The Shift

There is a restlessness about me coupled with a listlessness that I cannot describe. I am filled with a longing for something definable and at the same time nebulous, something that I can more feel than transmute into tangible words. And this very same something fills me with a longing, and alternately, a depression. I can almost touch it, yet it seems unattainable, like that giant red moon. It is so close you can jump up and smack it, but you know you cannot no matter how hard you launched yourself into the air. That is how it feels. It manifests itself as a growing impatience with myself and with those around me, a melancholy that seems to cloak everything around me, colouring it a subtle grey.

The texture of my reality seems to have changed, from a velvet softness that intimated endless possibilities to an inflexible and rough leather that whispers of the pointlessness of life. I am less than a week from clocking another year. I stopped looking forward to birthdays. They are a grim reminder of the illusion of time. Also, I have been told of four deaths, inexplicable meaningless losses of young vibrant lives. I knew these people, albeit to a small degree, people that for a time were part of the texture of a past reality, people that could have possibly remained part of the fabric of my present reality. My skin turns cold. I have lost something, I have been left bereft, floundering in a dark and endless vacuum. Time has stood still. Time has sped up. I have been left unbalanced, shaken, tossed about by an irreverent world. Regaining a rhythm close to normalcy might not be so simple this time.

A little more on writing

Bear with me on this one. It is often considered pretentious and conceited of a writer, especially one just starting out, to write about writing, meta-writing. Some days ago it occurred to me just how invested I am in writing. I think this is not an entirely good thing. You should not tie your identity to something that invites itself to external scrutiny, and consequently validation, like writing. I am unable to tear myself away no matter how hard I try, and I have attempted to on many occasions. Sooner or later, I always slither back to a pen and a paper or to a keyboard. I still cannot say to what end I do this, what goals I have in mind. A distant fantasy of mine is to win the Caine Prize. I look at what I have and look at what the writers who are shortlisted and who win have… The delete button has never looked so inviting.

I was talking with an old flame recently and she said that my work is like that of “hundreds of other blogs”, that it was not diverse, apparently I only write about my sexual conquests (I would hope a reader would see beyond the tangle of limbs), comparing it to her own less profane and less “big-worded” work. The unsaid thing here is that her writing is better, which I have not read a lot of , so I would not know. My first reaction was to tell her to fuck off to show me, safe in the knowledge that she would have nothing on me. A juvenile smugness warmed me up as my fingers twitched to send her a snarky reply. Instead, I breathed, and walked away.

However, something came unmoored in me. In a world with endless words, what benefit is there to add mine to the cacophony, to the growing chaos that bends and sways so blindingly fast, forgetting most of everything in its path? I could say I have not yet found my voice, and that is why I write, but there is the lingering thought: if I do find it, find a cadence I can vibrate to, will it be really mine, and if I do, so what? How do you know the thoughts you have are your thoughts? And, even if they are yours, do they matter, will they matter? A friend of mine shared this a while back and it was a great comfort then as it is now. What young writer does not want to be encouraged to keep at it? I go back to it in times of small despair, like now, but this time it feels too easy, a too simple solution to what I am going through.

I have allergies – dust, pollen, certain perfumes and smokes. A gift from my maternal grandmother. You should be there when my mother, sisters and I have a simultaneous flare-up. A big brass band trying to reclaim its footing sounds less noisy. Even when I know the antihistamines I swallow will take a bit of time to kick in, I cannot help but almost write them off as ineffective. It has been more than twenty minutes! Why am I still sneezing? And this is the problem: I am still, after all these years, finding it difficult to be patient with myself. One could argue that in a life so fleeting and meaningless, patience is unethical, immoral even. How can you be expected to wait when the time you have, the time you think you have, slips through your fingers faster than dry sand? This is something I should work on in the coming year.

Grandparents: Maternal

My earliest memories of Guka Ngari were of a quiet old gently smiling man who was important to my mother, who looked like her even, who always seemed to be in a heavy pullover of some indeterminate neutral colour. My most vivid memories of Guka Ngari, however, involved television. The irony of this is not lost on me. I barely watch television any more. We always seemed to be visiting him after coming from Murang’a. At the time, electricity had not found its way into Guka Marundu’s homestead, so there was no television, there was no need for one, what with radios that were permanently tuned to KBC. This was before the advent of vernacular radio stations.

Kirinyaga was an antidote to the dust and heat and, what I thought of at the time as sheer backwardness, of Murang’a, with its cool air and greenery and, of course, a television, one that could only receive, again, KBC. That was good enough for me. Guka Ngari was a quiet man and when he was outside, always seemed to be cutting his nails slowly with a razor blade. I often wondered why he did not use a nail cutter. It would have been much easier. I liked this most about him. His introversion. I have always seemed to gravitate towards introverts. I was too young to grasp the beauty of having a relationship with a grandparent, something that I am trying (and floundering) to remedy. I envy my older cousins for having the chances to link better with these old folks. I doubt they did any better than me, which is a darkly comforting thought.

I spent most of my time in the trees, well, one particular tree, a gnarled one with bark smoothed in places by constant touch, that Uncle Karis has had cut down to make way for a pond and an expanded lawn. I remember falling out of that tree. I remember smelling the white flowers of that tree, feeling slightly intoxicated by the delicate jasmine and mint fragrances. I do not know its name but I can point it out. It was under this tree that the coffee was collected after a harvest. We always seemed to be eating smelly dark green vegetables when we were in Kirinyaga. I could never understood why Mum and Guka seemed to enjoy them so much. I skipped this part of the meals whenever I could. It occurred to me years later that Guka had a point when he mentioned why I drank so much water with my meals – I did not have enough lubricant, as it were, for the food. Then he got sick, then he died. What can a nine-year old know about death? I was sitting an exam when he was being lowered into the ground next to his wife, my grandmother, Cucu Marion.

Now, Cucu I remember a bit more of, but more of an emotional memory than an actual one from sight and feel. She always brought us biscuits when she visited, Maries. She was warm and friendly (a far cry from the woman of old who raised my mother and her siblings. That one, I am told, was a tyrant.) Again, I was crippled by my youth – she was dead before I was aware of myself. I have no recollection of her funeral except that it was boring and I was sleepy the whole time. Marie biscuits, to this day, bring me a warm glow, as if bringing me closer to her in some inexplicable way across the cosmos (I am not religious but I cannot help feel a kinship with her from the ensuing feelings). They, Guka and Cucu, did a great job with their children, and by extension, their grand children. I am not sentimental, but looking back I owe a substantial portion of my childhood to them.

A Place of No Time

I wish you were here with me in this breathy airy space where our hearts can inflate with each other without exploding, air out of me, air into you. We could stay young forever, stay here forever, with each other, in each other. Your brown would start where my dark ends, we would become each other. There will be no you. There will be no me. There will be only us. There will be no us. It would all be the same in this place of no time.

Whenever I talk with people the conversations invariably end up with us talking about our dreams. I do not know if I do it, but I have noticed people smile awkwardly and look at you as if they are seeking reassurance whenever this comes up. It is like they expect you to make fun of them and are preparing themselves for the ridicule and seem a bit surprised when you listen instead. It is a testament to the cynical world we live in that we all go into it armed, protecting ourselves from onslaughts real and abstract. I was reminded of this when I was talking to one of my colleagues earlier in the week and he mentioned how he wants to make furniture and lamp shades. I think this is brilliant. If his work as a designer is anything to go by, his creations will be spectacular. I will definitely go for his inaugural exhibition.

A friend of mine is a junior manager at Safaricom. Once upon a time, he mentioned how he would have loved to be a chef. We suffered together in Engineering instead. I have always known him to be focused and determined. He never considered going the kitchen direction because of his father. Cooking is a woman’s job was the unspoken paternal sentiment. No one laughed at his dream because he never even thought of sharing it. That is how lowly chefs are in his father’s eyes compared to engineers. I might be somehow privileged now that I know about his secret thought. I think he should still find a way to pursue cooking. He is one of the smartest people I have ever met, so I am not too worried about him. He will figure something our. That cliché, “Your dreams are valid”, may be truer than you may think, and more so because we get to decide, to a larger degree than we may be aware of, whether the dreams remain in our hearts gathering dust, or whether we will set them free, to fly or to fall to the ground and shatter,  and leave room for more dreams.

Unajua tailor Kibera?

Of course! Niulize swali ngumu.

(Laughs. I laugh back.)

Sawa! Unajua mtu anauza ndege?

Hiyo sasa ni swali ngumu. Lakini, parts za ndege, hakuwezi kosa mtu. Ndege zii, lakini parts tu za ndege iko. Unataka nini?

Nataka kushonesha bag. Ukichomoka niambie.

Sawa.

A small whitish stain on my sky-blue cardigan. Mirrors lie. I looked again, pulling at its front and looking down. I smelled it. Cheese, made more nauseating mixed with the scent of fabric softener. It has been almost eight weeks. Sarah did not wash this sweater properly. She cannot, even if I ask her to. Soap and water cannot wash away the remnants of my past. That was the weekend her hackles went up. She knew, no longer just a knowing. A year before on that date, this life was innocent and unimaginable. The following Saturday she did not take any of my calls or reply to the messages. It was daft of me to expect her to. Looking back, it was inevitable. Everything, all of it, was inevitable. I still cannot not shake away the odours, the bouquet of the ashes. If you come near me, you can get a whiff of it too, the person I still am a bit, having murdered most of myself. The half-cadaver on my back is fragrant. Cheese. Fabric softener. I threw the sweater in the corner with the rest of the dirt. I hope this time it will get much more than a half-hearted once over.