Death and Other Things

I did a brave thing today: I viewed Guka‘s body. He seemed frail and at peace. I reminded myself, what remained was a shell. Regal in a navy blue pinstripe suit and a crimson KAMA tie, he looked like I imagine he would have looked had he had the kind of wealth and money to be a man of material renown. 

My heart did not flutter, my eyes water. The closest I came to grief was a quick clench in my chest when I saw one of my aunts quietly weeping after seeing what was left of him. His stillness, eyes and lips sealed shut forever, his shrunken form must have been all too final. 

I laughed with Papa and one of his friends about the absurdity of life and death and how tears will not change anything. Looking back it seems callous to be flippant at such a time. I am his grandson, named after him and in some ways I am him. I should be more heartbroken. 

We had seen his death coming for a long time. Most of us had silently acknowledged his eventual demise. He was old and sick and had given up holding onto his life. Something went out of him, and he was a shell long before he was in the coffin. I imagine he had had enough and was done with it all. His agemates have preceded him. One of the preachers even joked how he would not be alone wherever he was going. 

Unsurprisingly, I contrast the events of the day with my recently ended relationship. The two are as far apart as one can get, whether we are comparing the durations of the two associations or their individual attendant emotions. Yet, as I am often reminded, grief is grief and griefs cannot be compared. 

I feel as I should carry myself with more gravity about Guka‘s death, give it more weight than a lost love. The thought does not escape me, the reaching for some kind of sense in my personal chaos, that they are similar: they are deaths of a kind, losses of people and things we cherished and never imagined would be gone. 

The sadness I feel is more because of loneliness and aloneness, she is not here to comfort me during this supposedly trying time. I thought we had forever. With Guka I was more sensible. Death, real death, life loss, has a way of beating naivety out of you. 

Two of my friends called to ask how I am doing. I told them I was fine, and I am, the pain has not hit me yet. I tell myself this is a lie, however, I cannot seem to convince myself to believe it. I might not ever cry and allow myself to miss Guka. I hope I do, to prove to myself I am not a psychopath, that I loved him more than I let on. 

Compare this with how easily my tears flow and emotions run deep for her. Not quite odd. I cannot bring back Guka, no matter what I do. She, however, can come back, by some miracle. This is what terrifies me: she is within reach and at the same time without. 

We had talked about boundaries before we broke up. She wanted to be left alone. I have done a very good job yet in my idle mind an idea flowers: what if I tried to go back and she welcomed it? Not likely. She is proud and unforgiving. I would not be able to handle another rejection from her. 

For the umpteenth time, I cry for her and let those tears stand for all the things I have lost. The tears flow inward of course. I am good at pretending to be well. No one will know what I am really feeling. 


I wear the same clothes for every formal occasion: slim-fit khaki pants which I got lucky buying second-hand and in which I look good (I always seem to buy clothes which are too big, too small, dowdy, or for women), a shiny, delicate purple shirt I got as a graduation present from one of my aunts (she got lost on the way to the funeral and called me. I hung up and told her to text), and a pair of slip-on office shoes which are a size too big, curling upward and making my gait clumsy. I wore this ensemble, with the slight difference being I ironed the shirt and pants. 


My sister’s boyfriend came for Guka‘s funeral. He was with his father in the wider neighbourhood. We were to meet up a few weeks ago, however being the busy man he is we did not. He felt bad about this and gave me a thousand bob, two beers he said, by way of apology. I took the money. I am broke as fuck. I had also talked to Mum about the state of my pocket. She said she would sort me out if she had been paid. She had. She did. Another thousand. 

Another cousin of mine gave me five hundred and reminded me of a time I came through her. I glow with gratitude. Emboldened by my success, I wonder about asking Papa. Nah. His time will come. If I ever ask him it will be for bigger things, not a K or two to keep me going for the last week of a tight month. I could not even contribute to the monies for the funeral. This crushes me. 


One of my cousins came with a friend, a girl of Indian origin. I snatched glances and often stared at her during the sermon. Later, I asked my cousin for an introduction. We laughed about how my cousin had told her friend there are good men in the family, that she would not come out empty-handed. 

I had spent a large part of the afternoon debating whether I really wanted to talk to her, to find out more about her. In the end, my curiosity won, with the undercurrent being I should not use this as an opportunity to prove to myself I am still wantable and attractive, I am not the monster I often see myself as. I would not use her to avoid dealing with my own emotions. 

We chatted for a bit: she went to high school with one of my sisters. She sells mitumba in Gikomba and speaks fluent Kiswahili. Then a darkish thought: I wonder what it would be like to have sex with her. The sex I am having now when I have it is devoid of emotion and almost mechanical: release, not connection. I fucked away all my connectionness over the last one and a half years. 

We exchange numbers, and I wait impatiently for her to reply to my first message. She does. My heart or whatever else has replaced it, the hole shaped like my ex and the dashed hopes of my life, gives a jolt. I can see myself as the insecure hungry lost boy, hankering after affection from an attractive stranger. I hope my near-desperation comes across as interest rather than conquest. Then the dark thought returns, what does Muhindi pussy taste like? 

I tell myself this is all it is, just wanting to be friends. I see the devil in me grin and whisper “You want to fuck her. I shiver. I am better than this. I can seeI do see, women, as more than objects. Yet, the thought of her straddling me in sexual ecstasy warms me


And soon it is all done: Guka is buried next to his wife, my grandmother. Her cemented-over grave was washed the previous day. You would not know this, not with the blanket of fine dust covering it. I laugh with Papa about this. He smiles and does not seem to share my mirth. 


Lunch is served, and as usual, it is bland and not enough. Papa ends up getting only rice. I go to one of my uncle’s house where the clergy is eating and take one of my cousins along. We did not want him to leave hungry, despite the short drive back to Nairobi. I wolf my food down and immediately need solitude. I continue acting. There will be time enough to indulge my daydreams and drown in whatever passes as sorrow for me. 


Another uncle’s house. Quiet. Solitude. I find my bag moved from the sitting room into one of the bedrooms. I pick up Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee. I am about to finish reading it. I smile wryly at the title: is this what is waiting for me? 


Why are we attracted to the wounded? Why do I gravitate to the hurting and broken? Why do they to me? I think about this as I catch up with the travails of David Lurie. Some of the darkness I see in him, I see in myself. He seems to be finding catharsis. I hope I will too. His daughter Lucy has also been through rough times of her own. She also seems to be pulling out of her darkness. Defiant, she will not break. I envy and admire her: her obstinacy reminds me of my ex. I hate her: her obstinacy reminds me of my ex. 

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On Evernote

Words have never been more meaningless than when I attempted to repair my previous relationship. Nothing I said or wrote worked.

I really messed up. I feel like a monster. Maybe I am such a bad person, maybe I am the monster I feel like. If I was a better person, I would have spared her the agony and I would not be in this deep dark emotional funk.

I have avoided using Evernote since we broke up because this is where our shared words live, those now empty collections of phrases which were going to be the threads to stitch us back together. It is where we put our shared ambitions, our plans, our thoughts and where we tracked our progress. And now, it is where I can track my heartbreak.

During the tense weeks when I struggled to fix our relationship, I somehow managed to keep my dreams alive, skating around the edge of despair and not falling in. Then I saw my complicated fantasy edifice come crashing down. Standing in the rubble, I gazed around myself with clear eyes and shuddered at what I saw and Evernote was part of that chaos.

I see the titles of the notes and fear delving into their contents. I avoid the reminders of darker days, darker for the unfulfilled hopes and dashed dreams they hold, suggestions of the crystal glass of my yearning against the will of a jilted lover, razor-sharp shards on the pages.

Evernote became where my scrambling to hold on to her found a home. I often think of deleting my account. For now, I will keep it and its contents. Maybe one day I will look back and see how far I will have come. Maybe, with these new words and their promise of catharsis, I can reclaim that space for myself.

On Wanting

I watched Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 yesterday night and part of this morning. I thoroughly enjoyed the puerile humour, the visual effects, and the music. The story line was predictable and cliched, however, it did not prevent the movie from coming together, as it were.

I have been waiting for this movie since the trailer debuted. In my impatience a few weeks ago downloaded a poor copy, sitting in the office in the evening waiting for the torrent to finish, with our security guy hovering over me because he wanted to go home, and consequently getting disappointed and deleting it. I went to bed that night ridden with angst.

The copy I watched last night was high definition: the colours were vivid and the sound impeccable. Yet, beneath my enjoyment of the film was dissatisfaction. I wanted it so badly and when I got it, I mostly felt empty. Was it worth spending so much energy on something which was ultimately going to let me down? Rather, why did I pin my hopes of happiness on something so fleeting, something which did not ultimately bring the contentment I had imagined?

Maybe there is something to be said for being careful about what you wish for. It is not the thing itself which will hurt you. It is an inability to acknowledge that that thing you so crave will never make you happy.

Fishy

I have been living in my current house for seven months and I have never cooked a meal in it. I am a fairly decent cook and I love cooking, but I have never bothered to here. I survive on take-aways, heavy lunches, chapatis za Mama Vicky bought from the nearby market, and many meals at my partner’s house, who is my neighbour.

I promised myself a few months after I moved in my first meal would be a fish curry. My partner does not eat fish. She finds it disgusting, yet for some odd reason she enjoys sea food. Prawns, lobster, octopus, calamari, but not fish. I once pointed out fish also comes from the sea and, by that measure, is sea food. She was not convinced.

Exploring the reason for this, I find it is a way to assert myself in my space. By preparing a dish someone close to me cannot consume, I am laying claim to this territory as mine. It is infantile, yes, and even after this insight I still look forward to this meal.

Marcos

For some reason I stopped. I never stop for strangers who look my way or say hello. Not any more. But I stopped for Marcos. Mackintosh. Enthusiastic in his greeting, jovial and energetic, I walked back to shake his hand.

He seemed deeply touched by this gesture. His hands were cold and clean as if he had just washed them. His lips were the characteristic red and chapped of ch’angaa drinkers, flecked with green spittle like he also chews miraa or muguka.

With his breath sickly sweet, he tells me he does not drink. I tell him he smells like he does. He tells me he has family problems, then he tells me he sees something in me and there is a reason I stopped and we met. He says he sees God in me. He asks if I am saved and accepted the lord Jesus as my personal saviour. I lie yes. He asks me if I am a student. I am flattered at this. I do not look old. I have recently acquired a heightened awareness of my looks, partly brought on by weight loss due to stress.

He repeats how it is God who has brought us together. I smirk inside but I feel myself seduced by the thought of a benevolent all-powerful being that cares about me. I almost believe it. I feel I am close to slipping back into religion at this point, when my love life has gone awry and I am questioning my job and my life choices more than usual. A few months ago everything was so clear. I thought I knew what I was doing. Life has a way of showing you you know nothing.

We pray together and he asks God to bless me. I accept this and welcome it. He wishes me a good day when I tell him I have to go. As expected, he touches me for something small, kitu ya chai. I oblige, removing a two-hundred shilling note from my left back pocket and thinking better of it. In my right one, I remove a hundred and give it to him. He thanks me and asks God to continue blessing me. I ask God to bless me. I will even ask for a blessing from a God I lost faith in.

That Night

I so enjoyed Adult Swim’s 404 page I used it as a template for the below.


There are three of us sitting on the threadbare orange sofa. I am almost passed-out drunk, going in and out of consciousness and conversation.

Blunt regally poised on his dark lips, my cousin’s friend mans the remote; he inhales and coughs as his eyes scan the plethora of channel choices, a barren wasteland that promises additional distractions.

I stand up to go pee and see the floor quickly coming. As the night’s fragments come to me later, I will see myself seeing it quickly coming. I do not see my lower lip exploding and my front incisor chipping. It gives in on the yellowed ceramic tiles. I taste blood and sand.

My cousin tries to catch me. I bring him with me. We collide. His face kisses the back of my head as my face kisses the floor. His nose crunches. There is cursing and groaning, a smell of heated metal, a struggle to get up, and a failure to get up. Eventually, we stop moving.

Pulled up to his knees by his friend, he turns me and lifts my face to examine it. I am rattled and confused; my cousin’s broken nose weeps on my tee shirt and on the floor.

Back to the couch: I watch my cousin pour a large whisky and knock it back neat, sniffing back still-dripping blood. His friend arrives with a roll of toilet paper, dropping the blunt onto his unsocked foot as he hands it to my cousin. It sparks. More cursing.

I stand up again and stagger away, looking for a mirror, and meander along a lit corridor. I pass an open bedroom door with the smells of hot bodies and keep probing, peeking into rooms, supporting myself against the walls.

I feel a hand on my shoulder. I turn to face my cousin, barely containing his amusement. For the first time that day, I laugh. “Usijali, itamea,” he nasally says, handing me a piece of mutura.

A Comforting Embrace

She stands at the entrance to the administration block and is glued to ground sticky with the wetness of new rain. Seconds take on the heft of aeons as she gathers her thoughts and sees them scatter again. Her mother never comes to see her before visiting day.

The sad earth lets her loose and she moves as through molasses into the waiting room. There are no eyes on her. She does not exist in the self-echoing realities of those present. If she knew this, she would not worry about her muddy shoes. Worry is a vestige of her upbringing. What would he think of her? She does not yet know it does not matter and it never will.

If she knew how self-absorbed people are, she would never worry what they thought. Because they essentially never thought of her. She is invisible. Most of her life has been spent as a prop for others, an ornament called upon to validate the tenuous ideas of others selves.

The room is stuffy. It is just past three o’clock in the afternoon. Barely hanging on deodorant, the accumulated unwash of travel, and something else hangs about her mother. The smell of something missing, something lost.

She does not cry when her mother tells her of his death. She does not laugh as she imagined she would. She does not smile. She does not frown. She does and feels nothing, except pity for her mother as she chokes on grief. She does not ask how he died. Suddenly she craves a cup of hot sweet cocoa. Her soul feels cleansed by the ostensibly unfortunate news. It deserves a celebration. Let his wife mourn him.

Her mother is distraught and distracted. She does not notice her dry unblinking eyes though the infinite prisms of tears. On impulse, she pulls her mother close and hugs the tall woman. She gets her stature from the man whose body now lies still. Even in his creating her life, he took. He took her height. He took before she was born. He took when she was alive. It is now when he has stopped breathing he gives.

She did not always feel nothing for him. Once there was what could even be called love. When she was little he was Superman, grizzled and gruff and warm. Something fell away as the years went and he showed distance, meanness, and anger. She noticed the small hateful things he did, the small ways he cut pieces off her mother and her. Things were done and words were said that were virtually innocuous to notice in the moment. Thousands of tiny ways he made them hate themselves.

Nothing was good enough for him: the food was bland, his shirts were still creased after ironing, the floor was never clean, they were fat, only certain kinds of women wear lipstick and trousers. Then there were the beatings, the ones that broker Mum and denied her siblings, the screams, and worse, the silence, the nights spent outside, the pitying looks from the neighbours, the whispers about the estate.

And so they loved themselves less and less. Her affection turned to a cold razor-sharp hate which swallowed her into a benumbed oblivion. This is where she was when her mother visited her with the announcement. This is where she had been for a long time. This was where she now called home. She found refuge in an emotionless place.

She was fortunate to go to a boarding school to escape him. Her mother was not. She dreaded the long holidays. She could now go home without fear. Sure, she would have to manage her mother’s emotions, but this was a small task. She can now openly read the book she bought herself on her way back from school last term, the one about some prostitutes in Denmark.

Her mother would never remarry, this she was certain. She had been ground into such a deep self-loathing she nearly forgot who she was, nearly forgot the pretty smiling confident woman she used to be, the one in the photo album kept hidden in one of the kitchen cupboards where Papa would never stumble on it. She would help Mum find the woman of years past and zealously guard her.

She smiles as her mother’s tears drop into her hair and tickle her scalp, breathing in the comforting slightly musty sweater smell. She wants to get back to class. The physics teacher is particularly entertaining today. But, not just yet. She will hold her mother a little longer, tighter.