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Monday, January 31, 2011

lists

1. Sportsman and its irony.

This is the cheapest brand of cigarette in Kenya. Its what you buy when the funds are low, well at least for most people. Anyone smoking sportsman is not a casual smoker or a poser, they love their nicotine with a passion unmatched for most things in their life including their fitness. So the fact that this cigarette which has put an end to more potential sports careers than sex should be called sportsman is a source of great joy for me.

2. Kenyan police.


The police in Kenya are known for two things corruption and laziness; these 2 characteristics were immortalized forever in the joke about calling the cops and hearing them demand fuel for their cars before they leave the station to come to the crime scene.

However, the other day my aunt lost her laptop in the parking lot of a supermarket, they duly reported the matter to the police, I guess for insurance purposes. A few hours later she gets a call telling her to come down to the station to identify her stuff. Apparently there was a diary in there with her name and some guy was caught hawking it. How the police chose that particular guys hands to inspect we shall never know. The odds are amazing its an area with a huge number of hawkers. the sheer bad luck needed for this to happen is an event as inexplicable as the fact that the Kenyan police can work that fast

When this guy was caught he said he had no idea where the laptop was so he gets thrown in jail. From inside the cell shrill screams of pain are heard coming through the doors as the guy swears in his most please-don’t-torture-me voice. Apparently having being told about the smart business sense that is outsourcing the police decided to do the same and now torture is done by inmates who have been in for a while. And they call prisons a centre for rehabilitation. I was told the screams were so piercing my uncle actually wanted to them to stop because it was a company laptop anyway and would be replaced by the insurance policy.

3. white tees

As long as we’re on the subject of brutality. A guy told me recently how he was at a get together and due to some fight related activities he cut himself in the hand so he was bleeding rather profusely. While he was on his way home, a tout and he got into a scuffle. A verbal argument that turned physical. This tout was wearing a white tee-shirt and when they began to fight in the course of being really bad at fights the tout s overcome.

This guy has him on the floor in front of him, he straddles him and proceeds to fist him(don’t be such a pervert). Anyway this guy is punching him over and over and due to the wound he received earlier blood starts spurting, being flung everywhere, but mostly on the tout and his tee-shirt. White takes stains to heart as quickly as the apostles took jesus’ teachings. The blood forms all over the teeshirt and begins to look like an atlas of brutality. It s at this point that people begin to intervene and this guy is at pains to explain how this blood is his from an earlier mishap

4. CAPITAL

Have you ever got a text or email and it was in capital letter so it FELT LIKE SOMEONE WAS SHOUTING AT YOU. This is a pretty common phenomenon and it’s called, I actually have no idea what its called or whether its even pretty common at all or its just the people I talk to who know about it. Anyway this chic was in a noisy place and she actually wrote a text in capital letters. When asked why she did this that’s actually the reason she gave (I AM IN A NOISY PLACE.)

5. LODGINGS.

These are the Kenyan name for those motels and inns where people only go to have anonymous, hidden sex. The recently introduced alcohol ll however allows people to get a drink in a lodging even during the day giving it yet another advantage over a normal bar. As a result my uncle told my aunt with quite the serious look in his face
“when you’re going through my pockets and find a receipt for a lodging in there, its not what you think, I had just checked in for a drink”

6. OVERREACTION

Weed is good if for nothing else than that it brings about the following overreaction from its users.

“Time is about to become meaningless, right now my phone is 5 minutes ahead your’s maybe 2 minutes behind and everyone else’s is at some other point in time. The meaning of this is there is no such thing as time anymore and thus human beings and humanity as a whole are about to break out of the 3 dimensions and live in the 4th”

Without weed the simple fact of watches being set to different times would not have such awe-inspiring consequences.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

the house

Last Saturday we had a huge party, I knew it was a huge party because we bought 120 plastic glasses and 2 hours into a 8 hour party they were all finished, I know it was a huge party because there were so many footprints on the floor it was bitching(there usually are footprints on a beach.), I know it was huge because when one of my friends said, “ stop acting stupid are you a-insert xenophobic stereotype-“ and –xenophobic stereotype- was actually there foaming at the mouth at the injustice of it all. I know it was a strange party because when the morning light began sneaking in people weren’t chased away by putting off the music or anything comparably tame but by dismantling the chairs and beds on which they were sleeping and taking them outside the house.

this was the party we threw before we finally moved house.

Last year I had been away from home for 7 weeks. I was in another country or two and while there I missed the house so much more than I thought possible, in a matter of years you can come to know every part of a house and every scar it possesses and I would sleep and see it in all its fallen glory. There was a part of the house where the roof had been worked through, over the corridor the roof was made of plaster, the type that makes casts and maybe because of rain it fell through. I have no idea whether this happened piecemeal or all at once and if it happened all at once so I have no story to tell about that particular roof.

However once years in the past when I was too young to count or know better my brother decided to teach me (to count, knowing better came later). My father had come home with this brand new car. The paint was still gleaming so much it looked like the sun was reflecting it. It was to this car I was taken and given my first lesson in blind following, he handed me a needle point and watched as I took a turn learning to write the numbers on this paint, scratching away. When my father came home he gave me a lesson in knowing better that I have never forgotten. That’s not true actually. I’m sure I was caned repeatedly but I can’t remember the actual caning and until recently I thought I had imagined the whole incident but my brother confirmed the truth of it. Maybe the pain of the beating was blocked out to protect me from becoming a psycho; I still believe that this incident is why I have a horrible handwriting.

A little later in life when I was old enough to count hell I was old enough to know what ratios were but not yet old enough to realize that cooking a good meal is one of the best dates there is, we 3 men were left alone in the house.. My older brother is the kind of guy who when he has a girl over he buys the ingredients and shows her to the kitchen, the he goes to watch TV with a shouted instruction that she should call when the food is ready. Ok I exaggerate but only about the TV part, when girls come over he actually has them cook the food and my dad put his cooking days behind him on the day he paid that dowry. So the responsibility fell on me. All I new about cooking at that point was that rice had to be mixed in a ratio of 1:2 to be cooked properly. I had an idea how to put on the gas and so I carefully measured out a cup of rice and 2 of water till the pan was full. Then I let the water boil without any thought to flavour or salt. I sat back satisfied with myself especially when I opened the lid at the end and saw the little craters that always signify success and that is when I learned that looks can be deceiving. Have you ever had a good meal? The kind when your stomach is rumbling in anticipation and when you walk into the arena (food that good deserves to be epic) the smell assaults every part of you till you feel that your own soul is nothing but an extension of that smell. Then your base atheistic ideas about what a soul constitutes given religion by the first sensation of taste that crosses your tongue. It was nothing like that. In fact it was the opposite. A meal of quiet desperation. That’s when I decided to learn how to cook.


I read in that house for KCSE, for anyone who doesn’t know those are the Kenya secondary examinations that in the mind of most of us were this end all for life. Pass and the golden ticket to a life of no more want gets handed to you on a silver platter. Fail and meniality is the only adjective you can apply to your life. For a year of your life your whole body and mind is conditioned to think that the world ends with a pass or fail. Towards the end of the year there is an insane amount of stress and pressure. Shouting matches are as common as sleepless nights, as it nears the tension rises until you’re nearly broken. And this house was where I went through all these ups and downs. There is a table where I used to burn my pencils. I can’t be sure why I had a box of matches near me but I did and regularly I would set fire to the pencils because granite expands faster than wood as a result the pencil would break from the inside like a man’s spirit, something that if you’re not careful KCSE could do. I think that exam is a sinister version of Santa clause for Kenyans. As long as you’re young you believe in it and its importance then you grow up and look back at your naïveté with wonder.

This was the house I stumbled home to drunk back when I flirted with alcoholism so much I always went to bed with drink in me. Whenever I was out beyond 9:30 pm I knew there was 17 minute walk ahead of me before I got home. This was a road I have been trudging since before Nairobi had streetlights. Back then it was scary. Dark as the back of your mouth and just as endless. The only light that ever shone was a car coming by. In a few years I knew that only the guards on motorcycles would ever give you a lift home if they saw you staggering hopelessly from another night on the tiles. The end of that road was a moment of triumph as you got into the house and pulled the blankets over you to shelter from all that’s outside.

In this house I did all my firsts. Every mistake or source of pride was carried back here either to be shared or hidden.


We always called the servant’s quarters the dark room. This was because all it had in the way of ventilation was a little window in the corner that let in almost no light. I have had a parade of uncles living there as long as I can remember and as a result of those facts confluencing it always had that distinctive male smell that any girl with brothers knows. It visits your room in the morning as result of all the testosterone you let go while you sleep. However, when you wake you open the window it is quickly diffused. However the dark room was different. The window was too small to let all that masculinity escape. Maybe this is why we used the room for so much clandestine activity. The first time I took a girl there I remember worrying about the lack of distraction, a radio or TV that could fill the silences between us that I was so scared would result when we were lying back spent. Back then I was too young to know that during such sessions silence was the last cavity you would have to worry about filling.

That house holds more memories than can be remembered it had seen me at my worst and at my lowest. Rarely at my best because then I felt like I needed to spread the joy. It has held enough secrets that Dan Brown could write a book about it. Public joys and private tears have all been given way to there and hundreds of guest maybe even thousands by now have walked through it all leaving a small part of themselves in the house. At times it was more alive most human beings.

But everything marches to the beat of progress. I tried, deliberately not to know that would happen to the house when we left but this was not possible. It’s going to be torn down and now am feeling so sentimental that I want to go back there and pick up a stone for a souvenir. The truth is if the walls and roof and floor were alive they would know me better than anyone else. I wanted to write a symphony of sorrow for the house that I grew up in. that I spent all my life in. that has been a home to dozens of loved ones over the years as well as a passage for hundreds o souls on their way through life. But I don’t feel I could write well enough to capture all this house meant to me. It was almost a family member and at times more than a home, a symbol of all that was constant and dependable but things change.

It’s true that change is inevitable but that its good may be something human beings tell themselves just so they can deal with the former.

Monday, January 24, 2011

blowing away

We have been moving house and as part of that process my brother and I had to clear up this wardrobe in our room with all the old papers that signify progress through life. The drawer contained about 5 carton-fulls of paper from primary school through secondary and university. We quickly sorted through them only pausing when we found a photo that brought to mind memories or moments that were long gone, moving is hard and full of nostalgia but that is not what this post is about, it is about fire.

Yes fire.

We took the papers out and dumped them in the backyard and a fire was quickly lit underneath them, and me paragon of the outdoors that I am, was left to tend it. At first this meant sitting indoors and going out to make sure that the fire had not spread to the house, then the smoke began to pour out almost overwhelming the flames and this is when I figured out the other part about tending a fire, raking. From the deeps of my mind I recalled someone raking a fire like the way you would leaves, this is done in order to remove the ash that has gathered on top and let the paper underneath burn up. So I began furiously digging the rake into the middle of the fire turning over the papers and being rewarded by added flames shooting up all over the place till the fire got so hot I had to hang back and watch.

Fire is beautiful, it’s powerful and seductive without trying to be. it just does what it does and spreads. It seemed to come from within the paper themselves turning them into ash. I remember seeing this one paper being carried like the fire had a physical presence then the paper would turn black as it ashed and be thrown away like a spurned lover carried by the wind and deposited elsewhere and still the fire spread. Taking over everything only needing my help once in a while and yet too proud to keep accepting it when it regained its former strength.

As I continued to rake it my eyes began to ache both from exposure to heat and smoke that seemed to follow me everywhere. And still the fire spread and I began to pay attention to individual outbursts. This one piece of paper seemed to shelter the fire within it. There was a night in the paper that could only bee seen by the torches that the flame brought to it then the paper decayed from the inside giving way to more and more of the fire until the night had been fought away and all that remained was fire and when just fire remains there is nothing at all. There was this book that seemed to whiten with age right before my eyes, it was grey then white then it just whittled away and was carried by the wind forgotten forever, a disturbing metaphor of life. That book had information and history, it was once valuable enough to be bought, special enough to be used then old enough to be forgotten and all those stages of its life were made nothing as it turned to ash and the wind carried it away bouncing it along without a thought to its past.

And still the fire raged.

I could see why they called them tongues of flame, there was this point where it looked like the fire was licking this book, and the papers turned black as if they really were getting wet (we all know that licking is a sure way of getting things wet- something I learned by putting my mouth in a lot of sticky places). And after they turned black they would then pass on the curse to the next bunch of papers an airborne virus passed on from neighbour to neighbour till there was no more.

At its greatest the fire was a thing to watch. There seemed to be little kingdoms of flame all with their little provinces as they raced to cover more land, the red and clear of the flames was laid out against the papers thrown in and the fireplace or ash compound itself seemed to change shape as time went on. From a neat little circle it became a diamond, stretching itself into this heart shape that had a flame in the middle of it trying to convince the rest to join. Then the wind came along blowing ash everywhere turning it into a long hideous scar and now it lies looking almost like the corpse of a fat man shot in the back with blood flowing out in all directions.

I made sure I beat it to death before I left but even with the fire gone its creation seemed unable to settle, flying everywhere, settling on everything. And the scent of the fire, the smoke clung to every fibre of my clothing. The smell seemed to have taken up residence in my nose and so I took a shower to wash away all the dirt and when I closed my eyes to let the water wash over me I could see the flames as if they had been tattooed on my eyelids.

It rained today and maybe the ash is all gone by now, it gets to me that I’ll never really know.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

ces't la vie

I once had this awesome phone. It had all the trappings of new-generation phones, internet, camera, music storage capabilities and it was a touch screen. The screen was beautiful, it had such high resolution that I would almost prefer surfing on it to a computer and it was a flap.

I’m one of those people who think that nothing better was added to phones than the capability to be flapped open to pick up and flapped shut to hang up every call with a careless flick of the wrist. I loved taking phone numbers with this phone because of the look on people’s faces as they took in what I had in the name of a phone. I loved my phone.

Then it started to act up. In such random and varied ways I had to give it up. The first symptom was the speaker in the earpiece, the volume on it started to reduce so I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying to me. I never picked up my phone on a road or anywhere public, I needed complete quiet at all times. it was ridiculous. Then the button for hanging up stopped working, I could still flap it shut to avoid this but the button for hanging up is also the button for switching on the phone which meant that I had to keep the phone on at all times otherwise it would go off indefinitely. All this happened when I was in a part of Uganda where power rationing from mid -90’s Kenya is still a fashion statement. The phone would go off and then I would twiddle my thumbs in hope.

Soon I realized there were actually things I could do to switch it back on. I had borrowed a phone from a friend to put my sim card in and instead of leaving my phone in pieces I put it back together and right then it went on, except my sim-card was not in it. I quickly put my sim-card back in and it quickly stayed dead that time. This is the phone I was trudging around east Africa with so when I finally got back to Kenya I chucked it in for an upgrade.

Things change.

As I’m writing this the upgrade is laid out for me on the table. Its one of those old nokias, very old. When it was still a consideration for a company in Europe to put in torches in their phones, when did wherever nokia is from last need torches anyway? The phone of course has extra features, in addition to the torch you can call and sms, its still generations away from having we were four set even as a polyphonic ringtones so pretty swanky.

The one good thing about this kind of phone is they’re built like land rover defenders. The bad thing is they often get treated like land rover defenders. I saw a guy kick his around to keep it in the air. This phone has had more falls than the water at Niagara. Its like a paper machete model was made and then pieces were stripped off slowly one by one. It has more gaping holes than the average action movie.

But the speaker works just fine so there’s that.

The keypad is made of rubber and all glued together. There seems to be some air inside because it’s puffed up and proud, jutting out its belly. The button for hanging up works just fine but the red was faded away so long ago people still worried about the hole in the ozone layer. However it had this amazing battery, at least when I started using it. The battery would last for days. I always forgot to charge it and as a result once a week the phone would switch itself off. But then after charging all I had to do was press the memory of red and it would be ok.

Then the battery started acting up. it would charge for shorter and shorter periods of time while conversely getting fatter and fatter till it can’t fit inside its case. Now I’m stuck with a phone that can’t close on itself because it has the battery of an under exercised American kid in the phone of a struggling third world citizen. Eventually the progression happened where the phone began keeping less and less charge till putting it to electricity for days gives it enough charge to stay on and say:

Battery empty.

But I loved these phones, both of them I loved the good and the bad. I mourned their deaths that were slow as opposed to every other phone I ever lost. Usually phones are taken away from me but these two died in my arms. And I loved them not because they were good phones but because I imbued them with memories. Memories of joy at hearing that voice that I had wanted to for so long, or receiving that text that confirmed my most secret hopes. Memories of stumbling upon a website that would bring me hours and hours of laughter. There were also memories of let-down, of disappointment. The phones brought me messages of my hopes being dashed against a wall and made me want to do the same to it. They had been with me through the highs and the lows. And if you think about it nowadays a phone is our most constant companion. More than our books, TVs computers, even more than our closest friends.

You can’t live with something so long and so intimately without at some points being unable to think of yourself as apart from it. Phones become a part of their owners and then owners become a part of their phones. Then phones die or get stolen or sold. I never had a phone that I used to own stare at me dead before now and now the 2 phones I wrote about are right there. Its not that they replaced human contact its that they became a necessary conduit for human contact and affected the way I talked to people and how frequently. The phones changed how I related to people and now they’ll never change anything again.

Ce’st la vie

Monday, January 17, 2011

story of a hangover.

Disease.

Its strange being sick. You feel weak and helpless like a baby or an invalid and the only payoff is when you get better and feel so much stronger by comparison. Then the feeling of strength disappears and you just feel normal. I hate that soon you take it for granted everything loses its luster after a while, even life can seem ordinary.

I went out one day and got ridiculously drunk (a pattern that was then firmly established.) it was a good night because I got to see Nairobi at night from the 15th floor of view park towers. Its this beautiful mixture of lights and structures made even better by the fact that it’s a stolen sight one which you have to give up nearly before you realize how wonderful it is. Fleeting moments are the best. Then watchmen intrude and kick you out.

Anyway, I left the club so early that I could have watched the sunrise. As I’m walking home my dad has gone for his morning jog and I know he sees me as I walk home thing is am practically stumbling because am still drunk. At that point I don’t know what’s waiting for me but I soon will.

The hangover.

Here I’ll pose a question for people who usually get hangovers, how the hell can you continue drinking if this is the result. A hangover is a disease. It’s a 12 hour bug (this one was.)And this phenomenon gets more oaths than a courtroom bible “I swear I’ll never drink again.”

When I wake up the first sensation that greets me is a headache and not any headache, a hangover headache. A headache you deserve as you pay for the excesses of the previous night. A mocking headache whose every pain is someone screaming THIS IS YOUR FAULT I muster up enough energy to ask my brother for painkillers and like a cruel joke from the gods because they foresaw I would spell their name with a small g there are none. Well sleep is a natural painkiller so I turn over and sleep. When I wake up next I take this bottle of water that’s beside my bed and swallow a few hasty gulps. Almost immediately I feel bile rising to choke me. This is an effect that I know a lot about so I hurry to the toilet and bend over it.

Never drink on an empty stomach!

Just in case you have to puke trust me, you don’t want dry heaving which is as gut wrenching as dry humping is frustrating. You work and work and there is no result, nothing but the work All that comes out is water, water and pain. For a while the headache subsides, but looking back this is probably as a result of the pain from the dry heaving drowning out its competitor(water and pain). I then pick myself up and shuffle off to bed. The next time I wake up its 4 o’clock and I still have a headache. I force myself to eat 3 slices of bread, not cos am hungry but I know I need food in my stomach and I don’t want to dry heave again. Sure enough it sends me running to the toilet for a session that am sure will heal me. Get all the poison out seems to be the plan.

No such result I still have a headache and the beat(Kenyan music show) is playing in the room. I am sure that there will be no we were four music playing so am not too pleased about it. When I next wake up its 5:30 and most of the symptoms are gone but now am tired. It’s like sleeping tired me out. So I take a nap and then at 6:30 I feel fresh. Now am hungry, I haven’t eaten anything the whole day and I could eat a horse, well not really because when you haven’t eaten in a while your stomach shrinks so you can’t even eat as much as normal.

Now am healed but the price I had to pay was a day. A whole day when people were out talking, working, playing, eating, flirting and living I was asleep. It was the kind of sleep that didn’t even refresh. No dreams, nothing. It was like being dead. I hate being sick and I hate being hangover. I wish there was a better, deeper way to end this post or a realization that I wouldn’t drink again but… maybe we should all just smoke weed.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

heist films

Over the course of 4 days I had the opportunity to watch two movies focusing on heist crews and the efforts of law enforcement to catch them. These movies had a lot of things that it seems such movies must have before they are produced a kind of deal with the devil. They began with a heist that is pulled off according to plan to show us that there are some smarties who go into crime. The only smart guy in the crew decides to pull out because of love/ family/ heat from the feds, however the other guy who the film focuses on; there’s always a guy who is too violent and hotheaded for a life in crime, As the audience we know he is going to be the downfall of the crew cos he unnecessarily brandishes weapons or buys too many lap dances or whatever. He is the guy who no one can figure why he is in the crew but he is, well this guy comes up with a surefire robbery that everyone can retire from. He suggests this and has to blackmail the smart guy with a guilt trip or a good old fashioned threat.

This is where I go off on a tangent. You know in movies when someone asks is that a threat.
I’ve been hearing that for years and there are so many responses
1. yes
2. no, it’s a promise
3. you’ll find out
4. What do you think?
5. (a short derisive laugh)
6. no just a warning
7. I don’t make threats I keep them.
Not sure which is the best but some of them are pretty damn scary.

Ok back to bank robber movies. The crew decides to get together for the last time but the cops are on them because the robbery at the beginning was so slick they brought in the FBI and this motherfucker is not for games. As the movie goes on he starts tailing them, getting evidence and intimidating acquaintances and the noose tightness as the pace quickens till the climax is the final heist with the cops breathing down their necks.

That in short general strokes is the plot of every bank robber movie ever made, every single one follows those plot elements and has those characters as well as a love interest thrown in to spice up life.

I watched 2 of those movies both circa 2010. One was called TAKERS and the other THE TOWN. They were both faithful to formula but at the end of one I felt I had wasted some of my life on crap. Art is subjective (there may even be some people who don’t think we were four are the greatest thing to happen to music since the creation of Lucifer). Me not liking a movie doesn’t necessarily mean it was bad just that I thought it was crap. Halfway through it I stopped trying to follow the various variations they put on the standard plot. The other was amazing. I couldn’t stop watching it in spite of numerous interruptions. I was completely swept up in the movie. In its authenticity. The heists they were pulling off were much simpler than in the previous movie, they stuck to shock and awe. And they had this really beautiful threat where they told these guys the names of their wives and the number of children they had implying that their family is not safe. Menace is always better understated.

In one of the movies there were so many characters their names became a needless mishmash in fact am not sure they all had names. Character development was at a minimum. The cop who was tasked to look for them was a dumb brute. He kept having these houseian epiphanies but they were never believable. He seemed so angry and rash and trigger happy. It was impossible to feel anything but a sense of superiority whenever you saw his face or heard his voice. No one could seriously be expected to believe he could catch anything even an STD. in the other the characters were so well fleshed out I felt like I knew them. They gave them back stories and lives that had a bearing on the plot. The police were scary and smart. The way they tracked down the robbers had less to do with brainstorms form a guy who doesn’t seem to have ever had a brain drizzle and more to do with hard work, putting pieces together as they came along and even dumb luck. But they were more respectable and even more professional the kind of police every law abiding citizen hopes to have. In one movie I wasn’t sure whether to be on the side of the cops and robbers this was because I didn’t like either in the other it was cos I liked both so much.

Another thing that one got right and the other flopped in so much as creating an emotional attachment with the audience. Strangely the sad story in the movies had to do with family, loyalty and the way it can get you in the end. One movie shows us a drug addict in all her glorious piteousness, we hear stories and see photographs that give a window into a happier time as a motivation for the bank heists. Even with all of these elements it seems forced. In the other movie the story revolves around an absentee parent-we never see her or even hear her name- told in turns from the perspective of the son, the husband and a black coated villain. In each telling this story is heart wrenching enough to make you blink away tears yet each telling changes a significant part of the story as we come to understand about the ugliness of truth and that even the unsettling varnish of a lie can be preferable to the raw power of the truth. It touches on sorrow, pain, acceptance, revenge and protection in various ways till it seems like the perfect motive for the character’s actions later in the movie.

I feel sad that some people may watch the wrong movie and because both are about bank/ truck robberies they won’t watch the other one. So do me this favor if you watched one and didn’t like it watch the other one and if you watched one and did like it don’t bother with the other one. It would take a very special person to like both.

remember all bank robbery movies are equal but some bank robbery movies are more equal than others.

Monday, January 10, 2011

a push

Recently after a few beers with friend I got into the last Matatu of the evening to head home. At this point I should explain something about the matatus that ply my route, they are not the awesome juggernauts with TVs behind every seat and one on the wheel just in case street urchins can’t live off just the hubcaps they steal. They are not even the moderately comfortable ones where we were four is being played at just the right level so you can talk on the phone without needing permission from the driver. They are in fact old, despairing vehicles that are held together by the will of the driver, the prayers of the passengers and the amazing assembly job done by some folks at a factory. Thank you factory folk.

The point is they are old.

Being the last Matatu I had no choice of seating places and sat on the last available seat. In these 14 seater mats that last seat is not usually a seat so much as a Houdini school of levitation exercise. Sandwiched between the conductor and the last unlucky but legal customer, there is usually a space. This space is meant o be used as a corridor, a pathway. Sitting n that space can make the most anorexic person feel like dieting(and not just because anorexic people always feel like dieting but because that space is really too small for a human being to sit in.)

We drove out of town and headed to this place that sells really cheap petrol. Its called the Kuwait petrol station a name that proves once and for all that in order for a petrol station proprietor to have a truly great sense of humour he must be in touch with the geo-political structure of the middle east and the effect such structure as well as economic fluctuations have on the oil market. However it was closed on that day. This is a major foreshadow of what’s to come next by the way.

We wound down the road home and at a point that was equidistant to the nearest petrol station and home the Matatu began groaning. Like a stomach without food, you know that point where you are so hungry it actually pains and if there was water you would drink it in the hopes of drowning your stomach but from past experience you know how close you are to not feeling hunger anymore. You know that moment and the sound your stomach makes right then? Well it was nothing like that, being that this is a machine.

However the conductor seemed to recognize the sound and he sprung into action. I don’t know much about cars but I love the way their power is measured in horses. I still think 4 horsepower is pretty fast that’s what they used to use to execute people in the old days, tie up 4 horses to each of the limbs and drive them away. But cars have (I was going to put a number here but I don’t know much about cars) a very high horsepower maybe in the 80’s or hundreds maybe even thousands. A very high horsepower is the point. A fact that added to my bewilderment at the next scene.

From days gone by when a geisha springs from the front seat (realized I spelt that wrong but it think this story would have been so much better if an actual geisha like the Japanese escorts sprung from the front seat.) anyway from the times when a geyser of hot water sprung forth from the front seat and doused the surprised few with a taste of what it is to be an engine I knew that said engine can be accessed from inside the car. But this conductor he went to the seat and tore off the engine cover, put his hand in there and immediately started pumping. Moving his hand up and down in a swift but sure motion that he could have only learned doing one thing.


As he is pumping away the driver keeps trying at the engine. It switches on and makes that satisfying hum you come to love if you ever had to jumpstart a car. Every time this happens am like we’re out of here but the mat doesn’t move. What the fuck? We’re out of fuel. Completely out it seems and the dynamic duo over here want to simulate X-horsepower by the pumping motion of one man’s hand. To have the tensile strength to do that with your hand I think we would actually need a geisha, happy ending anyone?

Well, after 5 or so failed attempts they decide this isn’t working and appeal to all the men in the car to get out and push it some distance back so it can roll downhill to the petrol station. This is a few kilometers back and not exactly downhill all the way. I put both my hands on the car and single-handedly, ok double handedly, ok I had help from all the other men, and to tell the truth it was barely a minute after this foolhardy attempt to get back to the station that we got help and a ride home.

So you see there was a happy ending.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Cigarettes: Silence and Ashes

He held the cigarette in his hands, trembling. Not from fear or inexperience as he had the first time all those years ago but from anger. A deep well of anger that could not be drained by logic or give way to mercy. The anger he was feeling could only be leavened by time or maybe death whichever came first. He took out a matchbox and lit the first stick, and then he just stood there. Thoughts ran through his mind and instead of spurring him to action they settled him in inaction. The fire ran the length of the stick and came to a stop at his fingers. He didn’t jerk away or seem to feel the pain instead his thumb and forefinger acted like pincers snuffing the life out of this fire.

When his wife saw this she felt terror for the first time. She had been afraid before, everyone has been afraid before, scared of the darkness or nervous about test results. Everyone has felt fear; it dampens your pit while paradoxically drying your mouth. Your heart beats faster as your mind goes slower. But this was not fear, this was terror. Terror was not an emotion to be lightly played around with; it shook the very foundations of one’s soul making the source of the terror the only thing that you could focus on. The mind was blocked form considering ways out or anything at all really except the terror itself. Terror was black, terror was hopelessness ad despair. And right now terror had her in its clutches.

As if waking from a trance he shook himself and put the cigarette to his lips. He took a deep drag of it and looked satisfied but this was an illusion. The cigarette was not lit and the fact that he had created a lie about his bliss reflected the illusion that was their marriage. Happiness seemed to be drawn from it but on closer inspection there was no fire, nothing really but an unlit cigarette. He realized this and smiled, he smiled a cruel caricature of a smile. Like a child’s clown showing up in the middle of the night and displaying for all to see what cruelty lies in humour.

She tried to talk but he held his lips to his mouth, a gesture that he was not ready to hear her yet.
“I just need to smoke this cigarette then you can explain why you were in bed with another man.”-a statement spoken coldly with no emotion except perharps curiosity, but not even that. Apathy and indifference was all that was left in his voice.
She understood what he said and swallowed her pleas, her justifications. But even then she could not control the terror that had grabbed her. The feeling was so intense that she forgot to feel guilty about what had happened. She forgot to feel the sorrow that was rightfully her’s at this point in her life. By her carelessness she had killed the person she loved more than anything in the world. She looked at her husband and knew this was true. His eyes were glazed, cold like a statue except statues didn’t radiate the malevolence she felt at this time. Waves of hate came off him and she could feel them prick her skin; make her hair stand on edge. Suffocate the room until breathing became a conscious effort, she was glad of this something to take her mind off the despair.

He took a puff of the now lit cigarette. He looked at his wife but could no longer see her. At least he couldn’t see her as his wife. The image he held of his wife in his head was commingled with feelings of love and complete trust, utter and total devotion. Now that those feelings had evaporated like so much alcohol, he could not see his wife any more. There was just this woman who looked like his wife, who sounded like his wife but was not. In his mind she was already dead. Nothing felt real any more but the cigarette in his hands. Even the wound from where the matchstick had earlier burnt him was like a memory in a dream. To steady himself he took another puff. He had always believed when waiting for someone give her the length of time it takes a cigarette to be burned for her to appear. If she’s not there by then walk away. So he smoked his cigarette and waited, he waited for his wife

She could see the cigarette was almost done. The red glow burned the stick away. Turning a staff into ashes. Everything in the end goes back to ashes even fire when it is done turns to ashes. Even love at the end is nothing. These were the thoughts that ran through her mind now. As the terror subsided being replaced by a dull acceptance. She thought about the fleeting nature of everything. Of how it took years to build love, to build trust, to build a marriage but how turning it into ashes was the work of a single afternoon. Then the cigarette was done, nothing. And when she looked into his eyes at that moment she saw nothing, all around her nothing but ashes.

He let the butt drop to the ground, watching it spin and spin. He had waited for his wife but he hadn’t found her. She hadn’t come. The butt fell down. Followed by a single tear, tottering on the edge of his eyelid. He closed his eyes and forced it out, closed his eyes to the sense of betrayal he felt, closed his eyes to the woman who was not his wife, he closed his eyes to the anger. Then he turned and walked away.

She watched him leave in silence. For this was all she had left, silence and ashes.

Monday, January 3, 2011

31

The New Year for me passed very uneventfully. It shuttered noiselessly from 2010 to 2011 with no hint of drama or intrigue. I spent the turn in the way I spent the most joyous moments of the year surrounded by friends whose company I enjoy who walked through the year with me never faltering or faulting.

Earlier in the night I went to the liquor store to stock up. I met this guy maybe in his forties who was wearing shorts and had the key to his no doubt expensive car in his hand. He was looking at the bottles with obvious connoisseurship. His whole manner bespoke that money was no object and that time was a luxury he enjoyed often. I breezed past him and grabbed 2 bottles of vodka so fast it was practically muscle memory. The guy looked at the 1.5 litres of vodka that this kid(in case anyone needs clarification the kid was me) had just bought himself. He cracked a wry smile that seemed to speak memories of a time gone by when he too had no time because life was one big race and he was always in a hurry to get to the next destination. He then told me “happy new year.” That sentence and the manner it was said by the man who said it held so much. Humour and knowledge, experience and wisdom, nostalgia and joy and a genuine wish that I would actually have a happy new year.

This was unlike all other calls that day. Anyone who calls on New Year’s Eve is either desperate to reminisce about shared moments r is looking for a plan. The following is a story of one such couple.

This guy and his chic were hanging out on New Year’s fulfilling the wish of every human being on the planet (at least the girlie ones) which is knowing where their midnight kiss was coming from and knowing for sure it wouldn’t be with some random person whose name would be hard to remember in 2 hours. They went to a bar in Nairobi west and had this amazing roast chicken. There is something godly in knowing an animal was slaughtered for you and then burnt over an open fire. Maybe that’s why we like roast meat so much. But even without all the feelings of godhead that such food inspires it would still have been a splendid meal. The meat was succulent, soft and juicy. Just the right amount of salt, vinegar and seasoning had been added and she was in just the right state of mind to enjoy the food. They say hunger is the best sauce and she was having the kind of pangs that make vegetables appetizing in this state the taste of the chicken in her mouth was as close to heaven as most mortals can dream of reaching.. While they were there who should make an appearance at the bar than the prime minister himself.

He was on one of those “I am an ordinary person” rounds that he has to do now that there was an exposé about how much wealth his family had. And like any ordinary guy(well at least the ordinary guys I hope to know this year) he started buying rounds of drinks for everyone. I have no information that the girl and the guy who I am gonna name now so that I don’t get confused and to avoid further confusion I’ll use their real names(I did ask for permission and I took their silence as assent) so let’s call them Eric and Ruth..

Eric and Ruth left that bar due to the restlessness that so inhabits all of us human beings. Never satisfied with our lot in life and sure that fate, destiny, luck, coincidence or god is giving someone else a better time in a better place. The need to migrate takes us over and Eric called his friend also called Eric. This is not because I ran out of pseudonyms but because they share a name. And sure enough the Eric with no girlfriend tells him that they are at a party which is awesome and kicking and all other platitudes that are heaped on parties. So Eric tells Ruth that they have to leave and go to this party on the other side of Nairobi. Ruth agrees and they get on a Matatu to town.

When they get to town they are assaulted by all the sounds that come out in the New Year, the streets are choked with people, peopled by expectation, expecting all that the promise of something new gives. It’s hard to walk for all the masses of people there and Ruth involuntarily flashbacks to a time like this last year. She was in town and because the people who are working for electric companies also need their fun on New Year’s Eve the electricity disappeared. On a night when everyone is already feeling wild and heady, when safety is a buzzword for just one night in Nairobi and the night air is already infecting everyone with danger and bravery the last thing you need is a blackout. The thing that happens when all the above is mixed with an inky blackness is that…people will have sex on the street and this is what happened. She was an unfortunate ear witness to this and here she was reliving these moments instead of having drinks with the prime minister. They navigate through this maze and get a taxi to the party place.

As the clock strikes twelve they are still in the taxicab. So they shared this moment, this once in a year moment that people infuse with such expectation and symbolism that it can’t help but to disappoint while still groaning like atlas with the weight of the year turning on his shoulder. This moment they shared with each other, relieving all the glories and disappointments of the past year, the ups and downs and arguments that inevitably come with relationships, the sense of history that such moments always give. They shared all of this with each other and the cabdriver (a guy who they weren’t even sure s a we were four fan). The curtain of privacy was not drawn instead a window of awkwardness descended separating them from each other as the clock struck midnight

A few minutes after midnight they got to the party venue. Eric called Eric and they were collected. They walked into the compound where the party was happening and were led to the epicenter of the action.

The epicenter of the epicenter was an old lady, the grandmother of one of Eric’s contemporaries. She was leading the crowd around her in an impassioned prayer in kikuyu to the lord. Thanking him for taking them through one more year. There was a decidedly calm atmosphere, the kind that can only be achieved by having people who had seen at least 30 such events and others who had seen more than 60. Not exactly a wearied countenance at the prospect of another year but none of the surprise that another year had passed characteristic of youth which always resulted in such fervour. Their night’s adventure’s seemed to have screeched if not to a halt at least to a slow crawl so slow it could be likened to the rate of temperature change due to global warming(3 degrees in 100 years, really? Really?)

When people are faced with a change in circumstance, suddenly surrounded by the collective wisdom of the ages, in a state of spiritual stupor, experiencing the New Year in a sober adult way and all the above is mixed with anger at Eric for so obviously misleading them only one thing can happen… they had sex….no of course not they just burst out laughing.