I look around as I walk. The place is still familiar, although the structures have changed over the years. I have been away from this place for a very long time. In my pursuit of secondary and university education in “Down Kenya,” I spent a lot of time away from home and only came for school holidays which were few and far between. And when the family moved to the outskirts of Garissa, I lost touch with the people and the happenings from home.
Now as I walk through the paths, I notice there is a lot that seems to have changed since my childhood days. There’s less thatched clay houses and more concrete houses now, albeit still in the same random haphazard structure; Garissa’s houses do not follow a planned pattern.
When I was growing up, this was the only place I knew. I would read too much into it. I would think about the people who live here and see stories in them. Maybe I was an odd child for giving meaning to everything. Back then this place was everything.
Now after many years, I feel a bit unwelcome here. I feel rather disconnected from this place. There seems a feeling of “detachment” about the place now, a sort of indifference about it. There are fewer people on the roads, and no children playing outside. Once in every few minutes, an old rickety matatu passes by, swaying from one side to the other as it navigates the contours and holes of the road. It comes to a stop in the middle of the road. An old man is helped into the matatu by a youthful conductor. Dust hangs constantly in the air and the sun is hotter, or at least it seems so.
Once in a while, you meet a familiar face. Vaguely familiar.
You can sense the twinge of familiarity in their eyes. But you pass each other. Awkwardly. Beyond that, everything looks alien. New people, old places.
It comes to a stop. The matatu. In the middle of the road. An old man is helped into the matatu by a youthful conductor. Dust hangs constantly in the air and the sun is hotter, or at least it seems so. The heat is oppressive, sweltering and exhausting, it sticks to my skin and makes ovens out of the airspace. It bounces off the ground, causing the illusion of wavering objects. It rains on me like a breath from hell. The scorched sand shimmers in the brilliant white rays of the sun. Few people walk the street, sweat trickling down their necks, clothes cling to their backs. Shrubs grow haphazardly on the edge of the path. Few withered trees cast patches of pitiful shade onto the baked land, and even under the shades, the heat lingers.
I wonder why I feel so alien here now.Why can’t I stand the heat?
I follow the matatu as it takes the sharp corner to the road that passes behind the mosque. The mosque is not visible from this angle anymore; a flurry of houses have been erected around it. I can only see the tip of its minaret. I come to the small path that goes towards the entrance of the mosque. As I walk the narrow pathway, I am overcome with a feeling of hopeless nostalgia. I can see the fence of our old home where I grew up and spent most of my life until we moved to the outskirts of Garissa several years prior. I have walked this sandy narrow path a million times as a child. We played football here every chance we got. On this dusty street. I know this place like the back of my hand. Or at least I did.
The new owners seem to have rebuilt the entire home and it now seems totally different from the place that I have known as a home for almost my entire life.
They rebuilt it. This house that built me.
It seems to me the homes we grow up in stay with us and grow into a life of their own. That there is a reason why we inhabit certain spaces, and not others.
Maybe this place is not just a place, but a feeling.
I stand there for a long time, soaking in the echoing memories of what seems like many lifetimes ago, talking and reminiscing about the enchanting days of childhood, ephemeral as it was, when we had time and didn’t know the temptations of nostalgia. I’m starting at the heart of our childhood, the roots of my being, and the security of a private enclave where we could be free. This is probably where I lost my first tooth. Or all. It was perhaps where I learned my first lessons about life. There was always an adventure and excitement and mischief and rivalry.
There were good times, and bad times and even worse times.
But somehow I feel like a stranger in a place I used to know so well. As I look at the home of my childhood, I realize that perhaps knowing that there are children growing up here would have been consoling to me. I also realize that we cannot hold on to things forever; but some things, once known, can never be lost. Maybe coming back here I’ve been seeking, blindly seeking, for something that has remained with me all this time, though maybe not in the way I expected. I wonder if the hand of time, in its ceaseless flow, will sweep this special place into oblivion. Or whether this is more than just the death of some memories but the birth of a new future. New lives. New generation. New adventures.
Maybe in the golden gloom of the past, there is also the bright-coloured hope of new beginnings.
I stand there, lost in thought.
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