Going Home

1.

I snap out of my forced reverie when I notice we are no longer on the tarmac road. I found it hard to nod off, car rides usually lull me, and now I have to open my eyes to see where we are going. The traffic snakes it way to where it seems like the horizon – somewhere far and open – a snake made of dots of red, white and yellow lights. The air stealing its way into the van smells fresh – raw, earthy, woody and smoky. It is one of the things I miss. We circle the worst of the jam back to the main road. I re-find my bearings. The town is near and the roads seem emptier. I have to remind myself that this is not the city. Eight o’clock is late here. This tiny innocence stings me sweetly. I am going home. I am going back to the place I am always welcome, the place where my mistakes and flaws are clear and and I am still embraced and loved. A place of no judgement.

The grass has been recently cut and the spaces in the compound look neither as bald nor as vegetated. It has rained. It is cool and clean. I knock on the kitchen door, the back one (we rarely open the front door) and Mum opens it. She looks smaller, the wrinkles around her eyes more pronounced. The walls and the floor look stark, seeming to put my recent sins into glaring perspective. But, I am safe here, in this place of friendly mirrors. I can see what I am (the fairer parts more clearly) and what I could be. In this warm, bright, airy house, I can hide without hiding. I am home. Mum says I have become bigger. I have. My allergies run a prickly hand across my sinuses and the back of my throat itches. It must be the mould spores that blossom on the walls whenever it rains. Without seeing, I know the walls have swelled up and are peeling. The irritation is expected, like the dust I darkly look forward to seeing dance and touch everything when the sun finally comes out. I will enjoy the greyness and cold before then – it is a far cry from the blinding leonine that is synonymous with this place.

I sleep on the couch, deeply and dreamlessly, still nursing Thursday’s hangover. Papa is not yet back from school. I got him that book he wanted. I am sure when he returns he will ask me how much he owes me. I will shrug, clear my throat, laugh nervously and wave the question clumsily away with my hand. What more would you want from the man from whom you are etched, the man who etched you from himself for some of the best years of his life? Still, morning takes too long to come and sleep abandons me early. The ticking clock sets me on edge with its relentless march into eternity. I get up and take out the battery. In the enhanced silence, I can hear my little sister’s wrist watch click-clicking-click. I get up again and put it in a drawer. Nothing. Good. A lacerating silence, a few moments of being alone with my thoughts and my memories before the rest of the house wakes up.


I have not so much as come home as run back home. No one can find me here, no one of the ones I hurt and abandoned, and the ones who stand ready to accuse and to judge me for my evils. I know how silly this is. I would have to be a narcissist to worry relentlessly that there are people out there endlessly concerned with my business. Still, I cannot shake off the niggling feeling that I should look over my shoulder just to be safe. I shake all this off. I am home and that is all that matters now. Tomorrow, the tomorrow when I go back to my life, is for these things, these griefs and concerns.


 

2.

I spend the day watching Hannibal and Regular Show. Breakfast is eggs, fried with onions, tomatoes, black pepper and curry, and toast. And tea that makes my stomach frown. Full-cream milk, straightish from a cow, none of that pussy stuff that comes in packets. I go for a haircut in the afternoon. When I come back, I proceed to other haircuts. I can litter the bathroom with parts of me here. One of my sisters has gone for a school trip, the other one fills up the house with her tempered warmth. She is quiet and composed, not restless like her sister and her brother. And then the hours are gone and I have to pick up my youngest after her school trip at her school. They are late. One of my phone lines has gone dead. Those platitudes on patience become koans. Papa has a new yet not new cologne, Aramis. I had dabbed a bit of it on my chest. I smell manly. I should trade the book for this and wear some (for her) when I go back to the city.

I pick up my sister, all energy and light but reserved (it is pushing nine o’clock and she must be hungry), and we walk quickly on the now dark roads, towards the matatu stage. We take a boda-boda ride after walking about half the distance. The matatus at this time are rickety, coming out only at night as if ashamed of themselves. We have to take another boda-boda from the main road to home. If I was alone, I would have walked. Supper is fish and chips. My little sister and our live-in house-help do not eat fish. I celebrate a bit, as I forgive them for this. Papa is back home for a short while. He is going to Mombasa tomorrow. He seems jittery. I must be because he is tired (we all seem tired these days). Pursuing a PhD is never a light undertaking, and that they are learning Statistics now does not help. He admits numbers and him have never been friends. I miss him, even as I sit across from him and somehow strain to talk with him. He is bigger and a bit flabby. What I still see is the fresh-faced man with a rakish grin, toned and chiselled, with well defined biceps and calves. Almost daily five-miles runs and fifty push-ups easy. Superman. He gets up and stretches, marking the end of his stay with us in the sitting room. He asks how much the book cost me as I hand it to him. I shrug, clear my throat, laugh nervously, and wave the question clumsily away with my hand.

Sleep takes long to come. I call her and we chat. She is in my ear. I can almost feel her hot tongue that alludes to intellectual and sexual ecstasies. I can smell her here. It occurs to me that my other sister wears Axe deodorant, as she does. I, on the other hand, mask my lust with a scent “with the picture of a ship on the bottle”. I light up constantly lights in her presence. Where there is usually wet wood, for her there is endless dry tinder. Afterwards, I listen to oldish music, Justin Timberlake. The music reminds me of past loneliness and longing. There was another “her” then. She is married now, and even then, she was gone. I try reading The Ethical Slut. I cannot. I switch to Billy and Mandy.


 

Every second that passes in her absence is a micro-silence, and millions of them together have whipped my heart raw and left it exposed. She lurks in the shadows of my thoughts and all I can seem to wonder about is the next time I will taste her dark-chocolate lips and run my fingers through her dreadlocks. And squeeze her against myself, feeling both her soft and hard places and align my frame to her curves.


 

3.

Papa wakes me up before he leaves, grabbing my ankle. Aramis floods the room. It is a sensual fragrance. I ask him if I can drive him to the road. He says no as he eats some of his youngest daughter’s mints. I hear this before I can see it, the plastic rattle of the Tic-Tac container. “Toothpicks for breakfast?” He laughs. He leaves without looking back. I feel safe. The hunter has gone to provide for his brood. He will be back. The lights go out as I replace my head on the hard cushion and I am restless – the free time feels too abundant. The books and the cartoons cannot fill it up. The day whips by in a haze. My body took back its sleep even in the daylight – hot, sticky, and deep. Spaghetti and beef stew for supper. I have last night’s leftovers instead. The chips sit like hearthstones in my tummy –  unmoving. I should know better and eat some greens. Meh, I am home. I will indulge and then drink water. The water here is clean and tastes saltier than I remember. Mum says that it is the Nairobi water that tastes bad. The water here is just fine. I wonder if any “town” water is good. I am leaving tomorrow and I do not want to. But, I will see her soon, so that is something to look forward to.


She takes a longer time to reply to my messages. When she comes back, she is saccharine. I imagine her leaning in and smiling in that unconsciously sensual way that I can barely resist. Her fingers reach out from the ether and stroke my face. With her, I want to be impressive and I find myself chiselling all my answers and my statements. I do not usually watch myself, wondering about what I say, and I enjoy the sensation. How long can I stand on tip-toe, before I slip on the blood at my feet and fall?


 

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“You are not your usual self.”

What is a “usual self”? I was talking with a friend about this last week and she better articulated what I have been thinking about as far as this goes. People have a need to place things, ideas, and other people into neat boxes and simple definitions, viewing them from a single angle, a uni-dimension. It is easier than having to acknowledge the complexity that is everything and everyone in our world. The grey areas are eerie. When someone says this what they really mean is “Why aren’t you conforming to my idea of you/ Why are you challenging my conception of you?”

Nothing is ever cut and dried and there are very few things are that simple. I think we recognize this intuitively but we have a way of becoming deaf to the complicated aspects of ourselves and what surrounds us. We somehow become blind to the mosaics of our various dispositions and the conditions within which we find ourselves. He is smiling and chatty today, and she seems pensive and introspective lately. None of us is just one or two or three inclinations. There are a multitude of ways of being. Nature is more colourful than we give it credit for.


Every time she has sex she tells me, a short WhatsApp message with a winky face at the end. She never mentions any names. I am sure she has in person, but I forget, busy as I am imagining ripping her clothes off when we are together. I always congratulate her, “You go, guuurrrrrlll!” I mean it and I really want to fuck her, to be the one she tells her other friends about, the one who wears her out with ecstasy. I know she loves extended foreplay and being eaten out. These I would be more than glad to do, among other things.


 

So Long, and Thanks for the Banana

You felt it: a foreboding so deep it was like staring into the night sky in the middle of June and with a blackout in progress. A keening so slicing, she could feel it from across the air. And she could feel it from across the room. You were being weird and you knew it. But, aren’t you always weird? No, not like this. You were getting out, reputation be damned. It was not as easy as you thought it would be. The burning bridges set aflame the paths you now walk on. You felt it, you had been feeling it for a long time: the end of the fake innocence, when your mask was ripped apart, and you were exposed for the coward you had convinced yourself you were not.

You felt it: inside yourself, you knew what she was going to do – take to Twitter. You have never looked at her time-line for fear of what may have been said. It is a good thing you had quit Twitter earlier, otherwise all that shit would have landed straight and direct at your feet. You are scared now, to even walk around town. You might meet someone who knows both of you, someone who has heard her side of the story. You have become a pariah, a stereotype. You are a fuckboy, and your name is on a database somewhere. Ladies beware! Maybe this is why that Thursday night at K1, when that girl who winked at you asked you why you were wearing an oversized Isuzu tee-shirt: you told her the truth – you needed a shoulder, and that was the only clean tee-shirt Lydiah had that could fit you, Lydiah your just-friend whom she had called earlier, asking her whether she had slept with you. She told you after she had done this, how the curiosity was killing her. Apparently, you were telling the truth (she, Lydiah, is just a friend), but you are still an arsehole. Where did she get her number? From the other one. Next time you cheat, do it with a smart woman, she said. Arsehole.

Lydiah who almost died of laughter and told you, much too late, to watch out for these Nairobi girls. You cried to Lydiah, almost begging her to take her with you. You could not bear to be alone with your thoughts for another night. Not openly, your tears flow inward, but that is what you did. The truth, for a change, eh? She turned away from you when you mentioned your misguided adventures in fuckboyism, still smiling, still gyrating to the heavily pulsing music. Fender said hii reggae iko down, and you believed him. He would know. That is all he listens to. Maybe that database is real. You wonder what form it takes – probably a Google Spreadsheet. It is the simplest thing, an easily accessible repository of the dubious men of the town.

You had felt it: when she walked into your office, as sweet as ever, and sat next to you. She said she had brought you coffee. She has never brought you coffee. And a banana. You watched as she picked up your phone, sweetly, and you tried to take it away from her. Then you watched, as she took your SIM card, and then dunked your phone into her coffee, and spill it on your laptop. You saw this coming: she always mentioned that she had some sort of mood disorder. You were stunned, too numb to feel even the anger that later gripped you and shook you. Your laptop died later that day, as did your privacy, and that of the other woman you were seeing. The banana disappeared. You never did get to know who ate it. It was just as well. You could not eat for three days.

You wanted to know what a fuckboy is? You. You’re a fuckboy, and
Diego Mboro-donor, and
Did you like the good work I did on your laptop?! and
I hope you die.

“Me too, dear, me too.”, You said to yourself. You wanted to. In fact, the shame was already killing you. You have not told your boyz. They would probably slap you on the back and pour you a shot and laugh and tell you that you are The Man, The Mayyyyn! Yes, you are, you are the heart-breaker man, the promise-breaker man. But, that White Cap was so good, it helped fill that hole you can put your hand through, the one in your chest. You finished it and then ordered another one, and then asked the waitress for her number. She gave it to you. And this is how it starts, right? But, these things never go anywhere. She still did not reply to your message, even as she had, that night, lovingly wiped the beer that drunkard spilled on you. Your beer! I digress.

And after all this, you are waiting, for karma to run full-circle and make her way back to you. You know you will not go unscathed, even if your conscience is running a piece of glass over the barren rock that is your heart, scraping scraping, reminding you that she is coming for you. Not this time, you will not get away with it this time. You wait, holding your breath, for the explosion, expecting to run into one of the friends of the women you wronged, who will then chew you out. You would love that. The verbal flagellation will serve as additional punishment. Maybe then you will get to feel better about yourself, hated by others, you will then hate yourself a little less. Or, an email or an angry phone call. Anything! Once someone else confirms what you suspect, then you will be all right, expiated by the same thing that caused them and you hurt – the dearth of compassion, the indifference. In this case, they will not care for your feelings, their reputations, or yours, if you have any left. And why should they? Right? Right. And now you are tired. Words can only take you so far, almost as far as a feeling or a thought. Sleep beckons. You want to drug yourself into a stupor and forget the last three months. You are tired, of running, of crouching in the shadows, of constantly looking over your shoulder, of thinking, of explaining. Of writing this.

There will be quite a bit of this…

People will approach me and tell me how much they prayed for me, with that crinkling of their brows and slight tilt downwards of their heads, the sheepish supplicating grin and, to top it off, the sanctimonious nod. It was their special exhortation to their imaginary friend that cinched it, it was their words, only theirs, that finally enabled me to pass that exam and graduate. It was definitely not the hot crawling days that drew out like a prison sentence which I spent scouring YouTube for relevant tutorials, not the staring at Biot-Savart and Ampere’s Law equations until my eyes ached, not the reading and re-reading of numerous descriptions and derivations until words lost meaning and became soggy biscuits sitting limp on my brain, not the approaching of my professor and borrowing his notes to photocopy, not the drudgery of sticking to studying for at least twenty minutes everyday no matter how dead I felt, not the pure grind of keeping still to get through the less exciting but relevant videos, not institutions like Yale University that publish some of their courses online for free access, not the constant and silent encouragement of my parents and my friends in their own different little ways – a pat on the shoulder, my youngest sister, even without grasping the implications of what I was pursuing, telling me everything will be all right, an invitation to have a beer, a gentle knock on the door to let me know that supper is ready, a phone call from an old schoolmate to say hello that degenerated into a motivational speech as if from an evangelist’s pulpit, an unexpected text message from my mother, that barely followed any rules of grammar and punctuation, the spirit of which was to stay strong (my mother teaches English. This may have been more a technology problem than a language one). No, none of that shit. I will, of course, keep this to myself, and smile back, nod in agreement, and say thank you thank you praise God, like a good boy.

A Most Dangerous Question

Do you watch Empire?

Say no and

come across as snobbish and bourgeois, part of the “culturally elite”, too arrogant to care that for the first time in long time, there is a television show with predominantly black actors, from no less than what has often been considered a bastion of White America, Fox. The Jonathan Franzen book in your bag (thank goodness you decided to catch up on the cartoons on your laptop, instead of placing it on the table and flipping through the hypnotic prose) does not speak against this assumption. And you listen to jazz, of all the pretentious genres of music. Try to convince yourself that, no, you have your finger on the pulse of what is hip, that you are with it (despite your less-than nodding acquaintanceship with television, pop culture and new music in general). At least your cousin and his girlfriend watch TV and you catch snippets of what goes on in your world. Yes, it is your world, however above it all you think you are. But, who needs to be in touch with what’s popular? Your friends aren’t (but this girl is), your workmates… Well, who knows about them (certainly not you, crouched behind your computer, not with Mr Franzen beckoning every waking second to come enjoy his words, not with the way everything nowadays (as if you are that old) “pullulates with mediocrity”. This you learned from him. You can’t wait to drop it in casual conversation.)

Say yes and

run the risk of being drawn into a conversation about your favourite songs, how nani did nini with nani and was doing nini that time, did you see nani in that episode, and wasn’t that season finale just the one! Wueh! (Because that added “e”, call it… ecstasy, makes the exclamation all the more profound, true even, and worthy of your acknowledgement). Not knowing what to say, you grin and finally admit that, no, you don’t watch Empire (Mr Franzen, in spirit, rejoices. David Foster Wallace looks upon you with gentleness). Why? Well, you don’t watch much else, actually you watch nothing compared to most people (beneath this statement is the sentiment that you mean all Empire fans, who have the time to engage in such asininity, being the mindless drones they are.) All the seasons of The Amazing World of Gumball, Regular Show, Rick and Morty and Bojack Horseman count as nothing, a total of a little over, just a little, three-hundred and eighty-four episodes, just a little more than forty-eight hours and thirty-six minutes of watching. Be exposed as the poseur, the hypocrite, that you are. “Who doesn’t watch Empire?! You don’t watch Gotham, you don’t… By the way, I’m just through with you.” And she probably meant it, even as she let that episode continue playing (she was a bit more pre-occupied than usual – in ecstasy – over this one for some reason). Wasn’t it around this time that she started telling you to just fuck her and not bother with kissing her and sucking on her nipples, when she would tell you we need to get up and get going, instead of lying on her bed cuddling for a few minutes in the shared post-coital glow? Yes, that was it, that was why she went kinda cold: you don’t watch Empire. Shit.

She smells like freshly baked vanilla biscuits. Her fragrance follows her wherever she walks and I can almost reach out and touch her in the corridors where she has stepped past, although out of sight, a few strides away, a short skip to the heaven in her presence. And in her presence, I do nothing but steal glances in her direction, sitting lower in the silence and not calling attention to myself, pretending that being near her is enough. She brings out the inner little boy, shy, stuttering and unsure of himself. When she smiles at me I become daft. What would it be like to grab her blonde-highlighted hair and pull her close to me, inhaling of her deeply from just inches?