“Wake up! You are going for a motivational talk.” Dad woke me up early on a Saturday morning. He always took-up mum’s role whenever she was gone for her field work. Sleep vanished faster than usual as his rude deep voice woke me up to panic compared with the smooth sail out of sleep my mum’s sweet voice. I had to shake my 12-year-old sister, *Carol, out of bed on Dad’s behalf. She was a tough one! She would envelope herself with her blanket, and pulling the thick bed covering meant playing tag-of-war. That is how I often did my morning exercise.
We took a quick shower and dressed up for the strange event Dad was taking us to. He always wanted the best for us. At times I felt that he tried too much, but I also felt that it would be so disappointing if we dared show disinterest in his push towards our excellence. And so I wore a giant clueless smile for him so that he would see my enthusiasm. I often did this to reassure him that he was doing the right thing.
We rarely mirrored what our peers did over their school holidays. Dad always insisted that excellence meant making some sacrifices in our lifestyle. Mum was working during the August holidays so he kept the home running and our brains fed with wisdom. At times I wondered how it would have been to live like the other kids in our neighbourhood. They always had interesting stories to tell after the school holidays, especially last year’s Christmas. I rarely have any tales to tell, not unless it is about the interesting documentary I watched on Discovery channel. Or perhaps how funny it was when David Copperfield bit his step-father, Edward, in Charles Dickens’ book which I later on watched as a film by Hallmark.
It didn’t really bother me to go for a motivational talk. I always love to learn new things, go to places I’ve never been to, meet people from different cultures, experience things that sharply intrude on the normality of my life. My only disappointment was Carol’s constant nudge to express her discomfort in going to a strange place early in the morning.
“Excellent! We are on time.” Dad announced to prove a point to an invisible time-thief. He hurried to open the car door and ensured that we had carried our then fashionable “Monkey Bags” stuffed with our glittery Spice Girl pencils, Mickey Mouse rubbers and a classic black pen from Dad’s office.
“Hello girls! Welcome to the Dale Carnegie Leadership Training.” A lady reached out to welcome us. She had a shinny face and a warm smile that had no end. I wondered why she exaggerated her smile but I just followed the direction indicated by her arm. “Be the best girls!” Dad said.
A boy, possibly a 15-year old just like me hurried past the main door. It was evident that he was Indian as his father’s voice with a heavy accent echoed though the corridor as he helped him look for the right room. They said their goodbyes and we found ourselves walking shyly into the room which greeted us with big clueless eyes from other kids. The Indian boy let me into the room first and Carol followed. There was a large oval table surrounded by kids who assembled while waiting for the smiling instructor who sat at the front to start off the session. The boy sat on the opposite side of the table right next to Carol who placed her Monkey bag on the table as if it were a pet.
He gave away a gentle smile from across the table and I sent him one as well. During introductions, he picked up a pen and notepad and scribbled away. He only looked up when I introduced myself by name. When it reached his turn, Carol nudged him and he was startled for a moment. He introduced himself as *Raj Pandit and when he saw me smile he suddenly went quiet and gave the next kid a chance to introduce herself. He then picked up his pen and notepad and continued sketching. Carol stole a peek whenever she could and sent reports to me though her winks. Silly girl, but I loved her!
During our break, it was like Raj turned into a robot. He suddenly stopped drawing, stood up straight and marched outside, unlike the other kids who rushed for munchies at the snack table. Carol stuffed herself with snacks and threw some sweets into her bag. As I was about to grab a samosa, Raj grabbed it and then handed it to me. We both laughed and he told me that samosas are the only interesting snacks he could spot on the table. How Indian of him! I told him that I hadn’t taken breakfast and that samosas looked more filling than the other snacks. After our samosa talk, the instructor told us to get back to our seats. Raj took up his pen and notepad and continued doodling.
Whenever we could, we stole a stare or two from each other. Raj was a quiet boy but whenever I made a contribution to a discussion he actively participated by listening. His widened eyes made me realise that he really paid attention to what I said. I had met other cool kids but I was sure to pay a little more attention to Raj who was a little reserved and interacted less with the other kids. But one time, he had a deep chat with one of the boys. I bet they were talking about some boring boyish stuff judging from their gestures and words such as ‘gadget’ ‘Beckham’ and ‘NASCAR’ that escaped their bubble of chat.
The toughest moment came when the training period came to an end and all the kids had to say their goodbyes. Although there was no easy way for kids our age to keep in touch, I made the best of the last moments I had with Raj. I laughed a little more so that he wouldn’t forget my smile. I stared at him a little more so that I would not forget his geometric face and his spiky black hair. The colour of his face that was as smooth as the fresh pies that Dad used to buy from a new coffee house near home called Java. The impact of his tiny yet sharp eyes that pierced through mine whenever he stared and his gentle nature even in his silence as he drew on his jotter. My curiosity swelled with every stroke of pen on paper.
During the last session, he looked at his notepad and took a long gaze at me. I smiled and he rested his notepad. The instructor called him to the side and he rushed to listen to what she had to say. Carol sneakily stole a glimpse of Raj’s drawing then quickly moved away from his chair. When he came back for his notebook, I stood up and walked towards the main door along with the other kids. My heart started pounding as I waited to ask about his drawing.
But all this was in vain when his father’s voice echoed into the room. Raj looked at his father who wore a wide smile that raised his thick moustache and had some round glasses just like Mahatma Gandhi’s pair. He took a step towards me but his father patted him on the back indicating that they should get going. The two hastened past the corridor and I rushed outside as if pulled by his last glances only to find Dad at the end of the corridor.
Carol had followed me, curious to find out if Raj would manage to show me his drawing. Our fathers exchanged firm manly nods on our way out as I literally felt the bond between Raj and I tear away. We were from different worlds but the bond I had with him felt so cosmic and familiar that I didn’t want to let go of his watch. There were no quick means to help us reconnect and we barely shared a lifestyle. As soon as Carol got into Dad’s car, she told me about the notepad. “Raj was drawing you,” she said with a worried look on her face as if we were running out of time to do something.
And so I reached home and sank back into my world of excellence – of books and documentaries. But I soon started one of my own – of imagination and wishful thinking. I grabbed a pen and notepad and wrote about Raj –his smile, his eyes and the samosas that he liked so much. Writing became my new world where culture, technology and time could not get into my way. Writing became my haven, where I could escape and meet my Indian boy whose smile will remain eternal in my words.
The Storymoja Hay Festival is on September 19 – 22, 2013 at the National Museums of Kenya. Follow @SMHayFest on Twitter, and Storymoja Hay Festival on Facebook for updates on guest authors, events, pre-fest events and tickets.