What Years Do To You

When we are children, so many decisions are made for us: what food we eat, the school we go to, the clothes we wear, the time we should be back home, the friends we hang out with and what church to go to. We are taught to follow instructions without questioning them because that is what children should do since they do not know much about anything and their class teacher is always right. Everyone always is except them.

School life steals majority of our upbringing. The dramas of adolescence, emotional insecurity, low self esteem, you stole a bike here or broke a neighbour’s window there, pass without much concern. I figured we are the only ones who remember those times – not our parents. It’s our damn life anyway. Who cares which girl you had a crush on or which boy ignored you when you cared about him so much that you’d always get hurt when you saw him limping with a wounded toe he got from their rough football game? Depending on where and how you grow up, different things happen to you that nobody else ever remembers. There is a bulk of memories that seems never to leave.

Before you know it, high school and campus life passes, for those lucky enough to attend them. Most of the time, you are left to grow up on your own because the people who take us to school expect it to teach us things like how to choose suitable partners if ever we feel like having relationships, what to do during and after a heartbreak, and how to cook tea. But at least school teaches us how to cross the road and a little bit more about the complexity of our sexual organs.

We are expected to have a job after college, a good job. We are expected to be faithfuls of some religion and wear very respectful clothes. Our life should be flat with no much adventure but more routine day in day out. We are expected to get married to angels and bear children who resemble us. Something must be culturally wrong with you if you are unable to have children, or if your wife or husband dies of a mysterious disease. You are to live in a good house if you stay in an urban area or people will always talk about how poor you are. Your extended family knows you more than your siblings do – somehow, and when you appear on TV, everybody suddenly remembers they have your number. If some rare opportunity comes that you are traveling abroad, your most distant uncle assumes the mandate of giving you all his hard earned wisdom in fifteen minutes about how you should conduct yourself before people (in a place he has never been to), how you should dress and keep in touch always, because you must reserve the family name for good memories and also remember him when you become rich.

You had dreams of being a someone in your teens; dreams that keep fading with time because as you grow, responsibilities proliferate. That means less time to spend with yourself, your God (if you believe in any), your loved ones; less time to watch football matches or attend kitchen parties – if you even know what those are. So when your children come, you want them to achieve the things you couldn’t by doing everything your skin can hack to give them a good life. And when they tell you they have their own dreams, you get disappointed in them yet it is yourself you should be disappointed at. But life is hard and people should understand you all the time. They should know you sacrifice a lot to make things happen. And marriage is hell enough – if you were lucky to have someone who for some reason thought they could make you a life partner after the dozens of relationships that didn’t work for you or them.

Soon enough, you are a grandparent. You have lost so many friends to death that you feel like you have lived two lifetimes. You have buried some of their children too. Your children have very noisy children but at least they remind you of your youthful vigour when you were young whenever they visit, if ever they do. You have a favourite tree in your home’s compound whose shade you love to sit in as you ponder on life. Looking back, you wonder what you did not do right because the emptiness that engulfs you is not worth a baby’s first day from their mother’s womb. Perhaps it’s worse than death, whose feeling you do not fathom and never will live to tell.

You discover that someone lied to you at some point. Or maybe it’s people – you will call them society. But who is society? Your distant uncle married three wives who you hear bewitched each other. He died a very lonely man. Most of the friends you have who you majorly met in your busy working days are also surviving on pension like you, or maybe you are just a bit better off. If you are a man (I don’t know how it is for a woman), you remember the women you ran bodily errands with, how people respected you for gulping bottles of Vodka in minutes and not getting drunk – or at least managing to hide your intoxicated face, how starting a family was such a big idea in your head – the way you told yourself that someday when you marry, you will make the most of your relationships with your spouse and children. Years have passed, they came, grew old while you were busy looking for money, and some of them do not even talk to you because they do not know how to. It disturbs you but you’d rather die two deaths than admit it.

You see, what good is an old man’s lamentation about his own misdeeds if he has no one to advise? His soul is pale and his days are dismal. His life becomes a page like any other in a book that is read but has nothing striking to a person’s heart, like his was just to become part of the plot to tell a bigger story that is not about him.

Before you know it, you are dead.

Post Author: Eric Onyango Otieno

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