I was about eight years old when someone walked up to me and said, “It is because your mother is the class teacher, that is why you are always position one.”
For a second, I stood wherever I was, my tea bottle hanging around my neck and scones in my hand. I was the typical mtoto wa mwalimu student. Not only was I the only one with a pair of shoes, but also accompanied by sparkling white socks, and a sweater that had both arms intact.
Back then, I was super silent. I talked very little, and hanged out either with my friend Anna, or my elder brother. I was always scared of other people. Scared of who they were. Scared that they were a little bit too harsh. The results, I found it quite difficult to make friends.
I like to think that even now, I am still super silent. Forget my online interactions. You will think you are dealing with a bull. I remember meeting Chanchori for the first time and he said, “I expected you to be super loud on ground.” Why? I was the super talkative one in the WhatsApp group for the project we were doing.
It is only that now, I know where to bring my loud mouth, and where to shut up. Where to laugh out loud, and I do not have one of the best laughs, and where to sit pimped up like a trophy wife, flashing the fakest most beautiful smile, with the cleanest, neatest set of teeth.
Why? Because life has taught me the meaning of knowing the grounds that won’t let you sink, and maximizing on them.
More than 15 years later, I still remember how it felt. The cold ice in my heart. The raced beats of my heart. Rooted on the ground, like when a football, those ones made from paper and had had their fair share of rain water, hit you in the face and you needed time to decide whether or not this life was worth living.
I remember rushing to class and asking my desk mate for her papers, going through, just to see whether I had been favored. Nothing. Nothing different. Where our answers were same, we all got ticks, or fails.
For the rest of that term, I kept thinking of those words even when we did a simple test in class. When exam came, I was intentionally lousy. Left blanks, knowingly answered wrongly. I hoped, in the end, that someone else would clinch the first position and all the shame that came with the bad words would end.
Results out. I was position one, again. Claps. Claps. Be like her. Bla bla bla. Gifts. My marks definitely reduced, just not enough to stoop to the levels of others.
My mum sat me down later in the evening and asked why I had failed.
“Because I am tired of position one .”
“Why? It is a good thing, being position one. ”
“No. Not when it attracts bad words from people. ”
I am glad I moved schools, and ended up in one of the best schools I could ever wish for. I was not always position one, of course, because there were other people who were brighter than I was, but I loved the peace, the no need to worry about bad words, and the comfort.
Sometime last week, something unexpected happened, in a bad way. Someone just came out, in public, and said, ‘You are just mad because you were sleeping on the job’.
Man, my heart still races when I remember those words. Ah. Even as I type, my fingers are still shaking, and stinging tears are biting at the edges of my eyes.
I couldn’t even talk to my housemate after that. Darkness everywhere. Damn.
Normally, a bad comment about the quality of my work usually sends me into a frenzy; trying to correct whatever was wrong, putting all the pieces in place, cleaning up all the mess, just so I can build a better portfolio .
But this, no. All the energy that was left within me left. I lost all psyche, and had to literally beg myself before the mirror just so I couldn’t cry.
Why? Because ever since I was tasked with that particular job, I have been laboring about it. For moooooonths. Months. Trying to find numbers. Ah, my heart tires. Only for someone, a stranger to me, to wash it down the drain with a few words.
Bad words. Bad words.
This one, I know, will stick around here, with me, for quite some time. One day, when I finally write a memoir, I know it will be somewhere in between the silence of the lines.
I tell Nyanza all the time that she doesn’t have a clean heart. That we, her friends, just love her the way she is, because we do not have any other option. We laugh about it, and she later sends me extremely tasty food when I tell her quarantine is treating me bad.
Aisha calls me and I immediately I pick up, all I hear is, ”Na kwani siku hizi hutumiangi akili. Msichana engineer lakini akili huna.” All because a WhatsApp group was created and I forgot to add her. We laugh about it, and later, she sends me cuuuute trousers and designer bags from Kampala, calls to ask, ”zimekutosha poa? Nikirudi huko tena ntakuletea zingine. ”
I tell Min Ada, all the time, that I hate the way she looks after she shaved her hair. I used the word ugly. Not once. Not twice. We laugh about it, and she asks me whether I am broke, then sends me money, and calls days later to ask whether I need more.
Once, or twice, I have told Kimathi Makini, “Why are you asking obvious questions? Nlidhani madaktari hukua na akili?” We laugh out loud, and he goes on to say, “Enyewe hiyo swali nimeuliza ni ya ujinga.”
Sharon Gwada has refused to stop bashing me in the book club, because I did not finish Ghana Must Go, yet I am the group leader. Ah, but I love her to bits. As loud and noisy as she is, her writing refreshes my soul, and every time she refers to me as ‘woman’, I want to break out of my skin and hug her.
One of my bosses leaps carefully before he says anything to me. Like the one time he posted a pic and I told him, “Look at how tall that guy is . You look like his wife”. Ah, we laughed about it, a lot, all the time. And he texts to ask whether I miss him, or he is dreaming of something that will never happen.
I scold scholar, often, about her ugly nails. I throw banters of how she cannot survive without stick ons. I tell her her stomach is fat, and is ugly. In retaliation, she says, “hii quarantine ikiisha utakua unakaa vibaya aki. Kwanza na hizo rasta zako.” We laugh about it, and she later asks me to remind her to pay for my nails during my next appointment. She comes to my place, brings ice cream, and says, “you have a beautiful house.”
I tell my person they have ugly toenails, almost on a daily basis. It has almost become an inside joke. Any time we meet, they almost want to flash their toes into my face. In retaliation, they say I have a big nose, super big, and I have never known how to get out of this one.
We laugh about all these, and continue to embrace each other with all our flaws. Why? Because it has taken a lot of time, years even, to build our friendships and trusts to these levels. So that when they say something negative, no matter how plainly they do it, we know it is true, but we laugh about it. Why? We know they have our best interests at heart.
Prior to this, the only other bad words I remember was back in campus. Engineering isn’t a walk in the park. Ah, all of us know that. So you imagine the shock when one of my classmates walked up to me and said, “Yaani na vile digital electronics ni ngumu, ulipataje A? Nashuku it is because you are friends with that lecturer.”
Ah, but that other gender really hates to see us thrive. What is hard in understanding that 1+1=10?
Bad words. Bad words.
Bottom line, know when to throw bad words, and to whom. Find ways of correcting someone, without necessarily washing their efforts down the drain (Unless you are an editor, and there is no niceness in editing). Be content. Learn to clap when others thrive. Accept criticisms, they will always be there.
Thrive, even in the midst of bad words. ❤