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.

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Somewhat Sisyphus

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.

Toothless

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?

Late Nights and Coffee

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.

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.