When you grow up with nothing, everything outside of the air you breathe is a bonus. When the only house you’ve ever known and the only seats you’ve ever loved are the three seater couch and the two stools kept safe under thin mabati walls, you don’t know that you want anything more because you don’t know you can have anything more. Because so much more has been taken away from you. In fact, when you’re looking back now, you can’t believe that something so beautiful could come out of a past so grey.
But you’re getting ahead of yourself. When the lady from the blog calls you, you’re confused about why she wants to interview you in the first place. I mean, what could she possibly want to interview you about? Your story isn’t special, or particularly different from everyone else in this god-forsaken country who wallow in poverty. Why you?
You ponder this as you read her message, and you eventually think, ok Lucia, let’s do this. She can call you back to ask you whatever questions she has…at 8 pm. When you’re done with class, and you’re ready to talk to her. When you’re ready to remember.
What’s the first thing you remember? It could be anything. There are so many memories to choose from. You could choose to remember playing in cucu’s backyard with rocks, making people out of mud and chasing the chickens that live there. But if you remember that far back, you’ll have to remember that cucu and guka are no more. And you’ll remember your mother crying about it, because they didn’t have to die, but when the presidents on TV say that people have to be killed, somehow neighbours pick up pangas and slash to death people they’ve lived next to for decades. There are rivers of blood in your recollections, and they run red. So, no…not that. You don’t want to remember that.
But when you remember your mother crying, you might remember you crying when your mother died, too, after bringing you to her aunty to live with when your grandma was no more. You remember the first day, playing with the other children of the village. Then you’ll remember the whispers. The ones that told you that you didn’t know who your father was, and neither did they. The whispers that made you different from them. And sometimes, when you’re older, you remember these whispers, and the isolation they created, that heightened when your mother passed away and you were suddenly an orphan.
An orphan! How? How did this happen so fast, and how was your grandmother supposed to take care of not just you, but herself, and your aunties and uncles – your mother’s siblings? The colours of these recollections are clear – clear like your tears, and blacker than your grief. Already, at such a young age, there’s already so little to hang on to.
What else? Being sent to the shopkeeper, and him looking at you sadly. Wondering if today is the day that he will stop giving your family credit. You watch in relief as he takes out the ledger after a moment of uncertainty – the ledger in which he keeps your family’s accounts in – and makes another record under a long list of things you haven’t paid for. You don’t have time for shame. There is only the space of hunger. What else? Getting a water tank from the extended family through table banking, somehow, and depending on rain for running water. You can smell the rain, now, when it comes, and it is an omen of good tidings. It always will be. It doesn’t just mean that the bananas and avocados will have some coaxing to grow – it also means that the daily chores in the house will be lighter, because you don’t have to ferry water from somewhere to somewhere else. It means little spots of joy and abundance. Showers of blessing, quite literally.
What else? The MP coming to install electricity and you in disbelief, excited to be able to read at night. Because it isn’t that you’re bad at school. No, on the contrary, you are in a good high school, and you’re trying to make your family – what’s left of it – proud. And now that you can read at night, it’ll make all the difference when you can study too – and it’ll make it a bit easier on your right eye, which you can’t see out of. You think of your grandmother, a little more bent in the present than she was a few years ago. She’s growing old. She’s tired. Maybe you can tell the lady about that…if she asks.
The lady doesn’t ask.
She’s more focused on how you got to KU. Why you’re doing Finance and Economics. When you’re going to finish. The more hopeful part. Hope…hope is a new emotion for you, but also an old familiar one. One that you knew well but didn’t experience the follow through of often. A new feeling. You think again of your grandmother, who, even when she only sells one avocado for 5 shillings in a day, has the temerity to tell you that where there is hope, there is a way. And she is your cucu. You can’t help but believe her.
You remember the last time a wave of hope almost submerged you, and you tell the lady about it. When you had already finished writing a letter to the school, as you were going to defer a year because there was no money to finish your degree. You recall the depression you were going through, that you were talking to your friends about, because it is unlike you to not talk about what you are going through, but they couldn’t help. Not really. Not past a listening ear. What you needed, above all else, was money. And money wasn’t coming. And it felt like you could not breathe – again – from the stifling pressure of knowing that this life as you knew it could end in a flash. You were drowning under your struggle. And you were convinced that other people could see it, could smell the scent of failure off of you. Failure that wasn’t even your fault. And you sunk lower into this void that you told yourself was how everyone saw you. You asked God questions. It felt like God couldn’t reach you where you were. He was silent.
You can almost taste the exhilaration you felt when the text from HELB came in – the text saying that Barclays was sponsoring needy students, and saying that you should apply for a scholarship. You dared to hope, to dream that this was a possibility for you. You applied immediately. And your life changed immediately. Maybe He wasn’t so silent after all. Maybe He was just finding the right time.
When the short interview is over, you look at your room, on campus, where you live, with cement walls and an assurance of a meal at night. As always, when you think of your home now, you think of your real home, that one day you’ll be able to help them too. Because that’s the plan, and has always been – to do something for others the way something has been done for you. You are, as always, a little in awe of the fact that next year, you’ll have graduated, and maybe you can join and work for a bank like Barclays too.
Maybe you can save someone’s life too.
Maybe those pale memories push you into futures so bright, you can’t see the colours any more.