Psssstttt..is anyone here?
The lights in our humble abode are surprisingly still working, never mind its been two years since I set foot in here. I left the door unlocked, but clearly no one has been visiting in my absence. It’s my fault though, as I left with no warning, and even in my departure, I was not courteous enough to leave someone behind to attend to any passers by. A thick film of dust has settled on the rustic coffee table and the mahogany bookshelf that holds the precious memories of my writing since this journey was born in 2015.
I am deeply sorry that I left without preamble, but before we catch up, can somebody please remind me where we kept our brewing machine? I need a strong cup of coffee to fire up the engines. Black, no sugar please.
I have been incessantly desiring to write for a couple of months. The feeling has become more overwhelming lately, to the extent I have been having this recurrent dream. In the dream, I am seated on this exquisite armchair with grey leather padding that evokes a level of bliss akin to the hot stone massage at Aromatics Spa. My rose gold MacBook rests on this table that has an ebony surface framed by scintillating golden edges and stands. A few meters above the desk hangs an overhead light that casts a resplendent amber glow on my MacBook. I am eager to write. But instead of flipping open the laptop, I find myself leaning back against the full length of the seat with my head resting on the edge. I slowly close my eyes.
In this celestial position, I think about the story I plan on penning, and even come up with the introductory paragraph. Only for me to drift off into slumberland. When my alarm goes off in real life, I have zero recollection of the story. So I promise myself that I’ll grab my laptop at some point during the day, lock myself up for an hour and write something. Except that this never materialises. To be fair to myself, it has been exactly two years since I last wrote, and we all know the longer the furlough from writing, the worse the writer’s block.
It’s a beautiful Sunday morning. At 9.00am when I draw the curtains, instead of the scorching sun I had initially anticipated, I am met with chilled weather, perfect for a run. Also, I have had plenty of rest over the weekend and my skin is glowing. Several months have passed since the Covid-19 pandemic upended our lives. Ten, maybe fourteen, I don’t know. I stopped counting. In the past, I would have been attending the 9.00am mass. However, despite the reopening of churches, I am yet to go back. I am tempted to put on my running gear, but instead, I decide to take a walk to JD-a nearby convenience store- to buy some house supplies. The entire house is dead asleep as is always the case.
When Xena wakes up, she finds me at the dinning table enjoying my current read, The Richest Man In Babylon. An empty plate and cup rest on the table, alongside pots that contain the breakfast I whipped up and a tea pot.
“What did you have for breakfast?” She inquires.
“BEST.” I respond.
“Best what? Best tea, best bread? What do you mean best?”
“I mean Bacon Egg Sausage and Toast.”
For a minute, she wears this puzzled look until it sinks in.
“Oh my God mama you are a genius! You made a breakfast so brilliant it could even spell a word!” She enthuses.
I am tempted to tell her the truth, the fact that I didn’t coin the name. Nonetheless, I decide to take credit for that.
“Have you ever doubted my brilliance?” I tease.
As she serves her breakfast, I tell her how I yearn to write but I don’t know what to write about.
“Why don’t you write about your life?”
She nudges me in a direction I am desperately trying to run away from. You see, part of the reason I stopped blogging is that I felt I had written enough about myself, my family and our escapades. At some point it started to feel rather vain and so I was hoping to find more meaningful things to talk about. Unfortunately, it seems I am still being pulled towards the direction of documenting my experiences.
“What exactly about my life?” I ask.
“If it was me, I would write about life in the Covid-19 era, and what I miss the most.” She says without missing a beat!
“Wow! And what exactly do you miss the most?” I probe.
“Hugging my classmates? Not having to wear a mask when in school? Oh, and my piano lessons were suspended a year ago. By now I would have been like Stevie Wonder, playing with my eyes closed!” She complains.
At this point, I feel like handing her my laptop and letting her pen her story as she’s clearly waxing lyrical! Being a child is so stress free. The fact that one doesn’t have to think too much about what they say or do, and how the world will perceive them. Inspired by my eight year old daughter, I decide, for this first article, I am going to pen my thoughts unhinged.
To start with, let me explain how my leave of absence came about. Sometime in May 2019, I decided to take a break from writing to focus on my CFA exam that was coming up in June. I was due to sit the last leg, level III. Which I did, but unfortunately, for the first time, I failed. Failing took a toll on me and I struggled to accept the fact that all my effort, including taking a break from writing, was in vain. I saw myself as a failure, or worse still, someone who had masqueraded as this investment guru only for the CFA institute to decide I was a quack. On the day I received my results, I drove to The Junction mall and subconsciously walked into the Imax movie theatre. I paid to watch whatever movie was showing at the time, which I can’t remember because I didn’t care for the movie.I just wanted to be alone. Luckily the theatre was almost empty with five of us in total, myself and two other couples. I sat in the middle row and cried myself a river.
Life in my thirties has been a path at the edge of uncertainty and plenty of doubts. The constant desire to do more, be more and the belief that at any given point I was not maxing out on my potential. I found myself asking the question “What do I know for sure?”, and hardly did I ever come up with an answer. Am I the best child, constantly doing right by my parents? Would my daughters say that I deserve “Mommy of the year award” year in year out? What about my husband? After seven years of marriage and another seven of dating, is he merely putting up with me or is he genuinely content? And about my career, what do I know for sure? Would my colleagues undoubtedly pick me out as the best in financial modelling or structuring transactions? Would I, at the very least, be identified as the best orator in the organisation, and anyone who had a presentation to make, advised to hunt me down for my wisdom in public speaking?
In the last three years or so, the answer to all that, and many other questions, was hardly. Maybe I was/still am excessively hard on myself, but it is what it is. And as a result, I felt I had nothing to impart, as I could not figure myself out, nor what I REALLY wanted from life. How does one stand on a pedestal and offer advice, perspective, or even entertain, when they are glaringly unsure of themselves?
It took me a most surreal encounter with a childhood friend recently to put all my emotions into perspective. My friend, lets call him Dembe, was one of the most curious kids I ever knew in my childhood. At the age of nine, he caused me so much trouble. There’s this time he decided that it would be more fun to miss the school van and walk home, a 10km journey no less. It was fun, no doubt, as much fun as any recalcitrant nine year old would envision. We were about six of us. We all offered our school socks (except him as he was the genius with the idea!) from which he made a ball and we chased each other all the way home as we chatted about what nine year olds chat about. My parents were worried sick, and when I got home looking filthy as a skunk with no socks on, I lied and got away with it. I lied that I missed the school van as I had stayed behind to wrap up my homework. However, just as I see through my eight year old daughter, my parents saw right through me, only that I did not know it then. So, I went out of character again the following day but unfortunately, my dad had already launched himself into CID mode. Unbeknownst to me, my dad decided to come to school and track us as we did what we did the previous day. He drove at a safe distance behind us all along as we chased each other with the ball and climbed trees to pick loquats and guavas along the way. By the time I got home he was waiting for me, belt in hand. To date, I shudder when I remember that evening. I have faded black marks on my thighs that would be mistaken for stretch marks but in reality, are a testament to my father’s wrath.
Needless to say, despite our mischief, Dembe and I were A students and remained so for most of our lives. We however lost touch after I went to boarding school at the age of ten. Now almost 26 years later, I am siting with him at one of my favourite restaurants in verdant Tigoni. This restaurant has always tugged at my heart given its idyllic antique feel, unsullied by the brutalities of modern world. It is a place of quietly profound beauty.
As always, I arrive fifteen minutes earlier and pick a vantage spot that allows me full view of my subject (much as this is not an interview), something I learnt from one of my mentors. From the main restaurant, one descends through a couple of stairs to this outdoor terrace that overlooks a beautifully manicured and undulating garden that adjoins a river at the bottom. I pick a table at the edge of the terrace. Shortly after he struts in, five minutes to the meeting time. He is clearly a stickler for time too. Dressed in a pink shirt and navy blue chinos accentuated with a brown belt, his outfit ensemble is the perfect complement to his complexion, his skin the colour of tea, or of fall leaves toasted by the sun.
“Such an excellent choice of venue. I really needed a breather, and what better place to exhale than this?” He deadpans as he stares at some monkeys swinging on the trees a few spots away.
After exchanging pleasantries, we settle for a Malbec as it turns out he loves his red wine as much as I do mine. The waiter however comes back wearing a look of disappointment on his face.
“Sorry we don’t have Les Intocables Black Malbec. You may have to settle for a Cab Sav or Shiraz.” He moans. “But I can go to the store and confirm if there’s really not even a bottle left.”
“I would imagine you would cover that angle before reporting to us, but worry not, it’s not a matter of life and death.” Says Dembe to the waiter, in typical Dembe fashion. This has me in stitches.
He tells me about his childhood, how he ended up pursuing pharmacy against his parents’ wish. While his dad wanted him to be a doctor, he was more interested in understanding the components of drugs, their chemistry and interactions.
“Would you believe that my dad wanted me to be a doctor as well?” I state.
“No kidding!” He exclaims.
“Yap! But I dropped Biology in form two to ensure I never stood a chance!” We both laugh at my teenage wisdom.
He then tilts his glass and stares at its contents like a scientist waiting for some reagents to explode, before carrying on with his life story.
After working as a pharmaceutical distributor for a certain conglomerate for years, he decided to strike out on his own at the age of 27 and start his own pharmaceutical distributorship company. After running it for three years, the conglomerate he worked for previously offered to buy a stake in his company, while leaving him with a minority stake and an executive role. Two years ago, at the age of 33, he resigned from his executive role, but kept his shareholding.
“You must be the youngest retire in the world!!” I exclaim. “I should call my mom and remind her how she said given our mischief we would never amount to anything!”
“Right? But I guess she had a point, all our parents did. They had this X-ray Vision and would see trouble from miles away. I wonder if I can ever be half the parent that my dad was.”
“And why do you say that?” I inquire.
“He was the quintessential dad. Despite being in the military, sat with us for dinner every day at 7pm unless he was away on a mission. He also would drop us to school every morning and pick us up without fail, and also find time to help us with homework. Even in retirement, I am not able to stick to a schedule with the kids.”
Here I was about to ask him if he had any struggles given the enviable strides he has made in his young life, but he offers me this without much probing.
“I reckon that you are not convicted of your abilities as a father.” I chime in.
“Yes, that. Am I equipping my kids with the right tools to face this fast changing world? Also, my decision to resign last year weighs heavily on me. Right after my exit, the impact of the covid pandemic was rather bad on the organisation, and I can’t help but wonder if I would have steered the ship differently. But that’s a story for another day.”
He confesses that he had been reading my blog after coming across it in 2015 and pleads with me to pick up my tools yet again.
“You made me love parenting.” he says. “How you always shared your struggles and joys in bringing up your girls. I have three kids by the way.” He offers.
“Goodness! At 35 you already have three kids and own a company that’s worth its salt? Did you have no youth? When we were busy partying hard at Crooked Qs and Rezourous on Thursdays, you were probably having late night sessions doing Board packs!” I tell him.
“Not far from the truth.” He responds.
“Midlife crisis is going to hit you hard!” I tease.
He laughs, hard. I am impressed with my morbid humour and his ability to get it.
“Listen, you really need to shake the dust off your laptop and write again. I know without any doubt that I speak for hundreds if not thousands of your readers when I say that your writing was inspiring and refreshingly authentic.”
“It’s hard to be authentic at my age.” I whine.
I tell him about failing CFA and how it had me questioning my abilities. I tell him about my occasional episodes of imposter syndrome, and the constant quest for perfection.
“You see, this is an affliction of high achievers like you and I. We can’t afford to rest on our laurels, so naturally, we are constantly spreading ourselves thin, aiming higher and beating ourselves hard when we start to feel complacent.” He takes a sip of his wine just as the waiter walks over to refill our glasses.
“So what keeps you up at night, besides questioning your parenting abilities?” I ask.
“Trying to figure out my next big idea. And sometimes when the ideas come to me with unquestionable alacrity, I find myself doubting my capability to execute, especially given that I want to get into an entirely new field; block chain technology to be specific.” He confesses.
The desire for perfection and constant growth can be down right crippling. This in itself is OK, as long as we don’t allow the challenges and doubts faced in the pursuit of growth to make us question our abilities. I have come to this conclusion from speaking to numerous successful people (including Dembe), something I have been doing a lot in the past 12 months. Maybe, just maybe, I will share some of their war stories here in future, but no promises!
I am no motivational speaker, but I hope this post strikes a chord in someone and lifts them up from whatever rut they may be in, the same way that my encounter with Dembe provided the jolt I desperately needed.
Remember to embrace the challenges life throws your way (in fact, look forward to them!) because if the huddles don’t get tougher, then honey you’ve lost your fire!