I don’t believe in demons. At least not the Hollywood version of them. But I know everyone’s been haunted before. To what degree? I don’t know. We’ve all had experiences that had us question everything. Some of us heal, some of us hide behind emotions, some of us abandon emotions altogether. I’m not really sure where I fall but I do know I suck at handling anything that sweeps me off my feet. But let’s not start on a high note. I have an AA meeting of some sort tomorrow. It’s my third meeting and I’m a little nervous. After I lost my job, I started this group thing that invites anyone who finds their life a little too much to bear. The first meeting was supposed to have happened a fortnight ago but I grew cold feet. Also, no one showed up for the first one. Then I got this message that changed things again. It was from a girl, a campus girl. She felt her life wasn’t worth living because the boyfriend had kicked her out. They were living together until living together wasn’t as fun as they thought it would be. He also happened to get her best friend pregnant…
My phone startled me from my sleep. Who the hell’s calling me at 6 in the morning?
“Habari ya asubuhi kijana yangu?” Oh, it was mathe.
“Mzuri mum, kwani leo umeamka mapema aje?”
“Mimi silali kama nyinyi, nikilala nani atatafutia hawa watoto unga?” yea, that was her classic line. I’m surprised she didn’t question the drowsiness in my voice. Or maybe my insomnia made sure I didn’t sleep enough to sound sleepy.
“Huku kwetu baridi ndio imezidi. Hawa watoto wadogo wote wakona homa ile yenyewe na ata unga ya uji imeisha. Si utununulie ata kilo mbili ya leo tu?” She was sleek this one. She knew I was broke to my bone but so was she.
“Acha nione venye nitafanya” I stuttered, knowing too well I had shot myself on the foot.
“Asante Kijana yangu, Mungu atafungua milango yako tu, usijali” her credit betrayed us before I could respond. I was now wide awake, with less than 4 hours of sleep under my sleeve. But that was a goodnight for me, I’ve been through worse.
I held my meetings via zoom. I wanted to give anyone who joined it some sense of anonymity. That you can say anything and not feel judgement drown you. You didn’t have to show your face, or use your real name. You just had to be willing to share; and answer a couple of questions my curious self might have. I personally believe there’s nothing as intrusive as questions, a decade being a journalist engraves that in your head. But the right questions can change everything,they mirror what you’ve hidden under your bed and so ignorance is not an option. Growing up in a children’s home had me understand problems hit different when you have people around you. People that actually care. Mathe was a master at making things seem better than they really were. She took me in when I was 10. A rugged, starved boy that begged for hand-outs. Good thing I wasn’t doing drugs, or she wouldn’t have looked at me twice. So here I was, an adult in my own right, trying to make the world a better place but also ignoring the skeletons in my closet because again, the only ghosts that haunt us are in our heads.
Evening, if you’re still down for the zoom meeting, here’s the link… SEND. I felt the lump in my throat grow thinking of how damaged my esteem would be if she didn’t join the meeting. It’s weird being in a zoom meeting alone, it’s like being locked in a dark hall, minus the echoes. If no one will have joined in 10 minutes, that should be it. I wanted to do things differently this time, more like a one on one session. If I was alone, airing her dirty linen before me shouldn’t be a problem. I made a cup of coffee and waited. Silence. I could hear a mare mare guy yelp from a distance. A motorbike zoomed by… more silence. My insides curled with anxiety. Who the hell cares about my stupid zoom meetings after all? I should quit bitching around and look for an actual job, at least that way mathe hatakosa pesa ya uji. 7 minutes have gone by, and she hasn’t read my text, let alone join the meeting. Chest pains loading… My bladder was harassing me now and it’s not because of the coffee. I rose and dragged my defeated self to the loo. A low ping rang from the living room and I swear the self-loathing thawed immediately. I rush back heart in hand; Karen has joined your meeting.
“I’m sorry for the delay Tony, mlikuwa mmeanza?” she asks.
“Actually it’s just the 2 of us…” I say, a little embarrassed by the whole thing.
“Ooh, even better, I struggle talking to a lot of people”
“I only sent the link to 1 other person, you’d be good either way” That was a lie.
“So Karen, we’re here to just talk. You know, to release things that you can do without…”
“You sound like a fake pastor” she laughed.
“Haha, nitakutumia till number utoe sadaka after this”
I thought I had planned myself for this. A few nights of rehearsing my life-saving mantras had given me confidence. False confidence. Here I was, the coffee in my system sending pulses of excitement through me, but no words really felt appropriate to speak.
“Are you still there?”
“Yea, yea… did you get a place to stay by the way?”
“I did. I crashed at a friend’s…”
“You have plenty of friends”
“Haha, yea. At least now I have no boyfriend to get them pregnant…” she got me laughing with that one. A sense of humour with a side of heartbreak is rare to come by.
We all had our cameras off. Her voice didn’t carry the pain I felt in her texts the night she reached out. She had been abandoned in town and the number on my Instagram bio was how she reached me. I used that number before to have my sources contact me, but now it’s more of an “I need help” lifeline. I had her go spend the night at mathe’s place, somewhere along Thika Road. Maybe I helped that day, maybe she’s hiding behind the sarcasm, but she had an aura I didn’t anticipate.
“You happened to mention the other day that you contemplated suicide, why?” This was me trying to open the Pandora’s Box and peer inside.
The room went quiet for a good 5 seconds. “Because the pain of living was overwhelming and death seemed to be an easy way out…it was like taking a painkiller for a migraine, only that the migraine was an abusive boyfriend impregnating a person I thought was family, and the painkiller was death.”
“I’m sorry you had to go through that”
“Me too. But I’m here talking to you now, aren’t I?”
“Yea. How abusive was he, your boyfriend?”
“Uuhm, it was more psychological than anything else. Like I wasn’t allowed to use my phone past 6 o’clock because only hoes text other men with their man in the house”
Okay, that caught me off-guard. I sipped my now cold coffee to shake off the cobwebs in my voice.
“Wait, how did he make sure you weren’t texting past 6?”
“I submitted my phone to him every day. Like he’d get back home, and I’d go pamper him like the good girlfriend I was, getting his bath water ready, or massage his feet, and he’d go through my phone as I did this to check if I had been entertaining anyone that’s not him”. God, how did she want to kill herself over this one?
“Did he make you do these things or is this just you as a girlfriend?”
“I think it was a little bit of both…” long pause. “I don’t mind been sweet to my man but he doesn’t have to force me into anything, or manipulate me.”
“Tell me two things about him, one good thing and one shitty thing…” I had to know.
“I haven’t really thought about that to be honest, but he wrote me a nice poem once and he always wants to bed anything with a skirt”
Ooh, so we’re dealing with a horny Shakespeare here. A horny Shakespeare with abandonment issues probably.
“Are there ways you would say you fell short as a girlfriend?”
“I mean, he did you wrong I know, but are there things you might have done that increased the chances of your relationship failing?”
That was a question she wasn’t ready for. Her breathing became laboured, then stifled.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you cry…”
“Zi, it’s okay. Ni venye tu I don’t really know where or how I wasn’t a good girlfriend. With him, nlikuwa nafeel like someone is watching me 24/7. There was always something to be tensed about, especially kama alikuja usiku na tantrums. I was on survival mode, people on survival mode are just trying to make it to the other day…”
Her response struck a nerve. I literally knew nothing about her but it was hard to ignore the part of her that I now resonated with.
“Did you ever feel you deserved better?”
“Yea, but it’s not that simple Tony…”
“How hard is it?”
“All I know is I still had some sanity left in me. I left and went back home because I knew I didn’t have to take shit from him. Until staying at home became unbearable and all of a sudden having someone police me around didn’t sound that bad. But that ship had sailed and I wasn’t in it. So I tried to get a friend to go and appease this man I meant nothing to. Kumbe dem mwenyewe ni nyoks pia…”
She went silent again. “Hello? Karen?” Nothing. Karen left the meeting. Please, not technical hitches right now. Before I could check what the problem could’ve been, a text came in. Pole, ni bundles zangu zimeisha… It was awesome talking to you though, we can do this siku ingine.
Wow, that didn’t go as planned. I typed a quick ‘it’s not your fault’ text and fell into a heap on my bed. Maybe these meetings should be done in person, or maybe I shouldn’t do them at all. I wasn’t sure what to feel, or how to feel it. But that wasn’t such a bad start at helping. Might have been nothing, but it wasn’t nothing. In my last attempt to massage my messiah complex, I fulizad Ksh300 and sent it to mathe. Ni ile ya uji ulikuwa umeniitisha.
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