Violets are blue and so am I

At the corners of her smile,
In the baby crow’s feet at her eyes,
A heaviness lingers,
Weighing her smooth brown face
Just impercepitbly down.
I blink and it is gone,
In its place a sunshine facade.
We promise to talk at some point that night.
This is a lie.
There are distractions.
I fear she cannot say what weighs her down.
It might have to do with the man she claims as hers.
It might not.
We have not talked, really talked, since she married,
Actually, since we finished university.
He sits quiet, in control, sipping whisky.
A cool guy, he does not dance.
Me I’m hot, in this moment, his opposite.
I flail, dance, drink and, in the energy,
Forget her until a few days later
When I recall a mutual friend telling me
How they met and she implored him to take
Care of his girlfriend, to not hurt her.
He said she looked deeply sad.
The night unfolds and we draw further apart,
She goes home with her husband.
I leave with friends but I am alone.
I guess we all have our burdens.

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This is the Fear

My hot streak is over, I peaked, now I am descending. The fade of history continues apace despite my efforts. The one window in time when I was at the height of my achievements in all conceivable ways, has closed. I will never matter again like the moment I walked away from my parents’ home, to the city. From here anxiety springs, the knowledge of my insignificance, itself a part of the fear of my impending mortality, the vertiginous descent in the face of frail human clawings. However, there is a dark comfort in all this: if I really have nothing, then there is nothing to fear, not even ignominy.

Couch

When I visit my parents’, I often sleep in the sitting room. From one of the couches, I move the larger cushions to make room and use the smaller ones as pillows. I then cover myself with a sleeping bag. It takes less than three minutes to turn it into a bed.

I find it more comfortable than the actual bed in my former bedroom. Even in the language I choose to talk about this behaviour, I distance myself from this place I call home. It might be because I do not want to get too comfortable. I get comfortable to avoid getting comfortable. It makes sense to me. Homes have a way of making one forget there exists an uncaring beyond which has to be faced more often than the warm one of ready meals and easy love. Making up the couch is my building of a beautiful sandcastle.

My mother gently reminds me I have a room while my father finds it deplorable I prefer the couch. He only recently made this known by reminding me of how softly I have grown up. He thinks it is a reflection of my desire for convenience over the work of being an adult by making a bed and the larger sacrifice of letting my little sister use the sleeping bag. She loves comfort and convenience as much as I do, but she is a sweet teenager and the last child, so excused. In a word, my choices to not grow up and to avoid pain. After he told me this, I promptly moved to my former room. I still took the sleeping bag. In his mind, he has probably extrapolated all this and come to some conclusion of how I will end up a bratty ne’er-do-well, a manchild.

He exudes glee at my cutting down to size. He drips contempt when he talks about how coddled we have grown up, what easy lives we have lived and how we need to be reminded the world is more complicated and difficult than we imagine. Now and then he is right but I often refuse to engage him on this. Only occasionally do I tell him we are the way we are partly because of him and his wife, my mother, our parents, and that they cannot distance themselves from their role in it.

Sometimes without my prodding, he will lapse into a semi-philosophical and half-hearted interrogation of himself of whether he created monsters. Cry Dr Frankenstein, confronted by his most magnificent yet most horrific creation. When I ask him whether he would have it any other way, he gets a faraway look in his eyes and a sardonic smile cuts his face. “Probably not.”, He replies. It is an odd compliment and circular criticism to the self to complain about the shortcomings of kizazi kipya while at the same time being one of its creators.

Alone

Being in close proximity to people with whom you are ostensibly working towards a common goal for most of your day engenders relationships. We end up friends with some of our colleagues. When you leave a place of employ, and it is when, some of the time you maintain those links.

When you meet you invariably ask them how they are doing. Sometimes you mean your friends themselves, but often you are referring to the company. The subtext of this question is “How are you doing without me?” This is a way to hold on to some idea of your former workplace and your importance within it more than a concern for the wellbeing of your past workmates.

We want to hear how they are struggling, how our absence has left them crippled, how much they miss us. In our most narcissistic and bitter moments, we fantasize about them walking out behind us in a show of loyalty and solidarity. Rarely is this the case. You are not that important and there are incentives to stay: ambition, a new television, an intern to impress, a car to service, a parent to care for, lifestyles to maintain.

You will be told how well things are going or at the very least, how ordinary it all still is, tuko tu, bado tunang’ang’ana. In return, you will also say how well you are, calmly like you actually are. You will hide the dread you feel that you will never make anything of yourself. An anecdote or two will be thrown in about the antics of another colleague or those of management and you might be shown a Slack exchange. You will all laugh about it. You, the world-weary sage who has escaped, will smile sardonically and try to convince yourself you are better off, but the familiar camaraderie will tug at you, making you nostalgic for a seemingly simpler time, a shared tragicomedy which at least made sense.

You will eventually part ways and in the echoing silence of your mind, you will be reminded how much of an outsider you now are. Organizations are beasts larger than people, and the people are the organization are the beast and the beast will tumble on without you with nary a backward glance, rolling into a future you are not part of, leaving you behind hankering after a tinsel past. It is nothing personal and no one is coming to save you.

Drinking the Moonshine

At my previous workplace, there is an annual tradition of travelling to wild backward areas to test the products we claimed were built for such environments. At some point in the trip, around a campfire in the evenings, newbies were inducted into the club by gulping a mouthful of apple moonshine. A photo was taken and after development hung on the company wall.

This simple act was a way of bringing you deeper into the fold. At its core, the drinker acknowledged their commitment to the company’s vision and in return, the company brought them into a coveted position of ultimate acceptance. The harsh liquid can be thought of as cauterizing lingering doubts on both parties: did we make the right choice by picking you, each side seemed to ask. A resounding yes, then, in the face of the clear like water liquor.

Every day at work, with each moment spent striving towards the story we had been fed, was a sip of the numbing elixir. For almost three years and together with the constant subtle reinforcement of being around like-minded people and high-sounding platitudes, this was enough for me to fold myself into the dream. But something shifted and the company changed radically. Internally I did not catch up as fast. The change happened in bits for me: a solid criticism about our products that lingered in my mind for days, a no longer deniable failure to meet some key metrics, a company relying on our technology tanking.

There was no single moment when I stopped seeing what everyone around me seemed to see, where I put the bottle down, no hard line between the before and after, much like coming out of a hangover. I went to work as usual and did worky things: emails, phone calls, gossipping with colleagues over lunch about how management was evil and daft (they probably thought the same of us), torrent downloads, and the rapidly diminishing work I was there to do. Nothing was normal and I was transforming from an acolyte to an unrepentant critic. There must have been a fall to earth, a sudden sobering up where I was left to stare at what was around me left unpropped by utopian ideas, only cold hard facts I was unwilling to believe were left. I was no longer sure what we were trying to achieve.

I remember joking with a new employee once, telling her not to drink the moonshine. At the time she did not understand what I was on about, I still do not think she does or even remembers that small interaction. My point was that place has an allure which swallows you completely and if you let yourself get immersed, you will drown in a dream which might remain just that. I wish to be proven wrong, to be shown up as insane only so I will not have to deal with the weight of my conscience and the burden of my idealism.

On paper, it was stated as poor performance. At the final meeting, I was told I was a poor fit in the new company structure. One could argue they are the same thing: my performance at fitting into the changed company was poor. I could not adapt to a changed environment, rather, I did not want to. One could also argue it does not matter what the reasons were. I was still out of a job. There were many flowery words, as is customary for anything disingenuous and unconvincing. I got the impression the decision had been sealed days before and this formality was for their benefit, to assuage their own minds.

The real reason I was fired, then, is I stopped believing in what we were doing. Doubt follows you around like a bad smell, people pick up on it, and the last thing you want on a project you have tethered your hopes on is someone who is distrustful. I lost my faith. I stopped drinking the moonshine. This no longer bothers me. Things lose their meaning, we wane in our convictions, often irreparably, and even love dies. The job lost its meaning, I faltered in my beliefs I was making the world a better place, my love for what I was doing died. The anger and bitterness at my perceived unfairness of how I was let go have receded and I accept losing things is part of the journey.

On Photos

I find it difficult to take photographs. What image or images would capture what I perceive and translate that to the world?

I travelled recently and when I tell people where I was, I am asked for photos. I have very few, mostly of myself at some ridiculous pose, drunk and carefree, and of sunrises and sunsets. These do not come near what I experienced.

Even words fail me. A close aunt asked me how the place was and I found it hard to describe.

This lack of detail and some would say imagination, make me seem taciturn and aloof when it is a paralysis brought on by a desire to pass on what I felt and what I saw in as good a way as possible.

I fail at overcoming the doubt. Nothing short of the perfect explanation, captured by words or light, will do for me.

Lodwar

In the lulls in dullness, when I am not gallivanting about this barren panorama, I have been reading, eating, and drinking to quell the discomfort in my soul. I am about to finish two books and pick up a third. I have been eating so much meat my gums throb. I exist in a state of permanent tipsiness.

I swam in the cleanest and warmest waters since the ones in Zanzibar, watched the sunset over Lake Turkana and the night sky shroud itself in thousands of diamonds on a blue-black unblemished tableau. Catching the sunrise over the lake, my heart has been torn to shreds by the beauty of the changing light. I have watched the hills grow and shrink as we traversed the landscapes and felt myself dissolve into the unending rocky-hill punctuated light-brown flatness.

I wish I could say I have done more here, that time and space have given me perspective and I am all the wiser for taking this trip. Part of the reason I came here is it is adequately far from Nairobi, a place I am coming to consider the venue of my most painful failures. I fantasize about never going back and setting roots here, distancing myself from the scene of my most hurtful moments and their reminders. This place has a soul-lacerating beauty and an equally appalling ugliness. Those two are reasons enough for me to remain: to experience and absorb the former, to cure the latter, and then to ultimately forget myself.

And one might ask, why here? It was the furthest I could travel with the least resources. I can no longer pretend. I am running away. But, you can only run for so long. I seem unable to tear myself away from the thought I am an utter failure and I will never make anything of myself. I was able to come here on a caprice, yet all I seem to focus on are the things I do not have: a job, money, the freedom from expectations, from self and otherwise.

Counting my blessings brings little comfort at two in the morning, the eerie time when your thoughts grow fangs in the infinite silence of a place the world has forgotten. I was supposed to be taking time out for myself, a few quiet days when I would reconnect with myself when I would gather my scattered thoughts and make a solid plan for what I want for my life. Instead, I seem to be running in place, in the same circles of self-doubt and self-loathing.