Cleft

The prime foolhardy of youth is to go against the grain. The rush and the thrill! And you’ll feel it every time you come across a breakthrough story of another rebel. This would reassure your course, reinforce your belief on the goodness of your pursuit and you’ll be really rejuvenated.

Still, whenever you decide to have your own way, and go against the multitude, some little things seem to come your way despite the odds. These little things fuel the tinniest of courage in you, hope or faith, maybe. They help make the drift bearable but not too enjoyable. Just a tiny bit enough to make you calculate your steps. So you’d go through them again and again; a thousand do overs just to make sure you get it right. Because if things went bad, you’re bound to fail, and you need a fighting chance. You need to prove yourself, and the validity of your dreams. You need things to work.

But not all of them do.

Like bewitched, they take a far worse turn than you’d earlier thought.

Perhaps it starts with the awakening that growing up isn’t as rosy as it is often shown in the movies: the gradual undeterred fusion is all a bluff like a gaudy commercial about a lousy product. You’d find out that the worries and the stresses are entirely different on the ‘ageing’ side. You’ll remember that when you were a kid your biggest worry was like if you get a bike for your birthday or if you get to eat cookies for breakfast. And curse that being an adult is totally overrated.

‘So Biko, got things you want to lay off?’ she said.

‘Um. Like what exactly?’

‘Do you like growing up?’

‘Can’t tell. It just is.’

She leaned forward for the ash tray and tapped the chuff off her cigar. She was in some blue faded denim top and black khaki pants, red canvas and no socks. Not a word had passed between us for almost half an hour. Just but a brief hello. Apart from the lazily dangling grey wisps of smoke, everything else was still. She only moved either to tapp chuff or to pick another rod from a pack next to the ashtray. Nervous was the least way to put the state of my mental. I glanced over my phone and pretended not to have noticed the delicate fingers and the meticulous way she handled the cigar. With nothing to do I found myself counting the time on how long she’ll take to finish this other one. She avoided my eyes but I knew she was alert

Crossing her legs over she brought the cigar down and rested her right on the left arm that was overlapping across her right thigh. This way her face was close enough I could see the wrinkles under her eyelids. No make up. Then she tilted her head up at me. Bright eyes. I was glued, my intention was to see something in them but they revealed nothing. Just clear and steady. Then they narrowed, veering off like she was concentrating to see past us.

She takes a long puff, blows the smoke in a whiff then hurrys back to speak like she didn’t want to forget a thing.

‘I mean seriously don’t be fooled by the hot shoes and the great sex, no parents anywhere telling you what to do, adulthood is responsibility. Responsibility? It does suck. Really really sucks.’

Another puff, and a whiff.

‘Adults have to be places, and do things and earn a living, and pay the rent, and if you are training to be a surgeon holding a human heart in your hands, hallo… talk about responsibility.’

I just sat. Did nothing. Didn’t even tap my phone to let it stay awake.

‘So you a surgeon?’

‘No.’

She is about 5 feet tall, her boobs are perfect, her hair down to her shoulders. Dark, slim and trimmed, with deep eyes. If I were her I would walk out naked all the time: wouldn’t have a job, wouldn’t have skills, wouldn’t even learn how to read. I’d just be naked. It was all over her modeling pictures but she claimed it was make-up retouching. I hated her for thinking that. And double for believing it.

‘Who was?’

‘My grandfather.’ She dropped the cigarette butt and stepped on it. ‘He was in cardio.’

I swallow my awe.

Her name is Linnet, she prefers Lin, everybody calls her so. Her grandfather had become a cardiologist at a time when there was only eighteen of them in the country. When he was alive, and there was time, they would go on and on about his medical experiences.

‘How did he take it?’

‘Almost like playing God.’ She reaches for the pack, takes a cigar and places it on her lips. ‘Yet even that wasn’t as bad as seeing a patient die in his hands.’ She signals for a light.

‘Not enough to hate his job?’

‘You just have to live with what comes your way, he’d said.’

‘Is that what reminds you to be responsible?’

‘It should. But it doesn’t.’

She straightens up, slowly blowing off a long tail of smoke. In a strange way I admired the act, but not the cigar.

‘But why do you relate responsibility with surgery?’

‘Because that’s where it started.’

‘The smoking?’

‘No. Everything.’

‘Well…’

‘Everything that’s now me.’

Her grandfather, was an ambitious man. He was the first father she knew, her father passing early. So fondly, Old Pop. It was no secret that he wanted her to be a doctor, a surgeon. His only daughter Judy (she called her so as well), was a doctor but this wasn’t enough for him. The doctor thing ran in the family. She had been told that her Old Pop’s dad was a doctor, and so was his father and many fathers and mothers further back into their lineage. They believed medicine was their trade. So when Old Pop qualified to study surgery, a new mantle was raised. He had so desired to raise his kids in this new dimention but none of them had come close except Linnet’s mother. His other two sons had other medical ambitions; one a pharmacist and the other a dentist.

But Lin had paved her own path to study film and theatre. She wanted her own life: a chance to make her own decisions. Greatest of all, she wanted to do something she loved simply by the fact that she loved it, without having to prove it to anyone. She had shown a tendency of finding her own way from an early age. She could use anything to convince her siblings or make them do something. Mostly it involved exchanging toys, choosing a game, or even the choice of clothes to wear. Many believed it was her quick grasp of speech, others assumed perhaps she just loved the thrill of ‘making people do things’. Looking back, these were the start of her little things. Deeply she had come to view life as a big cinema and the encounters were like little scenes, having watched the plays. She so desired to live every moment the way she wanted.

So it was no big surprise, her bonding with Uncle Tom who owned a film studio. The studio was a Nikon Camera often hung from an old strap around his neck plus blinds and reflectors in his leather briefcase. Another ambitious man. She had watched him take photos of folks in the neighborhood several times. For some reason she loved the camera, more especially when she was told similar ones were used to capture the movies and pictures in the cinema, only bigger and better.

You could argue that it was the thrill of being close to the camera that got her glued. Perhaps it was her uncle’s charisma. Perhaps it was out of curiosity. Nobody thought that she wanted to be there next to him to watch: the stage get prepared with the props, and the positioning, pauses, then click click after he would have got the angle right. Neither did they know that silently she imagined being photographed like the beautiful ladies with flashy lipsticks in the covers of the fashion magazines. She’d loved the black ones more. They had this ‘attitude’ she said. Like some dark mystery she believed to have identified with. She had learnt to dress her dolls like them and even practised their pauses in front of the mirror. Nobody but uncle Tom.

Dusk was just settling in. The evening breeze subtly replacing the afternoon heat. It was getting cooler and the gazebo was getting back to its vibe.

Just by looking at her it was hard to grasp that such a beauty could be in a dilemma. A career dilemma, the very least. Her life looked perfect. She kept it that way. ‘… Unajua ni poa kuvaa tu vizuri, ndio usionyeshe watu shida zako, ‘ she’d said. The sickness of getting by.

‘So how did you handle it all?’ I manage to ask after a long silence. Midway through I think against it…

‘To answer I’ll tell you how it handled me.’ She takes a puff and I can tell she isn’t done. ‘There was no way to handle it. The fact that I was doing what they didn’t like was always in front me all the time.’

So she narrates how the resentment from her family started in rather small doses, weeks after she joined Moi University to study Film and Theatre. Like they would ask about her progress in school, how how her semester was… With their malice unknown to her, she would labour to give enthusiastic explanations on how thrilling and sensational the lectures were. She would only realise later that they had no concern for any of it. Worse is that she would know this in a Whatsapp group during some bitchy chats with her cousins. This particular one, who was in dentistry, jeered at what a disgrace she was going to waste her brains in film. That it was stupid of her to waste time in a mediocre carreer. Her cousin’s words.

‘It was the biggest mockery and a heartless betrayal. What did I have a family for? Tell me.’

That’s when she started keeping to herself and limiting her words to fine, and good, and awesome was the closest she could get about a very interesting thing. She had read somewhere that most dreamers were often lonely if not aloof and it had given her a more reason to withdraw. She appreciated any kind gestures but was very skeptical about drawing people in too close.

Then things took quite a drastic turn. No, catastrophic is the deserving word. Something she had not anticipated in any of her crazy daydreams.

To be continued. . .

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