There is a loud pounding on my door, at 3 p.m. on a Saturday. I am trying, hard, to ignore because I know whoever it is cannot be my visitor. And if they are mine, why do they have my number if they cannot text first before showing up?
I am living in the campus hostels, which means I am sharing the room with three other people I didn’t choose. Three other people I ‘see’ every day. Three other people I am ‘forced’ to have conversation with every now and then, because it is the humane thing to do. Three other people who are either too loud for my liking, or intrusive, or just irritate me by their mere existence.
When the banging insists, I fish my phone from below the pillow, switch it to silent mode, then text my dad:
This is it. I think I have persevered enough. I do not think I can live in the hostels anymore.
My dad, in his usual nature, feigns surprise even though this is not the first time I am telling him I want to move out.
Why do you want to move out? Hostels are convenient. His message reads
I repeat my long grunts of bedbug infestations. How I am no longer sleeping at night, because these little things are always thirsty for my blood. As a result, I am skipping classes during the day because of the sleep in my eyes.
Do you know what that means, Dad? Of course, you do. And I know you are the last person who likes to be associated with failure.
For the past one month, ever since bedbugs showed up, I have been staying out in the field throughout the night. Sometimes, a guy I like shows up, and we spend the night talking about life. Laughing at the courses our lives are taking. Astonished at how, sometimes, our own demons catch up with us sooner than we expected. That sometimes, in the deep of the night, sleep evades you because you are no longer capable of quieting the voices in your head.
Most of these nights, however, I sit alone along the dark stairs in my blue booty shorts and baggy white t-shirt, looking for meaning in life. Wondering why the voices in my head are too loud, even at such a tender age. Wondering why there is always darkness whenever I look myself in the mirror. Asking myself where I took the wrong turn, even though I cannot remember ever coming at crossroads.
Most of these nights, I sit alone looking for pieces of me in the star-lit sky. Looking for assurance that beneath the darkness, there is a sun waiting for the right time to come out.
So when I tell my dad that I have not been sleeping, it is true; only that I have masked the reason. I want so desperately a space of my own. I want so desperately to be alone with my voices. I want, so bad, to cry when I am alone, without the banging that is still wreaking havoc on my door.
When I finally go for the very first house hunting venture in my life, I am flagged by two of my closest friends at that time. It is only when one of them asks ‘What is your budget?” that I realise I have no money; at least not the kind that is enough to pay rent. Still, I come up with a figure and off we go.
I do not remember how many houses we went to that day. I do not even remember how different one was from the other; they all looked same to me. I was only in search of space; the rest would fall into place later.
I moved into my first ‘house’ weeks later. It was a single room with antique ceiling boards and the tiniest of doors I have ever come across. It had two spaces that represented windows, but now secured by strong mesh because well, Mombasa weather. That night, with my mattress and suitcase of clothes, I cried myself to sleep.
I cried for the space I had so much longed for. Cried for the peace of mind that I could already feel engulfing me. I cried for the friends who had helped me move, all the while asking, ‘are you sure you will manage, alone?’ I cried for the voices in my head, threatening to tear me away from my skin. I cried for my dad, who on learning I had moved out, made it clear that I was on my own.
That night, I cried for the lump in my chest that remained unmoved, at a time when I should have been worrying about my survival. Why? Because this means I was trying to run away from something bigger than my physical problems. That I was fighting a monster that I couldn’t even explain to my dad, or my friends.
For the first one week in my house, I do not switch on the lights at all. I remain curled in my mattress, my phone off, and allow the physical darkness to have a conversation with my internal darkness. I pour my heart into the darkness, and sit aside to witness the chaos. I tell it, the physical darkness, that I do not know what is happening. I do not know where I am coming from, neither do I know where I am going. I only know what my hear and soul wants; emptiness and space from humans.
Slowly, the physical darkness starts to consume the internal darkness and before I know it, the house is filled with light, so I gather just enough strength to open my suitcase, get out two pieces of matching lesos, and drape them over my windows.
To date, I struggle with memories of my first house, because it is those memories I have willed myself to forget. Because it was the darkest period of my life, so far. Because apart from the friends who helped me move, no one else knew where I lived. It was my dark place; the place I learnt how to talk to myself. How to quieten the voices in my head. How to heal the soles of my feet. How to stitch back the broken pieces of my existence. How to take back pieces of me, lying unwanted in places I no longer existed.
And even when I moved out because my physical body was now at constant risks, I always like to say that sometimes, you are the only one who understands your demons. You are the only one who can dance to the rhythm of your heartbeat. You are the only one who can paint yourself in the way you love most. You are the only one who can run away from yourself, because you get tired and run back to yourself.
You are the only one who knows the voices in your head, and how to quieten them. And that sometimes, you need to move out of your head, before you can move out of your house.