answered he swore he is. He carries a smile that lights the room. A smile that forces you to smile back. He radiates sunshine that you might actually believe his words. Now, I am aware of how cynical I sound. Trust me. It’s just that the more he swore to me that he is “actually happy”, the more my skepticism grew.
He first texted to ask if I was sure I wanted a story about a happy person “like I said in the blog”. He said he was happy. Naturally, I asked how he knew he was.
“Because I’m living the good life,” he said.
I was immediately intrigued.
“But first things first,” he texted right after. “We will not discuss my life in campus.”
I read that message about 4 times before texting him back, “Why not?”
“Campus was just rough for me. And I know people don’t have it easy out here, and I should be grateful for it, for all I went through, but I just want it behind me. So you have to agree to it.” I sent a thumbs up emoji.
“Tell me about this good life. What makes your situation now better from whatever happened in university?” I ask because I’m thinking to myself how this happy drunks thing is a bad idea. I wanted to get Michael out of the way so we could get back to our sunken place of misery and broken hearts laced with liquor.
“well, I have a nice place. In Utawala. It’s a one bedroom but it works. Lakini I’m moving out soon.”
[Okay. This was totally a bad idea. There is no story here] “What do you do?”
“I am in the corporate world” he says. It is important to say that I will completely understand if you too think you need to stop reading this non-existent story and go do something more important…like watch The Secret Life of Pets 2 [at least I did]. But if you could have a little patience with Michael, he is about to have a breakthrough that you will appreciate.
“I am single” he texts again, seeing that I had ignored the first text. “Can’t deal with commitment issues again.”
“Okay,” I look for something else to watch. Probably continue from where I left Dear White People?
“Yeah. So these days I just go out and come back to the crib with random girls”
I glance at my phone and a grin escapes me. Finally, right? Something I can work with. “Tell me about them.”
“What? These days”
[Breathe, girl. Just breathe]
“No, silly,” I feign non-annoyance. [Is there a word for not being annoyed? Or pretending not to be anyway? Like that emoji that slaps its face?] “The girls. Tell me about them. Describe them to me”
I will give you a few.
She was the first. Kinda boring. She was quiet the whole time. Talked when spoken to. Never asked questions. Never provided information. Sometimes, he would poke her just to watch her turn, “to ensure she was alive, you know?” he says. I don’t.
Preferred to be called Meg [Reminds me of Family Guy]
Meg is a frequent partaker of the good life that Michael has to offer. she is always a phone call away. There has not been a time, to date, that he has dialed and she said no. “Probably because whenever she asks for money I always send her.” “Do you like her company the best” I ask. “No. I prefer Diana. Meg is just there for a good time. The kind of girl that you will always call if you want someone to drink with and fuck later.”
He does not know where she lives. “She probably just crashes with any guy she gets her hands on until he gets tired of her. Maybe that’s why she’s always available when I call.” Or maybe she just genuinely likes him for who he is, but who’s to say it but her?
Gene (That’s what he called her) was toxic. She carried a pair of scissors in her handbag and came to his place unannounced, the pair in her hand. She always gave threats /If I find another girl with you I will cut you and her both/ You are mine. Only mine/
She would call at 3:28am and say she was expecting to hear a girl’s voice so she could raise hell.
One time, he found a hammer in her handbag.
Michael starts by giving me the negatives to Diana. She is too short. She bites her nails when she is nervous. One of her brothers is in prison. He says she is not the girl he would typically go for. Why? Well, first of all she works as a house help [or house manager]. He will not allow himself to “stoop that low”. There are standards to be observed by people of his calibre. “She doesn’t even drink imagine. What will i do with a girl who does not like to have a good time?” he says.
But she also happens to be smart, and funny, and “kinda pretty”. He likes that she can make him laugh. No girl has been able to do that to date. That her dreams go above Everest and keep climbing. “She has this thing about her that’s just captivating. The kind of girl you know will ride and die for you”
“You like her? Of all the girls you have mentioned” I ask.
“haha, “Like” is a strong word” he lies. “I would say I enjoy her company. She’s a kind of subtle fun that has you craving her after a few days. But like her? Hell no. Didn’t you hear me say she is a mboch? I can never go to my friends and introduce a mboch as my girl!”
“Oh, so you’ve thought about it”
“I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe in a fleeting second, it may have crossed my mind very briefly. She’s an amazing girl. But she is the kind to date. I am the kind to have girls around for a brief period and dispose of them like that [insert Gamora snapping her fingers].
The other girls’ names are Nancy, Aisha, Christine (Tina), Wambo, Jackie with an ‘ie’, and Carol, because what list of girls is complete without a Caro? They all drink the alcohol he buys them.
There is no measure of happiness. No scale that can accurately tell us whether Michael’s smile remains behind closed doors. It would be easier, right? Because then we would be able to gauge how happiness affects a man. We would know whether being happy and saying you are hold any difference. All we have is belief, which I am a strong advocate for. So I chose to believe him. I did not question when he danced around the idea of being content. Neither did I ask why he spoke with such fondness of Diana and not of the other girls, but still chose to not follow his heart. I asked nothing, because he said he is happy, and I chose to believe him.
But I have suspicions, because my mind tends to look at a situation twenty-two times. I suspect he was hurt in campus. Something worse than getting cheated on. I suspect he was a lover. That his heart was filled with sunshine and his lenses were yellow. Whatever happened that he cannot talk about, changed him. Made the yellow orange or green. Altered something that shone in him, so that his heart forgot the intensity with which it shone, but still struggles to find it. I suspect a light still illuminates, but it is a little different. A little darker. By the time I was turning this story in my head for the twenty second time, I concluded Michael is as happy as he can be. As he hopes to be.
You can probably count the total number of times that I have eaten pineapples in all these [very few] years I have lived. It’s not that I dislike them, because you cannot dislike something that you know where the sweetness lies. See, I like pineapples, but every time I eat a slice, my tongue becomes the Rift Valley. Jack, too, realized a sweetness of his own.
He was always a good boy. The one who sat in a corner and read Goosebumps novels while the rest of his classmates were busy jumping on lockers. He sat still and upright in class while the rest slouched. Always on his best behavior. Always the one to be used as an example. “I never saw the reason for mayhem. Causing trouble was just… not in my DNA” he texts.
I met him during high school, at some holiday tuition that I coincidentally met my best friend at. He was still quiet. Still a mammoth hiding in the snow. He never flossed, never bragged, never boasted about something that wasn’t his. He just…sat in a corner and read. But it was also quiet before it went cuckoo in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
“In that time, I lived by one rule. ‘Live to the standards of my parents’. Only… I don’t really think I was living”. He was caged. Tied to wanting to please his sires that he stopped living his life. /Mom wants you to be at home by 4:30/ Mom expects you to read, Jack/ Dad needs you to pay attention. So pay fucking attention/ Mom would frown upon rolling in the grass/ Come on Jack, Dad wouldn’t think the teacher saying ‘algolithim’ is funny/. And so he simmered. Beneath the surface, like a covered sufuria with boiling milk, until, he could take it no longer and erupted, flowing out of the lid his parents placed on him. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I lost touch with him by our final year. In this time, he kept heating up. “Fulfilling their wishes was my life’s goal. I was going to become an engineer like my father wanted. Marry a girl my mom probably chose by 28, have kids, take care of my parents till they were too old to expect anything from me and then… start living.” I laugh. He continues, “I mean, they say life begins at 40, right? I knew that I could stand up to them by then. That I would be grown. A man. Then I met Lorraine.” [Don’t you just get goosebumps when a story takes a sudden turn like this?]
He first saw her during orientation when he joined university. She walked in the hall, late, with her posse of four girls. Obviously the leader of the pack. “I didn’t think much of her on that day. I just thought she was one of those slay queens who unleash the power of their new found freedom on the campus,” he texts.
Here’s the thing about pineapples. They’re sweet. Real sweet. Natural sweet, not processed like that of sugar. But they are not always this sweet. They start off bitter. A bitterness that cuts the tongue on the first bite. A bitterness that never really leaves, even when the sugar settles on the bottom part of the pineapple. Jack’s pineapple started sweetening soon after classes began.
“I was having supper in the mes hall one evening. And I used to always eat alone, with earphones on and on my phone the whole time. Textbook loner. Then I saw a hand in front of my face. Looked up to see her trying to say something”
He took the left side off and raised his eyebrow.
“Can I have some of your salt?”
“huh?” He didn’t hear her. She was beautiful. Girls like that never even looked in his direction.
She reached out and pinched the salt he had on his tray. He was outraged! The audacity of this goddess of a supernatural being. What nerve she had to just dip her perfectly manicured fingers in his salt? Fingers that he would later that night dream were digging into his back.
The next time they met he was in a vest that he had owned since form one. It would not have been safe to say it was white, or that it still held on to his frame. She was in a yellow dress.
“It was the afternoon of the Fresha’s night. She asked if I was going. I said I would go if she was going. She said she would meet me there and I immediately went to shower” His heartbeat was irregular. There was an excitement in him that his body had never witnessed. He was breaking the rules. His parent’s rules. He did not think about what his mother would say or what would go through his father’s mind when he heard of this atrocity. He followed his heart. And a different part of him was witnessing an awakening.
They made out at the party, and a few nights after. They held hands to class. It was perfect. “Then one night, like a month after they started ‘being together’ [because he says what they did was not dating] she came to his hostel room drunk to her toes. “It surprised me. She was a good girl, to what I had gathered. But here she was, at 11.47pm, unable to utter a sensible sentence. She said she had something for me. A bottle of Best mzinga. Pulled it out from somewhere in her trench coat… that actually had no pockets!”
“Let me guess. You remembered the rules?” I ask.
“I wish,” he replies. “I wish I told her no that first night. Said I was tired. Even broken it off with her. But I didn’t. I couldn’t.” She said if he didn’t drink the alcohol she had bought for him then she would be “very offended”. So he did. [What is it with girls and not wanting to be drunk alone though?]. And so it began.
The two of them would get totally and completely batshit drunk that they forgot the days passed. He forgot about classes, chasing her around campus. “See, she was not my ‘girlfriend’. But she was all I had. I would find her making out with other guys behind classes, in her room, at the library. I would just hear things. Lots of things. People would come to me and say ‘Yoh Jack, your girl is behind the library with Bob’ and I would go, because she actually was my girl. But I wasn’t her guy and she made sure everyone knew that”
“Why didn’t you break it off? Whatever you guys had.”
“She was a good time. She is one of those girls who will make you believe you can hold the world in your palm when you are with her. She’s amazing. I was wrapped around her little finger. Also, remember I had never had any interaction with girls like that. She was most of my firsts, so I held on to her, or she to me.”
When his grades started slipping, his parents found out. They knew someone in the administration who would send them his grades immediately they were out. They came to campus, breathing fire from their nostrils. Why was he getting Ds? What was he lacking? Was the money they were sending him not fitting his needs? They could always increase the amount. Why was he failing? He said nothing. Let them ask their questions then get back home. But before they left, he asked a question. The first he ever posed to his parents. How did they know he was failing?
“My father looked at me like I had asked for a gun. Then he said the same thing I expected him to say, ‘Because we are the parents, and you the child’. But I was no longer a child. Lorraine said I was not a child. And then I plummeted down her path wholly.”
They became the dynamic duo. Clubbing every day of the week. Wearing the stench of alcohol as cologne. Barely eating. He lost so much weight that by the time he was woken up in class by a lecturer, he was just a frail shadow of himself. They had lost track of time.
“Young man, do you know what class this is?” he was asked. He didn’t know.
“What is your name?” He didn’t know.
He was sent to the Dean’s office, then was suspended indefinitely. He was before the disciplinary committee in 2 months, and a decision on his fate was made. He would get a thousand days, not counting holidays and weekends. After this time, if he chose to come back, he would have to resume his classes, repeat the ones to be repeated and do supplementary exams on the rest.
“Where was Lorraine?” I ask.
“I don’t know. Haven’t seen her till today. She changed her number. And I can’t say I have friends in school who I could ask to check on her, because I never had the chance to make friends in school. I wish I never looked up when she took my salt. I wish I never saw that yellow dress.”
“When do the thousand days end?”
“9th September, 2023”
Right now, most of the people I went to school with have kids and families and jobs and some even already own businesses. I think about where these people will be in 2023.
“I don’t know if I’ll make it till then. I don’t think I can wait.”
“What do you want?”
“Honestly? I just want my life back. I want my Goosebumps novels and my corner. I want the hoodies back. To crawl into the shadows and forget that the world exists. I’m done with jumping on lockers.”
A pineapple’s sweetness lies at the bottom. Jack is at his very bottom. There is no sweetness there.
[Still accepting AA stories. Send me an email or dm me on IG [Yes, ill check my DMs from now] Also… I will give priority to someone who enjoys his or her drink. Let’s get out of this sunken place for a while, right]