I am writing this letter now, not because I have figured the answers out, but I realize that without you, I have to work it out on my own.
It has been a very long journey, short for you, tall for me. I should have realised that I had very little time to learn from you. But I was too busy being a brat to see it. Someday, if I should ever achieve any of the goals I aspire to, if I should ever become a voice of reason, a force of positive change, you will be one of the people who made it possible. I haven’t gotten there yet, but I have more reason to work harder now.
Today, as I took the long walk across the city, I thought of you, and all the lessons you have taught me. It has been very painful over the last few weeks coming to terms with your departure to what you called the better life. Today, I could still feel the pain, but my mind was incredibly clear. I remembered, I cried a little bit, people stared, I walked on, then grinned with memory, people still stared, I laughed out loud, then they stopped for a second and I walked on laughing and crying at the same time.
Do you remember the twelve year old you took in under your wings? I don’t think life has ever been as painful as it was then. But you taught me to look at the best in it, to learn from the pain, to fight against it and be the best I can be. I know I have failed you so many times since then. I give up, break down and lose hope. But you have been here, far away but always close to me, teaching me to get up and back on my feet again. I will have to do that on my own now; remind myself how to get back on my feet when life throws curve balls at me. Curve balls. I remember watching baseball with you, and hating it all the while. I still have no idea what that American sport is about. You loved it, and I loved you. And you insisted that there is a lesson in everything.
Do you remember when I started writing? By then I was a noisy impish kid. You taught me to talk and listen at the same time. A writer cannot be a good writer unless they listen and observe. You used to say that all the time. I still talk a lot. Four days in a new job and I have already been crowned office clown. I talk to myself, to computers, to everyone. I even talked the rest room door into opening even though the girl dancing on one foot beside it had not succeeded. Anyway, I have learnt to watch too. I walked today, the crisp chill of the morning biting into my ears and nose, and wondered why the lady in front of me bothered to wear high heels when they were ruining her posture and were obviously painful for her. I noticed that some of the faces on the street are the same faces I see every morning.
The Chinese-African lady who sells flowers and speaks amazing Kikuyu. The boyish faced man who is always waiting to have his shoes polished by the corner cobbler. The night guard who still has not been relieved by the day guard. The old man who always whistles in the morning as if life is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen. The guy who wears leather jackets, a different color every day, and always gets into the mkahawa opposite Parliament. I wonder what their stories are. Sometimes, I just make them up for myself. But today, I was thinking about you.
I was thinking about the walk we took through Butterfly Park in Bamburi, just because butterflies are beautiful, some rare and exotic, all unique, just like every human being. Different types of them, but all beautiful. I have to remind myself that, every time I meet someone who is different. I can’t change them, I can love some of them, but some I can only watch. You didn’t tell me that the ones you love can be just as shortlived as the butterflies. Now I know. To use every moment that I still have to love the ones I love.
Do you remember what you said when Tony told you that I had jumped off the bridge into the creek? You asked me to go and jump off again. And think about all the people I need to help before my time is up, while I was jumping off. You know, I could not jump ever again. I still love to take risks. Sometimes I take them without thinking. But you taught me that I owe the world, it does not owe me. I can do what I need to do to get what I want, but I should also make sure I give back to the world. I think, still think, that all that is a bit too idealistic, but I still think about it every day. So I take my risks with caution, and do the best I can for those that I can. Were you pleased when I decided to become a Kindergarten teacher? I think you were. I love the job, when I can do it, but I get distracted a lot, by things that seem more exciting. I know you forgive me, though.
Parliament building. The first time I saw it I thought it was the most impressive thing ever. When I told you, you laughed. You said that was one building that had the potential to house the best and the worst minds all together. I never really thought what that meant. Until a few days ago, when you reminded me. Politics perplex me. I watch, sometimes I understand, mostly I am exasperated at the amount of selfishness displayed in it. But you told me that the policies and politics of this world make it and destroy it, so I should pay attention. Well, I do. Sometimes I find myself listening to all the wrong people, but I listen anyway. Everyone’s opinion matters. But not all opinions make the world a nice place to live in. I curb the idealistic mind now, because I know some things just are. So I just look at Parliament building, with curiosity and admiration, and sadness, then I move on.
I got to the office eventually, took a piece of paper and wrote this down, because I got in very early. The blotches on the paper are not tears. You asked me not to cry if you ever left me. I made some coffee so that when the steam stings my eyes, I can pretend that that is why my eyes are tearing up. So very few things can make me cry. I hurt inside and try to strangle whatever it might be, so that I can have the strength to move on. Sometimes that is what kills me slowly. Losing a friend, and not knowing the reasons, not knowing how to make it right. Knowing that I am never going to be anything that any of my parents can ever approve of. Facing mistrust from friends and caring too much about it. Fighting hard against low self esteem and failing again, and again. I hold it all inside. You said there are reasons to cry, to let out all the pain. I hope I’ll learn how to do that without breaking into pieces. I know that your departure is not a reason to cry. Yours was a life well lived. So I will let the steam sting my eyes, and remember everything you taught me.
Tonight, I will look up at the stars. Tomorrow, I will rise with the sun. Goodbye, Khalid.