After 7 hours and 15 minutes, a Qatar Airways plane lands on London Heathrow Airport terminal 4. The non-stop journey from Doha makes me feel enthusiastic as well as excited because of two things. First, it is my first time to be in London and secondly, I will lay my eyes to the most treasured woman on earth that I adore-Elsie. The plane lands its wheel on the runway, providing one of the scariest experiences in my life, I close my eyes and pray to God that it doesn’t lose control and end our lives. Alexa, who seems to be used these kinds of experiences, is buckled next to me and she laughs at the horror on my face. She makes fun of it when we alight and get cleared.
It is perhaps the hottest month in London, July of the year 2017. I loosen my shirt and lift it off my body. In a world where you can walk naked and the law allows it, I let myself be in a very scanty vest that displays my thin bones. We take the Heathrow Express which is a train that serves the airport and London’s Paddington. The trains come after every 15 minutes.
Again it is my first time to step into a train. It has the ultimate comfort that I could imagine of a train, modest than my house back home, with plenty of baggage space, on board TV, free WI-FI, at seat power sockets and well air conditioned. We haul our travel bags into the baggage area and take two seats near the window. I am next to the window and the baby mama is next to me. I can actually smell her presence without even looking at her because I am excited at the fascinating and breathtaking views of the infrastructure on which London sits.
Earlier on, I had landed in Qatar’s Hamad International Airport which is in the capital, Doha. Here I checked into one of the best hotels in the area where a room had been booked for me by Alexa’s travel agent. After checking in, I had trouble reading the menu because I hardly understood its contents. So I made a fool of myself. The head chef himself, who is a common figure in the restaurant’s tables, if you understand the language of big hotels, had to come to my help. At the end I settled for the Qatari cuisine which reads on the menu as Machbus. Machbus consists of rice, meat and veggies. It is also known as machboos or machbous. Apart from Machbus, they also have kabsa, balalet and ghuzi. These names might seem very mysterious and confusing, but when you dig deep, it is basically a meal you’d find anywhere else in the world.
Then I had to sleep for three hours while Alexa winded up her conference. After 5 hours and 55 minutes of flight from Kenya to Doha, you might want to catch a wink if you are not the kind of person that sleeps during flights. I usually sleep, but on this one, I had not taken my motion sickness meds because I wanted to see what worst could happen if I trusted myself. Of course the take off can disrupt the peace in the stomach and send a rebellion across your body, but if your mind isn’t aware at that time you might be able to beat it. That is what I did. So I spent time watching movies and reading magazines, and sometimes watching the clouds and the blue sky until I got bored. Then I had to redo it again and again for the almost 6 hours we were suspended up there.
I only managed to see Alexa after five more hours. During those hours, I had slept three of them; watched Aljazeera sports +1 and +2 and other boring stations- in Qatar TV stations are highly state influenced. I then made a quick walk to its downtown waterfront to admire the endless blue, clear water before walking to a park that had an Arabic name that I don’t recall.
Fast forward, we set our feet on the door of a house in Paddington area in Westminster town, central London. Paddington also being a train station and an area where tourists spend their time briefly after arriving in London, it is splash of hotels and various attractions. It is an area that is quite attractive and anyone living in this space is able to see all kinds of people touring from different parts of the cosmos. I throw myself on the couch after the nanny opens the door. I expect to see Elsie immediately; I am dying to hold her in my arms. But she is having an evening nap. I only get up to go and admire her sleep.
This is not the main theme of this story. But it is a back-story to the story I am about to write.
One day I am in Edinburg, Scotland. This is after a week or so. We’d gone to visit Alexa’s parents who are running a family business in Glasgow, Edinburg. It is rare to see many blacks in this area of the UK. Well, there are black Scots but the number is quite insignificant. And you have to be aware that you are black when in Scotland. And for the first time I feel really black. Before, it never mattered. I had never found myself in such a situation where you don’t belong.
While admiring the beautiful, mostly ancient structures of Scotland and doing a few rounds in the streets, I recognize another black guy at a distance. I am with Elsie and Alexa is following at a distance, she’s on a call from the hospital she works with. I am a bit wary because Elsie is extremely white, nothing to really show that I am in her blood, and that people might think I am a kidnapper. It happens in racist societies. So as I hold her tender arm and try to pull all the jokes I reserved for her since 2016, I also throw an eye here and there in case a racist pops out of somewhere.
This black guy strikes me because of his t-shirt. He, too, is admiring the beauty of Edinburg. But he seems lost in its beauty that even in his t-shirt, emblazoned ‘Mkenya Daima’, says it. Out of curiosity, I approach him and try to establish a rapport.
“Excuse me bruv, wassup?” This is me trying to be cool.
“I’m cool bruh, do I know you?” He asks. His accent is heavy, the kind from the North, like someone who has stayed not in London but in Scotland for a minute (a minute in many cases means a while, like a longer while). I actually admire his accent.
“No, I don’t think we’ve met before. Just wondering where you bought your t-shirt, it’s really cool,” I point out.
“Why do you find it cool?” He asks.
“The same reasons you’re wearing it. Home away from home I guess…yeah?” I just hope he is smart enough to decipher my message from this string.
“You’re a Kenyan?” He finally asks. I want to say, “There you go boy” but I don’t.
“Yeah yeah. Kisii by birth. Just here for a few weeks to see my family before I go back,” I say nicely whilst cheering up.
“That’s nice. Is this your kid?” He asks pointing at Elsie. Well, Elsie is 10, big enough not to be called a kid.
“Yap, my first and only one. She’s Elsie.”
I get to know that he’s Andrew Mathenge. Originally he is from Nyeri but he’s spent his adult life in the U.K, studying mostly and working. He can speak kiuk so fluently and Swahili too. His sheng is not up to date but he remembers it. He has all the prerequisites to be called a Kenyan.
We arrange to meet another day for a chat because Elsie was getting bored by our chat. She wants me to take her out to have ice cream. The weather is sunny too so there is much needed to keep one hydrated. We leave and enter a creamery to get some ice cream.
I would meet Andrew later on in the week, the last day in Scotland in an open space restaurant. The restaurant owner serves us with Scottish cuisine. I don’t eat much of it but it is a rare delicacy. As we banter while admiring women with loose and scanty tops pass by, I can smell the fresh smell of bread from McGhee family bakery wafting through my nose. I like it.
Then at some point, I ask Andrew how he ended up in Scotland. It is quite hard to just come and stay in Scotland if you’re a foreigner.
“I am just a fortunate, lucky folk. I got admitted to the University of Glasgow a few years back. My sponsors, Russell Group enabled it,” he answered cheerily. But behind his answer, I could detect some form of fear. Fear that kept haunting him wherever he went and every time he sat with someone who could see through him, he could feel it surge through him.
“Nice, which course are you taking?” I ask nicely.
“Medicine,” he replies in a casual manner. Back home, I know someone would have said it with pride in it, like they were the only one studying something prestigious.
I ask him about his family. Coming from a family of 7 kids, it meant a lot of struggle to be a notable person in the society. His humble background tethered him to undefined circumstances before that at one time he never saw past the moment he was living. Somewhere at the back of his mind, he knew he was only waiting to die.
“It was and still is a struggle making it from a family like ours. I mean we have nothing. I remember going hungry for days and wishing life would have been different,” he narrates.
“Didn’t your parents have any job?” I ask politely, seeking to understand why the situation at home was the way it was.
“My dad had one. He was a primary school teacher at a local school. But he was a drunk who took alcohol as his best friend and drinking as his designated profession. Therefore, there was not much from him. He only had a name to himself, not money or brains.
“My mom didn’t go past primary school. Her lack of exposure lagged her behind in many aspects and it really had a toll on us. She depended on menial jobs to feed a family of seven. She is the father and mother, or rather she was before God decided to take her away and leave my drunken father around.”
“I am sorry for the loss man. What happened to her?”
“She just died. That is what people know, but that whack ass of a dad sent her to her grave with depression. He subjected her to all kinds of trauma and trouble was lurking. One day she just had a heart attack and there were no second chances for her. God couldn’t give her even one more chance. The only person who cared for us.” I can sense anger.
“Do you blame God for taking her away or your father?” I dig into my cuisine as he ponders over the question.
“I guess both had things to do with it. So I am mad at both of them. But God should have given her one more chance to redeem herself. She didn’t deserve to die.” I gather he blames God and perhaps his reconciliation with God might take ages to fruit again.
“How did the death affect your growing up? By the way how old were you when your mom passed on?” I order sparkling water not because I can afford it but because someone pays for it. I feel like a boss while sipping it, like it is fluid gold.
“It messes people man. Mothers aren’t supposed to die you know. They’re like the roots that hold the stems of their children’s lives. It was devastating. I was around 19 years old. That is like 10 years ago.” He peeks through his iphone. It is a sleek, cool gadget that shines under the shade because it is an iPhone 8.
“How do you afford the money to buy such a gadget?” It is not jealousy. I am just curious.
“I get free things from my sponsors. Sometimes I wish my brothers and sisters could get the same.”
“I am sure they will because when you become a doctor you’ll be earning enough money to support them.” It is the only motivation I can give. He shrugs to say maybe.
Andrew is the first born of the seven siblings. The youngest of the siblings is now 15. Their father is still the village hero famous for his ability to exuberantly drink and pass out any time he is free. He is no longer the head of the family. He is the drinker of the family, the one that the kids look up to as a man. When the wife died, he lost his mind. His mindless drinking increased tenfold, spiraling to ends that no one can describe. Whether it is grief or addiction no one can tell the difference.
His children became destitute who had to beg for meals. Andrew would then find a window to join university in Glasgow at 23. This window would also see him support his younger ones. He would share his pocket money with them so that they can have food. He engaging in part time jobs also sees him save a little to see his siblings through school. He is doing well.
Even in these improving circumstances, danger has been looming in his life lately. He has been diagnosed with depression thrice. This is not the kind of depression that leaves you immediately. He has been bedridden, once staying in the school infirmary for a month. To this, he’s been threatened that his studies as a doctor might have an instant end if he can’t hold his acts together.
“The pressure at home and the constant thoughts of my siblings and my father stressed and still stress me. There is always that side of me which wants to do everything for them and when I underachieve it pricks me. This stress has burnt me out several times. It depresses me and there are moments I feel that I might never stay to see myself become a meaningful person from this place.
“Sometimes I have had too much to drink to subside the stress, and the fear of failure always reigning in me. I feel like I am losing it. Some time back I was even on crack. That shit made me feel better,” he says retrospectively.
“With you doing all these, do you think your siblings would be proud if they knew it?” I ask. I can see sense of defeat in his eyes.
“Obviously, I don’t wanna be a hero anymore. I think I have already given up,” he says without much thought.
“Then you’ll end up like the dad you hate so much. I wonder what else you will be holding him up for if you’re not any different.” This eats him. His face suddenly changes. I sense violence ready to erupt. His eyeballs widen and his body muscles stiffen. But I am ready to trade fists if he throws some. He might be big but I know if I hit faster and harder he won’t make it to throw another one.
“Look man, I don’t wanna be like him. He’s nothing but a looser. He lost my respect a long time ago. And don’t tell me that I am gonna be like him. Do you hear me?” He points his index finger at me while saying this.
“We’re highly influenced by things, circumstances and people around us, but we’re not determined by any of them. If you don’t want to end up like him, I guess it is the right time to change the game.”
I get on my feet; throw a few pounds on the table for the bill and leave. Don’t misjudge me. It is giving him a space to think about his life. As I walk away, I just hope he takes that time at that table to reconfigure his life.
Last week I was down, sick and wiped out so I didn’t write any post. I was just browsing through my phone and internet and then discovered Andrew had sent me a picture of himself and a long thank you note in my email. Finally he’d turned his life around and he’s graduated from his class with a sound mind and ready to conquer the world. I guess I am proud of him and his achievement.
Writing this piece, I had to do a lot of recollections because that is almost a year down now. I didn’t record it because then I hadn’t open the interview section on my blog. I just hope that when e reads he can see my actions (walking out on him) as something that was good for him.
Let us meet next Wednesday, hopefully if I’ll be well so that we can converse in low tones.
Finally we’re rounding up the cohort 2 application window for the Design Thinking Workshop in August 6-9th. We only have 3 more slots to spare.
Follow this link to apply.
(The supreme hunter in captivity)
Where shall we go, we who wander in this wasteland in search of better selves?
Image credit Abroad101