‘I need your help.’
‘I have gone to see a man about a dog. What’s up?’
See, Jesus at thirty enjoyed a clique of twelve close friends. Myself, at twenty-five boasts of one friend, the low maintenance type. The ones you don’t ring for days or meet for even months. But there is a silent agreement that whenever any of you is in a ditch you owe it to each other. I solemnly vowed to keep Claus, for as long as life will allow it. Maybe grow old together, until Claus is old, wrinkly, and slow with his barks reduced to slow groans. I pray he does not become those old dogs with angry scowls.
Ever found yourself in a ditch, tried reaching out to a friend only to realize that everyone is somehow in a ditch. Debt, emotional distress, depression, name it. Friends are like buffers. They hold our hands when life hits us hard. Your dog will lie next to you and soak in your mood, occasionally wag its tail and bark-talk to you. I know. It sounds sad. Right? But eventually when you grow older, and life filters the crowd of people you thought were your friends to only a handful. Sometimes two. One, a human being and the other a dog.
I have not written for a while. Nothing to do with lack of muse or inspiration. Being a creative in an insane world, is both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes the mundaneness and magic of life swallows you up. You try to stay afloat, but the emotional mettle to stay sane while battling the insaneness is tiresome. But when you have the kind of friends who go to see people about dogs, you get to understand that the world is the geographical place where life, the experience happens. Dusting off my social media accounts, I get an inbox. An old friend, from the campus days was ‘just checking up’ on me. Well, if I have learnt a thing or two about the dynamics of friendships, when someone is ‘just checking up on you’, there is more beneath.
Rip the fucking band aid.
So, I stretch the convo a little more. Ask how they are doing, the new job and of course the significant other. Apparently, this world is a jungle and getting by alone is an ode of pride and prejudice. We need people. Friends, significant others, sometimes children. Children is a little bit on the high end. When your life is empty and you fear dying alone, so you shoot yourself in the foot and bring to the world another little human whom you are committed to for the rest of your life. nevertheless, they give you a higher purpose. Something bigger than yourself, to save you from making shitty decisions.
Long stories never have happy-endings. They rarely do. Because the devil is always in the details. She suggests we meet up for coffee. There is a new Java House in town, but for my fear of running into old acquaintances I pray she picks a different spot. She texts some coffee house in the heart of Eldoret.
We pick a spot, by the balcony. Instead of a cool breeze, it is a windy afternoon. The clouds slowly forming. We sit down. A waiter, a chap in his late twenties with a happy face walked up to us. First, I am tempted to ask him how he can afford to be this happy, amid the chaos in this world. But then I remember it is his job to be happy. We order.
‘I did not think you’d actually show up. It is so hard to meet up with a friend these days.’
‘Oh well, aren’t we all dealing with something? But hey, how have you been?’
She is wearing a blue kimono, an Ankara turban with floral prints on her head accessorized by massive brass African map earrings. She bites her lips, peeks at the busy street below us.
‘I am great. I can’t complain.’
Our coffee is served. And the aroma fills the awkward space between us. I know I want to be her friend. Let her offload it all on me. But then again, do I have the mettle to handle someone’s else baggage? Anyway, that ship sailed. If I was not ready, I should have ghosted on her and stayed home being a couch potato.
‘How is your soul doing?’
Sobbing, she reaches out for a hankie in her bag.
Speechless, I just stare into the space past her. There is this beautiful painting of an African woman carrying a child on her back, with a pot on her head. It is inspiring and heart breaking. The African woman must be strong and enough and vulnerable all at the same time.
I fumble with words. Not for lack thereof.
‘It’s okay Nkatha. It really is.’
‘I think I am losing my mind.’
Again. It is quite tiresome trying to stay sane in an insane world.
‘It is okay to lose your mind. Myself, that ship sailed. And I made peace with it. I am insane. I am mad. ‘
‘But you look okay.’
‘Listen, I am not the chaos in my mind. That hell can keep going, but as for me I will savor up the good in this world. Like the aroma of this coffee, the painting of the African woman and Lord, you look gorgeous. How long did it take you to make that turban?’
She smiles amidst the tears.
‘I literally have no friends. I don’t talk to anyone except for my family. I can’t hold a conversation with anyone these days. I stay in the house all day.’
‘Makes the two of us. But can I genuinely ask you something. Do you really crave to be in the company of people that bad?’
‘I guess I just need people to talk to. That is why I feel like I am losing my mind.’
Nkatha was a friend back in campus. I would not count her in the list of my top five friends those days, but we had common grounds. I had an insatiable thirst for human connections, so I collected friends like pebbles. She cleared a year before I did. We kept in touch. Even though not frequently, we did try. A year went by, I graduated. She was working for some Research Firm, was engaged and what have you. The wheels of her life were turning. Until she inboxed me. I want to ask her about her job and marriage, but are we there yet.
Ignore the banter. I ask anyway.
She pours her heart out. Her life has been on a downward spiral. She lost her job, got back on the job search to no luck. Her significant other started thought her a burden. A lazy woman who could not fend for her own expenses. He would turn to other people. To fill the void created by her lack. Demean her sometime, belittle her efforts to live on low-come. It messed her up, crushed her self esteem and destroyed her emotionally. Nkatha was a peoples-person. Since back in the days, she enjoyed enormous circles of friends. from her church, school to her work place. I got several invites to ‘chama’ and bible studies from her.
‘Did you reach out to anyone?’
‘Of course, I did. But when you are on that downward spiral people don’t want to be associated with you. Your adversities might rub on them. They ignore your calls, occasionally reply to your texts and eventually avoid you.’
‘People are complicated. Human relationships are never constant, they are subject to change because people are always changing. Their views on life, beliefs, financial status are constantly changing. You cannot expect the same from people. You will break your own heart. When we were younger, we were trying to find ourselves. It made it easier to be friends with people who we were never aligned with. As we grow older, we find who we truly are. We find the madness in our sanity. We find true friends in our social circles.’
Sips coffee. Silence.
‘Can we live without people?’
‘Life is not linear. It is random. So are people. Look at it this way, we need each other. To get through life. But that does not mean that without them we can’t get through.’
‘I should get a dog. Like you. What’s his name? Claus?’
I love Claus. I love dogs. I love my only friend who meets people to talk about dogs. I wanted to tell Nkatha, no do not get a dog. I was too scared to. That would be malice. Yet I am always a believer that we should keep our chalice clean because our true value is measured by how we treat people, how kind we are. I know Nkatha does not need a dog. She needs that one friend who she can always count on. I swallow all that banter.
‘Yeah. I should hook you up with my friend. He can get you a dog.’
‘But I am six months pregnant?’
Sips coffee. Silence.
‘You don’t need a dog. You got enough on your plate.’