I need a distraction. My mind needs a distraction. I let it wander to Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, and for a moment, I can almost see the words on my most recent dog-eared page leap off the page. They rise and dance before my vision like a camera roll. I feel a warmth rising up my chest, and the breaths I draw seem to do nothing except grow the lump lodged in my throat. I take to reciting the words like a litany of prayer; I felt myself shrinking to a dot against all those red and white rugs and that pine-panelling. I felt like a hole in the ground.
I am aware of the stares I’m drawing because all of a sudden, I’ve stopped pulling. My hands fall limply by my sides as I step back, oblivious to the man grunting underfoot from the weight of supporting the entire structural beam and the men on it. I want to shout and say that I do not care if they all tumble down to their deaths, to stomp off and flip them the bird, to say I give no rat’s ass. But God knows how much my survival is dependent on this.
I look to my boss as he smokes away, deciding that even I can afford a break. As I slink away, I pinch and pull my mask by its wire, securing it in place, and for the first time, I am grateful for the illusion of privacy it provides. I let my tears roll down my cheeks, and the soft folds of my mask, like the thumb of a lover, soak them up to no end.
How does one know when they are losing control? When it’s time to cede? When things are leaning a little on the heavy side for an individual and a little help is what’s needed to keep pushing?
I fetch my phone from the depths of my coat as soon as I stumble into the washroom cubicle. No, I am not in need of the loo. I am in need of its space. Of quiet company that won’t laugh or tell on me when my back is turned and I’m back to the masses. I am in need of the silence that these thick walls provide, a silence that promises to swallow up my sobs and sniffles, and still have it in them to take when I choose to take one of the heaviest dumps. The silence that knows what it means to just be, at such a time.
I fell off the grid as soon as I moved to my little place. The kind of I am offline- swapped lines kind of falling of the grid. My primary sim is with a friend so the only way to reach me if not via social media is if I choose to reach you first. Weeks after moving, I called my sister to inform her of the shift, to which she responded with concern wanting to know if I have food to eat, as if I could advertently starve myself to death. And when my throat became laced with the lowness and thickness of cold, she blew up my phone wanting to know where I stayed, urging me to send directions so she could send extra blankets.
Stop drinking cold water whilst in a cold place; switch to hot water. Don’t you know drinking hot water post my surgery is what really aided my healing?
I roll my eyes. When has a cold ever compared to a sutured wound?
I call my mother as soon as I’m off the phone with my sister.
“Mom, nlikutumia message. Ulipata?” She greets.
It’s too late to check my messages now. I read my messages as soon the chime comes in, and if I miss that, then it shall have to wait till whenever my phone prompts me to read them; to unload my unread folder.
“No, Mom. Sidhani ilifika.” A small lie.
“Unaendelea aje? Wewe nisipokutafuta utanisahau.”
I have always been their ‘strange child’, their quiet child away from home. My father keeps asking about me, convinced that I lost my phone amidst all the bustle in the city under the sun.
Mwambie anunue mlika mwizi angalau ya elfu moja ili tuwe in communication. You know, it’s not good for a child to live alone like that. And I laugh, because it’s only him who can show concern and patronise like that. I laugh, because sometimes things can never be as simple as the way we’d want them to be. I laugh, because the fluidity of human nature can be so unpredictable, so drastic, that it’s hard to keep up. I laugh, because life can wear you out long before you start marking off milestones; a thing not for the faint-hearted.
My neighbour’s child is light-complexioned; ripe like the peels of the cloyingly sweet- sweet banana. A week after my arrival, I saw a woman about my age, doubled over, busy hand-washing clothes in the usual Kenyan fashion. Full in the swing of washing, she sang a Kikuyu tune like she was happy, content even, in the smallness of her world. She seemed to want for nothing. It beat me, how one could manage to worry, and have space left for happiness. A unit of 5, they stay in a small one-roomed unit.
The man staying in the house underneath me is roused at 5.30 a.m. by his want for a cigarette. I know because by then I’m usually awake, debating on whether I should eat last night’s leftovers for breakfast before work, or to skip it altogether. I hear him clearing his throat, and i imagine how he must feel, with his throat raw and gritty like sandpaper, thick nicotine phlegm pooling and making its way up his throat column before he spits it out. Moments after, he lights up his cigarette and takes a long drag, inhaling a lungful. A peek outside and I see the flame of the lit end of his cigarette, flickering on and off in the grey of dawn like a dazed firefly. Is it worth it?
My door stays shut nearly all the times I’m inside. And some, if not all, are convinced I’m never around at all. Always an “Oh!” moment whenever I’m seen venturing out. The person I’m “talking” to sends messages on the daily, encouragement messages, proding questions, and it’s a pity, because I keep wondering if she thinks we’ll get far like this; me on this end of the world, her on the other, and nothing but distance and will between us. I have no will. I seem to have grown apathetic; drowning in a crippling and overwhelming sense of nihilism.
Her mental health checklist message, that seems to have been forwarded many times wants to know If: I am eating regular meals Getting enough sleep I’m showering Moving my body today Connected with someone/people I love Spent time outside in fresh air Have been comparing my life to other people’s highlight reel
When I have spent enough time to master the names of some of the people around, the extent which my mama mboga hands me extra fruit to go with my githeri or mboco order, and fellow employees start sending invitations for dinner at their homes, I decide it is safe enough to get back. The heaviness is slowly lifting and the anxiety is ebbing away. I send overdue responses to messages that warrant it and hope they understand that just like life, people and communication are inconsistent like that.
Outside the washrooms, a message pops up, I slide down the notification bar and it reads: How does it feel being God’s favourite? And I smile even with the tears in my vision, because it’s comforting knowing that someone shoulders this very same heaviness, that someone faces the same demons, walks this very same path. A peace I’ve never known before washes over me.
About the writer:
A marketer by passion, and horticulturist by trade, Giuliana Nasimiyu sometimes moonlights as a writer. She lugs the weight of the world in form of non-fictional stories, which she pens either here; online, or offline, in her numerous journals; she hopes that someday, they shall see the light. Reach her via email firstname.lastname@example.org