HOME IS A CASTLE OF STORIES

DEFYING THE ODDS

Nights before visits to boy schools were a frenzy. Girls running around, shirts and skirts meeting an iron box. Shoes being polished and socks drying up by sheer force of towels. Perfume would be sourced and hair blow dried. All of this to so as to ‘kill it’ in the function. To have gangs of boys trudging behind. Begging for a phone number, or even to say a feeble hi and be on their way. High school team Mafisi would follow around, staring at asses and whistling.

Claudiah did all this but on her first high school function, the sky came crashing down. Not a single boy approached her. Not even a distant wave or nod. Whenever she locked eyes with anyone they would hastily look away. As if they had been warned not to look at her face. As if they looked at her, they would turn into pillars of stone. While other girls contacts were being written on arms and sleeves of shirts, she stood lonely by the school bus. One might have thought that she was guarding the bus. While other girls were being bamboozled with bullshit lines.

“You’re so pretty. You’re my sun and my moon.”

She stood alone by the edges of the field. Nobody was interested in her, not schoolmates neither boys. She walked around like a chilly ghost, hoping maybe someone would stop her for a casual conversation. But nobody did. That didn’t hurt much, it was the mocking awaiting her back in school.

“Yaani, you went for a function and not even one boy talked to you. Girl! You should have remained in school. You’re soiling our good name. But anyway, with a face like that, what do you expect? No boy would look at you twice.”

“I felt unworthy of myself,” she says. “On the ride back to school I sat alone by the window in the back seat. My face pressed against the glass and tears rumbled down my scarred cheeks. Amidst silent sobs, I asked God what was wrong with me?”

She takes me back to when she was undone. 2009, August 11th.

Claudiah was in class Seven then. She was on this school trip to Kisumu. They had been to Impala Park and loads of other places. They even rode a boat about a kilometre into the waters of Lake Victoria. They were having a tremendous time in the city by the lake. A troop of young girls chaperoned by their teachers. Cameras snapping away, memories being packaged, in films and memory cards. For Claudia, this was a day to forget. But she can’t. The memories are young, like soil from a freshly dug grave. The scars have grown to be part of her soul. Were she to wake in the morning and the scars are gone, she would feel lost and confused.

They were queuing to have supper. She was first in line. The food was a bit cold, thus she went to warm it. They used spirits to warm food in that hotel. She put her meal in the compartment and started chatting with her friend behind.  The food seemed to take forever to warm up, she turned to the compartment. At that instant, it exploded right on her face. A raging inferno fuelled by spirits. 

We are seated at a Creamy Inn joint on the far end of Muindi Mbingu street. A fantastic place. It’s on Saturday afternoon, the place is rowdy in a gorgeous way. A cesspit of life, small whispers from tables like ocean waves. Burgeoning campus lovers are having a pizza on my right. On the counter, a father and a daughter wait for their order. The young girl is enthusiastic, impatient. From the look on her face, it's like her ice cream is taking centuries. On the father’s its a vacant look of irony. He’d rather not be here. Maybe he could be with his friends in some pub in Kinoo, shooting pool, downing Tuskers and watching football. But then, he is a father. And fatherhood makes men forget about football.

Wanjiru is a powerhouse of life. She’s fun to talk to and I am enjoying every second of the chat. She likes to use the term bruh! And then she realises she’s a bit older than me. She chortles.

“You ain’t serious bruh! You mean if we walk together, I am the guardian. Then why am I so short?”

“You’re not short, let’s just say that I am extremely tall,” I say in between flowing laughter. She shakes her head and plunges into her ice cream. Then emerges waving her spoon in the air, “ it's not fair.” She says, and we laugh even more.

“After the explosion, I started running. I was trying to find ways to turn off the fire but my first instinct was just to run. I had no idea where I was headed but I just wanted to get away. My face was a burning ball of flames. Dead Pool kind of shit.”

She would have continued running was it not for a teacher who grabbed her, poured water on her and covered her with a sweater. She was rushed to Kisumu Agha Khan.  Given painkillers and the doctors pumped sedatives into her. An attempt in vain to make her sleep.

“They drugged me that night but I just couldn’t sleep. Millions of thoughts were racing through my mind. What had really happened? Was it that bad? Was my face deformed? The next morning, I was flown to Agha khan Nairobi. I spent about six days in the hospital, all this time my mother never left my side.  She was there day and night, granting my every wish. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to thank my mom.”

The wounds took almost a year to heal. They were the most brutish twelve months she’s ever experienced. She would walk around covered in scarves, to keep out the elements and prevent subsequent infections. She was not to look at herself in the mirror. Lest she starts hating herself. On joining high school, she had to do away with the scarves. For the first time in two years, she was going to face the world in her true self.

“I was scared to lose the scarves. But then the school had bullcrap rules about covering. I was facing reality for the first time, bruh, I felt naked without my scarves. Chicks giving me weird stares. Opinions started flowing in, comments. People I had never even talked to had something to say about my face. Some were convinced that it had been a naught attempt to bleach. I took it all in, I decided that no matter what people say I’ll keep my cool. But then it reached fever pitch, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was a teenager, fighting to find self-identity yet others were toying with my conscience.

I cracked open. All my fears came alive. That maybe I was ugly. I was going to die without ever being loved. Depression started showing, the self-flagellation. Suicidal thoughts were holding conferences in my head. I would sometimes dream that I am a monk in a distant monastery high on the mountains. That I would climb to the topmost peak and jump off into oblivion. I did not feel worthy to live. My grades were far off on the wrong side of the divide. I had been an A student. But now I was swimming in the murky waters of D+ and Es. Territories I only heard of when results were announced. Now I was part of the basement, those who were threatened with relegation.

One evening I wrote a letter to one of my teachers. She never even got back to me. She would attend class and be on her way soon after. We would walk past each other on the hallways but she never said a thing. I still don’t understand why, but I long forgave her.
With my grades hanging perilously on the precipice of failure, I changed schools.”

This turned out to be her lighthouse. Determined to take control of her life she lay low in her new school. Focusing on books and books and more books. She did not give two shits about what people thought of her. The steel in her was finally coming of age. A toughness even alien to her started showing. She never had a boyfriend all through high school. She never sent or received any letters. She never sprayed any envelope with perfume. Never dedicated ‘Westlife’ to some imbecile in a far-off school. She just did her time and was on her way after form four. She left high school with no memories, no recollections. Just a blankness covered with books.

“After campus, I ran into Brandon. A designer who wanted met to be the model for his products. I had always wished to model but with people bearing down on me about my scars it wasn’t easy. I couldn’t believe it when my first shoot made it to the People’s Daily. And I was like, if I can be in the newspaper, then I am good enough to model.”

Modelling has not been a walk in the park for her. Previously she could apply for events but she wouldn’t receive replies or she would get a stoic no! But she’s never been discouraged.

“I have been told not to take the runway many times, even when I am already dressed up. In heels and everything. And it hurts a lot, being judged by my scars. They could even let me walk.  And my walk is fire, my friend! Fire!”

She talks like a motivational speaker. Confident and trusting in her abilities.

“All the rejections motivate me to be better each day. Negative energy channelled into positive energy can work in extraordinary ways. Whenever I’m told no, I believe its yes! And that keeps me going each day. A candle loses none of its flames by lighting another candle.”

She had already finished her ice cream. I was toiling with mine, I eat slowly. You can be in a traffic jam to Rongai but you will still find me eating. My eyes travelled around the Creamy Inn joint once more. A chick from my campus passed by, pizza in hand, she winked and was on her way. Claudia unleashed her phone, showing me pictures and videos of her on duty. Delving into her unchartered world of photographers, designers, stylists, and makeup artists. Folks say that art is easy but you look at that and realise that art is more brutal than any field out there. But we match on like Safari ants, to quote Binyavanga, waving our pincers as if we will win.

“I am venturing more into street photography. Because the runway limits you to the designer’s attires.”  There I pause for a moment, who still uses the word ‘attires’ in this age and time when Instagram is the alpha and the omega.

“Street photography allows me to live free. Express my soul however I find it fit. I wake up in the morning and dress up according to my moods. I show my soul in different ways, changing clours like the Taj Mahal. And every time a photographer snaps away at me, I feel to have defied the odds. I have found my own way to be beautiful despite what people say beauty is.”

She has tattoos of poker cards on her hands. And the tattoos carry everything about her, the way she views life.

“Life is like a game of poker for me. Someone wins and another loses. It's bad, it’s unfair but that’s life. We never know what is waiting for us on the other side of the tunnel. Your optimism and attitude are what makes you a winner. We all have different situations, we come from different backgrounds and circumstances. But no matter how bad or good your current situation is, you have all the power to define your future.”

We walked together back to the National Archives. We hugged near the Tom Mboya statue and parted ways. Claudiah Wanjiru back to Juja. To take more photos, defy more odds and keep walking the runway. And Osoch Ogun, back to the smouldering sun of Rongai.

Ps. Hello Gang, when you comment please type in your name, we want to know each other. Don’t make it seem like it is aliens who read this blog. Love you all. Salute!!! Enjoy your valentines.

Sample more of Wanjiru’s work on Instagram at  @claud_bae
Photo courtesy of @vin.arts_photography

Do you need covers for your phone? Dazils_Ferdinand on Twitter. He’s a budding artist too specializing in customized covers for phones and laptops.  Check out his works






23 comments:

  1. Melby...so deep bruh😫😫😭though very encouraging I love the courage and determination in her....

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  2. Hahaa who still uses words like attires when Instagram is the Alfa and omega... Sherry

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  3. You know what? The next time you do an interview, let me do it on your behalf? I want to meet this kind of personalities, young man..


    But let`s talk about this story. It was good, a tad bit too short for my wants. Man, we love long things, girls can confirm that. You have taken us for a three minutes shot, and suddenly your are dry, and the credits are rolling up the screen. What is that now? Is that not a little crime?


    I love Claudia. She doesn`t have the surreptitious quips of a person who has too much into herself, but I think you did not ask the tough questions. Nigger, you need to prod deeper, go to the cervix(crux) of the issue if you may, but get us all that juice. We do not care how. Are we understood?


    Good vibe though.

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  4. Inspirational...what everyone thinks is just fucked up.. And Claudia just beat me to the point I wouldn't care about what "they" say. It's a process and I'm learning. . Mourice

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  5. A good and inspiring story with loads of lessons.
    Raphael

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  6. Deep😣the world can be cruel sometimes, but kudos to her🌹It's not easy when you alright physically. Happy Valentines from me to her and the Writer😉~.zenny.~

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  7. ✌✌Kudos to Claudia. ..Frequent blows make us stronger ..����
    Happy valentines

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  8. Bruh... That's an incredible story. Next time you meet Claudia, tell her that we love her so much😍. Thanks for sharing ☺.

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  9. Beautiful story, brother. You do the words justice.

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  10. Amazing and inspiring. So many people out there need to read this.

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  11. I feel her man. She be the most inspiring being alive. Against all odds and still standing cute

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  12. Hi,not an alien, this is so touching, life really can be brutal

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  13. "no matter how bad or good your current situation is, you have all the power to define your future.”

    it states it all...wooh i love the article so inspiring

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  14. Great work.....the determination was so great..so encouraging....pple should stop being brutal....loving the work

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  15. Such an Amazing Read! Wow!
    I'll be stuck on this page for a while. I Love the burst of positivity!

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