We stumble over the liquid honey turned to rocks in our chests and split the lips we used to kiss each other with. We graze our faces and mark ourselves uglier, adding pepper to our frowns. The truths which shone lights into our murky minds have become razors to our affections, shredding our soft bits and callousing them. We walk haltingly, falling over ourselves and over others, often scratching them as we seek purchase on figments of feelings which once seemed so real. We are dragon flies with broken wings.
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.
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.
Movement creates movement. Anyone who has stared down the blank page and the blinking cursor knows this. Anyone who has attempted to make a change, within and without, understands this. Dragging your heavy comfortable self – the one scared of being proven wrong and instead deludes itself it could be genius should it so wish – is hard.
Inaction, when coddled even for a moment, burrows itself into your marrow. You are left enslaved to a fickle muse, waiting for a flash of magic to propel you to artistic heights. But, there is no muse, there is no magic. Show up every day and do the work. It adds up. There is no monster but you.
You are both Sisyphus and rock. You can crest the hump. More accurately, you can keep cresting the humps. It never ends. You can only go when you go. None of this is new. But, in the fight with the fat unmoving beast that is me, it may as well be. That is why I am here, to constantly remind myself of all of this.
This morning I walk into the building I work in and the first thing I see is the notice board with the locations of different offices. Until today I have never paid it much attention. It looks bare, a bareness amplified by the remaining tiles of the businesses which have not shuttered or moved out.
It is a jarring sight, a stark reminder of how quickly dreams can be dashed. Like a person, old, infirm and burdened by withered prospects, the eeriness of the hollowed out building is haunting and scary. I imagine the notice board reflects back at us a version of ourselves we seldom envision: ourselves as frail and dying, beaten down and disappointed, hopeless, cynical, wildly dissonant from the ideal selves we had had in mind.
I walk on and into our office, hesitating for a spell at the door to marvel at the imposing signage on the outer façade. Insisting on itself and ostensibly important, with its block letters in bright yellow, it betrays an unshakeable belief in what we do. How long until we are also just a collection of good intentions, hopes not come to fruition, and dust?
A few nights ago I had a craving for hot sweet black coffee. I French-pressed a pot and as I waited, savoured the smell wafting from the kitchen. It was a quarter to ten.
I have a small house. Every odour permeates and sticks, making itself a home. I only noticed this because I have not been in it for any reasonable period of time in the last two months.
What hit me when I returned were not the smells I am used to – my shower gel, blankets baking in the sun from an open window that could do with a laundering, a dirty sweater smouldering in the cupboard. My me smell.
It smelled and felt foreign. I had a friend staying over during that time. It, then, became his house. I imagine brewing coffee at that hour was a way to reclaim my space.
There were flashes of yesterday in your shared laughter and mutual inanities. But the spectre and promises of yesterday still hang over you. For a long moment they were forgotten, blanketed by the light of today. You can delude yourself and say this is how it will always be, a permanent hearken to the past, events happened and forgotten. It is easy to lie to yourself. Soon, the gossamer veils which cover the truth you have hidden from will be shredded. Truth is blinding. In the flashes, your sight becomes a razor that cuts both you and the world. You will bleed, happily letting yourself flow out of yourself. The red provides contrast to a grey world, red tears from the blackness painting life.