THE VOID IN MY STOMACH

Kimathi University is almost empty. Silence reigns. Has been that way for the past couple of days and its taking its toll on me. Am I alone in this feeling of emptiness? I wonder. Our class is going to be one of the last to complete our end of semester exams, most classes had completed them by mid last week. So majority of students have travelled home. Most to the ‘city in the sun’- Nairobi. After all research says that more than half of the world’s population now lives in cities. In search of wealth, power, success and fame to quote Maorian literary guru Witi Ihimaera. The rest have travelled to different corners of the country, from sun baked northern Kenya to the tea belts of South Rift.

2 pm, Sunday. Today. I am leaving a friend’s house. Lunch pirate. Then I hear my name called out,

“Jeff.”

I turn back.

“Next sem bro.”

Slang for see you next semester. Another moment of having an inexplicable void in my stomach for a few minutes when bidding farewell. So I walk back to bid my friend a proper farewell and wish him safe passage through the ‘road reserve less’ roads of Nyeri where people have planted Napier grass and beans up to the very edge of the road, through the brief stretch where one doesn’t actually realize they are in Kirinyaga county, and mostly through the mad stretch ahead of Kenol where the air begins to smell like Nairobi.

Growing up may have hardened me to become to a certain degree immune to a lot of things. I can now wait for a meal to cook and be served at the table even if I am hungry. Can understand why I have to miss a trip because finances have other priorities. Can endure physical pain without even showing it. But this one feeling still lingers, a void in my stomach during separation, during goodbyes.

When I was little this aunt of mine used to visit us and I almost could not eat when she left. The void in my stomach, like tight knots. Fast forward to high school. Most of my fellow students at high school will acknowledge that no day was more somber than the last Sunday of high school for the final year class where farewell songs were sang for them and they sang farewell songs to the continuing students and members of staff. ‘Twawaombea wakae salama.’ Only that men’s tears mostly fall from inside.

And high school wasn’t that fun as a place. Being woken up at the crack of dawn, back to back classes, being restricted within the school for multiple months. But even then, when my turn to finally exeunt arrived. I felt a feeling of wanting to spend one more night. Dine one more time. Was it the multitude of lower class students who lined the verandas that lead up to the gate in their blue sweaters and white shirts and watched us leave with our dilapidated iron boxesand heavy back packs? Maybe it was the flatness of their expression, the longing in their eyes, of things unbeknown. And I felt it again, like I had in the previous Sunday service in the school hall, a void in my stomach. Tight knots.

So today, the feeling that has been lingering within me the last couple of days is greatly pronounced. Actual people I know are leaving for home. A girl who lived in an adjacent room and who I actually realized is from my home constituency has just left with multiple suitcases, will be on recess next semester. We were never that close, just randomly bumping into each other sometimes and saying hello. But her departure still causes a little further tightening of the knot. A little more vacuum in the void that has been there since these streets grew empty, since eatery tables became vacant, since silence took over the university surroundings a few days ago.

True, Wi-Fi speeds are much faster in the hotspots within the university with the reduction in the number of student users, meals are served faster at the local eateries due to the fewer number of student turning up for meals but that doesn’t outweigh the emptiness of loneliness, of abrupt silence. Maybe after all beauty lies in the struggle. In the struggle to arrive in the library early and obtain a spot near a socket. In the noises of varying pitch that converge at the local mutura pointto grab a piece of meat of unbeknown background.

Our pastor back at home said that if you woke up one day and found yourselfalone with all the wealth in the world belonging to you. Garages full of V8 guzzlers, cows crying to be milked; you would be the most miserable person ever.

So value the other person for simply, being a person not a lorry.

‘Tondu ni mundu, ti kirori.’ Another man from home said.

Tomorrow I leave for home.

King’au Muriithi, Year 4 BSc. Mechanical Engineering.

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