It is only 7.27 am but the sun is burning hard against my forehead. Already, I feel my armpits moistening beneath the heavy full-buttoned white blouse I am in. My legs are on the verge of letting go, mostly because I have been standing since 6.20 am.
The crowd around me, close to one hundred men and ten women, makes it harder for me to crouch. Or lean against the back of an old tree. Or give it all up and just leave.
But I cannot. I can’t leave after an hour of this. I can’t leave before I know what lies on the other end of this. I can’t leave this place without nothing tangible. Without nothing I can look back at. Without nothing I can write about.
Slowly, I sneak my way through the crowd to the farthest end of the open field, find a stable large stone, and sit.
On my phone screen, Dostoyevsky, in Notes from Underground, is going on and on about bitterness, and the ways he used anger and cruelty to escape from the fact that he was a bitter person. Which means from time to time, my eyes leave the screen and dart around me, wondering whether any of these people are Dostoyevsky. Whether they too are running away from something. Whether they are using facades, like this crowd, to run away from who they really are. Whether their careless chatter is a form of bitterness they are trying so hard to escape from.
In that state, I wonder how in the whole crowd, I am the only one who has not found anyone I can talk to so as to pass time. Everyone else seems to have a small crowd with which they exchange cheek on cheek hugs, you know, the ones Mothers Union members exchange whenever they meet. Some loosely straighten others’ collars, and I try so hard not to stare.
Or, am I the Dostoyevsky of this crowd?
Suddenly, I laugh out loud at the words on my screen, and I know, just then, that I might not be the Dostoyevsky of this crowd, but I am definitely the clown.
To live longer than forty years is bad manners, is vulgar, immoral. Who does live beyond forty? Answer that, sincerely and honestly I will tell you who do: fools and worthless fellows…
I reread that, and I laugh again, without caring what anyone will think. Just when I regain my composure and get back to reading, a shadow looms across my screen and I look up to find a scared face looking down at me, a shy smile trying to break on its lips.
“You look scared,” I say.
He ignores, pulls up his trousers at the waist, you know, so they do not rip at the middle and force him to tie his coat around the waist for the remaining part of the day. When he sits down, he still doesn’t look at me in the face.
“What do you want?” I ask, wanting to sound rude, so he can walk away and leave me alone.
“I just want to know what is making you laugh?”
“Why? Look around, everyone else is also laughing.”
“Yes, but it is only you who is laughing alone.”
I grunt. Highlight the ‘funny’ paragraph and shove the phone into his face. He doesn’t laugh. Neither does he say anything for quite some time. I pull back my phone and stare.
“This is my first time,” he says.
“Is that why you are so scared?”
“Yes. Maybe. I just know I want this really bad.”
“Because I am tired of being angry at myself. I am tired of bitterness. I am tired of begging. I am tired of hunger and despair. Just this once, I want something of my own.”
“Ooooookay. That is not what I asked, though.”
“What did you ask?”
“Why is this your first time?”
“I have never been invited to any interview ever since I left school three years ago. So, yeah, this is my first.”
“In that case, you deserve to be scared.”
I want to pick my bag and leave because this is one of the mornings I do not want to clutter my mind with sadness. Or people’s baggage. Or hopelessness. But he stretches out his hand, and looks at me for the first time.
“My name is Uwezo.”
In the next minutes, we make small talk. About the weather. How bad suits are. Bad roads. Corruption. Politics. Things that mean the least to me. Things which, as my mum says, are here to stay, even though we do not know how exactly they made their way here.
“Is this your first time?” He asks, finally.
“This is not my first time. And I doubt it will be my last. My star says we do not settle for less. But when we do, it means we have found that which our hearts beat for. I am not sure this is one of them. Maybe, I am just here for the thrill. Or adventure. Or trying new things. But definitely, this is not what my heart beats for.”
“Then why are you here?”
“I do not know. Maybe that explains why I couldn’t sleep last night. Maybe that is why I keep asking myself what I am doing here. Maybe it is the reason my body is shaking, something it never does at interviews.”
“How was your first?” He asks.
“Nothing adventurous. Nothing to write home about. It is one of the firsts I do not take pride in. ”
”Kwani how many firsts do you have?”
“Do you have any that left a mark on your heart?”
“Yes. My first time at a Catholic Church. That tray with holy water at the entrance. You know? The one in which you dip your hand before you do the sign of the cross? It felt strange. Me going to another church. Me dipping my hand. Me doing the sign of the cross. It felt like I was cheating on my mother’s church. And it left a bad taste in my mouth for months.
Or the first time I was on night duty. I kept clutching at my stomach because it couldn’t stop rumbling. My heart beat faster than it has ever done before. It felt wrong. Me trying to stay awake when I should be sleeping. Me texting people as late as 1 am just so I stay awake. Me trying to tell myself it will only last a short while, even when the huge wall clock says it is only 1.07 am.
Or the first time I lay in hospital. When my friends said I was unconscious for close to seven hours. It was terrifying. The doctor saying I could have died. Me hearing my mother’s wails in my head. Me looking at the blank stares on my friend, Masila’s face when I told him I couldn’t feel my legs. Masila who was the class hype master. Who made everyone laugh. Who was warm, and kind, and funny, and brilliant. Who was my friend before anyone else. ”
I want to go on about my first times, but I read terror on his face and stop.
“Do you have a boyfriend?” He asks.
I shrink into myself, throw a blank stare at him, then smile shyly. He gets it. I think so. And I silently wish he doesn’t ask more about him.
Why? Because it is so hard describing a happy person. It is even harder when you know their happiness is independent of you. It is hard describing a person who makes love look so simple. Why? Because it is easy to love a happy person, but hard to describe them.
“No, He is not my first. But every night before I sleep, I pray that he is my last. ”
“Because he is the first happy person I have ever loved.”
“Does he know you are here?”
“Here at this interview or here talking about him to another man?”
I laugh. We both laugh, as we make our way towards the interview room.”
I do not make it to the other end of this. I do not make it to the interview room even.
Why? Because I do not make the height they are looking for. I am a mere 5’3. I am shoooooooort!
He makes as if to pity me, but I smile at him as I make my way back.
Why? Because I know why my body was shaking. I know why I couldn’t sleep at night. Most importantly, I get out of here with a story.