The irony of life is in growing up because people grow up then they grow apart. With age comes dissociation. Age lays an unrelenting buffer of solitude. Jobs come in between people. Cities come in between people. Distant come in between people. People come in between people.
In short life happens. And it’s sad.
Revolving door, that’s what life is. People come in your life and they go. Some make an impression others make a ruckus. Some are forgettable while others you struggle to forget. Primary school was great. Friendship was about who was good at football, who had the most change to buy snacks over recess, who was fearless when it came to the girls. You needed to be fearless because girls in primary didn’t wear mascara and cross their legs. They weren’t ladies. You couldn’t drop a gauntlet at their feet because they would call your bluff and kick your ass. And some were big. No, make that fat. Fat girls were not very kind, at least not in my school.
Their uniform didn’t fit and they sweated under their armpits. And they stuck together. My word, did I fear them or what! One time one of them really heavy girls in my class rubbed a buyu seed on the floor, then when it was very hot, she pressed it on my neck. Boy, did that hurt…her thumb that is, damned thing was the size of an orange!
But back then I never thought I would miss them. Now I do. Christie, Faith and Belinda, I remember them and I always wonder what happened to them. Did they get married? Do they beat their husbands? Are they still mad about buyus? Do they remember the fat clumsy boy in class 5 who couldn’t look them in the eye? Do they still sweat under the arm? Christie, Faith and Belinda, if you are out there do something, show me a sign, send me a buyu.
Then there was this nutter called Odipo. Complete looney. Lost his marbles all together. He was perhaps the only person who the Fat Gilmore sisters wouldn’t bully. He was a man before we fully comprehended what that was. He had hair on his hands, do you know how cool that was to be 12yrs old and have hair on ya bloody hands? He also used to gloat that he had pubic hair, of course nobody believed him. And none was brave (or mad) enough to check.
Odipo was a truant, a truant with a swag. He walked around with a toothpick hanging from his lips, like a bleeding mayor or something. He started watching porn before we even knew that female breasts were cool. He would occasionally smoke when going home somehow he always came first in our class – first from the bottom that is. But it never bothered him, because he came from a wealthy family. When you come from a wealthy family that doesn’t care if you smoke or watch porn in primary school, life is a breeze. I think. And here is the thing; being seen with Odipo was like being seen with Tony Soprano. Teachers hated him because they couldn’t dare expel him. He was an outlaw and we worshiped him.
Odipo had a bag. A bagful of dirty tricks. Here is something he loved to do to the girls…except the fat Gilmore girls of course, those ones could sit on your chest and eat crisps. He would swagger up to a girl over break time, his hands in that position that implied that they were too soiled to be dipped in his pocket. “Please, could you get me my hankie from my pocket?” he would ask the girl who would innocently dip her hands in his pockets to fetch the hankie. The loud horror that would soon be written on her face was only matched by the uproar from the cackling boys who would be watching because what sneaky outlaw Odipo had done is to cut off the lining of his pocket such that when she dipped her hand in his pockets she would touch not a hankie, but nuts. And I don’t mean peanuts. He liked to pick on the new girls in school. Look, it was funny then, and whenever I think of it now, I can’t help but smile. After primary school, Odipo, like everyone else was swallowed by space and distance and cities and people. Odipo was swallowed by the time machine. Wherever he is, I hope he got a better trick.
Then there are the boys in high school. High school was torturous in that it was a trying stage. Boys were turning into men. Voices deepened. Hairs sprout in the dark places and on faces, which was a dark place as well when you think about it because the face of any pubescent is a chest of confusion and angst. In high school boys dropped all that baby fat and grew taller and thinner. Quasimodo made sense. Virginities were taken away from us, mostly by older girls who couldn’t pick on boys their own age. High school is where boys found themselves – and for some- lost themselves. High school was where boys realized that girls actually were something special – even if they sweated in the armpit. Baby Face and Boyz To men informed our socialization into the vast precarious arena of love and romance. Patra and Diana King offered that beat that we walked to, and we lusted over them as we lusted over Toni Braxton. Hell, we still lust over Toni, that woman is ageless!
And of course there is the soundtrack that all newly found manhood teetered on; Snoop Dog. You had to know all the songs to the album Doggy Style, we knew it by heart and we lived by that code. Snoop was a religion. Friendships were forged. Boys became men, and those who didn’t man up sooner and kissed a girl – at least even one girl – were assimilated. You had to know how kissing a girl felt like otherwise you had no business wearing those colorful checked and oversized Kriss Kross shirts. It was the barcode of manhood. The boys. Roy. Amunga. Tuesday. Gordie. Dave. Pato. They all got swallowed with space, distant, time, cities and people.
Then there was Uni. The best friends you make probably you made in campus. Here men were already men. There were no boys. We knew what we wanted, at least for the most part. You drunk. You read. You hustled. You tried to stay afloat and you never dropped the ball. Edgar. My first roommate. I remember our first meeting at 3am. Yes in the AM. When I checked in, he wasn’t in, but his books were. A boatful of books. Books about politics. Memoirs of great men. Autobiographies. Literature on Chinua Achebe and on Shakespeare. An impressive smorgasbord of literature. And these books were all over his bed; a sea of books and scribbled notes and pens, and dirty socks and a half eaten bag of peanuts. “My God,” I thought, “I’ll be damned if I’m sharing a room with a law student!”
Anyway I’m beat, 10hrs on the bus. So I black out. At 3am, I feel someone shaking me awake. It’s Mr. Books. He has shaggy uncombed hair, he looks like, I dunno who has shaggy hair, Maxwell? He smiles into my face. He smells like a beer truck. He is saying something, which I hope is English. He introduces himself as Eddie. Nice to meet you Eddy, what time is it Eddy? It’s 3am. No kidding. He sits on the floor, next to a beer bottle which he takes occasional swigs rom. I ask him if he is studying law and he says he is a journalist. Note, he doesn’t say he is studying journalism, he says he IS a journalist. Must have been the beer. Turns out Eddy loves to read (no way) and write. I instantly knew we were going to get along- if he didn’t wake me up at 3am again.
I tell Eddy that I’m beat, and that we would talk in the morning, and he polishes off his beer, climbs up to his bed and promptly starts to snore….with one leg hanging over my face. Here is how special Eddy was. I stayed with him for two semesters, and every weekend and sometimes weekday, he would go drinking and he would come back at 2am or 3am and he would wake me up and he would regal me with some talk about literature and writing and stuff. This habit ticked me off at the beginning, this 3am discourse and I would tell him to not freaking wake me up when he was from his drinking sprees and he would apologize profusely. Two days later, he would be shaking me awake at 3am to talk about Othello, or why he didn’t like Mutahi Ngunyi latest piece. And he always slept with his clothes and socks when he was from drinking. Soon I stopped getting mad. Soon I learnt to prop myself up and listen to him because he was a true story teller. Sometimes he would tell me tales from the club, how he almost brought a chick back to the crib (thank God that hardly ever happened, his success rate was something like 2.78% …on a good month. “Eddy mate, chicks in the club
don’t give a shit about Ngungi Wa Thiongo’s literature, so stop making every conversation about him” I would plead with him)
But he was a sharp fellow, sharp as a whip, he read every African writer you know. His recall for quotes was stupefying. He wrote well, quite often from his bed. He could be up early the morning after a long night on the tiles and he would write the whole morning. His political analysis, although hilarious, often bordered on the anal. The only thing he loved as much as his books was his beer. He was a creative, sloppy, spaced out but with an unfailing sense of humor. He left campus midway went to Europe, came back after a while and found the Lord Jesus Christ. I was shocked, Eddy and Jesus?! What would they be possibly talking about? Now he does community work somewhere in Ukambani, something worthy- I don’t know, maybe he sinks boreholes for widows. And the clincher is that he is a father too, no kidding.
More people come into your life in campus, and most of them very special. Most of them you share a passion with for something. Kagame, a skinny Rwandese with a mouth on him. Roy, contained and sober creative. Maseme, excellent newshound. Together we wrote for a campus publication which was really a rag driven by scandal and gossip… something we enjoyed tremendously. We had a small office with one PC, and we took turns to bang our stories there with one eye on deadlines- which by the way we pushed around on a whim. At midnight on the eve of “going to press” I would often fought bitterly with the strong headed Kagame. He was always trying to pass a strong worded piece on something that had potential to shut us down. He loved to stitch people up, heck we all did, secretly, only he didn’t make bones about it. And so at midnight we would often be in the office, banging copy, chewing some fat. Anyway, the worst nights were the eve of “going to press” we would work until early morning, and we would fight bitterly with Kagame over content, while our graphics guy, Roy, would sit and watch blood spill. But Kagame, although un-manageable, was a great writer and a sport, er, sometimes. Once in a while he drops in here to make a comment as Making Appearances, and he knocks me about, something that seems to float his boat even though he is many continents away.
Assenga, Mary, Edu, Brian, Kate, Ann, Gasirigwa, Solo, Ochamringa, Kent, Enock, Marion, Wangui…the list could fill this page up. Names. People. They touch your life in a special way, then they leave. You get off your graduation gowns and hug and pick numbers and earnestly tell each other, “Let’s get in touch” and people leave…then life happens. They get on boats and they cross continents and borders and they get swallowed by the rat race. Years pass. Many years pass and your lives become akin to ships passing each other in darkness. You hear someone got married, or got a baby, or found Jesus, or landed a major job or started their own business, or broke up with their fiancé, or lost weight, or added weight… Your relationships start getting conducted through the grapevine. You seem them sometimes on Facebook, but they seem like strangers. Once in a while they will pop on chat and say hi, and you will catch up for a minute, then they will go under again. You both will.
I once logged onto Facebook and this guy I grew up with had just updated his profile, saying he had lost his son. Yes, a short but heart wrenching cry of help on Facebook- because people only write stuff like that when they need help. When they need comfort or words that can tide them over. And a man extending his vulnerability to all and sundry like that is a man in pain. How can that not shake you? How can that not change the formula of your life, even temporarily? I hadn’t talked to him in ages, and I was damned guilty damn it. You feel unworthy to tell him sorry, because that sounds so manufactured, more like an insult to his pain. But you do, you become a part of the many comments professing their condolence. And you know you are phony and fickle because life took over, because you let your lives get swallowed by reality. But you think of all these people, how can you possibly not? And the worst bit is that you do nothing about those thoughts. Sigh. It’s deeply saddening, when life happens.