The inside of my head was in an uncharacteristic spin. It was like the sort of thing that happens when you move your body round in a circular motion, repeatedly. Only that this time, the spin was happening while I was seated on what looked, in the eyes of others, like a cool comfortable chair. It was damn hot, that freaking chair. At least hot enough for the heat to travel from my bum to my head. My brain must have told my butt you know what, let me handle this one for you. So my head was literally burning. And my heart pounding faster than it normally did. These are the kind of things that people of my kind go through. One minute you are the cock of the walk, beaming with confidence and self-belief, then the next one you are a pale shadow of your former self, every bit of confidence that you had shattered to smithereens.
The voice recorder was lifted aloft and placed right in front of my mouth. Perfect. It was the normal procedure. Place it right in front of the examinee’s mouth and let them utter the words that are written on the piece of paper, held using the other hand. The voice recorder kind of reminded me of Alco Blow, the only difference being that the voice recorder didn’t have the powers to turn any of us in. But it did have powers to shred some of us to nothingness, nevertheless.
You see, I had applied to join some American Universities. Good grades, good essays but you have to prove to us that you are proficient in English first, read my letters. Of course, I was proficient in English. It wasn’t like I had written the essays in Chinese or something. But well, sometimes you have to take the piss. So I took the piss and enrolled for the toefl exam (English proficiency test exam). That’s how I ended up with a pounding chest and smoky head, while seated on the comfortable-uncomfortable chair, in a room full of examinee’s who looked eager to get it over and done with and grab their visas to their dream destinations.
It was on a Sunday. Perfect day to take an exam I thought. I looked around the room and murmured to myself, do these people realize how lucky they are to be doing an exam at Jesus’s feet? I found it awkward, therefore, that when my tongue failed me and I was lost in an intoxicating bubble of imagination, I was all alone. Isn’t it written in the Holy Book that Jesus will always be by your side?
I had been the first to arrive at the exam centre. No surprises. It was an important exam, perhaps the most important in my life. Traffic jam, limited opportunities and pot-bellied political honchos can knacker even the most optimistic out. I was ready to tell Kenya to kiss my ass. And I did that by becoming the first to arrive at the examination centre. With a number one tag on my t-shirt, I was first on the voice recorder chopping board. The voice recorder part wasn’t part of the exam, though. They said it was necessary but not a must. In fact, the words we were to read out loud were just instructions, nothing too serious. “They just wanted to pick up our voices,” they said. When the gadget was finally placed in front of my mouth and the words set-and-go uttered, I began my baptism of fire…
My name is K—en Okumu. I he—ar—-by gu-a—ra—ntee th-at th—is is m—e
I stammered through the words. I reckon the tension that I had played a big role in my tongue’s waywardness. It was only my ancestral name that I had pronounced without trouble. My ancestors must have been like, you can disgrace yourself with the borrowed language but our name? Nah, not even in your dreams.
I was ordered to stop. It wasn’t a must to read the words out loud after all. They’d already picked up my voice. It wasn’t the best approach to deal with a stammerer, though. I’d have expected them to urge me on and kick it, but they didn’t. Instead, they chose to harrow my mind in a web of thoughtlessness and send it into an abyss with a bottomless pit. That day, my self-esteem endured a knife wound. It didn’t help that the person who was next on line reeled off the words with consummate ease. I looked like I’d shaken all that trouble off when I stood and moved to my exam desk but the truth was that on the inside, I felt like a piece of shit. The lady holding the voice recorder was smiling and nodding in admiration of the one who had spoken after me. She must have been like wow I’m really impressed with this one and she’ll definitely pass, not sure about the previous one. Situations like this made me feel like relationship heartbreaks were just mere child-plays. Not to compare or anything but that voice recorder situation was for me, the tsunami of heartbreaks.
Somehow, miraculously, my tattered confidence patched itself up and I ended up acing the exam, even the speaking section. I scored most on the writing section of course. I did not want a hello bro, I know you cannot speak, but even writing’s a problem? I felt obligated to prove that where the mouth fails, the hand can succeed.
The problem with stammering is it can sup out, mercilessly, even the little confidence that you had and you end up being frail and timid. It is like an animal wagging its tail and then tucking it in immediately afterwards. Even worse, we have to employ Napoleon Bonaparte’s or Sun-Tzu’s military-like tactics to approach situations. The analysis of what to say is well-thought out; analyzing the length and difficulty of saying it and then deciding what suits you best. The only thing lacking from such brain-storming is a military fatigue because there’s no difference between what we go through and a real combat. And I have never understood why words tend to get stuck when it matters most. Like when addressing a gathering or when speaking to someone you like. The stammering is usually like hey! Back again!
Once, I was in a matatu and next to me was this gorgeous girl. I can’t recall what her name was. I have a tendency of forgetting people’s names. Bad habit I know but if you have ever sat to do an exam, you know that your memory can sometimes fail you. So I sat next to the beautiful girl, channelling my inner combat on how to approach her. She had this phone that she never seemed to let go off so if I were to approach her with words, I had to be good at it or she’d just scoff at me and I’d end up with an egg on my face. In stillness, I began saying the pickup lines in my head. Hey, how are you? I’m Ken. Nah, that one was too basic and ordinary. And I wasn’t really sure if the words would come out smooth. Hey, you look beautiful. Nah, she’d probably been told that a million times. That wouldn’t have any effect, I thought in my head. After a while, I realized that I wasn’t really going to have consensus in my head so I turned and said, “Hey, I know this is weird but your cologne kind of reminds me of someone.” I’d done it perfectly and smooth. You should have seen how lit my face was. Bloody hell! I was over the moon.
“Really?” she retorted. “Yes, really. And you’re beautiful.” She smiled. Damn, this timid guy was really doing something my whole village would’ve been proud of. She slid her phone inside her bag and we ended up chatting the whole journey. I found out that we had very little in common but boy, if any of my relatives owned a company and I was sure that I’d get the job that I had applied for, I’d sneak this story right inside my CV as a social skill, competence and achievement. For a commoner, some of these things shouldn’t get you too excited but to those of us with difficulties with our speaking, it means the world. First, you conquer your fear and then second, you conquer your tongue. Sometimes you end up losing but when you pull it off, there’s no better feeling.
It’s a thorny road sometimes because most people judge your brilliance by how coherent in speech you are. There’s this time a friend of mine posted in a chat group that he needed someone to be a football pundit at a local TV station. With haste, I replied that I wanted to do it. His response was cold, laced with a bit of hotness. I know you are good at football, you understand the game but your delivery worries me. In short, he was saying that the job’s not yours, sorry. In all fairness, he had a point. I never did drama, because they all had a point. Never did speeches because they all had a point. So for people like me with a problem with our speaking, it has always been they all had a point, and we didn’t have any.
One time I had….HAHAHAHA look at you waiting in anticipation.
This is a blog post of a book that I am writing called STAMMERS. I hope to put across the challenges that we go through in a witty and stylish way that you can enjoy. Don’t forget to leave a comment. Cheers!
And while at it, listen in to this beautiful tribute https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ZFRoqBk0IU