Suicide is a grave matter, and that guy you admire so much, the one who is life-goals and looks like he never gets irritated by slow WiFi and has attained nirvana — he was probably thinking of it last evening as he marked his son’s homework. I know of a loved one who has consistently said that he cannot attend the funeral of a person who dies by suicide; that it’s selfish and cowardly. I have my own theory dotted with horrifying personal experiences that I don’t think I’m ready to open to the world yet. Me, who write stories about my past boyfriends and embarrassing life struggles, still has things she can’t talk about. Life is a bottomless pit.
I have seen a loved one attempt suicide, and it wasn’t once. Witnessing a loved one attempt suicide and living with the thought that they were at a place when even you couldn’t help gives your heart a fever so high that medication can’t help. This memory has remained stuck at the back of my mind like chewed gum under a desk, decades later.
Several centuries ago, I bagged myself a nice Bukusu boyfriend. It was quite weird because growing up on the mountainside, we had always been told that Bukusus are man-eaters, and I was always hoping his cannibalistic traits don’t show up when I’m around. Well, I lived to tell the tale – and they are amazing people.
This Bukusu boyfriend once asked me what I was most insecure about myself. I thought for a nano-second and then answered, “My hairline.”
A coupe of eye-glasses ago, little Miss T turned my spectacles into double amputees. She came holding the severed arms on the one hand and the ‘eyes’ on the other, feeling very accomplished. Her orthopedics dreams are very valid; she did a pretty clean job amputating the spectacles. I had to shop for new ones.
I roamed the online streets, looking for something that will not cost me many zeros — and we all know eyeglasses frames cost a little more than a Suzuki Alto Engine in these streets. I scrolled up and down Facebook haphazardly, like you do when you’re at the supermarket with plenty of money to burn. When your pockets or bank account is bursting at the seams, you don’t check prices; you don’t check brands, you don’t check for offers and budget packs; you just pick and drop things in your trolley like you’re cleaning out the shelves. You look at Geisha and Rexona soaps the way you look at the beggars on your car window; today, you’re only buying Dettol. Later, you thrust the ATM card into the PDQ machine without missing a heartbeat.
Do you know how hard it is to be a christian girl in the days of the Duke of Hastings? It’s like being a catholic in Palestine. Or a non-weed smoker in Amsterdam.
He is the reason why some of us are not getting healed even after elders have come with tanks of anointing oil and laid their sanitized hands on our coconut-oiled twist-outs? Even after the said elders with their silver beards and safari boots have erased all the grease from our hairs and tangled it afresh, requiring us to buy a wider-toothed comb and more conditioner to detangle the prayer knots, they leave us with our infirmities and go away shaking their heads. Do you want to know why? It’s the Duke of Hastings.
Feelings, like people and dogs, have names. That feeling like your head is swelling like a dam in the long rains; when you can feel your skin harden and your eyes redden like you’re about to become The Thing from the fantastic four and go smashing through walls and breaking glasses with your fingertips; you can almost feel the smoke coming from your ears and veins the size of baobab tree trunk appear on your temple – that feeling is called rage.
Or when your intestines are in knots like a yarn a cat played with; you get an instant urge to pee and in extreme cases, the muscles in your bowels get a brain of their own and open without consultation. Goosebumps appear on your upper arms like you missed your measles vaccination; your hands and feet are vibrating like a Richter scale in an earthquake, your heart pumps on your throat and you’re breathing like a dog in summer – that feeling is called terror.
Moving towns feels like getting an amputation. When you leave a town (or a country, but that is above my paygrade for now. I’ll let you know in a few years 🙂 ), you’re not just leaving your landlord that you probably hate and have been tolerating the parasitic relationship between the two of you — where each of you believe the other is the parasite.
You’re leaving the memories and the familiar – the mama mboga who you send a text when you’re stuck in traffic and you find your spinach well shredded into wormlike threads that are impossible to stir, they intertwine like overcooked spaghetti. When you eat them, one end arrives in the duodenum while the other one is still on the plate. But she’s your mama Shiro, you can’t trade her for any other Sukuma wiki shredder.
While going up the marriage building, somewhere between some floors, I stopped reading marriage books. There was nothing new happening inside those pages, and they all seemed to sing the same song. They also seemed to have been written by writers seated in the clouds and when I read them while wading through a swamp and when I was swimming upstream, they were as helpful as a plastic spoon in hot oil.
Winny shared a photo of her and her Dad taking a walk to celebrate World Mental Health Day. She said she vowed to celebrate with him, even if it meant ‘kuokota makaratasi pamoja.’ I love such people, such stories. We had a zoom interview for me to get her story, but the network was so bad; it sounded like the radio chewing the tape back in 1990. So I sent her questions and requested that she writes something.
The interview came back in sheng and with 17 emojis. This is my attempt to decode millennial speak.
Everyone knew a mad man in the village; for Winny, this man was her Dad.
One day, I came home from a school trip and went to look for my mom; I had bought her some yogurt as a gift. She was away at a neighbor, sharing the latest breaking news in the village. After a few words, she told me, ‘dad nacungire kiariki.’ That was the code word for, “He’s lost it again.” This is my earliest memory of my Dad’s illness.
I’m no Mike Ross, but I have the memory of a dolphin. Did you know dolphins can remember their friends even after 20 years? There are things that infant amnesia hasn’t touched, stuff from my childhood that seem like they just happened yesterday. I have these snippets of my childhood that just got superglued to my hippocampus. They sit there like a rock in a stream, never moving, never getting erased, getting smoother and harder as I grow older.
My favourite part of the movie ‘In pursuit of Happyness’ is when Will Smith — playing Chris Gardener — is walking down the streets in his baggy suit and he meets this gentleman in a red Ferrari, who’s just stopped getting ready to go to his office. Will stops him and says, “I have two questions for you: what do you do and how do you do it?”
He’s born in 1972 while Kenyatta is president. They are poor, the kind of poverty that doesn’t need an adjective to describe. But poverty was a common denominator in the village then, the rich were the odd ones out. His Mom is a dynamite. She’s the reason “when mama prays’ was written.
Soon, he’s supposed to start school. It’s the 20th century, there’s no kindergarten and sijui baby class and pre-primary. You just arc your hand over your head and touch the other ear. If your fingers don’t reach the ears, you’re not old enough to go draw on the sand and make chapati with mud. When his tiny chubby fingers touch his ears, he’s enrolled into nursery school. School is fun because it’s all play, dance and making pick-up trucks from wires and spectacle frames from maize stalks. There’s no homework and they go home at midday. He likes it.
Remember that photograph of a child on the brink of death from malnutrition and a vulture standing by like a chef who has just garnished their meal waiting for the feast? That photo still breaks my heart, probably because I’m a mom now and motherhood turns your heart into a dollop of emotions.
Do you sometimes write something and when you read it aloud, it just feels malnourished? Chances are there’s a heap of articles in your draft box that you haven’t dared post because you’re scared of the vulture. Every time you want to click ‘Publish’, you see the vulture, sinister, waiting to devour your little writing even before the netizens read. You even wish they’d troll you, since it’d mean someone took time to read your work. You close your laptop and go cut onions instead.
One of life’s greatest errors is to look at a child and imagine that they will amount to nothing – especially a child submerged in poverty. Poverty is one of the most convincing costumes; when a person is dressed in poverty, it masks any other attribute that they may have. You can’t even be wise and poor, it’s assumed that if you don’t have a mind to make money, you simply don’t have a mind. But a child is like a dormant volcano, you should expect anything.
You see a man, maybe a lawyer, sharp like a brand new razor and feisty like Bongo, the honey badger. He cuts his hair in those classy barbershops, which have got women hyperventilating every time their husbands go for a shave. But they are so good with the razor, he emerges from under their hot towels and silky hands looking like Michelangelo himself sculpted him.
He’s eloquent, shoots straight, and his life is straight like type 2A hair. He has already removed all the kinks from his life. He’s the kind of guy you’d think has no cares in the world. Even such a man, with his Armani suits, struggles with the imposter syndrome.
There’s a writer in you, buried in there somewhere. If you rearrange the furniture in your head, throw out the low-esteem couch, shake up the laziness carpet, and sort through the box of inconsistency and self-doubt, you’ll find them. They are probably buried right beneath the writer’s block pillow, suffocating, and getting mouldy.
They met at a prayer center. She always loved breaking her fasts at prayer centers, it felt like they had a higher concentration of heaven. We’ll call her Jojo.
Peter* was the kind of person who greeted people with “Praise the Lord!” He’d just exclaim ‘Hallelujah’ in a normal conversation. He was among the dying breed of people who don’t say “shit!” after every sentence. His showers always turned into full-blown Pentecost moments when he started singing.
She was dating a seminarian. Yes, those guys you see in the pulpit giving little holy communion in flowing robes, pious eyes, and lips that look like they only kiss the rosary, well, sometimes they kiss girls called Gigi.
The seminarian had his eyes set on the priesthood. A few years into the training, he got his reverse Damascus moment and abandoned the rosary. I think having one foot in the seminary and another one occasionally inside a beautiful girl was a tough balance. He chose the streets.
Today, our guest writer is Mary Nyawira. She will kill me for saying this, but Mary was the girl every person remembers from our High School class. If someone doesn’t remember you, we just tell them, “Oh, I was in Mary’s class.” And they’ll go, ooh!
For some reason, she was in the naughty corner most of the time. But I don’t think Mary looked for trouble, trouble just found her. Today, she lets us in on a snippet of her life as she grew up — the losses and the gains.
Olive sat across the gynecologist’s chair as he gave her the results of her ultra-sound. Like all gyna’s offices, his was predominantly white. Various diagrams of the human reproductive system hang on the wall. She sat there, recounting the torturous periods she had been enduring since she was a teenager.
“One day, I decided to have THE sex talk with my teenage son. I got him alone and said, “I’d like us to talk about sex.” He looked at me straight in the eye and asked, “What do you want to know about sex, dad?””
Photo credits: Dainis Graveris
That’s a story a motivational speaker told us when we were in high school. His name was Prof. Kadoka. He told us that he was a neurosurgeon. He was the closest thing to Ben Carson that we encountered.