BY MIKE MUTHAKA
Those were sad days. Everyone else was as jolly as Christmas would allow but you were holed up in your room, missing the festivities, going through an existential crisis. Nothing made sense. Or maybe you were being paranoid. Maybe it was just the pot.
Either way, you couldn’t wait for 2018 to come around. You needed to start a fresh. Your two closest friends had gone through similar stuff, and you always wondered what they were banging on about. Relax. Have a joint.
You never thought you could get there. You never thought there’d be days when, out of nowhere, an overpowering melancholy would crash over you, relentlessly, chipping you off at the base until it seemed easier to toss yourself into the abyss.
You didn’t think there’d be days you’d question of every angle of life. You didn’t think one day, even getting out of bed would be a chore. You’d wake up and you think: Ugh, are we still here?
Everything was okay. For now. You had steady routines. You went to the gym, and then you went on a diet. Every morning you’d look outside the window and see the mango tree in the compound. And you’d wallow in the fresh serenity.
You went to school four days a week. You drove there. You drove everywhere. The folks had pretty much handed you the car keys since they used the other moti.
Your two siblings were still in high school. They only came home during the holidays. And so, when your parents were off to work, and you didn’t have class that day, you’d be left home alone.
Wasn’t that the most liberating thing? To be left home alone? You strip all your clothes away. You walk around the house like that. It feels neurotic but you love the way your feels skin against nothingness.
The freedom is mysterious. Your thoughts linger on your own nakedness. You feel aroused. You look into the mirror and it’s all beautiful to you. Your own roundness appeals to you. You start to notice every spot and line and curve. Your hips have bloomed and the years look good on you. So good, in fact, you decide to start a movement. And you aptly name it: Uchi Kenya.
You had a boyfriend. Sometimes he came over when you didn’t have class. You cooked for him. You played loud music. You were 20 and in love. Your relationship was two years old. You were content with foreplay. You never allowed it to go any further because you weren’t ready. He understood, and you got on perfectly until you didn’t anymore. And you’ve been single ever since.
Now I’m sitting at Bonjour, Hurlingham. You say you’re at Nairobi hospital and that you’ll be here in five. I wonder what we’ll talk about after so many months, although, knowing you, we’ll probably discuss some weighty stuff that neither of us understands. And there will come a point where I feel out of my depth.
Not too far away, I see a woman in a short dress is standing by a fuel pump talking to three fuel attendants. Car keys dangle from her hooked finger. She gestures a lot, like she’s issuing orders, and her long legs have dark spots in them. Old scars perhaps, like an active childhood with too many falls.
And then you emerge from a corner and I stand up to hug you.
“You’ve become so tall,” you say.
“Me? What about you?”
“You’ve always been tall.”
You ask if I’ve had lunch. But I have no appetite. You want to buy something from the store. You grab your purse and go inside. I’m left staring at a town-bound Citi Hoppa at the roundabout, menacing over the tarmac.
Two traffic cops are standing sentry on the periphery, talking about something or the other. Their banter stops as soon as a driver makes the wrong turn when exiting the petrol station. They wave the car down and one of the cops gets into the passenger seat, the car drives off towards Argwings Kodhek.
When you come back I will tell you of a traffic offence of my own:
I was heading to school after dropping mom at the office. My phone was hooked up to the AUX cable, and sweet reggae jams were oozing from the speakers. Such were the Axela days – pieces of early 2017 when we fell out of contact.
I was pressing ‘Next’ on my playlist when a lady cop spotted me. She was bottom-heavy and black as night. She carried a walkie talkie close to her shoulder as she inspected the insurance stickers. Then she came round and asked me why I was using my phone while driving, and, having no excuse, she plunked herself in the front seat and ordered that we go to Milimani Police Station, then to court, where I’d be required to pay a cash bail of 10,000 bob. Imagine! The nerve on her.
You slide back into the seat with a box of chocolate-flavored milk and a brown-bagged samosa. The samosa is nice, you say, but you’ve had better.
You tell me your dog is turning three, “that’s 21 in dog years.”
“They grow up so fast,” I say, and a chuckle escapes your lips. I didn’t even know you had a dog.
Then I tell you about the stray cat that birthed in our compound:
The result was a black kitten with the cutest eyes. I don’t even like cats, but seeing that little ball of fur made me all warm inside. I’ve never see the mother but the kitten likes to hang around the kitchen. He doesn’t take to humans. He runs away if I go close to him.
But this morning I ran into him in the verandah. I had just read Bett’s piece about Muna turning two and I was a bit soft around the edges. She makes motherhood seem so fun. Gosh! I can’t wait to have a baby.
Anyway, this time he didn’t scamper away, the kitten. He just stood there, looking up at me with those gorgeous eyes. He seemed cold. He was softly purring. He inched slowly along the wall, coming towards me, and then bending his head as if begging for a meal: Got milk?
You tell me you had an existential crisis at the turn of the year. I don’t know what that means. You say you questioned everything, and that the act of living seemed like one big tragedy. There were days the black clouds of your existence swept together to make a secret dread inside you, and you despised the world and everything in it.
There were nights when you’d pull back your curtain and you’d see a half moon hanging outside, draped in shrouds of mist. You felt like the whole dark world inside you had fallen into silence. Nothing moved. Nothing breathed.
You curled yourself in bed, choking on hopeless sobs, slowly sinking into depression. You stewed in the solitude of your cream-colored walls. The pot didn’t help much. You listened to a lot of Kendrick Lamar. It felt like he understands what it means to go through such a thing.
You often sat in bed unsure, clasping your wrists as if they were broken. Until one day your mom walked into the room and saw you like that. She settled in beside you and stared into your dull face as you told her everything you felt. She assured you it was a part of life, that she had a crisis of her own once, and that you have to make the best out of life’s circumstances.
Then we sit in silence. We become like two heads on a pillow, ear to ear.
But you don’t want to talk about the past. You’re finally getting some answers and your purpose is less foggy. You want nothing to mar the clear-headed ecstasy. You’re building an all-round defense with a sacred absolute centre. You’re submitting to life. You’re moving on. You’re even working to launch a website for Uchi.
Then you get a phone call from your mom. You need to go. We’ve been sitting there for just over half an hour.
“Let’s do this again,” you say.
“Yeah, come over on Monday.”
And when you walk away I’m left with a crisis of my own: Monday what time? Will you be home alone? How does your dog take to guests? Will I have to take off my shoes at the door? Do you have any bud left? And are there ripe mangoes on the tree in your compound?
Will you ask me to pose uchi, for Uchi?
Mike blogs at mikemuthaka.com