Mum has been living in the U.S of A for the last one year and a half. Dad is planning to go visit her sometime in the future. He however has no passport and thus is planning to get one. Now we all know that to get one, a Kenyan needs a birth certificate. My Dad is however a very busy man and has no time to look for that certificate and so one night when Mum called she told me that Dad needed his birth certificate and in the natural female ways, we concluded that I would be the one to search for it. The next day, I went into the master bedroom and got all the files that contained family records. My parents are very organised. I painstakingly went through every file and checked every document just in case the birth certificates in ‘those days’ didn’t look like the ones that are there now. It was while I was going through the last file that I came upon the most interesting envelope in the house. The big envelope contained smaller envelopes which contained letters. Stop! They were not my parents’ love letters – I am yet to find those. They were letters that my brother and I wrote home while in boarding school. I couldn’t resist reading them. And am glad I did. I have never been so thoroughly entertained by letters before.

Now considering that the writing talent has been in my blood since I can remember, although I was actively ignoring it, my letters were by far more comical. My brothers were very detailed and emotional – he is a poet. I admit, that at the time I was writing these letters, I must have thought I was being very serious. Yeah right! I have to admit that I would have loved to see some of the reactions my parents must have had when reading my letters. I am positively sure that they laughed their hearts out then reread them just to laugh again. I mean, when you receive a letter with a hand writing you recognise rather easily, it is not even necessary to read the address at the top. I don’t know whether I thought my parents didn’t know my handwriting or whether I thought they might not remember me, but I had the habit of starting my letters like this: ‘Hi! It’s me again! Your only daughter!’ I would then proceed to ask how they were doing and tell them I was doing fine.

My letters got more interesting as I grew older. I think that has to do with the fact that people mature more and become more outspoken as they proceed through high school. I discovered that I only wrote home before visiting day and once in a while I would write before we closed. That is how it came to be that the first letter I wrote when I got into high school was to inform my family that I would be coming home soon for the holidays and about how much I liked the school. Back when we were in Form one, I bet we can all remember how we would instruct our Mums and house helps to prepare meals meant for a feast when we got home. Well, I didn’t. At the end of the first letter, I wrote: ‘I don’t want any special meal prepared, I just want ugali na maziwa. Don’t take this lightly please. So Mum, before you leave home ask Muthoni to cook that for lunch.’ Now I dare not imagine how long my mother laughed and how much more my Dad laughed at that statement. What child in their right mind asks for such a simple meal when they have been confined in a boarding school with horrible food for the first time? Me! I remember that after that, it became a tradition and every day I went home after school, I found some ugali and milk waiting for me. I loved it! I still do.

At the end of that year I wrote something with emotional impact on the relationship between my father and brother: ‘You guys please encourage Bobby. You see, when you talk to him with the intention of encouraging, you always end up scolding him. That’s why he doesn’t take some things seriously. I am writing from experience. So please, quit scolding him sometimes, like when you find him watching TV on Satos after lunch, let him relax just a little then send him back to his room. He’s afraid of you, especially you Dad, because of scolding, scolding, scolding. Sometimes talk about things you used to do when you were his age, like Mum does. It’s fun talking freely with you. Please try at least.’ Dad replied to tell me that he would try and I think he did because my brother once told me that he had changed but then went back to the some old behaviour. Forgetting the emotional impact of that statement, let us look at the implications. I was basically telling my parents that I sometimes do not take what they say seriously. I must have also messed with my Dad’s psyche when I told him that he scared his son. Ai yai yai!

I got even more interesting in Form two. In a letter to my Dad, I once told him to help me decide on my signature. I signed three different signatures and numbered them. He must have thought I was joking ‘cause he never said anything to me about those signatures. In another letter to my Mum I tell her that I gave my class teacher her number but it was mteja so went ahead and wrote: ‘You bought another phone or what? Come on! Don’t start it again. Utanunuliwa the most expensive one na watoto wako baadae. Let them maliza school kwanza. Yaani, kwanza wachana na phone, saidia kabuda kulipa fees kwanza!’ How’s that for castigating Mum? If she hadn’t bought another phone, am sure after reading that she did! Just to spite me!

Further down the same letter I tell her: ‘Read this paragraph slowly. It’s not being fun being in a room. Loadsa new duties mean a lot of planning for time and all. So with all the extra work in second form, it’s really hard to get some time off to chill and relax with friends, have a chat and most of all, fua uniform. I hope you get my point. What I am trying to say is, I need more clad to get me through the week. I know, I know, you’re saving up for Bobby’s school fees, but can’t you steal, or rather, toa kidogo for your only beloved daughter? Just kidogo for three more shirts and a skirt? A tie? A tie bring me Bobby’s former tie. Please. And if you do, don’t buy me a baggy skirt, it makes me look thin, or a long one, it makes me look short; but one that is just right! So why not do it for me, your only and favourite daughter? Ha? Saa u can continue to soma haraka.’ How’s that for begging? I think I set the mood right by asking her to go slow but I bet she must have wondered what I had done. This was just before my brother joined form one and before the forms ones joining our school came, so we form twos were doing all their work for them, it was genuinely hard to find time to wash. Am sure if Mum was harbouring thieving tendencies I pushed her over the edge. Who encourages someone else to steal for them? Regardless of the course? And for someone who was asking a favour, I sure had conditions! Ha!

Then there were the shopping lists for visiting day. I wrote anything and everything that came into mind. At the end of one particularly long list I wrote: ‘Nimeaandike vitu mob najua, lakini kwa sababu I know you won’t buy me some of the things there, don’t tell me it’s too long. Good luck kuzibeba!’ No wonder I never got everything on my wish list. Hell even when I tore apart a friend’s swimming cap I asked Mum to get me two more –one for my friend and one for me – on numerous occasions and on the term I was expecting them I wrote her: ‘Thanks for the swimming caps (maybe nakuthank na hata huna plans za kubuy)’ Talk about rude! I never got the swimming caps. And of course I had to campaign for fashionable clothes to find at home waiting for me to wear. I once wrote my Mum: ‘So Mum, is any of you coming for me on closing day? Why? Because I don’t have any pocket money to waste on bus fare. I am saving it for clad, not that you are not going to give me any, but I just don’t know whether to save it or use it. If you give me enough dough for clad, I save, if you don’t, I use. I won’t tell you the amount but just know I am totally rich. I know I am nagging, but hey, what’s a sixteen year old girl supposed to her parents anyway?’ this was at the time ‘hipsters’ were emerging and mothers were fighting them left, right and centre so telling my Mum I was rich but couldn’t waste money to get my ass home was not a good idea, me thinks.

Either way, my parents must have waited for my letters earnestly so that they could crack up. I would like to meet myself back then and get to know me again. I must have been very interesting. I have no memory of writing a lot of this stuff and I must have tampered with my brain’s speed governor ‘cause I was writing uninhibited. I didn’t find letters from form three through to four but I wish I had. I would have loved to read what I wrote to Dear Mum and Dear Dad.

I never found Dad’s birth certificate.

© afra njoki