Let me guess, you are in Kalamazoo now, a visiting alumni teaching a writing workshop? Or perhaps you are in a Nigerian hair salon taking off layers of your head and adding new ones and becoming prettier…
For real gal, I have been writing this letter in my head over and over but I couldn’t concretely arrive at where to begin. Well, I should perhaps begin by introducing myself. I was named Daisy and Kenyan and a deep admirer of yours. Sometimes I wish you were visible only to me so that I would not have competition from your other fans; then me and you would make the best of compadres history has ever recorded. I know this betrays my jealousy but it’s true that I sometimes wish there was a secret society that admits just few members which would be operated by me and you. Extremely few members and the writers in our midst such as yourself would write incognito and the rest of the world would love their work but never know them in person. The mean Daisy thinking!
I was introducing myself. I am 23 years old, the age you were when that man made you start wearing make up because he told you to shut up since you were a small girl – you wished he could disagree with the content of what you said rather than ignore you simply because you were young and female. And in a sort of protest, you started using make-up to look older. I’m not so good with make-up, don’t be fooled haha! My very good friend Lynn who was teaching me how to apply makeup left for the US before I perfected the application process and in that plane, went all my modelling dreams. But on good days when my application goes well, I look so beautiful, like you, just without your ‘cerebral-palsy mouth’. And make sure you secure your eyes because if I ever get a chance, I will steal your almond-shaped eyes and leave you with mine – I have no idea what shape they are.
I have fears Chimy. I sometimes wonder if it is normal for someone to adore someone else as much as I adore you. Before I met you in 2013 when you came to Kenya to launch Americanah (the autograph and my head which you signed and drew respectively are some of my highly prized possessions in life), I had seen you in my dreams three times before. I remember becoming so angry the third time I dreamed about meeting you that I can’t remember laughing the following day. Then after it became clear that you’d be in Kenya, it felt as if all my Christmases had all come down in one day! My first ever campus friend, Sannah, was so worried for me. She thought I wouldn’t sleep on the night before you were to come and give a public lecture at our school. She teased me to no end. But she was there with me up to the end of the book party. In my 2013 diary, I have several pages dedicated to what I call ” Chimamanda Day”. Some of my most treasured memories in life are embedded in that November day.
Then guess what? Sometime last year, you were in my dreams again. But I think the trajectory of our friendship had shifted because in this dream, you came to my house for a sleepover and we spend the whole night recording whatsapp messages and sending them to my friends. I boiled beans on a kerosene stove for you in the dream… you must have come with that stove because I do not have that in my house ha ha. I was happy when I woke up. I have met you once so I know I will meet you again.
You were just 26 when I first met you. Your photo was in a newspaper – you had just published your first book, Purple Hibiscus. I had not read the book yet and neither had anyone in my house heard your name but for some reason, you completely held my attention and soon afterwards, I would have this desperate desire to read everything you ever wrote and see things the same way you see them and just walk around with you for a month, at least. My big sis still insists that your name, Chimamanda, is too long and must be a combination of two names. I laugh so hard.
There is something about Afamefuna in The Headstrong Historian that makes me think so much of you. I don’t know if this is because you called it a love letter to your father. For me it’s just a special story. I read it like your story – which I know I shouldn’t but since you have allowed people who read Ifemelu’s story as your own to feed their imaginations, please indulge me. But Chimy, between me and you, I’m sure you can admit that Ifemelu’s story up to a certain point – the point you and I know- is your story. *wink wink*. Remember that guy with the coolest hair on earth? You see, that interview makes me imagine that guy you broke up with, sorry, the guy Afamefuna divorces because he chants his Cambridge days instead of doing anything useful with his life ha ha. But I imagine the stylish graduate of Cambridge who worshipped Latin to have been a slow talker, a bit taller, skin the colour of dark-brown honey and in love with the sound of his own voice so your interviewer gets a higher score. And he is vindicated. Call Damian and say hi and it’s not a crush, lol!
Tell me, how did you know I can’t stand Lord of the Rings?! My God! I always wondered if my imagination was flawed or something because I never quite understood the kind of fascination people still have for it. I was already planning to begin faking fascination when I heard you say, “I was a child who had very little patience with Lord of the Rings.”
I heaved a very heavy sigh of relief. And my dear Chimy it does not end there. You have given me the permission to acknowledge my difference and not be overly worried about fitting in to places that I do not necessarily need to fit in. I am no longer trying to fit into any neat packages – I am just Daisy and I walk on the road not trying to be “normal” because what is normal, anyway? Keep preaching, woman!
One more thing, I can’t wait for that memoir you are writing – the one with Ije. Tell her I love her story so much (don’t tell her you have written it because last I checked, it was top secret ha ha ha).
I am looking forward to the woman that I will become in a few short years. I hope I will be able to make strong decisions that make me deeply happy and for which, I can stand up and defend. I hope I will be my truest self all the time because as you clearly point out, each moment that we are not being our truest self, then we are wasting our time on earth. I do not want to waste my time on earth.
I hope to see you again soon.
With deepest esteem and respect
Daisy Nandeche Okoti.