When denied in one area you are uplifted in another. Statements like this one are rendered senseless until one falls victim. The year was two thousand four; the heavens had smiled on planet earth and accorded it a gift. The unique thing about this rare gifting is that it never came in with the deliveries nor was it wrapped in glittering paper. The gift was a boy, born in the harshest of conditions brought up in a brutal environment. Like the birth at the manger, the stands were dark and dirty but unlike that night no bright star shone. It was the darkest of nights with no wise men from the east with gold and myrrh, no singing angels neither were there shepherds because earth was not ready to receive the gift. Still it had been given and it could not be sent back. Like all other unacceptable gifts we threw it into a dark box under the closet, ignored it until we forgot about it.
When it’s born in dark and dirt, it’s from heaven.
However, heaven does not forget and that was not going to be a first for inside the dark box, the gift of light, wrapped in mud, sin and regret started changing. And as it grew, it glowed. The glow was weak, tarnished and despairing but just enough to erode the despicable coating. Slowly but steadily, like a sprouting bean in the middle of ferns, the gift grew tall. The ferns did no good for the growth but instead of yellowing and dying off the young bean leaned on the ferns for support. It sent its fragile tendrils round the ferns, to support its growth and later to choke them. The gift was indeed light which even it was blind to until it raised its first ears above the ferns and met the true light it reflects. The union made was one of a kind; the gift blossomed and cast a huge shade over the ferns. The ferns started falling off. Dead. They plotted against the gift but it was too late, the bean seed had found support for life that even the ferns united could not take away.
It’s now twenty seventeen, thirteen years since the gift was given. The boy has opposed the odds and earned a name, John. Many years are the ones he spent hidden in a dark box but he is now out, enjoying the luminance of the sun, growing strong as the wind blows and sending his roots deeper and wider. He is the allelopathic kind that weeds cannot stand. John is a sojourner, the people who come into your life for a moment and leave but remain in your mind for life.
We live life for two reasons. Most of us live because we were born but only few live to leave a legacy. The boy John knew why he was around right from day one. We are quick to absorb everything life offers but slow to decide what is good for us, we let what goes in define us. John fought for what he knew was right, he was aggressive but patient and how he managed the balance nobody could tell. We placed our stakes on his downfall but each time he disappointed us. John came to school in a sweater worn out at the sleeves up to the elbow, his shorts were old, tattered, and the original buttocks were long gone to be replaced by a patch of grey darker than the original short. We wanted to laugh at him but we didn’t. Something about the way he stared at us stopped us. His eyes had a certain charm that not many could stand. He taught me that men are never to be judged by demeanor or dressing but by the qualities they stand for.
Most of us live because we were born but only few live to leave a legacy.
Life has never been a slut, it is a bitch. To the weak it oppresses, to the strong it dances. I thought I was strong, and that life was on a pole, dancing for me. Our thoughts are not always right, most of the time they are delusional, showing us what we exactly want to see. They become the blindfolds, hiding reality from our focus. Yes, this helps us to sleep at night and walk around with our chins held high but restrains us from leaving the legacy. Trouble on the other hand tests our limits, tearing us down to the core. A life of trouble is a journey of self-discovery; most of us will not take this route anyway since our parents blocked it from our perspective. I was lucky, not because I walked down that path but because I met with someone who walks on it daily. John is that person. He is made of something harder than diamond but hides it behind a quiet voice and a silent smile that hardly gives away. He is the kind that says, “Hi, how have you been?” and does not expect fine as an answer. He hails from a communal home in Mathare Valley; he’s got a lot of brothers and sisters. At thirteen he is among the oldest and responsibility balances tragically on his young shoulders. Should he fall, it will be a catastrophe, not for him as he is harder than diamond and closest to the ground, but for the songbird that hangs precariously at the top. That is how he arrives at school each morning, having tussled with angry bus drivers and touts as he helps the smaller ones cross the road. Sometimes I think he is just a Katrina carrying so much garbage and force that one day will yield to pressure and hit the shore hard enough to create an epidemic but in a way he steers back to the sea when every signal is blaring and glaring red for disaster.
It is always hard to mentor such a soul. You want to remind them to be thirteen and a little bit careless but the load of care they have been carrying calms you down. There are moments you want to throw in bits of advice but remember you need them more. Far be it from you to break such consistency and discipline for the wrath will be irrational. Times you are stressed out because you do not have enough finances to change furniture and remember the struggle on a tiny desk in a dimly-lit, damp room where he is struggling to help his sister add three to seven, and tears flow from your eyes because of how selfish your thoughts are. He has nothing but he gives everything while you have it all and you keep complaining to heaven for more. He has showed me how to pray; maybe he has never prayed himself. I have never spoken to him about God, but he has relentlessly put himself in prayer by giving what he has to be needy all the time. He is always concerned with others problems to create space for God to be concerned with his problems. Gifts are not always given to make us happy; when they come from heaven they are here to remind us to be sad, to be good and to make us accountable.
This article was first published in 2017 by The AM Journal. The AM Journal is an African Online Magazine that is involved in business, advocacy and creative arts.