Leaving home with a permanent starry eyed expression may have been the greatest mistake of my eighteenth year of existence. With my mind racing and creating and discovering, the awe on my face could neither be helped nor neutralised. It wasn’t the differences in infrastructure, social functioning or even weather between Nairobi and Sheffield that left me slack jawed; it was all the people.
It was how they responded to me with quizzical, kind or angry expressions. My attention span was hitting the negatives. Without my family or friends to ground me and involve me in conversation to tether my mind, it flocked about haphazardly. Not a second before one idea cropped up did another and another. A tall, long-limbed girl; childish expression and state of being constantly flustered by, well, everything.
I was thinking of all the things I could write about. All the things I could draw- attempt to rather. The smells of perfumes and carpet liquid. The smell of a first time flight from home. The smell of breakfast and glimpses of sunrises, sets and aerial views from tiny windows . The smell of apprehension from knowing that no one awaited me when I got to where I was going. No warm hug and help carrying my luggage. The smell of Manchester and a three hour road-trip to the north. The way that even when my nose ran from the autumn chill and my head hurt, I couldn’t shut my eyes and sleep lest I missed the opportunity to observe these foreign humans unnoticed. To absorb the new.
There was constant chatter about the differences between my expression and manner of speech: soft spoken, firm, accented. When I experienced, for the first time, dejection and hurt at friends’ hands, all my brain could say was “this is what this feels like; this is what makes wide eyes brim”. My eyes, a constant curious gaze which went shy when met, blanked out completely.
The comment I heard the most was that my mind must have such pleasure in its own presence as I looked happiest lost in it. The naive expression I constantly wore led people to make hasty conclusions about me, most of which were wrong. They thought I was an airhead, or socially awkward. They thought that I was too sheltered as a child or born in the wrong generation: the thought of a person generally similar but wholly different was not one that College students could easily process. They deemed me a plain recluse, entitled and snobbish because I thought and spoke differently; my good grades and preference for silent solace over socializing led them to conclude that I was intentionally detached for I thought myself better than they. None of this ever reached me.
No one ever told me that, at almost nineteen, there were certain things one had to do, ways one had to think and dress and act, so as to be normal. No one told me that I was too old for childish wonder, too young for tea and a good book in the late afternoon. Too skinny to be eating healthy, too smart to the point of unattractiveness: too different. No one told me. They whispered it and may have even said it in my presence but I was far too busy awing at the world and its inner workings to have heard. Too kind until people thought it was suspicious and my nature unnatural.
The day that my wide eyes brimmed, building up into a steady streaming, I locked myself inside my room and only left to jog at midnight; when no one would be able to see my tears or hear how loudly my heart was crumbling. I wore the same empty expression for months. My idiosyncratic traits and refusal to participate socially had made me so vulnerable. I was constantly kicking myself for not wanting to know people and being more interested in figuring out why instead of who they were.
When I flew back home, I had perfected the art of pretending to be adult-like. A neutral expression and strong, empty words. My family were quick to comment on my change of being. I was a tall, curvy girl with sharp eyes and a constantly absorbed, stormy expression. For some reason, my blank eyes drew no attention. The July sun in Nairobi and all the familiar smells and colours did nothing to calm me down. I was listless. Fiddling with the weight of disappointments and flawlessly concealing my mild depression.
Sending away from home an unsure young lady with a starry eyed expression and oozing naivete may have been the greatest of risks my mother took. She gave me a warm hug carried my luggage. The two hour drive home through the a.m. rush hour traffic and cacophony of the drowsy capital saw my mind racing and creating and rediscovering. The awe on my face could not be helped or neutralised. Home. The differences in the infrastructure, atmosphere, weather between Nairobi and Sheffield lifted the corners of my mouth. All these people I had missed.
I leaned on the window and felt the warmth fill me up. I began to think of all the things I could write about. All the things I could draw- or attempt to. The smells of perfumes and vehicle emissions. The smell of a first time flight from where I had called home for the greater part of a year. The smell of street food and passing glimpses of lives under the beating sun, restless drivers with hands hanging out from car windows. The smell of ease from knowing that for whatever it counted, I was back home.