“Cheki budaa, sikuambii unipee camera ikuwe yangu,si we bado uko job? Ntakuwa nakuletea camera na mapicha kadhaa unaeza publish…” I was trying to get Ken, My former colleague and boss, to lend me his (or the company’s) camera. A boy had to make his dough, but I was running out of options.
“Nakuelewa Tony, hio ata si shida, lakini si unakumbuka venye ulichoma my guy, nikikupea camera and you get lost mimi nitatoa wapi camera ya 150k nirudishe?” yea… he made sense, the risk was too big on his part, and I was not the guy he was going to trust blindly, not after I was given a couple of chances to redeem myself and I blew them all.
“Fanya hivi, si lazima unipee leo ama kesho. We ifikirie tu, si hamna mtu wa field? Mi naeza kuwa msee wa ground, kukiwa na kitu interesting nakimbia huko, napata news ikiwa fresh, kama kuna picha naeza piga napiga alafu nakurushia, we unanilipa from your pocket alafu you own the rights to everything…”
He paused for a moment, and from his background, I could hear him consult someone, talking in hushed tones, wondering if I made sense at all or I was just out to make a fool out of them.
“Acha nitakupigia, then I’ll let you know what we’ve decided. So umesema unaeza kuwa unaenda field pekeako?”
“Eeh, field ntaenda, hio isikushtue… sai niko poa, mambo ya depression nilimaliza”
“Do you still go to your therapist?” Damn it, Ken, why do you have to do me like this?
“Eeh, nilikuwa huko 2 weeks ago”
“Enda zingine mbili alafu umwambie akuandikie report that you can email me. Alafu sasa mambo ya field we’ll know from there…”
Well, that wasn’t so bad. All I had to do was sit through 2 therapy sessions that made me feel like a witch about to be burnt at the stake. The therapist they had paid for me found it hard to hide the judgement on her face, or maybe I was making it up all. But this was a chance I couldn’t forego, however far-fetched it was.
It had been a while since I wasn’t lost in my own head. You know how you sometimes overthink everything, and the only conclusion you can come up with is life’s fucked up? That was the limbo I was stuck in. Until KPLC decided a little darkness never hurt anyone. It looked like it was around 6 in the evening, and the little village-town I lived in was slowly coming to life despite the unwarranted gloom that was settling in. Left with little to no option, I slid in my sandals and went out for a stroll, hoping the darkness outside would siphon the defeated parts in me.
There was this App I had, a wellness App that promoted ‘positive thinking’. I felt cheated though, I can’t read motivational quotes to my Landlord and hope that the good Lord will touch his soul. Or maybe I should get a roommate and share the rent? Or sell my TV. Who needs to watch fail compilations when being kicked out of your residence felt imminent. It was a bedsitter by the way, but a huge one. I moved there after my transgressions at work passed the unforgivable mark, so downsizing wasn’t an option. Maybe the wellness I needed wasn’t buried deep in some algorithm that spewed unoriginal quotes. Maybe all I needed was bird watching and a damn camera.
I have never been around so many college kids since I left campus half a decade ago, so everything about this place felt alien. Alien but thrilling. You could feel the excitement in the air. Someone was always drunk or high. They walked in cliques, gorgeous babes that were always outside liquor stores, and half of the boys with starving, dwarfed dreadlocks, always with backpacks on. It was this frenzy that ran unchecked that I found contagious, so I intentionally made sure no one knew me, because this was a wave I couldn’t save myself from if I dared plunge in. I felt more alive here though. Less pressure to convince those around you that your life is what they wished theirs would be. It was like living in the country but with a city’s kinkiness. It was almost getting pitch black, with a few lanterns lit in the kibandas that dotted the dusty, murram road. Walking around in the dark wasn’t serving the therapeutic role I anticipated, so I got a few groceries and headed back.
Even in the darkness, the view from the rooftop was unmatched. The moon was out, and she didn’t hold back tonight. Nights hit different when you’re all wallowing in this sea of a blackout, lights from distant towns illuminating the horizon, and distant murmurs anchoring my mind to reality. Then almost immediately, I heard someone light a match stick. Then footsteps. Someone was coming to keep me company over here. I, at first, couldn’t figure out who it was, but it was evident once he came closer.
“Aah, sasa Johnte?” It was a neighbour, same floor.
“Kumbe ni wewe budaa, fiti…” we fist bumped, then he sat at one of the corners, protecting his already lit blunt from the unforgiving wind.
“Huskii hizi stima zimeshinda hivi siku mzima, ata sijachapa wera…” John lamented, his burning spliff the only visible thing.
“Sijaijua shida ya KPLC ni nini… kwani unafanyanga kazi gani?” I asked, completely oblivious.
“Si mimi ndio nakuanga kwa ile kinyozi iko pale kando ya ile supermarket. Leo ata afadhali ningeita mamaa tutulie kejani tu”
“Enyewe leo tumefanywa mbaya, lakini tushazoea,” I added, trying as hard as I could to sound concerned.
I particularly didn’t want to engage him a lot. I wasn’t in the right state of mind for banter. But obviously, he had other plans. Pointing at a cracked bucket sitting beside him, he motioned for me to sit.
“Tulia hapa tupige haka kablunt…”
Well, the last time I was high wasn’t a spectacle I’d like to repeat. Let’s just say it was a side of me I wouldn’t like to revisit.
“Ata nlikuwa nataka kuenda kuekelea kaugali sai,” I lied, but a child could’ve lied better.
“We acha zako, ata utafinya ugali vizuri zikishika,” he said, and with that, handed me the blunt.
Two blunts in, and we were on top of the world. We talked about anything and everything. I somehow didn’t mind telling him about my past life and how everything was going perfectly until it wasn’t. He said I looked like a cool kid. Cool kid amesota. That hurt a little, haha. I felt terrible because here I was, trapped in this cocoon of uncertainty and judging everyone around me, at the expense of living at the moment. I can’t remember the last time I laughed till my cheeks hurt, but I did that night. I laughed and told stories I thought I had forgotten. I felt myself at the moment again, head buzzing, skin crawling with whatever my mind had made up.
“Achanga kujifungianga sana arif, umeniambia unaitwa Tony?” he asked, the veil of awkwardness now long gone.
“Eeh, Tony… ata kesho ntakupitia hapo kwa kinyozi unipige cool shave.”
“Ivo sasa, vijana wang’are,” he added, and with that, disappeared into the darkness.
It was now a few minutes past 8, more than an hour since I left my house. It was also the longest time I had spent outside, with someone that wasn’t my therapist. I had almost forgotten what it felt like to not worry myself sick about things I didn’t have any control over. I wasn’t sure if it was the weed, John, or both. But I sure as hell needed the break. The lights came back. It almost blinded me, considering I had sat directly under one glaring bulb. A few ululations of celebration from my apartment rang in the air. A Bluetooth ‘dewise’ came on. My phone buzzed. Heey you… It was Karen. My heart skipped a bit; that wasn’t a good sign. Heey, Karen! How are you?
No response. I check the message again, one grey tick. Why would she text me if she was going to ghost me either way? Hunger was almost devouring me whole now, so I went back and tried to make something. She called…
“Sasa Tonyy? Aki I’m sorry free whatsapp yangu ishaexpire, ata nakupigia na storo”
Ooh, I had almost forgotten she’s still a student.
“Poa sana, hakuna shida, I was going to call you later either way”
“Gai aki? You’re such a darling!”
She sounded a little tipsy. This was not the cautious, shy girl I was talking to the other day.
“Haha, eeh…kwani umekunywa nini?”
“Kwani you can tell I’m not sober? That’s not fair. Na nimekunywa Cider tu…”
“Aah,zi. Ni venye you’re a little excited, but I like this version of you.”
“Haha, naskia poa tu. By the way, I never got to thank you for helping me out. Not many people can do that…kwanza meen”
“Don’t worry about it, it’s the least I could do…” and I actually meant that, surprisingly.
“And your mum is so nice. She takes care of all those kids alone?”
“Yea, imagine. Huyo alitumwa na Mungu tu…”
“Aki…so I was thinking… would you mind us meeting? Nataka tu kukuona nikuambie asante in person”
Ooh, ooh… I did not see that coming. Was that code for I want to come over? I was confused.
“Uhm, yea… I’d like that. Ni kitu tunaeza panga…”
“Aaaw, I’d like that too… you’re such a gentleman Tony, mi naeza kupenda bure… kwanza your voice,gai! Ebu ongea na beshte yangu hapa”
She was in the company of 2 other friends. It was the birthday of one of them, so that explained the merry mood they were in. I was in quite a good mood myself, a higher version of myself, I’d say. We called and texted for the better part of the night. I wasn’t asking her questions about her failed relationship, and I wasn’t thinking about my impending problems that wanted to choke the life out of me. Just two people escaping their wretched realities. A win-win situation, I might say. Johnte was right; ugali mayai tastes like heaven on earth when you can’t feel your feet; I guess I have no option but to get that haircut tomorrow.