“Philip, the graduation list is out!” Liz exclaims on the phone. They had been close friends for most of their campus life.
“Yea, I have seen it,”
“You are not on the list. What on earth is going on?”
“When I become the dean I will answer you” Philip replies, laughing.
“How can you even be laughing? You amaze me Philip. You might miss out on Kenya School of Law. I hear they are taking the list tomorrow. And the deadline for application is Friday.”
One of the requirements for admission to the school was the university degree, but since their university held graduations at the end of the year, it was allowed to submit its graduation list to the school so that its students could apply without the degree certificates.
“There is absolutely nothing I can about it right now Liz. It is 6pm in the evening. I will go tomorrow.”
“Alright Phyl. We pray for the best.”
“Alright, we will talk kesho then. Good night.”
“Sawa sawa. Have a blessed evening.”
Liz hangs up and shakes her head. This guy Philip is a strange one. Nothing seems to rattle him. If she were the one who had been left out, the world would be trembling with her anxiety. She would already have made several calls to the school by now, even though it was past hours. Just in case. She would be pacing up and down chewing her nails. No wonder they never grew. She just can’t sit still when things are going wrong in her life. The butterflies in her stomach would not let her. But she knew Philip was different. At that particular time, she knew, he was most likely watching a movie.
And she was right. At that very moment, Philip was on his bed watching a movie on his laptop. Earlier, he had seen the message on a WhatsApp group with the link to the graduation list. He had scrolled just to confirm that indeed he had a 2nd Class Upper Division. To his surprise, he was not even on the list. He checked again. Sure, he was not in it. He had felt panic rise within him, but he suppressed it and talked himself out of it. There must be a mistake somewhere, he told himself. By the time Liz called, he had already gotten over it.
The following morning he went to work as usual. He was an intern at a small law firm. He had a number of documents that needed to be drafted for filing at the court registry. So he drafted all the urgent one. By 10.30, he was ready to leave. The partners and the associate had not yet arrived so he explained to the secretary, Nancy, why he had to step out.
At the school, he found the receptionist squinting at her computer. Which was odd because she was wearing spectacles with thick lenses. She is a lady in her early fifties who does not care much about what she wears. She is wearing a brown skirt suit that looks odd, although Philip cannot tell exactly what is wrong with it.
“Good morning madam,” Philip greets her.
“Good morning” she replies without looking up. She is squinting so hard that her upper lip moves up and her nose twists into a weird formation.
Philip hesitates. He is not sure whether to tell her his problems or wait until she finishes what she is doing. I mean, maybe she is typing the memo that is likely to end the Syrian war. But the letters in the memo have started doing a weird dance. Letter K partnering with S and D with…wait who would letter D partner with in a dance of the alphabet? Perhaps Q. After all, they have shapelessness in common. And you can imagine how confusing this can be, especially to a fifty year old who is typing a revolutionary memo. So it is only fair that you let her find out where the letters in her memo are getting their music from so that she can turn it off.
“Unataka nini?” she asks roughly, without looking up.
“Madam, graduation list imetoka na siko,”
“Si basi uko na missing marks. Hizo utafuatilia na lecturer. Josephine, hebu kuja uone”
A young lady, perhaps in her late twenties, appears from the side door to the left of the reception. She stands behind the receptionist and looks at the screen.
“Sasa hizi ni vitu za kupost FB?” the younger lady asks.
So there is no Syrian memo after all. Just Facebook.
“Sina missing marks” Philip says firmly.
“Hapo sasa sijui” the receptionist replies, without looking at him. She is typing, perhaps a comment. Her young friend is looking on, amused. Philip is getting irritated, but it doesn’t show.
“Naweza kuona Dean?”
“Angalia kwa ofisi yake”
Philip follows the corridor until he gets to the door marked “Alligator Kimani. Senior Administrator, Law School”. The door is open, so Philip knocks as he peeps in. Mr. Kimani is in, together with another young lady. Philip knows her to be the secretary to the Chairman of the Maritime Law Department.
“Ngoja hapo nje,” Mr. Kimani says in response to Philip’s knock. So Philip finds a seat on the corridor and sits down. He can hear the administrator and the secretary talking and laughing. They are gossiping a person, who appears to be known to both of them, and who apparently made a fool of himself at some party. 10 minutes. 20 minutes. Philip goes back to the door.
“Sir, if you can help me, I would really appreciate. I need to go back to work,”
“So you think what I am doing is not important?”
“No sir but…”
“I said you wait so wait”
The girl rolls her eyes.
30 minutes. 40 minutes. 45 minutes. Finally Philip can hear them leaving so he stands up.
“Oh, you are still here? Come at two. We are going for lunch.”
Philip is irritated, but he controls his voice.
“But sir, I have been here for almost an hour. And I need to go back to work”
“If you want to be helped, come back at 2” he says and walks away, the girl following.
Philip walks around the compound. He kills time by talking to any student he sees that he knows. At exactly 2pm, he is back at the Administrator’s office. It is still locked. So he sits down. Alligator Kimani shows up at 2.30pm, alone.
“Ati shida yako ni nini?”
Philip explains to him that he is missing from the graduation list.
“What is your registration number?”
The man types on his computer.
“That is not your number. It says here Wahome Salome Mwende.”
Philip removes his school identity card from his pocket and hands it to him. He stares at it then starts typing.
“Oh, kulikuwa na mix up. But that is sorted now. You are in the graduation list.”
“Okay. Th…” he wanted to say “thank you” but changes his mind last minute.
He races to the matatu stage and heads to work. There, he finds the Associate, Cecelia, waiting for him.
“You know, Philip, this is not a market. You cannot walk in and out the way you want,”
“I had problems at the University that I needed to sort out. And I explained to Nancy because she was the only one at the office”
“You know, I don’t like your attitude. I could get you fired today if I wanted”
Philip stares at her blankly as she lectures him. The lecture is laced with choice words and insults. Philip does not respond. He just stares at her without a word. Just then the Managing Partner, Antony Jionde enters.
“What is going on here? Cecelia? Philip?”
“Ask him,” Cecilia says, walking away towards her office. Or rather, cubicle.
Philip explains to the Partner what had happened.
“You should have alerted her you are leaving,”
“She hadn’t arrived, so I told Nancy,”
“Eric please tell Cecelia to come,” he tells a clerk sorting files nearby.
“Cecelia, what time did you come in today?”
“Sir there was traffic…”
“We need to talk. But first, you owe Philip an apology”
“What?” She asks shifting glances between Philip and the boss.
“Apologize to him. Now”
She apologizes half-heartedly and follows the boss to his office.
As they leave, Nancy winks at Philip and gives him a thumbs up. Philip smiles. Nancy hates Cecelia with every nerve of her body and frequently wished aloud that she (Cecelia) would be fired. Not that Philip blamed her for it, he just didn’t care one way or the other.
*** **** **** ****
There are people who are able to face the storms of life with amazing fortitude. They remain calm where most of us would break down. One of my colleagues is one of them. Recently, as we walked home, I asked her how she happens to remain calm even when everything seems to be going wrong.
“Nadia, wewe hushtukangi?”
“Sasa hata nikishtuka siwezi change situation”
“Lakini hata kama huwezi change si mtu hushtuka. Watu wa kawaida hushtuka. Mbona wewe hushtukangi?”
She laughed. I realized I had asked a stupid question. You know, like someone coming up to me and asking:
“Maroncha mbona uko na upara? Unajua watu wa kawaida hukuwa na nywele kichwa mzima. Mbona yako huwa haimei hapa mbele?”
Ladies and gentlemen, today we are celebrating the amazing people who remain calm in the face of adversity.