WORK IN PROGRESS.....
She didn’t really quite know how she got there. It had all felt like a dream. Except that it had been such a fiasco getting out of town, escaping the mental cells that her father tried to lock her into just before she climbed aboard the plane and flew across land, seas and more land until she finally reached that inexplicable destination, Nairobi.
Her whole experience prior to boarding that aircraft had been a blur. She’d been born into a situation where she felt as if everything had been prearranged, preordained. Other people seemed to know who she was and what she was supposed to do. Not that she knew herself or had a clue what she wanted to do with her life. But one thing she did know. She had to resist the sense of fate that seemed to hover over her head. She refused to accept the destiny that elders and the stars seemed to have charted out for her.
What made that imperative of refusal to comply most obvious was the fact that none of her brothers were kept in a box the same way her father sought to lock her in. All three seemed to have free reign over their lives. They could come and go, excel or fall down, and frequent all kinds of places without a note of negation.
But not her. Her every move seemed to be monitored and checked. And more often than not, those moves, once seen, got curtailed or shut down altogether. The one good thing about that early awareness that she was being surveilled is that she quickly learned how to move ‘under the radar’ as her friend Sarah put it. She learned how to avoid the surveillance cameras, the family spies who might see her at venues that her elders (including her older brother) deemed ‘off limits’.
Not that she overtly lied about her comings and goings. But she got so she knew she wouldn’t go anywhere or do anything with her life if she didn’t learn the art of subterfuge, the strategy of going undercover and moving with stealth. In college, she took keen interest in guerrilla warfare since it had those elements of improvisation and spontaneity and quick wittedness that appealed her immensely. She loved to watch movies about spies and covert action heroes. They felt like her comrades and role models.
But while she was still a kid, her best defense against being stuck on a shelf and treated like a hot-house plant was to go out and play side by side with the boys.
She took pride in being a tomboy, in climbing trees and shinnying up slippery jungle gym poles. She played baseball and found her most prized possession at age nine was not a doll but a Left-handed catcher’s mite.
She was also a runner, and ran the 50 yard dash in a flash, often tied with her best friend, a Turkish girl whose parents were Democrats and peace activists, the exact opposite of hers.
When she inherited her older brother’s bicycle at age ten, she instantly got on the bike and flew away without a moment’s tuition. She could feel the bike becoming her key to freedom, mobility and an ability to escape and discover new horizons.
In fact, it was the bike that taught her to be a voyeur, to speed by new situations so fast that she couldn’t be snagged, tagged or tugged into any untoward circumstance. She was curious about all that lay outside the radius of her family’s home turf and the confines circumscribed by her father.
But she actually had to give credit to her oldest brother for his instilling in her the feeling of fearlessness. For it was he who never failed to challenge her to ask questions, inquire deeply and strive to figure things out wherever she might be.
But it invariably also put out a double message: on the one hand, he wanted his little sister to explore the universe just as he loved to do. But he also had those hang-ups that tried to shut down little girls who talked too much and asked too many questions. But even his efforts to shut her down taught her to be strong and to fight his inherited conservatism that sought to retain the pernicious posture of a patriarchal status quo.
That conservativism is what ended up turning him against her when she got the scholarship to study in Kenya and then decided to stay. He said she was wasting her life, but he didn’t understand that for the first time, she felt like she had a handle on her life; she felt almost free to discover the person she was meant to become.
Ironically, she didn’t anticipate that it would actually be much harder to fly under the radar in Nairobi. On the contrary, for various reasons, despite her efforts to retain anonymity, she found it practically impossible.
It was largely that impossibility that got her in so much trouble. (to be continued) 840