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.

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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.

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.

All White Teeth

As an alternative to KC Coconut, the wines and spirits guy suggested OPM Vodka. I thought why not. I may as well try something new.

Now, my movements are slow, lethargic and a happy fog clouds my find. I am drunk. I hate the vodka but I do not want to stop. I love the feelings I have now. I will hate the feelings I will have tomorrow.

We are in my bedroom. The sun feels beautiful on my skin. She is at the edge of the bed as if scared to take up space. It must be my breath which is offputting. It could be something more. We are not that close. Her boundaries are wide and her walls are high. We are talking. I am talking and she is listening. Narrowed eyes and a playful smile colour her face with amusement.

I smile at her often. I find myself doing this with her more than with most people. I imagine I look like a wolf. She laughs back. I tell her I have a beautiful smile, as does she. Her smile turns mysterious and is then gone. A quick flash of teeth and a movement of lips into a moue of contemplation. I never know what she is thinking. She is inscrutable and she slightly intimidates me.

She guards herself and lately it has been irking me. I find myself petty and refusing to engage her as often and as deeply as I used to, only blinking first, as it were because I have conditioned myself to. Refusing to ruin this ethereal moment, while she is with me and not behind a screen, I keep smiling and talking, about my idea of masculinity (how being a stereotypical man does not work for me) and what I think of feminism (in my current state, it mostly consists of men washing dishes).

Sipping my drink, liberally doused with Sprite, I smile wider at her to make her comfortable, rather, to make myself comfortable around her.

I am Others

I am others. This was pointed out to me last week as far as my writing goes.

I mean, I am myself, but when it comes to how I represent myself in my work, I take on the persona of someone else, someone better, maybe the kind of person I aspire to be, or the kind of person I do not want to be. I write outside myself.

When I started writing I somehow got it into my head to avoid myself in some ways, to distance myself from my failures and shortcomings, my flaws, my very nature sometimes. Paradoxically, these same things lent life to my work. Call them the devil’s breath, electricity raising the patchwork monsters I create. Call me Dr Frankenstein.

Then again, this is the wrong approach. What happens when I run out of pain to dig through and put on display? Also, if I am writing about myself, the word “I” comes up a lot of time. It makes me very uncomfortable to talk about myself and seems in poor taste. I cannot be the only subject of my writing.

Maybe this is where all writing starts, a juvenile itch which then grows and becomes about other things, other people outside oneself. In all of this, fragments of the author remain. Maybe growth in art and in anything else is the continual chipping away of the more selfish aspects of yourself.

I feel I have digressed. I was trying to explain why I write about myself outside myself, especially when it comes to relationships. This is mainly because I fell my most harrowing failures have happened in relationships. Time is yet to prove me wrong. Then again, I have a bit of time on my side.

On Apologies

What is the point of reaching out to someone to apologize, say, emailing them and explaining why you hurt them, the motivations for your actions?

I feel putting it in writing is taking better responsibility for your behaviour. You could always do it in person and it is recommended you do by way of manning up and because your written words could always be used against you.

Admitting how you fell short is an integral part of an apology. I can say it to myself, but I feel putting it out there in writing gives it legs, a way of being accountable.

Although, I often wonder whether it means anything to say you were wrong, to own up to your decisions. In hindsight, I may not even have a logical reason for writing down my apologies. I could be trying to make myself the victim of someone else’s tragedy, one I caused, to make myself feel better or I could be painting the other person as a monster to remove myself from how I treated them.

Sometimes I am not sure. What is the point of apologizing if it does not take the pain away from the people you hurt? I often feel we do it for ourselves, selfishly, to make ourselves feel better. That is not an entirely bad thing, but I feel the bigger goal of saying sorry is to make things better for the aggrieved.