The other day I was attempting to clean out my writing material (bunch of papers and booklets I have to reluctantly discard because my cat thinks they can be an occasional litterbox) and I came across something interesting. Well, interesting is a gross over exaggeration. I found my high school diaries.
As the tough, zero bullshit, sarcastic woman I have grown to become, I was a bit embarrassed at the naiveté I displayed back in high school. The idealistic beliefs unmarred by the cruelty of reality and shrouded by the smothering blanket of school rules and focus on KCSE. I was an idiot.
I kept laughing at some of the things I wrote. For instance,
I’m not sure he’s a bad person. But he promised he would write and never has. I want to send a letter but won’t that be, like, pathetic? And people say that I should act coy. Don’t be too obvious or desperate.
That was a painful entry in March 2007. I was in Form 1, already had a crush and was going through my first snub. You know- that guy who says he’ll call but never does. Only I think nowadays they manifest more as blue ticks. The fellows who read your WhatsApp message but you never ever see the reassuring, “typing…” at the header of your screen.
In Form 2, I went through a bit of an identity crisis. I was in the drama club- strictly as a dancer because I rejected acting the way lactose intolerant digestive systems reject dairy. I wanted to be everything. A lawyer. A pro dancer. A writer. A film director. I used to spend so much time in the library and came across bios of Steven Spielberg in the World Book encyclopedias and it became my life’s mission to pursue a career in film making. I had also recently shorn my head and puberty had started establishing itself in the form of broad calves and even broader hips. The responses when I visited family was always shock. Yes, it’s always amazing to see someone grow. I mean, the norm is some kind of Curious Case of Benjamin Button life where we reverse grow. Or like The Simpsons where we never grow at all.
In Form 2 I started getting cynical after I started getting fat. And it reflected in my journals. I spent most of my waking days asleep or with my nose buried in a novel. In fact the most amazing thing I remember about 2008, apart from getting kicked out of drama club by the cantankerous drama choreographer, was that I read Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows in a day, with a stiff neck. And it was visiting day. I had to finish and give the book back to the owner because it was supposed to go back home that day. I skipped Sunday service to finish that book. Ah, good times.
As I continued perusing my journal, I came across a bunch of questions that were meant for me in ten years. They were titled, “Hey, Future Me…” It’s been 9 years so I went ahead and looked at the questions. I nodded, intrigued by my thought process. Man I was kinda stupid. And as is always the case with someone who writes- I envisioned myself in a situation where I was having an interview with my 15 year old self.
Please note: This is where the interview begins.
I was in a bare room, the whitewashed walls were stark, pure and near blinding as they reflected the humming fluorescent lights embedded in the plywood ceiling. There was nothing else in the room. Except me and the humming white room. I was seated on a white chair, with a backrest that was unforgiving. As though reminding me that I was there temporarily. My eyes were beginning to hurt from all the light. I rubbed my palms against them and decided to keep them shut until whatever was intended would unfold.
Eventually, a mechanical noise joined the humming. It was a symphony of clunks, bangs and then a curse. I shot up, my eyes wide and attentive. Walking towards me, dressed in a brown skirt, brown shoes, brown socks, white shirt and a brown tie was- me in my high school uniform. Except I was younger, fatter, with no grace and no hair. I raised my manicured hand to my short locks and ran my fingers through them reassuringly. A seat raised from the white floor. It looked a lot more comfortable than mine. Younger Me plopped herself on it and waited as a table raised too, along with a notebook and pen. Younger Me studied me curiously. Her big brown eyes started with my hair, my face, down to my starched white shirt, my short white skirt and my white ballet pumps. The sheen from my nude panty hose fascinated her then she went back to my hair.
“Kwani it never grows out?”
I burst out laughing. My attitude problem started young too. She pouted and slouched into her chair even further.
“It does,” I smiled comfortingly, “but I keep trimming it.”
She nodded and seemed to accept that for an answer. We remained in silence for a while, listening to the incessant hum, until she cleared her throat and started.
“You are here for an interview. Well, more of a Q&A. I want to know how we turn out.”
I smiled, “Alright.”
She nodded, steeling herself. She was adorable, if I do say so myself.
“Ok, first question…”
“Didn’t you already ask one question?” I couldn’t help it.
“Yeah but the Q&A hadn’t started yet.” She couldn’t either. We smiled at the mutual pedantry.
“Ok, first question in the “official” Q&A,” she dropped her air quotes and took her notebook and pen in hand, “Did you do the right course in university?”
She goggled her eyes at me.
“What? We listened to the wrong people, ok. Let me put it to you this way- don’t dismiss your gut or that annoying voice in the back of your head that sounds like you when you drink warm vodka and cough syrup.”
She wanted to laugh but she looked worried.
“Look, doing the wrong course is not the end of the world. Half the people in your life will tell you that too. Hell, I’ll even tell you now. You’ll end up doing Computer Studies because right now you’re taking Business Education and Home Science when you should have taken Agriculture and French. But you’ll fail Home Science and realize you hated everything about Business and will be left with no other choice but Computer Studies. You’ll have a lot of fun but high school actually ends. Regardless of what Bowling for Soup say.”
She nodded and wrote something down.
“Do you lose the weight?” she asked studying me. I stood and let her see for herself. I was still chunky. But my outfit was more flattering than the brown bags she had on.
I sat back down and answered, “No, I don’t really. Frankly, I’m a bit lazy and really like things with meat, cheese and come from deep fryers. I walk a lot though so maybe that’s why I don’t become the size of a filled 90 kg sack of potatoes.”
She nodded and wrote again, chubby fingers flying across the page. The furious scribbling made me curious.
“Ok,” she sighed as she looked up, “do you still overthink?”
“Yeap, I have it down to a science. I think of how every possible scenario can go wrong and how every possible way to fix the problem scenario can go wrong too.”
She shook her head, unsurprised.
“What about drugs and alcohol?”
“What about them?
“Do you partake?”
“A lot, especially alcohol. It’s become a close friend especially when things go to shit. Which they do. A lot.”
“What do you drink?”
“I started out with wine but earlier this year I got a 24 hour hangover from wine so I haven’t touched the stuff since. But I’m very good friends with vodka and beer. Especially vodka cocktails. Specifically the ginger dawa stuff from Artcaffe.”
“You end up fancy kid.”
She smiled like it was a compliment, “Ok, who do you lean on more, mum or dad?”
“Honey, both. I am like a leech. And a tick. And a flea. While that may not be the most attractive analogy it’s the most accurate. Holding on to the parents until I find my wings is unnegotiable. Remember how dad kept telling me the story of Icarus and Daedalus?”
“Yes well, going out on your own will be like flying too close to the sun and mama is always handy to remind you that you aren’t sun proof enough yet.”
Her brow furrowed. “I don’t get it.”
I shrugged. “You will eventually.”
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
I smiled radiantly. She noticed and was very pleased by that. “Yes, I do.”
“What’s he like?”
I tried to think of a way to describe Mr. Pedestrian but I got the impression that she had more questions. And if I started on him I could go on forever. So I told her what she needed to hear most considering that’s around the time I had started devouring Mills and Boon bodice rippers on the daily.
“Let’s just say, he’s your soul mate and he’s the perfect ride height.”
She looked stricken with a blush stealing her fair skin from her forehead down the column of her neck. I laughed wickedly and watched as she composed herself.
“Are you getting married?”
“Not until I have a great job, car and house.”
She noted something down aggressively then as her blush cleared she went on to the next question so fast Jay Z would have been proud.
“Do you act like a grown up?”
“How is your bank account?”
I sighed tiredly, “Let’s put it this way. If my bank account was a person, it would have punched me by now.”
“You really never sort out your spending issues?”
“Hey! Subs aren’t cheap and neither is that damn cat and Wi-Fi.”
Her head looked like it was about to explode but I snapped my fingers and asked for the next question. There was no time to gush about cats.
“What do you do for a living?”
I couldn’t help but laugh, “At the moment I am embroiled in a life where I am subject to the tyranny of routine and work tirelessly as a cog in a machine that serves to make other people rich. Primarily my bosses and my government.”
She looked worried again, I went on to clarify, “It’s an entry level, 8-5 job. I get to apply myself creatively though. Occasionally. And it’s a stepping stone to the life I want.”
“Do you write?” she asked reverently.
“All the time.”
“Do you get paid?”
“Not all the time.”
She shook her head and cancelled something she had written before.
“What about friends?”
I bit my lip wondering how to put it delicately.
“The high school BFFs are basically strangers now who infrequently drop a comment or two on the blog. And one of them completely disappeared on me so her profile picture in my contacts is a middle finger. Most of my friends are guys and geeks.”
“But we have friends?” she asked demurely.
“Yes, we have friends.”
She was relieved.
“Do you travel a lot?”
“No, but it’s not for a lack of trying or wanting. So far I have been to Kampala and Mombasa.”
“Do you fail?” This was an important question.
“Oh honey, it even starts in high school. I got an E in math in the post mocks, I got a C- minus in Physics in KCSE although that was more because of circumstances rather than my incompetence. And I won’t even get started on all the failed attempts to get paid creative writing gigs. ”
She looked like she wanted to ask more about it but I cut her off. There wasn’t time for it. Physics lab shenanigans or uncooperative editors.
Disappointed, she went on, “Are you happy?”
“Where do you see yourself in the next ten years?”
“I learnt to stop doing that. Putting timelines on my life. Life isn’t a five year business plan. You can’t try to coordinate events such that you’ll have gained certain things within ten years. I still want to be an author. I still want to write to change the world. I still want Manolo Blahniks and a Ferrari F12 with a 6.3litre V12. But I can’t say that I shall have them in ten years. Perhaps others can, but I don’t have that luxury. When you get a chance, listen to Boston’s Peace of Mind. You’ll find it illuminating.”
She noted that down and studied her book.
“Ok just a few more questions.”
“Who do you admire most now?”
“That’s easy. J.K. Rowling has never come off that list. But because I read habitually and have exposed myself excessively, there are even more people whose work has affected me. There’s an American late night talk show host called Samantha Bee, a Russian writer and reporter called Masha Gessen, another late night talk show host called John Oliver, a local blogger who I think is called Owaahh but I’m not sure- at least that’s the name of his blog, I still and will always admire the late Professor Wangari Maathai and for some reason Jeremy Clarkson too. All those people- and more- influence my life and work. And most recently, Vanessa King’ori.”
She laughed, “There’s a lot of admiration in your life.”
“There’s a lot to learn and different people will give me the best lesson.”
“That was almost profound.”
A loud noise came from behind the walls. The table between us slowly started lowering. She stood up panicky, “I need more time! I need more time!” she shouted. I stood and put my arms around her, “I think we have time for one more.”
She turned in my arms to look at her book as her seat started lowering.
“Do we make it?”
I held her shoulders, she looked up. Her eyes were glistening with unshed tears.
“I don’t know sweetie,” I said as a tear fell. I rubbed it away with my thumb, “But I sure as hell haven’t stopped trying.”
An electric bell rang loudly and she turned and walked away. I was left in the stark white room. As she went through the exit, the lights started going out and I found myself slowly being dragged back to the present.
I sat on my bedroom floor and stared at my journal. There were still questions that would remain unanswered. But at the footer of the questionnaire, 15 year old me had added an entry,
Even if I get to talk with future me, and we see what we did wrong, I wouldn’t change any of it. Because then, if we did everything right, where would the stories come from?
I shut the journal and decided to add to my library, next to my most revered book, a copy of a first edition The Mysterious Affair at Styles. I smiled to myself as I stroked the journal’s spine. 15 year old me wasn’t so bad after all. In fact, she may have been the best of me. I will never let her down.