Some people are like a strong wave in the sea.

When you meet them, they alter your life and completely change its course. And yet others are like Hamira, Swahili for yeast, they are to you what a leavening agent is to bread. They cause you to rise, expand, and become lighter and softer.

I met Hamira through her roomie in campus. I knew the roomie from home and since I didn’t have many friends, she was my all day, everyday, and any day plot. I ended up spending a lot of time in her room. Hamira and I never spoke much, of course because; I wasn’t there to see her in the first place. Oft times, I’d find her sleeping, watching a movie or reading those 1000 pager novels. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves; let’s step back a bit.

I was always in the shadows and there’s a reason why.

I say ‘was’ like it’s a thing far removed and buried in the past but really, part of me is still there; I haven’t entirely left. I don’t think the past really leaves us. Rather, I don’t think it’s completely possible to divorce yourself from the past. There will always be an incline of it tucked away somewhere in there even though we hate to admit it. After all, it’s really ‘your’ past.

It’s facile to get snug in malaise. Once you stay too long in a place, regardless of the pain and agony it causes you, you might be predisposed to settle.

You don’t cozy around because you want to. I think you settle because you are tired of trying to climb out of the pit and always coming short. So, you decide to find rest in the most unfamiliar of environs and that becomes your norm. Pain becomes your norm. So yes, part of me is still in the shadows and if you look intently, part of you is also.

I had an awkward limp.

I had an accident that caused me irreparable damage in my left leg. I don’t have the proper recollection of when it happened exactly. There’s this thing with our minds, they delete memoirs that caused you immense pain. I think psychologists call it selective amnesia or something. I call it the gift of forgetfulness.

Anywho, I carried this limp for most of my childhood. I still limp though not as evidently as I did before. That limp practically defined my childhood. It was the first thing that people saw when I walked up to them. They would mostly stare intently, and then ask what was wrong with me. I would then have to offer an explanation. I didn’t fancy the explanations; they were tiring, and repetitive.

I’d meet someone and they would ask, ‘What happened to your leg?’ And I would say I had an accident when I was a kid. Then they’d ask whether it hurts and depending on my mood that day my answer would be a ‘Yes’, a ‘No’, or a ‘Maybe’.

Kids were less sensitive about it. They wouldn’t even ask. They would just call me names. Names like ‘kaguru’ loosely translated as ‘the limping one.’ They’d see me walking up to them and they’d laugh and run away. Kids can be mean, very mean.

I am dark too.

I pun that I don’t need a mosquito net at night because mosquitos have to grope in the dark to find me. They might need a floodlight to find me even. Being dark then wasn’t the most celebrated thing. People didn’t like being dark. The ‘black lives matter’ movement should have started eons ago and in Africa too. I couldn’t figure out why we loathed being black that much. I think we still do. It was synonymous to a curse.

Being dark wasn’t amiable. Lighter people were treated better. Someone must have indoctrinated us against our own skin color. Kids would make fun of my skin tone; they’d call me ‘kasilu’ Kamba for ‘the small dark one’. I didn’t like it either but I don’t think anyone cared about how I felt about it. Again, kids can be mean.

So I had an awkward limp and a very dark complexion.

Those two weren’t the most stupefying combinations. I was a square trying to fit into round holes and that was an epic struggle. When the kids went out to play, I couldn’t play with them. I ran funny and that mostly resulted in them laughing at me. So I’d stay away from kids. They were either calling me ‘kaguru’ or ‘kasilu’. I struggled so much to fit in till I decided not to try anymore. I settled in my space, where I didn’t give anyone an opportunity to call me anything snide.

Away from prying public eye, I was born in a large family, eight kids and two parents. There are two major probabilities that could arise when you are born in a big family. You could either be surrounded with lots of love or get lost in the crowd. I ended up in the latter category-I got lost. In my family, you had to be strong enough to get what you wanted or be weak and watch others get it. It wasn’t anyone’s fault really; it is just a thing with big families, I surmise.

Back then, I didn’t know about esteems and whether they could be low or high. If I had knowledge of esteem issues, I’d say that mine was way below the sea level. My first and natural instinct then was to survive. So I found the easiest way to do it. I hid in the shadows.

My esteem issues didn’t allow me to talk to girls. I was mostly reserved. Guys who meet me now and knew me back then are shocked that I can actually speak. I barely ever opened up my mouth to say a thing. I had thoughts, ideas and opinions but I kept them to myself. I didn’t want someone to laugh at me, I had gotten used to being laughed at and mocked by kids. So I stayed away from girls. Being mocked by boys I could somewhat handle but a girl’s laugh? That was a whole new level of mock.

Enter campus.

I came from Machakos. This town for some reason is always 10 years behind Nairobi in spite of its proximity to the city. I don’t understand why. It’s like there is a time machine just past Mlolongo that takes you back in time. You’d be in 2020 as you drive to Machakos till you get to Mlolongo then boom! You are back to promulgating the constitution in 2010! So don’t blame anyone from Machakos. I don’t think it’s their doing. Blame their ancestor, Masaku, he must have had something to do with it.

My roomies were urbanites. They knew the ways of the city. They wore jeans, nice t-shirts and sneakers. I wore oversize trousers. These trousers were so big that a tailor could comfortably make another trouser from the waste. I hear it’s these kinds of trousers that carry the wind of God. I also had an immense liking for baggy shirts. Add that to the fact that I was skinny and I’d look like a clothes hanger, literally.

But I had good friends. Friends who decided that I could do better. That I couldn’t walk around looking like a hanger on their watch. No, they could not allow such an atrocity. Well, it was either that or that they were red-faced to be in my company. It matters little; they helped me change my wardrobe. I got rid of the atrocious cloths and shopped for the cooler skinny jeans, t-shirts and sneakers. I now had a new look. I was transformed. I was a legit campus boy!

I had a new look on the outside but my inside hadn’t changed one bit. I was still timid. It’s amazing how many people are all made up on the outside but are complete messes and wrecks in the inside. It’s that thing of a book and its cover I guess.

So let’s go back to Hamira.

I liked the girl, never mind that I wasn’t good at saying what I liked or didn’t like. I was shell shocked that she liked me back. I didn’t understand how or why she liked me.

Hamira was very light. She was so light that you could literally see the blood flow through her veins. When she was cross, she’d turn red or purple or a color of that sort.

I liked her; she liked me back, so we started dating. She was the first girl I had ever dated, formally that is. I have no idea where I even got the guts to ask her out but I did. I am sure it wasn’t in so many words, it could have been something in the lines of ‘I love you. Let’s date. Okay?’ Nonetheless, we dated.

Dating Hamira changed me.

See, God brings certain people in your life, at a particular time, to help you get out of the pit. If you are keen enough, you’ll know. Hamira was God-sent. She didn’t mind that I had esteem issues but she couldn’t live with them either. She became the rope that God used to pull me out of the self-pity abyss that life had hurled me into.

Hamira believed that I could do anything. Anything I set out to do. She said that I was intelligent, I didn’t think I was. There’s this one time that she stumbled onto my second year transcripts to find that I was tinkering on the verge of scoring a pass grade. She could have none of it. She came up with a schedule for study for both of us. So we’d go to the study room together. We’d sit side by side, Hamira with her physical sciences books and I with my English books.

If I didn’t understand what I was reading, she would offer to explain. She was obviously brighter than I was, and by far. But that didn’t bother her because she liked me. That was more important. I think it’s important to like the person you are dating or married to. You could love then but not like them too much. And that’s a problem. Anyway, Hamira ensured that I read. She made me read so hard that by the end of that year, my grade morphed into a second class upper.

Whenever I was self conscious of my skin color, she’d always affirm me. She’d always tell me that she’d never even date a light guy. That my skin tone was a compliment to hers and that she needed my dark to tone down her light. My esteem leaped from zero to double digits every time I thought to myself that I was dating a light-skinned girl. Slowly she made me love my black. Now I would never want to be light. I love dark.

This girl believed that my dreams were valid. She supported, coerced, pushed, and pulled me up. It didn’t matter if I went along kicking, yelling my lungs off or biting. She always insisted that if I set out to do something, I had to see it through.

This one time I started a choir and it took us close to two years to become good enough to sing in church or have a concert. I desperately wanted to give up on it. Hamira would steady my vision and remind me why I started the choir in the first place. She couldn’t sing to save her life but she refused to let me succumb to self-pity and defeat. We did finally sing and have amazing concerts and she was right there to tell me ‘I told you so!’ with a grin on her face.

Hamira was true to her name. She was sweet and feisty. She could be spicy as an Indian meal but also a tad bit tender. One minute she would be as abrasive as steel yet the next minute she’d bruise easily underneath. She didn’t believe in lying down or giving up on an argument. She had to have her say. It baffled her why I couldn’t speak my mind. She taught me to speak up, to say what I felt and to come out of the shadows.

Our relationship didn’t last past campus but it didn’t need that long for her to make an impact. By the time we broke up, I had an esteem and it felt good being myself. Hamira had taught me that it was okay to be me.

Now that I look at it I know that not all campus relationships are a waste of time. I know that with the God of time, nothing is ever wasted. I learnt that everyone who comes into your life is ordained of God, and if you look keenly enough, they always have a purpose.

I also know that some people are like Hamira, they are to you what a leavening agent is to bread. They cause you to rise, expand, and become lighter and softer.

I am glad I met Hamira!

  1. Eish hii story si imekatika haraka…. i was just buckling up for the ride…. Amazing piece yet again. I need me some Hamira in my life….

  2. Hamira was the girl and I know what you saying is true because I witnessed the transformation.
    It’s rather interesting that some people don’t stay longer in our lives but the little time they come in our lives things change forever. I also have my Hamira and I glorify God for her.

    Good piece bro

  3. That story was short, I say 🙆‍♀️

    Im glad someone is talking about colorism, it’s still a big deal, but we downgrade it into a non-issue.

    Hamira did make you better…

    We need more of these childhood stories esp on the battles we had to fight and overcome somehow while adulting…

  4. Waaaao really nice. Self esteem is a very important component in life, if someone helps you build it/raise it they are worth a celebration.

  5. If feel like some people are also brought to us as punishment or something dark like that lol!! Or maybe to learn the hard way?? Okay, enough, we’re a working progress right….

  6. It’s not too late for me… God may you bring Hamira on my path…. Inspiring story it is… Keep up bro.. You can write…Great mind.

  7. This Hamira story was cut short just when my excitement was beginning to bud😅. Good work Mwendwa. Thursday can’t get here fast enough.

  8. I got emotional concerning your limbing leg .. How this affects children and lowers their self esteem we need to teach children being human some do it as a joke.

  9. Nice read, well it’s true that not all relationships last but it’s good to learn from the experiences ,, am inspired

  10. Gafla bin vuu wanaume wenye miraba minne na misuli tinginya wakakuja na kutuibia story yetu. He he this story makes me remember part of my past. Haha looking so good on the outside but the inside ‘makalatas’.

  11. Gafla bin vuu wanaume wenye miraba minne na misuli tinginya wakakuja na kutuibia story yetu. He he this story makes me remember part of my past. Haha looking so good on the outside but the inside ‘makalatas’. Great work Mr Chair

  12. God allows anyone to come in one’s life with a purpose or for a purpose… I should never judge anyone, despise or ignore anyone it might be that am his/her life changer and vice-versa.

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