CAMPUS TALES

The Nine

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Do you believe one event in your life can change your entire narrative? You know, the course of your history. Yes, no? Okay, maybe you, are thinking, well, that depends on how you take it. But hey, here is an unpopular opinion, some events in life don’t give you a chance of deciding how to take it. They just happen, and you! Oh, you! You have to adjust or check out. There is a saying that goes something like: to live is to be born slowly. So that every day you are alive, you learn something new. Only sometimes, as I said, it can be brutal.

Kim decided to adjust and this is the only reason we are gathered here today; to get a piece of his life. His campus tale. There isn’t much of a story, just a day’s event that unsolicitedly took up the task of shaping the rest of his life

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Campus life for me was just as I had pictured. There were two drums of freedom, a bucket of money, a well of peer pressure and several bottles of wrong decisions all quoted in  YOLO; living to the fullest. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining and neither do I regret it.

Coming from a well off family, I was enrolled in one of the private universities here in Nairobi, Kenya. And so, it was only a matter of time before I made friends from equally well off families. I did. A typical day with my friends was filled with ingenuine banters, eating all kinds of posh junkies, staying up late at a friend’s playing games, road trips, drinking, smoking and basking in dimly lit houses fantasizing of how will enjoy our parents’ money. Once in a while, we made exceptions to attend class, because we needed to stay on campus lest someone (academic stuff) took notice of our truancy.

I want you to picture a crowd of nine senseless, young adults with money to throw around. If we were from one family, then arrogance and privilege would be our family names. But you can’t relate, can you? Because what you have is a second name right?

So, as normalcy would have it, we organized a road trip to tour our beloved country and perhaps make memories. At this point, I have to add that in this group of 9, 6 of us were dating amongst ourselves, of the remaining 3 one had a girlfriend abroad, or she was just a fantasy since none of us got to see her anyway. Then there are two of us, Sheila and I. To say the least, we wore the badge of third-wheeling, very proudly, ones too often, and we only felt left out during our road trips. Like this one.

In this particular trip, Newton, who was dating Sophia, who was seated just behind the driver of a Noah Model car, was our designated driver (Are we together ? Or you did not sign up for mind twisters? Haha! focus and  catch up with the rest)

We were drunk, some from alcohol, others from sugar rush but all of us from the loud music spewed from every corner of the vehicle. In case you are wondering, the vehicle belonged to one of us, Mike, the son of one of the high and mighty of our mighty nation!

With the conditions described above, a game, 21 questions was bred. There is a rule, where two or more young, drunk students or unemployed young people meet, a game, truth or dare and its relatives are bound to happen. I am the last messenger of the truth, avoid these games, especially if your significant other is part of the drunk crowd. If you don’t, it will end in premium tears. Hear oh thee, the prophesy. But as they say, a messenger will be persecuted at his own home. Look at you rolling your eyes in disgust. Humans, sigh!

So 21 questions happened and I cannot exactly remember the question but the answer was, Newton had smashed one of Sophia’s classmates. Listen, if you do not know what smashing is, then my fears of the existence of time travelers are materializing. Sophia was not happy with Newton’s answer and she was exploding with rage and throwing tantrums. It was only fair that Newton would move to the back seat to calm his drunk damsel in distress! I was seated at the passenger seat and other than Sheila who was the nursing sugar rush; I was the closest it came to sobriety. So I took over the mantle of designated driver. One for the road would not affect my judgment we all agreed.

We had barely covered 5km when I tried to overtake and we crushed.

I know you want the details, but there isn’t any. All I remember is seeing a truck right at the windscreen, hoots, lots of loud, scaring hoots, noise, the deafening sound of metal drugged over concrete, then a loud bang! I recount this memory like a movie because it was a movie and a horror movie at that.

One minute we were drowning in music, the next everyone was screaming, and the next only Sheila was screaming. I think that day the sun was in a bouncy castle. For darkness and light took turns on me, Sheila called and I tried to reach out for her hand but the seat belt clung on my skin as if its life was in danger as well! I called out for the rest of the squad and nothing, then Sheila also stopped calling, and the sun did that final jump that resulted in permanent darkness.

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The beeping machines did the most and when I couldn’t take it, out of curiosity, I opened my eyes. Or maybe I just wanted to get rid of the noise, like the way you get rid of the nuisance you have for an alarm, don’t look away, we are a support group, here, we don’t judge.

I was met with magnolia colored walls, intravenous drips and finally the monitor, the source of the music and noise in my head. At the door, there were a bunch of gloves, hand sanitizers and soaps. Everything was clean, stiff and disturbingly functional, there was a coldness to this seeming perfection. I was cold!

The weeks that would follow, were a routine of visitors. Some cried but most of them seemed happy, this one particular woman never left the side of my bed for most of the days. Sometimes she would cry when I was asleep, and I would hear here low sobs almost drowning in the beeping of machines. But on most times, she held my hands and somehow melted the coldness.

I had lost my memory; every past event in my life was erased. It was as if I was in a new spectrum in my life and I had no training on how to go about it. You remember that saying to live is to be born slowly; I lived through the accident and were born, the latter almost literally.

Apart from the woman that warmed my hands, another common face was a man who was always dressed in a long black robe. Perhaps what made me easily recognize him was how his collar clang on his neck like its life depended on the neck. Almost as if other collars that loosely sat on collarbones were doomed if they did not quickly find themselves a neck. But I wouldn’t blame it, maybe collars have a life and they have learned from the best, humans. Like how we long for other’s validation yet, ideally, all we need is self-acceptance and to exist for ourselves. Notice how collars are always present as you swipe through that screen on Instagram and Twitter on a validation-hunting spree? Well apparently, they have been learning.

Back to the story, this man was kind, I felt it in the ways he rubbed some oil on my forehead, chanted as he held the woman’s hands and always found a way to reassure me everything would be okay. After one too many visits, flowers and tears, one day as I listened to the familiar music of the woman’s sobs with a chorus of the beep. I wanted to hold her, reciprocate the warmth right back at her, but I had done that and it didn’t stop her sobs. Maybe the warmth did not make it to her heart, so I summoned all my strength and said my first word in months. Mom. A week later, I was discharged.

The process of putting the pieces of my memories together was long, tedious and painful. Where there should be memories there was a blank space, an abyss of nothingness. The pain cut across me and those who desperately waited for me to call them by name or perhaps recognize someone, heck! even something on the many photos they showed me. Eventually, things fell into place, I could tell Jane from Janet, I learned new things and would move around without having to be watched. One year later, I enrolled back to campus.

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I had an idea of how campus life was, but it still felt new, if I am to describe it, it felt like the first time you enroll in a new school. So that every student knows where to be, when and with whom apart from you. It did not bother me much, I figured I would catch up in due time. It didn’t help that my mom made efforts to drop me to school every morning and pick me up when I was done with classes. I still don’t know how she maneuvered through her normal life and taking care of me. God bless our mothers.

However, what bothered me was how I would have to sit through long hours of lectures from people who did not even make an effort to make their presence interesting. Like hello, if you are to capture our attention for 3 hours or more, the least you can do is make me want to look at you, but my lecturers didn’t seem to share my school of thought. Apart from one, one that did suit and canvas, this young man took us through a class of calculus and of stealing the show. But he was not the only one that stole the show. I did too, in the small and most insignificant ways. Every time I looked around, I caught a pair of eyes or more staring at me, with a touch of curiosity and fear. I brushed it off, it was normal for a new student anyway, right? Until I noticed that the eyes had company; whispers. So, I figured I had to make me some friends and make something of the whispers.

I am a 6’3 and every road seemed to lead to basketball. So one day I decided to watch the game. As I’m sited on the bench, a random guy brings me an envelope. I reaped the top part and upon opening, there was a photo. A group photo of nine people that seemed very excited about life. I didn’t recognize any of them but me. Yet still, a familiarity lingered as I examined each of the nine. At the back of the photo it read, We know, we are watching you!

That, ladies and gentlemen, cranked up my engine and I began to seek answers. The whispers, odd looks, and feeling watched begun to make sense. Still, I was not getting answers. I was having selective amnesia. My brain had deleted that part of life and it was killing me to be the only one who didn’t have the slightest idea of how my past life was and how it involved 8 other people that somehow disappeared.

My mom noticed my uneasiness and one day she sat me through the whole story. The story of how I had woken up 3 months later in a hospital minus 8 of my friends in my life. Except she was my mom and she delivered it so softly and deliberately left out the part where I was the designated driver. She also outdid herself by making sure I understood that it was not my fault that all my friends had perished in that accident and I had survived.

But just like I learned of my friends, my school mates were having a field day informing me that I was the driver and I was most definitely a killer. The latter was followed by a theory that my family was part of a cult. The cult had assigned me the work to look for sacrifice so that my family would sustain its wealth.

For 2 semesters, I lived through this narrative. The thing about private universities is that they are almost like upgraded high schools that have been schooled in posh systems and have sophisticated buildings with sophisticated titles. The population is so small so that rumors spread like wildfire. Suddenly, I felt scared. I thought everything was about me, it only took you to laugh while next to me and that was it, you were making fun of me. Occasionally, I received notes of ridicule and threats as I took a dump. I was anxious and panic attack moved in. It was low-key bullying and one day when my mom picked me in town, I vented about how she had lied about the accident, talked over her and then broke down. I never felt so little in my life.

My emotions were always on the edge, partly because of the drugs that I was taking and the other part because of all the bullying I had to endure. I was aware that my mental stability wouldn’t last long under these conditions. Thanks to having no friends, I had all the time to read and I had read enough to know exactly how this would end. So I asked to move schools. This time, I wanted a public university, I wanted to get lost in a swarm of normalcy. I just wanted to be normal. Does it make sense? Would I ever be normal?

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My dad pulled the strings, made a few important calls and before I noticed, I had a slot in the next group of students. I was starting a new degree, a new phase of my life, if I had dreadlocks I would probably shave them to mark the beginning, but I didn’t, not like my mom would even tolerate the thought of it in HER HOUSE!

Life in this new environment was easy, everyone was always up to something, and no one bothered with your life. It took me time to make new friends. You wouldn’t blame me, I was proving to be hardly the champion of friendship. But you know how the campus is, people would stand naked in a blizzard to belong, to have friends and groove in the music of friendship. So, within no time, people paired up some grouped and those that were left found comfort in unwillingly becoming friends. I was one of those left, me and 10 others. With time, the 10 withered to 3 men and one lady. Our friendship was enhanced by some group work assignments we did.

I was finally beginning to warm up to the idea of friendship. But that was only me, the whispers did not want in on any of these friendship agenda. By day, I was smiling, laughing and joking but by night I was sleepless, sweaty, anxious and fought whispers. I had nightmares of accidents. At first, they were accidents that I had seen in movies or read in books. Gradually, the accidents evolved and begun to feel real, images of the 9  (all of us in the photo) would flash in my dreams and then I would wake up. These dreams were frequent and they began to eat into my day time; when I was not attending to my normal program I was figuring out the dreams, the smiles were fading, laugher turning to far off echoes and jokes into whispers.

This one time I was hanging out with my friends as we played card games. Linda, the only lady in the squad was losing the game and had to drop out. Her skills were wanting and in a bid to spread her bad omen of failure, she began talking and beating stories. In the middle of her mouth diarrhea and she was good at it, she said, “You guys! You know my medicine for epilepsy can make you get high. Like high, high and for looong.”  drugging that long to make her point. Mustafa, who was sensing defeat decided to use his final card and said, “ Azin the blunt kinda high?” his question targeting more of Ryan’s attention than Linda’s answer. Ryan was the other friend, he was crafty and took any opportunity to rub it on our face that he was the king of poker. He responded, “Eeema nawaona sana, the way the two of you are rooted towards stealing my attention.” Everyone laughed because well, Ryan was the plug for all your high issues, and the title high was his second name. (My I can’t relate people we good now?)

When he, Ryan, had finally boosted his ego by winning the game, he brought back the topic, ” Eti you said your medicine can make us high? What do you use it with?” “Hakuna imagine you just add it to some little alcohol and marinade your throat with it and viva! you are in a haze for days” Linda answered. Ryan could not believe it and Linda could not believe Ryan’s disbelieve. So after a heated argument between the two, I led the committee of peace building initiative, famously known as PBI and we amicably decided on placing a bet. We, apart from Linda, would sample her prescription and if it did not work, Linda would buy us lunch for a week, and if it did, Ryan, sorry, broke Ryan, would have to step up!

We tried the drug on a Friday, and when I came to, it was on Monday. I was at Mike’s place. We all were and in the same position, we were when we took the pills. I still felt high, everything had a touch of humor, things were upset down and insects were monsters. When I was not laughing my ass silly, I was crying so damn hard. The feeling was scary but exciting.

I walked back home. I had been reported as a missing person and here I was unbothered walking past my parents into the house. For that entire week, my friends and I lived in different galaxies. And ones in a while we would visit each other and laugh! Hard! Linda says she took care of us but mostly ended up with dried ribs or a pit of worry depending on the temperatures of our galaxies.

When the effect of the drug wore off, she swore on her cat’s life, and she takes her cat pretty seriously, even when she knew the cat probably has 9 lives, never to give us the pill again. It’s not like anyone wanted the pill anyway, everyone but me. You see, when I was high, everything was calm, even during the night. I slept and when I was not sleeping, my galaxy was tickling me. Nothing compared to the sleepless nights and dreams. I was ready to live through insects that impersonated monsters and not the whispers. I was in a Morton’s Fork situation and I took the easiest way out.

Since I could not convince Linda to hand me another pill and neither could I purchase it over the counter, I opted for alcohol. After all, it was the catalyst for the pill. Ever since the accident, I had not tasted alcohol and when I did, it felt like I had let loose all my demons. I managed my drinking demons in my first year.

It was in the second year of my studies that things begin to go down the hill. I wanted to move out of  home so that I would have the freedom to drink whenever I wanted. Also, by moving out, I would have a reason to ask for extra money. After the accident, my mom was careful with the allowance she gave me. She also did not oblige to my demands of moving out and that did not stop my drinking demands. I drunk when I was supposed to be eating, reading, watching, sleeping, and laughing. I was always drunk and if I made a mistake of not replenishing my supply, everything I was fighting on the inside came at me with rage. So then, even in school, I carried with me a bottle of Sprit, the keeper of my drink and my spirit.

By the time I was done with that academic year, I was an addict. As I said, I had read enough to know I was one; I just didn’t have the balls to call it as it was. I lost weight and was reduced to a frame of myself. I was always high and euphoric and I did not want the feeling to stop; that meant one more drink. Remember I was still commuting from home to school.

So one time as I was sneaking back home and my timing was impeccable. My parents were arguing and I cannot remember the exact words. My dad yelled something along the line of, get your son in order and my mom yelled back he is our son while emphasizing that ‘our’. And my dad said no, our son died in that accident! He then stormed out of the house and drove off.

At that particular time, my world came to a still. I might have been drunk but I understood the severity of his words. I stayed out, at the same spot that night. I listened to the heavy sobs of my mother, almost as if to call out for me, just as she had called me out of the comma. But on this cold night, her sobs were drowning in a pronounced heaviness. I didn’t drink for a day after that, and on the second day, I thought I would die of withdrawal symptoms. So, as my mom was having breakfast, I walked up to her and said, “Mom, I haven’t been a good son, I am sorry but I need help, will you help me?”

She grabbed me in a tight hug. Later that day, we met a psychiatrist who diagnosed me as an addict and recommended a rehabilitation facility

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Rehab was different. Picture this, I have a master, he lives in my inside and demands that I visit him almost on a daily basis. The thing about masters is that you don’t visit them empty-handed. My master prefers a bottle of booze, actually, he demands one. When I don’t visit my master he hurts and tortures me until I give in to his demands. Now imagine the entire world has run out of the booze so that my life has been reduced to pain and torture from a master who will not buy the idea of the bottles running out of stock. I am not the only one with a master; there are others like me, each with a different kind of master and a different demand. Now imagine 10 such people locked up in a place. Imagine having to deal with the pain your master inflicts and just when he takes a break, you have to live through the pain of the other 10 people who are screaming because their master is also not pleased with them. Hectic! That was rehab.

It has been three 3 months since I came out of rehab. I have cheated death, fought a comma, slain memory loss, dodged bullying and depression, survived drug abuse, lived through rehab and I will definitely win over the fear of relapsing.

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I sent Kim a mail asking about how he felt about his friends, the 9 squad and he said it was probably a part of him that he will never come to terms with. But he now knows better than to let it dictate his now. That since his part of the story refuses to form fully, he won’t go searching, rather, when the time comes, he will remember everything. If it ever does.

Do you have a story based on University life that you would love to tell, am here rooting for you. Get in touch with me on my email; njerikenyada@gmail.com and let us share your story. Cheers!

PHOTO CREDITS: IG: @ _laur_art_

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