There was a man I knew when I was growing up. He came from my village, in the deepest thighs of Kisii land. Same age and height, complexion and the nasty look finished his appearance off. He was the exact copy of me.
You see I knew him since I was young. His mother passed on when he was only 6 years old, and he was left alone with three other siblings- two older than him and a sister a few years younger. At the time of the death of his mother, he had no idea what was happening and lived through that moment without a deeper understanding what that would mean in his future.
At the age six, he was a small fat kid. A fat and outgoing kid. He was a restless young aficionado who was full of energy. He ate a lot of food that his ever-growing appetite would fancy.
One day I remember him asking his aunt for sour milk to down his ugali with after having distasteful kales with ugali for lunch. He just wanted something with a sweeter taste to touch his tongue and clear the bitterness that had sunk into the furrows in his tongue; yes, he had a tongue with deep winding lines on it. So the aunt, who was a very selfish, self-imposed goddess ruling his grandmother’s abode said that there was no milk.
The truth is that there was milk, only that that aunt was a selfish bastard. So he stole the gourd and drank directly from it three-quarters of the milk. Of course, the evening came and the aunt came to the dining table rumbling angrily asking who had drunk the milk. I remember the little man replying- aunt I thought you said there was no milk, where did the one that was stolen come from? And everyone at the table got laughing because the fatuous had been identified.
So he grew up. But for sure, the death of his mother changed things. Growing up minus motherly love ignited many feelings of need that he couldn’t find anywhere. If he could find them, then it would be in the older women, later on in his high school life. That gap was to be filled by anyone who looked motherly and looked like they could act that role. Many came into his life, in form of sugar mummies.
One thing that I can’t forget is that this was a smart kid, one who aced his studies at every level… showing early signs of ingenuity amongst his peers. When he reached high school, there was a bit of losing it and things going haywire for him. He didn’t know how to collect the many pieces of him that had scattered, and at some point, he had lost direction that he wanted to give up the ghost. He just wanted to let go, to leave and find eternal rest- if at all there was one beyond that point.
I remember once seeing him when he came back on holidays to visit his pap in the countryside. He was so tall, yet so thin. His face was older than his years. He never talked a lot like he used to before. He was calm and somehow scary with his confidence. His activeness had been reduced to moments of loneliness and privacy.
His listening skills had become more developed. Whether he was listening or just thinking pensively about other things I never knew…he just sat there with us in the group, talking only when everyone had talked and they’d realized he’d not spoken so we urged him to say something. There was always something worrying about his cool. Something other people misconstrued for sociopathic behavior…or close. He never found it hard staying up with peers, only that he hardly talked. He listened; sometimes he would laugh lightly, a laughter that smothered in a jiffy. So ephemeral was his laughter and so unpredictable were his actions.
Few times I could hear him talk. Here was a man who spit wisdom. And whenever he spoke, I always felt he spoke from the core of both of his feelings and brain, but always passionate enough to influence your thoughts. Somehow his words created urgency for action. So profound were his words that sometimes you had to feel that you mostly talked bullshit… his words made sense and sounded knowledgeable.
As a friend, I always tried to reconnect with him. It was hard to do that because he was not as open as he used to be. The man had become more private and you hardly knew how to best approach him. Many times I could find him stretched on a lounge chair, with a long shadow cast in the evening sun to his side, reading a book. I don’t remember how many times as a person I read books. He seemed to connect with his books more than he did connect with other things.
Then he went back to school.
I heard stories, many stories about him because bad stories move like bad wind set to destroy. He was a victim of depression, and stress hugged him so badly. He became sick; a sickness that tortured him for more than three years. Even when he went to see his half white newborn, the baby cried because it could see that scary strain on his face, he was trying to beat the pain eating his stomach away.
Then high school life would end. His was a low note because at his point of sitting for the final high school exam he had given up. His disease was eating him up and down, kicking his stomach and chewing part of it. And he slept through most of his papers. Having learnt almost nothing in his fourth year, topping it up with the pain, there was nothing much to look up to. He’d been deflowered by the same life he was supposed to enjoy.
When you’re broken, it is hard to feel special.
There was nothing to feel special about him at this moment.
Days later I would meet him during his grandma’s burial. He had grown thinner and despondency had befallen his physiognomy. Life had withdrawn all his happy feelings. The few grins left were empty and had a very sad ending as they only lasted a few seconds.
Everyone must have noticed that this man was listening to the calls of the angels of death, he was headed there and only time would tell. He’d gone from hospital to hospital without a proper diagnosis. Whatever that rested in him was stealing all the happiness banks left within him.
Then there was a meeting- seven aunts, one uncle and his dad. I was observing from the corner of my eyes. My friend was hurting and there was no way I couldn’t notice. I missed the old him. He had become cold and distant, far away from me. Whatever was left were loose ends of an old rope that I kept scuffling with… in the glimmer of hopes that maybe one day our friendship would solidify.
That meeting changed his life. Meeting the man a month later, he was a happy being, a little bit cocky although not to his usual. But his countenance registered some pipe dream and felicity. Escaping his lips were more words punctuated with brief laughter that made one think that the inside of this man was a happy home.
One single tragedy can force you to reassess your life. You don’t have to wait for it to begin living.
Many things that had disappeared from this guy where returning. Even though things were gaining shape, a few things still remained; things that had become part of him- a man so calm, soft-spoken and unpredictable. One moment he would be overly engaging, the next moment he would be extremely quiet. And I liked him that way. Mean in a way, a tad bit mystical yet so loving and gentle when he wanted to be. He walked with pep in his steps, with a purpose. A man who made decisions and gave zero fucks to social standards or expectations.
Having got back his life after a long, dreary combat with angels of death, something had told him he had to live the way he wanted; to have full control of what was his, what was to be lost. And the first step in that journey was to refuse to conform to the laid down rules of engagement by people who knew nothing about his life, or what he’d been through for that matter.
Coming out of a life-threatening situation changes people. Lessons learnt from these nosedives last a lifetime. No one wants to saunter back to misery. The past that hurt does not have a place in your future, and we will always fight to avoid falling back to such hauls. Isn’t it the reason why we’re all running from poverty? Or indispositions? Or even people who hurt us? Misery gives us experiences that we never forget, and tells us not what to do. Though not everyone learns.
This man from my village trudged the same berm that led him into depression and gory ulcers that ate away his happiness. He was more cautious of his health. As I walked to my workstation in the early morning, I found him on the road right from a morning jog. He reeked of this sweet sweat, and in that morning air it hung up in the atmosphere longer as we talked. He told me he jogs often for around 10k km and ends with a few workouts.
He treated his body with respect. He tried to eat the right food. He sat there and never got tempted to eat things he didn’t want to eat. He was resolute and stood by his decisions. Many times he just sat there and guessed into the air, calm and unperturbed.
Life happens to us all, we’re divided by circumstances. Some choose to stay back, some fight back.
Life has moved. Time has passed between us. Life has happened to us both. We’ve traversed same, or perhaps different roads towards our destinies. Many opportunities we’ve embraced, many we’ve run away from. Things have changed, but our friendship has not experienced any blow. If there is anything, our stars seem to have aligned and connected to shine more than they did years ago. Both our futures belong to the same maker, and the path towards that place is being defined by day.
Now, this friend of mine is more unpredictable. With all his unpredictability, he is a winner. He wins souls, people, and even other creatures. There is a way that he works around people’s emotions. People have found a home where they would deposit their wildest thoughts, where they can share their deepest feelings; where they unwrap their darkest secrets.
Inside this man is a humble aboard. I remember telling you that he listens a lot. Listeners shouldn’t be snitches, so he is no snitch. He is a bank of people’s lives- feelings, secrets, and problems. He earns trust from people easily. He shares his personal stories without a tear or shame or regret. Everyone has their shameful moments, their downs, their dark pasts and secrets that if the world knew it would stop. He says.
Growing into this lovely person has taken him a journey. He has come a long way to this point. As a dreamer, his vision is to influence people, to help them be what they want to be. In order to do this, he first has to know and understand others.
We all have dreams, but as good as they are if they’re not about having each other’s back then they’re out of place.
I once asked him how come he makes friends so fast. He told me that he usually offers all his trust to anyone he meets in the first instance. He doesn’t care what people will do with it, ‘it is their business on what they do with it.’ And somehow, this pays back with trust.
It is a different thing being kind and another being a gentleman. He is nice and kind. In his most casual way always as it is what defines him; not pretending to be what he is not. The world is real, so should you be. He once told me. He is hated as much as he is liked. But has he got anything to lose? Now, for a man who has had so many things to lose in the back, he largely thinks there is nothing more to lose. If there is anything, he’d lost in the back and he’s known how not to lose it again.
He is a fortress where many people find a room to confide. Now that our lives have moved on, I also left the village. And as his mentee, we meet often in this Nairobi town to live in a world of wisdom. There are times when this man starts to talk, and he talks with a lot of conviction…he talks a lot when his thoughts gain momentum, talking from within. He has not lost his cool. He wears it wherever he goes.
There are so many things I have learnt from a man of his stature. At the prime of it, is to be wise. He has never used the word wise, but I have heard him use ‘be shrewd.’ Wisdom tells you what others can’t see at the moment. It helps you foresee things.
He is a patient man. In a world full of a hurry to nowhere, patience is a delicate rarity. He would tell me, ‘why the hurry?’ Then he would sip his coffee and lean back in his seat, and look out of the window that overlooks National Archives. From the top of Ambassadeur Hotel, the view is excellent. And as we converse, he looks out and points to many people who are almost bumping into each other, hurrying to nowhere. The silence around us is usually cool. It gives him time to have nice thoughts, which he says everyone should have. What is life if you can’t relish in nice and sexy thoughts? He often asks. Life is made of thoughts you know. What a man thinks, so he is as they say.
There is a silent agility in him. The kind of confidence that propels people to do things not many people do. It is what makes the difference in life. Being able to get out of your skin and get things done. When life embattles you to your knees, you learn never to bow again. He continues. You learn to put your head up, and you toughen your legs so that they never become weak again. That little difference in life is a small thing called the action. He might not have been there yet, but he defines his life as happiness over other things. And his purpose is happiness.
Whether you have little or more, if you can’t learn to be happy there is no day you’re going to be happy. What a waste to live an unhappy life!
As his mentee, I ask him what I would do to be happy. I really want to be happy too you know; to feel enough of myself and enjoy my life without worry and strife. And he looks at me and asks the most preposterous question. Why do you want to be happy? I shrug. And I tell him, you just said to enjoy life you have to be happy. And he says people are happy for different reasons. As for me, I am happy because I got a second chance to live and I don’t want to waste it living a sad life.
As you would expect my mind goes blank.
He plods on; all you need is to be positive. When everything is seen through positive lenses, there aren’t gonna be problems that will make your life unhappy. Everything from that point becomes normal. Challenges become things that zest life. You see people who see challenges as threatening are overwhelmed by them. I see them as a gym where I go to get extra muscle on my body. That is how you grow and live your happiness.
I just see him stand up. He stretches his arm towards me and we shake hands. He looks deeply into my eyes, picks his coat and throws it over his shoulder. He disappears amidst my moments of trying to sync his words with my world. He is gone.
And that man is me.
By Mzangila (Yogaman)
Where shall we go, we who wander in this wasteland in search of better selves?
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Photo credit: science mag