Mum and a Sister

Depression, disease and death – the 3Ds, triple Ds if you will. Unlike Double Ds, which are fun to have – I’m not speaking from experience, just wishful thinking – the triple Ds are weird and most people are not comfortable around them. But they are the reason I have realized that I have mum and a sister.

I’m not talking biological here, I had those long before I came to be. And all I had to do was be carried around for nine months, torture a woman a little and come out crying like a banshee. The banshee could have been the woman though, that period is a bit fuzzy for me. So yeah, I already had a mum, wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her after all. And my sister, that’s just the cherry on top.

I met my non-biological mum in my high school sophomore year. I had just switched schools, freaking out about fitting in, making friends and all that. “Mum” was a nickname given to her by our classmates. That was way before my time. It wasn’t meant as a compliment. She was not a mother hen always looking out for her brood. And the chicks in class were cackling alright, just not her praises. My first impression of her was, “Wow! She is a scary person.” She was always lecturing the class about things and this made some of our classmates act out which led to more lectures. I don’t know which came first, the pranks or the lectures – it’s the same deal as the chicken and the egg. Like the time someone drew on her face while she was asleep at her desk and she threatened to have us pay her dermatologist’s bills. But as scary as she was, she was kinda awesome even then – scarily awesome.

We went to a boarding school and she was scarily organized. And yes, I have dropped the word “scary” around a lot but it is because I’m hoping that if I keep saying it, you’ll eventually get the idea – hypnosis and the power of suggestion at play, my friend. While most of us were always short on cash and constantly writing home or better yet, talking a teacher into letting us call home to ask for more funds, she had budgeting down to an art. She had money set aside for use at school, money to spend on school trips, a little something for emergencies as well as enough to cover her fare once schools closed. My fare plan, on the other hand, involved calling home a week before school closed and saying, “Mum, sina fare.” You’re starting to see the kind of girl that she was, right? Or maybe, it’s just about the girl that I was. Eons later, and I’m still not even a little bit organized.

I was interested in writing even then and there was a piece I wrote about “Kenya at 40”. We were talking about that a lot at the time. I didn’t want it to be a fluff piece and was going for a serious journalistic vibe. She was the only person in the class whose opinion on the piece I remember seeking – I might have asked other people but try as I might, no one else comes to mind. Hers is the only comment that I do remember. She read it, said it was boring and asked me to consider writing about something else. I didn’t take that comment lightly. But despite my respect for her opinions, we did not go on to become high school best buds, cry together at graduation and promise to never lose touch.

Fast forward a few years and we meet again, just shy of our 10th high school class reunion. A former classmate invited us to her birthday. I accepted the invite because I was going to be in the neighborhood. Only three of us from the high school showed and we hung out, caught up on our lives over wine and decided to start a chama. You know you’re getting up there in age if table-banking starts to feature in your conversations. The adulting shit starts becoming real at that point. We took the chama conversation seriously and so pursued it, with a chama constitution and all that jazz. But usually when we met, chama business would last for about twenty minutes and then we’d have social hour minus the alcohol. But I didn’t really think of her and the others as friends. They were just these girls that I went to high school with, and that I was now in a chama with.

A few months into this and depression hits. There wasn’t like a huge signpost saying, “Now Entering Depression.” I thought I had my shit together and then I didn’t, and then I checked out for months. I checked out, checked back in to realize that people around me had moved on, like huge-life-events-happening moved on, seemingly without a second thought regarding my MIA status. My not-biological Mum spared me a thought or two. She first traced me through my sister’s Facebook and came to find out what was going on. I was dragged to a movie – Beauty and the Beast was playing in theatres at the time. Then and for some time after, I was handled with kid gloves. She would insist on picking me up and/or dropping me off whenever we had to get together, sometimes even arranging for someone else to do that when she couldn’t . And although things didn’t magically get better there and then – I was in and out of depression for about 2 years – that stuck with me. This person actually gave a damn about me.

I met the person that I would eventually think of as a sister in my first year of college. We were assigned a room together. My actual biological sister had been to that university before me and so had arranged for me to be taken care of by this guy she knew from her university club days. He’d been a freshman when she was there and was now in his fifth and final year. My roommate had gotten to the room before I did and had already settled in. My sister’s friend looked around the room – at the dark pink skirt suit lying on her bed, at her striped sheet bedcover – then looked at me and asked me if I was interested in changing rooms so I’d get a cooler roommate. I said no to the room change and unknowingly said yes to a sister.

People in school used to think that we were related. I was always being asked where my sister was. The fact that we roomed together reinforced that idea. We easily moved from roommates to friends, largely because of the kind of person that she is. She and my friend from high school are two of the most generous souls that I know. Even before I acknowledged it, I had gained a younger sister and I took that role seriously as did she. I was once woken up at 1 am to go deal with a guy who wouldn’t take no for an answer. When I had trouble getting a room – public universities; too many students, too few rooms – in my third year, I crashed in her room for a month before I finally got the situation sorted out.

As with Mum, we lost touch for a while after graduation. But whenever something happened to her, she’d reach out and we’d talk until she felt better. I used to tell my brother, “I have this friend who uses me as her therapist.” And years later, she had the same thought, because when she learnt about my depression, she wasn’t happy with me. “I always come to you with my problems.” She said, “Why couldn’t you come to me?” And since then, I always go to her. She’s part of the family now.

She was the first person and for a while the only person that I told about my dad being sick. I laughed with her when I thought it wasn’t serious and I cried with her when I found out that it was. She would get me out of my head, sometimes out of the house as well, for my well-being. When we finally lost dad, I did not want to share that with anyone. I felt like talking about it would make it real. But my sister was worried about me. Having her friends around helped her and she wanted the same for me. She called from her house asking, “Have you told, T (Sister)? What about I (Mum)?” She later called to make sure that I had. They both rallied around me and were there for me when we laid my dad to rest.

Mum and I didn’t start off in the same school. And even when I had the option of switching schools, that school was not even on my radar, I had another one in mind but that didn’t work out. In college, I had the option of switching rooms and roommates but I chose to stay where I was. In both cases, by going left when I should have gone right, I first gained Mum and later, a sister.