Late for Madam Irene's class

One of the small redemptions of being late to class, an afternoon class with Madam Irene...Madam Irene! Is that, since you cannot walk into her class anymore, you get to walk into the lab adjacent to the class and meet this delightful lady alone-well, not entirely-keeping her company are her earphones jacked into the computer before her, her delightful voice and a Celine Dion song playing on YouTube which she is singing along to; beautifully. She does not see you, not immediately at least, right now she is "feeling it". You can tell, from the way she has her eyes squeezed shut, hitting all the untenably high notes in "If I can see it, ooh then I can do it.." in Celine Dion's I believe I can fly. You stand there watching her; amazed, awed, and bemused at the same time. So much so, that you are yet to shut the door behind you and let go of its knob, that your palm is subconsciously, still holding. Then she stops; so suddenly that the transition from loud melodious singing to awkward silence feels like a vocal screech. She's seen me, I have seen that she's seen me, we've seen each other. The door is still "unshut", the music is still playing (I can hear faint whispers in her earphones) but the singing, the singing is gone.
She smiles at me; a shy smile. I smile back; a friendly smile. "I got carried does that to me" she (I don’t know her name yet) says."Don't mind me, endelea kuimba uko na sauti nzuri sana! “I say, before shutting the door behind me and approaching her." Hi, I am Gitonga...Leroy Gitonga...Programming class..."I introduce myself, and with armpits becoming rapidly sweaty; I stretch out my hand in that amiable way you acknowledge an acquaintance. She takes it. “Hi Gitonga, I am Doreen...Kawira. Nice to meet you… Niko ICDL class.” The daze that had engulfed me has now mellowed into a pressing curiosity about this music lady and I can’t help but query her, “Where did you learn how to sing like that?” This is both an obvious flatter and a sincere question. “Thank you. I have been singing since I was a kid. It’s kind of a family thing”, she acknowledges. “So there are more of you?” I say in that bland, not-trying-too-hard-to-be-funny manner. She chuckles. “Yeah, we are. We are four in our family. I am the only girl. We are all different but music is our ‘common denominator’.” This is starting to sound interesting and thanks to Madam Irene’s crazy rules about “…kuchelewa chelewa ndarasa ni kama ni murano (kimeru word for wedding). Ukichelewa kaa nje...My class is not a kirabu! (Kimeru word for club/pub) ” I have all the time to spare.
 “Tell me about your family, if it’s okay with you of course,” I tread carefully, trying hard not to let my curiosity get out of hand. “It’s fine. Well, my family is a normal family. I have three brothers and I am the last born. I adore my brothers and they care about me too. My parents are awesome. I am much closer with my dad though. His love for music drives me and my siblings love for music.” I listen keenly, intently absorbing the weight and meaning of every word.  I venture further, “Tell me about this musical bond you all share?” She halts a bit and with a searching expression on her face says “We have this piano at home and dad used to play for us. I like to think he played it for me most. He plays really well. He can also read music. My brothers mainly play instruments; drums, bass guitars, and piano too…you know the stuff. One of my brothers is a DJ. My mum is the calm one in the family and not really musical but she is supportive.”
It’s a pretty detailed summary of her family and family life. She has lived in Meru all her life, with her family, learnt about Christ and studied hard to get to where she is now; the main theme in her life has been music. Being here with her makes me start thinking, about myself. As a slight diversion from talking about her family, I offer “I did music once. In high school, I loved it but I had to drop it because I had to take other subjects to suit my career options.”She looks at me a little while, silent and with a questioning expression on her face. I wonder if she’s suddenly upset about something. “Why would anyone drop music?” she asks, and in her eyes I can see a distant bemusement—she’s trying to understand or trying to make herself understand. “I loved the music classes but I was limited to the stipulated ‘choices’; I was 844’d.” I offer this feeble counter. For the first time, I feel guilty about choosing Newton’s three laws of motion over the five barred G-clef.
“Tell me about this love of singing out loud in the ICDL lab?” I say, grinning sheepishly. She laughs. I laugh with her. A laughter, which only those who have shared in a small secret or near embarrassment can have. “Well, as I told you, music is part of my life. I love singing but not more than I love playing drums. When you came in, I was listening to one of my favorite songs. I love the way the music sounds and I just like singing along to this because I find it so inspirational. Let me show you one of my favorite drummers?” A few deft clicks on the mouse and we are watching a drum video on YouTube, and sharing her earphones--those green, corded ones that only people who value and love listening to music would bear to afford. On the screen, this guy with thick dreadlocks, drums furiously. There is a maniac passion to his beating, to the way he moves his hands from drum beat to chime bell, which makes me think of someone possessed. It’s a brazen performance by drummer standards, and judging from ‘the look’ on Doreen’s face; of immense satisfaction and even greater yearning, it must have been spot on.  You can see she wants to play like that one day. She wants to be possessed like that too.
“With such great passion for music you must have tried pursuing it. What are some of the challenges you have faced so far?”The drumming video is over but she’s looking at the screen searching for another to play. “Well, pursuing music in a place like Meru can be really tough. There are few music schools and most are unaffordable and there are very few places apart from music recording studios that have the instruments. When I fell in love with drumming, I wanted to be shown how to play. I made a personal effort to ask anyone who I came across who could play drums to teach me. They all made commitments but they never came through. I think instrumentalists are just a proud bunch!” There’s an acerbic undertone here that makes me picture her saying, “Screw them, I will do this myself!” Passion…check, Support...Check, resolution…Check. I know now that walking into her singing in the lab like that was not a momentary affliction of lunacy. “Let’s watch this one! I love the way he improvises using buckets for drums and they still sound so good…” ‘The look’ is back on her face; I pick up my earpiece and we happily watch the possessed together.
She looks at her wrist watch—a cute, bronze thing, that seems more ornamental than time efficient. “I have a music class at 3:00pm, I have to leave now. My music teacher will be waiting for me,” she says. “You have your own music teacher?” I ask, rather surprised. “Yes, I do. He is not a formal teacher; he is actually my dad’s friend. He comes to our home and teaches me how to read music. I want to learn how to read music like my dad so that I can make my own compositions.” She looks down at her watch again. The drummers are still at it on the screen. She plugs out her earphones and bids me bye. She has to leave now so that she is not late for her class. I watch her leave the lab still holding on to her earphones. I am suddenly aware of the time, of Madam Irene shouting in the other room, of tasks uncompleted…of all the things that come on when the music goes off. 

(About Irene--Sometimes I think the only reason she tolerates being our programming concepts teacher is because she learnt that one of the pioneer computer programmer’s was a lady, ADA LOVELACE) 


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