Family Portraits

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#np Sade – By Your Side

As I listen to Sade, I can’t help but feel mortally awed by her expressions on love. The words, the notes, and her voice; all in harmonious unison as she infuses my house with sweet melodic sounds. Sounds filled with declarations on the pleasures of the body, the joys of the heart, and the gift of life. Her music paralyses me from all feelings of sadness, or depression, and takes me to a time long gone. A time now buried in the caves of history, when I was but a young boy growing up in Nairobi’s – Komarock estate. Long before one (disorganised) Kayole eclipsed the stately air of the estate’s environs with its absolute lack of order. On this specific day, the court is filled with children of all ages, and the road is a mess of chalky-doodles. Some kids are playing rounders, others chase each other about as they play ‘hicho’ (ie. tag), others sit on their bikes. Bikes with horns, some with adjustable gears, others – like yours truly – with the tiny ones whose seats are upwardly adjusted such that they end up at the same level as the handlebars. My friends and I are planning where to pedal-off to, when suddenly, the bark of a dog ruffles through the air.

Pedals on the ready, its a dash for safety as an ugly, super-starved dog from the neighboring court gives chase. In a well synchronized show of cowardice, we race off as fast as our dear wheels can take us. The owner, and a few friends, grin wildly as they run after us with the ugly mongrel leading the way by the length of a rusty chain. As I ride away, panting my ass off at the front of this band of escapees, I look back at my friend and feel sickened. Sickened by this cross-court bullying which I feel has gone way too far, and of which I’m getting absolutely fed to death with. The prison-break routine we’ve been forced to adopt as we plan our escape routes on a daily basis feels demeaning, even by the standards of a normal eleven year old. Because the truth is that, for as long as we’re on the run, this December holidays will be no fun, no fun at all. And I will have no one ruin my break from school, so I mask up all the bravery my feeble masculinity can accord and decide to put a stop to it all.

Barking madly, the damned dog comes to a wild halt by my side. It gives me the teeth as I stare it down in wild terror, yet brimming with absolute confidence on the surface. My younger brother – standing some meters away – cries, literally and very tearfully, for me to run away from the dog. He screams about how badly he doesn’t want me to get bitten by the depraved, four-legged mutt. I ignore his tears, however much he pours forth, and tell the brat-owner and his crew that I’m fed up of their buffoonery. I tell him that I’m not going to be any part of their daily enjoyment, and if he – this big nosed, gap-toothed owner – feels brave enough, he can let the dog loose on me. One young boy against a crowd of pre-teen dimwits, the odds are obviously stacked against me.

The fire in my eyes, however, tells of a bravery that children my age are not supposed, or allowed, to have. You could say my nuts were a little too big for a kid my age, or probably even bigger than most older kids. Nevertheless, my ground is stated, and the only way I’m ending this fiasco is by taking one for the team, or forcing these birdbrained brats to concede defeat and let us be. One guy in the crowd, named Oscar, seems to be the only one who sees the actual scale of things. He definitely had to be the brains and conscience of the pack. For after protracted shouts hither and yon (*glee* – I just had to FORCE that one in) as to what the hell a kid my age thinks he can do to a crowd of eight, he mentions something about how things might get sour for them if anything happens to me, at the hands of a dog. As if by cue, the dog too stops its madness after seeing the charged spirits of its “owners” subside into nothingness. Eventually, I’m allowed to ride away, but not with a “warning” about how I should never try such bravado again. My youngest sister, who happens to have watched the whole thing, runs home to tearfully pass news of the unfolding events to my mom. You can almost guess how much of a tongue-lashing I got for my ‘macho-stunt’ that day. Even so, ladies and gentlemen, I kid you not – this is, an actual life-story of events that took place years ago.

9:08 pm, Nairobi time. It’s Wednesday the 8th of May, and I’m tucked-in to my brows. A blue duvet and the white sheets I’m enveloped in spread soft kisses all over my body. Tracing undiscovered pathways on my skin, they leave a faint sensation similar to warmth, lingering between my legs, just below the waist. It’s the cold season, see, and the definition of warmth tends to get a whole different meaning during these cold and sleepless nights – a whole, different meaning.

A very gloomy phone stares back at me as my stubby thumbs repeatedly stab at its buttons. Letter, letter, letter, comma, space, letter, letter…the cycle goes on, and on, and on. Two lit candles are the only sources of light within this dark, lavender-scented, room. A room filled with memories of how broke one can get; it remains engraved with etches of my planned route towards success, and plastered with blueprints of world domination. This here, forms half of what has come to be known as my solitary abode. Having no posters of half-naked girls on any of my walls, it is, by all means, nothing of what people think a bachelor’s house would look like. Save for my collection of manly scarves, numbered at sixteen and still growing, the walls are quite devoid of any evidence of being a man’s fiefdom.

There’s nothing spectacular about this night either. It really is the same period of darkness that comes between evening and morning, every_single_day. Yet the darkness carries with it a certain whiff of nostalgic voodoo – one so potent it only seems second nature to heed to its beckoning. And boy does the nostalgia drag me down its bottomless pit.

I reminisce about the holidays I would spend with my feet covered in dust, most notable of all being days when we played ‘bano’ (a game of marbles). ‘Brikicho’ (hide and seek) was another dusty encounter, as our hideouts included the craziest of places. Empty car-boots (or car-trunks), ceilings of old uninhabited houses, leafy trees, even the under-bellies of vehicles – all these were very opportune hiding locations. The holidays never lacked a single day when I would lose touch with time, only to be brought back to earth by the sight of a very angry mother at our doorstep. Days immediately before the opening of school were the best of all. They had the most turnout, and the most fun, with playtime lasting until the early hours of night. To this day, I can honestly say that I have never experienced as much fun as I did during my younger days.

Then there was my family. A super-strict mom whose right palm would constantly have communion with my cheeks at the slightest sign of misbehaviour, and a chilled-out dad who always spoke to us in English, never once in Kiswahili. (Not really worth a mention, but quite the phenomenon, I can say, especially to friends who were born and raised in Eastlands, and probably spoke very little English.) It is these two parents that thankfully brought me to the world I am now at battle with, as I struggle to survive. I muse over how much I misbehaved in high school, the pain this definitely put my parents through, the struggles they had to endure to raise me in the right way; and wish I could cry all the hurt – they obviously felt – away. Sometimes, I stare at them and try comprehending the level of love and sacrifice a parent has to go through for the sake of his/her children. Its so unreal that I wonder what I can, or will, ever do to show my appreciation for their love.

Of my siblings, three of the them, much has to be said. The same brother who cried for my safety on that “heroic” day, the third born of us all, is now one with whom I rarely talk – even when in the same room. We might occasionally meet in the many rugby events held around town, and chances are that we will not even share a word of Hi. I tend to think I stopped being cool enough for him to look up to as soon as he hit high school. Now that he’s in his first year of university, I don’t expect things to change because his rebellion has grown tenfold. He wants to forge his own path and do things his own way, without any interference from anyone. Who am I to change that? My second-born sister, one that I didn’t interact with as much even in the times of yore, (for reasons I’m about to share) is unluckily still as she was. She hates me along with everything about my very presence on this earth. From my (very opinionated) comments, to my talents, even on visits to my parent’s place – she never misses the chance to voice her disapproval. I can’t count the number of times I have cursed as she mentioned something against me, most times being when I get praised for a feat well done. It’s so crazy I once said I’m done with her (which I doubt my soft heart ever will allow). My youngest sister, a little bag of emotions, is growing up so fast that soon, I might be forced to smack the neighbourhood boys around just to keep their greedy paws off her. How I’ll do that after relocating to my new home on the other side of Nairobi, I don’t know. But I will do anything, anything it takes, to be the brother she can always looks up to, for she’s the only one who still treats me with love and affection.

Yet I have to accept that I will not be the adored elder brother all the days of my life. Sister number two is in university so she probably has many more things to adore, while brother number three, who plays rugby, now seemingly prefers the brothers he has found within his team. Last born sis, the only one I’m still tight with, might just love me for life. She always greets me with a hug each time I go visit my folks, and still treats me with the adoration she would give Justin Bieber – but pardon that comparison. Funny enough, she even happens to love (some of) the music I listen to, the only one in my family who does. I still remember the proud feeling I had when she said she loves a certain song by Damian Marley and Nas, ‘As we enter’ – boy was I beyond myself. And when she added ‘Hip Hop is Dead’ by Nas to that list, I almost cried – I actually almost cried. It’s a feeling I really hope will last forever, since my parents too say I’m her favorite…

All in all, every one of them is an irreplaceable member of my life. Each carrying with them a huge chunk of the world I have grown around, and will forever cherish. I’m proud to be a first born, to have lived the fun and depressing life that I did, and to have been the care-giver of my younger siblings. Despite our various tiny foibles, our moments of war, or our lack of communication, I don’t doubt the love we share for each other, not for a second. So, for the elder brother in me, I still am a member of that crazy household I only get to visit once in a while. For the bachelor in me though, that house represents an overbearing existence filled with rules and restrictions that really are a nuisance, especially when compared to the silence and reserved nature of my empty and humble house.

Be that as it may, I’m very overjoyed to say that I have found a new family on this very page. A family made of readers who I regard as my brothers and sisters, some even mentors. From those who have posted numerous likes on my small collection of posts, to those who have given me advice on where to go from here – this is the family love I experience in my solemn days as a guy living on his own. On cold and rainy days, when I draw up drafts and plans for my life – occasionally sipping on some wine – it is you guys that I dream of making proud.

So, as I fortify myself for the cold night ahead with a glass of white, Black Tower wine, I’d like to send a huge thanks to each and every one of you. For each click that brings you to this page, and each minute that you spend tearing through my bare thoughts – one more tooth pops up in my smile. Each one of you gives me a reason to grow, and a moment to appreciate that rare quality that is brotherly, and sisterly, love. Wherever this blog goes from here, and wherever it takes me, you can all trust me not to forget where I came from, and the family that took me there.

Now, it’s time for me to try and pipe out a tune as the effects of the wine pour down on me. ONE LOVE…

 #np Amy Winehouse – Body and Soul (ft. Tony Bennett)

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