CAMPUS TALES

Why

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She was lying in bed trying to catch at least one hour of sleep. It’s the least she could do after having to sit her behind in a car’s seat for about 9 hours. Besides, she had a whole night of wildness ahead of her.

(Phone rings) “ Wewe umeoga? We leave in an hour? Are you ready?” Its Rebecca, her friend who also doubles as the birthday girl on this particular Friday night. I know Rebecca seems like the name of a  girl who cleans the traditional offering baskets in church but this Rebecca cleans her favorite white pants every Sunday morning while cursing angrily. If she is not cursing best believe she is swearing never again to take wine. This is after a night out of soiling her pants.

This weird fetish for white clothes in the party has earned Hilda (who is lying on the bed) a career of reminding Rebecca, that wine is not the problem, the choice of pants is. I mean, who puts on a white outfit in a damn party! Yeah, Rebecca does.

Hilda’s career has however not been a success. Mostly, her advice is always turned into a vicious circle of there is nothing wrong with white and there is everything wrong with it. Sometimes, when she is having a rough day at ‘work’ she throws an unsolicited, “Let’s not forget you are a lightweight drinker” and Rebecca will be offended and leave until the next time she has to call Hilda for a favor or because she needs company to another party.

uuum mmh nimeoga, na Rebecca please it’s your birthday, usivae white” Hilda responded . Rebecca retorted, “All the more reasons why I should put on white, my wild spirit color” and before she came all guns blazing to defend her preference, Hilda hang up, checked the time, it was 10.12 pm covered her face in her duvet and rolled to the corner of the bed.

The phone rang again and this time, Hilda woke up in a frenzy, as if sleeping was illegal and she had been busted doing it. Her heartbeat was fast and her mind ran a tape of questions. When is today? I’m I late for a class? Again! Oh! wait did they already leave for the club! The party, Rebecca goddamn party! I’m late. All these happened in less than a minute before her phone rang again.

She didn’t bother to look who was ringing when she picked it, “ Rebecca, where are you guys? Aaah don’t leave, don’t leave I will be there in a few woiyee” she pleaded.

It was only after she was silent that the guy on the other side of the line responded, “Hello unajua mwenye hii simu?” Translation( Hello, do you know the owner of this phone.

 ***

Hilda and I have come a long way but not in the tight friendship kind of context. When I first knew her she was just another, short, small, chubby girl getting admitted to Nursery school, not that I was any different, which for my 2000 baby’s you call kindergarten. She put on a pussycat hairstyle with colorful beads at the end of the braids. I on the other side had a pussycat without braids and beads. So, I thought, maybe if I befriend Hilda, she may give me a clue on how to have that the braids and beads installed. Then all I have to do is cry until I have beads, scratch that! colorful beads on my small head.

Suffice to say, that is how we kick-started our friendship. Interestingly enough, we landed in the same Academy for our class 1- 4. Then the 2007-2008 Kenyan Post Election Violence happened. This crisis saw to it that hundreds of childhood friendships were broken and thousands of classmates were separated. Let us not get to the details of how much blood was shed, families torn apart and spirits crushed.

Hilda and I were part of these statistics. I never heard from her again until sometime back in 2018 November. This particular day was my birthday and instead of gifting me,  my friends thought it would wise to publicize me in their Instagram posts. As fate would have it, I trended among my then circle of 10-20 friends (that still counts as trending right?). You know, sometimes I stay up all night trying to figure out how I will convert my birthday wishes to money, or something else tangible like chocolate! Sorry, that’s edible. I love edible things, don’t we all? So one of my friends that had posted me was a classmate to Hilda at Egerton University.

I imagine the conversation might have been something like

Hilda: (Sees the post) Waaiit I know that chile. Si she is…. Um Dee.

Friend X: Yes that’s D

Hilda: Yeah I knew it was her, we somad with her in naso and even in some parts of primo. Damn the good all days. Say hello to her and wish her good one (birthday)

Friend X:I will, ama I just give you her number you link up

Hilda: I doubt she will kumbuka me. But just send it

Friend X: Sawa. ( This particular sawa is elongated so that it sounds like sawaa)

Two days after my birthday someone texted me, Happy belated Birthday Dee, to which I responded, “Aww thank you, who is this? But deep down what I wanted to say was, send money, (I’m joking). She said it was Hilda, I said, ooh I remember her, we chatted for about a week then slowly and gradually transitioned into viewing each other’s whats app status.

Until one day she saw my update for a new blog and texted: “Hey girl it’s been a minute, I have read your work, it’s amazing, you are doing a good job. On that campus tale thingi, I have a story and I think I’m ready to share it” I said a lot of things but over and above I said sure let’s arrange for a meet up.

***

“How did that call feel like?” I asked. “It didn’t hit me at first that something was wrong. I remember I thought someone had actually misdialed a number and ended up calling me. Weirdly enough, I was actually happy it was not Rebecca grilling me and that meant they had not left me as well. However, the person on the other side of the call insisted on what relationship I had with the owner of the phone. That is when I realized I had not checked who was calling when I picked up the phone. So I checked and the screen beamed with, Dad with a double pink love emoji and a crown signifying a King. That is how I have saved my dad to date.” She says as she stretched her phone to show me.

After I confirmed I knew the owner of the phone, the female voice on the other end asked how long I could take to get to Medi ( Nakuru Level 6 Hospital). I said less than 30 minutes, she said make them 20, I said okay, but where is my dad? She hang up.

To date, random calls easily trigger a panic attack in me. I wish there was a way for strangers not to have access to your phone number.

When I hang up from that call, a different call in waiting came through, it was Kariuki wa Cab. Kariuki was our favorite cab driver even in this era of uber. There are things uber drivers won’t allow you to do but Kariuki will. Like how sometimes we started our party in the vehicle where I plugged in my USB and acted DJ.

So when I picked his call he asked if was ready, and I said yes even though he was referring to the entire squad. He got to my place in less than 10 minutes which felt like a solid 10 years and we left for Nakuru.

In the car, I was lost in thoughts. I remembered the last minutes I shared with my dad which was about an hour ago. Earlier that day, Dad and I had started our journey to Kakamega quite early. He had picked me up at about 5am so I imagine he must have left Nairobi at about 3 am. En route Kakamega boys High school to see my brother. It was only me and dad. We shared our happy family moments and at around 5 pm we left for Nakuru. On arriving in Nakuru, it was around 9 pm and Dad insisted I sit with him and grab some dinner at KFC.

I protested because remember I had a party? So the earlier I got to my place the longer I slept and the better I would feel at the party. Also, I was tired due to the trip and when my dad is driving you don’t get to be the sleeping passenger.

So after insisting on a takeaway, I grabbed my Wingman Combo, he ordered an Uber for me and I left for Njoro. I left him at KFC.

Now here I was, uncertain of what had happened to him. Had he been poisoned where I left him? Maybe he had an accident? What if he is dead? No… no… he can’t be. He is my dad, he can’t die .. he is not dead. Dear God let him be alive. Please.

Rebecca’s call woke me up from my thoughts. She was angry and intoxicated. She called me a number of names that I didn’t keep a record of and finally hang up. So like the decent human I am, I asked Kairuki to pick them (Rebecca and the crew) upon dropping me.

When I got to the hospital, I needed nobody to tell me that a grisly accident had occurred. The casualty was flooded with victims of an accident and it was nothing but a grotesque sight. People without limbs were being wheeled in and placed on a bed like a bag of maize. There was so much blood, so much pain and it was just one big hall of agony. One patient’s brain was literally pouring out of this skull and a nurse was holding it calling out for help or something.

Everything was happening so fast, there was a hurricane of questions in my mind. I just needed my brain to stop functioning for a second for me to gather myself. Funny how I expected that to work.

I wanted to find my dad, I wanted to know why he chose to summon me in damn casualty. For Pete’s sake, was he part of this accident, where is my dad. My eyes run across the room, from one bed to another, one patient to another and nothing. I was in this metal captivity where I couldn’t access anything.

Slowly, I began to gasp for air, I could feel my heartbeat accelerate and everything started to spin. I felt sick, I wanted to call an ambulance but then I was in a hospital. The screams from the patients, their relatives and orders from the doctors were driving me insane. Just when I felt darkness settle in, someone grabbed me and took me outside to catch some air

I remember thinking to myself, should my dad pass away while I was catching some air, I would never forgive myself. I gagged at that thought and I literally summoned all the strength left. The person who had dragged me out was a doctor. He would later be very kind and helpful to me.”

“Did you find your dad?” I ask and immediately call myself out for doing so. Hilda seems lost, she is here with me, but her eyes betray her. It’s like she has gone back in time to that day. And it was not a kind day

“I found him, but he was not the dad I had seen hours ago. This dad had a loosely hanging right leg and a missing shoe on the left leg. His clothes were torn like some posho mill had eaten on them. He had scratches and traces of blood on his face. He had been involved in a head-on collision with a 14 seater Matatu.

When I saw him lying there unconsciously, I didn’t move, I should have cried but I didn’t, there was no one to cry on. The whole night I kept telling myself I cannot afford to break down. I recited this phrase anytime I thought I had had enough. Little did I know, this would be my slogan for the next few months.

You remember that doctor that took me out for a breath of air? After about 4 hours of waiting, and asking and trying not to cry, he organized how I would transfer my dad to Aga khan hospital.

He-dad- had two broken legs but one was severely mutilated when we took him to hospital, by morning the doctor confirmed that his spine had also suffered a minor injury.

Dad stayed in Aga khan Nakuru for two weeks. During that period, I was taking care of him.”

“What about your mom, why didn’t you call her” I probe. “Bold of you to assume I didn’t call her she says teasingly” I chuckle, that banter came in time. Things were beginning to get a tad too emotional.

“I called my mom, to help organize on how dad would be moved to Aga khan.” she continued. “She said what, she also asked how he was and finally said she would try as much as possible to come back home.

“You see my mom, who in reality is my stepmom was not in the country at the time of the accident. ” Hilda notices my body language. I had no idea her mom had passed on. It didn’t help that she dropped that piece of news with so much normalcy

So she explained to me that her mom had succumbed to the Post Election Violence and in 2015 after she was done with her high school, her dad had remarried. She says her stepmom is one of those women that don’t age, she is trendy and classy and very goal-oriented.

As such, although she had a difficult time replacing her biological mom, this new mom was proving to be a breath of new air. She had decided to give her a chance.

“Even though he had a nurse, taking care of my dad was not easy. On the second day of being admitted, he had woken up but he could not move or talk. However, anytime he was in pain, you could tell from his face. Those were my worst moment, I think he recognized me because when I was around he moved his eyes and I could feel his love reach out to me. From his eyes, I heard them say, “You don’t have to be here my daughter you don’t have to see all these. I will be fine.”

I know my dad would have given anything for me to be in class during those times I spent at the hospital.

 ***

Back in school, I had a whole squad of friends that were angry at me. Some because I didn’t show up for the party and others because I kept them waiting and still didn’t show up. None of them really mattered. Out of all these pettiness, stories had cropped up, that I had a new boyfriend, or was it a sponsor” She laughs sarcastically. “That, that would explain why I was hardly ever around after class and why on the days I had an early morning class, an Uber would drop me to school. A lot was said, a lot which hurt me and a lot which contributed to me pulling away from the crowd, my friends.

There was not a single person that I shared with the news. I must add, that it was at this point that I realized a lot of what we call friendship was just a matter of acquaintances mostly fuelled by need. It was a very lonely phase of my life, but my sick dad was a distraction.

After 2 weeks, my mom traveled back to Kenya and she organized for my dad to be transferred to Nairobi. It was successful. It also gave me time to concentrate on my finals, which were fast approaching. I was in my second year second semester.

After about four weeks of hospitalization and of me checking on my dad through my mom and the house help, he was discharged. They said he was doing better and was ready to be treated from home. In two weeks’ time, I was to start my exams.

It was on Tuesday and I was in that rush of reading that final content. I don’t know if everyone else does this, but I have this belief that the last thing you set your eyes on, always makes it to the exam. It is my kind of ritual. She looks at me with the do you do that face to which I nodded and said, “Everyone who is never prepared does this” we laughed.

So, as I was looking at my PDF one last time, when a message popped up, it was the house manager. The message read, Kesa, you need to come home as soon as possible. “Kesa is my second name short for Nekesa.” She said, perhaps assuming I had forgotten.

I remember entering that exam room wishing that I was exiting it. I sat on my desk and stared at my handbook. Then all the bitterness, anger, frustration, questions, fears, stress and worries felt like they had been thrown in a furnace.

So it burnt, and a hot lonely drop of tear-stained my handbook. I tried to hold my gaze. I swear I did, but that pain was boiling and with it came a floodgate of tears.

I staggered to get up, picking my pens and reaching for the door. A lecturer supported me to an empty office. I don’t know if she stayed or left, all I remember is pressing my back on the wall of the office and letting out a bawl of haunted, misery. I remember wanting to stop, I wanted to stop crying but grief and pain were seducing me, holding out a warm hug for me and to be fair, at the time I really needed a hug.

I have not cried that much in my life. I cried until I felt the pain fade away. When I was done I got up, took a bike to my place, packed my things and left for Nairobi.

 ***

I got home to a sick dad and a missing mum. Lucy, the house manager said that my mom had left one week after dad had been brought back home. According to Lucy, mom seemed like she had just left for her normal daily schedule except she didn’t return.

This had left all the work to Lucy who was also taking care of the twins, my stepsisters. Eventually, my dad’s condition had worsened and Lucy had called an ambulance and later on, me.

The next months would see me move from a life of the party campus girl to a full-grown adult, with two mouths to feed, bills to pay and finances to sort. Luckily enough, mom had left things in order. I think she had planned to leave long before the accident. Besides, for the past two years, their fights with dad had escalated; from dad’s infidelity to money issues and once in a while I caught mom using the guest room. Although they tried to hide it, especially from the twins, I knew things between them were not exactly a bed of roses.

However, even with her gone,she made sure I had access to my dad’s account. There was also one of my dad’s friends who constantly paid him a visit. He helped me figure out how to go about the hospital bills.

When my dad was discharged, he needed a nurse. Not only for the medical routine but for someone to clean him up. Something that my mom was doing before she left.

I was in quandary. The money left in my dad’s account (at least those I had access to) was enough to cater for a nurse for about 3 months. But that would mean I had to find a source of income for food and other needs.

On the other hand, I would play the role of a nurse, but that would mean stripping dad off his dignity.

Hear me out, you see, I knew without a shred of doubt, my dad would recover. So I imagined how he would feel knowing that I had cleaned him and changed his diapers. Even though it came from a place of love and kindness it left him with no dignity, something I had no idea where to buy. I still do not.” She says with a finality

Before she hired a nurse, Hilda went to Church. It was on a Thursday afternoon.

One big hall with benches looking like they have attended the best schools of arrangement and they are currently waiting to defend their Doctoral thesis on how to stay organized.

She walked straight to the alter. If anything the benches seem to direct her there and again, they were schooled benches, so.. She thought she didn’t know how to pray, so she knelt down and lowered her head. She maintained this position for a couple of minutes and when she was sure words had ghosted her, she started crying. You see, If she couldn’t pray then at least she would shed some tears. Something she couldn’t do back at home.

Things at home were becoming pretty tight. Lucy needed to be paid although she had not asked. The twins were beginning to ask questions like “Hilda where is the bacon?” Her brother was about to close for the holidays and she didn’t know what to tell him and Her dad, on the other hand, was not getting better.

So forgive her if she took this chance to cry, she cried and somewhere between the hiccup of tears she said, “Hey, God, I haven’t been exactly the best kid, but uum I need you. I need you so bad… I don’t think I will make it another day. I only have this much, dad needs it more than we do. I just ask that by the time this money ends…dad will be okay. And… in turn, I promise to hustle and feed my siblings. I don’t know how, but I will. If you do this for me, God, I will come back home … I promise…pple..please. She would have probably continued with her prayer, but her words said, “time is up!” and her tears said, “round two!”

When she was done, she wiped her eyes and nose with the underside of her t-shirt, went home, called the nurse and hired her.

“With the nurse around, I had time to look for a job. Surprisingly enough, Lucy refused to leave. As if that’s not enough, she and I looked for jobs together and became the breadwinners of the family. We would also take turns with looking after the twins

My first job was as a supermarket attendant that I got through a friend’s referral.

I have also worked in a hotel and a bar as a waiter, and this is one of my worst job experience. The short skimpy skirts we had to put on, the smile for the guests. Not forgetting the random spanks and sexual advances. Customers assume all waiters are dressed like that to attract them sexually. They are not and neither are they asking for sexual harassment. Most of them are just doing what needs to be done to pay bills.

It has been a difficult 8 months. If you met me in July in early 2019 and met me now, I’m two different people. But even in the midst of this storm, there is something to be grateful for.

Dad is getting better, he started speaking, the lines of laughter and love on his face, that had long faded are begging to trace their path back. Our financial situation has since improved. He tells me who to ring for what debt, where to go and collect the cash and what deals to follow up on. Safe to say he has slowly turned me into his PA.

We are more friends than we are dad and daughter. He is still my dad though, once in a while he will push me to hang out with my peers. He keeps saying I have become an old soul. To be fair, sometimes I wonder if I missed out on any chapter of my campus life.

Do you feel like you have missed out? “The feeling is there but I also know I was what I needed to be at that time,” She says sounding more like she is convincing herself rather than just answering.

“Dad wants me to go back to school, he says he will support anything I want to do. So when this pandemic is over, I will enroll for a course in fashion and design. Perhaps then I will convince people white is not a color to  put on for a wilding party.” She says. 

I asked her if she has met her mom she said she has not, but she had heard rumors that her mom runs a successful marketing company somewhere in a different town. She also said that she believes the rumors; that, that sounds like her mom.

If you saw her today, what would you tell her? “Umm.. I don’t know, I would probably just look at her. Maybe I would ask her why? Why she left? Why she had to pick such a time? Just a lot of why(s), but I doubt I would have anything else to say to her.”

This interview was done in March 2020 but due to unavoidable circumstances, it was published later. Thank you for reading!

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