#What_sThePoint?

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Courtesy: Vurdem @ Deviantart

(Send me an email at chanchori09@gmail.com in case you want to buy my book The Realm of Humanity, available only in soft copy)

Monday. January 01st, 2018

Kathageri; Runyenjes – Embu County

23:30 h

Some people’s childhood memories consist of their parents. They see them holding their hands, walking them to the school bus, or driving them to school, or beating them over some mischief they have been up to. Some people remember the cousins and friends they used to play with when they were little and the mysterious sour tempered neighbor at whose gate they weren’t allowed to play.

My childhood memories consist of my uncle. Sometimes when I close my eyes, I remember him holding me by both hands and smiling down at me, chuckling and saying, “Just one step Kim. Take just one step.”

Maybe it is a memory, maybe it is a dream. I have never met anybody who remembers when they were being taught how to walk. My grandma always says that I am special. Special as in special, not crazy. She says that one day when I was three years old, her and grandpa were driving past this old school in the neighborhood where we used to live and I pointed out and said, “That’s where our car broke down last time.”

Grandma says I wasn’t supposed to remember some of these things, but I did. So she called my mom and told her, “Your daughter is special. You should take her to school already.” My mom took me to school when I was three. When I finally started primary school at five, they made me skip grades here and there because I was too smart. I completed primary school at ten. Most people accomplish that feat at thirteen or fourteen.

But this is not about me and this thing I call a brain. This is about me and this thing I call an uncle. My grandmother’s lastborn.

I am standing outside our house staring up at the moonless evening clouds. There are stairs that descend from our gate to the house; stairs that my uncle loves sitting on whenever he makes that rare visit, and flashes a smile at me and my sister Elise.

Suddenly, my uncle materializes at one of the bottom stairs where he is seated typing something on his phone. I take a hesitant step towards him, my knees threatening to give way under me, my breath held and my steps fragile, careful not to let him know I am there, lest he feels disturbed and runs off again.

A strong wind blows; it was raining just a few minutes ago. Thunder cracks in the distance and a bolt of lightning flashes. In this lightning, my uncle catches a glimpse of my face and slowly but surely, he fizzles away like smoke in the air. No goodbye, no leaving smile, no hugs…he’s just, gone.

Twenty four hours ago

My grandma calls with one simple sentence. “I can’t feel him anymore.”

I don’t need to ask “Feel who?” We rarely talk about anybody or anything else. It is always about Kim, his son. My uncle and I don’t share names. We share nicknames. I am Kimberly, he is Kimani. So, everyone calls us both “Kim”.

“Have you seen Kim?” a relative will ask during a family get together which both my uncle and I have found fit to grace. “Kim the guy or Kim the girl?” The relative asking will be asked and then they’ll have to specify.

Uncle Kim and I have a lot more in common than most people. On top of sharing a nickname, we also share a birthday, both of us having been born on October 18th. He was born on October 18th 1989 and I was born exactly five years later. While the name thing and the birthday were purely coincidental (according to my mom at least), the rest of it I made sure, at first unknowingly and later consciously, that our similarities didn’t end there.

I kept observing him and emulating him in every way possible. For example, we can now both sit in a room and read people.

Two Weeks Ago

Friday. December 22nd, 2017

14:19 h

Izzak Walton Hotel – Embu

Two weeks ago we sat beside the swimming pool at Izzak Walton Hotel in Embu town and scanned the compound with our eyes.

Him: You see that light skinned woman with a big belly and uneven complexion?

Me: Which one?

Him: The one in a swimming costume taking selfies with her two sons in the water?

Me: Oh, that one. What about her?

Him: What do you think of her?

Me: Well, going by the fact that she has bleached her skin, I think she is a little insecure. Her swimming costume has a fake designer label meaning she aspires to be more than she is in her life. Her phone is huge but has one of those names I have never heard before, meaning she prefers quantity to quality and most importantly, she is taking selfies with her children in the water meaning it is not every day that they get to hit the pool together. Not at a place like this anyway. So when it happens, they take pictures and flaunt it on social media for everyone to see just how great her life is.

Him: Good. Very good. A few questions though.

Me: Uh huh

Him: How many cars did you see out at the parking lot when we came in?

Me: Thirteen.

Him: Makes?

Me: Three Toyota Harriers, one Mercedes Benz, two BMWs, four Toyota NZEs, a Toyota WISH, a Nissan XTrail and a Range Rover SVAutobiography Dynamic.

Him: Lovely. You’re getting good at this. Now, if I told you that the Range Rover belongs to this mama, would you believe me?

I squint at him suspiciously and try to put the lady with the fake designer clothes and a china phone in the Range and that picture doesn’t quite fit.

Me: I don’t think so.

Him: Alright. Do you see the bags under her eyes?

Me: Now that you mention it, yeah.

Him: How about the weave?

Me: It looks a bit shabby.

Him: But do you see it?

Me: Yes

Him: Now look at her hands. See beyond the bleach. What else do you see?

Me: Um, well, the skin around her fingers looks wrinkly but that’s probably because of her age, her fingernails look a little chipped…

Him: From working them too hard or from biting at them?

Me: (Squinting) Biting. She has bitten them close to the cuticles

Him: What else do you see?

Me: (Squinting even harder) Is that a tattoo on her forearm?

Him: Yeah. It reads “Tommy and Stacy forever.”

Me: Where do you think Tommy is now?

Him: I think Tommy and Stacy met a long time ago, had a bit of a wild life, settled down later, had these two boys, built a life together, promised each other forever, then Tommy died.

Me: How do you know he died?

Him: Do you see how sad those children’s smiles are? It looks like they don’t want to be here. Also, see how closely they are holding onto each other. They are each other’s security. Everything else feels strange to them but their mommy wants them to move on.

Me: But Tommy could have just left them

Him: In which case, the woman would be acting arrogant. Proving to the world that the deadbeat dad who is also her husband is useless and she is better off without him. Instead, see how every move she makes is fragile. Like she is just an inch away from a breakdown. With Tommy, she knew her place in the world. She could tattoo and bleach her skin, she could eat well and freely express herself because her man loved her and accepted her wholly. Now that her support system, Tommy, is gone, she is just trying to stay alive long enough to see her children grow up. She is not fake. She is just a little lost. They all are. But they are trying to find their footing again.

Just like that, the picture falls into place. I can see her and the children in the Range Rover. I can see their pictures on Instagram as they try to show the world and hopefully themselves, that they are going to be OK again in a world without Tommy, beloved father and husband. I can see the supportive comments from people who are aware of the death in the family.

Next thing I know, I am on my feet, walking steadily towards the woman and her children. When I get to them, I utter a careful, “Hello” and she smiles at me. The children hold each other even more tightly. “Hello,” she says. “How can I help you?”

“You have beautiful children.”

“Thank you.” When she smiles again, she squeezes her lips together in a thin straight line. It is what I do when I’m biting back tears.

“Can I take a picture of you and the children?” I ask, sticking my hand to her so she can put her phone in it. She looks at the kids then at me with a less sad smile then hands the phone over to me. They get closer together, they smile, they stick their fingers out, their mommy tickles them and I snap away again and again, hoping that maybe I’ll catch their eyes looking happier.

When they leave to pool, I hand the phone to her and as she takes it, I pull her close and hug her tight. At first she resists by trying feebly to push me away but she settles into it, her hold tightening around my body.

“Everything’s going to be OK.” I mumble into her ear. “Just hang in there. You’re doing great.”

She doesn’t say anything back. We just stand there hugging for a few seconds longer. I feel the water from her wet suit sipping through my clothes and soaking my skin but I don’t mind. I feel her tears dropping on my shoulder and the hot moisture dampening my skin, but I don’t mind. I hear her sniffling close to my ear and I know she is fighting hard to stay strong. So I hold her a little tighter as she breathes hard, sighs, sniffles once more and lets me go.

She looks right into my eyes, her brow a little folded. “Do I know you?” she wonders.

“You don’t have to.” I say. “Sometimes a weird hug from a stranger works better than a couple of drinks with a friend.” She still has that ‘I don’t understand’ look on her face but I don’t want to explain things to her. So I turn to the kids and wave at them, before flashing a quick smile at the mother and heading back to our table.

“Well, that was weird.” My uncle says as I join him.

“What’s the point of reading a room if you can’t do something about it?”

January 04, 2018

Kathageri; Runyenjes – Embu County

23:30 h

Right now I have two questions. (a) How did I fail so badly at reading my uncle? (b) Why did he let me fail so badly at reading him? Obviously, he knew I didn’t have him figured out, and he let me continue figuring him out wrong.

Thursday. July 6th, 2017

Nairobi Mamba Village

Lang’ata North Road – Karen

15:34 h

My younger sister Elise has just graduated from the University of Nairobi where she was pursuing a degree in English Literature and my uncle Kim, being my Uncle Kim, has taken her graduation party all the way to Karen. Grandma won’t stop complaining about it.

“I heard the kid loves reptiles so where better to hold her party than at a crocodile farm?” Kim avers when people ask him why he brought them here. Elise isn’t complaining though. At the moment, she is out somewhere holding a baby crocodile in her hands and taking pictures with it. I wouldn’t touch the thing with a hundred mile long pole.

“How is he?”

I am standing outside a pen where the ostriches are kept. There is someone feeding them; a tourist. I want to feed one of them too because it is OK to feed animals and people, but I don’t feel so generous at the moment. All I want to do is stand here and stare at the birds.

Grandma must have been standing beside me for a while before speaking because when I look at her, I find her staring intently at the ostriches, not even looking at me when she speaks. In her early sixties, her cotton white hair is shaved close to her skull. I remember a time when her head was bigger than it looks now, or maybe I was just little.

Her face is not as wrinkly but there are folds around her neck. She has always been a small woman, but sturdy. As I look at her now, I notice that she has become more fragile and the air of confidence and authority that used to accompany her everywhere seems a bit dissipated now.

“He seems OK grandma.”

“He doesn’t seem OK to me.” She faces me for the first time. “I don’t like his hair.”

Ah. The hair. Uncle has let his hair and beard run long. I think he’s planning to rear dreadlocks, something grandma abhors. She calls it, ‘This Mungiki hair being worn by mad children of these days who smoke bhang and act like lunatics.’ She can’t imagine her lastborn being one of those people.

“It’s just hair grandma.”

“Do you still talk to him? Do you know what’s going on in his life?”

I want to answer her, but when I think about it for a minute; I don’t have anything reassuring to say. “He is just busy, you know? He was in South Sudan covering the civil war the other day and then he left for Yemen to cover another war. You know, same ol’ same ol’.”

Later when all the guests are settled inside one of the tents, I turn to my uncle, seated at the back, carefully scanning the room in silence. I see him looking at my sister with a little brightness in his eyes. Sometimes I think Elise is my uncle’s favorite niece, which itches a little because he is my favorite uncle. I don’t like it when I love people more than they love me. I am only human.

But Elise doesn’t know how to fan a friendship. She is elusive and emotionally unavailable, something my uncle noticed when my sister wasn’t even a teenager yet and shared this sentiment with mom. “Your daughter has half a soul.” He said. “She knows it is OK to relate with other human beings, she knows it is admirable and encouraged because no man is an island, but she doesn’t know how to go about it. If you want to be close with her, just sit in a room with her and keep your mouth shut.”

Mom followed his advice and they don’t fight so much anymore. Uncle also followed his own advice. Sometimes when we are seated in the kitchen back home in Runyenjes, I see him watching her with that same look of undying interest in his eyes. He never looks at me that way.

Sometimes I catch a flitting look of sadness in his eyes as he watches her. I try and enter his mind because I want to know exactly how he sees her. Today, I finally figured it out. She intrigues him the way a medical miracle intrigues a doctor. It is something he wants to study and understand and interact with it.

True he understands my sister. He figured her out in her preteens, but that doesn’t mean he finds her any less intriguing. She is not a normal child to him. Maybe she reminds him of those children he meets while taking pictures of those starving and bombed children in war torn countries.

I envy Elise sometimes. She has the attention of the most important man in my life, but she doesn’t even notice. Now there he sits, sadly watching his niece’s every move, intrigued by how different she is and ironically saddened by how different she is. He knows that she’ll have a more complicated life than most, because not many people will understand that she just wants to sit in silence and be her. Elise looks like she is waiting for something to happen in her life; a big bang kind of thing that will finally jump start her engine and get her to finally start living.

I walk over to him and grab the seat next to him. “Are you OK uncle?”

“Yes kid,” he says, flashing me a toothy grin. “Yes I am OK. You?”

Friday. December 22nd, 2017

17:01 h

Izzak Walton Hotel – Embu

We are inside the hotel at the bar having drinks when Njiru my immediate ex boyfriend shows up. Our relationship was a staggering disaster from the word go. In a nutshell, Njiru is an insecure little boy in a man’s body. Which is unfortunate because he has quite the body.

He comes over to our table and fidgeting, he says hello.

Me: Hi

Uncle: Hello

Njiru: Kim, can I talk to you for a sec?

Uncle: Nope

Me: Uncle?

Uncle: Oh, he meant you?

Me: (Looking at my uncle but obviously addressing Njiru) Yes. But the answer is still no.

Njiru: Look, I just want to talk, OK? I don’t want to stir any trouble, I just want a word with you.

Me: Njiru, don’t do this.

Uncle: Yeah Njiru. Don’t do this.

Njiru: (To him) Shut up. I am not talking to you.

Uncle: (Lifts his arms up in surrender) Yes sir. (To me) Kid, your boyfriend has a serious manners deficiency.

Me: Ex boyfriend. (I cast Njiru a stink eye) And he was just leaving.

Njiru: Look, I love you, OK? And I don’t believe you have just turned off your feelings for me like what we had was nothing.

Uncle groans and rolls his eyes. I stand up quickly, grab Njiru’s arm and pull him outside to the swimming pool where we stand beside the pale blue water, whispering urgently.

Me: You need to stop doing this.

Njiru: Doing what? I am just fighting for us because this is the most important thing in my life.

Me: Please stop OK? When we were together, all you did was not be with me and now that we’re not together you want to be with me? What is wrong with you?

Njiru: Kimmie I’m sorry.

Me: Don’t call me that!

He opens his mouth and shuts it like a fish gasping for air. Then he looks around, a vein jutting from his forehead and folds his brow. It is this childishly dramatic thing he does when he wants me to think he is fighting tears. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t so smart. Maybe then I wouldn’t be able to see just how pathetic his whole act is.

Njiru: (Hand on chest) I don’t know how to live without you.

Me: I’m sure you’ll figure it out. I have to go back to my uncle now.

I make as if to turn around but he grabs my arm and makes me face him. Next thing I know, his lips are on mine, trying to force a kiss on me. I push him away and rub my lips with the back of my hand.

Me: That is very disgusting.

Njiru: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I just thought…

Me: What? That I’d just melt into your arms and we’d ride together into the sunset? Again, what is wrong with you?

“Is this guy bothering you?” Uncle Kim’s voice comes from behind me in a chilly tone and I freeze. I turn around and try to flash him a smile but even I can feel just how forced it is.

Me: I’m handling it

Uncle: Obviously not well enough

Njiru: Dude, this is between me and her, OK? You can’t be in her life when it’s convenient for you then leave when she needs you.

When Njiru and I were dating, I used to whine to him about my uncle a lot. Remember that thing I told you where I feel like Elise is his favorite niece? I used to whine to Njiru about that.

There was a Christmas when my parents slaughtered a ram because uncle said he’d spend the holidays with us. He didn’t just offer to do that, he just kind of agreed after I asked him over and over and over again to visit us. I had missed him.

When he said yes, I excitedly shared the news with everybody. My uncle, the famous award winning photographer who takes pictures of wars, will be spending Christmas with us. On Christmas Eve when he was supposed to show up, he didn’t.

I called and called and called, but he didn’t pick up the phone. So I texted and texted and texted and he didn’t reply to any of my messages. This wasn’t the first time he was doing this, but every time he lets me down like this, I keep hoping that he’ll come through next time. Next time comes and he lets me down again and I hope that next time, he’ll show up.

He didn’t. On Christmas morning, he called saying he wouldn’t make it. “Why the hell not?” I asked, trying to keep the edge off my voice unsuccessfully. “I just don’t want to, OK? I’m sorry.” His voice was cold and flat.

“You can’t keep doing that to people Kim!” I screamed over the phone. “When you say you’ll do something, you go ahead and do it!”

“I’m sorry kid.” Came his cold flat voice again, as if all my emotions left him unmoved. “I just don’t want to.”

I hang up on him and waited for him to call me back. Sometimes my family sits in the living room to watch soaps. In most of the lovers’ quarrels in the soap operas, when the angry woman runs out, the man chases her and calms her down. I guess that’s what I wanted uncle to do when I hang up on him. I wanted him to call me back and calm me down. I’m still waiting.

So I turned to Njiru and whined and cried and let myself lose to him. Time and again I vented to him whenever my uncle would let me down.

Of course my uncle would just show up one day and I would open the door and find him seated on the stairs smiling at me and all the past sins would be forgiven. So when Njiru mouths off to him telling him how he can’t be selectively available to his niece when it suits him, I figure he has a point. Even though it’s not in his place to make it.

Kim stands close to my ex and mumbles at him;

Uncle: She might have loved you once, but she doesn’t love you now. You are a pathetically slimy piece of nagging irrelevance to her and all you are doing right now is embarrassing yourself. Why don’t you pull yourself together, go home, cry yourself to sleep for the next couple of months, listen to sad love songs and then get over it? Huh? People get dumped every day.

Njiru: (To me) So you’re going to let your emotionally manipulative, cheap thrills seeking lunatic of an uncle fight your battles for you now? That’s very childish Kim. Even for you.

I might have said something back, but I blink and when I open my eyes, uncle is punching Njiru in the face then in the stomach and suddenly, Njiru is on all fours, gasping for air. Uncle grabs him and drags him to the swimming pool where he immerses his head into the water.

Njiru’s hands and feet flatter around as he struggles to pop his head out of the water and I am there looking around for witnesses and trying to get him to stop.

Me: What are you, crazy? Stop it!

He lifts my ex’s head off the water and Njiru takes a deep breath right before Kim shoves his head back in there and holds it firm.

Me: Uncle please, I’m begging you, stop!

Someone sees what’s happening and rushes off to find security as Kim lifts Njiru’s head off the water and pops it back in for a few more seconds. Finally when he pulls him out, Njiru falls on his back coughing and gasping and dripping wet.

Kim squats beside him and says calmly to me;

Uncle: When you are unlucky enough to be loved by someone you don’t love back, you must do them a favor and crush their feelings with scary ruthlessness. Like this…

He turns to Njiru;

Uncle: I know right now it feels like you can’t live without my niece but do you know what you really can’t live without? Air. I also know you feel like you can’t even breathe without Kimberly, but you are breathing just fine right now, aren’t you? She doesn’t love you. You never made her happy. You are nagging her and she’d rather have sex with cactus than look at your cry baby whiny face listen to your sniffling one minute longer. Stay away from my niece or the next time I cut your air supply short, the results will be permanent.

By the time the security comes to Njiru’s rescue, Uncle and I are in his pale blue Subaru Imprezza heading home.

Embu – Meru Road

Friday. December 22nd, 2017

17:42 h

Sometimes when he is feeling whatever it is that he feels sometimes, he lets me drive. Today is one of those rare instances. He is seated on the passenger seat beside me singing along to Cannibal’s and Sharama’s “Kichwa Kibovu” playing on the car radio.

Uncle: Cannibal ndio mimi kichwa kibov, natema juu ya microphone sura mbov, hiki ni kilio, juu ya instrument joh, kwenye studio, kuna ku-rise and ku-fall. (Translation unavailable)

I turn down the volume;

Me: What was that about?

Uncle: What was what about?

Me: You? Killing my ex?

Uncle: Uh, he’ll be fine. (Hr turns up the volume)

Me: (Turning down the volume) Are you OK uncle?

Uncle: Yeah I’m fine.

Me: You know you can talk to me if you’re not OK, right? You’re my best friend.

Uncle: I know

Me: And you know I love you, right?

Uncle: Jesus! Can we please not talk about our feelings? Please! Before I grow a set of titties and a vagina!

Me: Wow.

He pumps up the volume and raps on to the Cannibal song playing.

Kathageri; Runyenjes – Embu County

Saturday. December 23rd, 2017

00:49h

I am lying in bed listening to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” This is one of those things uncle and I have in common, but by design. Listening to old school rap music is one of the things I learned from him.

Me: You better lose yourself, in the music, the moment you own it; you better never let it go (go). You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow; this opportunity comes once in a lifetime…

It is a dark night, my room dimly lit by the fluorescent bulb from the corridor outside. Since I am listening to music with my earphones at full volume, I don’t hear much else. I am by now used to the sound of crickets, the neighbor’s cow that moos at night every now and then followed by the bleating of another neighbor’s goat, my father’s snoring from their bedroom and other sounds I have been hearing since time immemorial.

My bedroom becomes brighter with moving lights and at once, I slap off the earphones and hear the unmistakable sound of uncle’s Subaru’s engine. I jump out of bed and rush out of the room without switching on the lights.

I run out of the house just in time to catch the taillights of the car as it disappears out of the gate and off towards the Meru – Nairobi highway. I run back into uncle’s room and find the bed well spread. Back to my room, I grab my phone and call him.

Him: Hi

Me: Where are you going?

Him: Home

Me: Back to Nairobi? Why? You said we’d spend Christmas together

Him: I changed my mind

Me: Goddamn it Kim, why do you keep running away?

Him: From what?

Me: I don’t know! But you’re always running and running and if you’d only take a minute to look over your shoulder, you’d notice that nobody’s chasing you.

I can hear the sound of his engine over the phone and Mashifta’s ‘Pesa Pombe Siasa na Wanawake’ (Money, Liquor, Politics and Women) playing softly over the radio. After a few seconds of silence, he says softly and without emotions;

Him: I will call you later

Me: You pro…

I was going to ask him if that’s a promise but he hangs up before I can finish the question. I call him back but he doesn’t pick up. I try again and again he ignores the calls. To try and get him off my mind at least until he can call back, I watch a movie, even though I find it hard to focus on it.

04:32 h

I must have dozed off because when I wake up, my phone is vibrating in my hands. I dozed off holding it, waiting for him to call. Anxiously, I turn the screen up hoping it’s uncle calling but it’s grandma. That gets me very worried.

Me: Hello Grandma

Her: It is your uncle. He was in an accident.

Me: What?

I am on my feet, running around the house, hoping desperately to get somewhere but stuck in a maze of my own confusion.

Me: What do you mean accident?

Him: He is at Embu General . He’ll tell you more.

Embu General Hospital

December 23rd, 2017

05:34 h

When I finally see him, he is unscathed. Not even a bruise on him. The doctor is telling him, “It’s a miracle that you walked out of that car without a single cut on you.”

He chuckles and says sarcastically, “Miracles are all around us doc. You just have to look hard enough and sure as hell, one of them will smack you clean in the face.”

“Hallelujah.” Says the doctor and I hide my face in my palm to hide the fact that I’m rolling my eyes. Some people just don’t get sarcasm.

Embu Police Station

06:17h

As we head on – uncle and I – to the reporting desk so he can write a statement, I see what’s left of the Subaru being towed in. The metal is twisted, scrapped and the windows are shattered. The windscreen is missing and so is the bonnet. I look at the car and then at my uncle and wondered how the hell he managed the miraculous feat of escaping it untouched.

According to his statement, he records that he was driving past Mwea when a donkey suddenly stepped onto the road and he ran it over then saw a tractor ahead of him and swerved off the road. I love driving on that Mwea stretch of road. It is one long stretch, mostly without bumps. In good lighting, you get to drive at 140km/h easy.

A witness’s statement avers that he saw a blue Subaru Imprezza speeding on the road and it didn’t even slow down when the donkey stepped into the road. Yes the driver must have seen the donkey even though it was at four in the morning, because his headlights were on. He ran the donkey over and didn’t even slow down. Then he saw the tractor ahead and accelerated in a manner to suggest that he aimed to run into it. However at the last minute, he noticed there were two children in the tractor waving at him and he swerved the car off the road and lost control sending it rolling in the rice farm beside the highway.

I am seated in a large room close to the cells and my uncle is seated two tables away writing down his statement with a female police officer. Grandma calls me again and I excuse myself and step into the police station compound to answer it. The Subaru has been dumped with other wrecked cars at some corner in the compound where it now sits idly, awaiting what might be a court case to finish before my uncle can claim it.

Her: How is he?

Me: Alive

Her: Does he look bad?

Me: He only looks dirty. Apparently, he was thrown off the car as it rolled and he landed on a huge stack of hay on the side of the road. He doesn’t have a cut on him.

Her: (Deep sigh) Thank God

Me: Amen to that.

Her: Sometimes that boy worries me. I think it is time he found himself a partner

Me: Grandma, you keep pressuring him into that

Her: He is twenty eight years old.

Me: You can’t rush him into a relationship

Her: Don’t you see how alone he looks? And how reckless he is with his life?

Me: (Softly) Grandma?

Her: Huh?

Me: He um…

Her: What?

Me: There were no skid marks on the road

Her: What?

Me: There were no skid…

Her: Yeah I heard you. I just don’t understand you.

Me: He didn’t break before or after hitting the donkey. He intended to kill it and run off.

Her: No. My son doesn’t have a mean streak in him.

I remember just several hours back when he almost drowned my ex boyfriend.

Me: And there were no skid marks to suggest that he tried stopping the car when he saw the tractor. Were it not for those kids, he would have smashed right into it.

Her: Did he have his seat belt on?

Me: Yeah. (I bite my lip and close my eyes.) No grandma. (For some reason, my voice starts breaking) I don’t think so.

Her: You told me he’s OK. You told me my son is OK.

Me: I thought he was OK

Her: You are the only one he talks to. You are the only one he treats like family. The other day I told him to come help me move because robbers kept coming to my previous home and you know what he did? He got on a plane and left for some place where people were killing each other. He’d rather snap away with that camera of his at people dying and killing everyone than come home and help me move to a safer neighborhood. Who knows? Maybe when they finally cut my head off he’ll come and take picture of me lying on the sand in a pool of my own blood.

Me: Grandma!

Her: There is something wrong with that boy!

She hangs up. I want to call back, but honestly, I don’t know what to say to her.

When I get back to the room where my uncle was recording the statement, I find the female officer stashing papers into a folder.

Me: You guys done already?

Officer: Yes.

Me: Where is he?

Officer: He’s left. I thought he met you outside.

I rush out, my eyes sweeping tens and tens of faces looking for him as my fingers scroll my phone, looking for his number. Still looking around feverishly, I call him but he doesn’t answer. I try again and again but nothing.

December 25th, 2017

Ruai – Nairobi

09:05 h

My uncle hasn’t been picking up anyone’s calls or replying anyone’s messages so I take my mom’s car and drive to his place in Ruai. I have an extra key which he gave me a while back after asking for it for ages.

I park downstairs and climb up to the fourth floor, two stairs at a time. The neighborhood is relatively silent seen as how most people have gone upcountry to be with their families. I get to his door. There is sweet aroma of Pilau filtering through the air from his neighbor’s apartment.

First, I knock on my uncle’s door, just in case he is in there with yet another woman he’ll never get to introduce to his mother, but nobody says anything. I knock again, silence. So I insert the key into the lock and turn, but nothing happens.

I try again and the lock doesn’t yield. Uncle must have changed it.

I walk to the closest window and notice that the curtains are different. Puzzled, I knock on the neighbor’s door and when a older lady in her forties answers, I try to smile, fighting tears and working hard not to show her just how terrified I am.

Me: Hi. My name is Kimberly and I’m looking for your neighbor, Kim.

Her: (Looking me over from head to toe.) You his girlfriend?

Me: What? No! He’s my uncle.

She doesn’t look convinced but that’s not even on my list of worries at the moment.

Her: He moved out last night.

Me: (Jaw dropping) You’ve got to be kidding me.

Her: I have neither the time nor the patience sweetheart. It’s such a shame though. Other than the myriad of women, he was a good neighbor. Looked after my kids sometimes when I wasn’t around.

Me: Do you know where he could have gone?

Her: Nope. Said to tell anyone who came looking that he would call them back when he was ready.

Me: Ready to call them back?

Her: I guess. (Shifts weight from leg to leg and cracks her knuckles) Look sweetheart, I have food on the cooker, so if you don’t mind…

Me: Yeah. Yeah. Sure.

As she gets back into her house, I am overcome by an inexplicable sense of loneliness. I literally run down the stairs, taking two, sometimes three at a time, fighting to keep that fist in my chest in check. I open the door and jump inside the car, slamming the door shut after me and as soon as I’m behind that wheel, the waterworks strike.

The fist in my chest overpowers me and it comes shuddering out with immense pain. I clutch at my chest and let out a howl larger than I have ever done my entire life. I cry as if someone has died. This moment will go down in history as the moment I have ever felt the most alone in my entire life.

I feel betrayed. My uncle and I had a silent understanding where we would tell each other everything. No secrets. No hubris. Just good old honesty. And now he’s just packed up and left me alone with nobody to help me read people, nobody to listen to old school rap music with, nobody to share my secrets with… oh God, where is my uncle?

I cry and cry. I bawl and bawl and wet three handkerchiefs before I can get a semblance of peace. When I’m done, the loneliness alleviates and a sense of worry sets in. Where is he? The ‘is he OK?’ question is replaced with ‘what is he doing?’ because I know he is not OK. I am just wondering what he is doing about it.

How could I miss the signs? The many times I caught him watching my sister with that sad look in his eyes, was he sad about my sister or about his own life? I can read people, but how come I couldn’t read him? The most important person to me?

I call grandma;

Grandma: Have you found him?

Me: (Trying to keep my voice steady) No grandma. He is not here. I couldn’t find him. (It is like saying those words out loud gives them more weight) Oh my God, I couldn’t find him. (I start crying again) I don’t know where he iiiiiiiiiiiiiis.

Grandma: Calm down. Tell me everything

Me: I… I… I ca… came he… here and… a… and (shudder)….

Grandma: Hey, hey, breathe, OK? Just… breathe.

Me: I’m s..ss..so…sorrrry. (I am crying so hard now; her ‘calm down’ pleas fall on deaf ears and wet eyes) he..he…he is goooooone….

As I cry, I realize that I am talking to my uncle’s mother and no matter how bad or worried I am feeling right now, she must be feeling worse. So I take a deep breath as she listens patiently, sniffle and breathe out.

Me: I am coming grandma, OK?

Grandma: You don’t have to. I know you do your best to be with him but you don’t have to be strong for me.

Me: I am not being strong for you. I just want to be there because you’re always so strong for all of us.

Her: OK. Call me when you get here.

Maragua – Murang’a County

December 25th, 2017

12:29 h

Talk of a dark Christmas. I find grandma alone in the house, lying on her favorite couch in the living room reading Kinyanjui Kombani’s “The Last Villains of Molo”. She doesn’t hear me come in. Grandma has a hearing problem so she can’t hear without her hearing aids on.

She hates those things and doesn’t wear them unless she absolutely has to. Because she isn’t wearing them at the moment, that explains why she didn’t hear me open the gate, drive into the compound and enter the house.

She only notices my presence when she sees me standing in front of her, hands hanging uselessly beside me, the car keys dangling lifelessly from my tired fingers. She smiles sadly, marks the page with a bookmark written “I have everything I need, but a purpose. Alexander Kimani”, swings her feet off the couch, stands up and walks to where I am standing in the middle of the living room.

I don’t move. I can’t move. It is like I am glued there, utterly immobile, hypnotized by the python that will be the death of me. She holds me tight in her arms and I allow myself to collapse in them. I lay my head on her shoulder and let go of any tears I had left. She keeps saying, “Let it go, let it all go” as she pats my back gently and I let it all go shamelessly on her shoulder.

14:37 h

I have finished eating – not that I had much of an appetite to speak of, only eating because grandma insisted – and now the empty plate sits on the table in front of us, beside The Last Villains of Molo. She picks it up and opens the page I found her reading.

Her: Do you know what I like about this book?

Me: No. To be honest, I never had you pegged for a reader

Her: Where do you think your uncle gets it from?

Me: I just thought it’s his thing. Never really got to ask.

Her: My Kim gave it to me. (She waves the book close to my face as if to make sure I know just which book we’re talking about) I found him reading it here a few months back and he wouldn’t lift his bony behind off that chair (points to a chair at a corner) to get himself a plate of food from the kitchen until he was done reading. So I told him, “Ai Kim, the words won’t vanish just because you have taken a minute to serve yourself a hot plate.” And he said, “There are people in this book I don’t want to leave alone for even a second until I know they are going to be OK.” So I asked him to leave it here for me once he was done. It is a book about war. About how inhuman humans can get in the face of war and about how human humans beings can get in the face of that very war. You don’t really get to know yourself or your neighbor until something happens that threatens the very thread that holds their existence in place. Neighbor kills neighbor, friends kills friend in cold blood, enemies come together like brothers while brothers betray one another. All in one war. And this is what my son does for a living. He steps into the muck and takes pictures of humans at their best and at their worst. He shares these pictures with the world. He tells their stories through his lens. That is what I love best about this book. I see my son in each and every page.

Me: When he was in Syria, his friend went to take a picture of a little girl, couldn’t be much older than three, and she put her hands up in surrender thinking the camera was a gun.

Her: I guess when you spend too much time living like that; you lose sense of the realities that come with a normal life. I think I have been losing my son for a long time now.

Me: No grandma don’t say that

Her: It is true. He doesn’t feel at home with me, with us his family, anymore. I hope he finds something he can call his own outside of a warzone. Hardest part of being a parent is letting your child go. It is the hardest thing a parent can be asked to do. Even if the person asking is that very child. I am telling you this because my son loves you very much. You just might be the only person in the world he ever considered a friend.

Me: Did we let him down?

Her: No. If anything, he feels like he lets us down time and again with his constant disappearing. And finally he hid just so we couldn’t see how much suffering he’s going through every day. Let him go. When he finds himself, he’ll come home. You wait and see.

As I listen to her, I die to believe her; to place every ounce of faith I have in me in the strength of her words. But I can’t help the question, is she trying to convince me or herself?

January 01st, 2018

Kathageri; Runyenjes – Embu County

23:00 h

Grandma calls;

Me: Hello

Her: It’s your uncle. He killed himself last night.

There is much I want to say. So much I want to ask. So many tears I want to shed. So much pain I want to express. But all I say now is;

Me: OK

I don’t recognize the deadness that is my voice.

Her: They found him in his new house in Parklands. He locked himself in his bedroom and lit two charcoal burners.

Me: Two?

Her: Yeah. I think he meant business this time.

My mind flies back to that night at Mwea when he ran over the donkey and failed in his suicide attempt. I guess that’s why grandma is saying he meant business this time.

Me: Where is he now?

Her: Aga Khan.

Me: OK

Her: Kimberly?

Me: Yeah?

Her: He wanted to go. We have to let him go, you hear?

Me: Yes grandma

There is a tiny crack in my voice but I can’t let her hear my crying one more time.

Her: We tried

Me: Yes. (I shudder) Yes we tried. Very hard.

Her: I’m sorry kiddo

I am standing outside our house staring up at the moonless evening clouds. There are stairs that descend from our gate to the house; stairs that my uncle loves sitting on whenever he makes that rare visit, and flashes a smile at me and my sister Elise.

Suddenly, my uncle materializes at one of the bottom stairs where he is seated typing something on his phone. I take a hesitant step towards him, my knees threatening to give way under me, my breath held and my steps fragile, careful not to let him know I am there, lest he feels disturbed and runs off again.

A strong wind blows; it was raining just a few minutes ago. Thunder cracks in the distance and a bolt of lightning flashes. In this lightning, my uncle catches a glimpse of my face and slowly but surely, he fizzles away like smoke in the air. No goodbye, no leaving smile, no hugs…he’s just, gone.

Tuesday. January 2nd, 2017

Parklands – Nairobi

10:07 h

The caretaker in these apartments unlocks Kim’s door for grandma and me. It is a comfortable looking two bedroom house, nicely furnished and well organized. But the walls are covered in writings with a red permanent marker pen.

Before he gassed himself to death, uncle wrote every inch of the walls in his house “What’s the point?” Over and over again. What’s the point? What’s the point? What’s the point? What’s the point? What’s the point?

In the bedroom where he killed himself is a note on the bedside stand. In his handwriting is the following;

Dear Kim,

I couldn’t stay alive one minute longer. I know you’ll never understand why I did this, I just pray you understand that this was my decision and hopefully if I’m lucky, you’ll forgive me some day.

I’m sorry it ended this way,

Uncle Kim.

It doesn’t even say why. What am I supposed to make of this? Of anything? All the writing on the wall. What’s the point?! What’s the point of what? Of living? Of loving? Of breathing? Of being born? Of what uncle? Of what?

The caretaker is telling grandma that he found Kim lying in bed dead. The only reason why he let himself into the house was because uncle left his music system blaring at full volume and the neighbors complained.

Uncle never played loud music. Him leaving his speakers blaring was so that someone could find him before his body stunk the whole place to high heavens. He didn’t answer the caretaker’s calls and so they opened the door and there he was. In the well made bed, lying on his back, facing the ceiling, with the book he was reading when his mind shut down still lying on his chest.

It was another copy of The Last Villains of Molo. He died as he lived. His mind occupied by conflict, his soul seeking resolution.

Wednesday. January 4th, 2018

Maragua – Murang’a County

19:25 h

In grandma’s living room are people who have congregated to pay their respects and also who knows why people visit other people who have lost a loved one. There are flasks full of tea and everyone in there is holding onto a mug of tea and a buttered slice of bread.

Grandma’s friends are there, my friends are there, uncle’s friends (who he didn’t have when he was still of this world) are there – some faces are familiar, some aren’t. Condolences have been passed. Sorry for your loss. May he rest in peace. He is in a better place. Blah blah yada yada boo hoo.

They have asked me to speak so I am on my feet saying;

Me: When he died, he left a question whose answer I hope he found in death. What’s the point? He didn’t specify what point he was looking for; but after thinking about it, I figured he didn’t see the point in anything about life. His life. Was he unloved? No. Was he starving? No. Did he have a family he couldn’t provide for and was now seeking escape from responsibility in death? No. Was he in trouble with the law? No. This was a handsome, healthy and loved twenty-eight-year-old who didn’t see the point in living. He looked for answers in warzone after warzone, he pulled babies out of burning houses, and he dodged bullets. He wiped his  ass with the sands of Libya along with other soldiers in the desert because they didn’t have toilet paper. He carried girls on his back as bullets ricocheted around his feet from a Boko Haram camp to safety in Nigeria. This was a brave freelance journalist, a brave photographer who went far and beyond in pursuit of purpose and answers and all he could come up with after surviving bullets and IEDs and diseases was, “What’s the point?” I don’t know what the point is. My point in living can’t be your point in living. We all have different reasons. I lived for my uncle. I just guess he couldn’t live for me anymore and that kills me a little inside. But I am still here. I am still breathing. I have lost my best friend, but I’m still living. It’ll be hell facing life without him for a while, but one day I’ll wake up stronger. One day he told me that at first when soldiers are deployed to war, they fight for their country. But then they notice that their country is a thankless and corrupt heap of sand and selfish people, so they fight for money. Afterwards, they realize that they are dying by the thousands and no money is worth the carnage, so they fight for each other. For the man standing beside them in battle. They watch each other’s backs. Now just as soldiers must fight for each other, so must we live for each other. Because that’s the point. To live for me no matter how hard it gets, as I live for you no matter how hard it gets. Maybe I am wrong; I just hope I’m not.

22:39h

Kim Kimberly @Kim_Barley. 04 Jan 2018

Live for me and God will give me strength to live for you. That’s the point. #What_sThePoint? #SuicidePreventionAwareness

 

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8 COMMENTS

  1. I keep seeing myself in this story. In your writing. I can’t place a finger on it. I am not sure who I identify with in this one. Kim (Either of the Kims) or Elise but it is not the Granny.

    I love the way you keep pushing the limits in exposing what others can’t see. The thing that pushes people overboard. Every time somebody kills themselves, others are left asking, “Why did he do it? He had such a successful life. What in life did he miss?” without realizing there is more to life than success. This, you keep trying to make us understand.

    I feel for Kimberly. I feel orphaned by her. The “What’s the point?” I understand as well. Especially after seeing how inhuman humans can be, faith in humanity is lost. And without a man to fight for, what’s the point? Maybe a girl. A niece. But I can’t stand to see her get hurt.

  2. And still that’s not the point of living ,why would Kimani leave Kimberly in such pain,,,he would have cared for her if not his mum?? But the way he used to look at Elise?? The hunt should be on for Elise, she has to at least share her way of living with us of kimani’s line,,writ Charlie

  3. What’s the point?I am recently learning or starting to get answers…or what I think are answers or a good explanation to what the point is.Invest in people…they my nut pay you back but you’ll get your returns soon

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