This world, he said while he slowly ashed his cigarette against the charred log, it’s not ready to be kind to people like you.
People like me. Still, he was trying to be kind, and the night was more conversational than confrontational. I stayed silent.
Everyone knows that things are messed up. It’s apparent. There’s no hiding what lies beneath the surface of every city, every development, every space. Space – it’s such a non word. It doesn’t really mean anything, yet it means something very specific. And we’re all watching, trying. Cleaning is long and tedious work. People don’t go quietly into the future. They are dragged along by the cruel hands of time kicking and screaming against it.
Amidst all this people make decisions to make the present liveable, and some of those decisions are not things that you will agree with. Some of those decisions go completely against the grain of creating a better present for other people.
The whiskey was beginning to take his toll. His eyes glazed over. He was not talking to an audience now. He was not speaking to me. It was as if I was eavesdropping on his thoughts.
Resources. That’s the thing right there. Making liveable presents is about resources and resources have always been unevenly distributed. So how do you start?
You are the one who says things must be changed, answer me.
(so he was talking to me)
Tell me. What’s the first step? How do we move from here, he was drawing in the sand now, to there?
The first time I met her she was with someone else.
I should have taken that as a sign, but I’ve always been more interested in finding things out than in reading signs. And she had more mystery around her than any puzzle I had ever met.
The second time I met her she was with someone else.
Still, it takes more than one person to make two different pieces of a puzzle. And I still hadn’t learned how to read the signs.
The universe, it is said, has more stars than there are grains of sand on the beach. To imagine then that we are the only life in the universe is a failure of the imagination. Still, we are guided by the principle that human beings are the most intelligent species. And, of that intelligence there is one other human that will complete you.
This is according to us.
The story remains largely unchallenged.
I was on Haile Selassie avenue on 7th august 1998. The day between my birthday and my grandmother’s birthday my father’s office went up in smoke – He wasn’t around.
Tragedy is never personal.
Tragedy is always personal.
With my head pressed down to my seat by my aunt I have no visual memory of the time except my sister’s shoes and the odd shaped pattern of the mats in the car.
That and the sound of screaming, tears and a second detonation.
A few days later I wrote a composition about it. Mrs Dhanji told my mum that it was one of the best compositions she had read in a while. This was probably said more for my benefit than for anything else, but I was a child and the ways of flattery were yet to make themselves apparent to me. And saying that we’d been there only earned me a sharp look.
I haven’t written as excellent a composition since – at least none that earned as open praise. I keep trying though.
By the time I managed to ask her out my anxiety was through the roof. “Don’t say the wrong thing,” which always ended up in saying the wrong thing became my mantra. Somehow though I survived. I still don’t know how the transition was made, but somehow it was.
I only have 4 different types of dreams. The story is always changing but there have been only four different models of dream that I can recall. I say recall because every morning is an effort to grasp traces from the dream world before they are lost forever.
Three of these four variations are completely irrelevant to anything that I’m writing about.
The fourth variation is always set in high school. I’m in fourth form and KCSE is right around the corner. I haven’t studied. Even though I know this, it isn’t important, the hustle and bustle of last minute study only provides a backdrop to whatever else is happening. Often I’m trying to break into an activity of sorts but a deficiency presents itself. Too something or the other to fit into any crowd I begin to walk towards Death Valley.
Death Valley is a back path between James house and Kenyatta house. It is called Death Valley because it cuts across the school farm and is very precarious when muddy. There are stories of people who died in the area but I fail to see how the drop could cause a death – and I know enough to disbelieve urban legend.
Somewhere halfway through death valley the dream changes. I find myself coming out on the other side of the school in a fresh set of uniform. Sunday best. A classmate (none in particular, this role seems to be played by the person who I met latest, or failure to that, my form one bunkmate) runs over to tell me the bus is leaving. I know I’m meant to be on that bus. We dash across the quadrangle and make it onto the bus – it’s full. Clearly we are going somewhere exciting.
Music exam practicals are always a thing of anxiety. You picked the best of the first formers to dance for you, you learned the prerequisite song in your mother tongue. I sit on the bus, sure I’ll fail. Everyone else is just excited to leave school. We go into quabbz (kabz? Qabz? It always had an obscure spelling) and I get ready for it. Despite my anxiety everything seems to be going well, I even begin to relax.
Then I know it’s beginning to fall apart. It’s like driving down a road and suddenly up ahead you see the rest of the road disappear. There are two seconds between where you are and the end. They last forever. By the second you have decided to ride gallantly into the darkness.
I wake up.
I can’t say I wasn’t warned – but so was she.
There are times in my life that I have felt like the road ahead has disappeared. Like my dream, panic and anxiety take hold of me. In silence I steel myself and try to only speak what is necessary. I bite my tongue as I wait for the next part of the world to reveal itself. Often, instead, I find myself in a space where there is nothing except the echo of an engine that is running out of petrol.
There is a gap between here and there.
The echoes are yet to point me in the direction of the nearest petrol station.