This post is inspired by a conversation I shared with Jaber and her friends after dinner last week. We were sitting on the outside benches of J’s, wasting moonlight with conversation. A devilish chill awakened a colony of goosebumps on my skin just as one of Jaber’s friends asked; “What are you afraid of?” She said she gets super anxious whenever she sees irregular patterns or clusters of small holes or bumps. Trypophobia. Google it, you will see why. If it won’t make you anxious, it will make you throw up. Jaber is scared of locusts – which does not make sense for someone who likes snakes and other reptiles. Another lady said she cannot stand lifesize puppets and mascots. The only other jamaa at the table said he is not scared of anything. Which I think is a lie. We are all scared of something. But he insisted, “I honestly cannot think of anything that scares me,” in that cavalier way that is almost believable.
“And what about you, Magunga, what do you fear?”
But these fears can be explained – I get why I am petrified of them. The worst kind of fear is the kind you do not even understand. They just exist in you. To torment you for no other reason than reason itself.
Given my reputation as a goon, I am kind of embarrassed about my greatest fear. I am scared of one of the silliest thing a man can ever be scared of.
For you to understand this properly, I need to give you a geography of the house I grew up in. It was a three bedroomed house, the master sandwiched in between two others. The left one whose window stole light from the back compound was for the girls. The other one on the right was for the dudes with a window facing the front lawn and the gate. It sat on a modest compound, when you look at it now as an adult, but via the concave lenses of a kid’s eye, it measured about double infinity meters squared. To get to the bedrooms from the living room, there was a ka-small hallway that for some reason seldom had lights. On the far right of this hallway is where the loo and bathrooms are. Meaning the windows to the bathroom and toilet faced outwards towards the gate. Some of my fondest childhood memories linger about this house, but so do the worst recollections. We almost never had lights in the bathroom. I do not know why. Perhaps it is because my mother never saw the need to light up the bathroom and toilet since the bulb from the hallway was bright enough to light the little rooms. Which kinda makes sense because it is not like you need light to see your bum when wiping it. You do not get to see your asshole when wiping it even with the lights on anyway. And when showering, everyone knows where their pits are. Water and soap do not need lights to clean.
Or perhaps nobody else needed the lights for the same reasons I did.
I was scared of the dark. I still am, but it does not cripple me as much as it did when I was younger. There is nothing unusual about a kid who is scared of the dark, but my fear of darkness was on crack. If, say, I was in the bedroom alone and then a blackout happened, I would literally sprint to the nearest room with a human being. My siblings did not get it, this irrational trepidation of the absence of light, and I also could not understand how they remained calm and collected in total blackness.
And so I showered with Deo for the longest time. Kids in my hood showered at night because it was pointless to shower any time before 7pm. You’d just step outside and find people playing track or bano and there was no way you were going to ati stay away from joining in the fun because you were clean. Anyway, when you are showering with your elder brother, you do not get to waste time playing with water. You keep up with his speed, otherwise he would leave you behind in the bathroom where all kinds of spirits floating about, unable to join their peers in the underworld, would conspire to eat your soul. But then Deo grew up fast, the way elder brothers tend to; faster than I could lose my phobia for darkness. Though, given the fact that I never really grew out of that fear, he couldn’t possibly grow up slowly enough.
This meant that all of a sudden Deo and I could not shower together. I was left to my own devices. But I also had demands. If anyone ever wanted me to shower, that person had to consent to two things; first, I had to bathe with the bathroom door open. I did not give a single flying fuck whether or not someone would see my mhoigos (there wasn’t much to see anyway) and second, there had to be someone standing in the hallway where I could see them for the duration of my shower. Most of the time, this person was Deo even though he did not really care whether I had bathed or not. It did not matter that with the door open, the bathroom was sufficiently lit. There was no bulb in the bathroom and that was all my demons needed to thrive.
When you have an paralysing trepidation for anything in a household like mine, it puts you at some sort of disadvantage when it comes to sibling politics and, in the larger scheme of things, the family power dynamics. In other words, you have to be a good child. Being a good child here means that you do not cross Deo (or any of the other siblings when they are around from boarding school). When they send you, you go. Without question. When they need you to lie to Mother Karua about what happened to her Nollywood video cassettes, you better be game. When the old man is around and the siblings want money for chips za jioni, you better go and ask dad for the loot. He could never say no to his last born son anyway. Failure to comply to these meant that they would refuse to stand guard when I needed to shower. Or if they decided to stand guard, well, they may as well pull some crazy shit on you.
For instance, if it was Sweeney guarding me, she would wait until I have started to shower, with a face blinded with foam, then she would walk away. I rinse the soap from my eyes, open them, and the little bitch is gone (yet my sister wonders where my trust issues come from). By the way, that was the end of my shower. Whatever was left unwashed would have to remain that way. Shauri yao. I was done, baby, DONE!
Anyone watched Tausi – the Kenyan family drama (and horror TV show) from back in the day? I assume people who read this blog lived through Tausi. The one about a young girl living with an abusive step mother who sijui killed her mother who would sometimes appear as a ghost haunting the stepmother? If you do, then you remember Kalumanzira. I do not exactly remember what Kalumanzira was, other than the fact that I equated it to death. Perhaps it was something else in the show, but who cares? For me the moment you said ati Kalumanzira is coming, my faculties switched into overdrive.
I guess it was funny for Deo to use Kalumanzira against me when he thought I deserved it. So when I had a sin to pay for (or at times even for his entertainment) he would chill until I am in the thick of showering and then point to the back and shout “Ero Kalumanzira biro!!!” and then pretend to be running away too.
I would not even bother to confirm. Why would I want to look behind me? And then what? If it was indeed true that Kalumanzira was sniffing around my ass, the last thing I needed was to see it. I am not one of those white people in movies who, when they hear a noise coming from an abandoned basement, they go to look. Curiosity does not only kill cats. Cats at least have nine lives. Me I was not about to try and find out how many I have. So at the mention of Kalumanzira’s imminent arrival, I was gone. Knocking the bucket of water over, slipping on the water on the hallway, getting up, fleeing away with a string of pee leading my path, and only stopping when I got to the sitting room – shaken, wet, naked, wrecked nerves, with a heart still beating at 150b/s. Only to find Deo dying from fits of laughter.
If you think showering was the hardest part for me, then you have not been paying attention. The hardest part was falling asleep. And it is not ati because I was scared of what was waiting for me on the other side. No. Actually, I longed for it. I wished I could fall asleep faster. Because when Nimrod and Deo got to the bedroom, they switched off the lights, thereby unleashing all sorts of monsters. Beasts who peeled themselves off the walls. Monsters who never moved, really. They just stood still, gawking at me with eyes I couldn’t even see.
I do not know if it was just me, but normal things turn into scarecrows with the lights off. Kweli ama rongo? With the lights on, it is just a bike, that is just a rain coat, those are simply books, a door is simply a plank or wood, a mosquito net is just that and shoes are just shoes. But as soon as the lights go off and in that moment when your eyes are trying to adjust to the absence of clarity, shoes turn into vicious goblins, a shirt looks like a three eyed ogre, a bike morphs into a creature that is half-vampire half-Aden Duale and the bedroom door shape-shifts into a beast from the Book of Revelations. And then the curtains, my god the curtains, they just flap quietly in a rhythm that is too constant to be just the wind. There has to be something behind them, blowing, breathing, waiting. And I would also wait with my heart stuck in my throat, stewing in the eerie silence – the kind of silence that is too quiet to be comfortable, the kind that comes just before the whole world goes to shit.
I’d pretty much scare myself to sleep, then wake up thankful for daybreak.
What doesn’t kill you, fucks you up. My fear of darkness has stayed with me till now. It is not as bad as it used to be. Back then, the moment the night fell you could not send me to the shops alone. People tried – my mother, the siblings, househelps, the relatives from ocha who we did not know so we called uncle – but they stood a better chance finding who killed Robert Ouko. Even today, I do not make it habit to go out at night. Not where there are few or no people. Yes, after growing up, I am scared of the dark for other, more real reasons. Not of what is in it, but who. Those are other kinds of monsters and their threat is even more menacing. But me growing up does not mean that when I lie in bed, searching for sleep in the blackness of night, the curtains do not appear to flap a little bit too rhythmically to be natural.
I do not know whether I will ever get over this phobia. Deo used to tell me, “It’s OK. There is nothing to be afraid of,” but it never helped. I thought I would outgrow it – but if after two and a half decades it has never gone away, so what are the chances that it will? Last week, at the dinner table, when I was asked to try think of why I am afraid of the dark, I really tried to think of a reason. I couldn’t. I guess the irrationality of this fear is what makes it a phobia.
Until that night at J’s I had not thought of looking it up. Kumbe it is actually a thing. In fact it is such a big thing they could not even settle on just one name for it . Achluophobia, Nyctophobia, Scotophobia, or Lygophobia Come to think of it, how many other things have multiple names? God, money, chudex and now, apparently, the fear of darkness. So please, do not patronize me for it. Do not tell me, “Yaye Magunga, you need to germinate. En ang’o miluor aluora gotieno ka nyaroya? This one of yours is long when stretched.” Do not tell me that I am wasting electricity when you notice that I do not switch off lights when I leave a room.
What about you? What are you scared of? There only wrong answer here would be nothing. That is a lie. Sema tu ukweli. There has to be something. Think about it, and when you are done, go to http://keeptheconnectionsgoing.safaricom.co.ke/ and share your stories on what freaks the slimy shits out of you. Safaricom wants to hear it. I want to hear it too. It is really just about sharing the things that connect us, and fear, is one of them.
Me I have told you already. I am scared of the dark. Not the poetic darkness of sijui being emotionally lost or in a state of despair. No. I mean the actual pitch blackness that follows after the sun had slid off the sky like a drop of sweat from a cheek. Or the kind that comes when a monkey is having fun at the Kenya Power substation. The darkness that comes with the rain. That one.
What are you so scared of?
Let’s hear it.