“I think I know you,” a girl stopped me at the Junction Mall on Friday. I was taken aback. I’m not the chairman type. I live a very quiet life because a quiet life means peace and peace means a long happy life. I want to live a long happy life. She was in a colorful, cream dress with bright purple flowers. The kind of outfit that would add to the decor if you walked with her into a room. On her feet were black boots which went with her coffee-dark skin.
She moved in for a hug.
“How long has it been?” I asked after we detached, the ghost of her embrace still on me and the neurons in my brain working overtime to locate her in storage. Nope, nothing. Error 404 not found.
“It’s been so long, you’ve changed.”
“Is it my beard,” I bragged. I am very proud of my goatee, even if it’s just three follicles jutting out of my jawline.
“No it’s not that, she said without emotion.
What’s that line, umm… ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all.’
“Is it my clothes?” You knowI have been trying this Ali Kiba look, you mean you can see it too? I thought.
“Umm, no, you look grown up,” she gave up finally after realizing that all my guesses would probably amount to nought. I stood a bit straighter. My neurons still buzzing in storage. Looking under cushions, pouring the contents in wardrobes. Nope, still nothing.
“You know we should exchange numbers. We have a lot to catch up on, ” I said in an effort to put Truecaller to work. I do my best thinking when I’m staring at bright purple flowers.
“I thumbed her number into my phone and her name popped up on my caller ID. Turns out I had her saved in my phone-book all along. Her name brought back the lights. She was an acquaintance from a past job. After she left, I pondered over that phrase, ‘Grown up.’ Because it’s always about us, isn’t it?
Looking in the mirror, I have grown up. Physically, my male features have become more pronounced. I’m no longer the twenty-something-year-old kid who got stopped by bouncers in clubs threatening to send me back home to finish my homework. Funny that I have very little interest in clubs now that I can enter freely. It’s a scary feeling looking in the mirror and no longer seeing a boy but a grown man, someone who demands more from you. It makes you want to step up and at the same time run and hide.
I was never the person who wanted to do grandiose things before hitting thirty, no. In fact I never knew what I wanted to do. I went to college because people went to college, I picked Bcom because people picked Bcom and I got a job because quite frankly after college that’s what people do, they get jobs. I stuck with my day job for two years feeling like the sewers until I couldn’t take it anymore and one day, I can’t remember if it was sunny or cloudy, I decided enough was enough. Sometimes you have to do something you don’t want in order to know what you want. That has been my story.
I turned twenty-nine on Sunday and unlike all my other birthdays this one did not come with anxiety.
‘Am I where I want to be?’
‘Am I doing the right thing?’
‘Why am I doing this?’
‘Everybody seems happier, successful and more fulfilled. Is there something wrong with me?’
Those were questions that drove me up the wall and made me pull my hair with feelings of inadequacy but not on my twenty-ninth birthday.
As I stand at the cusp of thirty, as I get a feel of how the skin on the third floor will fit me, I realize now how important it is to define who you are away from the voices of the masses. You don’t have to live your life through your parents’ or peers’ lens. Decide what success means to you. Success doesn’t always have to be a million bob in the bank. It can be as simple as living your truth, providing a service or touching a life. Decide that for yourself because ultimately it will make you happier and more fulfilled than following the crowd ever will.
As I go to the tailor to get fitted for my third-floor suit, yes, growing up needs a different kind of cut, I realize how important certain tools are for you to get closer to your dream. Put in the work. Leave your ego at home, there is no situation that it will ever help you. Lead with courage not fear. Knock on doors, sometimes doors don’t open for us because we are not well prepared. Sometimes because they are not our doors and oftentimes because we come up with excuses not to knock. Learn to differentiate the three.
I turned twenty-nine on Sunday, twenty-eight was not as hard as twenty-seven. Twenty-seven was really hard. It was the year when everything came undone and I hit the bottom. Read about it here. Hitting the bottom, I realized, is only bad if you allow it to define you. Otherwise it serves as a foundation for something beautiful if you learn from it.
I’m looking forward to twenty-nine. I have two books planned for 2020. I feel as if I’m in a dream every time I autograph a book or meet one of my readers. What is that phrase we used in primary school? Umm ‘I had to pinch my elbow to make sure it wasn’t a reverie nor an austere dream of apparitions.’ Shakespeare faded into nothingness after I used that in a composition.
I live a pretty quiet life but on those rare occasions when someone stops me to tell me I have changed, I will tell them it’s the grown up soap I’m bathing with. That and my elbow, I’m pinching it too often with no complaints.
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