A Letter to my Radio

Life before you was quiet. It’s as if everything manifested itself as a whisper, or maybe this is how skewed my perspective has become since you came into my life. I first thought of getting you after I was asked what was the best thing I’ve ever gotten myself with my HELB money, and all I could remember buying was kuku soma and a million khaki trousers from Gikomba. Shameful. I needed to go beyond the superficial, something that nourished me, and not my gut. And that’s how you were born. In my thoughts of course, but still, I thought of you before I could afford you. I manifested you. My earphones stopped being loud enough, and I stopped borrowing the aux cord at my boy’s place. This was me being loyal to you even before you were mine.

Then the Govt. blessed my little account and I couldn’t keep calm. I had to get you quick before my generous self could get other ideas and forget about you. I crossed highways and walked Luthuli’s dark alleys just to get to you. You were lost in a crowd of other radios, and even though you weren’t my first choice, there was something about the others that just didn’t feel right. Either the speakers were too small, or they didn’t play music with their chest; it was like they were forced to be there and they’d rather be stacked in a box somewhere, or at the beach plugged into an outdoor socket. I was starting to get frustrated when one of the vendors mentioned you. “Kuna ingine imeingia juzi tu sijui kama utafika bei…” he made a few phone calls, disappeared for a minute, then came back with you in hand. You looked gorgeous from the outside, but boy could you sing! The vibrations you made went through me. It was like I became part of the songs. I knew I loved music before I met you, but it’s because of you that I became obsessed.

“Hii bro itabidi umenipea ndovu saba,” ulikuwa unauzwa kaa kichwa ya lorry…7k was literally all I had left. I pulled your vendor aside and pleaded with him aniuzie na bei ya jioni despite the fact that it was 10 in the morning.

5 minutes into negotiations, and I was heading back to my hostel Ksh 5,700 poorer. But it didn’t really matter because I had you with me, and honestly, I probably would’ve paid the 7k if bad came to worse. My boys couldn’t believe I had foregone a few weeks of drinking and eating like a King to get a radio. But they understood once they saw you. We gathered and held a small ‘radio-warming’ party for you. It’s as if we were vetting you to see if you could be part of the gang. We got tipsy and sang along to your tunes, we played cards as you watched, and I got laid that night thanks to you. You see, this one girl I liked wouldn’t dare come to our hostels because they looked like death traps. UoN hostels aren’t for everybody, unless you got a radio like mine then probably you stand a chance. She came over that day because she thought the music in my background was from a club’s speaker, and I told her hio siku club iko kwa room yangu. Imagine she came to confirm, and of course, somehow, ended up leaving the next day. She never did that normally, ni venye tu ni mimi…

Do you remember all the strikes and riots we survived? I don’t even remember why anyone was striking in the first place. All I know was I almost lost you in all the chaos. The worst one was when the GSU officers snuck into the school and brought hell with them. I’m sorry I left you alone, I had to run for my life, literally. They lobbed the tear gas canister too close to our room and I know you wouldn’t want me to choke to death, so I left you in God’s graces. But I was thinking about you the whole time, hoping no one was malicious enough to knock down my rotting(it wasn’t really rotting) hostel door and take you away from me. I watched from a safe distance when I could, and came back later to find you cold and scared, because that night, you sang with hiccups – maybe the tear gas also made you cry. I think school wouldn’t be half as fun if my boys and I didn’t have you. But we grew up fast and we had to go build our lives as men. I left you at home and went out in search of much more than we had because you were all I had. Mum called now and then. She said you were special. She thinks she gets closer to God when you play her those church songs of hers. She hated that I’d come back for you and get back to playing playboy songs on you.

I’m writing to you now because you’ve been brain dead for almost 6 months now. I woke up one day and it’s like you were tired of playing the same songs over and over again. Nothing turned you on, not even your favourite socket. I assumed you were throwing your usual tantrums, so I gave you a day or two to think about what you wanted. You worked on the 3rd day after I smacked you a couple of times, but even that didn’t work. Your lights went out on you again. My brother thought it was time to get you a replacement, but my attachment issues couldn’t let me give up on you that fast. I needed to know there was no way to save you. So I took you to my local repair guy. He’s worked with your type before, so he should’ve known if you still had life in you. But he was a quack that one because you broke down again after a week. Were you doing this on purpose? Is it because I no longer spent the whole night listening to you as I did? You had me in a tight spot there, so you must understand why I also gave up on you. But I didn’t replace you, mainly because I had better things to do with my money. I thought maybe if I left you hanging long enough, you’d understand that it doesn’t get better than us. That despite our diluted relationship now, we’re still better off together than alone.

Those few months without you felt like a lifetime. I got myself new headphones, hoping they’d fill the space you left. They’re like your little brother, but with less bravado. They don’t tickle my insides like you do. So I love them, yea, but differently. I found you another repair guy, but he looked just as clueless as the other one if not more. I abandoned you there for a month, still unsure what to do with your stubbornness. I had felt betrayed by your defiance because the loyalty I had for you was still unshaken. I still thought you had more life in you than anyone around me was willing to accept. So in an attempt to give you another chance, I came to save you from the dusty shelves you had been shoved into.

“Hii ukinipea 1500 nakuekea amplifier ingine, inarudi mpya kama ya supermarket,” I was sure that guy was feeding me horse shit with his lies, but I still paid, I needed you back home. So after 2 nights and 3 days, he called to say you’re well again. That you couldn’t wait to do what you did best. That night felt like the first night we spent together. I got lost in the melodies you sang me, and the music carried me away into the still night. It didn’t matter that we had been fighting because, for that night, I was that broke, campus guy that only had his radio to his name. You showed me who I am without everything else, and if the world will reduce me to just you and me again, please don’t give up on me. Hang around enough to see me build a new life for us again, hang around enough to play my kid’s favourite songs. I hope you’ll like their mum too. But if life will happen and you’ll be gone by then, I’ll archive you and tell stories of us and where we came from, how we mastered the tempo of life a beat at a time, because you’re the first trophy life gave me with open arms.

****

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