For Lilly, life was as simple as life came. Eat, breathe, sleep. For her, life was routine. She was an average student. She attended church every Sunday because it was what her family did. She did what was required of her under her parents’ roof and there were no complaints. She had three meals a day and socks on her feet. Life was modest. Life equaled eat, breathe, sleep.
Lilly took her KCPE in 2008, scored a total of 361 marks and got admitted to Kipsigis Girls High School. She found herself in the strange land of mursik drinking girls whose parents pondered when they would leave school to get husbands. Girls who wore what they wished and talked how they pleased. Girls whose windows were hit by small pebbles from boys who wanted to sneak into their rooms when it was dark. She was stunned by the wave of culture shock and she loved it. She could do as she wished here. She was alone, without the stern hand of her father or the unyielding eye of her mother.
The lies came clean from her lips as if she had thought of them all her life. Her father became a lawyer and her mother a nurse. She killed off her younger siblings and remained with an elder sister who was taking her Masters in the United States. She became Lilly, not Lilian Kang’ethe Wanjiku and like the flower, she flourished. The lies filled her with adrenaline and she worshipped the rush. She acquired a steady boyfriend at home, Kevin, who proclaimed his love for her in lengthy flowered and perfumed paper that made girls green-eyed. Everyone wanted to be her. She was the girl with the flawless life and by the time she was in Form Two, she was the impeccable girl with the picture-perfect life.
Issues arose when her mother felt it wrong that she had never seen her daughter in school. Mothers are magical beings. They can smell a running nose in us when the cold is three days away. When she asked, Lilly was quick. Her brain had acquired a year’s experience in thinking on its feet. “I told her I would have loved it if she came, but they don’t let parents see students while in session. I told her that if she came, she would be held up in the staffroom and would only talk to teachers then be asked to leave.” Lilly knew her mother was not interested in her teachers. Her grades were excellent. Why would she want to see her teachers when her grades were off the charts? What her mother really wanted was to see her, in school uniform and in the school she was breaking her back to send her Lilian to. To meet her friends. Mothers always want to know who our friends are, as if we would dare introduce them to the kush reeking blood-eyed fellas [not that I have any, Mom].
2010 was a time way before Matiangi’s crazed up Education designs. We still had food brought to us in school in the guise of Visiting Day. We clung to crippling fear that nobody would come and we miserably hung around the school gates. The relief when you saw a familiar face was eerie. We hid food up ceiling boards when teachers searched us. We took Eno on these days because you had to taste whose chapattis were to die for and whose mother made better chicken.
During such days, Lilly would sit quietly at her desk with a book because she was sure nobody would come. Not that she wanted them to come anyway. Her father was out of the country on lawyer business and her mother was swamped in hospital. Her friends understood this. After all, when you have busy parents, you make your peace with it. Back home, her people knew their Lilian stayed at a friend’s for Half-term break. It was pointless to have her travel all the way home for the few days she could spend studying.
Lilly’s cousin joined the school in 2011. By then, Lilly was in Form Three and had become somewhat a celebrity. Her way was the way. Girls cut their skirts to her length and brushed their teeth when she did. She developed her very own posse. The cousin, then in form one, was told to take care of Lilian, because Lilian was almost a finalist and she needed time to study. “She took it literally. She would come to class when preps were almost over to take my shirt and socks away to wash and leave next day clothes on my bed,” says Lilly.
She felt married. I don’t know what this feeling is because clearly, I have not tasted the fruits of matrimony before. Does that happen overnight or is it one of those feelings that needs nurturing, like an injured puppy? “She did everything for me. She queued for my food then went back for her own plate. She got me hot water to take baths with. We didn’t even have hot water to begin with!” Once, she found toilet paper cut in 6 pieces each and folded in her locker. This girl estimated that her cousin would need 6 pieces of tissue to poop! If that’s marriage, then I don’t want it. I want freedom to be able to close my eyes and run toilet paper out of my hands until my ancestors tell me it is enough. “It was too much, I know, but I felt like a queen. Everyone adored me. I did nothing yet they worshipped my breath. It was all I could ask for.”
It did not seem eccentric to give her a copy of her keys. After all, a wife needs house keys, right? The cousin began organizing. Arranging, folding, pulling this out and putting that there. She did too much, according to Lilly. But nothing ever prepared her for what came during their mock exams.
Everyone has a mock exams story if you ask me. I might tell you mine someday. “You know why they are called “Mock”, right?” I say. “They make a joke of our lives. They mark you, those mocks. They seem easy, but it’s like a rollercoaster, of your emotions, your life, your grades, your life’s choices. It marks an era about to end. It confirms to you that you are almost where you dread and leaves no room for doubt about it.” She stares at me. Maybe I have said too much.
“Anyways…” she begins. You know you screwed up when someone starts a sentence with ‘Anyways’. It’s a slap in the face, that plural anyway. No one ever goes “Anyways.., you guy, you crack me up”. It’s always something that they will go on to tell people about. “That strange girl that writes talks of weird shit, you now?” Anyway, she continues. “My cousin fucked everything I had worked for in so long. She got this notebook I had been writing everything down on. Every lie I ever told, with the truth against it, and she came to me with it. I should have just owned up to it then maybe she would have let it go. But you know what I did? Queen of Kipsigis? I yelled at her. Called her poor and uncultured. I told that poor girl that she had no business in my business and that actually made my business everyone’s business.”
Girls bruise like peaches. We hurt with words and we hurt with sticks. We are contused by thoughts of people about us and by our own thoughts. And when a lioness is injured, she wreaks havoc. The cousin, in her hurt, told the one person who could not keep a secret about the book. Every school has one. In my high school, we were lucky to have the mohaha dealer in our class (mohaha being information that you would not necessarily get hot off the press). She didn’t have to do much, the cousin. She just gave the book to their mohaha dealer and asked her to spread the news like the Gospel. Far and wide.
“How long did it take for the teachers to know?” I ask. You know it is hot mohaha when it gets to the teachers.
“Not long. They knew by the next morning. The whole school knew by supper time.” Blazing.
The saga spread like bushfire. How Lilly is the daughter of a farmer and a stay at home mother who got pregnant at 15. How they lived in a scanty two-roomed house in the interior parts of Central and how she had 7 siblings, not one of them having gone to high school, let alone taking a Master’s Degree. Also, in a shocking turn of events, Kevin did not exist. Kevin was a lie she wrote to herself every two weeks to keep her posse envious.
“Did you honestly think you would get away with all these lies?”
“At the time I did. I thought it would be one little white lie of why my parents couldn’t come to school. But people started asking questions. Why couldn’t they come? What did they do? Where we lived? And I started fabricating all these stories that quickly got away from me.” People talked about her all through the last year of high school. She braved it all. “Girls can be lethal if they want to be. People who worshipped me became better than me. They saw themselves superior.”
Uh-oh. I angered the beast. “Weren’t they superior to you?” Shut up! Shut up! Shut UP! “In the sense that they owned up to their parents, whether they were selling mursik in the streets or picking tea in farms. They were true to themselves. To their lives. They never thought it necessary to tell even the one little white lie to make themselves better than the others.”
Let me tell you a little bit about Lilly. She is 25 years old. But she is one of those 25 year-old women who think they are grown simply because they can go into any night club that exists. She looks at 24 year-olds as children. She looked at me as a child. She has this air about her that tells you she is stronger, or maybe that is just her strong-smelling perfume. Scratch that. She wears cologne because it is manly. Because she is better than smelling like flowers and cotton fields. When Lilly talks to you, she lets you know that she is older than you. She wants you to believe it too. She begins conversations by asking, “And how old are you?” just so she can gauge how to belittle you into the ant that she seen you as. She is condescending and pompous. She says things like “You know I got a job a week after university” because she is Lilly, and she is better than everyone else. She wears this facade perfectly and if you don’t know any better, you will fall into the trap of her loftiness.
She stands to leave and I let her. She wears an expensive watch. But maybe it is these Moi Avenue mendacities as well. I read somewhere that when you lie, you first have to believe the lie. Then you have to have the energy to embrace the lie, to own it. And lastly you have to remember that lie, next week, next month, next year. And the thing with one lie is that it needs another lie to cover it and then another lie to cover that one. You end up in a prison of deception [Okay, you guessed it. I got that from Biko].
Moral of the story? Don’t write down your lies with the truth against it. Wahengas have spoken.
There are people who smell like money. People whose price of cologne alone could feed a small village for two days straight. These people have a spring to their step because they know for a fact that their families will never have to worry financially for generations that don’t even have names yet. People who breathe money. They sit and their bank accounts talk for them. They don’t have to do anything, say anything, because they are loaded beyond one’s own imagination. They can hire people to wipe their butts if they so wish. These are also people you never really see because they are usually behind the lenses. They pull the strings and the puppets dance. They say jump and rulers of nations ask how high. Such a man is Emma’s father.
You must understand that I do not know who he is exactly. When she sent the first email I ignored it for two days. Reason? The email read; -My father is wealthy-. No follow up, no yours sincerely, nothing. I didn’t know if it was a crazy person or a prospect for my hand in marriage. I assumed Kamiti people had upgraded to email services. Two days later I got another one; -Ref: My father. Body: He just left the country. Mother is happy-. I honestly think you have to possess a certain kind of lifestyle to say “Mother”. A Mother-the-swimming-pool-is-dirty rather than a Mother-there-is-no-salt kind of living.
I sent a message asking what the father does for a living and she answered -Things for governments-. Are these “Things” what he has travelled for? She says she can’t tell. I’m not sure whether it is because I am a stranger or she too is bamboozled by the title of the job itself.
Emma met Daniel at her father’s office. He was an intern. He was also her opportunity to get some attention at home. “I remember seeing him and thinking ‘He is so normal. Mom will be so mad’, and so I pursued him”. She started by saying hello. Boys get intrigued when you are nice to them. Maybe there are not enough nice girls out there and it shocks them when they meet one. They were texting into mornings by the end of the week. Danny was smart. No one had made her laugh like he did. No other person had talked to her like he did. He told her what was outside his windows. “Mother’s face when I brought him home for the first time was priceless. I planned it perfectly. She is rarely home so I waited for when she was around all day and asked him to come”. Danny was introduced as a really good friend, with as much innuendo that her mother knew what he really was.
At this point, I’m thinking what would happen if I brought a random guy to my mother’s house. “Hey mom, ssup *wink” this is Blue, my really good friend *wink wink*. He is here to spite you for not giving me attention.” No, wait. I lie. I wouldn’t even get as far as wink number 2 before I lose consciousness.
There are people whose parents have nothing. People who go to bed with their stomachs empty and their hearts full. People who when they laugh, their bodies shake. Who have everything to wish for but want for nothing. There are also people whose parents have everything but are empty. People whose houses are full but they themselves are lacking in all aspects.
Last year, around August, Daniel spent the day then went home. Mother sat her down and asked her not to see him again. She said he was not right for her. “It was like she flicked a switch in me. Danny became irresistible from then on”. She couldn’t stop herself from wanting to see him. They dated for a while, in secret of course. Who knows what Mother could have done if she found out, right? But she did. And there was hell to pay. When Mother found out, she called her father. It was the first time her parents had talked in months, so Emma knew it was bad. It was also the 31st of December. Father came home early that day. It was a night of many firsts.
Her father was sitting at the head of the dining table when Emma walked in. She took the farthest seat from him. Mother sat opposite. You knew it was real bad when father had a glass of brandy outside his study. That day, he came with the classic cut crystal decanter to the dining table. Father refilled his glass till the decanter was empty. A night of many firsts.
Together, Emma’s parents told her about a night in 1996, when they had just come from their honeymoon and found a woman waiting with Emma’s grandparents at that same table. The woman, her father said, had been his secretary and there had been relations, the result to which was a young intern boy at his office. Emma held on to her seat. Her father said more words that she does not remember hearing. The clock struck midnight with the three of them seated there; Father at the head of the table, Emma at the far end and Mother opposite her.
“It’s not your fault darling”, they had said. “The error is on us for not telling you sooner.” Emma feels the error is bigger than her not being told sooner. “The error began when a mother was forced to raise her son in captivity because my father is a ‘Big Man’”. The words roll out of her tongue like she hates them. Like she despises the fact that her father is a man that could leave a child out in the cold because of his reputation. She left home. That night, in the wee hours of New Year’s Day, Emma told her parents that she would rather live with stray dogs than be in the house that 23 years ago, paid a pregnant woman to be quiet for the ‘Big Man’. “The error was that he became a Big Man and lost his soul to his name”.
Some things force you to assume they only happen in movies. Some things are so twisted they sound like someone’s imagination flew too high and got burnt by the sun.
“Have you met his mother?” I ask. That would be an awkward meet. She says she hasn’t. At least not yet. “But I have plans to. I just don’t know if I’m going to go as Danny’s girlfriend or the daughter to the man who paid her off to have his baby away from him because he was too important for her”. She carries a lot of hurt with her. She is lost in a maze that she didn’t agree to get into in the first place and it is sad. “I know what I’m supposed to say. That Danny is my father’s son. That he and I are…you know…kinda related”. The word ‘kinda’ is a lie. It is the 3 kgs we tell ourselves our clothes weigh when we stand on a weighing scale. It is a taste of food at 1.00am when it is dead silent and you can truly see yourself and judge as if there are eyes on you in the dark. It is forbidden love between a princess and the stable boy who happens to also be a prince in a shocking but foreseen twist. It is the Big Man’s lie.
“I’ll tell you what’s funny. Danny’s birthday is 31st of December”. She smiles.
[Also, it is my birthday today. Coincidence? I think not. Have an amazing end of January my lovelies]
At 7, you were probably still riding your bike with the training wheels on. At 7 you hold a grudge for 4 minutes and forget about it. You have a favorite princess dress that you will wear any chance people are going out and at 7, a football was your best friend. At age 7, Julian Wagumba was returned to the gates of Nairobi’s New Life Children Center.
He doesn’t remember much about this specific time other than the cologne of his then ex-foster father, a smell that follows him till today. He remembers a call from a social worker he calls Nancy. He was 8. She had found a family that wanted a boy and she had convinced them to take him. They wanted a younger boy but Nancy had talked him up to them. All she wanted from him was that he behaved this time. No more trouble. Was he trouble? I ask. He says he does not remember. I think he was. He says he was happy. He had a family once again. No more bunk beds or mass cooked food.
Julian recalls the gates. Every time he remembers the gates. How they opened to let him in or closed to keep him out. The Kilonzos had a yellow gate with little white arrows at the top. When it opened, he marveled at the lush green lawn. He vowed to be on his best behavior. He was there for five months then he was back at New Lifes gates. “Nobody wants to adopt an eight year-old. All they want are the young ones. You know?” I nod as if I do. “They say the older kids are trouble. They know too much. They will start asking questions soon and they know who aren’t their parents.” By the time he was 10 years old, Julian had to come to terms with the fact that he would never have a family. He convinced himself that no one would ever love him. That he was not the kind of kid that could call a brother for M-pesa or beat up a boy who messed with his sister. He accepted this. Accepted himself. Then he met Uncle Z.
Julian has eyes that hide more than his words reveal. His eyes never dart away when you look at him. He gazes back and you find yourself in a staring conquest that you know from the word go you could never triumph. He looks at the world like he knows secrets hidden from the government. Like he is in cahoots with some alien species that is soon taking over and he can only tell you with his eyes and not his words.
“Where are they?”
“Who?” he asks
When he talks about Uncle Z, he first makes you feel like he is talking about an old best friend who drifted apart but still hits him up for some nyama choma in Kitengela. He says that the first time he saw Uncle Z was at right after he came from the Kilonzos. That was not the first time Uncle Z saw him.
What was it like? Going back there when he were sure he wouldnt?
“I’ll admit it wasnt pretty. I hated everyone and everything around me. I spent most days feeling shitty and making sure everyone who talked to me felt the same way. It was not easy, you know. Being the only big kid there, especially when all your friends have families that love them and end up forgetting to come see you like they promised they would.”
He remembers Freddy in particular. When Nancy came for Freddy, they made a pact to be brothers for life. Freddy promised to come every Sunday to see him. His brother. He came once then never again. He forgot about him, just like everyone did. Everyone but Uncle Z. He talks about Freddy with venom on his tongue. I asked him how old Freddy was at the time.
“Does it matter?”
“He was 5…or 3.”
Julian met Uncle Z formerly on his way from school when he was 10. He remembers because it was around the time when the sisters at New Life wanted to take him to boarding school. He hated the idea of boarding school, but he loathed the home even more. He remembers a man calling to him. A man who looked familiar and only introduced himself as Uncle Z and who said he was a friend of his parents. Did he know his parents? Yes, a long time ago. Where? When? Uncle Z could not answer. He said that if the home had any idea of the whereabouts of his parents, they would have to give him back. Julian wanted to be given back. Maybe his parents would give him the love that the Kilonzos couldnt.
Uncle Z always had a smell about him that Julian could not place with the naivety of a 10 year-old. It became daily routine that Uncle Z would wait for him at his schools gate and they would walk to New Life together. He longed for those 10 minutes. He lived for them. Soon, he was running errands for Uncle Z and their 10 minute-walk became fifteen, then twenty then an hour. The detours began. Lets take the long way, Uncle Z would say. Pass by a friends. Pick that up, take this there.
Whenever Julian asked about his parents, Uncle Z would brush him off and send him for a pack of cigarettes or a bottle wrapped in newspaper. Most days it was the bottle. Then he asked if Julian was getting any pocket money but the sisters only gave him money enough for his lunch. There was never any need for additional pocket money since he went straight from the home to school and back. The next day Uncle Z was not waiting. Julian stood at the school gates until everyone was out and till it was dark. He cried all the way home. Day after that he saved his lunch money till evening. He got out of class with the bell and waited at the gate. The watchman asked him what the problem was, and, that if he wanted to wait for his father on the bench, instead of standing at the gate, he could. “He’s not my father.” The watchman stared at him in silence.
“Uncle Z is not my father,” he tells me as if I had refuted the claim.
The man said they looked alike. That they had a resemblance only fathers and their sons possess. They even walked the same. Julian says that the walk was because he copied Uncle Zs walk. They did not have the same walk. As he was sitting there, watching his classmates, he spotted Uncle Z and ran to him. Life was good after all.
He told Uncle Z about money as they walked to their after school rendezvous. That he had saved and would keep saving incase Uncle Z was ever in need of money. Uncle Z smiled at him for the very first time. He seemed proud and that made little Julian happy. When the bottle was bought that day, Julian got to sip. Uncle Z said you never buy and not drink. It was an unwritten rule. Julian says he felt his throat melt. He choked on the bottle and almost spilled the contents. He thought he had died. Uncle Z was smiling at him. Who would smile when someone was on their last breath? Youll get better at it. No other word was spoken that evening.
Julian was sure Uncle Z would like it if he could have the bottle and not choke so he began going on solo rehearsal sessions the very next day. He rushed from school during lunch hour and got a wrapped bottle for himself. He felt queasy after a few sips and lay down to rest for a little while. The first thing Julian remembers of waking up after his first real drink is being butt naked. The breeze had made his buttocks numb. It was dark, save for a security light in the distance and he felt he was beginning a new chapter of his life. Your own Garden of Eden, dripping with water of life, I say. I don’t think he gets it.
He ran to the home and told the sisters he had been robbed. He even cried. Those sisters were suckers for tears he says. A little waterworks and they let you go to your room to pray and be on your own. They let him have a lot of alone time and that is what fueled his first few months of drinking. He would come straight from school to the liquor store and to his room. The sisters found empty liquor bottles under his bed when they were cleaning a few months later. He was outside, 11 years old and drunk as a skunk. They prayed for him and he promised to stop. But that is not a promise you make when you are intoxicated. The next time he was busted, he ran away. He went to the Kilonzos but they refused to take him in. They told him that his father was alive and had sent them threats when they had him. “Find your father Julian,” Mr. Kilonzo had said with his hand on his shoulder, like a father would talk to a broken son. The yellow gates closed.
He refuses to talk about who his father is, but I have a feeling I already know.
The streets accepted him at age 16, with the clothes on his back and a jacket that was two sizes too big. He sleeps in pavements and begs from passersby when the sun is out.
“What do you do with the money you get?
He smiles and shows me a bottle wrapped in newspaper.
After their wedding, David’s new father-in-law paid for his Diploma in Management. He left his wife just 2 days into their new lives knowing it would all be worth it. He studied the same way he won her heart. For her. For his angel. He did odd jobs to support himself in school and sent money back home to Sylvia. It is what a man would do, and David was a real man. He said he never looked at any other women when I asked. Sylvia is his soulmate. She saved all the envelops that came to her from Nairobi with little trinkets from a time he was walking down a street or some paper boat he made while thinking of her.
[Hello newbies…the link to the first part is this https://notyetadults.wordpress.com/2018/10/11/davids-angel/]
She travelled often to see him. Nairobi girls can spot a good man from a mile away. She did not want hers taken before she had gotten used to the idea of being his wife. When she got pregnant, she rushed with the news to his classroom and they were thrown out for disrupting the lesson. They didn’t care. They were in love. The perfect duo. The Legend to her Chrissy.
Dave Kalalei was born on a cold July morning in 1996. His father was by his mother’s side the whole time. He changed diapers and got puked on. He loved every single second of it. He held her hand through his brother’s birthday too, two years later. Dave does not recall this day. He was too young to remember his father receiving the call that changed him from the guy who gave piggyback rides to a stern-frowning ever-shouting monster who hit them with belts, threw boots at them and one time, when Dave was 16, his mother’s jiko.
The phone call came with the second most terrifying scream David Kalalei has ever heard. He was driving his wife and newborn son from the hospital when his phone rang with an unknown number. Usually, he never answers numbers he has not saved but he was so happy he had to tell someone. It didn’t matter if it was a wrong number call. His wife wishes he never answered this one call.
“Hello?” he must have said with a smile on his face. The kind of smile that comes with the joy of being a new father to a healthy baby boy.
“Kalalei? David Kalalei?”
“I’m calling about your mother.”
David must have frozen, recalling the last time he had even thought of his mother. When she could barely set her eyes on him. When she made that terrible sound from her throat that caused his heart to shred to bits. She had called to strangers to come take her murderous son who had slain her Goliath.
“I don’t ha…”
“She passed away.”
He must have suddenly hit the brakes and caused his wife and son to be thrust forward (this is for science…inertia and all. See? I paid attention in school too).
As if on cue, some random woman in the background let out a scream after the caller said this. The second worst sound he has ever heard. He felt in his bones the farce that was the scream. The choreographed delusion that clearly elaborated the sham he was. He was one with the scream. Morphed into it. A futile joke that showed his mother’s mistakes. He stopped the car, got out and walked. Sylvia did not know what to do. She followed him, trying to ask what the problem was. He just walked.
I’m starting to think David is a walker.
She went back to the car and found the caller still on the phone. They needed to go back to Baringo to plan the funeral. They were the only family Maria Kalalei had. Nothing could be done without their consent. She tried to look down the road David had taken. Nothing. He was not coming back. Her David was broken once more. She thanked the man and hang up.
When she got home, her husband was not there. He was always home, on the couch by the TV. Not watching it, he never watched TV. He is a radio man, that David. What he liked was watching Dave watch cartoons on the box with pictures. But he was not there. He did not come home that night. There was a knock at dawn. She had not slept. Her hero of a husband was at the door in the morning, reeking of alcohol. He never drank, except for the occasional celebratory wine. But he reeked. She looked at him once and asked if he wanted a shower. No answer. He got into the house and went straight for the bedroom. In the 8 years she had known him, she always got an answer. It didn’t matter if she had angered him or if he was exhausted to death.
The months that followed were wearying for Sylvia. David had helped with Dave. She had counted on him being as supportive with the new baby. A month-old infant and a 2-year-old boy was too much for a girl who had never taken care of any other person other than the man who had decreased himself to a drunken stupor.
Dave Kalalei Jr says he grew up knowing his father as a no-nonsense man. You would get a boot on the arse for anything! Failed grades, spilled milk and even the baby crying. A boot in the arse for any wrongdoing. It didn’t matter who was in the wrong. One time, he recalls, he came home 20 minutes late because he missed the first turn on the school bus while waiting for his report card. His father was always home by 3:00 pm for his before-evening whisky. David had transitioned to drinking at the house and Dave was late in giving him his routine 3 glasses at 3pm before disappearing to bars till midnight. Dave says this was when his father started hitting him. As soon as he was off the bus, a brown boot was on his face. That was his father’s M.O. A boot in the face or on the arse if he had no time to take it off.
Over time, it fluxed to beatings. The same way you would beat a thief by the road, only without the rocks and tyre to burn him. Dave was hit at every excuse. It was the same as the boot-season, only more intense because blows, punches and slaps were factored in.
His younger brothers fought over the remote? Punch-Kick-Slap
His mother left for the market without telling her husband? Kick-Slap-Punch
He sits on the couch doing nothing? Being idle and irresponsible? You know how this goes.
So Dave grew up fearing his father. He was crippled with terror any time his father took a breath. He lost his hearing for a week when he was 14 and cried himself to sleep every night. David Kalalei always told himself he was beating his son’s mistakes and made sure Dave knew this. He wanted his son to grow up tough. Grow up into a man.
But Dave is his father’s son. Soon, his scrawny got biceped. He stopped thinking about his father. About the looming beatings at every turn. An exoskeleton formed and he was as tough as only one who has gone through what he did can become. When he hit back, once, his father was clearly shocked. It was one punch. One punch that knocked David Kalalei back to his senses. He looked at his son for the first time in 17 years, shook his head and went to bed.
Sylvia tells me David slept for 3 days. Nonstop. This man is a Rubik’s cube of his own kind. In the three days, he says he dreamt of his mother. Says she came to him and asked him to forgive her. Well, he says ‘begged’, but I know for a fact that African mothers do not beg their children for anything. You either forgive them or live a life of misery beating your children senseless and ruining your angel’s life in the process. Sylvia says when he woke up, he took a shower, got out and went back in for another shower. He had only taken showers for meetings in 17 years.
Two weeks ago, when Dave Kalalei Jr walked out of Mathare Hospital from his last psychiatric meeting, he felt relieved. He told the story of his father. Of how David Kalalei had been broken by his own mother’s scream and the pretentious wail of a stranger. He told of his mother’s unending love and prayer. The meetings were for his father, for even though David Kalalei now showers every morning, he could not bring himself to walk into a psychiatric doctor’s office.
But he had raised a son with thick skin, and an elastic heart. Dave did not talk of the punch that saved his family’s life in his sessions. This is not the story of the punch he threw.
He also said I should not call this story ‘The Fist of Fire’, which is what I had initially thought of.
Somewhere between the confines of the blue mesh and the white walls of Mathare was where Dave Kalalei Junior learnt to accept his fate. Going in, he had sworn to never let the crazy people doctors anywhere near his head. He was alright. He was of perfect health. In fact, his father was the one who should have walked through those gates.
His father, David Kalalei Sr is one tough cookie. He was raised in Baringo county, where I assume he literally had to cross rivers, fight crocodiles and brave storms just to get to school. He actually raised himself..I don’t know why I claim he was raised. His hands are calloused, of course, because he did construction work for years to win the heart of his angel.
David’s mother, Junior’s grandmother (keep up), was the kind that could not keep a man. Strange men were what he grew up calling father. At one point, he started calling his mother’s boyfriends “Uncle”, because he felt he was misusing the paternal term on people who did not deserve it. His mother loved him. She only did not know how to show it. He brought his report cards home when he scored As, which was always. She lit her fires with them. Don’t blame her. She could not read. She was not like those grandparents who could not read but still sent our parents school because they knew the value of education. No. Maria Kalalei could not understand her son’s success. She sent him to school to keep him away from home. Her boyfriends liked peace and quiet, and David was neither peaceful nor quiet.
Adolescence caught up with him early enough. His voice deepened by the time he was 11. He was taller than his uncles by the time he was 14 and had a chin full of hair by 16. The uncles feared him. But real men do not show fear. Not towards a 16-year old son to the woman you are bedding. So they acted tough. They whipped him for “being disrespectful” and sleeping past sunrise. They threw his homework to the pigs if he left a bull unattended. They tormented him all day when he was home so that he could leave, but he could never leave his mother. He loved her, even in her incapability of finding a man worth her heart.
Then David became stronger. He grew muscles from the hard labor uncle after uncle made him do. He became the best wrestler in his small village. Nobody messed with his mom anymore. For a while, she was single and life was good. It was the two of them against the world. He would have loved for things to remain as such, but his mother had a testosterone weakness.
One evening, he came into the compound from the sty and heard noises he had not heard in a while. He rushed into the house only to find his mother giving herself to his best friend who he has asked to wait for him in the house. David Kalalei lost it. He hit his friend with the club he kept behind the door.
His mother screamed.
David remembers this scream. It was the scream that confirmed his mother’s weakness. The scream that called to the neighbors to save her from him. It was a fear scream. A scream that pierced his soul and shattered him to bits.
His best friend lay motionless on the ground, a pool of his blood soaking the ground.
He tried to talk to his mother, but she was hearing none of it. He wanted them to run. To get out of the house that had memories of uncles who would beat her, uncles who would refuse him food that he had worked so hard to get and uncles who destroyed his faith in paternity. His mother kept screaming to the neighbors. She wanted their help from her monster son. The monster David who had slain her beloved Goliath.
The neighbors took him to the chief and Goliath to the clinic then the district hospital. Goliath survived. He was still breathing when they got to the district hospital and did not have any serious injuries. His gods were alive. He had only lost consciousness from the scare his friend had given him, not from the club blow. And the blood was just an open wound that was salvaged by 4 stitches.
David did not have as much luck as his ex-best friend. The chief gave him an ultimatum.
Apologize to Goliath and pledge to be his cattle boy forever or leave the only place he had ever called home.
He asked to see his mother.
When he got home, his mother could not look him in the eye. She asked him to leave. She said things he can never repeat to his sons. She locked herself in her room until he was long gone.
He left home with nowhere to go. He only walked. One foot in front of the other. He walked until it was too dark to see his own hand and he walked some more. By daybreak, David Kalalei was dehydrated and had blisters all over his feet. Do you know how much you have to walk to have blisters all over your feet? David does. The blisters could not allow his feet to touch the ground. Maybe that was God’s way of telling him he was in Canaan.
The sun may have shone on him for hours and a snake might have slithered past him.
Dave Kalalei Jr tells me his oshago has lots of snakes. They don’t go to his father’s place. He has only taken them to the place their mother found him. He tells them he felt the softest of hands touch him.
“The touch of an angel. My mother is father’s angel,” Dave says with a smile. It is a genuine smile. A smile you get when you have seen an angel.
Sylvia says she found David sprawled on the ground. He was well built and had nothing on him other than his clothes. That is how she describes the first impression she had of her husband. Not handsome. Not tall. Not dark. Just, well built, with nothing other than the clothes on his back. She says she sat with him for hours, looking at his face. David always disputes this. He says he woke up as soon as she was near him. Men and their egos. Sylvia took him home. She did not know what she would tell her father if she came with a well built man who had collapsed in the sun with nothing but his clothes, so they made a deal. Two strangers with no background story struck a deal with the Earth as their only witness. She would walk home ahead of him and after a few minutes, he would follow. He could not miss her father’s homestead. It was the one with the permanent houses.
David’s soon to be father in law was a construction foreman. He had been hospitable to the young man and after a few grilling sessions, he offered the young man a job. That is how David’s hands became calloused. He worked for his Sylvia. He woke up for her, had meals for her and went to sleep for her.
It may have been the love he had for her but soon enough he was better than the builders Sylvia’s father had. He promoted him to assistant foreman after one and a half years.
When he finally had the courage to tell his boss that he wanted his daughter’s hand, the older man told him that he already knew. Perhaps while the two lovers shared stolen looks of longing, the father was watching. He was, after all, the foreman. His job was to watch his workers. He only asked him to be as good to the daughter as the father had been to him. And David keeps his promise.
He adores his angel. He tells everyone that she saved his life.
“Hi, my name is David Kalalei and this is my angel wife, Sylvia Kalalei.”
“Good afternoon, this is my wife and angel, Sylvia. She saved my life.”
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen, I am David. This is angel here is Sylvia, my wife. She saved my life.”
They got married 5 years to the day Sylvia found him on the ground and lifted him higher than he ever thought he could go. The ceremony, held in her father’s compound, was only attended by the bride’s side. To lessen the absurdity of the strange sight it was, they did not have the traditional 2 tents. Guests had the hot hard ground where everyone sat and witnessed love in all its glory. David joked that the ground represented his family. That their guests sat on it because he was the man and had to lift the bride and her family high. Sylvia knows he was not joking. She knows him well enough to read between his lines.
David Kalalei lost his mother 2 years after he had Dave Kalalei Jr. The news broke him. He thought he was done with her, but that is a story for another time.
Every evening when they are at their maternal grandparents’ home, David calls Dave and his brothers to watch the sunset. He loves the sunset. He watches it facing the direction he came from. The direction that his home for a time still stands. Everything fades away into darkness and he is taken back. He tells his sons to do better. Be better. His sons find this to be true. They want to be better than him, because despite having an angel to call his own, David has demons of his own.
Don’t you just hate exams?
It’s like the teachers don’t believe in themselves, right? There thinking testing us is the only way to validate themselves.
Constantly not believing in us and that we really went to class and concentrated the whole time. Minus the few times we looked into our phones or just didn’t go to the class, because there are some of those classes that we just have to purposely miss.
Every semester they give us exams to test us, rather than teaching us those exact things that they test for. Like 10 questions are the scale to know whether or not we learned anything. Why not teach us those 10 things and leave us alone?
The worst ones are those who give tests on things they never taught… I mean..come on! If you thought I didn’t need to know about what you set, why the hell didn’t you teach it then? Sometimes I think they don’t know the answers themselves and are only depending on our superior millennial brains to tell them in the form of exams, so they don’t sound desperate in asking for help.
After my exam burden was conquered last week, I tried writing for you guys here. I really did. And yes, I did get the texts asking for last week’s link…there wasn’t any. I was suffering from a severe case of writer’s block. The only viable and proven cure was obviously my mama’s cooking and loving and caring and all the mom-ing that moms do to make everything better. That one person’s presence alone can be as comforting as this phenomenal being is simply baffling.
I love moms.
Biko said that one time you could wake up to find a mountain in the next compound and you would call out to your neighbor saying
“Felix, what the…why is there a mountain in your compound?”
And Felix would calmly say…as if it was a natural thing to find the rock, “Oh, that? That was moved by my mother.” (PS. I paraphrased this…it is not word for word…please don’t report me to the quotation police. Striped suits do not do justice for my potato sack build)
Have you heard the tale of the three cousin thieves?
A trio of black sheep really. Three men sharing the blood running through their veins who thought it wise to dedicate their time and effort to debauchery and robbery. That has a nice ring to it. Debauchery and Robbery.
These cousins made a pact. Was the pact sealed with blood? Because anytime I hear the word pact I think it to be sacred. That the participants need to commit to said pact with something dear. It is not clear whether the trefoil sealed the pact with the blood running through their veins. But they should have. They must have been scared of blades. Or the sight of blood. That always gives me goosebumps. This was their first of many mistakes. Not sealing that pact.
They say all word and no blood make for spoiled plans. I don’t know who they are but I agree with them. The trio agrees with them. Fate agrees with them. Also, ‘they’ are not real and this is a fake saying.
They also say there is honor among thieves. This one is true…I heard it in a movie or something.
These modern day musketeers had no honor. They had been involved in a number of small fender-benders with relatives at funerals and weddings. They would snipe little trinkets from relatives at family gatherings and with time, like all addictive traits, this form of larceny was not enough to quench their thirst.They thought of bigger games. Larger results. They wanted something sizeable that would take them out of the game for a little while. The plan was never to get out completely. Just one big break and they would get back to their normal small thefts routine.
Adrenaline enchantingly pumping through their same colored veins, they found Miss X. It might have been Mrs. X. The story was quite vague and I’m only grasping at straws here.
It is also not clear how they knew of Miss X.
I like Miss. It makes her sound ageless. Is she 26 or 58? We may never know.
I also don’t need to overuse the fullstop when I use Miss. Punctuation is such a drag.
You may come to realize that this story has a lot of holes in it, and if you haven’t yet, I would beg you to go on with that thinking. But I have admitted to you that I do not have all the facts right, and will give you the story as I got it.
Miss X withdrew 800,000 Kenyan shillings from a bank. Kenya shillings? Kenyan? This is not an exam so just listen.
The three somehow learned of Miss Xs withdrawal and the route she was taking. Perhaps it was the bank’s requirement to map out the path you take when you withdraw a certain amount. Or she dropped bread crumbs like Hansel and Gretel. Or she too is a relative to the MDM and during a family wedding the youngest sat next to her and as they had that ‘How is school’ conversation, Auntie X accidentally-on-purpose let it slip that she was to receive a hefty amount of almost a mil and she would go through the route she never takes to wade off thieves.
“You should study my nephew, the 800k in my account did not come from dancing that Bazokozo and singing about lollipops all the time like you guys are doing,” she may have advised sitting next to him under a tent dressed in her new kitenge. Aunties always wear vitenges to family events.
“Ah Auntie X…” he may have coaxed. “Don’t be like that. Have you seen me dancing Bazokizo? I am not like my cousins you know,” and just like that, he may have begun devising ways he could get the 800k in the account that obviously did not come from her dancing Bazokizo since Auntie X could not move her two left feet if her life depended on it.
Maybe she trusted the wrong man. Maybe in a previous life she was a waitress and she used to spit in people’s food or maybe, without knowing, Auntie X spilled the beans to her thieving nephew who then planned on relieving her of her small handbag business profit.
And when Auntie X was talking with the grown-ups in the other tent, her nephew might have gone to the cousins and told of the 800k and the route it would take and a plan was hatched.
Long story short, Miss X was robbed and thoroughly beat because she tried to scream after she was warned not to. The boys were also arrested. Miss X says she does not know who they are. The real drama was at court when each of the boys had a different tale to tell.As is custom in all cases, they were asked to defend themselves.
Cousin One was in Laikipia. He does not even know what the case is about. He was hurled into a cell without an explanation and found himself in court this morning not knowing of what he was charged with. This is a lie. Before you get to a point in a case where you have to defend yourself, you will have been issued a charge sheet which explains your error to society.
Cousin Two was in Kapenguria at the specified time. He was summoned to this court without any notice and is only beginning to understand the proceedings. They are saying he stole 800,000 shillings? He has never held that much money in his hands. He is only accustomed to money that is often referred to as bob…not Kenyan shillings! This feels like they are blaming him for La Casa De Papel (good movie btw). But, like Cousin One, he too is lying. How do we know this? From Cousin Three, also known in this story as…drumrolls please… Nephew to Auntie X! I know, I know. You saw this twist a mile away…but what you did not see coming could be Cousin Three’s defense.
Blood is supposed to be thicker than water. These gentlemen failed to realize the truth to this age old saying when they forgot to seal the deal with the blood of their blood. Because when C3 stood in court, he sang like a canary. Not that I have heard a canary sing. I could not even point out a canary to you if it flew past me and hit you in the head. I couldn’t say to you, “Oh, hey look! That’s a canary that just flew by and hit you in the head.” But oh did he dish in that courtroom.
Cousin Three tells the judge he was with them. He will not lie like his cousins. He was raised to tell the truth. They were together at the said location, and they did infact steal 800,000 Kenyan shillings from Miss X. He says they did plan the theft, or robbery if you prefer. I am told you theft is for lighter amounts like that 5 bob you took from mom’s purse when you were 9.
What they had not planned on was the violence. They did not think that Miss X would scream and that they would be forced to give her a couple of blows to shut her up. But who would not scream when they were being robbed of 800k from their purse? Or whatever sack she was carrying that could fit the whole amount to be carried with ease. Cousin Three confessed to knowing the route the money would take. He refers to Miss X as “the money”, since she became the whole package when she stepped out of the bank.
He was the one who had overheard her planning to go get her cheddar and mapped out her path. He had given the route to his older cousins and they had agreed to split the money three ways. Whoever taught these three math must be arrested this instant. They did not think to use a calculator to know that someone would have to go home with less. But that was not the problem. Instead of giving C3 his equal share, C1 and C2 opted to cut corners with the money and underpay C3 for his hard labor. This is why C3 was singing, he says.
“I am only 19, mheshimiwa,” he calls the judge that, because he knows big people are either mheshimiwa or kiongozi. Our generation must be cursed. “These two are my brothers yes, but walinicheza sana (they played me). They took the money and game me an amount we had not agreed to. Yes, we were together…and I cannot stand here while they lie to mheshimiwa,” he says solemnly.
So, like in La Casa, let us choose the people we want to make heists with carefully, be like El Profesor.
Growing up without the guts to punch people who piss you off in the face is cowardly, yes, but also kind of interesting.
I know because I lived it.
Barely being able to tell people who did you wrong that they had. What I did instead is probably the most cowardly thing you have ever heard of. I would write. Write down what they did to make my chest burn. I would sit down and describe, in gruesome detail, what they made me feel. Pages filled with words describing how I felt when I was facing adolescence filled my notebooks.
I could describe almost anything, but only when I was angry, or sad. I always wrote when I was burning inside. That flame inside my chest filled the paper with so much ink that I might have become addicted to it. Almost like an adrenaline rush. As a result, I think I forgot that people could also be talked to in murky situations. It might have slipped my mind that human interaction was key. So every time I ventured out of my comfort zone, and more often than not, someone did me wrong, I would still put that flame into words.
Two of the notebooks survived. I named them. Always did. I liked naming the important things.
‘You are my notebook and you will be called Shirley’.
It was always random names. Giving myself a sense of Adam in Eden. I had control over them. Power. And power was everything. I could talk back to these things.
Slam Shirley across the locker. Drag Andrew on the floor.
I guess I was suffering from a superiority complex against myself. I don’t know when it stopped, or if it ever did, but it helped me get through a number of situations that might have ended badly. The writing, not the naming. I still don’t know what that was about.
Her name is Jessicah. With an –H-.
You might want to read the first part of Jacked Up Stranger…https://notyetadults.wordpress.com/2018/07/13/jacked-up-stranger-the-meet/
\Simply putting a stop sign on a highway will not change the fact that there is no speed limit on the same highway\
This is the first thing she sent me. She said it was the lesson her family came to really understand, after years of being disinterested of the things their daughter was being involved in.
Her mother was seated outside the doctor’s office and could not believe what her family had descended into. Her husband had practically disowned them and Jessicah was clinging to dear life in the next room.
Jessicah had asked to go on a school trip. Her dearest mother did not think much of it. It was just another school trip. She never even noticed that there was no permission slip to accompany the request. She had waved her daughter off to her destruction.
Afterwards she would tell Jessicah that she ran the events of the day through her mind a million times, trying to find a loophole where she could have helped her. She must have found so many. If she had once looked up at her daughter instead of simply asking her to leave for the trip as soon as possible. If once, she had gone into her daughter’s room, then maybe she would have found the pregnancy tests earlier. She blamed herself. What had happened to Jessicah was her fault. Jessicah does not believe her.
Her parents had done their civic duty and had escorted their daughter to university barely 7 weeks before. Jessicah had been made to write down a month long budget so that they could send her money to sustain her in school. They did not want frequent phone calls from her asking for money.
She felt alone in school. Not that she was not used to it after lifelong practise. She was in a place she had never been before with a group of her peers that she did not know very well. In her loneliness, she had met Jack, a second year student in the same university. He took her on a tour around the school, showed her where her classes would be held and where she could get meals. Jack was kind to her. No one had ever been kind to her without expecting something in return. He paid attention to her at a time when no one else was.
He gave her gifts. Little trinkets that meant nothing to other people but had sentimental value to them.
The Tingting chewing gum she was chewing when they first met. A leaf for every time they met since she never liked flowers. He knew the little things that made her and she found herself thinking of him during classes.
She called her mother to tell her about Jack. To tell her how nice he was being to her and that she liked him. Her mother put her on hold and forgot about the phone call altogether. But Jack was there. He comforted her. He held her through the night as she burned inside. She told him her secrets that night. Everything. Her family, who her father is, what her life growing up was like. She bore her soul to the devil.
Out of the blue, Jack had asked for sex the next day. This was a big step for them. They had only gone as far as lying on his shoulder as she cried. She told him she would have to think about it but he got angry. He had never raised his voice at her. She had never seen him angry at all, but to be fair, she had only known him 2 weeks. He told her of all the things he had done for her. Said that she was just being selfish. He could not be with someone who was denying him of the one thing he had ever asked for.
He stopped texting. He did not answer her calls. He did not show up when it was time to go eat. Jessicah had no sight of him for two consecutive days. She was distraught.
She asked her roommate about sex. Nobody had ever told her anything and Google was certainly not helpful. Would painkillers help with the pain? How long would it last? Was there things she was she required to do in preparation and if any, what? She had so many questions that a search engine was not enough for her.
Her roommate went to the hostel bathrooms and came back with some red wrappers. Sure Condoms. She had seen these condoms in the hostel bathrooms but had never bothered with them. They did not look safe to her. Unsure condoms to say the least.
The roommate told her that they were safe. If Jack wore one, nothing bad would happen. She made it sound like hidden inside the red wrappers was a team of superheroes who would bust out just in time to save her from whatever uncertainty lay ahead. She took the 6 condoms and sent a text to Jack. She was ready. They would have sex if they used the Sure condoms provided by the university.
Five weeks into university and Jessicah missed her period. She was frantic. Her roommate said she was probably only stressed and her period was late as a result. But Jessicah was not convinced. Jack had disappeared for home for two weeks. His parents were those oshago kind. Lived deep in the rural areas. There was no reception [read network]. She could not get a hold of the most important person in her life.
She bought a home pregnancy test kit from a chemist on her way home. Frightened to death, she watched as the plus sign confirmed her suspicions. The first person she called was him. Jack. But his number was disconnected [read mteja] as it had been for two weeks. She could not talk to her mother.
\are you kidding me? I’d be disowned!\
She called the roommate instead. Besides, she was the one who had talked her into having sex in the first place. This was a cross that they had to bear together. The roommate was no help at all. It was not her problem. Not her boyfriend. Not her body that someone could be growing inside. Then she had hung up and Jessicah was back where she started. Right back to before she joined university and she couldn’t talk to anyone because there was no one to talk to. She says this was the worst experience of her life.
She repented. She says she saw the hand of God stretched out for her. That He called out to her. She is not sure whether she got saved because of the fright or if she really saw the light. She might have lost consciousness too. The only thing she is sure of is having survived it.
Isn’t social media a crazy place? A mess of the wealthy and the wealthy wanna-bes, the high schoolers and the campus-ers, the odis and the classy all mixed together in one gigantic cauldron.
Everyone has forgotten those terrible blurry selfies with the ridiculous poses and just as bad captions. I recall a time when we identified our accounts on Facebook (because Facebook was all we had) by our profile pictures.
“Nilikutumia friend request na hukuaccept,” a classmate would say 2 weeks into a new term.
“Who? Me? No you didn’t. What account did you send it to?”
“Si wewe ndiyo Mish Lianna? Profile picture ya Willow Smith.”
And it would be Chris Brown the next term. Bow Wow after that. Usher. PSquare, et cetera.
These were the times we would go to cyber cafes to change said profile pictures. When the creativity of user names reflected loosely popularity.
Xs replaced Ss and we scrubbed vowels from our vocabulary altogether. Some words suffered as much as being replaced by numbers but it was a good life.
I texted Chris Brown with so much hope. Sent messages so many times I’m sure he had to block Mish Lianna from Kentucky. Did I mention she was from Kentucky? I didn’t even know where the hell Kentucky stood on a map. She had a home there but never posted pictures of the house.
She posted pictures of cars she owned. A Lamborghini Gallardo she had and let her model friends on the bonnet. The Bugatti Veyron on the highway. Mish Lianna always took the pictures. Photographing was what she really loved.She also posted pictures of herself, and whenever she did, she made them blurry. The Gor Mahia jersey in the robust hills of Seme. That time she had her feet in the Awach River or was in some matatu just because she felt like it.
There was never a bad day. Her researched captions were always positive messages. Quotes from people who inspired her at the time. She was always in a good mood. Always happy because what was there not to love about Mish Lianna? The 748 friends obviously agreed. The Bugattis got about 650 reactions and the Seme selfies about half of that.
Self-employed, had gone to Havard and was both a doctor and engineer at Unspecified. Life was good.
Charlene has skin that could advertise for Vaseline instead of that ka-leaf.
Her mane of hair could be used to wrap onto shoes instead of Kiwi. (Been looking at Kenyan ads on YouTube, bear with me). But real talk? Her clothes fit so well that I felt a little uncomfortable.
She always has this air about her that makes it enjoyable to bask in her glory.
You know how prisoners have to obey all orders from the officers? When I met with Charlene, I felt like a prisoner myself. Like I had met my warden and her word was my every command. It was strange, seeing someone with that much power in their presence.
Her smile is outrageously beautiful. Eyebrows well-trimmed-not-drawn. Lashes lush. Even her foundation matched her neck. I presume she must have her own foundation maker.
With a powerful name like that, she obviously doesn’t ever worry about pronouncing it to others.
“What’s your name,” they always ask.
“Mirriam,” I always reply.
“Mirriam,” putting emphasis on the i’s. Thats where they always get it wrong.
“Oh, Mirriam. You don’t look like a Mirriam.”
Oh yeah? Well what do I look like Nancy? Nancy will then say ridiculous names that my mom who went barefoot across hills, through crocodile infested waters and into tarantula habited forests to get to Nyagoto Primary School has never heard of. Instead I half-smile and say thanks for thinking I could get a name as absurd as that Jane or Bridgit or whatever. No offence to all Janes and Bridgits and Whatevers…
Charlene sits across from me at KFC. It feels like being illuminated by first light. Her perfume quickly creeps into every crevice of the vastly populated room and she unapologetically becomes our Airwick.
She sits there looking straight at me.
“You’re weird,” she says with a chuckle.
“Let’s play a game.”
A game? Here? Char must be delusional.
And she must be koo-koo too.
Who plays games in restaurants? Preposterous!
We play the game.
It was simple. Just write down on the serviette (Char says Napkin). So, just write on the napkin, whatever you want.
“Anything at all. Assume you lived in a world of no limits and boundaries were a thing of the past.”
I just stare at her. She is mad. But she goes on.
“Imagine the world was a perfect place and anything you wish for could come true. Unicorns are real. Mermaids dance on ocean beds. Fairy tales exist and Prince Charmings have hearts that love true and deep.”
Ah, I see the problem. Hidden in her game and bizzare wish to have a perfect world.
Who broke your heart? I ask.
She smiles briefly.
“Why do you assume that my heart is broken?”
She smiles again. A full one this time. The kind of smile I am used to seeing her wear.
Char is strange. She has 2,467 contacts saved on her phone and yet she swears she talks only to 7, including me, her dad and brother. What is the other two thousand, four hundred and sixty for? She can’t say. She only says that I cannot understand with my contact list of 64 and that I am not cut out for the life she lives.
She and I are different in more ways than we are similar, but we are better friends this way. She understands the need to keep to myself, just as I respect hers to flaunt her new designer clothes on social media, or to party every weekend to keep her circle lit.
She has some strange friends as well. I have not met many of them. Usually I ask her to come alone when we are supposed to meet. Once, she came with a group of about 10 people, all our age, yes, but in some very strange social circle all together.
Three weeks later she was in some financial conundrum and called me when these same friends all deserted her. Long story short, she deferred a semester, they all cut contact with her, and last week her Instagram post was a picture of more than half that group with her in the middle, captioned ‘Friends for Life’.
Char has beautiful eyes. She is never the duff. She resembles these video vixens we see, if all that perfection was put together and had a baby. It doesnt help that she has an amazing heart. She gives clothes to children homes and goes on walks for cancer, sickle cell and other diseases I never hear of until she tells me about them. She is in a group that is working with children with autism.
“My hearts not broken Silly,” she says, waking me from my reverie.
She knows I was lost in my thoughts because she stares at me for a moment longer before lowering her gaze.
“What were you thinking about?”
“Nothing really,” I reply.
“Really Mir? I thought we were better friends than that.”
She hands me her serviette together with a pen. Sorry. Napkin. It is folded into a triangle.
“Dont look. Give me yours first.”
I take the napkin and think.
In a perfect world, what would I really want? Definitely not flying powers; terrified of heights or falling and crashing into my death. Not X-ray vision. Not heat breath or morphing into a dragon-human. A draman. Definitely not lightning speed.
“We dont have all day,” Char rushes forcing me to write down the first thing that comes to mind.
She looks at it and laughs first. I knew that was not clever.
“Why this? Why a mirror?”
“I dont know” I whine You rushed me.
“No,” she gives me a determined look. I should have just given her the flying thing and gotten done with this. “Tell me. Why, of all choices, would you want to be a mirror?”
“Well,” I stutter now. “People would get to look into me to see themselves? I think.” She is not satisfied. And when Char is not convinced about something, you have your work cut out for you.
In all honesty, I wanted to be a mirror in our little made up world because maybe then, Char would see her reflection. She would know her level of perfection surpasses all other measures. She would realize that she does not need 2,467 people to make her wanted, or worthy. She would understand that having 7 dependable friends is better that 2,460 who wouldnt give a rats ass about her. I wanted to be a mirror for my one friend who needs to know her worth, and when she was done realizing how amazing she is, then she would also be a mirror for someone else.
She asked me to look at her napkin, since I had refused to tell her why my choice was a mirror.
Char had scribbled the 5 letters into the napkin so well it was rough in the underside.
She too does not care to explain. She said I have to interpret it however I wished.
If Char wants to be a shadow, I think she is scared. I think she wants to hide half of her life behind whatever will help. Cellphone. Instagram. Fake life. Fake friends. Prada and Louis Vuitton. I think she uses the life with the group of about 10 to validate herself. To prove that she too can live like the other kids if she wishes to.
But secretly, I think my Char is longing for escape. She craves to trade the life she has online for the peace and quiet of the night. She however is not ready to deliver herself from it completely.
That is why she wrote Shadow on the napkin.
She wants to cling to it for the occasional relief. For when she is beat from living within herself. Exhausted from getting to understand her being. She wants to escape from the camera life, but with a catch. Escape that allows a backslide every now and then.
Life was not “always good” for Mish Lianna. She cried. She lost. She got angry and lost her temper. But 748 wanted happy and positive and sensational.748 wanted downloaded Lamborghinis and quotes that Mish could not believe in when she was broken. She let 748 control what she herself was supposed to control.
This is what social media has done to most of us, only in a greater scale. Because despite the great benefits it has brought us, while Mish Lianna was fiction and my friends knew it, the Mish Liannas of today are living the lie. They are buying the clothes and going for trips with money they have not been raised with. Holding on to friendships that are as detrimental as the delusions of grandeur that they try to sell to us. Letting their worth be measured by numbers. 1 friend request. 3,700 follow requests. 10,000 followers. 53 following. 7 real friends. 1 being.