Those days…

Then there are those days…

Those days when time crawls, drawing out slowly like a blade in the blinding light, when things seem rough and unbending, when nothing works. Those days when your insecurities wake up and stretch, yawning and scratching and looking suggestively in your direction. Those days, when you look back at them and feel sorry for them and bring them in from the cold. Those days when you then wrap yourself tightly in them, the doubts, choking on your imagined inadequacies that have become almost waking nightmares. Those days when you wonder why you are here, and whether you deserve to be.

Those days that you feel unloved and unlovable, and more so when you imagine that someone might find out the way you feel, that someone will see your shadows and fear to come near them. Those days when talking is drudgery, feeling is drudgery, when things smell a bit off, when wallowing in pity and sadness is warm, when melancholy colours you rainbows of blue. Those days, when pushing through the pain is death, when your tears make you slip, instead of oiling the wheels of the machines of your days. Those days when the sky is an emptiness you long to drown in, becoming at once nothing and everything, when sleep is an endless whiteness you feel you will never escape.

And then…

Through all that, you realize you are with yourself and you cannot run. So, you turn and embrace yourself, re-imagining what you could be, what you can be, not what you are, because you cannot see yourself, you do not want to. Those days…


Basking in your shadows, I glow,
Burning with a light they will never see.
Silently embraced by my thoughts of
your thoughts, in your imagined hold.
In your real hold, I am almost putty,
my soft soft scared self. Don’t grind
me too hard too much, or I will slip,
sand, through your fingers. Lying to lie
with you, a conscience blurred by wants
to be sated. I think I can live with
the guilt of my absences, as long as
I am basking in your shadows.

A Small Thought on Banks

Banks, when they are not tanking the global economy and bombarding us with asinine advertisements and promotions, are important. For all our misgivings we still need them. Where else would you put your money and move it around easily and safely? Even as I say this, I realize there can be found better ways to handle money and carry out transactions. MPESA relies on a bank as part of its backbone, ama where do you think your funds sit? So no, it is not a solution. Banks, run-of-the-mill, boring, stuffy, overly corporate (can that be a term?), bureaucratic banks are what we have for now. I always imagine that visiting the bank a lot like going for a prostrate exam. It is an essential undertaking, one that you would need to be extremely lucky to have lived without, it requires a great deal of self-bargaining to the point of it taking on the feel of a moral dilemma, and after the visit is over, you cannot help but feel slightly violated.

A Small Thought on Growing Up

Some of my old university friends are getting married – one raciad* last weekend, another one had a wedding about a month ago. Some have started to raise families – one has a one-year old (I think), another, with whom I work, got a baby boy two weeks ago, another one has one on the way, with the girl he has been with since high school. Some of them have bought cars and houses and some have moved on to start their own businesses. One is a financial consultant, another is a supplier of various goods to his county’s government. The impolite term for him would be tenderpreneur. My cousin, the one I live with, looks like he is about to take the plunge. He has already met his girlfriend‘s parents and he spends more time with her than I have ever known him to with any one else. And me? The most pressing things for me are how I am going to get through the books I have and the ones I do not yet have, whether I will find good avocados to make sandwiches with because I am too lazy to cook and how I am going to find an equitable balance between my job and my social life.

I used to think being a grown-up involved a symbolic step, over which the inanities and annoyances of childhood were not allowed to pass, a bridge one crosses to find themselves in a wondrous land called adulthood, where you have life figured out, where the worries are minimal, where you can sleep as late as you want or as much, watch as much television as you can and eat junk food any time you felt like it, all without having your parents and other stuffy grown-ups (the irony) limit your doing any of these things. It was, ostensibly, an achievement that would imbue you with wisdom and knowledge and enough money to buy crisps and sweets and soda whenever you wanted. To some degree, that is true, but the more I talk with my friends, the less I am convinced that any of us know exactly what and how we are doing. From the chats I have had, no one really feels grown up or secure.

For one of my friends, adulthood was supposed to begin was when she got a job, then she did, but she still felt like a child. She thought she would transition into it when she moved out and she still did not feel the washing over of enlightenment. I know exactly how she feels. I seem perpetually stuck there, here, where I am not exactly young but where there are unspoken things I should have supposedly already accomplished. I have not officially finished school, I have not yet moved out on my own, marriage and raising a  family are unicorns – they do not even exist in my fantasies. None of this bothers me. Moving out is the only thing that keeps me awake for a few extra seconds at night. I want my own space, so that I can be completely alone with my thoughts and myself. I think “this whole growing up” thing is something each of us has to figure out and define for ourselves. I am still navigating my way through adulthood. Avocado and peanut butter sandwiches always help.

*raciad – the closest Anglicized past-tense version of “kuracia”. Ruracio is the process and the collective of ceremonies that turn a man and a woman into marrieds.

(15) Mokita

(Kivila): The truth everyone knows but agrees not to talk about.

When I was growing up I had, and still have, an aunt, Mum’s namesake and first cousin, I greatly admired. She was to me the epitome of feminine beauty, she was what a woman looked and acted like. She ran a hair salon that was located on the mezzanine floor of Kenya-Re Towers. This was back when the fountains there still worked, the air was still clean and crisp and Nairobi was a city you could take a stroll in on a lazy Saturday afternoon. I always looked forward to seeing her. Whenever there was a wedding or a funeral, Mum would pack and ship with us and her salon was always the first stop. She was ever ready for my sister and I, with tight hugs and kisses on our dusty cheeks. I may not have known it then but I was madly infatuated by her. A swirl of sweet-smelling expensive perfume followed her wherever she went and she left traces of it on our clothes after her hellos. She favoured short well-fitting skirts that showed off her curvy caramel thighs and was never afraid to share her opinions, or sit with her feet up and her legs crossed, with a glass of water in her hand. I could never figure out why she enjoyed drinking water so much. More about that later. Vivacious and full of laughter, she was an instant pick-up after the tiring journey. Back then, the roads were horrid and any significantly long drive always presented something of a moral dilemma and called for some celebration after. This was mine, seeing her, being in her presence.

It was customary to have a lunch of chips and sausages on arrival. We had chips and sausages where we had come from, Nakuru, but the chips and sausages from Nairobi tasted exquisite! Being surrounded by the beautiful women and the various interesting sounds and smells and the energy in the salon was to me what heaven must be a bit like. It was a place where beauty was brought out, and if there was none to bring out, made. I sat on the floor mesmerized by the blur of combs and fingers and containers of hair-care products. Even today, salons have always had a strange allure for me. She would hustle us away lovingly into her office to wait while further travel arrangements were made. Even since then, Nairobi has always had the feel of a short stop-over point in our journeys. This is not a place you place roots. It is a place to take a break from savouring the slowness of life, from enjoying long silences and stretching days that seamlessly merge into one another.

Her father, one of my grandfathers, owned a farm in Nakuru. Her brother managed it with his wife. When my aunt visited, she would spend the days in shorts and carry a clear glass bottle with a red label full of water, from which she would regularly sip. She was the unspoken designated minder of us children when we had come together as families in close geographical locales are wont to. She knew just what to say and just what to do. My first experience driving a car was with her. We, the sundry gathered offspring of our mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles, took turns sitting on her lap, controlling the steering wheel while she changed the gears and accelerated and slowed down as required. She was cool, she was fresh, with her sunglasses and her water, poised regally, chin turned up defiantly. Her demeanour was an endearing and continuous fuck you. I wanted to be like her when I grew up, and drink water and wear sunglasses. And I did grow up, never having worked my way to the shades, but I did drink water, only no one ever told me it was water. It was neat Smirnoff vodka. My aunt had, has, a small problem with water. It took me a long time to notice how her hands shook and how fidgety she always seemed.

One day, I realized we no longer stopped at her shop whenever we were passing through. Mum never did tell me why. Beneath the veneer of smiles and swirls of designer fragrances and dresses things were crumbling. The façades were giving way, revealing tears and heartbreak and disappointment. An empire had been ruined. From the inside out, like all empires. No one talks about how she was her father’s favourite, how spoiled she was, always getting her way. I am not privy to the specifics but I would wager that her lifestyle had something to do with it. All those, what I later learned were, designer dresses and perfumes and jewellery. No one ever mentions it, how much more she could have done with her life, what a lucrative investment the salon she had, in the middle of the city and with the references she got from her connections, was. It is one of the so-called open secrets.

I look at her now and the flashes of that young carefree joyous woman jump at me. She is still one of my favourites. Her humour and wit cut razor precise and she never fails to remind me that I owe her a lunch date now that I am working. She always asks me whether I “have a friend” and reminds me that since she is getting older she would like to see more weddings. Every one has a story. It may not be a necessarily interesting or poignant one. Very few people get to live that kind of life, the kind with a good story. My aunt’s story seems like a good one and I would love to get her side of it, before she gives the world the final fuck you. Her hair is heavily streaked silver and she moves a tad slower than she used to, not like the sprite of years gone. It has the requisite elements: glory, shame, and redemption. She still runs a farm, one of her, you guessed it, father’s. She did train to become an agricultural extension officer, and from what little I can glean, she would have made an exceptional farmer, had she set her mind to it. And she still drinks water, watered down now, and is still fidgety and restless, bubbling with a quietly excited energy. One day, maybe, we will have a water together, and she will tell me the tales of a life lived to the hilt. One day.