She lit up our television screens the way she lit up the theatre those many long ago years when we knew her as JT Kanini a goddess in a mini-dress on the stage at just that age when we extras at Phoenix were ripe for puppy love — ne’er mind that she found her true prince Ikua tukiwa Campus.
A crush was a compulsory course in knowing JT, the same way her story would become compelling in a way that no one could keep eyes off her or the way her warmth radiated right off that stuff that they make screens with (google says liquid crystals that rotate polarised light) band width.
That is what Kanini was — a light that brought people together and lived life liquid clear as the crystal that chemotherapy could not dissolve. Janet Kanini smiling on Victoria’s Lounge talking about lung cancer in a lounge manner saying: “...and if it returns, I am ready to go back to my God” so that as one sat on that late night bar chair you caught yourself choking almost ready to believe in that spirit realm; Because on that October night last year she really did look like an angelic visitation gracing our living rooms with her life right just one more time so we could remember her the way she was in her prime time before taking her halo to India.
‘Hallo, India, how hollow you seem to me, but hallo here, anyway?’
Chemical Oxygen - that’s what ChemO stood for there in Janet’s land of tumorous tigers exotic India a hospital in Bangalore a light angel of Kenyan folklore in the limbo of India but - Dear Kanini that’s not how we will remember you in the purgatory of chemotherapy that you so bravely bore your eyes shining with the beautiful light of twilight.
We were young and it was the late 1990s the wheel of time rotating into the turn of millennium and there you were on stage at Phoenix Rising to take on whatever role in the days of Ian and Eddie Mbugua and the Ndavi twins and George and ‘Shinde’ Mwadanda and a girl called ‘Sue Baby’ and there was a bar we used to go to after rollicking performances to revel in stories and roll in Kingfishers when Life was a long & immortal frolic and the gimmick was Disco 2000 and we did not have to count days in the palms of our hands scan charts for white blood cells or peer at tea leaves at the Professional Center pub or the County Hotel round the corner.
Years later when they told JT in India that if the cancer came back and like an anaconda coiled itself round her body (ana konda) and attempted to squeeze her breath out, Kanini cut in with her smile: “Whatever time I have left on earth with my loved ones is time enough for me,” and she said this LIVE on TV.
This is who JT was and I bet her cancer chart read: Crucify me if you must but after every little death I rise like a Phoenix, YOU cannot fix me’ and then smiled into the harsh glare of the dying of daylight as if her soul had already moved on beyond the trivialities of this earth.
That October night on TV someone said next to me: “Is that not Janet Ikua?” And I said yeah and he said she looked cured of cancer (she did look very good on teevee) and me I swivelled on my bar stool — “You see that hot lady up there on this Victoria’s Lounge program?’’Yes." “You want to know her secret? It is not that she is a cancer survivor. It is that she will never die.”