The old adage is true. Never say never. I’m a fine one to preach to people that you shouldn’t slam a door shut because you never know when you have to go through it again.
So what door is this that I’m having to go back through that I even found the time to work out the exact date and time I had slammed it shut?
If you haven’t already guessed it, I finally went into Westgate Mall. For those who may not be aware, I was in that mall on that fateful day the terrorist attack happened, right in the midst of it all with my children. We were all injured, my children took the worst hit, and to date my daughter still suffers from the injuries she sustained. She still has shrapnel embedded in her legs but what a brave child she is to get on with life and not allow this huge life-altering incidence to mar her future.
Both my kids have gone back into Westgate out of choice. Actually, my daughter chose to go in there and be practical about things and get on with it. My son took a little bit longer and was taken in by family who kept an eye on him in case he had the need to leave but it turns out he was okay. He also had a school trip there and the school counsellor told me he was just fine.
In all these five years, the idea to go in there may have crossed my mind. There has been a time when courage was rampant and I managed to get to the main entrance but eventually just buckled and refused to go in as a panic attack hit me hard and I started crying uncontrollably.
Monday this week came with dread because a promise had been made to a client who has a store in the mall to meet up with her. It was imperative to meet at the mall and this couldn’t be put off anymore.
Interestingly, I had been invited to be on a panel of discussion on the same day and I had had to turn it down because I knew I would have been too saturated to deal with being in the mall that long.
Anyway, only two people knew I would be going in there on Monday. Obviously, my client was one of them, and the other was the one person I talk to very openly with about everything. I was filming for a promotional video that morning and wasn’t my usual chirpy, excited self. I dragged my feet as time wouldn’t slow down or stop and I had to get to the meeting punctually.
The driver got to the entrance and we went through the security check. A sniffer dog sniffed around the car being guided by his handler, while two other personnel checked the car from wherever they deemed necessary. My first thought was that if anyone turned up with guns, they’d be shot at first. I mildly wondered if they had any weapons, and then took a closer look at the German Shephard dog and decided he was rather cute.
Heart is racing. Security has cleared. I leaned forward to see if they would dispense a parking ticket only because I still have the one from 21stSeptember 2013. No. They didn’t. They had red chip-coins. I looked at the one given to us and saw that it had a faded logo of the mall imprinted on it. At that moment I had no idea why I was being overly-observant about everything.
We drove into the basement. THE FLOOR WAS SHINING! I don’t ever remember the floor shining from when I used to go there. I had to admit it looked kind of nice. Straight away I looked to see where any emergency exit might be. It’s become a habit to do this wherever I go, anywhere in the world, not just in Nairobi. The driver stopped the car near the entrance and I grudgingly disembarked. I was really dragging my feet. Another car turned up behind us indicating to turn right to park, so I had to hurry and get out of the car.
My heart was pounding loud in my ears and throat, mouth was dry, palms were sweaty, and I was fidgety. The security at the entrance looked far more sophisticated than I had known it to be previously at the mall. They had a scanner with those conveyer belts, and I placed my handbag on there. I was visibly nervous and the security personnel must have looked at me suspiciously.
I walked in towards the lifts that are right in front as you walk in. On my right was a florist. I looked to see if they had orange roses – they did. I was shaking. I had forgotten how to get in the mall without going in the elevator. Then I saw a lady with two children appear from the left and I remembered an escalator ramp there. With rubbery legs, heart still beating an erratic rhythm, I got on to the escalator and made my way up. I looked around as I was going up, hand clutching at the rail tightly, morbid curiosity taking over, seeing changes immediately, especially where Nakumatt used to be.
I had started to calm down.
I took a left turn and had to meet my client on the next floor up and got on the next level escalator. Again. I looked around. It was same but different, if you know what I mean. I got to the café at the upper level and started off the meeting, not before requesting to change seats so that I didn’t have my back towards the rest of the mall. It’s a habit now. Before I had no qualms in sitting with my back towards the main entrance. Now, I have to be facing it.
I was calm, I was talking normally, I managed to conduct the meeting in a civilised manner without breaking down. It actually went very well indeed. There was suddenly no nervousness and neither was I feeling overly dramatic about it all. I did keep glancing to the top floor because we were on the rooftop parking that ill-fated day, but it was something I managed to deal with.
I left about an hour later as I had to go and pick my daughter from school, and that was that.
I went back into Westgate mall despite screaming for almost five years that I wasn’t going to go in. I faced my biggest fear and came out feeling better.
The mall looks slightly different; it had a whole horde of new outlets, it looks as spiffy as it always did, and I’m glad that I have got over what was suppressed in me. I had to get out of denial and start living again, not drive by the mall with my eyes shut tight, flinching when the mall’s name was mentioned, or feeling cheated on when family and friends said they’d gone into the mall.
I wouldn’t call it a fault, but it was something that only I could fix and I did it.
I went back.