The most incredible things happen when you least expect it. When you’re not ready. Yup, that’s when they creep up on you and surprise you in the most interesting way.
I know this quite well; it’s exactly how my first encounter with my favorite Kenyan writer was.
It was a Wednesday. A Wednesday like any other. Nothing special about it. The sun was not shining in all its glory. In fact, it was a cold dreary morning. A morning I dragged myself out of bed after repeatedly telling myself how it was too early to wake up.
You should know at this point that I am not a morning person. I like to start my days around noon, or later. But on this particular day, I had little choice. So I reached out to the mustard-seed will in me and started getting ready. No hurry. Everything in my own steady pace.
I guess you’re wondering when I’ll get to the meeting. Relax, I’m getting there. So where was I… oh yeah getting ready. Fast-forward to two hours later when I arrived at the hospital. An eye and dental hospital where I had spent my precious time for the past two days. Don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with my teeth (though they could be more aligned). My eyes are fine too, if you ignore fact that I wear spectacles every day due to my myopia.
Biko wears glasses too. I wonder what his issue is. I need to get new frames by the way.
Sorry, I’m digressing. So I arrived at the hospital reception 40 minutes to noon. I had planned to be there at 10 am. But it didn’t matter, I was pretty early for a morning person.
After exchanging pleasantries with the people present, I took a seat in my brown lab coat. The reception was quite empty at that time. The first patient I saw entered the room a couple of minutes later. He was a tall, dark lean man. He had on a white fitting shirt, night-black slacks, and brown pointy shoes. He was also bespectacled.
As all visitors do, he walked over to the reception desk where the female receptionist and my supervisor was seated. Announced that he wanted to see a dentist. The receptionist then asked for his name.
“Biko. Jackson Biko”, he said.
I looked at him. No, I stared at him. He looked at me, but he did not stare. Did he just say Jackson Biko?
Before I could fully process this data, the receptionist asked me to look for his file using his outpatient number. At this moment, my heart had started pounding in my chest. With my already tense body, I headed over to the cabinet. Searched for the file. I found it quickly.
Before handing it over, I knew I had to confirm the name. Jackson Biko, it read in capital. I could hear my heart beat even faster. It’s him! But being the good worker I am, I composed myself and gave her what she needed. Went back to my seat. Gave him another long stare as he took a seat in the reception area. I wondered if he noticed my dark brown eyes on his tall frame.
My mind was whirling, and blood was rushing furiously all over my body. Was this real? Was Jackson Biko really in the same room with me? The guy who writes hilarious and moving stories on his extremely popular blog? The godfather of all young Kenyan writers? I had to make sure.
Now I feel I should mention something important. I am introvert, true to the word. This means I find it hard to approach people I don’t know, even if just to pay a compliment let alone have a conversation. Like once I defeated the strong urge to speak to a guy I knew in a matatu, and he was seated right next to me! That’s how shy I am.
So how would I be able to approach someone I had never met in person, only through words. Would I be the shy coward I always am? Would I cower in my comfortable seat and eat my words?
Well in normal cases I would, but this was a special one. The person in the room wasn’t just anyone, it was Biko! The writer that was known by everyone, yet few really knew him. Read more than he was seen. And here he was, sitting in the office in which I worked. What stroke of luck was that!
I knew deep inside I couldn’t waste this rare opportunity, or I would regret it. And everybody hates regret. So I gathered my little social courage and nervously walked over to him. “Hi,” I uttered sheepishly with my hands holding on to each other. “Are you THE Jackson Biko?”
After some hesitation, the man spoke. I am he, he finally said. (Not his exact words, just trying to make him sound cool.) Then he offered me a seat next to him. I immediately lit up and followed his instructions.
And there I was. Seated next to the man. The man with the big forehead. I didn’t waste any moment to gush about how amazing it was to finally see him, considering he never posts a photo of himself in any of his social media platforms. Not even in the About Me section in his blog, imagine! The undercover writer, he affirmed.
After expressing my bubbling excitement, he asked me about myself. I briefly introduced myself. Told him I was a student volunteer at the hospital. He mentioned that I stuck out like a sore thumb. His exact words this time, a sure proof that he was indeed the celebrated writer.
He prodded me to tell him more about myself, but the thing is I don’t like talking about myself. Unless I have an interesting story, like this one. So I decided to ask him about his more interesting life.
Without hesitation this time, he proceeded to tell me about this guy he had just interviewed that morning. The guy traveled so much he even had a platinum card with a local airline. We calculated the number of times he might travel on a week in average. (It came up to 3.3).
He also told me about how busy a writer he is. And that sometimes he suffers from writer’s drain rather than writer’s block. Jokingly, he suggested that he relieves himself with a gesture of smoking a little something. I immediately burst into laughter. He was even funnier in person this guy.
I bet Biko interviews many people in his daily life. But on this particular day, he had met a younger interviewer. Therefore, I got to explore another side of him, the part I did not know from Bikozulu or his Saturday Nation and True Love articles.
He revealed to me that he actually studied Biochemistry in university and got a paying job shortly after. But it was not what he loved, he was a writer. So he quit his unfulfilling job and went back to school to do a journalism course. And the rest of course, is still ongoing.
I shared that I was currently in a similar predicament. Doing a course that is different from my passion. Like the wise 38-year-old guy that he is, he encouraged me to do what I loved. And confirmed that I didn’t need to do a second degree like him in order to be a good journalist. Hallelujah!
We chatted for about 10 minutes. Those 10 minutes were enough. I felt like I was talking a good friend, yet I had never met the guy before. If people studied us, they would have probably thought we were old pals catching up after a long time.
He was warm and inviting. It also helped that he was so damn funny. I was pleased to find out that his humor was not only in words but also in person too.
During our talk, he also kept muting his iPhone (yawa) the many times it rang. Maybe he was being courteous, or he was just following the “no cellphone use” rule in the waiting room. I wonder which one it is, maybe both.
After our short yet extensive talk, I left him to see the dentist and went back to my post before I was relieved of my duties, if you know what I mean. As I walked back to my seat, I felt satisfied. Yet when I sat down, I was not.
I realized that there were so many other things I had forgotten to say to him. Like how I was also a Kenyan writer. And that not only was I a big fan, but also a great admirer of his style. And that I hope to be half as good as him someday (remember godfather?).
I forgot to tell him how much I look up to him, both figuratively and literally. And that if he ever offered me a chance to guest post on his blog, I would kindly decline because I don’t think I can match with the other residents. Furthermore, would the Gang – his loyal readers who compete every Tuesday to be the first to comment- even accept a rookie like me?
But most importantly, I forgot to tell him that we are many in the big forehead department. I would tell him the next time I talked to him, if I was ever lucky enough to get another chance.
I did meet him one final time, just before he left. He told me that he needed a dental procedure so he would be back soon. Hours later, I was still giddy about the unexpected meeting.
Earlier, he had told me that he meets fans in the most random and unexpected places. They only recognize him by his name. He likes it that way. At least that way he doesn’t get screaming ladies running after him every time he makes a public appearance.
He’s a rare kind of man, known for his works rather than for how he looks or lives his life. I admire that about him.
As I typed down these events on my phone later on, I analyzed what had just happened. It dawned on me that I might not have met the popular writer if I had slept for an hour longer that cold morning. Or if I had chosen to volunteer at another organization that wasn’t two buses (plus a taxi) away from home.
I always knew I wanted to meet Biko some day, but I never imagined that it would happen so soon. It was a dream that arrived earlier than I ever expected. That is why I felt like the luckiest person that day. But now I know this wasn’t just luck. It was simply good old fate.
Side note: Did I just type over 1800 words in one story? Maybe Biko’s behavior is starting to rub off on me. If only I had this zeal when writing school research papers.
Mahn, I need to meet more Zulus in my life.
If you ever read this JB (can I call you that?), thank you for being such a friendly sport. You were better in person than I could have ever imagined. Meeting you was the top highlight of my week.
I hope we shall meet again, maybe in even more unexpected circumstances. And pardon me if I shared a bit too much, but I did warn you.
After all, it’s what we writers do.
Update: Oh, and did you hear? I got the crazy chance to interview the guy. Isn’t life just full of surprises.