Have you ever wondered what defines ‘being young’? Is it an age thing, as in, can we say, for instance, that if you’re between the ages of 0-30, then you’re young? If that’s so, then what happens as soon as you hit 31? Do people automatically just start referring to you as mzee, or mama nani? If that’s not the case, is ‘being young’ a state of being? Those who say they are ‘young at heart’, even when their bones creak with every step they make, even when there’s a teenager somewhere pointing a pic of them to their uninterested friends saying, ‘that’s my guka!’, do they qualify to be in this bracket of those who are considered young? And those ones who are thate-something but still sing along to Sailors and Ethic while sipping whiskey till 4am at a watering hole on Thika Road, are they also young?
Okay, let me drop the semantics then, what I’m really asking you today is, what is it that you have to do so that people start saying, ”ahh, that one is a grown-up?!”. Do you have to change your hood, taste in beer, wardrobe? Or does growing up grow on you? I imagine that the late bloomer pondered on these questions for a long time. He did so mostly because when all your friends are getting married, or starting their own companies, or growing beer bellies to match the ‘cheers baba’ shorts and polo shirts, while for you, everything seems to be a constant, then these questions hit home hard at the end of the day when everything is quiet and reality has come to laugh at you.
Often, if the pressure isn’t from your peers, then its from social media. Sometimes you log into your Instagram account to see your former schoolmates posting about their spouses and two kids holidaying at the coast, yet you, late bloomer, doesn’t have the spouse or the money for a holiday just yet. Maybe it’s not even Instagram which is giving you pressure. I hear the serious people in life are on Twitter. So imagine logging into your Twitter account then you see your work-mate holding ‘intelligent’ conversations about the economy, and BBI, while you, late bloomer, are just there for the memes.
That’s the predicament that the late bloomer found himself in. Peers making big moves while he seemed stuck. Pressure even from his folks, ”when will you marry?”. Attending high school reunions where old schoolmates ‘compare notes’ on career progression, when you’ve switched careers thrice already after campus. A friend who’s moving into a new home, while you’re still living in Rongai. I imagine how it shook his confidence, stole away his inner peace, and turned him into a validation-seeking zombie.
I imagine that growing up took a new meaning in his mind, that for you to be considered ‘grown’, then somehow, you need to be doing better than your peers. You need to dress better, live in a bigger house, have mature conversations about serious stuff like where our economy is heading, or what’s the annual turnover of your company. Or if you can’t talk about serious stuff, then at least own a ‘ka-ploti’ somewhere in Isinya or Kangudo Road, so that sometimes you interrupt those ‘intelligent’ convos with a ”kale kashamba kangu nitatafuta pesa niweke fence” comment. The unwritten rule is that you really needed to have something to show for your grown-up-ness, otherwise you’re still a kid.
But the late bloomer doesn’t want to lose his friends, so what does he do? He shapes up to avoid shipping out. Moves to a new neighborhood because every time he invites friends over to his humble Rongai crib they ask, ”Tucome huko kwote?”. He scrambles through his savings and gets a car, because these ‘you guy my guy’ friends of his keep asking him, ”bro, where’s your moti?”, every time they meet up for a drink, and the chics he wants to date keep telling him, ”aki I can’t walk, I’m wearing heels, si you pick me up at 6pm?”. He switches from Tusker to Jameson, because the cool kids ‘sip on that whiskey till 5am, you guy.
Within no time, he starts to feel like life has him by the throat, it’s strangling him like a mugger in a dark alley in these Nairobi streets. He’s gasping for air, chocking with an unnecessary burden, his hands flailing around trying to unlock the vice-grip hold on his windpipe, but no sound’s coming out, because when you’re getting strangled you can’t scream, can you? He’s on the fast lane, and it’s starting to suck out the life from him. He lives in the club, a loyal reveler, but with money from mobile loan apps. He goes hungry to pay the rent, thirsty to fuel his car. He gives away inner peace to fit in with the ‘grown’ crowd, the cool kids of yesterday, and the righteous gemstones of today. The ones who walk with their shoulders held high because they believe they have this life figured out finally, with their polished accents and upgraded drinking tastes.
He’s growing thin, because he’s feeding everything else but himself. Soon, he’s late on rent. Landlord says he moves out or else he’ll have to sleep in a house with no roof. Soon, he can’t walk on the streets no more, not because he’s made it, but because he dreads meeting someone he owes money. He’s feeling like a kid impostor among people who’re actually ‘grown’, waiting for the day someone will call his bluff.
We all have that one place we go to when we’re at a crossroad, when life becomes so unclear, demanding hard choices to be made and when shit hits the fan. The shit has hit the fan for the late bloomer, and he remembers that pub he once went to, where he met an old wise man. It’s been many months since he was there. I imagine it’s a long way from where he lives now, but he has a car now, right? So he gets into his ‘moti’ and begins his journey.
It’s a simple bar, for people with simple tastes, tastes which his tongue long forgot when he acquired a taste for Jameson. When he arrives, he walks in and takes a seat, then orders for a cold beer. There’s country music playing in the background. He feels the nostalgia rising up within him as he takes his first sip, it hasn’t changed much. The walls, with their cream paint fading away with the years. The posters, with the puns;
‘Save Water, Drink Beer’
‘I Make Pour Decisions’
‘Shut Up Liver, You’re Fine’.
The space where the old man sat the last time he was there, empty and conspicuous. He starts to wonder if the old man still visits the pub anymore. He beckons a waiter.
”There’s an old man who used to come here, he was tall and slim. Alikuwa na nywele white na pia alikuwa amenyamaza sana. Bado yeye hukuja?” He’s hoping his description would fit the bill.
The waiter looks up, scratches her head a little then goes, ”Ohh, nimemkumbuka. Haukusikia, alipass kitu two months ago”.
”Haiya, what happened?”
”I guess tu old age. Alikuwa amezeeka sana”
I imagine how shocked the late bloomer is as the waiter walks away, seemingly indifferent to the news she’d just given him. There’s a sadness building up within. Even though he didn’t know him, he didn’t know his name, he feels like he’s lost someone really close to him. He’s imagining what the old man might have told him, how he’d help him through his predicament.
He probably would have said,
”Why spend the best years of your life living for other people? Why sell your soul in exchange for the opinion of peers? You need a change. Start with moving to a cheaper place. Everyone blooms in their own time.”
There’s a tear rolling down late bloomer’s cheek. He sips his drink and wipes it off quickly.