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.
“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]
For some reason, there is this notion that girls do not get along with their moms. I don’t understand it. Not that I haven’t tried, because I have. I simply cannot wrap my head around it. It also doesn’t help that I get along with mine on most days.
But then, as if the universe was sending me a direct message, this one girl sent me a text as I was bingeing on a Netflix series that I felt was trying too hard to be original. See, a story needs not be complicated, or about something you have never seen before, to capture the attention of the audience. It simply needs, and trust me on this, to be a GOOD STORY. ‘Trinkets’ was not common, but I also felt it was not as good as Netflix wanted it to be. Or maybe it is my palate that has become choosy.
It revolves around three girls [like every typical movie with girls…ever] but these girls happen to be kleptomaniacs. Well…in the end we find out one of them was going to Kleptomaniacs Anonymous meetings just for show…but that’s not important right now. Where I am going, with this tale of three girls who steal as therapy for their Hollywood lives, is somewhere in episode six or seven, where one of the girls is complaining about her mother (who posts everything on social media) to the other two, then stops suddenly and looks at the second girl and apologizes. This second girl lost her mother in an accident a few years back and is still dealing with that in her own way [the klepto-way]. But it didn’t hit me what had happened in the scene till the second one says “Don’t mind me. Daughters hate their moms. I know that.” Then my phone lit up.
“Can you write my story without using names?” it reads.
“Sure I can” I text back. “But why don’t you want to pick a name? You get to pick anything YOU want, you know?”
“I don’t want to hide behind an identity that isn’t mine. I embrace reality. My reality”
Now for just a second, I had a personal meeting. An existential crisis for MIRAWU. Have I been creating fake lives for the people whose stories I have told? Was letting them hide behind colors and flowers and cities wrong of me? Did I deny them their “reality”? Did I take away their ability to embrace it? To embrace themselves? But then I thought…what the heck. No one has complained, right? And until I post something here that makes someone say “That MIRAWU blog these days has grown a head”… I’m good.
Her mom enlisted in the army at 20 years old. She always wanted to serve. She was lieutenant on her way to captain when she got pregnant. “It was someone superior. That’s what she always said. Never a name. Even his rank was never mentioned. She only ever said that he was her superior and he ruined her life,” she texts.
She was forced to take a leave of absence, which meant she missed the required exams to advance to become a Captain. On top of this, another problem lay in wait for her at home. “Sometimes I think my mom got in the army to escape my grandma.” The grandma, as she describes, is something from a fairy tale. The evil step mother in Snow White, Cruella de Vil, the evil step mother in Cinderella, the forgotten fairy in Sleeping Beauty, all rolled in one. She is something resembling what Biko called a “Hurricane” in one of his Men and Marriage posts.
The mom had to drop out of the army since there was no one to take care of her baby. She had no siblings and all existing family members had been estranged due to her mother. She had no one and she knew it. Accepted it. Hated it. She loathed her mother for being who she was and she detested her new daughter for steering her life to where it was. She had anger so loud that a hundred thunderstorms could not drown it out.
“I don’t remember much of my childhood. But I recall one incident,” the daughter texts. “I think it was my birthday (which I had to find out by fishing my birth certificate from a back drawer that she had stuffed it into). I asked for a photo. A childish thing really. A simple wish. To remember the day I celebrated being born. I wanted a photo taken of my mother and me, possibly with me sitting on her lap, if it was not asking too much”
She wanted this photo for school. Her classmates kept bringing photographs of how amazing their birthday parties were, with smiling faces and tables strewn with treats that seemed to rain from heaven. She wanted a photo of her own to show, albeit without the endless treats and beautiful birthday clothes. But also, she says, she wanted the photo of herself. To remember the innocent times. When it was just the two of them. Instead, she was thrown across the room.
“Yeah, she just picked me up and threw me aside, literally. It’s the only thing I remember from my childhood. I remember my arm and knee hurt like hell.”
“So you paid an arm and a leg for asking for the photograph?”
She doesn’t get it. I thought it was really funny. And before all you Judgy Cathys start with me, remember that tragedy plus time equals humor. That’s what I was going for here.
“I discovered alcohol at 16. I was young and it made me numb to the things she would say to me as soon as I got home.”
“What would she say?” I ask.
“Wueh. Where to start. She would say I ruined her life. That I was the reason her path turned left. She would blame me for everything that went wrong. If she was cooking and she put a little more salt that intended, it turned out to be my fault. I destroyed everything in her eyes.”
“Was she violent?”
“Was she never? I always think I remember that birthday photo thing because it was when it actually started. There is nothing in the physical abuse handbook that that woman has not done to me.”
I am left in a somber mood. I don’t know what to say. How to even say it. how do you phrase a sentence to make tthis girl feel better about her situation? What kind of text will fix her?
“Don’t pity me,” she texts again. “I know what my situation sounds like. I have lived it. but it is my life, and I came to terms with it long ago. But I am going to get out of it. I will leave this hell hole and never look back.”
“Have you ever tried talking to someone about this?”
“No. im talking to you” this statement leaves a burden on my shoulders that I am not sure I can carry alone. I feel weighed down. What if I say the wrong thing? Something that pushes her over the cliff. What is the right thing to say? “But I’m not telling you this to make you obligated to tell my story. Do what you will. I’m just glad I got through the first step of talking about it”
“Do you hate your mother?”
She reads the texts and goes offline. I sit there, looking at my phone, trying to finish the last episode of Trinkets without thinking of her.
“Hate is such a strong emotion. I don’t think I hate her. But I don’t like her either. She has made my life miserable. But she also managed to give me the strength to work hard enough to get out. So now I have this scholarship, that is taking me out of the country next month. I haven’t told her yet. Maybe I will. Also, maybe one day, she will come home and find her punching bag Thousands of kilometers away. Let’s see what she’ll do then.
[We’re still looking for people wiling to share their AA stories. Send an email on email@example.com if you’ve got one]
“Girls have always gravitated towards me,” he says at one point in our conversation. I am tempted to ask whether this force is naturally occurring or man-made. Does it come as moths flock to a light source or bees to a flower? Instead, I let him go on. “See, I’m a girls’ guy. I’ve lived with girls. Growing up, I was surrounded by them.”
He is cocky and chauvinistic. The kind of millennial that truly believes that the place of a woman is the kitchen and a man enters his house only to bark orders. He is a lost millennial. One that has refused to evolve with the times and knows a man will always rule over all else. I don’t like him one bit. But the minute he says his name is Kevin, everything makes sense. It was either that or Brayo, right? The two lost groups of young men who still live as stereotypically as the people who raised them allow.
“I have 3 sisters. That’s how I learned how to deal with girls,” he continues. “I know when to let them talk and when to talk back. It’s an art I have perfected…and aki it has not been easy”
“Oh? How so”
“You know girls are different,” he says.
“And boys are the same?”
“Hapana. I don’t mean it like that. I mean they are delicate. How you deal with one is different from how you would deal with the next girl. There is no manual”
I laugh. “Where can I get a manual to understand boys?” I ask him. Then, just because I feel like it, I tell him he is coming off as arrogant, or trying too hard to sound tough and “manly”. He gets offended and leaves me on blue ticks. Two days later, I text him, “Hey, you got pissed with me before you gave me your AA story”
“wasn’t pissed. Just busy. text you jioni”
At 7.02pm, he tells me he had finished exams early that semester. It was in April, and the school had communicated that they would close on the 26th, which was the date his parents knew he would also be arriving home. However, the timetable had his last paper on the fifteenth, giving him about 10 days to use as he pleased. “Almost everyone in campus has had an opportunity like this. You finish your exams early and because you don’t want to leave Nairobi for a whole 4 months of long holz in Eldoret without having some fun to compensate at least, you tell a little white lie. You say you still have exams and they pray for you to do well, while you are piling bottles of Bluemoon and Kibao under your bedsitter’s kitchen sink.”
Nothing much happened in the first few days since most of his friends still had exams and he was “respecting their time”. So he waited. Patiently, with the knowledge of how good the weekend would be when all that pent up energy would be released.
On that last Friday, eerily similar to the biblical version, Kevin and his two best friends decided to have a final hurrah before getting ready for home. He tried really hard to not give me the names of these two boys, so I named them Red and Blue. Red came with his girlfriend of then eleven months [they have since broken up] and Blue has never had a girl around him for more than two weeks. Kevin referred to Blue as a “Lone Wolf”. Sometimes, they call him Wolfie “just for fun”.
Kevin’s girl was undetermined by the beginning of the night, but everyone knew the clock would not strike midnight before he had a pretty young thing clung to his arm.
The night began in his bedsitter, with a bottle of Bluemoon. “You always start cheap so you have enough mulla to splurge on the shawties when the night is on full beast mode.” The first order of business, however, was to pick the designated driver of the night. Kevin was out for obvious reasons. He provided the car [borrowed for the night from an uncle of his], which meant he had exclusive getting wasted rights. The tussle remained between Red and Blue where Red argued he had his girl to pick up… and she would get mad at him if she was drinking alone. Red was a gentleman, Kevin says, he couldn’t allow his girl to soar through a drunken stupor alone. [Ah, young love… am I right?]
Blue was the obvious choice, but he was not happy about it. He sulked the whole ride to pick Red’s girlfriend and the whole way to the club. An hour into the night, Kevin realized Blue was not having any fun. He was just seated with his hands crossed, looking so pissed off that he was bumming everyone out. So Kevin went up to him with an idea. For every two shots the other guys would have, Blue would have one. And it worked! Blue was blue no more [see what I did there?]
After a while, they wanted a change of scenery. Different club, different DJ, more “shawties”. They decided to club hop, and went into about 10 clubs in between Juja and Nairobi CBD. “By this time, I had made out with so many shawties I couldn’t keep count. Si I told you I’m smooth with the ladies. Hata Red and Blue salute me for that night to date. In tao is where shit got real sasa. Nairobi sio ya mtu. I took mulla from my wallet and stuffed it in my socks because I couldn’t even see straight. Red’s girl had blacked out in the car. Then I find this nigga Blue with a Best mzinga, drinking from the bottle.”
“Your designated driver got wasted?”
“Yeah man. Can I call you man? This dude decided he was done being responsible for us and our safety and just said “F it” to all of us”
“How did he get his hands on the mzinga? Weren’t you keeping an eye on him?”
“I wish. But girls can confuse a guy, man. I had my hands full and I just forgot about him. Remember I had promised him a shot for every two we had? Totally slipped my mind. He later said ati he felt left out on all the fun we were having so he decided to take matters into his own hands. But that’s not even the crazy part. Let me tell you about what happened when it was time to leave for Juja.”
When the clock struck 4.00 am, Kevin started freaking out about how they would get home. Blue could not speak a coherent sentence let alone allow his neck to hold his head upright. He found Red blacked out in the back seat next to his girl. He managed to partly lift Blue to the car and pry away the girl that had stuck to his side [because he is smooth and can’t let us forget it].
I asked what you’re thinking. Why didn’t they Uber, right? Kevin says he thought about it. but they were in a borrowed car. What would he tell his uncle…who needed the car back at 8.00 am? He had to soldier on. Be a man. So he forced the girl to remain behind [he doesn’t recall her name], and promised to call her as soon as he was able to [he is still not “able”]. Then he bought a liter of ice cold water, washed his face, poured it over his head, got behind the wheel and started out of the parking lot.
“Everything was going great. I was going at 30 kmph and since there was little to no traffic, it was easy. We got on to the highway and then all hell broke loose.”
Red’s girl woke up to find them leaving and started causing a ruckus about them letting her sleep while they had all the fun. But Kevin managed to tell her that they didn’t do much, that they just got drunk and blacked out…and that he had just woken up and decided to drive them back. She seemed to calm down after that and he continued to focus all his concentration on the road.
But then, the devil does not sleep. From the driver’s seat, he heard what sounded like a tire burst and a moan from Red. “What the fuck!”
“What is this?” asked Red’s girl. She had his phone, open to his gallery.
“What?” a groggy Red. “Did you fucking slap me?”
“This, Red! What the fuck is this”
“I…uh” Pause. “I don’t feel so good”
“HUH?WHAT the hell is THIS?”
Then he heard a belch, and the girl scream, and the sound of chunky soup spilling on the floor and he waited. He says he does not know what he was waiting for but he knew once it was there. He was waiting for the smell, to confirm that it was just water. That liquor had spilled on the back seat. That someone, anyone, had bought a bucket of chunky water. But as the smell of Red’s puke reached him, his heart sank. “WHAT THE FUCK MAN!” he said… more like shouted, and turned to look at the mess. He saw the look of the girl’s face first before he realized he had just fucked up. His foot searched for the brake pedal in the time that it took him to bring his head to face the road and when his toe touched something, he pressed with all his might, praying to the God of his mother that he did not hold the accelerator pedal.
There was a screeching sound, and a long honk from the truck in front of them. He remembers the number plate. It floats to his mind anytime he sees a steering wheel. He sees it in his dreams. He could be dreaming of Amish people but the number plate would still be there, on a carriage, on a horse, on a goddamn swing set. When the truck passed them, Blue opened his eyes just long enough to ask, “Was that a sewage truck? Damn, imagine if we crashed and our bodies would smell of both Nairobi’s poop and Red’s puke”
“We were face-to-face with death,” Kevin says on his final text.
Maybe he saw death, complete with the black-hooded robe and scythe. Maybe he saw nothing. He can’t say. What he can say, however, is that he went home that morning.
Some of you do not know that Railways was actually a train station first before it was stage ya Ronga. You have only seen it filled with buses to Ngong and Kitengela and Easy Coach. That inasmuch as it is the most common stage in this Nairobi CBD, it brought as many people to town even in the olden days. and you may think you knew this, but think about it. did you really? I know this because I was among you until I was enlightened. Brought to the light by the person who told me this story. Now, you must have figured out already that this is not a story a millennial. And you may sit down in a corner and ask yourself, “Didn’t this MIRAWU person say she would give us stories by millennials? Didn’t she say that she would not lie to us?” I know how you feel. But allow me to digress a little with this one story, told to me by someone who lived the life of the famous 70s and dressed the fashion of the 80s, but saw the same problems we face today.
I am made to understand that the houses that were provided for Railways employees were extremely big. In that time, you could walk in Nairobi without rubbing shoulders and holding on to your purse anytime someone bumps into you. There was space, and space here means you could do cartwheels in the CBD without bumping into anyone. In fact, I think they would just do somersaults around town on Sunday afternoons for the sake of it. Just because they could. Must’ve been nice. The people who designed these Railway houses had spent enough time in the streets that they thought the curtains should match the drapes. This, I was told, had both its positives and negatives. We will focus on the positives first. After all, who receives the bad news before the good?
He had five children. I’m not sure how many were girls and how many boys. They were children. They played together, lived and laughed in their father’s house. They were “Railways kids” [pronounced ‘RELWE’]. They were happy, as children from large households ought to be. No kid with more than two siblings ever says they had a dull childhood because children are cunning and stubborn and ruthless when it comes to having fun with each other. Plus, they had a big enough house to play in. They were happy children.
He, however, was not as joyous as his household. It was not that he was discontent with all he had achieved. I mean, he had laughter in his house. Any man whose walls vibrate with the laughter of his children is a happy man, to say the least. He could provide for his family –meaning he was happy with himself as well. His life was good. Almost perfect. People in ushago used him as a benchmark. A man would hit a calf on the back and think to himself “One day, I will be like So-and-so, with a big family and a big house in Narobi,” his dreams flooded by a time of no cow dung at the hem of his trousers.
This man’s children would set trends when they went to their visit their ushago relatives during the Christmas holidays. He would meet people in the streets filled with praises for his well-behaved children.
“Aah, Mr. So-and-so, this is you?”
“Ha-ha” he would smile coyly “This is me”
“You have come to visit us. Ei! that is good. The kids also need to know their home”
“How long are you staying? My Akech should meet with your youngest. You know they are age mates eh?”
The smile is wiped off his face. “That child is not mine”
“Aah, So-and-so, you play too much”
But he didn’t play. He was never one to mince his words and he did this, a lot. He said it to friends, colleagues, even relatives during holidays and family gatherings. He would be seated on a bench near the jiko that slowly roasted nyama choma when the wife would send one of the children to ask their father where he placed his socks because she wanted to do laundry. The child would come and whisper in his ear, since you do not speak of dirty socks near roasting meat, lest the hypothetical stench shifts gears. He would listen intently, as his face did things without his knowledge. A frown here, a scowl there. Tiny things that made no difference to someone who did not pay attention to a man whose belly was filled with kong’o. But for those who judged not and held no importance to a wig and gavel, conversations after one of his five children passed by him went a different way.
“That’s my oldest. Aah, I love this child. He is very smart too. You know he was number one again? He has remained in the position since class two. The brains on that child are like mine. Copyright!”
The second child passes: “That child is not mine. I don’t know where their mother got that child from but he is not mine.”
To this, someone would say, “Ah Buana, how do you know?” And he would reply, “A man knows his children”. But does he? Can a man say, without a sliver of doubt, that a child is truly his and no one else’s? How does he know? Is it the glistening of the child’s shaved head that he looks at and goes “that head glistens like my grandfather’s, hence that child is mine”? Or is it the child’s cough. Or his hands, in the way they grasp a cup at breakfast. It’s not black and white for a man. A woman can know. She has the possibility of having enough reason to believe a child is of a specific man… As a child is the mother’s before he is given to the father
[don’t fight me on this, I spoke to the elders first before I came to you with
When the wife started asking for another child, he was at a lack of words. He could not openly say no, because they had space for it
[notice we have began the negatives]
and his job was paying well enough that he could afford it. He just did not want to have another kid whose paternity he would have to worry about. But he could not tell his wife this, so he hid in alcohol.
He began drinking at about the same time Railways employees were suddenly retrenched. Some would say he did this because he lost his job. He could no longer provide and hence he felt like less of a man. That he drank to mask this pain. But people close to him know. The person telling me this story knows. He drank because of his paternity wrangles.
“What does the wife say?” I asked.
She said the kids are his. That no other man has gone where her husband has ventured. But in-laws always doubt these things. They have a way to assume everything you claim is a lie.
It did not help when he relocated his family to ushago at around this time. There was already so much going on that this one move seemed to tip the pile over. a normal person would have put up a house just enough for his family. The kids could have even shared a room in this said household. But you don’t come here for stories about normal people and because he was mtu wa Relwe, he built a mud bungalow. Talk of spare rooms that were never moved into (because they had to sell half their belongings to move upcountry) and a house so massive that people came over just to marvel at its size.
When it rains, they say, it pours. His drinking got so bad over the months and with his diminishing funds, he started seeking alternative sources to pay for his mug of froth. One evening, while sitting under a tree outside his house, he was looking at the roofing, and at the spare rooms that nobody used and he realized he was housing nothing when that effort could be taken elsewhere. So he got a hammer and a ladder, climbed up the latter and pounded with the former, then took his “spare” roofing material to pay for his drink. His wife tried to protest but at this point in their marriage, she had become white noise to his ears.
“He has been doing that for a while now. The house remains halfway roofless. Last I heard, he wanted the kids to share rooms so there could be more dues for his beer.”
It often happens that I meet people I never thought I would again when I am totally zoned out while walking, thinking about pancakes or a cute puppy that I just discovered on Instagram, or trying to remember a new word I just read and forgot to write down so it slipped my mind. It happens a lot [everything from meeting these folks to recalling that bedlam means chaos] and most times, it is a huge pain, mostly because after the meeting and exchanging numbers, we will most definitely never talk. But sometimes, and very rarely, it morphs into a beautiful friendship that knocks my socks off [and you should know how much I love socks].
I feel like the second time we met was Heaven-sent, because that was the moment we became friends again. Before that, she was just someone in my past. I can confidently say that after my last K.C.P.E paper, she never crossed my mind. But one day, four years later, fate came into the picture [Ha-ha, I’m making this sound like a soap opera, right?] I was going for computer classes in April 2015, dreaming of going to Multimedia University of Kenya in September that same year [Yes, I actually wanted to go to MMU]. I was adamant. If they did not call me, I would go on self-sponsored program. I had told my dad this, countless times, but each time he just blew air out of his nose [same way you do before sending the four laughing emojis] and looked at me, probably thinking “does this one know university costs money? And SSP programs’ fees are much, much higher than where the university calls you”, but he still let me dream.
After classes (computer) I would walk with two of the people I was in class with to town then get a matatu home. On this day, as fate would have it [I brought up the fate thing so I could say this], I forgot something in the classroom (let’s say keys because my memory evades me). We were already in the CBD and if I remember correctly, the classes would be closed immediately the last person was out. But I needed those keys (if that’s what I had actually left behind) because how the hell would I get in the house otherwise? A girl had to go back and beg the cleaning guy to open the door so I could get my keys. And a girl had to go fast.
I wasn’t seeing what was in front of me. My brain was preoccupied with getting to the class and the keys then straight home before I got drenched in the rain. The world around me had faded to a blur, as it does most times, and I had not seen her until I was about two feet from bumping into her. I immediately knew who she was, but not exactly who she was. I don’t think you actually get that. I mean I knew where I knew her from…just not her name, or her face. It was her skin color. Ginger [that’s what she wants you to know her as] has always had skin that is almost yellow. She is the proverbial lightskin. And immediately I saw that shade of yellow I knew, without a doubt who she was, but her name evaded me. I didn’t tell her this, mainly because she called me by name which meant I would have hurt her feelings asking hers. She told me she was going to MMU, and even though I still had not received the nod from my dad, I told her I too would join her in a few months. I knew I wanted to go there, I just needed to convince him [which I did]. We exchanged numbers, and for reasons of my security, I will not tell you what I saved her as.
I’ve tried writing about her before, but it never felt right. The words did not move in the correct sequence and I just knew, in the way only I would, that it wasn’t the right time. There are a lot of things to write about when it comes to her, but this is AA, and she had a story on it, so that’s what we will read about today.
Ginger was in second year at the time. It was Friday afternoon and class was dragging as usual. I don’t know how the most boring of lecturers get the Friday afternoon class, but the government needs to set up a comittee that will be tasked with investigating the root cause of this problem. These classes drain you of your life force and leave you in desperate need of air and life, so it is only understandable that most campus students need to unwind come Friday night, and our sweet Ginger was one of them on this night. She got her posse together and after a fun time getting ready [because getting ready is the best part of going out], they went to a club that was frequented by students from all campuses around Rongai. It was one of these hip new places that have just opened and where students go because they need the selfies to prove how hip and up to date they are.
“Ey, you guy [I never understand why anyone would call someone this], did you go to ABC club last weekend?” asks random dude 1 on Monday.
“Yea man, I was there Friday. It was maad” says random dude 2.
“Really man? Coz I was there on Friday with kina Ginger and I didn’t spot you. Kwani who were you with?”
RD2: Aah, si you know me you guy my guy. I just chunguliad and left
RD1: Oh, heh, si Ginger killed manze, that dress my guy wooosh [because onomatopoeia was something they learnt in school]
RD2: I saw her snap man
RD1: By tha lemme see your pics on Friday. You must have been there when I wasn’t. Were there bad chilles?
RD2: Uh…Yeah man. So bad…uh…so bad that I forgot to take pics. You have to live in the moment sometimes G
Ginger was being totally “bad” this night [please don’t mistake being bad with being irresponsible, though a girl can do both in this era]. She was dancing. Ginger loves to dance. Anytime music plays you will find her bobbing her head or whining her waist polepole. She loves to move to music. In the midst of this unwinding, there was the taking of shots, the whining of waists, the bumping of heads and the dancing on tables, all her.
It will be important to make clear that I was not surprised, especially with the dancing on tables. Because if I was to make a bet on any of the people I know, the bet on ‘most likely to dance on a table on a Friday night in a club’ [and I probably need to find better names for these bets] would most definitely go to her. If some random person came to me and said “Hey, Mirriam, I saw your friend dancing on tables” and I asked “are you sure it was a friend of mine?” and they said yes… I know what I would say. I would say “Oh, that must be Ginger”. Not that my other two friends don’t have the DOT (Dancing on tables) gene…but the best bet would be her. She is the most upbeat person I know, meaning in a place with louder beats, she will definitely be up, literally. At some point, she blacked out. The times I heard someone blacked out because of alcohol consumption was at a house party and they had too much of it but were not active enough, ergo sitting down trying to figure out the meaning of life, and the alcohol got the best of them. But this? This was new to me. She doesn’t remember blacking out, just waking up next to a girl she did not know, in a house she did not recognize and… to top it all off, in Karen.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. What is it with Karen and these girls? Last week’s house without food had the same location. Right? Because me too! And I promise Stormi and Ginger are different people. Maybe this is the storytelling version of Déjà vu. You know? How all this is just too eerily familiar and all that. Maybe today’s story is last week’s déjà vu. Or last week’s is today’s? aargh I’m muddled [that just means confused, but there is this book I’m reading has me going back to the dictionary like I did not learn any English, so I thought why not throw that in there? Have us be a couple of muddled people. Muddlers Ha-ha] Want to know what she did? Well… she got her ass home and vowed to never go out clubbing on top of tables ever again. That’s what she did.
Also, I know what her name is. Please don’t think I have had her as a friend all these years without knowing her name. I am no boy.
[Send me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org if you have an AA story that you want to tell here. Remember, you get to pick any name you want. Isn’t that cool?]