The Adult’s Club
People are only worth as much as the memories ascribed to them.
When we were kids, adults were these gigantic mysterious creatures. They were always hiding things from us; speaking in hushed tones, behind closed doors; they always had these secrets that they’d g0 to great lengths to never let us into, convinced that it’s for our protection. You could bump into one of them crying and magically, they’d pull their tears in, plaster the most convincing of smiles on them, making you doubt what you just saw. I don’t know how they did it but that was the level of commitment they put in.
As a kid, there was nothing you wanted more than to be one of the adults, because that would mean there was nothing you couldn’t handle, everything would be under your control, and you’d be trusted enough to have a seat on the table, in the room where it happens. Cause then you’d be cushioned by this adult layer of calmness whenever anything hit you.
If I’m honest, I always thought of adulthood as a kind of like secret society with a particular set of rules. Not the least of which; Don’t trust the kids with any information.
After 23 years, I think I made it. I’m finally in.
29th October, 2019; 1: 16P.M
I get a phone call from my mom for the first time that day. Presumably to ask me of my impending travel arrangements. I’m to leave for Eldoret, to take care of my missing mark issues or else I won’t graduate. Kind of unfair if you think about it, I did the exam, I have all my exam cards to prove that but yeah, the marks are missing and somehow, that’s my fault. Life of a student.
“Hallo, Assalaamu ‘aleykum.” That’s how my mom began all her phone calls. With the ‘hello’ swahili sounding. If you know you know.
“Waaleykum Salaam ma, vipi?”
“Alhamdulillah— Have you got your ticket yet?”
“Yes, I have. I leave at 4– Tahmeed.”
“Oh– is there any way you could push the date maybe, like sell the ticket or something.” She said, with an unnerving uneasiness in her voice. The kind that would make it into an Ari Aster movie.
“Why”? I asked. “Kwani how’s the situation there? How is he?”
My mom had left for my grandmother’s place that morning. Well, I can’t call it that anymore cause my grandmother died earlier this year. But that’s where she went. To visit her elder brother who was in his final stage of cancer.
2 weeks ago, his youngest brother and I wheeled him into Premier hospital, Nyali, to have some procedural tests run, hence ‘The Emperor of Maladies’ reference in the post ‘A Candle in the Wind’. When the results were out, the doctor said that he’s in too deep and the only recommended form of treatment now would be palliative care. Not India; not even Nairobi but Palliative care. So, you can say things were pretty serious.
Now, my mom is one to sugarcoats things. The type of person who would call her own stabbing, a little cut. Like earlier this year, when my grandmother was incredibly ill while I was in Eldoret, and my dad panicked, calling me back home immediately, I called my mom, and she told me not to listen to my father, my grandmother’s fine, she was just under heavy medication that made her sleep the whole day. But I did listen to my father, and headed back, and then returned to school. To receive a phone call from my mom a few weeks later that I should head home, my grandmother just passed on. I also recollect coming back to Mombasa a semester before that to find my mom’s meals only made up of boiled greens. That was NOT the Swahili way. Mahn, I even saw broccoli for the first time. Imagine that. I always thought broccoli one of those strictly abroad vegetables, but there it was. On asking her what’s up, she said it was nothing, she only had been diagnosed with hepatitis. WHAT? Yeah, it was when you were at school. WHAT? Well, what happened was, I walked into the hospital because I was not feeling well and on diagnosis, the doctor said, I’m too sick to even be standing right now. And then refused to let me leave, so they admitted me for some days, against my will. REALLY MOM! AND NO ONE EVEN THOUGHT TO CALL ME? Well, your dad wanted to call you back home, like always, but I asked him not to, it wasn’t that serious. Hm. And that was my always-casual mom.
She said, “I think your uncle hardly has any time left,” with a kind of bluntness I hadn’t known from her.
“Oh— I’m on my way.”
I was at K.F.A when I hung up, in a matatu to Kwahola Magongo mwisho, where my mom was, to say goodbye to some relatives, before travelling. That was the norm.
29th October, 2019; 2:00 P.M
I alight at my stage as my phone simultaneously vibrates in my pocket.
It’s my mom.
I do not pick up.
Growing up means being hit by losses time and time again while everyone around you trusts that you’re strong enough to handle it. And that tends to make people more honest towards you. I think that’s the only thing I’ve gained as an adult, that level of trust and honesty from people. I’m still as confused as I was when I was let’s say 10 years old. Perhaps even more. But being an adult means being equipped enough mentally to embrace the unfamiliar.
In the series, the dragon prince, the king tells Callum, “The great illusion of childhood is that adults have all the power and freedom, but the truth is the opposite, a child is freer than a king.” Growing up is coming face to face with these truths. It actually means being stripped of the freedoms of shelter from the truth. And you’re not cushioned by an adult layer of calmness as I thought, instead you are the cushion, to the little ones. To ensure they’re not scarred by pressures they cannot handle.
Lately, I often find myself whispering to my mom when my brothers are around.