But the day Irene moved in all that carelessness went tits up. Suddenly the boys in the hood became clean. Washed all the time. I was not left out either. Once in a while I would steal Nimrod’s (my elder brother) cologne and basically shower myself in it until I could taste it in the air. To be fair, it was not really stealing. There is no such thing as theft when it comes to siblings, especially when you are a last born like me. It is merely a premature taking possession of something that is going to be yours anyway in the future. It is just I was too impatient to wait till Nimrod got himself another bottle of Blue. I wanted to be delicious and attractive and I wanted it fast. I no longer walked barefoot. I started wearing sandals and on Saturdays and Sundays, I unleashed my Reebok sneakers.
Look, there are girls you meet and forget that your paths ever crossed. But there are girls you meet and they leave footprints in your head. They come into your life, go through your existence the way a threaded needle goes through a piece of cloth, such that everything you do is stitched with their colours. Irene was that kind of girl for me. It took me approximately three months to even say hello to her, and when I finally got the balls to do it, I wrote her a letter. A long winded missive with promises that I plagiarized from the Westlife album that Deogratious (my other brother) kept on playing in our Sony 3CD-changer.
So I wrote to her. I was in Class 8. She was in Class 6. And in return, I expected two things from her. First, I thought that she would keep it to herself. To keep under a pillow and cherish it like a tender memory. Second, I expected her to reply in kind. I expected her to send her kid brother with an equally long letter confessing her feelings for me too.
I thought wrong.
She did not keep it to herself. Instead, she shared that letter with all her siblings and soon, everyone in Migosi Estate came to know that I had made a move. There was no secret life in Migosi. Everyone was under a magnifying lens. Everything anyone did soon became a matter of public notoriety. They found out how I did it and the contents of the letter. Also, she never responded the way I thought she would. She wrote me a note saying we should meet up sometime.
All this was happening in 2004. I was supposed to be studying for KCPE. If Mother Karua was to ever find out that I was writing love letters at the age of 13 instead of cramming page 305 of Supplementary Science, then my goose would be cooked. And not only mine. Even Irene’s. Mother Karua is the typical African mother who believes that parenting is a societal responsibility. That she could just walk up to Irene, smack her on the ass with her red Umoja slippers, and warn her against engaging in useless romantic imaginings.
The silver lining to all this was that I had secured my position as Irene’s official boyfriend. It was an unwritten engagement, Irene and George, even though we never really dated officially. I remember asking her to be exclusive, but I do not remember her saying Yes or No. Silence was taken to mean consent. A silent agreement because we felt that our connection was too deep to be sealed by things as feeble as spoken words. Thus Irene was out of bounds for everyone else, and being the loyal gentlemen Migosi Site boys were, nobody dared trespass that boundary however much they wanted to.
Letters were sent. The General Post Office was her kid brother who was more than willing to facilitate the flourishing of this affair, so long us his daily fee of five shillings was paid. Westlife music became a permanent visitor in our house. Irene, Westlife and Backstreet Boys took the place Photosynthesis and Pythagoras Theorem used to occupy.
Like all good things, Irene and I never lasted. There is always a better looking boy, with a better scent, with more money and a shiny bike. One of those chaps in the neighbourhood who were so cool, they made you look like a boring old fart. The kind that would take your girl just because he could. And just like that Irene was gone. She went away just as I was going away to Maranda High school in Form One. It was also during this time that my dad went back to the soil, and with his departure, came our cue to depart from Migosi Estate to Riat – a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Kisumu on your way to Kakamega- because Mother Karua couldn’t keep up with the rent in Migosi.
That was 2005.
I wrote her my final goodbye. Dedix: Walking Away by Craig David.
See, writing letters is the way we used to communicate with our lovers. There were no cell phones. No internet. So it was just good old fashioned pen and paper. It would take one more year for me to have access to a phone, because for the longest time, there had only been two mobile phones in our house. My dad had a black Nokia that looked like a telephone booth receiver; so big that it filled my hands and it had a fat antennae that I always believed could be connected to our Sanyo TV to receive KBC signals. When he died, that phone severed itself from my life.
The other phone was Mother Karua’s 3310. The indestructible Nokia 3310. Tough as an old boot. When it rang, it vibrated so loudly that a dead bat in China would hear it, and when it fell, it registered a magnitude 10.2 earthquake. At room temperature, that phone was more of a weapon than a communication device, but when Mother Karua’s temper rose, it was a weapon of mass destruction.
It was Karua’s phone that I would steal and call Irene’s brother when in Form 2. Yes, we were estranged. Yes, we had broken up. But I still held on. Irene’s brother, Derrick, got a phone. So for me to talk to Irene, I had to call Derrick using Karua’s phone. That meant that I had to wait for Karua to fall asleep, steal her phone and then talk to Irene for close to 10 minutes. And back then 10 minute Safaricom calls cost an awful lot. There was that Ongea Tarriff that cost 8 bob per minute. Do the math. For ten minutes, that meant that I spent close to 80 bob every night trying to seduce a girl who has already made up her mind that I wasn’t worth her candle. Then Karua would wake up in the morning cursing us out for consuming her airtime. But since when did a motherly curses (that they never mean anyway) ever stop a man from pursuing a woman?
This lot have it easy. They have their own cell phones. They have a 4G network connecting them too WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and free 200 Safaricom SMSs to use in a single day. They do not know what it means to re-write a whole letter by hand because there is a typo in the second paragraph. They do not know that the use of truncated words in text messages like i jst wntd 2 say gdnt my lv was invented because writing them in full would result in a two paged message, which cost double (ten bob!). They have never lived the life of calling someone with your thumb on the red cancel button; the days when calls were for passing urgent messages only:
‘Make sure umeweka githeri kwa jiko. Hiyo ndio tunakula supper.’
‘Sawa. Niweke gorogoro nga…’
Kids now are so spoilt. Safaricom has spoilt us over the years, and today as they celebrate 15 years since conception, all I can think about is, what a smooth sail courtship is. Hell, these days you can receive nudes before you even before you meet the girl. What effort do men even make? Finding her Twitter handle?
I never got Irene back. Immediately she finished high school, they shipped her to Germany for further studies. We are friends, but only Facebook friends. I hear university is free those sides. I also hear it is cold. Once in a while, I go through her timeline, hoping to find her weeping over the cold of Europe or something like that. But all I see is what a wonderful job she has done with herself and I wonder how. Then I start to wonder if she thinks of me. If she remembers us. If she remembers the first time I told her ‘I love you,’ my voice aquiver with the uncertainty and fear of rejection. I wonder whether she knows that she is the first girl I ever said that to and meant it. If she remembers the days when there was no smoke without her, my fire.
We inbox sometimes. But such instances are very few and far between. It is not the same anymore. That ship sailed a long time ago. The fire died out kitambo sana. All we can do is reminisce about when we had it nice and near-perfect for a while.