Biwott wasn’t sure about the direction his life was taking anymore.
So much had changed in the two years since he had stepped onto American soil, fresh-faced and ready to take on the world. A blessing as big as that acceptance letter had yet befallen the Talais. 2013 had been a tumultuous year for the family-from his father’s scandalous dismissal from the chief’s office for drinking on the job, to his younger sister’s sudden disappearance in March. She had subsequently emerged three months later in Kitale, with a husband and a baby in tow. The lucky man was the Luo farm boy who used to work on Honorable Bii’s expansive farm next door. Biwott’s mother had barely been able to make it to November, when his admission decision came out. Naturally, the neighbors, led by the fat and sunburnt Mama Kipkoech, came up with a colorful explanation for the cause of the family’s misfortunes. It involved a lot of allegations of witchcraft, stories of cold treatment during house visits, refusals to attend burials and weddings of members of the extended family and, most significantly, the Sabaot lineage of Biwott’s mother.
See, when a man defies his ancestors wishes and goes frolicking in another land, disaster is bound to happen.
The Sabaot culture could not be further from the Kipsigis’. Sure, we speak a similar language, but we do not hold the same values. It is sad that Baba Biwott had to find out the hard way…
Mama Kipkoech was the first to stop by at their compound once word got around that Biwott was going to America. And boy, was she happy. Ecstatic, even. She shoved a calabash into his hand, full of Mursik, and slapped a one hundred shilling note into his hands as she shook them. Of course, the boy was going to succeed. She had always seen it in him. While the other hooligans in their Boma chased after girls and more often than not impregnated them, good Biwott chased after his books. She had never heard anyone say a bad thing about him(except herself, as she incessantly complained that he never stopped to greet her by the roadside, even to acknowledge her presence in the market or during family gatherings, must be something he picked up from his mother). Biwott was happy she was wasting her hard earned money on him in a futile attempt to earn his endearment. The next week,Honorable Bii showed up, right on schedule. He blessed Biwott’s torn pockets with a staggering amount of cash. So this is why the constituency funds disappeared so quickly. By the end of the month, Biwott was in possession of about 6000 shillings- he was surprised that so many people knew him, and so many bothered to pretend to care. That Saturday, he coerced his mother to accompany him to Eldoret. They boarded the matatu to Eldoret, and they opened a bank account under her name at the Equity branch. He made her promise she would only use the money for emergencies, and promised he would send more to it regularly once he got work in Barvett.
That was a long time ago. Biwott had kept true to his word. Every two weeks, when his wages came in from his library job, he would send half of it to his mother’s account. Sometimes, he would send three quarters of it. The pocket money he got from his scholarship was good enough to cover all his basic expenses- and he had never been a man of many luxuries. An occasional pint of ice-cream from Ben and Jerry’s was enough to sustain him through the weeks of grueling coursework. Besides, there was more than enough food in the dining halls-why did he need to spend ridiculous amounts on restaurant food? He would never understand why his fellow students were so eager to exchange two thousand shillings for a simple meal of rice and beans. Maybe it itched them to spend what they earned. Certainly, the wages in Barvett were much higher than those of any casual job he had heard of in Kenya.
Biwott missed his mother so much, it pained him. It was a sharp, recurring jab in his heart that caught him just before he nodded off at the library, as he was writing out his study timetable for the day early in the morning, as he cycled to Math class at 11:45 am, when he clocked off work, as he did his daily runs at 6:30 am.(Back in high school, he was the reigning champion of the cross country marathon. Life at home after KCSE had been too demanding, and he hardly had time to go on leisurely jogs. It felt nice to take up his old love again, and he was happy to see that his running time was improving exponentially as months passed. He made a mental note to look out for the the intramural athletics team try out notice.) In these moments of longing for his mother, Biwott felt engulfed by the loneliness that had creeped up on him when he got to Boston. The students all seemed so self aware, so confident in their abilities and voices. And oh, how they loved alcohol and weed. It was all they ever talked about, all they ever consumed. Biwott could not understand why they would talk about their love of the bottle so openly, so proudly. Why would anyone be proud of an addiction to alcohol? His father, certainly, was not. The whole extended family had made sure of that. The students talked crassly, attended loud, alcohol-infused parties at fraternity houses, and were so consumed with showing the world that they were so happy and content with their lives. This was certainly not what he had expected when he eagerly drank up the images and articles in the Barvett brochures that had been mailed to him in early February of 2014, and that had made him feel so special and wanted. Biwott thought that two years would be enough to get him used to the culture at Barvett, but two years were seemingly not enough.
Still, he was unbelievably lucky to have gotten a spot at the Barvett. It was one of the most sought after colleges in America, from what the internet told him. Everyone, and everyone’s aunt, wanted to see their child enroll at the school. He did not really have a right to complain, seeing as they were basically giving him the whole experience for free(in fact, they were paying him to be there, if you took into account his pocket money). Still, the irony of having all the internet access in the world and not being able to connect with your own mother, who lived in a place that did not have a stable electricity supply, let alone wifi, was incredibly depressing.
Today, his library shift was cancelled because it was a public holiday, so he spent the evening polishing up the final essay for his writing class(by far the most tasking class he had taken at Barvett), and doing his Statistics 56 p-set. His Python assignment was due on Wednesday morning, so he would have start planning out his code soon. Professor Gregory had warned them that it would take up a lot of their time, so Biwott felt uneasy about it-still, his assignments had gone well so far, so hopefully this one would too. By 10 pm, he realized he would have to go to office hours to finish the last five questions in the Statistics homework. Thankfully, the TAs were extremely helpful(maybe a little too helpful) and would practically do the work for him, if need be.
It was 10:30 pm by the time he got into bed. He had gotten quite efficient his night routine, now that he had struck facebook browsing from it. Tomorrow, he had five classes, back to back. Tuesdays were always tough, but at least he was done with his midterms. He turned to one side, pulled the blanket closer to his chin, and shut his eyes. At 10:35 pm, he was struggling to stifle his sobs. He did not want to wake his roommate up.
Jack was so typical. Playful teasing, intentional deepening of voice, a hearty attempt to recite all his best jokes in one take, casual but pointed glances- the works. He was head over heels, the boy was. Robin didn’t blame him. Mwende was beautiful after all-a slim, full haired girl of the yellow-yellow variety, and with that deep, raspy voice that reminded you of a sultry actress in a soap opera, or of the eerily prescient leading lady in one of those Young Adult movies that were getting so popular these days. Plus, she knew all the cool people, went to all the cool parties and had so many friends. Who wouldn’t fall for her? Certainly no typical teenage boy in Nairobi. And Jack was oh so typical.
Robin didn’t mind his behavior, as he relentlessly ploughed on with his flirting throughout the two hours they spent at Java, six people squeezed into a booth that was meant for four. At least, she didn’t mind as much as she once did-and once was about two weeks ago, when she found out that Jack had asked Mwende out for a movie date. They never say it was a date, but it obviously was. Of the two years Robin had known Jack, he had never watched a movie alone with her; the one time she had made plans for it, he bailed out with a sad little excuse-something about needing to go buy clothes with his mother. As if any teenager above 12 still did that. Anyways, that was in the past, and Robin wasn’t about to wallow in it. If anything she was relieved that Jack wasn’t a potential romantic interest anymore, because the more she thought about it, the more she realized, relievedly, that he was very immature and eager to please. Not the kind of guy she would want to be with. He also believed he was better than most people-unique in his music taste, talented, a ‘thinker’(whatever the hell that meant), and wittier than most of the dull teens in his life.
Yes, Jack and Mwende were quite made for each other-two egotistical Nairobian teenagers, who both believed they were special. Of course, Robin did not hate Mwende- she did seem like a nice enough girl- she simply did not care for the quirky personality she put on, almost like a show, when she talked. God, it was annoying. Jack seemed to find it endearing, but Robin could not stand her random interruptions during conversations to talk about her family’s collection of pigeons and Black Molly fish. Or to go completely off topic and wander off on some weird tangent-something about the oh-so-random run in she had earlier that week, or the poignant thought she had that morning about ‘death and love’. Robin did not, at all, detest Mwende- she just wished she would not try so hard to be edgy and different. She knew that she was being deeply hypocritical, as she also strived to be more interesting and unique-sounding in conversations, but something about seeing her traits in someone else was extremely vexing.
The waitress ignored Robin’s waving hand for the third time as she rushed to serve the couple in the next booth-coincidentally or not-so-coincidentally, a white one. Perhaps it was the casual racism of the situation, or Jack’s incessant glances at Mwende that pushed her off the edge- whichever it was, Robin was quite surprised to hear herself click at the waitress with impatient condescendence, and when she had finished sauntering over to their table, sneer dismissively, “Hata wazungu hawatakupea tip;don’t flatter yourself. Eh, tebu get us our bills chap chap, we’re in a hurry.”
Brian had knocked at her door unexpectedly, giving her almost no time to get out of the sweaty Mater Heart Run t-shirt and baggy shorts she had worn as she did her weekly kitchen scrubbing. Still, years of experience getting dressed for school in record time so as to dress her siblings had paid of, and in less than five minutes, Zipporah was at the door, in black leggings and a dress top, and smelling strongly of the Zoey girl velvet-scent roll-on her older sister had gotten her two months prior. She had considered putting on some lipstick or lipgloss to add some glamour to the look, but decided against it(perhaps it would be overkill? Or, hopefully, Brian would lick it off anyways). He looked like he was in a sombre mood as he greeted her with a firm, but oddly impersonal hug, and plopped himself onto the couch, apparently lost in thought. This was strange. Usually, he would hoist her up right at the door, and Zipporah would wrap her legs around him, giggling uncontrollably, as he lead the way straight to her room. He knew the house so well. It was a miracle that Zipporah’s mother had not once come home from Toi Market early enough to catch them in their hedonism. Perhaps he was in a hurry, and wanted to do it in the living room? A risky move, but Zipporah could work with that. Or maybe he didn’t want sex at all- maybe he was sad because something had happened in his family. Zipporah hoped for the former. Five awkward minutes had passed with not a single word having been spoken. Zipporah ventured.
“Brian, you look sad. Niaje kwani?”
He tilted his head to look at her, but he wasn’t looking at her at all. He seemed to be focusing on something else, something far, far away from the living room. A sigh. Locking, then unlocking of fingers. Finally;
“Zipporah, cheki, this thing, I-I don’t think it’s working. Plus naenda Uni next month. I don’t think… Sioni kama tunapelekana pahali. Pole.”
Zipporah was rooted to the spot. Why did he call her Zipporah- no one ever called her Zipporah except her mother. Zippy was the name she went by. What, did he think just because he was sleeping with her, he could call her by the name reserved only for her mother’s mouth? Something was rising in her throat. Apparently, she was exhibiting signs of an emotional breakdown, because Brian promptly stood up, took three giant steps to where she was and gave her a half-hearted one-shouldered hug before rushing out of the house.
“Naenda Uni next month-I’ll meet lots of girls there, who’ll be replacing of you”
“Labda ukipata pesa ya kuregister kwa Polytechnic, utafika ligi yangu”
“Your mum told you not to trust boys..like me…”
“Huko ligi yangu. Your life is wasting away, I’m building mine…”
Zipporah found herself in her bed, in her underwear, blankets violently sprawled on the floor. She was staring at the ceiling. Her hair and neck felt uncomfortably damp, and when she touched the pillowcase, she felt that it was soaking with tears.