Out of sight; out of mind. They say the first thing people tend to forget whenever frequent contact is lost in a long time is the voice. There is so much in speech…and a lot more in the voice. The croaky, the squeaky, the deep, the adenoidal, the raucous, the brittle, the dead-these you cannot tell what they feel, the flat, the gruff, and the honeyed-the sweet talkers…the list is long. An individual’s tone says a lot more than the actual words uttered. You can tell when one is angry or even hungry from their tone…when one is anxious or scared…when one is bored, nervous. The only thing that is not easy to tell from a person’s voice is the size. Not of their throat but their body…a heavily built dude with a squeaky voice or a lady with a guttural voice. Huh!!!
Some people express themselves with more than just word of mouth…they nod as they talk…they open and close their eyes…some don’t. Hell they just talk with their eyes wide open. Like their eyes also do the talking. Yet others use their hands to give meaning and weight to what they say. Like the Honourable Members in Parliament even when what they say is as light and as shallow as their score cards.
I remember how Baba used to talk. I still do. But his voice is slowly fading away. Like some dried leaves blown away by the wind…quiet Baba. Most of all I remember how he laughed. I remember his smile. I am tempted to say anfractuous. Because that is what it was, his smile-crooked. Was it the missing teeth? It always had an effect on us though…the laughter. It was one special way we got to know that Baba gave his otherwise busy ear to the jokes we shared. It said a lot more. That all was good…it said Baba was home and that meant security and protection…it covered us with warmth and an assurance that all was possible…because Baba made it. Someday I will not be able to remember even the laughter. The days when the wind will have carried it to the four corners of the earth…to where they belong…to whom they belong.
Most of all I remember how Baba walked…in the dark. How his walking lacked rhythm. How his steps changed…sometimes long…sometimes short. How he would stretch his long limbs hoping to step on some slightly raised ground only to slide in a miniature pothole. How sometimes he would step on some raised ground while in his mind he had hoped to step into a pothole. Baba hated walking in the dark, at night. He never directly said it but I knew he hated it. He hated feeling like a toddler learning to walk. He hated bumping on things and things bumping on him I knew he hated walking at night because he never allowed us, his kids out at night alone.
Last week I woke up with a smile on my face. I slept with it. I had planned to sleep late first because lately sleep is playing tricks on me, and two because I had planned to subscribe to the Airtel mid night club bundle. You know how that works? The subscription where at twenty shillings you get two-hundred and fifty megabytes of data instead of ninety-nine shillings for the same amount during the day. But you only get to browse from mid night till six in the morning. Little sister!!! After subscribing I fired the laptop to life, checked my e-mail account before checking my student portal. Clicked on room application and there…I got a room!!!
This is a big deal if you ask me. Accommodation is one of the issues that almost all students must go through…a rite of passage. Every year before the semester begins students cross fingers and say a word or two of prayer to the deity they believe in before checking and coming to terms with what the student portal says. You never come to terms with missing a room in college. Woe unto you if you are the kind that it is only through education, the search for the white man’s knowledge that you stepped out of your village for the first time and landed in this City of Cool Waters. So it was a big deal when I checked my portal and realized that I had a room for the second time in a row…and how I was told that once you miss a room in the initial periods as a freshman that you would never be able to get a room in the coming years. So I screamed. Not literally but I almost did scream. I stepped on the laptop with my fingers and killed it. I could not stop smiling by the time I hit my head on the pillow.
My year as a freshman had been an experience. Not tough and not easy, just an experience. After having missed being allocated a room for the year it was time to come to terms with it. It took me a long time to appreciate my situation. Those days spent at the Graduation Square staring at nothing in particular but the vast space before me, waiting…contemplating whether to attend my next class or rush downtown, grab the next bus and head home, lest the bus fare triples. Those days playing pirate, hanging around other students’ rooms for an exam the next day in the morning, lets you miss it!!! Those days walking to and from the SWA offices each day in the morning and afternoon students mistook for a member of the non-teaching staff, only to be dismissed without a solution to your issue.
One week into the start of new semester. There is not much to be done. Classes have not yet kicked off and the lecturers and the non-teaching staff are out demanding that the government honours a Collective Bargaining Agreement previously agreed upon and signed. I turn off the radio and maintain silence in my room. I do not feel like turning on the news even though it is the news hour. There is too much bad news-from doctors’ to lecturers’ strike. To some politician hate mongering, planning to drive out an entire community because they do not belong, people and animals dying of famine while voter registration is carried out with an urgency that is raising eye brows. I choose to maintain silence. Just as I love it on Sundays. I stay silent with my thoughts, looking around in my new room, thinking, imagining how the semester will be.
I imagine how most of my days will be spent alone in this room. How apart from friends who will be coming and going occasionally, the rest of the days will be me and my thoughts-side by side. Arguing. Critiquing. Admonishing. Directing. Correcting. Rewarding. Punishing. Deciding and making choices.
My mind takes me for a walk down the memory lane. To the moments with my roommates the first time I got a room. Good guys-Elias with his Kacey Musgrave songs-Mind your own Biscuits, Martin forever trying to figure out the next episode of Game of Thrones, and Frank always pouring in on his books. But we all in a way needed some privacy. We yearned for that moment when the privacy we so much demanded would be given to us. I sit here and realize that this is it…and something more-freedom, freedom to do what you like and how.
I sit here after a long day out with friends and it feels like Baba’s walk in the dark. Nothing is openly visible. It is all a mirage. I am trying to connect with the Place of Cool Waters, trying to find my bearing, where I really belong and the things that will work. I am trying to draw that line. The line had been drawn actually. I know my lane. Maybe I am just trying to come to terms with it, trying to accept it. Making the first steps, trying to master them so that I do not bump on things; because just like Baba, I hate bumping on things. They say if you can make it in the Place of Cool Waters you can make it anywhere. I do not know the truth in this statement. This is to Nairobi, I am here, I am yours.