When I tell this story, Athena swears none of it happened. That I am making this shit up. See, she was with me that night, but she says she didn’t see any of it. How can I be wrong when I remember every detail? My old yellow shirt from college, the silver teapot that now sits here with us chipped, indifferent but dreamy as always, my favourite white tee that now hangs in my closet with a big sad stain from that night. I don’t see how. But let’s back up for a minute.
Before that night, before the summer of 2012, before Anatolia I sat in my little bedsitter in Nairobi. A skillet full of dinner on the floor next to me—those days I still had an appetite. Book in hand—those days I read everything by Patti Smith. While I was buried in Just Kids, while my dinner became cold, while I stayed up late despite a job that required me to be up very early the next morning, the city decided it was done with me.
A few days after, I packed, said my goodbyes and left.
Anatolia. The move was engulfed in an air of excitement that comes with new starts. Throughout that flight I kept whispering to myself this is happening, this is happening… Except I was not really whispering because the guy seated next to me was keen to know what, indeed, was happening. I know what you are thinking. But no, this is not an inflight love story. Actually, this is not a love story although Athena says it is. Anyway, the guy and I did not end up falling in love and moving to, I don’t know, Fiji or Palawan or even Maseru. We plugged our headphones and listened to something. I must have had Here Comes the Sun on repeat—those days I was on a Nina Simone kick.
The city greeted me with a heaviness that hung in the air like a wet blanket that has just been brought out in the sun. I stepped out into the vastness of it and was immediately enveloped by language and music and city voices. All so loud, so strange, so new. The newness not squeaky clean new but an old country house new. I did not know what to think. However, I knew I wanted to get to the new digs because I was famished and exhausted. I jumped into a cab, sat back and let the city bring me home. As always, the cab driver of Anatolia is the historian of Anatolia is the tourist guide of Anatolia is the talker of Anatolia. Except he spoke Turkish and I spoke English so you can imagine how that convo went.
Luckily, Athena my new housemate spoke English. She herself had arrived in the city years ago with a broken heart, a cold smile, and a suitcase full of old records. We became fast friends.
The city welcomed me but also didn’t quite welcome me. At least that is what I thought then. Everything was different, the food, the language, the weather, the people, even my name sounded different. I, myself, sounded different trying to converse in this new tongue that was beautifully musical but so fucking hard to master. Instead of walking out into this difference I found myself retreating into myself. The excitement that I’d brought with me from Nairobi quickly waned and in came this emptiness, this nothingness that sat heavy in my heart.
The heaviness stayed with me up until that summer. The summer of 2012 came early and sudden with 40 degrees of sun and mad humidity. It found me in a sorry state. By then I had already chosen the end. Which is to say I lingered when the lights turned green on a busy road, that I started walking around the city scouting for the tallest buildings. Which is to say that I called the end forth. This is also when I stopped tasting shit and so stopped eating altogether except when Athena sat me down at the dinner table and watched me eat. It is also the summer I stopped trying to sleep. Just stopped. I like to think the world stopped for me in many ways that summer. But really it didn’t. As you know, the world never stops.
Despite this I couldn’t go back. I had to stay. And I stayed.
Yes, in many ways the world was incoherent, but it gave me tea. I learnt earlier on that in Anatolia people love their tea. For them tea is a ceremony, an occasion, an event. And in this event, which quite frankly was an everyday affair that culminated in an evening of shared laughter amidst lazy chatter, I was openly invited. Athena and I joined the neighbours outside every night for tea. And so, on those hot summer nights, we sat out and drank endless cups of hot black tea. It follows then that in Anatolia, I became a tea drinker. I am a tea drinker now.
That night. As always, Athena and I stepped out and joined the neighbours. We sat on this gorgeous burgundy rug full of character and history. Athena fell into a light banter with the neighbours as she always does. Me, I just sat with my tea in a daze. See, I had finally decided. The next day I would call it a life. I had a solid plan. A place picked out. I was out.
Except I wasn’t. Because what happened next changed everything. One minute I was leaning forward to get the teapot for a refill and the next–’ I felt someone sit next to me. Confused because I didn’t hear or see anyone walk, I turned to my right to see who had joined us. Me. The teapot dropped, and a coat of scalding tea draped all over me like a piece of art. I didn’t feel a thing because by then I was screaming out in shock. I found myself looking at myself. Myself in my old yellow shirt from my college days, the one I wore almost everyday until it had enough gaping holes. With my old journal, the one I made from scavenged paper and later burnt when I figured writing pain down doesn’t make it go away. I was screaming so hard that my voice turned into a hollow growl. That is until my other self stretched the now open journal to me. I reluctantly took it and looked at the open page.
July 22, 1992: In a day a hundred things can go wrong, as they did today, and the sky will still be up there. Looking down, vast, open, here. If I can look up, as I am now, and see the sky it must mean that I am here. And isn’t this enough? A sky that wants me here.
That’s when the tears came. Big fat tears. And they wouldn’t stop. god, the tears! I must have been sat there weeping for what felt like hours when Athena grabbed my arm and pointed towards the house because suddenly the skies opened. That night something that never happens in Anatolia happened. Summer rain.
That night remains shrouded in the unknown. But the lightness that followed was beautiful and restful. Although I don’t quite fully understand how it all happened, I know that in Anatolia I was both dead and alive until that night. But today? Today the nights still commune in tea, Athena is here, the neighbours are here, and most importantly I am here. There are no ghosts though.
Judyannet Muchiri is a community development advocate whose work sits at the intersection of gender, youth, and technology. She is also a creative writer who does short fiction, flash fiction and verse. Judyannet writes with the hope that her words will bring someone home to themselves as they always do for her when she has dark days. Her work has appeared on The Magunga, Will This Be A Problem, and AzizMola. She loves indie bookstores, poetry, coffee, and dessert in equal measure.
Illustration by Angela Chilufya
This story appears on the drr issue of Place. Order your copy here.