I am sorry, my Kikuyu friend.
I know you will read this. Please accept my apology today. I used to call you Maina, or simply ‘Okuyu’ as many people did back then. In a small neighbourhood in Migori, we were among the gang of kids that had fun everywhere and played whenever. We founded our own games and made our own jokes. During the school holidays, we would meet very early in the morning to plan our activities for the day. No one had a phone back then but we were always very punctual. The day would begin with an intense game of football until we could not play anymore. I don’t intend to redo the rules of football as we had them during those years; but I do appreciate the chance fate gave me to be a ball owner at one time, do you remember my made-in-china ball?. The injuries we picked from our bare ground pitches and bony opponents would take an EPL player nine months to recover from. For us, we just shook them off. In the middle of the day, we would proceed to River Migori, a few metres away to cool our flaming bodies. All that time when the gang was intact we would forget our poverty-stricken homes for a while.
The most interesting thing about you is that your parents were more financially stable than most of ours, the locals. They did a lot of businesses ranging from “importing” potatoes and rearing broilers to offering transport to Kisumu. You would have a gotten a PlayStation 1(the best during our childhood) if you wanted but instead, you chose to hang out with us. We were all equal in our clique. I had a pair of shorts with two holes at the back but I never felt self-conscious even once. We spent most of the time laughing at little things we could find humour in.
We caught fish when the river was swollen. One incident I will never forget is when you and I were swimming across the river to scare fish into our net but you lost control on the way and began drinking a lot of water. You reached out for me and made both of us begin taking in too much water. I thought I would drown. Our cry for help was only heard by our friends at the bank after we had no more space for more water. I still think they were enjoying our plight. We should sue them after this. I hope you eventually learned to swim, I did.
You went to the best private school around while the rest of us attended a public school. I inherited your shoes with a lot of joy because they made me different in our school where everyone owned at least a pair of sleepers and nothing else. Thank you so much.
You were a staunch supporter of Arsenal while I was red with Manchester United. It’s sad that I have to say my team’s full name now because a recent fan might confuse it with City which was nowhere to be seen those days. You watched all games and even cried when your team lost. The peak moment for you was when Arsenal became the Premier League Champions following an unbeaten run the whole season. It’s amazing how we were still friends even when our coaches Ferguson and Wenger had a hatchet to bury. We valued things that brought us together. I don’t know how you did it but you learned my language, Dholuo, so that the crew wouldn’t have to struggle to speak Swahili at all. Your Kikuyu language was hard though, I am still trying to know the meaning of a few words like “Neke!”.
Life went on smoothly and I thought we would all grow up together in the hood. Our friends were all diverse. We had a lot of Kalenjins too. Do you remember Njuguna? He doesn’t know his tribe anymore. He thinks he’s a Luo because that’s the only place he’s ever lived in and knows no other language. You must at least remember Omamo who spoke Kisii, Luo, and Maragoli, he’s doing well. As a reminder, some of the members of the crew were Bush, Ogenya, Jacko(RIP), Onyi and many more. I don’t hear from some of them anymore but I promise to say Hi for you when I see them.
My purpose for writing to you is to seek forgiveness. I was not a good friend when you needed me most. After your KCPE at Pentagon Academy, you joined Homa Bay High School. When you came home for holiday in December 2007, you inspired me a lot. I wanted to join a high school, any high school and be able to manage my own pocket money and also travel far from home just like you had. Suddenly the elections came like a bad dream. No one knew what was in store. The inevitable change was coming our way. Our games and good times were not to be anymore. Life’s full of surprises. The counting of the presidential votes lasted three days. They were three days of anxiety and finger-crossing. Your parents sensed the danger and moved you to a fenced plot where we couldn’t see you anymore. Maybe that’s the last day we laughed as kids. All I can remember now is how many of you who didn’t speak my language ran away. I heard from a friend that your family left in a huge lorry to avoid being seen by the locals. That strategy saved your lives and to this day, I am extremely grateful you are alive.
You left in hurry and I didn’t find time to tell you how sorry I was not to be with you during that time.
I am sorry I did not tell my uncles and brothers that you were just a harmless friend.
I am sorry you were not given a chance to defend yourself against the angry mob that wanted you out of town.
I am sorry that my people did not understand that you were neither the problem nor the cause of the problem.
I am sorry I did not bring you water to drink when you locked yourself inside that house to avoid being killed.
I am sorry you had to leave in disgrace having made our lives bearable when you were around.
I am sorry I did not offer any refuge in our home for the fear of persecution.
I am sorry my friend, that after all the fun we had I couldn’t still open my eyes and see that there was no difference between you, Maina and me, Ochieng other than my darker skin.
I am sorry for thinking that chasing you away would solve my problems, they became worse.
I am sorry it took me so long to pen my apology.
Wherever you are, I hope you have made more friends and are living with them as you did with us here.
Recently we talked and you told me you are a teacher now. You were surprised that I can afford to wear a cheap suit now. Things have changed. We have become serious. We are chasing our dreams all over. I almost forgot what threw us far apart, it was the elections. Please tell your friends over there that we still have a life to live after this. We will need each other later after the ballot. I don’t want you to lose another friend like me hehe! I will do the same where I am. Do you remember how Ferguson and Wenger’s enmity didn’t affect our friendship? That’s what I am talking about.
By the way, we promised to meet at the coast and catch up on a few changes we have had. Please plan for it. I need to have a valid reason to use the SGR. All the best friend.