There comes a time in a man’s life when he has to sit himself in a corner and say ENOUGH! Enough of chasing and moving and playing. This moment varies in all men. There are those who are in the corner for two seconds and they walk out new men. There are also others who spend years in this corner and never come out. These ones spend their days telling themselves that things HAVE to be different. They need to move on up. To change their situation. But they remain in the corner not because they lack the will to move, but because they know nothing else.
As I read his text, I could not imagine what he was going through. Which corner had he ventured to and been unable to pull away from? I had so many questions, till he asked me the one question every guy asks me during our conversations.
“Do guys really tell you their shit? Like…boys?”
“I don’t know. (Lauging emoji) Because I listen. I don’t ask why they do what they do… I ask what made them do it.”
“I have never thought of telling this part of myself to anyone. Let alone a journalist!”
I laugh. There is stigma associated with the title ‘Journalist’. He is accusing me of doing what I studied in school, because of a few misgivings from a few of us. He is accusing me of telling secrets. And of lies tied into these secrets that make them extra scandalous and worth the tabloids. It makes me want to say I am not a Journalist. To disassociate myself from the stigma and stand as my own person. To be able to tell someone that I tell stories without them saying “nyinyi ndiyo hawa watu wa propaganda.” I crave this freedom… But then what would I be? A lawyer? Those are told they are liars. A doctor? They are told they give the wrong prescriptions [Plus my handwriting is too neat to qualify as a doctor] Anyway, let’s get into this before I transfer my existential crisis on to you.
At eleven years old, Jesse realized he was fat. It was not something he had noticed before, especially since his twin brother was the same weight as him from birth to December 2008. But he could not fit into his shirt on the morning of the first day of school and his mother had to go buy him a new one… then get more during the week. His classmates compared him to his brother all through the first week of school in 2009. “Ai Jesse, Kwani you ate all of your bro’s food during Krisi?” But the girls said he was ‘fluffy’ and it wasn’t all bad. He liked being called fluffy. They said he was “comfortable to be around”. He was okay with that. He says he was okay with it because he did not know what it meant, till he asked a girl he liked to be his girlfriend and she said the same thing. “You are just so comfortable to be around, Jesse. I would’t want to ruin that.”
When I was eleven years old, I hurt myself during the December holidays. I could not make the first day of school because I needed to have my bandages changed. My classmates were taught new things that day. I went in the next day, sat down and waited for my teacher. In between the lessons, she was checking everyone’s work, and as expected, I was a little behind than my classmates. She looked at my book and told me to ‘pull up my socks’, an idiom she had taught the previous day. I reached for my socks. My classmates laughed. I hate that day.
Being bigger than your identical twin has some strings attached. On one part, your grandmother will show you more love, and nothing is more precious than a grandmother’s love. But the downsides outweigh the good in Jesse’s case. The catcalling is worse when it is done by people you thought of as friends. I know this, because people pulled up their socks even on the day of our KCPE exams. “Friends are supposed to bring you up. To support you, and be by you through your ups and downs.” Jesse writes. He has all these quotes that may make him seem pretentious, even if they hold some truth to them. “But when you’re young, you think everyone you know is your friend. You don’t know about talking behind people’s backs because its meaning is above your thinking capacity. You cannot comprehend it, and that just builds into a lifetime of hating yourself and hating your past when you get to the point that you actually understand it.”
In high school, he was the fat kid. He tells me that in almost every setting, he was always the biggest person around. He was ashamed of himself. Everyone focuses on girls when it comes to overweight issues. There are programs made for girls, and sitcoms that are made to show that they are not as different as anyone else. That they too can love. They too can lead lives that allow them to get in a matatu without the conductor asking if they will pay for both seats. The boys have to fend for themselves. It was in form two that he discovered the wonders of alcohol. It never interested him at first. He always saw the drunkards sprawled in trenches soaked in their own vomit and decided that it would never be him. But Justin Bieber and cute Jaden Smith [I cannot speak for him now] said ‘Never say Never’.
“It started out as rumors. You know, you hear some guys in form two North have a mzinga and you have to give them your hard-boiled egg on Sunday to qualify for a sip. But that did not interest me. I loved my Sunday egg.” But not all boys share the same sentiment for eggs as he did, and one of the guys who fell prey was his friend (who we will name Larry –loosely based on Jackson Biko’s Drunk character).
Larry did not come from a fine household, unlike most of the boys in the school, which meant he had to try extra hard to fit in. He had to put in effort to be accepted. So he gave his egg for sips because the mzinga was being given by the more affluent boys and it was the only way he knew to get them to notice him. The exchange happened immediately after breakfast was served and it had to be quick, because Sunday mass was immediately after breakfast and you could never be late to that. There was a small window of five minutes between breakfast and mass, where they boys were allowed a bathroom break so as not to disrupt others during prayers. This was the egg-sip window. It seemed an easy trade for Larry. A full bladder for popularity. When he was hooked, the popular boys told him to bring his ‘fat friend’ along the next Sunday and they would both get to keep their eggs.
“I did not want to go” Jesse texts. “But when the popular boys want to see you in their sacred time, you get intrigued. Tempted even. And Larry tried so hard to convince me. He was my only friend then, because we were both losers in school. Poor kid, Fat kid. We were a team… especially when our adversaries were beating us behind the toilets.”
“Was your twin brother in the same school?”
“Yeah, but he is one of those people who blend with the right crowd. I would hang out with him and his friends, but it always felt weird. They would talk about things I had no idea about.”
“Like what?” I ask.
“(laughing emoji) like girls, and rugby. You know, normal guy stuff.”
When they got to the exchange spot, they guys had a bottle of Best. Larry got his sip, still holding on to his egg. He had gotten so used to bringing it that he forgot they had said he shouldn’t bring it. Jesse was Larry’s egg now. He would have gladly traded his best friend for a place at the popular table. Jesse did not mind it. He saw it as helping his friend. A charitable act for the guy who was always with him. His one loyal friend. The bottle was passed to him and for a second, he was confused.
“I was not really sure what they wanted with me to this point. They had only told Larry that they wanted him to come with me.”
“Where was it? This exchange point?”
“Ha-ha, behind the toilets. Just two steps from where they used to beat Larry and me up.”
The bottle in his hands caught him by surprise because his theories had not added up to him having his first taste of alcohol from these guys… and definitely not on that spot. This was going to change things. He would have preferred his first sip of alcohol to be bought by his last savings, in the comfort of his brother’s presence, probably as they were sneaking behind their parents’ backs, with the cover of darkness just behind their watchman’s shed [He did not say this]. He would have wanted the thrill he felt to be experienced somewhere other than the same place he had acquired unexplainable bruising.
One of the boys pushed the bottle to his lips and he hated it. The invasion of both his freedom and his taste buds. “I didn’t like it one bit. The taste was unlike anything else. When someone says something is a little bitter, you imagine sweetened lemon. That is what I had prepared myself for. Lemonade that messed with your senses. Instead, I got this cringe in my face that made the boys laugh.”
“Did you pass by those toilets again? Did you go to the exchange the next Sunday?”
“I had to! they would otherwise beat us up if we didn’t. you have to understand that we were losers in school. Being in the crew made us popular. We were cool. I hated it…but it was better to go behind those toilets to murder my tongue and throat than come out limping. That spot now had a double sentiment. It was either bruises or a sip…and Larry would have sold me out for that sip. I was just being smart”
[We’re back to AA. Thanks for being patient through the Mental Health break, but I believe we did some good work in the few stories we told]