Galleria mall. Such an isolated place. Isolated because it stands alone far away from other famous malls. The Hub is close but not that close and furthermore it’s a world of its own. Other malls like Garden City and TRM are quite far away but at least they have each other. So they don’t get lonely on cold mornings. If malls suffer from depression like most teenage humans do then I’m pretty sure that Galleria is a victim. Are there mall therapists? Like you know, malls that provide therapy to other malls which look as lonely as Galleria do sometimes. The mall could use some therapist.
It’s a cold Thursday morning and I am meeting Esther Chihaavi at Galleria mall. And because she texts me that she will be twenty minutes late, I walk around the mall staring at some of the wonders the place has to offer. As isolated and lonely as it looks from the outside, the inside tells a different story. And it’s the story of unrivalled beauty. There are people inside. Of course there are always people in malls. What else are they for? And there is soft music that plays with high quality. Music that is good for the ears. The kind of music that you listen to and know with certainty that it’s freshly bought from iTunes. I guess someone never knows the magic that comes with a song till he or she buys one from iTunes. This is not an attack on those who flock Tubidy to acquire songs at no cost. I am a captive of Tubidy too.
Other than the sweet songs, there are people of all races streaming in and out of the place. A few children run around and from a distance laughter can be heard from the only shop of artefacts which is positioned at the left side of the entrance. The laughter is Galleria-like. It’s measured and sounds like a thousand beads rolling on a ceramic floor. There’s Carrefour somewhere in the first floor and a textbook center on the ground floor with thousands of books written by thousands of writers. A Planet yoghurt lies at the far right and next to it there’s a KFC. Tell me a mall that lacks a KFC and I will buy you a gift this coming Christmas.
Finally Esther is here. She isn’t twenty minutes late like she said she would be. She is twenty three minutes late. She finds me at a spot in Artcaffe Coffee and Bakery Restaurant sipping through my hot Cappuccino Single which tastes like Heaven. She turned 21 the week before. She wasn’t so much excited about it. It’s not like there is anyone who ever gets happy about turning 21. It’s a stage in life that hits you with deep thoughts and despair and some little frustrations. So we are here to have a conversation about life at 21. Someone’s gotta talk about 21 you know and so Esther is here at my request. She seemed quite like the perfect candidate I was looking for because of her nature. A week earlier, I had been thinking about having a chat with a twenty-one year old especially one who is so cut and distant from the world like she appears to be most of the times.
So here we are in this restaurant whose coffee is nothing short of pure art. We start off our conversation with Nakuru. Because Nakuru is the beginning for her just like the book of Genesis is for the Bible. Nakuru is home for her. There’s no her without Nakuru. It’s a town at the heart of former Rift Valley Province with a small population and a quiet people. It’s where she was born and the place she grew up in. As a young girl, she attended a primary school called Kilimo Primary School. I jokingly ask her if all that people do in the school is dig and dig. It was hard to resist that one. Kilimo is a school within the Egerton University grounds she says. So it’s a school within a school. You would imagine that learning in such an environment would provide lots of motivation to someone than the words of Jay Shetty could ever do. You would also imagine that no one would wish to leave such a school once enrolled. But Esther did leave. It wasn’t her wish to do so but she had no choice. Her father went to Kabarak and that’s how she ended up at Kabarak Primary School.
Unknown to her at the time, Kabarak too was just a phase which she would eventually pass through thanks to her insistence on joining a boarding school. I may have had many desires as a kid but one thing I never thought of was the idea of going to a boarding primary school. It seemed scary and torturous to me in equal measure. I always admire the spirit of those who urged their parents to take them. I bet they are the people who plan their days ahead, own journals and file their tax returns in January while the rest of us lazy bones wait for 29th June.
Not all that glitters is gold (I have always waited for the day that I would use this phrase in my writing). Esther realized that not everything that glitters is gold on the very day that she was admitted to Nyahururu Boarding Primary School. She burst into tears as her parents left and was confronted by the harsh realities she hadn’t imagined of. Loneliness is what confronts you when you find yourself in a strange place with strange people at such an early age. So she got lonely till she one day saw an old friend she had known from Kilimo, her first school. With time she regained her old playful self with the help of this friend. As the old adage goes ‘things always get better with time’. They did. And before she knew it, class eight was past her and she had excelled and Kabarak High School was awaiting with its large gate open and its massive world class library with books ready to be devoured.
Time flies so fast. One minute you are getting admitted into Kabarak High School the next minute you are done with form one. At the end of form one, you are no longer young and naïve. Instead you are glad because you hate the way form ones are looked down upon by both people within and out of school. I remember my days in high school. There are days I used to ask myself whether being a form one is some sort of a crime that can only be equated to first degree murder. It seems to me like it’s not only me who felt that way but everyone who ever passed through it. From what Esther tells me, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact time which she became the person she is today. Or rather the time when she started distancing herself from the world. My guess is that it might have been either at form two or three because life at form four is always a race for a high schooler. It’s a race against time. Her life in high school was marked with few friendships and less talking and a little focus and wanting to finish school knowing that being a lawyer is her dream.
She is one of those few people who had certainty and clarity at an early age about what she wanted to do with her life. Personally, it took me a whole lot of time to make a landing in the course that I am pursuing at the moment. I remember that at some point I wanted to be a doctor but then as I grew up, I realized that I fear cadavers. After that I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer because I went to a high school that offered the best Aviation Studies in the nation. Later on, I developed a thing for Software Engineering and everyone knew that I finally found my thing. God knows how much I loved computers and software. But then here I am studying law. If someone asked me to define what life is, I would undoubtedly tell him or her that that is life. Life is the unknown. The few who know where they are headed are the lucky ones.
When you finish form four you think that you are as free as the birds of the air and that the world is your oyster. That’s how Esther felt when she was done. She felt free. Instead of going to do a course on packages like many do, she opted for Graphic Design which has since become one of her favorite hobbies. She can work magic with Adobe Illustrator and Microsoft Publisher to produce posters that sparkle and radiate talent (If you need a poster or graphic work done feel free to reach out to her. Her services are cost friendly). Speaking of hobbies, she tells me that she loves the violin. She is a violinist. She has not reached the level of Lindsey Stirling but she will soon be there. She can play the guitar too and she sings occasionally.
When the KCSE results for 2015 were announced, Kabarak High School emerged top. Maseno School was second and Kapsabet boys was third. That’s the far I remember. Naturally when your school tops the nation and you were among the hardworking students, you definitely pass. She excelled and that is what led her to the University Of Nairobi School Of Law. She is a quiet girl. She is loud with her friends though. But who are her friends? That’s a mystery to her as much as it is to me. I only see her walk around with Lucy Khanyili everywhere. So I bet Lucy is ‘her friends’.
I ask what she thinks about life so far now that she has lived for 21 years. She tells me that perhaps one of the most important things that people should recognize is that the journey which each person goes through is quite significant in how the person turns out. She believes that maybe our journey as human beings is also our purpose because of what it does in shaping our personality. For her, she has found refuge in her faith. She believes that there is a greater power beyond living and that the greater power is God. She is a Christian. She is following into the footsteps of Christ by abiding to the commands of the Bible and waiting for the Second Coming of Christ.
She isn’t perfect of course. Nobody ever is. As a child she burnt four bales of hay in their Nakuru backyard. It earned her some caning of course. Which African child ever goes through childhood without some beating from the parents at some point? No one. Not even me. There is this time that I used a razor blade to slice my father’s suits because I was angry at him. The unpleasant events that followed will stick with me throughout the days of my life.
At this point my coffee is finished. When it was served it looked so beautiful to the extent that I wanted to stare at it for the rest of my life. That’s what Artcaffe does to their customers. They artistically prepare you coffee and present it to you. And when they are done with you, you never feel like taking any other coffee again. Well that’s what they did to me. I will have to write the management a letter asking them why they have ruined my taste for coffees from other restaurants.
Esther leaves the table to pick a delivery of earrings that has just arrived for her. Meanwhile I look at my phone and find a text from my buddy Lokuchagi from Lodwar. He is asking me is I reached home safely four weeks after my visit to their home in Lodwar. I decide not to reply but change my mind and text him back sarcastically stating that “Not yet friend. I will reach home in four weeks’ time.” He then replies with a “hahaha. Lol” Who said Turkana people cannot use lol in their conversations? Unfortunately for him I don’t reply. I made an oath with myself a long time ago never to text back anyone who uses ‘lol’ in their texts. Unless the person is Emma Watson who played Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series.
When Esther is back with her delivery on hand, I tell her about the white family which has just come in the restaurant and settled on a table not far away from where we are. There’s a man, a lady and a young child of about five. And they are all drinking wine including the child. They are shouting in some deep Canadian accent. In the African family I grew up in, it would have been unthinkable and unimaginable for me to take wine or any alcohol at eighteen let alone at age five like the little kiddo was doing. But North Americans will always be North Americans. There seem to be no age limit for anything in their culture.
So we resume our chat and we are talking about relationships now. Her last relationship did not last long. She tells me that it started on day one and ended on day seven. It was like the creation story in which God created the world for six days and rested on the seventh day. Likewise, she dated for six days and rested on the seventh day. She ended it. She tells me that perhaps it’s the relationship that made her self-aware and brought her to the realization that she is at a stage in life in which it would be very difficult for her to commit to anyone. Her reasons are obvious. She is a loner. I am not talking about being an ordinary loner. I am talking about the word in its extremity. She is the kind of loner that Jughead was in the TV Series Riverdale or like the kind that Chloe O’Brien was from the TV Series 24: Live Another day. There are days when she feels like going through a week without talking to anyone except maybe a few friends. And there are days when she unintentionally shuts people out not because she wishes to but because she loves solitude.
One would think that she would get depressed often because of her love for solitude. Interestingly she doesn’t. You want to know why? Because she reads the Bible. She has a big Global Study Bible which she derives inspiration from. A friend once told me that the Bible is the greatest and ultimate of all inspirational books. This morning, I learn about this girl Esther who practically draws daily inspiration from the Bible and I’m nothing short of awed.
By now she has ordered for a milkshake which comprises of Carrot Cake and Vanilla. Her summary of 21 is that people should just embrace the beauty of life. Life is precious and we ought to show up for living. I agree that is an interesting way of putting it. As we near the end, I ask her about Game of Thrones because it seems to have taken over the world the past few weeks. Sadly, she doesn’t watch the show. She has her reasons for not watching though. I always tell anyone who doesn’t watch it to at least read the book because it is the greatest show ever to grace our screens. Thanks to George Richard Raymond Martin.
Before parting ways, we talk a little about Mombasa. Like Nakuru and Nairobi, a part of her life is in Mombasa. She has a sister there. She has friends there. And just recently she was on her judicial attachment there. And that’s how 21 has been for her. That’s how fleeting life has been for her. There have been lows and highs but the most important thing is that she lives on. Tackling a day at a time. This is the story of Esther. She likes being called Ess. So This is Ess.
PS: My friend and classmate Sarah Suzzane got involved in an accident some few days ago. May you all join us in praying for her quick recovery. Thank you.