There’s a room in parklands campus. The room is on your right as you go down the steps that take you to the lecture theatres. It’s opposite the other computer room but on this day it was where you go to pick up your graduation gown.
Clearing from the university of Nairobi is a bitch, it’s a rabid bitch that’s suckling its young and you don’t want to get anywhere near it on a good day. You don’t want to be encircled by red tape that sends you here and takes you there that pulls you back and pushes you forward making you dizzy and dazed, angry and annoyed. But I didn’t have to do it, I was in Egypt and I asked my lovely sister to help me out and she did, wonderfully.
I got back home on the 28th of November, a Monday when the rain poured hard enough to soak underwear, graduation was that Friday and I went to get my gown on Thursday. The way the gown market works is all the gowns promised to law graduates are bundled up and dropped at the feet of the computers. These gowns are musty and murky. They have been kept in the dark for a year since the last time anyone graduated. They smell of neglect and reek of loneliness, they have wrinkles and tears, dirt and grime; they barely fit and are barely fit for wear. If you get to the room early you can pick out a nice new-looking one, if you go late and you have a nice smile it’s possible the attendant will show you to where the best of the rest are hidden. If however you are like me you get a shitty worn out gown. One that doesn’t speak of grandeur and pomposity but one more shitty thing from the university of Nairobi, wearing it it felt uneasy it tried to leave my shoulders unwilling to be carried slipping away like every law lesson I ever learned.
But it meant I was done, it meant I was finished with that school, finished with all the reading for their exams and information about lost papers, grades coming out so late I wasn’t sure I had done those exams at all, all the letters I had written were finished and done with and it was time to leave.
On the actual graduation day I wore a white trouser. The sky threatened rain, the sand had soaked up what came before and was slick with brown and wet. The grass was stained and sorry but I couldn’t allow myself to be dictated to by something as fickle as the weather so I wore white pants. In the end I had to take a matatu to the campus where they were holding the graduation and then walk down the long, long road to the square. I had on my gown and hat; I held up my arms and walked ever so slowly like a messiah come home. Around me everyone was being escorted by family. There were doubles, triples and quartets walking down the road with me but no singles just me and my gown and my white trousers. There were cars not moving and people sitting obstinately in them determined not to leave although the traffic had come to a complete crawl. there were policemen dotting the landscape ever ready to help but more comfortable with menacing resulting in the flashing of a lot of snarling smiles.
Soon I got to the place where the graduation was taking place. All this time I had kept myself firmly on tarmacked road but at this point it turns out that since I was late I would have to use a different path than the one other people were using. This path was all mud and grass, it was what happens when it really rains and doesn’t quit: mud so brown and thick it looks like chocolate, so ubiquitous and omnipresent it felt like the earth was mad at us for walking all over it. A slippage was never too far away but somehow I made it.
It’s hard to find where you’re supposed to sit. There’s no signage telling you where to sit all you have are people sitting in rows according to the degrees, Bachelor of Arts and medicine, Bachelor of Commerce and pharmacy, the master’s graduates, the future PhD holders and finally the lawyers. All bunched together in one place waiting.
It was hard to find my seat, they were arranged alphabetically but it was still very confusing, the rows started and stopped all over the place and everywhere I could see my former classmates, rows upon rows of people I had sat down and slaved next to. All smiles and hope for the future all sure that no matter what came next the world had given us this one day. We had battled through the muck and mud and made it through and here we all sat at the other side. The vast majority of the gowns looked like mine but when seated here like this, the hint of a sun poking through the clouds, the silent whisper of a rain that had passed by the night before, the radiant looks of joy and optimism everywhere, when seated here like this they looked resplendent.
The speeches droned on and on but the only purpose of speeches on graduation day is to allow people time to walk around and talk to classmates they may never see again. A chance to joke with the sun at our backs and our lives at our fronts.
A graduation square is a place filled with conversations, full of people walking and talking. A living organism that moves and breathes. I was up and down sitting in any empty chair that could lead me to a good conversation. I ate and drank savouring the last drops of liquor I could have as a university student.
And the time passed, heavy with nostalgia, inundated with hope. The minutes turned into hours filled with speeches, made full by conversations. The long words turned into short names. And the courses were run down. Each of us standing up, the commerce graduates, the actuarial science degree holders, waiting to hear those syllables and then sit down.
When they started calling out the lawyers I stood with pride when I heard my name. I waited with patience as they went down all the other names in my class. Then I grabbed holdf o my cap and in a graduation ceremony as old as the first exported American college film I flung it in the air screaming my lungs out and letting go of school.
The hat flew up and came back down falling into my arms and promptly I threw it back up and waited for another deposit. That was it. The nostalgia will come, it always does and with it will come the pain of missed opportunities and maybe even more painful the memories of happiness at a time when all I have of it is the memory but that is not today and not for a long time. For now my thoughts are as carefree and freefalling as my cap on that day.