Short Story: Street Lives

A bulb flickers, vomiting brown light on my desk, giving my writing pad a brown hue, like an old Nation paper at the National Archives. I’m seated, pencil in hand, hunched for three hours and nothing seems to give. So many half-finished poems. Most are skeletons, inadequate, and need flesh to give them a spirit and a path. The night folds her sleeping mat and stands it against the wall then swings open the door and welcomes the day. It is 6AM.

I moved here last month. It is better than my former boxed space and there is power. I write and write into the wee hours. I want to take a dump but there is no water so I contract my anal muscles and pee, stooped at an angle to avoid knocking my head on the shower head. Hot urine bathe the blackened bowl, die to a trickle, a drop, then I zip up. I kick an empty bottle of Harpic power cleaner when walking out. It rolls and rests beneath the rusted taps. A pile of unwashed utensils sits on a sink just outside the bathroom door. I pinch my nostrils to escape the stench of rotting onions, tomatoes, and sukumawiki from a black polythene bag under the sink. Cockroaches scurry from the sink to the polythene. A few travel all the way to the back of a large third-hand Samsung bridge leaning on my desk but it is empty and damp. They rejoin their nibbling fellows on the sink.

I live here with my girlfriend. She is asleep now. My girlfriend is always sleeping. Her hair is long and spread-out on her naked shoulders. She has the allure of Middle-Eastern beauty. Her hands are henna’d. Her nails are manicured. She cannot cook Ugali for fear of ruining her hands. I do it myself like Mom taught me twenty two years ago. Ours is a queen-and-drone affair. I do all the work while my dainty Somali queen sleeps. I cannot complain. She is an Arabian charm, very portent. She is witches’ brew. Her sweetness is mysterious like the Summoning Powers of Alladin. I cannot afford to lose her so I just ignore her laziness. I’ve since ripped my father’s ‘Guidelines on Choosing a Good Wife’ and burnt the pieces.

I look at my incomplete verses and worry. My Editor did not like the recent submissions.

“Most are wingless and boring,” he said “the rest are dead.”

I stood numb watching his right hand poke a biro into a bush of white hair. His left rubbed droopy eyelids beneath round spectacles. When he was done with scratching his scalp, he dug deep into a drawer and pulled a brown envelope.

“These are the edits,” he said “animate the boring and resurrect the dead.”

I picked my drafts and left.

I walk to the window and see thin rays of flight jostling for space between trees and buildings. On the streets below, humans emerge from apartments and pour onto the streets.

I’m very hungry but the pile on the kitchen sink, ah! It is simple to wash a plate and a mug, but not very easy to scrub Ugali cemented on Sufurias. My girlfriend is still sleeping, snoring, short rapid snores, as if a black rhino is chasing her. She hates rhinos and warthogs. She thinks they are ugly and she hates ugly things. She hates bats too for the same reason. If there were eggs in the house, I’d have sacrificed to scrub one Sufuria, heat some water – one part for washing a mug and plate and the other part for tea – and fried eggs. I tiptoe to bed and join her. She turns but does not wake up. I pull the duvet to my shoulders and snuggle close to her. It is warm than at the desk. Her face is turned away from me and my crotch is on her bum. Her rapid snores come back. I close my eyes and surrender to sleep to escape the hunger.

The room is brightly lit when I wake up. I can tell it is midday from the weird screams from children, clashing of plates at Mama Nekesa’s house, loud storying from the verandah and barbarous shouts from Majengo guys.  A new apartment is being constructed opposite and will block my view of the streets and increase my electricity bills by cutting off natural light. There is no water for bathing, only for cooking and washing utensils. I get out of bed quietly not to wake her, use her towel to wipe my face and neck, put on a tee and a pair of jeans, ease my feet on plastic sandals, grab the backpack, quietly open the door, close the door, and walk out.

An eatery is just four blocks away, one of the many stand-at-the-counter-pay-and-wait-to-be-served fast food joints. I whisk out a two-hundred-shillings-note from my breast pocket and order a plate of fries and chicken thighs. It is a small thigh. My girlfriend distrusts small thighs. She thinks they are vulture thighs. Sometime back a journalist captured street children hunting vultures at Dandora dump site, slaughtering, throwing away the head and legs, and selling the rest as chicken to the public. I don’t care whether it is chicken or vulture. I sit down and feast. It is a tall stool and my feet hang. But when your mouth is full with chips and chicken/vulture thighs you are a happy man. I smile at me on the mirrored walls. The mirror smiles back.

I have been struggling to find the best words to tell my girlfriend about my intentions to make a pilgrimage to the streets to resurrect my poems. I have not found the right words. I’m afraid she may scoff it off. She dilates her eyes when she picks my writing pad, reads a line or two with a pout, sighs when she hands it to me. I wish she could say something. With the last piece of chicken/vulture thigh safely deposited in my stomach, I text her about this pilgrimage thing and she replies ‘when?’ and I say ‘it is supposed to start today’ and she says ‘k’ and I think she goes back to sleep.

I walk out into overflowing pavements filled with hardworking Kenyans and feel guilty for not building the nation. I enter Mututhos. A bar of falling paints and dim lights. It is four-thirty and Kamande wa Kioi is playing. Muthoni gives me a bottle of Napoleon brandy, the ka-quarter one, and a wet glass. Professor Mutua walks in. He is a one coat man. He sees me and grins. I grin too. He comes and we fist-bump. He sits across and orders a glass. Muthoni gives him a wet glass. We share Napoleon brandy. Glass after glass. It burns the chips and chicken/vulture thighs in my stomach. Sweat flows from my forehead to the tip of my nose. I wipe it with the back of my hand before it drops on my Napoleon.

Mutua is in his late fifties, lives in hotels and never married. He was my lecturer at the University of Nairobi, African Literature class. When I first told him of my plans to have a short stint on the streets, he said something like “there’s freedom on the streets because such a patched existence forces one to embrace fate. When one is at peace with their fate, they have conquered destiny.”

He understands.

“This is the day Prof,” I remind him.

“It always worthy to sacrifice for what you love,” he says.

I remember him saying these same words in class five years ago.

“Muthoni!” Mutua calls and points to our table. Another Napoleon arrives.  We burn our livers.

“Do you honestly think it’s worthwhile?”I ask.

“Don’t concentrate on the act of writing itself. Look at the stories that will grow out of the experience. You’re humanizing poetry.”

Muthoni brings the bill and places it between our glasses. Prof picks it and naturally drifts to mental mathematics. The tally is accurate. He fishes a one-thousand-shilling note from a notebook in his breast pocket and clears the bill. He downs his glass.

“I have to go. I have a makeup class very early in the morning,” he says and adds “be safe.” He rises and leaves.

I down my glass too and leave. Last week when looking for a safe spot to pitch a tent, I made new friends – Tonsil and Mikael, and ignited an old friendship with Patience, a woman I met at Mututhos bar.

I wrote this poem to describe them.

A potpourri of inner city delinquents

hunched over empty bellies – reminisce

about dead lives and rainy days.

My idea was to live with them long enough to hear their stories and map their lives on poems. I pitched the tent and Tonsil and Mikael agreed to live in it and protect it. I also gave them some money so they don’t sell the tent.

I text my girlfriend ‘heading to the tent now’ and she replies ‘k’ and I type ‘have you eaten’ and she replies ‘not yet, don’t feel like’ and I reply ‘miss you’ and she replies ‘miss you and love you. Be safe’.

The streets have thinned of people and not many can dare the alleys at this time of the night. I pass a few street boys, storying on the bridge, and locate the tent. The air is foul. It has not rained for awhile and Nairobi River boasts of raw waste flowing at a painstakingly slow speed. I look at the sky bathed by city lights and glimpse darkening clouds. If it rains the waste will be diluted and the air cleaned.

Three boys are sitting inside the tent, smoking a joint. Tonsil and Mikael and … I don’t recall ever seeing the other boy.

“Ah vipi buda?” I say fist-bumping Tonsil and Mikael.

“Si mbaya” Mikael says.

Tonsil says ‘Zak’ when my eyes and hand turn to the third. I sit down.

“Toa mbao nibambe ki-stick hapa kwa bridge?” Zak asks.

I rummage through my pockets and locate a twenty-shilling coin and give it to Zak to get himself a joint.

“Thanks bruh. Poa poa maboys?” Zak says bidding farewell and giving me a pat on the back.

“Sasawa” Mikael replies and Zak walks out.

We light a tire outside the tent and sit on concrete blocks around the flames.

Tonsil is a large man. His eyes are jicho nyanya and his nose is wide and conspicuous. His neck is a trunk of a young tree and his torso protrudes forward aggressively. But Tonsil’s heart is a flower. His voice, though booming and rough on the edges, has a caressing quality about it. He is slow in speech. Words crawl from his vocal cords tired and unprepared for the long flight to a listener’s ear. Out of fifty or so words his vocal cords creates, only a handful – let’s say ten – succeeds in entering the conversation.

“Naona umeamua kucome at last. Vipi lakini? He says.

“Niko good,” I say “nimechapa Napoleon kiasi hapo juu ndio nipate psyche.” I say.

I pull out my writing pad and try to get a few conversations rolling before these guys zonk out.

“By the way I was not born here on the streets,” he mutters “I came here after getting tired of the many Approved Schools dad was taking me.”

“Why not normal schools?” I ask.

“I had mad temper. Always got me into shit. And I was huge even in primo. Beating kids up and down. I got expelled.” Words crawl out of his mouth.

“Approved ilisaidia?”

“Wapi! If Approved saidiad I’d not been here. Kwanza it made it worse man. I become a beast. They threw me to those delinquent prisons. Messed me up big time.”

Mikael was younger. I think less than 15 years from the looks. I turned to him and even before I said anything he was onto it.

“I was the brightest student in the class,” shouts Mikael elated at the opportunity to advertise his childhood achievements to a willing ear.

“We all were,” Tonsil rapped “hakuna mjinga hapa.”

“Envy! Envy!” says Mikael in a brotherly taunt. “I was tops in KCPE but no fees for High School,”he adds.

“Tops in your class huh!” I ask, bemused.

“Top of the class! But my Certificates burnt down with our house. Mom fled thinking I’d been burnt to ashes. I’ve never seen her since.”

We all make faces and burst in laughter.

Small men have an unnatural propensity to balloon their achievements, but this is what I needed. Real lives. Prof Mutua used to say poetry is a nude form of literature, unembarrassed about its wanton demands. One day he said something like “good art is like fart, it must be convincingly loud and pungent to cause mass effect.” The whole class laughed until ribs hurt.

“I think the raw experience of living homeless on the streets can inject you with the kind of experience you need to write loud heart-rending and socially-pungent poems. Poems that cannot be imprisoned, executed, or un-memoried by society.” He said the first time I talked to him about my Editor’s comments.

After a long silence Tonsil says, “If I had a son, I’d be the greatest father in the whole world. I would try to give my son what I was not given.”

“But you could have a son” I say, “You could marry. I have seen families here.”

“I’ve never had it easy with women, Smokescreen.” That is the nickname Tonsil had branded me. “I’ve never really been in what you can call a relationship. The only time was close is when I used to storm some house for free sex every single night.”

“Free sex or rape?” Mikael inquires.

Nobody answers.

Despite his exuberance, Mikael is a dying animal. During the day, he shuffles his spindly frame tossed about by the city’s gust. His clothes have ceased hugging his body. They fall off for fear of being grazed by his thorny shoulder blades. Sometimes his clothes fall off him, exposing his limp flaking penis. Everybody ignores him but he lights up every time one treats him like a human being. So he shares his misfortunes with random people on the streets hoping to find someone to talk to.

“I had loved her so much. I had loved her so madly.” There is a new fervency in Tonsil’s voice. “ Good Lord! How I loved the woman!”

He is earnest. The slowness of his vocal cords does not interrupt the fierceness of his fervour. He pulls his concrete seat away from the shouting flames and lies on his back.

A heap of black ash around the tent tells of stories from hundreds of such conversations. I listened and documented them over the past week. Without knowing a day has turned to a week. My girlfriend is okay. She texts ‘I miss you. love you. be safe’ before she sleeps every day. I miss her and love her too.

It is my turn to scavenge for the family today. I walk out of the tent and see Patience. We have not talked much since I came here. I need to talk to her again.

“Can I drop by later in the evening?” I ask her

She inspects my bushy moustache and smiles.

“You know you can always drop in anytime Smokescreen!” She replies with a noncommittal tilt of the neck. Her daughter cries and she walks back to the shack.

I walk towards the line of shops on Kirinyaga Road. Behind the Car Parts and Spares shops are garages. A residential apartment is squeezed between every four or five shops, only identifiable by heavy wooden doors spotting Hindu gods. I pass two other apartments and find a big blue bin, three-feet tall and stuffed to the brim. Its insides boast an assortment of tropical fruits. Oranges, mangoes, and bananas, are half-bitten and mixed with Kothimbir Vadi, Rajma Chana Salat, and Murgh Tikka Masala in various states of decay.

I go back to the tent and we eat until food flows to our beards.

Guided by the roaring flames, I write:

Dustbins;

remnants of dead experiences,

laugh at the vanity of our desires.

The nights are either cold or warm. On warm nights we sleep early. On cold nights such as this, the concrete blocks inside the tent are always occupied. But today only Mikael is here. I listen as wind gobbles his coughs and snores. It rains. The tent dances. Mikael sleeps through the splatter. I unclothe and walk into the rain. I have not bathed for almost two weeks now. An evil pool has collected on the roof. I push my finger on its belly and smile as the tiny rivulets flow on the sides to collect in poodles at the base. Clothed, I ease myself on the damp sleeping mat. Every wisp of wind nibbles my cold flesh pulling my skin taut. I don’t know when I slept but when I wake up, the sun has a smile on his face.

I sink into my writing pad.

The last pockets of darkness dissolve, the sun pokes the misty morning, the birds join in a disjointed chorus, a flock of vultures descend on the dumping site, and crowded silhouettes in the distance become apartments.

Mikael thrusts his right hand before my eyes. His left hand holds his wooly trousers slightly above his waist. A fraying belt cuts his abdomen.

“How is the day so far?” he says in the middle of a loud yawn.

“Si mbaya.” I say and get back to my writing.

I met Patience last year at Mututhos bar, just after she was fired and Muthoni took her place. I told her I was a writer and she asked me to squeeze her into one of my many stories. I promised, as part of my bargaining strategy to get laid. Two-hundred shillings was what I paid.

“Where did you go?” I asked her when I saw her a week ago after so many months.

“My life went south. I tried to get a job but I was on drugs so things just went down and down then my landlord threw me out so I went to live there,” she said pointing a makeshift shelter not far from where I was pitching a tent.

“What are you doing here?”she asked.

“It’s a long story. We can have a long chat once I’m done with this,” I said. “Do you know these guys?” I asked pointing at Tonsil and Mikael standing at a distance.

“Not very but their names are not bad here.”

Patience is beautiful. Not the beauty of my girlfriend, but a different shade. My girlfriend is a rose, dainty but useless in the sun. Patience is a cactus, succulent but resilient. She walks around with a halo of regality. I enter her makeshift shelter tortured with doubt. My writing pad is wrapped in a manila folder and hidden from inquisitive pries.

“She was not there when we met last year. Tell me about her,” I say my eyes on the little girl.

She smiles at my attempts to win a conversation. There was nothing untoward in her shelter, except a smudge on her bib and used diapers shooting an offending odour from the corner.

“Ah really? Nothing interesting. She is the child of an invisible rapist. I told you my life went south. So there is this guy who came to my shelter when I had blacked out and raped me. Not once.”

“Let me get this clear. So a guy comes here, rapes you every single night, doesn’t say shit to you, and flees into the darkness?”

“Not here though,” she cuts “I used to live further down but in a shelter like this.”

“Lover or rapist?”

“I don’t even know whether rapist is the right word. After the second time I kinda urged him on. I could pretend I was asleep but I was right there participating. You lose so much here on the streets. You stop to care about boundaries. Anything goes.”

There was no remorse in her narration. Just dry facts I could bleed no further.

“Did you ever get to see him?”

“No. It’s dark here you can’t see nothing. But I heard his voice once. I didn’t get what he was saying but he was slow talking guy.”

“Why did you urge him on?”

“That’s a difficult one. I don’t really know why,” she says “first I played dead because he would have killed me if I screamed then I thought why not? You see my life was already dead. What was there to lose? I felt I had lost everything in life and I had lost the power to refuse any kind of human contact.”

I lift my eyes and look at her ashen face. Her voice is carefree, whistling like leaves carried on wind’s back.

“I’m glad he came” she says rocking her daughter. “I realized I could still feel. I was still human. Before I could think of how to put my life together, I had her,” she says “I have no regrets. Having her changed my life. Maybe one day she will know her Daddy.”

Could this Daddy be Tonsil? I thought.

“Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and the world cries with you,” my grandmother used to say. She was right. I pick the baby from her. She is just like her mother. Fair skin, high cheek-bones, and white eyes.

***

My pilgrimage has ended. I go through some lines I wrote yesterday.

Twice I crossed the river in search of Self

and sat at the foot of the mountain;

Lost.

The house feels strange for a minute before the pictures begin arranging themselves on my mind. The flickering bulb, lavatory/bathroom at the far end, the shower head and blackening bowl, the cistern, the rusted taps, the kitchen sink, Samsung fridge, and my sleeping girlfriend. Even the foulness of Nairobi River and rotting Kothimbir Vadi is replaced by the stinging stench of rotten onions, tomatoes, and sukumawiki under the sink.

I open the window and dump the black polythene bag on the streets below.

A heap of poems builds at the back of my mind like the city’s dump – nauseating and inescapable. Titleless and jumbled-up, they writhe and wait to be inscribed. Hands, afraid to lose the energies of channeling, hurriedly write stanza after stanza. Intricate metrical compositions cross out blank pages with slanting scribbles of street-dirt and ink drops of human spirit. Like inaudible whispers, unnoticed swirls of imprisoned thoughts break free – taking guarded refuge between faint lines.

There are pots of gold in the city’s bowel

rich human tears and skins that praise the sun;

beneath filth, hope and beauty lives.

I drown into a leisurely wash relishing the memories of street lives.

I have a meeting with my Editor today. The spartanly furnished Publishing House rests on the crest of an old colonial relic. I meander past the swinging doors and take the stairs to the Editor’s office.

 

Excerpts of an ongoing work (Novel)

His life was a wire. A rusted copper wire heaped on the outskirts of Sigwembe village market. Rusted and twisted, no different from the humdrum life of muffled voices. The village had stopped talking, stopped farming, stopped dancing. And even though worms wriggled out of decaying sons discarded on the narrow footpaths, mothers had stopped mourning. Fathers sat on the broad Makhamia lutea leaves spread on earth. They had stopped talking about burials. Let the earth drink their blood. Let the brown earth swallow their sons.

Joseph leaned on waist-length thrushes that formed a hedge around his hut. It was early morning. The sun’s smile was that of a genial father, and with every widening of the mouth, blades of grass lost moisture to thirsty air. He lowered his trousers and squatted to give back to the earth what he had borrowed. Ants circled his heels and edged closer to have a bite. One bite, two bites, three bites, four bites – rapacious ants! Done, he pulled up his trousers and whistled, walking towards Our Lady of Mary Catholic Parish.

The war had swindled the village out of young men. Farms lay in idle wait for strong arms to break the top skin. Cultivated farms are more receptive to raindrops. Cultivated farms hate runoff. Joseph knew it was just two weeks to planting time but he had lost interest in farming. He was not a poor man but certainly not rich by city standards. He would survive with whatever was in store, or he would scavenge.

Joseph remembered the days before the ethnic clashes began. Days when the land of forests was a haven of laughter! He recalled the evening banters around liquor pregnant pots. The mornings when birds stood in line and joined in dawn chorus to wake lazy households. Now birds no longer sing because there is no village to wake. The war had gulped all the schools. It had spit fire to grass thatched huts. He remembered how smoke had conquered the skies and brought darkness to the village at midday. Not even the sun’s rays could kiss the brown earth. And the melee and cries of devastation! Not even the wind dared to carry the secret to Tulo village – an hour’s walk away.

He was happy to be alive. No. He was lucky to be alive. He would have been gone too. The few who remained after the war were ensnared by the military units that were deployed to bring back sanity to the land of forests, a move that went with the sanity of the village. Tears became a common sight in young girls’ cheeks and mothers hid their agony behind a flurry of activity. Every time the sight of Jungle Green-Black Khaki sagging on huge soldier boots flew into their memories – they cried one more time, soundlessly.

But the war had taught Joseph a lesson. The war had taught him that human life is no different from that of an ant. But ants were more intelligent – more brotherly. Life, he surmised, was a cesspit of smaller deaths.

The church bells started ringing. Joseph’s feet flattened the long grass lining the footpaths. He kicked mud off his akala on the stone steps and passed the heavy wooden doors of the church. The church was half-dark. Fibreglass corrugated sheets shot rectangles of light to the fraying floor. An extremely delicate sonorous symphony pierced the silence to welcome the Priest.

Father John Ward opened his eyes and automatically counted the few derelicts in the congregation. He kissed the crucifix out of habit and growled:

“In the Name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit” He made the symbol of the cross, “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

“The Lord be with you.” Faint voices emerged from the semi-darkness.

He was the only Servant of God in the expansive ruin. The green land that had once been under the fangs of a rebel outfit now lay bare. Not even the yell of hungry children punctuated weaverbird chatters. Father John knew that most of the men who came to the mid-morning mass were living alone, as hermits, in the middle of the forest. He knew one or two of them at a personal level, or better who they had been before the war. War changes men. Women never came to the church. They sought God within the quiet agony of their leaking roofs.

“Brothers and Sisters, lets us acknowledge our sins, that we may prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.”

There was a brief pause, deliberate and meditative, and then charged by sips of introspection, the congregation wailed:

“I confess to Almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, and I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault; therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-virgin, all the Angels and Saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God”

Father John’s voice screamed in the intervening silence.

“Have mercy on us O Lord.”

“For we have sinned against you. Show us, O Lord your mercy.” They screamed back.

“Kyrie, eleison” … “Kyrie, eleison”

“Christe, eleison” … “Christe, eleison”

Their tongues followed the Father’s tongue.

 

***

Richard Oduor

The Story Continues on Wednesday Next week (12th June, 2013)

Jalada Africa ‘Sext Me Poems & Stories’ Anthology is Out!

I’m happy to be a Jaladan. Jalada Africa is a writer’s collective created by writers who attended the 2013 Granta/Kwani?/British Writing Council Workshop. Our newest anthology is out and its boiling the airwaves.

Sext Me Poems & Stories

The idea of the project when we began talking about it was to be anything, but not moderate or be constrained by the social silence around sex. The idea is to allow writers to experiment with the extremes of their imagination in beautiful prose and style. Writing that is alive and walking on the page. The stories, mostly document a sweet reality in our daily lives and when one reads, they give the story their own voices, experiences, and imaginations, and in some beautiful kind of way catch the fun behind the writing. I think since they are clothed in real lives, real characters – most escape being branded as simple porn and nothing else. For some its sex served as adventure, for some its sex served with love, for some extremes of sex and its thoughts is presented in an open beguiling way. A reader is entreated to participate.

Read my short story KR-092 here http://jalada.org/2014/06/10/kr-092-by-richard-oduor/

Check out other stories in the anthology here http://jalada.org/2014/06/10/sext-me-poems-and-stories/

Read and tweet and Facebook

Daybreak and Other Poems by Dami Ajayi

Daybreak ArtSaraba Magazine is pleased to flag off her individual poetry chapbook series with Daybreak & other poems. This individual poetry chapbook series project is another rigorous attempt at showcasing Modern Nigerian, and indeed, African poetry written by Nigerians and Africans residing within the country and continent.

Daybreak is a suite of fourteen poems described as “fine narratives laden with the beauty of verse”. With expansive themes ranging from dreams to memories, love to lust, longing to grief, these poems are deeply rooted in our contemporary world and exalt audacious truths that need to be addressed.

Dami  Ajayi is the Co-publisher/ Fiction Editor of Saraba Magazine. A medical doctor who moonlights as a writer, his poems have been anthologized to a worldwide audience. His acclaimed debut volume of poems, Clinical Blues, which has notoriously stayed out of print, was shortlisted for the inaugural Melita Hume Prize in manuscript form.  He lives in Lagos.

To get your copy click on the link below!

Download and Enjoy

Diaries of the Living Dead #3

White tents sat on their shadows. Black ants nibbled crumbs and circled iron restraints that married tents to the earth. Inside were families whose huts were licked clean by the flames. Only huts in the East had escaped the lust of violence. But the ashes were now impregnated and unable to swirl in the wind. The rains had come. There were needles of grass on the ruins and chatters swam atop cries of hungry children. There were no buildings of note. Even in the East a child could count the remaining huts with his fingers and toes. In fact, St. Mary Our Lady Catholic Parish was the only stone monstrosity in the village. If one stood on the steps of the church, his eyes bit a huge chunk of the land of the forest in a single gaze.

Before the war, huts had conquered the East and Central region. The West was where maize stalks swayed. Even now, there were patches of green splendour in farms that had heeded the early rains. The Central where the Chief’s throne had once occupied, together with surrounding homes, was now swathed in white tents with red crosses on their sides. If one was a bird flying a thousand metres above, Sigwembe village was akin to an amoeba – an uneven edged globule in the middle of a green field. It was a drop of humanity thrown in the middle of a jungle.

Shakombo’s drum rested on his back and with each step towards the centre of the village, the number of children calling his name increased. Their plea was one: ‘Please tap so that we can dance.’ With a good-natured smile, he promised them a treat the day after. Still, some jumped and hung on his strong arms. He let them swing to their fill.

He could see Joseph ambling forward. “If he is not careful, he will lose his mind too,” he thought and hastened his pace.

But Joseph knew that the dignity of a man is his loincloth. If a sane King were to walk down the streets naked, the youngest child would pronounce him a madman. Such is the assumption that guides people’s understanding every time their eyes set on a naked dirty man on the streets. His skin was chaffed, his hair matted, and trickles of unswallowed food wet his hairy chest. Children would have been scared stiff, if there weren’t too many madmen in the village.

“A single stool is unsightly, but what is a massive dump to a man’s eye?” Joseph mused silently, watching the madman.

Abundance, even of evil, dampens the nerves. He had known the madman just like the many, who now watched him collecting all the polythene bags jiggling everywhere. He was now a self appointed god of environmentalism. His trail was clean. Those who had hated him in his former self sneered. The great majority saw no difference between the naked men and their own selves.

A queue snaked through the village. It was long and winding, a tired queue. Instead of men chatting and stealing glances at women, they laid their buttocks on the damp earth and waited. At the farthest end, ringed by a pack of soldiers, was a blue container. From its belly came the people’s lifeline. Joseph walked and sat at the hopeless end of the queue. After two or three minutes, the men would stand, make two steps forward and again lower their buttocks to the damp earth. That was all they had to do until they reach the hopeful end of the queue.

Red Cross personnel crisscrossed the village with gusto, their faces painted with pity and big old love tapped beneath their ribcages. Their smiles were considered and their emotions hung on professional meters. They laughed when with their ilk, but wore craggy faces when dealing with victims. Joseph watched them with interest. He was a curious man. Not that there was anything else he could do. The plain painful life of being reduced to beggars of relief food could only be spiced by an observant eye.

A pick-up truck emblazoned with Médecins Sans Frontières logo crawled from St. Mary Our Lady Catholic Parish and set its sight on the food distribution point. Behind the wheels was Father John Ward, now on blue jeans and white Médecins Sans Frontières sweatshirt instead of the priestly garb he had spotted in the morning. He was a doctor by profession; a graduate of both the century-old University of Birmingham Medical School and Université de Franche Comté.

He fixed his eyes on the suffering mass. His heart sunk and boiled in the hydrochloric acid in his stomach. He was ashamed of his actions. Business steals the soul of a man. He had made abnormal profits smuggling guns in his holier-than- thou pick-up truck. His bank account was healthy and would remain so for quite some time, no doubt, but the smell of death had erased all the pleasure. His soul bled each time he manoeuvred his truck between mounds hiding a quarter of Sigwembe’s population. Each time a body was collected from the tall grasses, the village would walk to his doorstep and ask him to intervene on behalf of the dead. Each time he ran to the back garden and disgorged evil on the innocent greens. Not that he believed in absolute good.

Joseph stood, made two steps forward, and lowered his buttocks on the damp earth. He could see Shakombo walking to the hopeless end of the line. He sat down. Joseph watched as faces lit, each earnestly begging Shakombo to tap so that they can dance. Shakombo rubbed the tautness with his palm and hit it gently with his middle finger. A man recalled an old song. Guttural sounds escaped vocal cords that had been silenced for hours. Music cares not whether the bowel is empty. Three men arose to their feet, four men sorry. No, five men …

***
This is a continuing story, read earlier posts
Diaries of the Living Dead #1 https://richardoduor.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/diaries-of-the-living-dead-1-2/
Diaries of the Living Dead #2 https://richardoduor.wordpress.com/2013/06/12/diaries-of-the-living-dead-2/

Richard Oduor
(Next posting on Wednesday, 26th June 2013)

Diaries of the Living Dead #2

But Joseph’s words stuck on his throat, threatening to choke him. He turned his eyes to the three middle-aged men to his right. He observed their lips. Their lips moved. They trembled and quaked like walls do when the earth farts. They said something that could not be inserted in a normal sharing of words between men. They were words for God’s big ears – ears the size of ten thousand elephant ears stitched together. God’s ears hung above the earth to capture incessant pleas of man.

A hand, gently, as if afraid to arouse, landed softly on a taut drum. Shakombo was the village drummer. Every man knew the language of his drum. It melted their hearts. Not even women could avoid the seducing rumble of his drums. It melted their insides. For his skills Shakombo was, by default, the church drummer. Using only the tip of his fingers, he tapped the tautness and listened as the sound filled the trough between high pitches, and when a new verse began, he opened his palms, smacked the drum and sent waves of heavenly vibrations up the high ceiling.

The fervency of praises shot higher with every drumbeat. Shy at first, the drumbeats recoiled around cracking voices of men. Their cries slammed on walls of pretence, as each on his own way, opened his heart to God. It was a rare show of unity between men, unity created by the fear of knowing what each of them, in their own way, must hide from the society. Their deeds written three weeks ago on their collective memory were not artworks to be paraded before the world. They kept them inside their chests and in collective deceit and requested God, albeit coyly, to delete and save them from the noose of guilt.

If tears could form a waterfall, the men’s voices were an underground waterfall of tears – unseen. But Joseph’s tears did not join the waterfall. His tears had condensed into a cube of ice and settled on his throat. His tears had chained his tongue and held his voice captive. He would wait. He would wait for the day of revenge, and then shed tears of immeasurable joy.

Father John’s roar ended his reveries.

“Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, sustained by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all  distress, as  we  await  the  blessed  hope,  the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.”

Now a lone tear escaped Joseph’s left eye and walked down the side of his nose. He slid his tongue out and licked the salty tears. Peace wipes memories of war but to some, peace never returns after war. He had a family before the war. A son and a daughter whose beauty reminded him of the first time he had set his eyes on the mother of his children. His wife was Petronilla, a woman like no other.

He recalled. It was a cold rainy morning twelve years ago. The village paths were soft beneath his akala.  Insects hang on the underbelly of leaves and maize stalks danced in the wind whistling between weaverbird chatters.

Shakombo changed tact and the sound became a soft coo that was almost submerged under the shuffles of feet towards the altar.

“When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord until you come again.”

Joseph’s feet joined the trail to the feast of wheat and wine. His eyes were on Father John but his mind travelled to that footpath twelve years ago. If you want to judge a woman’s beauty meet her in the morning with specks of sleep in her eyes. Better still meet her in not-so-glamorous clothes when she’s from the farm. That was what his grandfather had always advised. That morning the truth about these droplets of advice came floating on Joseph’s eyes. Petronilla, young and supple, walked daintily with a basket of cassava balanced on her head. The white garb of the priest stood before him.

“Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”

Joseph opened his mouth and listened as words escaped from his throat.

“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

He opened his mouth and felt the soft Body of Christ being placed on his tongue. He bit it, cracking it at the centre and felt the two halves melt on his molars. He took a sip of wine. Good wine always speaks for itself, confidently and without interpreters. Still, Petronilla danced inside his head. He walked back to his seat. How times change! Twelve years were dead and forgotten. A happy marriage it was, a sad end it will be.

War changes allegiances. His wife had betrayed him, sold his confidence to her Father and brothers. Now he had no sons, no daughters and no brothers. Could he kill her? Not yet. She had run away from his house. He would seduce her. He knew her bones well enough. He would bring her home and then …

Petronilla was heavy with a son. The doctors had said so just a month ago before she ran away. Did not his grandfather teach that a child was the greatest gift from gods? A gift of mercy, a gift of forgiveness? He had been blessed with a seed for renewal. He’d wait.  He promised himself he’d wait until … His name will be Emmanuel – his saviour, the bridge to the future. And when the time comes his vengeance would be louder than that of the God of Israel. He will block her spring of life from flowing – forever, he vowed.

“Go in peace, glorifying the name of the Lord by your life,” Father John said to the dispersing faithful.

Joseph walked out into the noon-day sun.

————————END————————

If you never read Chapter 1, Click Read Diaries of the Living Dead #1 to read the previous posting

Richard Oduor

(Next posting on June 19th 2013)

Diaries of the Living Dead #1

His life was a wire. A rusted coil heaped on the outskirts of Sigwembe village market. Rusted and twisted, no different from the humdrum life of muffled voices. The village had stopped talking, stopped farming, stopped dancing. And even though worms wriggled out of decaying sons discarded on the narrow footpaths, mothers had stopped mourning. Fathers sat on the broad Makhamia lutea leaves spread on earth. They had stopped talking about burials. Let the earth drink their blood. Let the brown earth swallow their sons.

Joseph leaned on waist-length thrushes that formed a hedge around his hut. It was early morning. The sun’s smile was that of a genial father, and with every widening of the mouth, blades of grass lost moisture to thirsty air. He lowered his trousers and squatted to give back to the earth what he had borrowed. Ants circled his heels and edged closer to have a bite. One bite, two bites, three bites, four bites – rapacious ants! Done, he pulled up his trousers and whistled, walking towards St. Mary Our Lady Catholic Parish.

The war had swindled the village out of young men. Farms lay in idle wait for strong arms to break the top skin. Cultivated farms are more receptive to raindrops. Cultivated farms hate runoff. Joseph knew it was just two weeks to planting time but he had lost interest in farming. He was not a poor man but certainly not rich by city standards. He would survive with whatever was in store, or he would scavenge.

Joseph remembered the days before the ethnic clashes began. Days when the land of forests was a haven of laughter! He recalled the evening banters around liquor pregnant pots. The mornings when birds stood in line and joined in dawn chorus to wake lazy households. Now birds no longer sing because there is no village to wake. The war had gulped all the schools. It had spit fire to grass thatched huts. He remembered how smoke had conquered the skies and brought darkness to the village at midday. Not even the sun’s rays could kiss the brown earth. And the melee and cries of devastation! Not even the wind dared to carry the secret to Tulo village – an hour’s walk away.

He was happy to be alive. No. He was lucky to be alive. He would have been gone too. The few who remained after the war were ensnared by the military units that were deployed to bring back sanity to the land of forests, a move that went with the sanity of the village. Tears became a common sight in young girls’ cheeks and mothers hid their agony behind a flurry of activity. Every time the sight of Jungle Green-Black Khaki sagging on huge soldier boots flew into their memories – they cried one more time, soundlessly.

But the war had taught Joseph a lesson. The war had taught him that human life is no different from that of an ant. But ants were more intelligent – more brotherly. Life, he surmised, was a cesspit of smaller deaths.

The church bells started ringing. Joseph’s feet flattened the long grass lining the footpaths. He kicked mud off his akala on the stone steps and passed the heavy wooden doors of the church. The church was half-dark. Fibreglass corrugated sheets shot rectangles of light to the fraying floor. An extremely delicate sonorous symphony pierced the silence to welcome the Priest.

Father John Ward opened his eyes and automatically counted the few derelicts in the congregation. He kissed the crucifix out of habit and growled:

“In the Name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit” He made the symbol of the cross, “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

“The Lord be with you.” Faint voices emerged from the semi-darkness.

He was the only Servant of God in the expansive ruin. The green land that had once been under the fangs of a rebel outfit now lay bare. Not even the yell of hungry children punctuated weaverbird chatters. Father John knew that most of the men who came to the mid-morning mass were living alone, as hermits, in the middle of the forest. He knew one or two of them at a personal level, or better who they had been before the war. War changes men. Women never came to the church. They sought God within the quiet agony of their leaking roofs.

“Brothers and Sisters, lets us acknowledge our sins, that we may prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.”

There was a brief pause, deliberate and meditative, and then charged by sips of introspection, the congregation wailed:

“I confess to Almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, and I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault; therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-virgin, all the Angels and Saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God”

Father John’s voice screamed in the intervening silence.

“Have mercy on us O Lord.”

“For we have sinned against you. Show us, O Lord your mercy.” They screamed back.

“Kyrie, eleison” … “Kyrie, eleison”

“Christe, eleison” … “Christe, eleison”

Their tongues followed the Father’s tongue.

***

Richard Oduor

The Story Continues on Wednesday Next week (12th June, 2013)

The Vaginal Trilogue: Critical Conversations

Julz Amare Poeta of the 'Hisia Zangu Family'

The Poet: Julz Amare Poeta of the ‘Hisia Zangu Family’

The poem ‘The Vaginal Trilogue’ is a poem in three parts by Julz Amare Poeta ala The Black Widow (both pen names). Part one, entitled ‘The Vaginal Trilogue: The Ruling’ sets the stage of the defensive that can only come from a person who holds dear the women species. The first stanza goes:

“Herein is the verdict of the case of the Host Female Vs the “Society”.

In the matter of ascertaining ownership of the vagina,
As a tangible and intellectual property,
And award of right of use and proper acknowledgement!

The persona in the poem is of the opinion that ‘Host Female’ has been subjected to constant ridicule, mockery and taunts of the way she uses her God given organ that is the vagina by the ‘Society.’ This is apparent in the second stanza whereby the persona rails in hammers and tongs:  

“It was proven that there were attempts made by the “Society” at
Hostile possession of the vagina by a number of “sex advice” columns,
Which were geared at influencing the choice and number of tenant,”    

The dialogue is between the ‘Host Female’ and the ‘Society’ and there are accusations and counter-accusations of the “misappropriation of the vagina.” Society alleges that the vagina is being used in most inappropriate ways “as a tool of extortion of tenants.” In this case, tenants symbolize those who get the opportunity to interact with the organ in the coitus business. Further, the ‘Society’ cites cases whereby the ‘Host Female’ has used their female power of sexual appeal and image to secure jobs and promotions, climb the social ladder and trap men in marriages (Line 9, 10, 11, stanza 3).

The last stanza is an assurance. For the ‘Host Female’ has been suddenly hoisted on the pedestal of a plaintiff. May be to draw sympathy. To provoke tears of the crocodile. The constant misuse of sexual image that has been exploited by ladies to attain unwarranted advantages in different life spheres are wholesomely lumped as ‘criminal acts’ accusations (Line 20, stanza 6). This suggests that the court has the jurisdiction to punish in terms of eviction those who fail to recognize the sanctity of the vagina. And in dire consequences, a fine, pap!

 

The second part is called ‘The Vaginal Trilogue: Dear Yoni.’ This part is detached from its predecessor. Call it worlds apart as the East and the West. The persona laments that he knows nothing about this Yoni. However, the persona happily highlights the mysteries surrounding his object.

“Your thoughts are an alien to me,
Your actions all the more beguilling,
I have sought your depth,
In the basest of shallows,
Wanting only your nurturing warmth.”
At the expense of your knowledge.

I feel nothing is of importance to the second part of the trilogy because there is no connection to the first part. The enigma and the heroic concealment of Yoni’s nature and character does not relate to the well prepared defense in the first part. The second part, therefore, is better taken away to give the poem a uniform flow of thought and dialogue.

The third part and the last titled ‘The Vaginal Trilogue: The Vaginal Apocalypse’ finally shakes the foundations of the thesis that was presented in the first part. No words are minced. No lip-synching. The first stanza reads:

“The die has been cast,
And it has come to pass,
An apocalypse is afoot,
Upon friend and foe alike!”

Here the poet’s diction comes alive than ever. Several poetic devices have been interspersed in order to bring the full effect of an apocalypse. The final truth. Expose of the decade somehow. Alliteration dances with delight in the second stanza, line 2 as follows: “Nor in girlish giggling…” The first line of the third stanza has onomatopoeia of “sound like Hoo Hah.”

This last part is symbolically empowering womanhood. It is ranting against abuse of sexuality. Sexual misogyny and the objectification of women that we see especially in popular music videos. The persona does not want the ‘apocalypse’ that is a metaphoric term for womanhood to be ‘reduced to some inanimate object.” Something ‘To be poled, rammed or pounded (by) any and every phallic projection!” In other words, the apocalypse is like the famous poem by Gil Scott Heron ‘Revolution Will Not be Televised.’ The persona rightly cautions that ‘…this apocalypse is faithful and pure in tantric union.’

The complete declaration is wrapped in six-line stanza with short lines revealing the magnificence and literary value of words.  The persona quips, I bet with a promising tone:
“This apocalypse is vaginal,
The reason for which we are termed women,
A symbol of life and of love will come,
As an epiphany to women,
As a revelation to men
And a realization to society.”

The poem is a worthy read because the poet opens your eyes with the experimentation of a word deemed taboo in most African societies. Vagina! Did you just say that?

By Amol Awuor

 

To read the poems go to click the links below

The Vaginal Trilogue Part 1: The Ruling

The Vaginal Trilogy Part 2: Dear Yoni

The Vaginal Trilogue Part 3: The Vaginal Apocalypse

 

“Elephants Chained to Big Kennels” by Mehul Gohil: A Review

Mehul 2

This is not your usual story. It’s demented and insane; it’s absurd and hangs on geographical pinpoints. It floats over the Kenyan territory, over Nairobi.

Mehul’s stories are always travelling, restless demented travails from ghettos to suburban, from bewitched urbane scented accents on Kenyatta Avenue and Koinange streets to the necessity of crudeness and jostling along Landhies road and downtown winding narrow streets, only to stop briefly and gaze at a bunch of yellow bananas at Wakulima Market. Rift Valley. The Signpost to Mumbai.

If art is a product of the environment, then Mehul’s art is obviously a product of his mind environment. Halfway through the story one feels like it’s not a story being read but an anime being watched.

Our attention is captured by two characters; Cephas and Erebus. These names sound like that of twin aliens released to map Nairobi streets with nothing else, but a pair of tickets to justify their meanders. The conversation is unrestrained by conventional mores and falls flatly on Nairobi’s oft celebrated civilized blabber that unfortunately gets tainted by tangs of tribal tongues.

The name ‘Cephas’ has its origin in biblical mythology. Theologians contend that Apostle Peter and Cephas is one and the same person reported in the Epistle to the Galatians. John 1:42 – “And Andrew led him (Simon) to Jesus. But Jesus looking upon him, said, ‘Thou art Simon, the son of John: thou shalt be called Cephas’ (which is interpreted Peter).” Simeon Kaipha =Simon Cephas = Simon Peter.  Kaipha” is the Aramaic equivalent for “rock”; whence the Latin “Petrus,” from “petra” = “rock”). We won’t go into the counterargument, that’s for another class.

‘Erabus’ seems to originate from ancient Greek mythology on ‘Erebus’ or ‘Erebos’ meaning a “deep darkness, shadow”. Erebus is a conception of a primordial deity that represents the personification of darkness. Greek literature also associates Erabus with the underworld.

I digressed into biblical textual criticism because the author cites John 1:5 as the inspiration for the story. For less biblical savvy folks, the verse says: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome. Thus, a closer look confirms that the theme of the story is primarily driven by the characterization.

The language is fast, confusing, and enticing. Some descriptions will make you laugh until you shit on yourself. Let’s take a walk through the story.

How is downtown shaped? Asks Cephas

‘Like a grown lady lying on her back. From left to right, from here, we have her thighs which are the squat buildings on Haile Selassie. Except for the raised knees which are Co-operative House and Times Tower. The flat stomach of Moi Avenue and Tom Mboya Street after that. Then the rising breasts of Johnny Walker on Teleposta Towers. Finally, we go down to her head which is Tusker on Uhuru Flyover.’

With that description, the tour of Nairobi begins. Cephas and Erabus are guided by five biggest billboards in downtown. He begins with the one at Landhies Road (Blueband): a male billboard, it’s a he and a little later we are confronted by Aeron: the witch.

 … And he sees the witch called Aeron selling her books from the back of her blue matatu, and she’s wearing a bikini but it is legal and she knows the City Council bastards don’t want to touch her wrinkly skin or fondle her sagging breasts, and he catches a line of her bipolar monologue booming from the matatu stereo, ‘THERE IS LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS, BUT THE DARKNESS DOES NOT UNDERSTAND IT (my emphasis – John 1: 5).’

On the eastern edge of downtown, there’s a second mark on Cephas’s map. It’s a looming Airtel billboard and it’s a she. At the entrance of downtown proper we have our third mark; a Coca-Cola billboard. Again it’s a she. Westward from Coca-Cola is a ‘looming Johnny Walker Billboard on Teleposta Towers and it’s a he. The fifth mark is westward out of Nairobi: Tusker billboards over Uhuru Flyover. The gender of this billboard is not given but since I live in Nairobi, next time I’m in that area of the Metropolis, I’ll go and see for myself and assign a gender.

‘These billboards are his compass points. As long as they are there, he can’t get lost.’

The whole story is happens in the area between this five billboards. Nothing escapes the searing judgement of Cephas and Erebus. We see us, through their eyes. A few quotations will suffice.

Long rains and floods and muddy socks in the Omo foam

…..

Cephas jumps off the wall like the city spider that he is, landing asprawl, hands and feet hitting the ground simultaneously, smoky dust rising around his sneakers; without breaking his bones because he’s just a kid enjoying the rubberbandiness of his body..

….

“There are many here, at the open back of Aeron’s blue matatu where used hard and softcovers are stacked, and it seems books are popular and maybe this is a reading city. An ex-power skirt is flipping to a last page. There are thin men with big bones, the underfed and underpaid houseboys from deeper Eastlands, stopping here at Aeron’s and flipping the softcover pages for a minute before continuing their trek to the middle-class suburbs where they will scrub chicken tikka stains off plates and wash shit-farted underwears.”

…..

 “The matatu is gleaming with Omo-blue and polished silver chrome and it wants to get onto the pavement but a Toyota Flawless is in the way, so the beast attacks, sparks fly where their metal meets, the left headlight of the Toyota Flawless pops out and dangles just above road level, its windscreen shatters and glass pebbles bounce on the pavement. The blue matatu shoves the Toyota Flawless aside and comes toward Cephas.”  

…..

“The cloud right opposite him now is called ‘Ocampo Four Given Life Sentences’. Southward there is ‘Police Raid So What? Publishers, Find Illegal Fiction’. The entire sky is now carpeted with newspapers and headlines. The clouds drift peacefully. ‘Agwambo: I Will Expand Cities in Ukambani’ is reflecting off Lonhro House.”

Forgive the futuristic, though tribally annoying proclamations such as Ocampo 4 Given Life Sentences. The lewd and overt sexual descriptions abound. Of course politics is not spared as well. Here is a serving of the multi-coloured and logos sprayed wildstyle on matatus.

“Kuma Ya Aeron, Politica Landscape, Ratner’s Star, Ngugi wa What? Beer Hunger Wine Hyena, Agwambo Mapambano, Jah in Fallujah, Hague Is Vague”

There are underlying allusions of the influence on consumerism on the sensibility of Nairobians, particularly with regard to the iPhone. There are undertones of Dambudzo Macherera everywhere. From the sentence constructions, the dark humour, the winding narration, and the ability to turn otherwise normal and boring sights into eventful escapades! Mehul is arguably a Dambudzo student, only a little saner. He picks from his Master and seems to shower respect on an author that deserves Africa’s standing ovation, unconventionally.

That’s a 110-year-old Eselshoek. Mugabe was drinking it in his toilet,’ says Aeron.

Erabus wants to lean away from the book but he can’t because there is a moving mass of Nairobi bodies blocking his retreat. Cephas spies the power suits and even more powerful skirts army approaching and he sees a title typed on the soft cover, A Sunrise on a Murderous Day in Kampala.

‘By Dambooze Marechera. Yeah, baby, his last book never published. This only manuscript stolen from Mugabe’s toilet. And these are his fingerprints,’ Aeron says as she shows the finger stains to everyone.

‘He held it in his lap as he shat. This is how Marechera wanted his books read. While performing raw human arts like shitting. Fine alcohol ready at hand. Bob was always an avid reader.’

I have no doubt a story such as this will suffer from classic misinterpretations such as Dambudzo’s works. Attacking Marechera’s writing, one critic; Julia Okonkwo, chastised that he had “grafted a decadent avant-garde European attitude [nihilism] and style to experiences that emanate from Africa.” He declared that “the continent cannot afford the luxury of such distorted and self-destructive sophistication from her writers.” In Ngugi’s ‘Decolonising the Mind’ (I986) a representative passage comes to mind: “By acquiring the thought-processes and values of the foreign tongue, [the African] becomes alienated from the values of his mother-tongue or from the language of the masses.”

The story requires a certain level of openness. You assign a ‘writer duty’ to it; you get plenty of piss on your face. This is not Kenyan fiction. It is not African fiction. This is fiction. Can Mehul’s work suffer from the same criticism? ‘Ngugi wa What’ in the story suggests that the prevailing mirror for examining post-colonial writers is known to the writer.

Helon Habila notes that:

“Marechera’s enormous contribution to African literature is often underrated for so many reasons, one being the sheer impenetrability of his prose style. He is nothing like any African writer before him. Up until the time he appeared, the leading writers, like Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and Ayi Kwei Armah, had written in an accessible, social realist mode, and most of the writers that came immediately after them adopted the same style, not only because of the earlier writers’ influence, but also because of the effectiveness of this very accessible style in presenting the anti-colonial, nationalist themes that had become the predominant concern of early post-colonial African fiction. But Marechera, heavily influenced by the European modernists, departed emphatically from the tradition, choosing the rather self-reflective, technically ostentatious stream-of- consciousness mode.”

Mehul leans towards Dambudzo’s prose style, without necessarily aping.

One major weakness with the story is that without the excessive use of geographical placements, there is little that remains. One could as well replace Cephas and Erebus with other characters but the story will remain just a different interpretation of the city, but when you do away with the billboards, streets et al … nothing remains. My guess is that the obsession with cartographic representations was an attempt to make the story relevant, to give it some meaning. Without the geography and allusions to different stereotypes in Nairobi, the story dies. To anyone without any visual knowledge of Nairobi streets, the story is just a cluster of buildings, billboards, strange events, and a paralyzing dose of humour.

We are therefore forced to view the story as a Nairobi story instead. It cannot be mapped on any other city. However, this does not mean that it is a story written for Kenyans. In Dambudzo’s words, reminiscent of his iconoclastic bend:

“If you are a writer for a specific nation or a specific race, then fuck you.”

Walk with Cephas and Erabus through the city and acquire new meanings from events and locations you pass each day but never take a second to appreciate, to evaluate, to judge.

***

Mehul Gohil is a writer born and living in Nairobi, Kenya. He won the 2010 ‘Kenya I Live In’ short story competition organized by Kwani Trust. His stories have been published in Kwani? 6. He is a Don DeLillo and Michael Jackson fanatic.

“Elephants Chained to Big Kennels” is a Caine Prize anthology story published in Kwani? 2012. Grab a copy.

By Richard Oduor

Amol Awuor: The Great Gatsby by Francis Scott Fitzgerald Review

F. Scott Fitzgerald-the-great-gatsby This is the first masterpiece that I have read that is unputdownable. It is so fast paced; it glides in a flash second before your very eyes like a work of magic that before you realize, you are done. And you have got nothing from it. Published almost a century ago, 1925 to be specific, the book is considered one of the greatest works of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

It is about a man called Jay Gatsby told in the voice of one Nick Carraway who happens to be his neighbor. Gatsby is a man of pomp and color in terms of hosting endless parties that attract people from different states in America. But the fun ends there. A dimension of emptiness and loneliness sets in that is characteristic of the partygoers. The narrator almost contemptuously remarks:
I believe that on the first night I went to Gatsby’s house I was one of the few guests who had actually been invited. People were not invited — they went there.”

During the party, Nick Carraway with another partygoer called Jordan Baker while taking a walk inside the several rooms of Gatsby’s majestic mansion chance upon a drunk in the library. He forks:

“Who brought you?” he demanded. “Or did you just come? I was brought. Most people were brought.”

He continues:
“I’ve been drunk for about a week now, and I thought it might sober me up to

sit in a library.”

Jay Gatsby, however, is a man who is never happy and always looks distant. He is a man obsessed with impressing Daisy Buchanan, a married woman of impeccable glitter and glamour. Daisy Buchanan was his former lover about a half a decade ago and Gatsby has never gotten over their former intense affair.

The sun finally sets on Gatsby when he dies and only his father, Nick Carraway and the man who was at the library attends his hurried funeral. Not even Daisy Buchanan or his best friend wants to get associated with him. The former soldier eventually goes with a hollow dream of the past that never materializes and only ends up distressed in the end.

The author through his narrator quips in a reflective and sentimental note:
“It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

This book will leave you flustered and asking questions that have no immediate answers. For those who have had trouble with their past love life – the fascination with the first love – you will quake in a haunting distress of the pointlessness of it.

The author, a celebrated novelist and short story writer of the Lost Generation will sweep you off your feet like a girl in love with his lines in the book. Sample a few:

             “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

            “When the JAZZ HISTORY OF THE WORLD was over, girls were putting their heads on men’s shoulders in a puppyish, convivial way, girls were swooning backward playfully into men’s arms, even into groups, knowing that someone would arrest their falls — but no one swooned backward on Gatsby, and no French bob touched Gatsby’s shoulder, and no singing quartets were formed with Gatsby’s head for one link.”

            “I liked to walk up Fifth Avenue and pick out romantic women from the crowd and imagine that in a few minutes I was going to enter into their lives, and no one would ever know or disapprove. Sometimes, in my mind, I followed them to their apartments on the corners of hidden streets, and they turned and smiled back at me before they faded through a door into warm darkness. At the enchanted metropolitan twilight I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others — poor young clerks who loitered in front of windows waiting until it was time for a solitary restaurant dinner — young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life.”

            “Human sympathy has its limits, and we were content to let all their tragic arguments fade with the city lights behind. Thirty — the promise of a decade of loneliness, a thinning list of single men to know, a thinning brief-case of enthusiasm, thinning hair. But there was Jordan beside me, who, unlike Daisy, was too wise ever to carry well-forgotten dreams from age to age. As we passed over the dark bridge her wan face fell lazily against my coat’s shoulder and the formidable stroke of thirty died away with the reassuring pressure of her hand.

So we drove on toward death through the cooling twilight.”

 

About the Author

Amol Awuor is a young Poet, Short Story Writer, Critic and Freelance Analyst of various issues affecting the global society. He can be reached at brunologix.89@gmail.com

He also runs a blog http://sikuzijazo.blogspot.com