You’ll wake up on your 30th birthday in a hotel room. It’s a Bed and Breakfast lodging close to the Central Station. You’ll reach for the switch and turn on your bedside lamp. Your white sheets and duvet will bounce the light around the room. You’ll squint, stretch your arms and let out a morning yawn. It won’t be loud because no baby yawns loudly. Not even a 30-year-old baby. The yawn of a child is tender. It elicits awe and incredible admiration. Except there will be no one beside you to watch this happen.
Your shirts will dangle on the four hangers in your room, your shoes and socks spread behind the door. Your suitcase will be open, trousers peeping out. The 32-inch screen on the wall will stare at you in its blackness, the hotel magazine in Deutsch sitting on the table. This has been your abode for the past 12 days.
You moved to this city to take a stab at a new job which is part of a prestigious fellowship, an opportunity that will elevate you to a level that’ll help you afford a few luxuries that you weren’t able to have in your 20’s. That job part is working out well so far. You thought you’d be living in an apartment with a view that could give the sunset a challenge. But you are in a B&B hotel like a traveler in transit.
You’ll hear a cargo train whizzing by, hitting the rail tracks as though cardboard boxes stacked 10 levels high are falling. The sound of tyres cruising over wet tarmac will float through the air. It will find its way to you through the controlled ventilation of your room.
When you glance at your phone, it’ll tell you the temperature is 4°C, cold enough to freeze a baby into shock.
“Am I getting into a refrigerator?” you’ll ask the wall.
You’ll think about the last person you spoke to at 29 and the first person you spoke to at 30. You’ll be filled with sublime honor, a real overwhelmingly noble feeling. You’ll reread the three birthday messages you received in the night. One of them from your mother. She sent a heartfelt message and a prayer for you to “live a purposeful and fruitful life.” You knew she stayed up to pray for you. She said, “You are a perfect gift,” and added, “I cherish you my son.” She called you “An amazing son too.”
You’ll read everything she wrote, and your eyes will well up.
Your mind will replay the many moments you saw her do the best she could for you to thrive. You remembered when you moved to Kampala and were staying in those two room houses while she went back to school to further her education. Although she was paying for herself to attain her degree, she was never late on your tuition payments. She never missed visitation days at school. She gave you everything you asked for, including that phone that you never really needed when you were 17. She rewarded you with a scouting trip to Kenya in December 2005 because you consistently excelled in school that year.
And you’ll remember that day when you told her you wanted to move out of her house. You were 25. You thought you were man enough to fend for yourself. What were you still doing in your mother’s house anyway? A man like you needed to do things his way.
You didn’t have a steady job. What you earned from the things you did couldn’t sustain you for even a week on your own. She told you, “Look, I know you want to move out. But this is not the right time. I won’t let you go. You aren’t yet ready.”
You agreed with her. She was right. You hadn’t yet caught a break. The cards you were dealt were giving you experience but no financial growth. You thought you were running behind on time. When you looked across the fence, you saw your friends and colleagues. Their lives seemed to have taken off. You thought you’d failed. But you also knew you didn’t sit on your butt doing nothing. You took your shots, you ran that race, you knocked on those doors, you took chances. You tried. Things just weren’t working out for you the way you thought they should have. There were times when you let your eyes well up. You had done the best you could, but something just seemed stuck. You felt weak. Then you stopped looking across the fence. That was one of the best moves you made on the chess board of your life.
You’ll remember that evening when you were on a bus back to Kenyatta University. You sat at the back with Emma. He told you, “Things will work out for you. Keep praying. This is the beginning of good things for you.”
It was like a prophecy.
You brought up the conversation of leaving your mum’s house again when you were 27 years old. This time you were ready. She gave you her blessings, a bed and a mattress. You moved out.
Two years can make so much of a difference in someone’s life. A lot can change in 24 months. At 25, you couldn’t consistently afford public transport fare from Kawempe (where you worked) to Gayaza (where you stayed). Your friend Abraham (who now works for one of the Big 4 firms) knows this story so well because you went through this experience together. At 27, although you still had many struggles, you could afford a few things like paying to touch up your writing craft at Bikozulu’s Writing Masterclass in Nairobi.
You appreciated the gift of time. You reflected on the seasons it comes with. You saw the valleys and hills, the doors that are initially closed and eventually open. You saw the blessings God bestowed upon you over the last five years. There was a pattern, one blessing adding onto each other like a layer of bricks. What Steve Jobs said made sense to you. “You can only connect the dots looking backwards.”
You’ll get out of that bed to take a warm shower. You’ll have breakfast; bread with salami, some fruit salad and tea. You’ll place a banana in your bag and head out to work, your hands hiding in the pockets of your jacket. You’ll get to office with your ears feeling like they were removed from a fridge.
“Welcome to the dirty thirties,” your colleague will say.
“Welcome to old age,” your boss will say, amid laughter.
You’ll be blessed with the gift of workmates who’ll show you love. That even though you are miles away from your people back home, your boss will bake a marble cake for you. Everyone in the department will stop work for about 20 mins to sing a birthday song for you. They will share this moment with you. They’ll give you gifts and candy. They’ll share German birthday traditions with you. You’ll want to give all of them a hug, but you’ll hold back.
From Christmas Oreos to Frankfurters, cookies from Aachen and chocolate cake from Nuremberg, fine chocolate from Belgium and alcohol flavored candy. You’ll receive them all. You’ll get a card that tells you to, “Go Wild.” Make whatever interpretation you’d like of that.
And like that, in 4°C weather and with a bag filled with an assortment of candies, you’ll be launched into your 30’s.