Delusions of Grandeur
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.