We all have that one person we grew up adoring to the bone despite knowing only too well we couldn’t have them. And no matter what anyone said, to us, they were the most beautiful of souls that mooched the surface of this orb. The utter mention of your name, no matter how few a times, rolling melodiously from their gentle lips was like soft R. Kelly music to your dry ears. If only you could hold them and feel their touch, a smile so wide, fitting and glorious would be planted all over your face so hard sand paper couldn’t wipe it out. I don’t know about you but to me, that person was one Emelda Keziah. Nyar Okumbe. Or Medo, as she is/was often referred to.
I met Emelda when we were both toddlers and still in primary school. I was in Class 4 in a little known school back in Siaya County that went by Rang’ala Boys while she in the neighbouring Rang’ala Girls, in Class 4 as well. Brookside kids, trust me, in a county where schools are named ‘Luoka’, ‘Nyiera’, ‘Bar Atheng’’ and ‘Bar Mathonye’, our ‘Rang’ala’ had and still boasts one of the most envied names around so wipe those ugly smirks off your faces and cut us some slack already.
Rang’ala Girls were like our sister school but they didn’t quite like us very much. I’d like to think it was probably because we were always thirsty, loud, unkempt and went to school bare feet while they, being girls, were unceasingly polished and looked sophisticated in their neat bluish uniforms. But they had no otherwise, it was either these pathetic sons of Abraham or….you know, bananas maybe?*Heheh…evil grin* They chose us, because what we lacked in physical appearance and personal grooming we more than made up for in sports, academics and other extra-curricular activities like music and drama festivals. As it turned out, we didn’t make such a bad ‘couple’ after all. We got along quite fine.
Medo and I had very little in common; I was adventurous and slightly outgoing while she was shy and rarely even left her school compound during games times or the numerous sports events we hosted. I guess that’s what drew me to her in the first place. If there’s one thing I know about relationships (friendship or intimate) is this, you look for a partner whose personality totally differs with yours. Life will be more interesting that way, as opposed to the boredom that shall strike should you ‘wife’ up a girl whose persona matches yours. But that’s just my opinion, after all, one man’s meat is another man’s venom. Aye?
Anyway, there was absolutely no way I could approach her then. At least not while she was always in the company of her three fierce strikingly gorgeous elder sisters:
Jemmah; Her personality can best only be summed by Gabrielle Union’s character in the ‘90s Hollywood movie, ‘Deliver Us from Eva’. If you haven’t watched that movie go fetch it, forget its release date. Old is gold. Gabrielle Union plays Eva, a strong beautiful black woman with three sisters under her wings she would kill to see happy so naturally, she was a prick to her siblings’ boyfriends ‘cause she always thought they weren’t good enough for them. Okay, scratch out the being a prick part and you have Jemmah.
I dreaded her back then, in all honesty. She didn’t seem like the type of girl who would tolerate just any random kid hitting on her baby sister. She was a loud one, still is, in a good way though. No one ever messed with Jemmah; it would have made more sense to deny a Luhya bloke obusuma than to pick a fight with Jemmah back then. She was known all over her school. And ours. To date, a story is still told of one deluded chap (my elder bro’s childhood best friend) who went to her doorstep and proudly confessed his love for her but got boiling hot water poured on him in return. This ‘legend’ made me fear her even more. But in her defence, the guy had been bothering her for days on end with silly texts and below-the-belt pickup lines she had decided enough was enough. The guy claimed he never got harmed, but I always took that as an instance of mwanaume ni kuvumilia. Am just saying.
When I finally got to know her more, I realized Jemmah was actually a cool person to hang around. There are lively people and then there is Jemmah; ever smiling even when the whole world fell on her. A lady who never let anyone boss her around, the ultimate embodiment of ‘What a man can do, a woman can do even better’. Strong, beautiful and welcoming. But allergic to bullshit nevertheless. Oh, and one helluva dancer and actress too. I bow, ma’.
Celestine: She was the eldest in her family; a family of girls only. Lovely girls at that, you can take my word for it. Cele (the short form everyone knew/knows her by) stood tall, with admirable height and utmost splendor alike. Sometimes I ask why she didn’t venture into full-time modeling but I guess the runway just didn’t get her ‘motor’ running. It wasn’t where her heart lay, I mean. I spit to the ground in anger and gross disgust at the ignorant buffoon who coined the cliché, “The beautiful ones are not yet born”. He/she clearly hadn’t travelled wide enough. And I still sink my face into my palms with astonishment whenever someone refers to Lupita Nyong’o and/or Ajuma Nasenyana as ‘beautiful’. Am black, Kenyan and proud of their feats so far but just dining on the same table with Megan Good don’t make you no Megan Good (again, figuratively speaking), if you know what I mean. I leave it at that.
Brown in complexion, strikingly tall with an elegantly elongated neck as an ostrich’s and wonderfully slim, no man could ever resist not looking, nay…staring, twice whenever she walked by. Even cheeky little ‘Johnny’ jumped in ecstasy a few times there in her presence. By far one of the prettiest lasses I ever saw, Cele defined magnificence and reeked of finesse.
Mary: During my last couple of months in high school, as we were awaiting our final exam, our deputy Principal advised us to express kindness and humility towards the rest of the school; especially the monos. He used one particular example which got me putting my thinking caps on while crudely tickling my impoverished ribs in the same measure. He said, “Even if a Form One accidentally steps on you, do not go ballistic and start whipping the daylight out of them. Instead, be nice and apologize for having your feet at the wrong place. At the wrong time.” It’s stupid and makes no sense whatsoever, but strange as it may seem, Mary practically represents this instance.
The one person I know in this lifetime who’d have given the legendary Mother Teresa a run for her money. Gentleness, modesty and generosity oozed out of this amazing soul like fruits surrendering their juice in a blending machine. Appealing and sweet as the rest of her sisters but shy around people, Mary was always the silent one of the trio. It was as if she was driven by a ‘Talk less do more’ dictum.
And then there was Emelda. Oh, my adorable petite Emelda. Eyes so small yet so charming and round as marbles, peeping endearingly from their steady sockets as if to boast the ingenuity of God’s creation. Nose superbly chiseled and strategically slated right above the calabash-carved soul-dwindling mouth and reddish-pink thick luscious lips, concealing a set of stirringly snowy teeth capable of putting the Colgate ad models out of work at first sight. And her breasts…oh, those beckoning bantam twins proudly dangling on her chest. I never touched them but I always assumed they were so spongy I’d fall asleep the instant I lay my head on them. Poor me. F**k you Lupita, “Your dreams are valid” my ass. Emelda had the waist of an Indian belly dancer, I don’t even know what the heck that means. It just sounded cool to me so there. Oh, Emelda. My adorable petite Emelda. Okay, this is probably where you put on your Sauti Sol and sing “Na sura yako muzuri mamaa….Umenikalia chapati” and the rest of that claptrap. I adored her.
As fate would have it, later on in my education, we moved from our original home to elsewhere and guess who our next-door neighbours were. The Okumbes themselves; Emelda and her siblings and folks. We used to play hide and seek at our place all the time. Emelda, myself and our siblings. They were always fun. Especially when it was my turn to cover my face, let the people hide and try finding them after the count of ten. This one time she hid under the bed and when I found her, instead of going to tap the container used with a loud “tapo” hoot as was the norm, I don’t know what the crampooshka got into me but let’s just say I crawled down there too and just lay there beside her. Staring at that flawlessly dazzling creation two inches away from me. The train of thoughts swamping my mind those two or so minutes were rudely interrupted by my sister(what a cockblocker) spanking the container so energetically you’d think Moi’s Nyayo milk was making a comeback to the scene. But now that I think of it she kynda saved me loads of embarrassment right there. ‘Cause I swear to God two more seconds under that bed just staring into Emelda’s eyes without a word and her lungs would have had at it. Awkward moments are real people, even in childhood, don’t be fooled.
Sometimes I used to just hide somewhere and watch her go about her activities. That whole time all I kept thinking about was how I could gain the necessary courage to just fungua roho and be done with it. I even wrote her a letter one time (adolescence must just have been catching up by then) and sent it to her via my elder sister as she went to visit her now close friends (Emmieh’s elder siblings) but she declined to read it and instead, sent it back. Signed and sealed as it were, with the words “Bombasticated (turns out I was a language maestro from a young age) to Emelda Keziah” neatly scribbled in amateur calligraphy on one side. I was hurt. I was heartbroken. And I felt unwanted. If you think losing a girlfriend hurts, wait till your crush rejects you cold-heartedly. But I was young and naïve, I got over it in three days and once more set to vindicate myself before Her Majesty.
A few months flew by before I finally told myself “Come what may” and I marched straight to her doorstep with just one goal in mind; to tell her how much I desired to have her by my side (I believe I was now a mono). And this time she rejected me to my face, albeit politely. She told me she wasn’t ready for any commitments and that she wasn’t really a relationship type. Men, these are the things women say when what’s actually ringing in their heads is “You’re not good enough” or “You’re not my type”. Regardless, I understood. And I went away. Tried again a few more times but when I eventually saw it wasn’t working, I decided it was the end of the road for my fantasies and I calmly took my rightful place in the (in)famous friend zone. As Kenny Rodgers puts it, “You gotta know when to hold on, know when fold up, and know when to run.”
Eras later and I don’t think I’d have made a better decision. We’ve been what we call BFFs ever since and I don’t regret any second of it. She has seen me at my worst and my best; she has been with me through my hustles and struggles; she has opened her arms to me where others shut me out; she’s been patient and kind even when push came to shove; she even held me up, tucked me neatly in bed when I had a little too much to drink at my birthday party.
I’m an ass, most women I know can tell you that. Some were my friends but went away and never looked back. Some sped off but came running right back to ‘daddy’. But not for one split second has she ever turned her back on me.
For these, and so much more, Emelda, I treasure you. I would have said ‘love’ instead of ‘treasure’ but I know how much you hate that word. Besides, I don’t think my missus would approve of it. It’d probably have been weird anyway. Now sit back and wait for the rumors to start flying. You’ll see.
In any case, this article is dedicated to you. And for you, my childhood-crush-turned-best-friend. Be well.