Paying My Dues

Paying My Dues

The sun was begrudgingly hot, like you could sit at any side of the matatu and not get barbequed. My thoughts were in a haze, and all I was thinking of was getting a seat. I did. It was quarter past 10, a mellow morning for everyone else but the 14 of us crammed in the Nissan heading to Tala. I have had better Saturday mornings, but I couldn’t talk myself out of this one. There is this kid I have to visit, a tough kid. He has been tested, life has done a number on him, but God isn’t he resilient! I hear they got an academic clinic today, so someone had to go, or he’d be sent home. He has no home. I also just needed an excuse to see him.

I find long travels therapeutic, especially if my phone’s battery is low. That way, I can convince myself that my sanity isn’t dependent on TikTok reels. I was still uncertain as to why I was going to see the kid. He knew me as much as my butcher did, and I’m a vegan. I’m not, but you get the point. You see, my growing up was an experience in itself. I’ve lived half my life in a children’s home. My adolescent tantrums took me to an approved school… but that’s a story for another day. I met Kimani at one of the fundraisers I attended at the home. A quiet, shy boy with subtle aggression that vibrated out of him. Mathe liked him, though, because she only lets you help her in the kitchen if you have no criminal record in her books. I could tell he loved singing during their assemblies, but his was more of groaning and clapping. Not knowing words to the songs wasn’t a deterrent. But he was clever in his own right. He conducted himself and those around him with a decorum many lack at his age. Mathe even told me he was appointed compound prefect when he got to form 3; levels.

I slept the whole way, partly because the small talk I was having with the mama beside me was more of a lullaby. She talked about how other Sacco’s use Kamuti to get customers and the occasional accidents that were sacrifices to these spiritual vampires… you try sleeping to that.

I’m now in a less comfortable seat but with more free space. More parents are seated with me. The deputy principal is clarifying something the teacher on duty said, but I doubt anyone’s listening. A large gust of wind blows dust into the tent, a few rant. I haven’t seen Kimani since I got here.

I sneak out of the tent and walk towards the classes, hoping to meet someone who’ll point me in his direction. There’s this teacher howling at a few students in scout shirts.

“Mwalimu… naeza kusumbua kidogo?”

“Wazazi wanakaa kwa ile tent pale!”

“Najua, kidogo tu…” I insist, a little irritated by his demeanor. He hesitates, then motions at the students to leave.

“Unaeza kuwa unajua Joshua Kimani wa Form 3?”

“Ule wa Form 3 East?”

“Nadhani…”

“Huyo Alienda Music Festivals Kitui, labda uache message”

Dang it! A whole 3 hours of traveling, and this boy is in a whole different county! But I couldn’t blame him. It was naive of me to think he expected someone today. So I was in an academic clinic, but my patient was missing. I leave, immediately. Playing Mr. Nice guy hadn’t paid off.

The journey back was intimidating. Not because I had no one to soothe me with conspiracy theories, I have a couple of them under my sleeve either way. I might have forgotten to mention I was fired two weeks ago. 3 hours of overthinking seemed like a lot to handle, especially if you have to rethink your whole life again. I worked as an investigative Journalist at this major media house, and kicking ass became the norm. Somehow, along the way, I lost myself in this mirage of ‘social justice’. I perceived everything as black or white. It was either you’re the oppressor or the oppressed, no grey areas. Thinking of it now, it was almost as if I was in a one-person cult.

There is this feature story I did a year ago about this lady that was raped at her kiosk. The man vanished. I did the lady’s story, detail for detail, lest I left something out that cost us justice. You should have seen her, the pain was contagious. She was a beloved daughter of the small town she lived in, and when people caught wind of what had happened, anger reared its ugly head and swallowed them whole.

We held protests, roads were barricaded, and we sought vengeance within the law, or so I thought. Then two nights later, a Boda Boda guy was murdered at his home. His 14-year-old son survived with 3rd-degree burns—a classic case of mistaken identity. Village goons burnt down his thatched hut, I hear. He shared his name with the rapist in question, and that alone warranted his death.

I can’t say I was devastated because that would be a colossal understatement. Learning about his death paralyzed me. I spiraled back into a hole that had taken me years to come out of. Many tried to help; my then employer did everything to hold together the bits of me that had remained until they couldn’t anymore. It was as if they were tending to a brain tumor with a band-aid, good luck with that.

I was let go officially, to go and mend myself the best way I know possible. Today was my first attempt at living, to atone for sins that no one is there to forgive.

I failed. We try again tomorrow…

8 responses to “Paying My Dues”

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