They called it “the place of opportunities” where “favor never runs dry”.
And by they, you mean your uncle. Uncle Garry. The one who used to live under the Thika Bridge in a soaked carton shack and now has relocated to the better slums of Kibera.
You wonder why your devastated uncle offers words of wisdom like some sort of Gandhi prodigy. It may be because he used to be a university dean, working in the famed University of Makerere before he had to flee from the shackles of the man-eating Ugandan head of state.
He told you how college was the place you were bound to have sex for the first time, meet trans-racial individuals and even bunk on classes!
His words excited you right before you had to leave and go to the city under the sun,
For some weird out-of-space reason, you are so excited to join the University of Nairobi that you can’t sleep the night before you leave. It could be that or because you don’t know whether you can trust Uncle Garry.
As you rest your head on your Winnie the Pooh themed pillow, you can’t help but wonder how life in Nairobi is. Of course, you had done your research – and you have also visited the city sometime in the past.
A shady website offering rumors on the mill had informed you that Nairobi girls always inflect in their speech (or twang) and they like a song known as “Leg Over”. And the Nairobi dudes have to don a faded hair coiffure and have an iPhone. Did it say that they were referred to as “cool kids”?
These warped ideas and more are still swimming in your mind even as you board the matatu that will shuttle you to Nairobi’s Odeon stage. Even as your little kid sister refuses to unhinge herself from your bear-hug and your single mother waves relentlessly at you, the mere thought that you are going to make your future brighter drives you on.
You don’t let the tears fall, even as a cloud of smoke wafts around your Sunday-best-turned-Monday-college-admission wear.
It can’t be that bad, you console yourself, settling next to an aging elder snoozing off at the front seat.
Too bad you can’t tune off the snores, the smelly driver’s socks, the cranky radio that constantly spews static…Already you hate the idea of traveling on this matatu.
But you are some kilometers into the town of Nakuru. The driver is speeding like he wants to rush to the next day at the very instant.
So many thoughts are swarming your mind. What sort of people will I meet? Will my hostel mates be friendly? The sex stuff…
In the racket, Fergie’s You Already Know lyrics “Fast life moving, ain’t no going slow” sip into your mind. You desperately don’t want to taste the fast life.
You swear to yourself that you will stay indoors and bury your head in books, only looking up to pray to God before pulling out an all-nighter.
You promise yourself that you won’t even try making new friends, you won’t step a foot into any club, no alcoholic drink will land on your tongue and every Sunday will find you in a church.
A gulp goes down your throat and clears all the doubt of the life you are going to start.
There is a vibration in your left pocket. It’s Paul. Yes. The druggie you used to learn with in high school, the one who missed the college cut-off points by a whisker. You definitely don’t want any business with him. For more than the drugs reason.
As your thumb hovers on the reject button, you remember that he could be the only friend you know right now. And you know you have really stretched the definition of “friend” in that context.
You answer. Paul is sober, for the first time in a long time! He sounds ordered, calm and sane.
A grimace flashes on your face. You don’t like when someone calls you by your nickname. Or just a letter.
“It’s been a long time. How have you been?”
The question almost chokes you. Paul wants to know about you. After four years. What do you tell him? That he was the one who wronged you, and not the other way?
Damn. Why did you have to call today? Why now? When I have to start anew?
A few seconds to contemplate. Such decisions never used to bother you. You used to be rocky, hard-core. But the last few months have been nothing close to easy.
You hung up. Stuff the phone in your African-themed satchel and press it between your legs. A sniffle almost makes you give in and bawl your tears away.
You are now on the outskirts of Nairobi, and you start to get the giddy feeling that you initially tried to suppress. Somehow the air has changed, the mood is uplifting and you feel like taking a picture and posting it on Facebook.
Lost in the rush, the matatu starts to buckle and slow down at the Odeon stage. You don’t even start to ask about how the driver escaped the traffic that is slogging down the Uhuru Highway.
The place of opportunities.
There you are now. No one is standing in your way. Not even Paul. You have forgotten all about how you really struggled day and night to pass your high school tests to get there. The prayers you whispered, shouted and screamed.
What freedom! What vibrant energy!
The moment you step out of the matatu, the feeling of ecstasy has long withered. Your phone is ringing again.
As you turn to get your phone, someone hits your shoulder, another collides against you, another hits your knee. You look ahead of you at the busy Tom Mboya street and see a sea of faces and feet headed for you.
There’s no time to even answer the call. You are now trying to get to a safer position.
You have never seen so many people all at once. Suddenly you feel claustrophobic.
No! Not now.
You beg your chest not to start constricting but it is busy protesting its innocence. It is just reacting to what is happening to your mind.
Your legs start to turn to jelly. No sooner do you get to the sidewalk than you drop to your knees and your eyes roll backward.
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