Dear thirteen-year-old self,
It is night and you're probably sitting in silence in your room in Kilimani, Nairobi, listening to Aaliyah and creating fashion illustrations. You have run out of paper and so you draw on the beech-wood frame of your bed, and these drawings quickly mushroom into full-blown graffiti on your bedroom wall. Mom and Dad won't be as mad as you think they will be. Instead they will forgive this and many other infractions until one day they won’t know how to forgive you. For a while you will detest each other and then, driven apart by your differences, you will become indifferent and stop speaking altogether. But for now you are cocooned by the comforts of childhood.
As you draw, you imagine yourself in places like London and Lisbon, listening to your beloved Aaliyah and drinking exotic cocktails like caipirinhas, a fake ID card in your pocket and the world in your palm.
I want you to know that life will try to crack you like an egg and your silence will eventually break. Someday you will spill some of those painful secrets and taste a modicum of much-needed freedom. You will lose a great deal as a result but the gains will outweigh every loss. You will love and be loved by a beautiful man in a place where your mutual passion won’t be a marker of shame but pride. You will be awkward and alone and alien for a long time but you will transform these qualities, which is to say yourself, into a work of art. You will wear your awkwardness, your aloneness and your alienness in your hair like gold thread. You will adorn your wonkiness on your wrist like a charm bracelet studded with stars.
Someday you will no longer be as scared as you are now. Someday you will understand that it's OK to not be cool, that it's fine to wear your heart on your sleeve, that it doesn't matter if you belt out the theme tune to Space Jam whilst you wait for the bus. Someday, you will stop crying in your sleep, and the anxiety that rips your heart open whenever you see the police will cease. Someday, you will have your own home and you will draw fashion illustrations on the walls and the kitchen cupboards to remind you of your thirteen-year-old self. Someday, you will walk down the street with a sense of achievement and self-contained confidence. Someday, you will create your own family. Someday, you will measure your life not in terms of modest gains but by major wins. Someday, you will grow up and become the man you have always wanted to be.
All of these amazing things await you. Keep dreaming, keep drawing, keep listening to Aaliyah. You will be fine.
DIRIYE OSMAN is photographed by TOM HENSHER.
Graphics by DIRIYE OSMAN.