Once upon a time, as a high school student on holiday at home in Kisumu, I joined a study group of eight people. The idea was to help my grades. As it turned out, we became such a good merry band of friends that study became impossible. The study group studied less and less, until one person dropped out of it, following a judicious parental intervention. The remaining seven became so friendly that four of us condensed into two couples. For three years, it was bliss – and very little study.
When you break up with your partner, people around you are more likely to break up too. There are two opposite cause-and-effect theories behind this. Possibly, couples which want to break up wait for a precedent among their friends who are couples (it must be easy to walk away when it feels like Break-Up Day all over the world – season’s greetings!). Alternatively, couples who thought their relationships were forever secure and loving usually change their minds the minute another close couple breaks up. Or both.
All I know is this: three years ago, some months after all seven of us finished high school at the same time, David and Jennifer broke up. Shortly after, The Ex and I broke up. Maybe the long stretches of familiarity bred contempt. It is easy to find excuses to break up if you’re already inclined towards the suggestion. The spate of break ups destabilized our clique of friends, which, besides the four of us, included Sister of the Ex, Brother of the Ex, and David’s new catch Carole.
The only thing which kept the lot of us together was a group project we had devoted our spare time to: creating a CD of instrumental tracks using computer software. Fresh on the back of break-ups, the project almost didn’t come to existence. Somehow we finished our compositions. That last sentence somehow doesn’t accurately capture the difficulty involved in making a musical orchestra/rock band/concert troupe out of a laptop. Now imagine the complexities involved in trying to collaborate with a fellow composer whose major input ends at humming the tune, because the damned software interface looked like a freaking alien spacecraft’s cockpit controls, so I had to do nearly everything else: basslines, percussion, harmonizing, polyphony, instrument selection, pointless tweaks, a horde of weirdly-named adjustments I crossed my fingers and fluked blindly through, etc - and I’d dropped music in form two following funny grades. Politics also played a part in complicating life: seeing how David had dumped Jennifer for Carole, you couldn’t well expect the girls to cooperate easily on an all-girls’ joint effort. Sister of The Ex didn’t make it any easier by spending loads of time with me in the name of the project – however, her musical input, a tad evolved, is appreciated to this day. Brother of the Ex decided to go it alone, and ended up bravely submitting a retarded attempt at mixing reggae with heavy metal rock using instruments last tried by Stone Age Neanderthals. We unanimously voted to exclude his composition from our compilation and he didn’t even complain; just smirked and shrugged.
The day we finished the album, we had a low-key, high showbiz, invitation-only event to launch it, in the prestigious, um, verandah of, er, The Ex’s family’s place. The event was exclusively for contributors to the “album”. We all showed up in formal wear, for what was effectively the reception of gift-wrapped audio CDs created using someone’s computer! After an aural session, in which we listened to all the cranky tracks back to back, we shared comments. None of us are musically inclined in any professional way, but we were quite pleased with the outcome. The formality was done, so we hung around and raided the fridge, to bum and talk. With most of us soon to join various scattered universities, it seemed useful.
This unscheduled bumming turned out to be unwise. All the while, Jennifer looked like at any time she would launch herself at Carole and kill her instantly. She had to make do with insults. We often found ourselves dragged into their verbal exchanges. David always took Carole’s side in a not-altogether-surprising show of solidarity with the new love interest. My attempts at intervention were ever derailed by The Ex’s demands to know why exactly we broke up. Sister of the Ex was declared unfit to intervene as she was widely suspected to be the real reason for my break up with The Ex. Untrue, I declared. Surprisingly they didn’t take MY word for it. Carole took it all very badly in the end; after being torn into incessantly by The Ex and Jennifer, she stomped out in tears. Sister of The Ex followed her friend to comfort her – more realistically, to flee her own discomfort. The Ex and Jennifer gave chase. This left me, David and Brother of the Ex with loads of snacks and a spectacle to behold.
We took our seats, grabbed popcorn and watched the four girls arguing a long distance away. They were so far away we couldn’t catch their words. But seeing their expressions of anger and hate, and their violent gestures, we boys knew, without saying it out aloud that the group had just met for the last time ever.
And then, slowly, our clique died a natural death as even friendship became awkward. There were some good days, way back. Luckily for us, we have the audio CDs as a constant reminder of the good old days.