There are places you are not expected to be late. Or more like not allowed. And if you ask me, the church is pretty much on top of that list. It’s not illegal but even your conscience knows that is wrong. Some folks are pretty good with time. Always punctual. Never lagging behind. I have no idea how they do it because I’m on the other side of the coin.
But once in a while, no matter how punctual you are, things get messy. Particularly on Sunday mornings. And you find yourself late. It sucks. As you walk into the church, you hate yourself for being late. And maybe, just maybe, everyone is seated, the pews in the back are occupied and you have no choice but walk all the way up to the front. And you do what feels like the walk of shame in silence. Heads turn to see who has decided to hit the runway this late. And you can barely breathe. The feeling of guilt and shame that lingers in you at that point is sickening. And all you want is a knife so you can stab yourself and end the suffering. As I said, it sucks.
And then there is this batch that is ever late. Not sure if they do this intentionally or not, but they seem to have mastered the art. They strive to be late. It is what turns their crank (no offence). And until you meet such people, you know nothing about having no sense of time. These people are very amiable. So they will move up fast in your hierarchy of friends. And before you know it they are part of your life. They are late for everything; classes, discussion groups, work, exams, meetings, church, dates, you name it. They run on ‘African time’. And they have favourite phrases such as nineish or fiveish to define time. The only time they give specifics, its always something like ‘I’ll be there in thirty minutes’ which when decoded means ‘I’ll be there in three hours’.
Basically, if you are meeting a friend and they keep using favourite Kenyan phrases: ndio natoka, ndio nafika stage, nachill mat ijae, it is best for you to cancel everything and head home. Watch a movie or something. Probably the best time to binge-watch the new season of that telenovela-with-guns show they call Money Heist. Discover new ways in which Arturo can be infuriating. Always disrupting a well-laid plan, always stirring shit up, always getting under everyone’s skin. I love a pesky character. The bottom line is you know it’s a scam. And when they confidently convince you that they are on their way, they are most likely heading to the shower and you have to painfully wait for hours till they get there.
I love this next part the most. Excuses. Maybe it’s because once in a while I fall victim to justifications whenever I am late. The most usual and basic one being traffic. At this point, I feel like it has lost its touch. And then there is the classic KPLC excuse. An anthem for Kenyans. It’s always a string of events; KPLC happened, my phone died, no alarm – or something along those lines. A detailed excuse. And people just shrug it off when you bring on the KPLC shenanigans. Everybody knows KPLC are terrorists and they strike anywhere anytime. At times you get excuses that have a hint of truth in them that will leave you baffled. Like this guy who came in at the end of a two-hours-math lecture and when asked why he was late, he casually said I was in jail. Something to do with comrade riots at the University of Nairobi and central police station. Y’all know the two go hand in hand like Kamwana and debts.
It’s not like I am any different. I get late. And if I tried to argue otherwise, my friends would just call bullshit on that. My excuse-game, however, is wack. Its is like my brain freezes every time I have to give an excuse or rather a reason. The point is, I try my best to be punctual. And I know I should just suck it up and accept that I am just tardy sometimes, but I want to blame the universe on this one. I try to be on time but the universe fucks it all up.
Here is the thing with me. I get mild anxiety any time I have to attend an occasion. All my mind can think of is what if I don’t get there on time. And it gets even worse when I’m expected to be up early since I sleep in a lot. Something that has always irritated my mom.
“I won’t be surprised if you sleep in on your wedding day.” She had scolded one morning. I had slept in till around 10 a.m. on that day.
I could say she was wrong but based on her observations, she had a point. But her comment on missing out on Jesus’s second coming because I was sleeping in was just far-fetched.
My family knows that I sleep in a lot. Its is something they have made peace with over the years. Especially two of my cousins who I grew up with. Waking up in the morning for school was a nuisance. Joy is the oldest, our big sister, while Job was the lastborn until recently. Was because he’s now the middle child. The tables turned on him. He is now a makeup artist, trying to make ends meet in this cruel city. I am proud of him. The best thing my hands can do is type – write things is what I call it. He’s good at what he does. Our sister, on the other hand, is a pharmacist. And a beautiful one. We love her. It’s the only thing we can do after we made her spend her highschool holidays yelling at us for stuff we either did or didn’t do. We were in primary school and loved it when she was in charge (Her mom is a true daughter of Gikuyu and Mumbi and y’all know you do not joke with those ones. They will mess you up). So we could only leave some chores unattended or just do a horrendous job whenever she was left to run the house. I think we owe her a vacation for that. At least.
She is now married. And recently blessed with a baby boy, Gian. It’s funny how life moves first. One day you are arguing about who left dirty dishes on the table (which was always me by the way) and in no time, we are planning on her kid’s baptism and I’m the damn godfather!
It came as a surprise when she called asking me to be her Gian’s godfather. I imagined whatever I felt was what being asked to walk someone down the aisle feels like. Same thing really if you ask me. You can’t help but feel valued. Someone somehow admires how you lead your life and would like to give you the responsibility of enriching their kid’s spiritual life. That, is a big deal.
Two things that came to mind immediately after. One; I am getting hella old fast. Two; these tiny little humans in our family are actually looking up to me now like I’m one of the grown-ups. Like you have it figured out. Pretty much the same way I used to look up to my cousins growing up. And why wouldn’t they have it figured out when they had money – that didn’t come from their parents, lived in Nairobi, and always showed up with snacks during family get-togethers. But at that age, these were the epitome of having it figured out in my opinion. However, telling me I have it figured out at this ‘adulting age’ is quite a stretch. As you grow up you realize that adults barely have their shit together and life is a matter of taking a leap one day at a time until something good comes out of it. And when someone takes a shine to the kind of life you are leading, – despite it feeling like it is in shambles sometimes – the best thing you can do is take up the responsibility.
The catholic church holds seminars prior to the baptism ceremony. Both parents are expected to attend accompanied by the godfather. They offer two hours of learning and familiarizing with the concept of baptism and its importance every week for three weeks, and on the fourth, the kid gets baptised. It’s a journey I found intriguing. While we dedicate our lives into chasing after material possessions, not that I’m demonizing it, there are people who dedicate their lives into keeping us connected with our religious and spiritual roots. And they love it, espouse it and find happiness in it. Our two-hours sessions at Ridgeways Catholic Church were conducted by the catechist; a tall gentleman in a black cassock. He talked a bit fast with a heavy Kalenjin accent and seemed very likeable and happy. You could tell he loves what he does.
The introductions came first on day one. Getting to know each other is what he called it. I’m not a fan of these things. Tell us a little bit about yourself. This statement bugs me and I barely know what to make of it. So I choose to say less every time they pull that stunt on me. I always mention something about being a student and that is pretty much it. Plus talking to a group of people is not my strong suit. I just mash up a bunch of words together and hope whatever comes out of my mouth makes sense. And in a number of cases, it doesn’t. The discussion started off by him asking why we were interested in pursuing baptism for kids who neither asked for it nor were acquainted with the subject. And when he asked me, I almost asked for a pen so I can scribble my response down just to avoid facing my glossophobia. Whatever I said to him made no sense. To save me the embarrassment Joy jumped in, putting together what I had in mind in a very articulate manner. Basically, the reason for baptism comes down to two things; the need for having an indelible spiritual mark and getting a sense of belonging.
The baptism ceremony was on the 15th of February, on a Saturday, starting at 9 a.m. Joy had made it clear the day prior that by no means was I allowed to be late.
“I need you up early tomorrow, “ she had stated bluntly over the phone.
“Okay. That won’t be a problem.” I knew that wasn’t enough convincing, at least not for her.
“I’m serious. We can’t afford to be late.” She declared.
I wasn’t going to. You cannot be asked to walk someone down the aisle for the first time in your life and have the guts to mess it up.
The weather that morning was kind. The sun was out early, its rays soft, bring with it a flurry of early morning activities. It was the perfect environment for those Instagram selfies with a sun-kissed caption. I was by the roadside waiting to be picked up, blankly staring at people as they walked by and boarded matatus. After a while, I got fed up and fetched my phone from a leather bag I had draped on my left shoulder. I wanted to catch up on one of Biko’s stories (Boot tale) that I had missed. And as I waited patiently waited, I immersed myself into a well-crafted story clearing depicting why shopping is an extreme sport for many and a mans worst nightmare.
By the time they picked me up at half-past nine.
“We’re late,” I felt the need to state the obvious as I slid into the back seat.
“Do not get us started on that again.” Joy said and laughed. She was in the passenger’s seat. “Whatever happens, happens.”
She stressed the last in an ominous voice which pushed her brother (Job), who was in the back seat, to snigger at her desperate comment. He had the baby in his arms and was entertaining him by making funny faces. In the middle rare seat was Joan (Joy’s friend). Behind the wheel was her husband (Pato).
He is a cool dude, the husband, and a kick-ass dad. A tall hefty fellow. A smooth driver too and as we accelerated along the northern bypass road at whatever speed that was, nobody in the car seemed alarmed. Everyone was busy voicing their opinions on what we thought was about to unfold upon arrival.
“He said if you get late for the ceremony you’d be scheduled for May or June.” I weighed in.
It was a comment Joy was not interested in. The conversation then quickly shifted to who was responsible for us getting late. No one wanted to take the blame. They were to pick me up so technically I did not feel compiled to take one for the team. Pato said he was waiting to drive people to church thus no way he could take the fall. Solid argument. Joan was just watching the family blame-game unfold. And amid the babble of conversation in the car, I made a mental note to blame both my cousins who seemed to have no solid excuse if I was going to write about this. I couldn’t really blame the baby. Or could I?
As we pulled up at the church we could hear as the congregation singing the hymn. We walked up the stairs leading to the entrance in silence, everyone preparing themselves for that walk of shame thing. With the need for organization during the ceremony, every family with a kid getting baptised had an entire pew assigned to them on the last day of the seminar. They would occupy it with whoever they invited for the ceremony. We had been assigned the front pew and whatever little excitement we had about that had faded upon the realization that we had to seat at the front . And as we walked in a single file up to the front, I could feel all the eyes watching us. Judging. And I hated it.
The catholic church baptism ceremony takes a little bit of time. Everything is done systematically. Starting things off is the reception of the kid. The priest greets the parent, godparent and the kid and enquires for the chosen baptism name for the kid. He then proceeds to make the mark of the cross on the child’s head. Celebration of the gospel comes next which involves readings, prayers, and anointing of the child with catechumen oils. Next is the celebration of the sacrament. This stage involves the blessing of the baptism water, renouncing sins for the parents and the godparent, and the actual baptism. The priest then moves to the explanatory rites. He anoints the child again but this time with chrism oil.. The godparent then lights the candle as a symbol of enlightenment. In the last stage, the priest prays for the child and then processes to bless them.
When we arrived, the priest had already conducted the first anointing and was at the baptistery blessing the water. A moment later, the baptism began as soon as the renouncing stage was done with. We just sat and watched. As baptism was taking place the Pato had a chat with the catechist – the guy from the seminars – who promised we would be sorted after the ceremony. Which in this case meant a ‘private’ ceremony after this one was done.
“I talked about people coming in late,” the catechist said lightly immediately Gian’s baptism ceremony was done. He was addressing Pato and I. “What happened?” he added.
His eyes were fixated on the Gian as he asked the question who seemed starstruck by the men cassocks; the catechist in black and the newly ordained deacon, who had just performed his first baptism ceremony, in a white one. I was holding Gian. His sharp eyes then focused on me and I felt compiled to say something. I didn’t know why we had been late, and I could not come up with a reason or an excuse fast enough. The only thing in my mind was dumb and petty. More like a continuation of the blame-game back in the car; They picked me up late. And before that flew out of my mouth, Pato interjected.
“Car troubles.” He paused before adding, “We had car troubles.”
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