When I was 6, I lost my five month old sister, Jael. Jael Apondi. She died while feeding, food went through her wind pipe. I helplessly watched her life fade away as she choked in the struggle. The lady tried everything to get the food out. It was raining thunderstorms that night. 10 years later I’m home expelled from school and thoughts of her show up on the shores of my mind. I write my first ever poem on that study table. It was to be the first of many. The poem was titled “A letter to the grave”. In her memory.
When I was 10, my father smeared kerosene and flamed my hand as punishment for stealing a Bill Cosby novel. If you’ve ever seen the marks on my left hand, this is what happened. I’ve never been the same. I didn’t steal the book but after being stripped naked and whipped by a telephone copper wire, and feeling my body giving in, the bleeding and sweating, I had to admit to doing something I’d not done to save my life.
When I was 12 I wrote my first love letter. It was to Evelyn. February, 2000. My mum detected it under my Mathematical set. How the hell did she get there? Of course a thorough beating ensued.
But it didn’t stop me from liking Evelyn. She never got the letter.
When I was 13 I think I fell in love. Maybe it was just a crush. Why were they that intense? You see, Waithera was chic and talkative and warm to me. She penetrated my shy self like water. I let her write in my Good News Bible. She’s the first girl who ever wrote me a love letter. That day I sat with the kindergarten kids at the front of the school bus coz I didn’t want the boys to see me blushing.
Waithera is still hella fine by the way. Chei!
At 13 I admired Abigail Arunga‘s handwriting. It was calligraphic and she had so much to write, my God. Also, she was friends with my crush.
When I was 14 Jacob Ochola became my best friend and classmate. He had an oversized sweater. I used to trek from Waithaka to Lavington just to play football with him. It’s at his friend’s house that I first saw Mortal Kombat. I knew nothing about video games apart from Brick game. He’d cook fries for lunch and I was like what level of privilege is this? Kwanza walikuwa na TV mbili kwa nyumba. And we’d dance to Suzanna Owiyo‘s”Kisumu 100″ coz they had the CD. 2002 was lit. Kwanza when “Unbwoggable” chucked and NARC were knocking KANU out of power.
When I was 15 I fell into depression. I masturbated for the first time. And I composed my first song. It was called “Mamanzi”. Law Reigns uko wapi?
When I was 16 I was expelled from St.Joseph Rapogi. The Deputy Headmaster pointed the gate ordering me never to be seen in the vicinity of the school. I hid in the labs and still stole my fare back to Nairobi from Migori. What did I do to warrant an expulsion? Buy me tea I’ll tell you the story. Aaayyyeee, Migori na story zimerhyme.
At 16, I wrote my first poem. Then I ran from home 3 times. Then I was suicidal. Then I was a street boy. Then some Kenyans administered mob justice on me after I was busted shoplifting. Then I stole my father’s ATM card to get money that’d take me far away where nobody knew me and I’d go die there. I only withdrew 500/-. I didn’t need money, I needed death. I set out for Mombasa but ended up in Malindi. Buy me more tea for that story.
At 16 I was in love with Sophia. She was short, cute and intense. And two years older.
At 16 I kissed a hooker. For 50/-, next to Kenya Cinema.
At 17 I fell in love with whom I thought was the love of my life. Also two years older. She sadly left a year later for marriage at 19. Sema heartbreak.
At 17 I was knocked down by a matatu next to Tuskys Hakati. Hit and run. It was raining. Rush hour. I’ll never forget this day. 5th May 2005. A murky Friday.
At 17 I was made the Clubs & Societies captain at PUMWANI HIGH SCHOOL. Peter Mwaks Mwakima was my best friend. I won a provincial essay writing competition but never got the chance to get my trophy and a weekend at Sarova Whitesands Beach Resort & Spa because the school principal said it was not important to go to the ceremony and the school bus (which we called “tool box”) had broken down.
At 18 I almost lost my uncle in post election violence. We watched him clobbered to a pulp on TV in Naivasha.
At 19 I left the country for the first time. To Uganda for A Level education. Begrudgingly in the beginning because I’d just ran away from home for the fourth time coz I felt dad made decisions over my life without even talking to me. On the eve of the planned travel, I put off the main power switch so my folks think there was a black out. As soon as they went to sleep after we spent the evening covering books, I took my bag and left for the streets again. I slept at a lodging in River Road. Chacha Hampton later hosted me. If you want to hear more, buy me teeeaaaaaa.
At 20 I was raped. By our house manager. It came with a nasty fungal infection which I survived. I felt invincible after the ordeal yet unknowingly traumatized. The false courage and curiosity to experiment led me to buy sex in Kampala. Sometimes I’d be with three women on different schedules on the same night. One time one asked me if I was sure I was a student.
At 22 I joined 2go. If you know, you know.
At 23 I hooked up with this girl I met on 2go. She lived with her parents in Limuru. I borrowed fare and lodging money. Kufika huko mjulus ilikataa kutoshea. So we just fondled. I came back home dejected. Every time I pass that Bata Shoes sign near Limuru I remember.
At 24 I fell in love with a girl in campus. My friend Samson Manzi even helped me design a YouTube video to woo her. We didn’t succeed. I attended her wedding with Dan Garang Nyacharo years later. I was happy for her lakini kuna kile kiwaru ilikuwa. Niliimeza finally.
At 25 I thought I’d be married by 30 after thinking it’d happen at 25 when I was 20. Jokes on me.
Anyway, all this nonsense was just to say I love myself because I’m cute.
Onyango Otieno is a cultural designer ardent in maximizing the power of storytelling for healing and connection. Onyango believes in the potent spirit of humanity collectively creating safe spaces for interaction, development, business and movement, for a more cohesive world.