I feel cheated sometimes. Cheated into growing up and being responsible for myself and everything around. It hit me hard when I woke up sick one day and I had to confirm if my NHIF card is active in case I needed to take myself to the hospital. Thank God for that ginger and garlic concoction because it took care of business better than my NHIF card would have. Most people my age are just tasting the bitter waters of being on your own. We grew up sheltered. There was always that one person (or two) that stood between us and the raw, unfiltered reality. Maybe this is why adulting isn’t as seductive an idea now as it was when I still wrote compositions with those colourful idioms and “helter-skelter” shenanigans.
Most of my childhood was spent in the expansive Savannah that lies somewhere along Kangundo road. Joska to be precise. I was as tall as a hammer when my Dad built his budding family a home in the middle of nowhere. As a kid, I didn’t understand why we vacated our modern, gorgeous apartment for a cottage looking house that heated like an oven from 10 in the morning. The grass there was so tall gazelles grazed a stone-throw away from our doorstep. Somehow, my Dad had convinced me that we were going on an adventure as a family; and that was music to my ears. We had like 3 neighbours in a 1-kilometre radius, so everyone knew everyone. But I hated being sent to any of their houses after dark. You know when your mum is cooking and you’re all just lazying around, then you hear her curse followed by, ‘Na mbona hamkunikumbusha chumvi imeisha? Ebu Ron kimbia kwa kina Willy uombe na uwaambie wasijaze, ndio msahau kununua yenu tena…’ akina Willy were the closest neighbours we had. He also doubled as my partner in crime. Literally. If kufuatana sako kwa bako were people, it would have been us.
I saw him first when I changed schools and moved to a local one closer to home. It was at least 4 km from our house but still the closest, decent one. My Father saddled me on his mountain bike and rode me all the way to school. The headteacher made me introduce myself to the class. Willy sat at the back, chewing on paper or something. We were in class 4- that was a popular hobby then. We, later on, got acquainted as we lined up for that uji schools give kids on break time, and the rest, as they say, is history. Our friendship was like those videos you see of a duck hanging out with a dog; unexpected. His handwriting was the best in class, he drew every letter. I, on the other hand, wrote like my fingers had seizures of their own. We both adored football, it was our religion. He was better at scoring goals, I was better at defending, so we were literally unstoppable if we landed in the same team. But because our classmates caught on to us quite quickly, we mostly played against each other. The competition kept us agile and ferocious, and we thrived on it. We even held mini-tournaments at home where he brought his elder brothers and I came with my Dad and uncle, and we slid and tackled each other till night came and our knees couldn’t take any more bruises.
Our school was built on a small hill on the outskirts of the town centre – that is, if 4 kiosks and a wholesale shop can count as a town centre. You see how our parents explain their going to school as if it was an apocalyptic event- that will definitely be me. Willy and I hiked to get to school. That’s what it felt like going through the wet shrubs and dense fog every day. We also had these school bags on our backs that were heavier than lead. And remember I told you I was as tall as a serving spoon can be, so the journey to and fro school felt like a Harry Porter movie, without all the magic.
That period of my life feels surreal sometimes. Like I dreamt parts of it. It was exciting, with hints of danger to it, and honestly, that’s what must have kept us going. The thrill of the chase. Like when we snuck out of our homes to go swim in Athi River, not considering that our parents didn’t want us there because full-grown adults had drowned or disappeared. Or when we’d bet that whoever cries after an ass whooping at school is the bitch. And the teachers there were no joke. I think some got orgasms just from seeing us wincing in pain; the sadism was real. Most of us have been there before. Look at us now, all grown and protesting against hiking food prices, the new ass whooping in town.
But even with all that, we seldom dealt with uncertainty. Everything was taken care of. All we had to do was pack our school bags and show up, again and again. Then life happened, and we outgrew our parent’s wings. It was time to fend for ourselves. And that’s when it hits you like a truck. Being an adult is probably the hardest thing you have to do. You realise that no one owes you anything, and if you have a problem with that, you can go cry at your mother’s house. I personally can’t remember the last time I hang out with some of my friends. Apparently, adult friendships are more of reacting to their Whatsapp status and less of hanging out. Were our parents this clueless when they started out? I doubt it. Some of them were adults by 13. Anyone that can carry their sibling on their back, go get water from the river and still make lunch from their granary is an adult, I don’t care how old they are.
I freak out less these days. The responsibility of planning out my life isn’t as frightening as it was. I’ve learnt that if you can’t see the whole path ahead of you, take the one step you can see. Don’t overthink it. Zen it out. Don’t say no to the adventures too, however simple. It can be hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro or making your pilau njeri just the way you like it. Adulting is frightening the same way a shadow is frightening to a 2-year-old; but you eventually calm down when you realize it’s here to stay.