ADULTING IS THE SOUP AND I’M THE FORK: LESSON EIGHT (REFLECTIONS)

On an exceptionally cold rainy evening early in April, a young man left work premises and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards the Thika Road Mall Java house.

It had been raining so much the past few days and although this was his kind of weather, he couldn’t help loathing the insetting flu that was already making his nostrils feel like the Nairobi River; littered with dry mucus scabs and flowing with brown phlegm. He rubbed the base of his nose with the back of his hand, pulled in the gathering mucus and swallowed. Salty. Under his grey raincoat that resembled the relentlessly grumbling sky above, he could feel each drop gently hit him. He focused on the road, the blur of red and white lights and the hiss of the tires over the wet smooth tarmac road that was getting silenced by the hoots at the roundabout.

Three years ago on that exact same day, while he was still an ambitious student at the University, he had received a call that had otherwise changed his life’s trajectory. He had been alarmed that night, contrary to every other night, he couldn’t seem to get any sleep. It had been so unlike him not to have an urge to sleep, heck he slept so much that his peers even nicknamed him ‘Sleepy’ but that day he had been restless, sweaty and every other hour he had reached for a glass of water. Earlier on that day he had been very irritable and felt like every human interaction overwrought his nerves and made him scowl. When the clock stroke four twenty eight, his phone had rang and even before he answered it, he knew his hero had fallen. That was the day his favorite uncle had passed on and everything from how it rained so
heavily to his flu had been similar to the exceptionally cold rainy evening early in April; the skies cried for him.

“Three years down the line and it still hurts,” he thought to himself. “The man was okay one day, in ICU the next. In fact he took himself to hospital… He was at his prime… Had completed another degree, had a great job and a nice rank… He was generous, God fearing…Had awesome kids, great personality…Just finished building his house…Then he just died! The closest to a perfect man I knew died and worse from a misdiagnosis!” There was such accumulated bitterness and contempt in the young man’s heart as his thoughts trailed off. The death of his uncle had affected him profoundly and for so long he could not believe that his existence was no more. Days on end
he had asked God many questions, so many amidst sobs and confusion and to none had he gotten any solid answers. But he had accepted the loss and tried to move on.

“Ecclesiastes 9:11…I have seen something else under the sun; the race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned. Time and chance happen to the all…” he silently recited in between sighs while he squeezed his eyes shut pushing back the tears that were gathering in his lower eyelid.

He crossed the road swiftly and walked with a slight stoop into the mall. Java house was full. He looked around the busy tables, groups hurdled at opposite sides lost in their inaudible mutters. At the first table near the entrance, a young couple snacked side by side with a mug of espresso each, studiously bent over their samosas. He spotted a group of young women in their late twenties collapsing with helpless giggles at one corner and some business men in Grey suits calling on a waiter at another, as he scanned the coffee house for an unoccupied table. His eyes settled on one near a family and their teenage children. A guy who was undoubtedly the father was in deep conversation with a boy who seemed to be the oldest of the children at the table. He found himself
fixated on the two longer than he would have liked to.

“Father-son bonding,” he thought with an odd smile as he made his way to the unoccupied table. His path was occasionally barred by some waiters who were engaged in getting orders to the customers but he got there, rid his wet raincoat and regained his posture that had been weakened by his backpack, trench and rain coat. He carefully pulled out one of the chairs and slammed into it. He was tired. The day had been long, not that he had been up and down physically but the work on bacteria and viruses, mosquitoes and the study of biting flies down at the research center had him very worn out.

A few minutes clocked by before a waiter approached him with a notepad and pen in hand. Something about how he walked, how tall he was, how slender, his skin complexion and his crooked teeth seemed familiar to the young man. The waiter’s smooth and cleanly shaven skin broke into a customary smile and they exchanged pleasantries. As he read through the menu a while longer, the waiter stood facing him in silence and looking inquiringly at him. He ordered a cup of London fog tea and a pancake.

At the adjacent table, two children laughed heartily and it took him back to his childhood days. The young man had a happy childhood, happier than most he would argue. He was born and raised in a farm in Nyeri, a place he identified himself with so much. He was loved, though differently. He would describe the love he received as something far from unconditional, a love that required the recipient be unflawed and to be unflawed he strived to no avail. When it rained like this, him and his friends would run outside without jackets and play in the rolling potato fields. He remembered how at some point they towered above him and would make fun calling him ‘kashortie’ the short one, yet he had grown and caught up. He won many accolades. He pursued whatever he wanted because back then everything was achievable and that fear monster had not yet crept in.

“Hmm…yes, all is in a man’s hands and he lets it all slip from cowardice, that’s an axiom” he whispered. “It would be interesting to know what it is men are most afraid of, what I am afraid of.”

The waiter came back with his order. After he had placed it in front of him, the young man remembered where he had seen this waiter. They had schooled together.

“Sam?” he pointed out with a raised eyebrow hoping it actually was him.

“Eric Kariuki!” he said back. On his face was an expression of a pleasant surprise. “I thought you looked familiar… Boss! Ten years! And nothing about you seems to have changed!”

“Yeah the same one…” he got up to greet his long lost friend. They gave each other an up top hi five, clamped their hands together and half hugged like Uhuru and Ruto did back in twenty thirteen.

Long after Sam had excused himself back to his job, Eric thought about how Sam had been a great friend back then. He had great friends now but he couldn’t think of any of them that would compare to Sam. Sam had been a true friend. Though he couldn’t sum up what that meant, he knew there was a way to say it; someone who was there whether they were needed or not, someone who could stand the rain and wasn’t only there when it shone, someone who transcended the whole ‘nisadie soo mbili nitarudisha’ thing. Being there meant loyalty, presence, a nudge whenever he slacked, a pull when he was stuck, someone who could stand in for him when he couldn’t stand on his own two feet. But in spite of that deep reflection, he was by now beginning to see how much that was to ask from just one single individual.

In the privacy of his home he would have eaten the pancake in one bite but having been in public, he took off a quarter of it in one massive chomp of his gnashers. He sipped some of his London fog tea not realizing it was hot. It got embarrassing really quickly as he had to chew up with his mouth open in an attempt to cool his burning tongue, treating everyone to the view of a partially masticated mess. Once he gulped it down, he decided to pause and breathe.

From the corner of his eye, among a group of college men, a guy suddenly cheered. But no one shared his excitement: his silent companions watched with positive hostility and uneasiness at all his manifestations. Something about a friend, who had won an electoral seat at their university.

“They think it’s all trivial and nonsense,” flashed as if it were by chance through Eric’s mind as he stole a quick curious glance at them. “I won two elections in Uni… When I won the first I thought it wasn’t that big a deal and then I won the second and it made sense to celebrate… My supporters, God bless their souls. They celebrated more than I did and as small a detail as that is, it mattered. It showed me that I had a purpose larger than myself… I had to make it count. I had someone other than myself, my dad and my late uncle, not to let down… Trifles, trifles they matter! Why, its trifles that make everything!”

He took another sip and precipitously he heard:

Niggas been countin’ me out
I’m countin’ my bullets, I’m loadin’ my clips
I’m writin’ down names, I’m makin’ a list
I’m chekin’ it twice and I’m gettin’ them hit…”

His ringtone which was J Cole’s middle child filled the room. He reached for it quickly and pressed the mute button. Eric admired J. Cole so much. He believed the man was real, mature and hadn’t let his celebrity status make him a douche; something he emulated, humility. Often when he was asked what his dying wish would be, he would say he wanted to meet the man and probably release an album with him.

The caller was his dad. He watched it ring as he contemplated on whether to answer it. At the last minute he decided not to and agreed that he would call him later. Eric loved and worshipped his dad but growing up he had received such tough love from him that he felt like he lacked the dad-son warmth that family gave. He wished his father was more open and vulnerable with him. He wished he taught him how to be a man, like him. He wished he would be unscathed by the past like his dad or if he was, how to perfectly hide it. If he knew how to trust his gut like his dad he would have been the happiest man on the planet, but all those were just wishes and the chances of them happening were so slim. He had managed to wing it though, all his life.

He gulped down the remaining tea, paid his bill and ran across the slippery street to where K-Road matatus were boarded. The flash river that ran down the street gushed over the tops of his leather shoes. As he waited for a matatu, a drunken man about thirty in age, bald, of medium height, and stoutly built approached the small crowd. His face, bloated from continual drinking, with swollen eyelids out of which keen reddish eyes gleamed like little slits. He was wearing an old and hopelessly ragged polyester shirt, covered with spots and stains, with all its buttons missing except one, and that one he had buttoned, evidently clinging to its last trace of respectability. His unshaven chin looked like a stiff brown brush. When he was close enough, the drunken mad shouted, “nyinyi wote…hick Mumesimama hapa…hick… Leo mumemupa Mungu shukurani kweli…hick…” You all that stand here, have you given thanks to the Lord today?

The drunk staggered on and sat on the pavement beside a man who was selling smokies and boiled eggs. When Eric boarded the matatu, he whispered in his heart, “Lord, to have parents, who would give their lives up for me and to be in good health, I am very grateful.”

(Thank you Eric a.k.a Sleepy for letting me tell a glimpse of your story.)

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ADULTING IS THE SOUP AND I’M THE FORK: LESSON FIVE (A LETTER)

Dear seventeen-year-old self,

A couple of things have transpired.

You know how everyone thinks we’ll be much closer to vision 2030 by 2019? That we would have made significant strides in the fight against corruption and will be enjoying the benefits of accomplished MDGs?

Ha-ha-ha! Well, I wouldn’t say we’re any closer to vision 2030, it’s still a vision. Corruption has us by the balls; it’s continued to bedevil us and it’s got us waking up at 4.30 to pay a Chinese debt that is lying somewhere in someone’s ‘offshore’ account. MDGs? What MDGs?! Ain’t nothing like that in existence.

Anyway.

Writing this letter to you isn’t fun, but it’s an opportunity to share some of the wisdom that being on this planet for an extra five years has given me. Before we get started, get those slices of pizza over here. This isn’t going to be plain advice, you’ll need to extract the flavors yourself.

Sorry for being harsh in advance. Oh wait, no, I’m not sorry. And since we don’t like long stories, I’ll keep it short and ‘sweet’.

Maybe it’s the hormones or the looks, but right now you are crazy smitten. You have only talked to this person briefly, twice, but have fallen intrigued even though he is an exquisite contradiction. The story of how you have met is one you think will draw ‘aww’ and ‘cute’ when you retell it. I mean, you were at the reception waiting to be assisted, you turn and he’s there. Smiling and waving. You had never seen him, he didn’t call you or make any signal of any sort but what are the odds that you turned at the exact same time he was leaving his oral exam? It’s like something out of a book. Its fun, some sort of teenage love, wanting to spend every minute of every day together.

Spoiler. Life will happen.

A few months into it (whatever it is you and him have), you’ll learn that he is a drug addict. His addiction is such that he cares for nothing else. Everything you think he holds dear will fall by the wayside, his family, his friends, his career, you. He’ll become someone else and it will bother you but you’ll ignore it at first. Then you’ll convince yourself that it’s his personal problem as long as you aren’t partaking. Soon enough you’ll make assumptions and excuses for him, blame it on his difficult course or his friends. Sometimes your brain will reassure you that it’s the addict you love and not the addiction.

The drugs will take him away a piece at a time. Six months down the line, he’ll be remote and you’ll chalk it up to stress. This will be your first grieving. His health will deteriorate. The drugs will decompose him like a walking corpse, meat on bones. You’ll feel like a sitter, every second with him will slow to a trickle and those sunny weeks will feel like an age. He’ll have blithe disregard for whatever feelings you have for him. You’ll have sleepless nights wondering what the underlying issue that drives him to them is, why his soul is arid that he cannot resist the chemical substitutes or why your love will not be enough to ward off the darkness. It’ll be in vain. It will seem unfair that no matter how much you strive to show him the importance of getting his life together, he just won’t want to. You’ll feel like the Khloe to a tormented Lamar. Asking. Pleading. Praying. Then enough will be enough.

You’re a smart girl. You’ll realize that you’ll no longer be in love with him but the memory of who you thought he was. In that moment, it’ll come to you how that will be the emptiest relationship ever having nothing to it but looks and drugs. The whole ‘love at first sight’ thing would have blurred everything for you forcing you to learn and get to know the person way too late into it.

For weeks grief will wash over you like the long slow waves on a shallow beach. Each wave icy cold, prolonged. You’ll wish to go back and trust your intuition. You’ll wish you never turned that day. You will analyze every action from every angle and writhe in the agony of paths untaken but it’ll be done and eventually you’ll accept that, after spending about a year getting over someone you had no business being in a relationship with. Don’t get me wrong, we are great friends but that’s just where you should have left it.

I’m not telling you this to weaken your spirit but to let you know that you’ll survive it. You don’t know this, but its long been an axiom of mine that the little things are ultimately the most important and I learnt this from that situation. The human spirit is tremendously resilient. It can withstand the most burdening and horrific of circumstances of any creation but it’s not these larger-than-life situations that can break us, it’s the little things. The ‘just smoking for fun’, the ‘it’s just one day that we didn’t spend together why are you making it such a big deal’, the ‘it’s nothing calm down’, such tiny little things are so damn unforgivable because they aren’t little things, they just seem that way. So be careful when you bend over or when you pretend to be okay with something you are not.

I have had tons of experience with relationships by now and I want you to know this; please date. It’s true what G. L. Lambert can’t stop maundering on about in ‘men don’t love women like you’ and ‘Solving single’. Date as much as you can before you make the decision to be in a relationship with anybody’s son. Even in 2019, girls and boys out here are meeting and three weeks later in a relationship. They’re not taking time to know each other properly. So go on a few dates, wait no, go on many dates! Create the time, the energy and the patience to meet new people, chitchat about the school you went to, the troubles you go into, the village you were born in, likes, dislikes, and other trivial things. Put effort into learning a person’s favorite color, current job, future
ambitions, pick up the nonverbal cues you know; how does he speak to street children, the waitresses at the kibandaski… but hey. this is no cheat sheet for dating–do this, do that, now do this, congratulations, get the man—you’ll be surprised.

Men will however be looking to cheat their way into the relationship. So when you get a sit down and he asks you what you’re looking for in him, among other things Just say; one who is attentive, one who is thoughtful, one who goes out of his way to make their partner feel special or one who is chivalrous. Why? Because you would have answered the question but will leave him with the task of HOW. HOW to be all that. And that’s when their true interpretation of things comes out.

That said, love, you’re about to embark on a journey that you will be talking about and remembering for probably the rest of your life, so spend the next years enjoying it. Even though you’ll have to go through the tough emotional redefining period, each experience is a small piece of the puzzle, a composition of the beautiful person you’ll become. Learn, grow, travel, challenge yourself, go for those forex classes, take that driving course, fail, succeed and from those experiences will come a lot of worth that will draw you to the person that is for you.

P.S. Go easy on yourself.

Love always,
Your older, much wiser, a little stranger, more laid back, also a little taller but still the same kid
at heart self,

TICHI❤️

(In this article I write from Tichi’s POV to her younger self. The lessons we continue to learn in adulthood are insurmountable and we document them for whoever would like to learn a thing or two. Thank you Tichi for this incredible honor.)

CHAINS and SWORDS

I know how it feels like to be in chains 

To pull back and forth in vain

I know what it is like to fight in the dark

To fight monsters you don’t recognize 

When you stick and stab with needles

but just through air

Yet they have swords 

Thick and made of the toughest of steel

They pierce through your skin

And cut and slice as they please

And you cry and wail and scream and beg for mercy

But they don’t speak your tongue

they don’t comprehend your language

They go on and on

no rush, no hurry

You watch your flesh drop in cubes,

and your blood splatter like paint

not on walls or shoes or clothes

but on faces

faceless faces

your hair falls strand by strand,

your mouth dries,

your voice becomes coarse,

your nails like thin glass begin to crack

so do your teeth

and in no time, your bones follow soot

you are cold and broken and distorted and lifeless

your body can’t take it

no more

it gives in

you give in

and suddenly you can see them

and feel them

and smell them

you can understand when they speak and move

you can communicate 

Then it occurs to you

all they ever wanted was for you to be on their side, in their world

for you to torture

to suck and squeeze life out of people just like they did to you

all the things you’ve never thought of doing 

at least not to people

but it’s a little too late

you’re one of them

Faceless 

putting people in chains

and you don’t hesitate to use your swords

it’s a game

chains and swords

Hurt

Pain pain

Go away

Come again another day

I’m tired of being trapped

Tired of trying to get you to notice me

Tired of pulling all these stunts

I want to be the real me when I’m around you

But the you I see doesn’t like people like me

Doesn’t want to be associated with the likes

You see me, maybe

But you don’t see me that way

There’s so much to me

Than just the girl in glasses

Than the girl that spends eighty percent of her time at the library

Than the girl that spends her leisure reading Dan Brown

Than the girl who is socially impaired

You pretend to like them

To be like them

To do stuff they do

When you’re just like me

And in this imperfect world,

People like us should stick together

It hurts

To like someone who may never give you even an ounce of their attention

To like someone who is capable of liking you back

But is too scared to risk anything

Because they seem to have everything

It’s not like I want everything

I just want you

And I hate the fact that the heart wants what it wants

Because I don’t get to choose who I like

If I could, I would

Unfortunately,

All I have is pain.

Pain pain

Go away

Come again another day.

Waiting

Do you know what it’s like being in solitary confinement?

Just the feeling?

I know you don’t

But I do because you’ve put me through it

When one is deprived of

Sunshine

The external environment

Human interaction

When one is treated like a caged animal

Like they don’t deserve to live

Like they live on loaned air

And the only right they have is of them being alive or dead

What’s the point in living anyway?

What’s the point in fighting so hard for someone you know you’ll never have?

In holding onto a love that already faded?

In listening to love songs when you know you’ll never have love?

What’s the point in breathing?

When the only breath I want to feel is yours in my ear

Is there a point in longing to get out?

In wishing to see the rest of the world?

I’d rather not live

Than live to see another day in a world where you aren’t with me

I’d rather stay in here if I have to

And be insane

Go mental

Than leave and be constantly tortured by the image of you with her

Do you even know what it does to me?

To my soul?

You probably don’t

Because you can’t understand something you’ve never felt

You can’t comprehend something you never knew

It truly is detrimental in here

But it’s a price I’m willing to pay

In hope that you’ll be mine again

Even if that little candle of hope is slowly burning out

And soon all this will just be some stupid history and I’ll be the foolish persona

Scared.

I am heavily perspiring

There are trickles of sweat in my brows,

In my hair

On my forehead

It even feels like there are waterfalls in my armpits

I feel like I cannot breathe

Like someone is heavily choking me with some leather belt

My neck feels tightened

And my throat squeezed

And no matter how much am gasping for air

None of it is getting to my lungs

My heart is racing

The adrenaline flashing in my veins is immense

But no matter how hard I’m trying

I cannot move a single muscle

Not even to blink

They’re all tense

I cannot believe what I’m seeing

Not that I want to anyway

But eyes are glued

I have never seen anything like this even in my worst nightmares

This is absolute horror

And I’m completely paralyzed

My blood turns icy

My legs begin to cramp

Heck I can’t move even to ease the pain

A chocked cry for help forces itself up my throat

And a drop runs my cheek.