I just seemed to be in this black void-thing, No floor, I could move and stuff, but I couldn’t see anything but a light below me, like an inverted shadow of sorts.-LaFayelle
Standing at the balcony of her college room at the outskirts of Nairobi, Archie mused as she noted that the view was nothing extraordinary. You go on balconies and you expect to stare at the horizon and be mind blown by the beauty of the collage of God and man’s creations. Not in JKUAT though. In this university, a balcony was just a balcony. Branches of a huge tree blocked her view to the right. There was a grey cloth on one of the branches and a black paper bag on another. A badly designed tuition block- seemingly half finished even- hovered in the background. She thanked the tree for blocking her view.
“I can’t get myself to study for that statistics paper,” said Shiru, coming up behind her. Archie saw her roommate’s shadow first, slender, as she was, before she saw her.
“Can you imagine doing all this and still not being assured of money in the end?” said Archie. She watched as grey water from the clothes the inhabitants of the forth floor had hung at their own balcony drained onto the cemented ground of theirs. As it collected into something icky at the corner, its color matched that of the ground. Yet it still lay there, distinct.
“I want money,” Shiru said. “I can’t do that Aunty Ann thing.”
They laughed. Aunty Ann was Shiru’s aunt. Archie had met her twice, but knew everything about her. Aunty Ann and Shiru were close. The kind of closeness that meant a lot of her stories ended up being about Aunty Ann. Archie was amused by their relationship. She told Shiru that she would not even talk about her boyfriend with her elder cousins let alone her aunts.
Their closeness meant that Shiru knew things about Aunty Ann. For them, Aunty Ann was their window to adulthood, and it was no surprise then that they were so reluctant about embracing it. For them JKUAT was a capsule. A capsule before you, like Aunty Ann, get a job where the salary is two thirds finished after you pay your rent at a lower middle class housing area. A capsule before you have to worry about the prepaid electricity meter. A capsule before your friends start to get married and start to get children and grow happier everyday. A capsule before desperation starts to eat at your cheerful personality, and eat at it, and eat at it, and eat at it, until all you have is the outside cheer. You still talk and you still make your niece and her friends laugh at picnics. If they weren’t looking hard enough, you could have convinced them that you really were joking, and that it did not hurt.
A sudden breeze blew Archie’s loose-fitting white top towards Shiru, who was now standing beside her. Archie was dark- the color of riverside clay. Her cheeks were plump. In fact, the only thing about Archie that was not plump was her waist. She was of medium height, but seemed shorter because she was plump. She had her right leg bent, with her knee kissing one rim of the balcony. Her toes barely touched the floor, and her left leg did all the anchoring. Perhaps this with her sense of style, or her confidence, or something, was what made her so… enchanting to men. Shiru often teased her about the number of men who were willing to buy her flowers. And you know Kenyan men and flowers.
Aunty Ann was too— enchanting to men. She had, apart from her beauty, a great sense of humor that made her loveable. When Archie read Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman, she imagined Aunty Ann as the subject. She was not dating anyone- had not been for three years. Aunty Ann always joked about how no one wanted to marry her, but everyone knew about her suitors. Everyone knew men had tried and given up. Everyone knew Rotu was still trying. Only Shiru knew that he would never get through. Well, Shiru and Archie— if you tell Shiru a secret you might as well tell Archie yourself.
Only they knew why Aunty Ann would not give Rotu a chance. In her own words: “I cannot say that I have not been tempted to say yes. But I know deep inside that if Rotu had come to me exactly as he is now, but without the Benz and the mansion, I would not have looked at him twice. I want someone I can look at twice, even if there is no Benz and mansion.” Then she would go on to make a joke about how it was no coincidence that her sisters, much older than her friends and herself, and who had been married for longer than her friends had been, were much less emphatic about pushing her to get married.
“Those women have seen things,” she would say and then laugh the kind of laughter that made you join in before you were sure whether what had been said was funny.
It was also an act of pride. Aunty Ann said that at some point she and Rotu had been exactly the same. She had been better than him in school. He had gone through most of campus surviving on bare minimum. He had duplicated her assignments. He had missed at least half of his classes. He had… But he still got the job they all, as classmates, coveted. His life was now the template for most eligible bachelors. Their classmates still said there was something fishy about the appointment. “No one gets a job bila mdomo,” their friends would say. Loosely translated, everyone who gets a job had someone put in a word for him or her. Aunty Ann thought that it was just as likely that Lady Luck had decided to be kind to at least one of them.
“What’s the worst that could happen?” Aunty Ann had asked during the picnic when Shiru joked that maybe Rotu was her best bet.
Archie knew the worst that could happen. After all that toiling, they become like the view from the balcony- nothing extra-ordinary. The worst that could happen was that like that water draining onto the balcony, they matched the ground and disappeared into the crowd, yet they were distinct people.