The word family has different meanings. To some, family means those related to them by blood while to others it means those related to them by love. To me, family means friends. My friends are my family. The saying blood is thicker than water does not make sense to me as a proverb. Only its scientific meaning makes sense to me. They say that some people stick closer than family. These people I found in my friends. They have stuck closer than anyone blood-related to me has ever done. These friends I made my family. I mean, what is the essence of calling people your family if they are not living up to the title? What is the whole point of calling people your family if they reject you when you need them the most? This life is all about making choices. And these choices determine the path our lives take. I made a choice; a choice to make my friends my family. The friends who accepted and welcomed me with open arms and we became one big happy family. For the first time in my life, happiness found me.
There is James. He is my elder brother. He is also the guy who plays father when ‘I become too much’ as he likes to put it; which is almost all the time. A month ago I however promised him to become the ‘son’ he ‘asked God’ for. This promise is partly why I’m writing this.
James is a quiet man. Do not mistake his quietness for lack of wisdom or shyness though. He speaks in silence. His wisdom can be heard in his silence. He however opens his mouth to bless us with his words every once in a while. Especially when telling the story of how he met me aka the story of ‘how I met your grandpa’. I am grandpa to his kids. They thought I was their grandpa the first time they saw me which is also the first time I met James. This was five years ago.
“I was driving home one night and it was raining heavily. I had taken a few shots of whisky and you know with alcohol a call of nature is inevitable. I drove until I came to a dark spot and stopped the car. I waited until the road had cleared and there were no vehicles in sight. Of course you know how I feel about peeing in public (this he says looking at his wife); I hate the act but sometimes it’s inevitable. I got out of the car and walked a few steps away from the main road. I found a ditch and decided this was the best spot to shower my blessings upon. Halfway through my act I realized the piss didn’t make the usual sound as it hit the ground. I knew something was blocking it. Something like a piece of cloth that was absorbing it. Yes, I have mastered the sound of piss as it hits different surfaces. (Pause) I decided to direct my piss to another spot so as to check the sound and it was still the same. That’s when I decided to walk closer to the ditch and check. I used my phone as a torch and just as I had imagined, therein lay a pile of clothes… except they had a head on one end and a pair of shoes on the other. My first instinct was to run away but the fact that this abnormal pile of clothes with a head and a pair of shoes had something that belonged to me; my piss, I decided the best thing was to take it with me. I entered the ditch and alas therein lie a normal male human being; dead drunk. You could smell his cheap liquor from the Somali border. I pulled him out of the ditch, dragged him and dumped him in the boot just in case he woke up and turned violent. That’s how he ended up in our home. And kids, that’s how I met your grandpa!”
James always ends this story with that last statement. His kids and wife were awake when he brought me to his house. My tattered clothes and bushy face gave me an old man’s look (according to the kids) and that’s why they assumed I was their grandpa. They had never met their grandpa’s from both sides; they are both dead. But they being too young to understand death thought their dad had finally brought their grandpa to them.
The only thing I remember from that incident is waking up in a huge bed covered in white beddings and inside a white mosquito net. The first thought that came onto my mind was – Damn! I made it to heaven- but then I saw a man seated on a sofa just next to my feet. I couldn’t see him clearly because of the mosquito net but I could tell he had a beard. From the little I could see he didn’t look anything like the creator- not with the cold eyes he was staring at me with- neither did he look like an angel- no white clothes nor wings- nor did he look anything like Father Abraham- his beard was too neat to be Father Abraham’s (I have always imagined Father Abraham with a bushy shaggy beard). This made me realize that I was still on earth- very disappointing- and maybe in a hospital- extremely disappointing. The man as if reading my mind raised one side of the mosquito net, peeped at me and with one of his hands stretched towards me said,
“Hey, my name is James and you are in my home.”
That’s how I met James; a very focused, strict, quiet, friendly and rich man with a beautiful wife and 2 daughters; my grandchildren.
There is Abdul.
Abdul is my man; my mate; my best friend. I met Abdul on my first day at AA. Well, we didn’t meet inside since none of us made it inside on that day. I found him standing at the AA room door with his back towards me as I approached. I thought he was knocking at the door but on getting closer I realized he was just standing there with his hand held in the air as if readying himself to make a knock. Only that something in the air held it and it never made it to the door. He was mumbling things. I thought he was on the phone but his other hand was in his pocket. I checked for earphones or a Bluetooth device but none was in sight. It hit me that he was talking to himself. All this time he was not aware of the stranger behind him; me.
“Shit! Shit! Shit!” He cussed and suddenly removed his pocketed hand and used it to slap his head. I moved two steps backward.
‘Shit! Shit! Shit!” This time he slapped his head with every ‘Shit!’ he said. He shook his head and as he was about to turn around I turned my head and faced another direction.
“Shit!” Again he cussed.
I turned my head to look at him and stared. He was young; almost my age or maybe younger. But he looked tired and beaten and this gave him a grandpa look. Hehe.
“I’m sorry men… (Pause)Niko sawa by the way. Mimi sio mwenda wazimu. (a chuckle from him). Ni life maze! Life Maze!” He said to me with his eyes looking at the ground as he threw his hands around; Davido style. You know Davido style, right? No? Okay, go to YouTube and watch the collabo between Davido and Mafikizolo in the song Tchelete.
Anyway, after these words I turned around and we both walked away. We ended up in the last place we were supposed to be; a bar where we drowned all our life sorrows. Were it not for James who came to rescue us we would have ended up in a ditch somewhere. But maybe he could have found us in the ditch in his hunt for unperturbed peeing grounds. By the way I only learned of Abdul’s name and he mine the following day as we took breakfast in James’ house. That’s how I knew he was a friend for keeps! Hehe. He and I have since been inseparable especially because we have seen each other through AA meetings, counseling, backslides and finally winning the drugs battle.
Now, where do I begin to tell you about Nancy or Nissie as I love calling her? She is my whole life; the main reason I live. She is the reason I wake up every morning highly motivated to become a better me because I know someone will notice my determination (albeit minimal) and applaud it. Nissie is my girlfriend. Well, more of a wife because we have been living together for the past 3 years and doing husbandry and wifery duties. She is the type of woman you want to make the mother of your children and spend the rest of your life with. We decided that ‘marriage’ is overrated and with it marks the beginning of the long/short walk to divorce. As long as we are happy living with each other, we felt there is no need for a marriage. Marriage can wait… or leave.
I met Nissie at James' house. He and his wife were holding an anniversary party to celebrate their 10 years in marriage. The party was taking place in their home and they had invited several of their friends; single and married. I was one of the single invitees. I remember walking into the house in an oversize denim shirt, tight rugged jeans, black loafers and a cap. Guess who opened the door for me; Miss Nissie in all her glory hidden under a long body-hugging gown. Of course I didn’t know who she was then. The only thing I knew is that an angel in human form-and the most beautiful angel for that matter- had opened the door for me. Her skin was chocolate and spotless. She had her makeup on but I could tell she was beautiful even without it. Her brown eyes were everything. And her natural hair was tied in a bun on top of her head. She wore a beautiful smile that made every smile in the room look like a joke. I was embarrassed of my dress code for the first time in my life. When her hand met mine I could feel my feet melting under me. I had to remind myself that I was a man and men do not melt easily! No. men do not melt at all. The worst part is that she did not release my hand until she had me seated on a chair.
Now, James somehow ‘forgot’ to inform me that the party had a dress code; it was a black tie party as I later came to learn. Every man in the room was in a black suit and every lady in a long gown. Till this day he maintains that he sincerely forgot to inform me. However, I think he deliberately ‘forgot’ because he knew I didn’t own an official shirt let alone a suit and he did not want to take me through the trouble of buying one. But thanks to his deliberate forgetfulness, Nissie took notice of me. She says she fell in love with me at first sight; the moment she saw me walk into the gate through the window and rushed to open the door for me. She says she loved my rebellious look and difference; she assumed I had intentionally gone for that bad boy look. A bad boy she thought I was; I was a bad boy, yes but not in the context her wild mind was implying. And so on the most unusual day, a senior bank manager fell in love with a jobless struggling recovering addict. How she still loved/loves me after finding out my fate and that my look was not inspired by my rebellious nature but by lack I will never comprehend. If this is not real love then I do not want to know real love. I love you Nissie.
My name is Moses. My family calls me Mose, except James who insists that shortening of names is so backwards. That it’s like texting ‘how r u’ instead of ‘how are you’ which I think is totally different and the latter is very irritating. He cannot especially understand why Nancy agrees to be called Nissie.
I am a recovered drug addict. Ten years ago I left my home and the people I used to call family; my mother, father and five siblings. I ran away from home three months after I was expelled from high school. I had led a strike; the third one in a span of one year. The first one I led while in form II and the other two in form III. The first two times I was accepted back to school after a woman I hired to act my mum proved to be quite the actor. The woman pleaded with the principal to the point of tears. Damn! I almost believed she was my ‘long lost beloved mother’. Not that I didn’t have a mother; only that her (my real mother) coldness towards me made me doubt if she was indeed my real mother. Plus this woman described me in such loving words in the one hour we were in the principal’s office than my own mother had in the seventeen years she had been my mother. But I guess it was the money I had promised her that inspired her deep love for me. We had made a deal that she would only get the money if I got accepted back to the school. Money moved her to tears. As she bid me goodbye later on she however claimed that it was not all an act; that it had started out as an act, yes, but a few minutes into the talk she felt this special connection with me; a son-mother type of connection. I still think it was all flattery but I have to admit that I also felt the connection too. Well, as a young man who had never experienced his mother’s love it was only normal to experience such a feeling too. So, that’s how the first time went and the second time was not short of this act. She got her money in both situations. We developed this special bond between us that on midterms I never went to my own home but spent the three days helping her out with farm chores. She was a single mum (three kids who abandoned her because they were uncomfortable with the way she made money) who depended on different men for support in exchange for sex. (You see I’m restraining myself from using the term ‘prostitute’ because I never saw her as one)
Anyway, the third time I didn’t have a chance to watch her in action because I was expelled for good; no real mother or fake mother was to be brought. The school had had enough of me. They had also discovered my fake mother and this time called my real mother- they got her number from a student neighbor from home- and given her a detailed narration of my life for the past one year. They also let her know that they had expelled me for good.
I left the school with only a small bag. In it were two novels ‘My life in Crime’ and ‘Son of Fate’ both by John Kiriamiti. I had stolen them from the library the previous day after learning of my misfortune. I felt like they would come in handy in the outside world; I had a feeling my parents wouldn’t take me to any other school. They didn’t. The bag was stolen too. That was all I had with me plus the school uniform I was wearing. Everything else I had left behind because it was stolen and it would be of no help in the outside world.
I had to make a stop before getting home; Rosemary’s house. That was her name; my fake mother. I had to tell her of the turn my life had taken and wish her a good life. But things don’t always go the way we plan. At the gate I was received by a stranger; a very small happy boy in tattered clothes and bare feet. I greeted him in my mother tongue; Kikuyu and asked him his name. Peter was his name. I asked him where the woman who owned the home was and whether she was his grandmother. He replied that he lived there with his mother and father who were not around at the time. I asked him again about the woman’s whereabouts this time mentioning her by name; Rosemary. A sad look appeared on his face as he pointed to a cross I had not seen before and said that she was dead. There it was; a brown wooden cross with the words- R.I.P Rosemary Kagiri-written on it in huge black letters. Rosemary was dead. I had watched enough movies to know that I was expected to walk to the grave, kneel in front of the cross and pay my last respect. I did exactly that with the small boy kneeling beside me and shit! I cried. I know this sounds mushy but I felt like a piece of me had died too; like I had lost someone related to me by blood.
Anyway, I left the home without knowing what had really happened to Rosemary. Not because no one knew but because I never made any effort to find out. Some things are better left unknown.
Three months after arriving in my real home and getting served insults for breakfast by my mother and father I ran away. My siblings too were in the front line of insulting me and telling me that I was a disgrace to my family. You see, I was deep in the sea of drugs. I started doing drugs; weed, alcohol and cocaine in form two after my desire to explore got the better of me. During the three months at home I would wake up, take my breakfast amid insults and leave for a drug hunting mission. I would drag myself home at midnight and go to my house which was separate from my parent’s main house. Sometimes I would spend days away from home; especially after committing a crime and have policemen looking for me. Days in hiding were however more peaceful than days spent at my home. I had to go back home to shower, change and eat. Truth is, these insults never got into my head. I was too high to even realize they were meant to make me feel bad, reflect and somehow turn my life around. But one day when my father called me a bastard and said that he didn’t know who I was since his son was long dead I guess the insults finally made it into my head. Or maybe they went straight into my heart because I remember I was badly hurt. They mostly hurt because I had been clean for about three days. Anyone who has been down this path knows how hard it is for an addict to go for three days without drugs in the efforts to stay clean; even harder when people who are supposed to notice the slight effort and encourage you turn a blind eye to you and insult you instead. It then dawned on me that I still had a heart thus still human. That as much as I was a drug addict I was still a human being and didn’t deserve harsh treatment from anyone not to mention my own parents. That’s when I decided to leave seeing that I was no longer my father’s son and go to a place where I belonged. This was the beginning of a long journey: a journey that I'm still on today.
I am in a Matatu. I am seated in the ‘lonely seat’. The radio is tuned in to Classic 105. The signal weakens as we leave Nairobi further and further behind until all that’s left is a boiling sound. The driver at this point breaks the rules and ‘touches that dial’ and tunes in to a Kikuyu station; Inooro Fm. I’m headed to Nyahururu which is my original home. It’s the home I left exactly 10 years and 2 months ago. The last time I was running away as far as possible from Nyahururu. Today I’m going back like the prodigal son. When you haven’t seen or heard from your blood family in ten years you expect to be anxious and/excited as you get closer to meeting them. I’m neither. I feel empty. Unemotional. I’ve tried to get in touch with my emotions but none is forthcoming.
This trip has taken about a month to materialize. It was not originally my idea. It was born and nurtured by my family; Nissie, Abdul, James, Hannah (James’ wife) and Joe (a friend of James). They held an intervention meeting in my absentia to try and find a solution to my problem; my loathe for my blood family. It was agreed that I should take a journey home and apologize to my parents, ask for their blessings and forgiveness. It was agreed that despite how they had treated me, parents are always right and that my behavior and drug usage is what had pushed them to treat me the way they had. They afterwards summoned me and gave me this information which I was supposed to follow to the letter. I was skeptical at first. I hated my parents. I hated my siblings. They had all done me wrong. They had given up on me and declared me dead. Why did I have to see them? Why did I have to apologize to them? Why did I need their forgiveness and blessings? I was better off without them. I had done so well for myself without them. I had a family that loved me better than they could ever do. I told them that I was doing no such thing but after much intervention and visiting a counselor I agreed to go. I realized that I couldn’t blame my parents entirely for how things turned out between us. After all I was the trigger of the whole thing; me and my drugs. But I also felt the need for an apology from them. They could have been a little understanding. They could have shown me the slightest bit of love. They could have shown concern and tried to give me a helping hand. And although I never wanted to be found, they could have tried to reach out to me. (They had all the resources necessary to reach out to me if they wanted to). Instead they had pushed me away and left me for the dead.
After a series of gospel songs, a voice I dislike comes up; Muturi wa Muiru’s voice. No offense but I don’t think his voice is fit for the gospel show. I find it best fit for the night obituaries; which by the way is the segment where he started out before scoring the gospel show. I’m not sure if he still does the obituaries though. I get my earphones from my pocket, connect them to my phone and open my music playlist. Aloe Blacks’ Ticking Bomb is the first song on the list;
“The whole world’s sitting on a ticking bomb
The whole world’s sitting on a ticking bomb
So keep calm and car…..”
The whole world’s sitting on a ticking bomb
So keep calm and car…..”
I must have fallen asleep at this line of the song because when I wake up Toni Braxton’s Yesterday is playing in my ears. I love this woman, Toni. She’s been my crush since my teenage days. I thought Nissie would be jealous when upon moving in together she found my collection of Toni’s posters. She wasn’t. She had a secret lover of her own; Usher. The way she talks about his eyes, something about the way he bites his lips and how he moves his waist is enough to make me throw up. She says he’s the only man who would make her leave me. Well, as long as he stays in the US and us in Kenya, she can fuss about him all she wants.
I turn my head to look outside but the moisture on the window prevents me from seeing clearly. I can however tell that it’s raining heavily hence the reason for the moisture. I look around the matatu; everyone seems to be asleep. Well, except the driver and I. I wipe the window with the back of my hand and realize that we are almost in Nyahururu town; about 3 minutes away. I detach my earphones and put them back in my pockets. My phone too. I have no bag. I told myself “why carry a bag when you are not sure if your parents will be glad to see you let alone allow you to spend the night in their house”.
I finally alight. The rain has stopped. Nyahururu town has not changed so much. Maybe a few new buildings but it still looks like more of a shopping center than a town to me. I wave to a (specific) boda boda guy across the road but the entire boda-boda community comes speeding towards me. I walk towards ‘the one’ I had waved at and together we speed off leaving the others cursing under their breaths. I give him directions to my father’s house and in less than 10 minutes we arrive. I get off his bike and hand him a fifty shillings note. I have another 2 minutes to walk. I didn’t want to alight exactly at our gate. I needed to walk a few meters just in case I change my mind. I don’t change my mind though and soon I’m at the gate.
Something I did not mention is that my parents are very rich and influential people. My father was the prisons Commissioner in Kenya. He was a general; maybe the reason why he couldn’t tolerate a criminal for a son. I don’t know what he is now; still a general, maybe retired or working in a government sector. I don’t watch the news, read newspapers or discuss news with my family. I have never told my family why or ever given them details about my real family. My mother worked in the Ministry of Defense. I think that’s how they met. I also don’t know what she does now.
I stand in front of the huge gate for about 2 minutes after which I open the small door. It’s not locked, which is a bit weird because my mother always insisted on locking the gate at all times. But 10 years is a long time; maybe she ‘loosened up’. I step into the compound. The 2 storey mansion stands in front of me in all its glory just as I remember it. The compound still looks beautiful but a bit neglected; another thing that is so unlike my mother. As I walk towards the mansion I notice two people working in the kitchen garden; maybe employees.
There is something weird about the air. Despite the signs of life the place feels lifeless.
Suddenly I spot them at a distance. They are in white; beautiful white. It’s hard to believe my eyes right now. I walk slowly towards them as a strong wave of emotions sweep through me. The emptiness is suddenly gone. With every step I take a new emotion takes the place of emptiness. Maybe I had all along been empty to accommodate this moment. I am now next to them; two white gravestones standing erect next to each other with words carved on them;
Joyce Wambui Kamau
My father’s name is Johnstone Kamau and my mother’s Joyce Wambui. The year is 2015. The month is November. The day is Thursday 12th.
As I kneel down in front of the two graves with hot tears streaming from my eyes I can hear Aloe Blacc’s song playing at the back of my mind,
“Don’t wait to say goodbye
You are running out of time
Whatever you believe
It’s easy to believe
The whole world’s sitting on a ticking bomb”
You are running out of time
Whatever you believe
It’s easy to believe
The whole world’s sitting on a ticking bomb”