I just watched the Marriage Story. It’s a story about disentangling but so much of the dialogue leads us to the question of what it means to be alive. And not just alive. Alive with others. With a particular other. A significant other. The crescendo is of course Adam Driver (wolf of a man) singing that Patti Lupone song “Being Alive” on the verge of tears at each new stanza and yet not quite breaking down. Maybe that’s what it means to be alive after all.

There have been such movements in 2019 inwardly and outwardly. And in those movements was the mad demonic rush of a girl and a world trying not to feel, trying simply to lose themselves in the revolutions upon axis. But being alive is not so simple as the state of not being dead, momentum be damned. I chase money and feel emptier still. The illusions and escapism never worked for me as they do for most and it has always made alien, the constant observer. All that poetry in youth is harmful. And of course, there are the twinges of heartbreak to keep you alert. To put you in the kind of discomfort that is somewhat necessary for living. That doesn’t allow you a mere indifference that the nearly-alive have in their many-splendoured illusions. Pain gives us access to reality in a way that happiness never could,

Naturally I fetishize the thing that allows to me to write because what lover doesn’t find the faults of her beloved beautiful. The marks that scar a god and bring him closer to earth. But pain isn’t all there is. For the insomnia, I’ve taken up evening jogs on a large field where the grass always has the smell of being freshly cut. In lieu of that, night walks where you can smell the delicate melting spices of roadside eateries. But also reading snippets of lines under tall looming trees. In short there is aliveness.

I chose a large tree last week just ahead of the hockey players and sat under it at dusk to read the translation of “Aquellos Ojos Verdes”. Those eyes with their look of calm which leave in my soul the eternal thirst of love. Of course there is aliveness in being alive! Its always there, the potential of it erotic almost. And there is always Titus ready with adventure.

There are days of many kindnesses and with luck, the opportunity to repay it. The breathing in and out. I think aliveness is the capacity to forget. The dying of your yesterday self. The capacity to move forward in  a straight line, though I prefer going around in circles.

The days pass fast and slow.

Someone to hold me too close.
Someone to hurt me too deep.
Someone to sit in my chair,
And ruin my sleep,
And make me aware,
Of being alive.
Being alive.

Somebody need me too much.
Somebody know me too well.
Somebody pull me up short,
And put me through hell,
And give me support,
For being alive.
Make me alive.
Make me alive.

Make me confused.
Mock me with praise.
Let me be used.
Vary my days.

But alone,
Is alone,
Not alive.

Somebody crowd me with love.
Somebody force me to care.
Somebody let me come through,
I’ll always be there,
As frightened as you,
To help us survive,
Being alive.
Being alive.
Being alive!


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Dear Gega,

Everything seems beautiful today. For no particular reason at all. I must sound mad. As mad as all the lovers who have this annoying need to find some allegorical beauty in this world symbolic of their ‘unending love’. But honestly I do feel like reciting that e.e. cumming poem. Not that one.

i thank you God for most this amazing day. for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and the blue true dream of sky. and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes.

I know this was his style device but couldn’t the man start a sentence with a capital letter for decency’s sake?

Back to the beauty of the day and my madness.

Did you hear about Jamal Khashoggi? A terrible bit of business. It occurs to me that a consulate and perhaps the Papal City are the best places to commit a murder. The inviolability…police cannot enter, at least not without invitation. I saw in that movie ‘Operation Finale’ that the Vatican helped smuggle Nazis out of Germany after the Allies had won.

And I wonder if all this conjecture about climate change is real. That by 2040 we might be having front row seats to our very own geo-storms. It’s the children I worry about the most. With any luck you and I will be dead in our grave well before then. This reminds me of another poem. Nazim Hikmet this time, ‘On Living’. He remarks that people enjoy talk of the future and outcomes of wars which might last years even when they know they might be dead on the very first day of the first offensive.

The East is on an imperialistic march and possibly, quite probably our continent shall be ravaged and turned in on itself. The West has lost its sure footing in the world, it stumbles like a drunk giant. Is there anything sadder or more dangerous, my love? But why do we weep over regime change? This thing called destiny is rarely in mortal hands. Perhaps there will be a nuclear war and that will be the end of worrying.

And the current state of the country? Another referendum will surely be the death of us. We sure know how to pick them…but it was your hand that voted them in. I have a picture of your ink-stained pinky to prove it. There was so much anxiety then, do you remember? It was palpable…that tense knotting in the country’s belly. And it passed. So I’m quite sure the current schizophrenic climate will dissipate. Even that slow creeping right-wingism in the world’s politics. I just don’t know what it will leave behind. But there’s always the United States now to give us a bit of schadenfreude. They’re just like us, aren’t they…maybe even a cheaper imitation. I couldn’t even finish that Kanye West-Trump encounter. Not enough faces, not enough palms.

Why am I writing you a letter…soon to be a series of letters? Many reasons. For one, it’s a beautiful art that I’m sad has died to my generation. Even the occasional unbuttoned up e-mail is frowned upon. Emotion is frowned upon, I feel. God forbid the whole spectrum isn’t expressed in 140 characters or less. Besides, I have loved thinking with you. You colour my thoughts so variably.

Because, though you see our same sun, I wonder if the birds are chirping where you are. I write you because the world is spinning madly on, tearing at itself in these silly never-ending wars and only through our thoughts can we get back to each other. There’s a greater war and I know now what it is for. You have taught me  and shown me that. Inviolability.

Because I don’t want to check the weather where you are. I know you have to be where you are and I have to be where I am…in this crazy parallelism of our existence. But I don’t think I’m too late. I know this pain feels familiar, like the pain of unbecoming and unmaking but it’s not the same. I think this the pain of resurrection. The pain of another beautiful day after a tempest. It’s unbearable, isnt it?

P.S. I’ve just recently got acquainted with the sound of Tom Leeb. I feel your country-lover heart may fall hopelessly in love with him.

Expect more letters.

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Windows ache


‘The human condition is always about greater truths but we’re not ever going to know the full facts.’ Is that why we tell people our secrets. To let them walk as close to our truths as much as they possibly can. To be seen. To be seen deeply. Is that why we sell those pieces of ourselves. Those bits of us that are and are not pain or need or loss.

I’m listening to Phoebe Bridgers’ ‘Smoke Signal’ as I write this. There’s a line ‘one of your eyes is always half shut, something happened to when you were a kid. I didn’t know you then and I will never understand why it feels like I did…you must have been looking for me.’

Secret. From Latin secretus meaning to set apart. Etymology aside, I’m interested in them. The dark hidden things. Robert Johnson writes in Owning your Own Shadow that there is in each of us three of us. A persona, representative of how we wish to be and be perceived. An ego, what we consciously know we are and a shadow, the unknown regions of ourselves. So which of our three keeps our souls and secrets.

Are you looking still? What are my secrets, you wonder.

There are the trivial ones. I always stole food from my grandfather’s house to feed the chickens though it angered the utilitarian in him to see such waste. He shouted at me with that military man’s voice and I always cried. Always. But I never stopped. It was the first time it occurred to me that I was stubborn.

In class eight, Mr. Mose declared that I had to name a noise maker. I refused and Bryan got the brunt of it. It was made clear that I had to watch all twenty painful strokes.

I didn’t go to my grandmother’s funeral because I didn’t want to remember her dead. I kept smelling her perfume on strangers at the ferry and following them. She was taken in the night so I feel a special duty to keep vigil at nights during family illnesses. I should have been more awake then. There is no closure from some things. Some things just always go on inside you in some way.

While rafting in Sagana, I got pulled under by rapids. In panic I held on to the nearest person I could reach. I could have drowned her but I couldn’t let go. There’s no selfless in fear. Only that same taste of metal I had as a child when I was asked to hold a grown chick in my hands.  Held it with the same tight fearful grip that killed it. I still feel the same impotent shame at both memories.

I wonder if you’re still looking…because the song hasn’t stopped playing in the background.

I went out looking for a girl with the campus guard at the hostels in Parklands on a Friday night in third year. She’d been assaulted and could not be traced. It seemed like the thing to do on that Friday night. Looking back across the seven years, I know that if it had been a girl I would have named her Pandora… ‘the all-gifted’. Because nobody says how when all the evils of Pandora’s Box escaped, Hope remained. Hope remains. And I would have wanted another me out there looking for Pandora on the Friday nights when the devil is loosed.

I never voted so I share substandard think pieces online. Where else can we buy certainty but from anonymous political commentators.

Are you still looking for me?

I think we’re all broken, me more than most. I think we’re all winging it. But I think there’s still forgiveness. I think there is need and want and hunger. But sometimes the loneliness feels familiar than your looking. It feels easier to be alone though I know it takes less courage to be loved. Less of everything.

I was never kind to myself. It was more important, after a life time spent between and inside books, to analyse than to feel. This is a kind of cruelty. And I wonder if those around me felt the burden of that cruelty. Its aftershocks. And I wonder if that’s why you eventually stopped looking for me.

The Earth Turned to Bring Us Closer

   by Eugenio Montejo – translated by Peter Boyle

    The earth turned to bring us closer,

   it spun on itself and within us,

   and finally joined us together in this dream

   as written in the Symposium.

   Nights passed by, snowfalls and solstices;

   time passed in minutes and millennia.

   An ox cart that was on its way to Nineveh

   arrived in Nebraska.

   A rooster was singing some distance from the world,

   in one of the thousand pre-lives of our fathers.

   The earth was spinning with its music

   carrying us on board;

   it didn’t stop turning a single moment

   as if so much love, so much that’s miraculous

   was only an adagio written long ago

   in the Symposium’s score.


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A letter to my dead grandmother

Grandmother, I got my heart broken tonight…like you did once. It feels hollow inside my chest…I can barely hear the beat of it. My somebody is gone and I am faceless again…untouched and indistinguishable from the others.

“No one worth possessing can quite be possessed.” Nazim Hikmet is my prophet tonight. Neruda shrugging off sadly in the distance, home sick still. The Brownings, Borges, Shakespeare…all the poetry in world could not put out this fire.

How long had I been reading poems before I met him, grandmother? How long had I been that shy wounded girl of prose before I met him. One less poem perhaps and I would have been the perfect woman for him.

And he? Who is he? There’s a scar below his chin where his beard doesn’t grow. Some youthful gallant mischief over a pretty girl, no doubt. You have to be rested on his chest, hearing his heart to see it. Grandmother, I don’t think I can live without that scar.

We were together like an embrace of brokenness. We were the beautiful weeds of Vladimir Nabokov’s story…the beautiful ones that could not hide from the farmer. Did I not tell you my love how the monster of my childhood cut so deeply that child I no longer remember being? I should have told you more perhaps. And did you not walk into my home and my life haunted by the blue of those curtains?

The mosquitos that night that wouldn’t let him rest….or I, disturbed by his restlessness. As if we had been one skin. The half of me that is already his disturbed by his discomfort and the half him that I claim, similarly afflicted. That is the poetry of us, grandmother. More than either of us knew.

And he is gone. And you and the angels know how much I love him. Heaven knows how much. How can I love him so much and how can he not stay?

Don’t worry grandmother, there shall be no tears this time. I’m writing to tell you that I have had the chance to be cleaned up by love, to be uplifted by it, to hold hands with it under the table and walk in the dark with it. I went back with love to the parts of me that hurt so much I hadn’t looked in years, and love kissed those places…kissed me, full on the lips! And it tasted just like I had hoped it would taste…like all the poems I had ever read.

For pinky…to all the secret jigs

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What do women think about, lying beside you in bed, staring at the ceiling? Secret dalliances…petty jealousies. And dreams. Is this what makes them so interesting? The secret lives of women.

Women are always dreaming, always thinking…chained to the kitchens, hearths and custom. We’re always flying with the birds. At least I always was.  We swallow routine while men go off searching for adventure.  Men give us their dreams, we carry them in our wombs. We keep everything alive.

And we are a bitter lot.

You refused to take me to school so I could be a doctor, one day you’ll fall sick.”- An Afghani girl.

All the years spent in rooms, and as is a woman’s nature, carrying every memory of every room.

  1. Hours spent in a room

How a man rushes up the stairs to the room. I’m so excited, he says…I can’t believe you chose me. Zipper quickly undone.  The sensation of cold fingertips on your skin. The kissing, the loving, the way the city sounds creep into the room. The way he breathes asleep as if he’s not even there. The things he says and the way he says them. Hours of madness in the blunt wordless language of the senses. The ancient cure. The distance between two naked bodies in a room, emphasized by white sheets with pink border. What a demon desire is, and you see it possess another person. It passes through contact and he touches you. And you see the shapes that your intertwined bodies cast on the room’s walls. How violently greedy the soul is when the body is so exposed. It engulfs everything…the bravado of conquest, the certainty of possession and the emptiness of you, the emptiness of a well.

It rains gently outside and something sprouts in you. A whole Garden of Eden starts in your womb, there where your invisible children play. Honey hours, honey days. Weaver bird nervousness. Weave bird fluttering. How angels fall…

And the morning after the war, a city sacked, ruined but triumphant despite love’s reek. The imprint of his hands on your back dripping like liquid sin. This way, he says and something in you wants to run. Run into the rain and streets and sounds and into the world. But…you realize how futile. You’re a woman.  You always carry the room. Everything…the noise in the streets, the indecent animal smell of love, and always when it rains…everything is a key into the room. You’re a prisoner.

  1. Mrs. Okuthe Reading (prelude to a play)

Mrs. Okuthe has decided that if it must happen, it must happen on a Friday, and an afternoon. There was something so terribly happening about a Friday afternoon in Nairobi and she wanted for once to be a part of it all. It would, she thought, be a way to tell a story.

Mrs. Okuthe has decided to cook lunch for herself. Though the children wouldn’t be back from school in time for lunch she would still cook. It would be, she thought somewhat bemused, so unnatural to do something for herself. She had even fallen out of the habit of even praying for herself.

She caught pieces of her reflection on the cutlery. She had been no great beauty Mrs. Okuthe, at best she was non-descript. She had always known this with a gentle anger. And often wondered if she would have occupied a different station had nature blessed her with beauty. At present, she was a housewife.

No, Mrs. Okuthe was no great beauty. What she was something far more valuable. She was an interesting woman with extremely perky thoughts whose charms were completely lost on her spousal unit, as with most marriages in Kenya. Mrs. Okuthe is what you would call a dreamer. On most days she is by the window staring out into the world, wanting more, sewing buttons to shirts, darning socks…wanting more. Wishing to have her life over, sure she can do it all better…get it so right.

Mrs. Okuthe is a woman so rabidly alone that on some days she goes out into the world to feel the way strange hands graze hers. A woman so rabidly unsexed that she has completely forgotten what her body is for. Good touches and bad touches are all the same to her.

Mrs. Okuthe is pregnant, her sixth child in as many years. Mr. Okuthe likes her occupied. She has wasted away ironing shirts and making tea. Mr. Okuthe doesn’t even know how she likes her tea…which is not at all. He had bought her cheaply for two bulls and one thousand three hundred and fifty seven shillings in a ceremony that barely lasted an hour and so she hadn’t expected a fairytale.

Her time is thus divided between Mr. Okuthe and his children. Yes his children. There is nothing of her in them. She was never consulted when they were made. And they always tore her books.

She might have had friends Mrs. Okuthe, only she is a clenched soul and so empty. So very empty. Besides she likes reading, Mrs. Okuthe, a habit which her neighbours think odd and suspicious but respect anyway. It is a habit Mr. Okuthe detests in her. And often, he writes his displeasure all over her face. The height of Mrs. Okuthe’s romanticism is the earnest longing for a man who doesn’t beat her.

Now to the how. Murder had always seemed to Mrs. Okuthe to be the greatest enterprise. The expending of hours of thought on the efficiency of the means, the inner turmoil. But she felt none of the struggle. It seemed so natural to her to want to kill her husband that it must have been the only consideration she allowed herself for him.

Mrs. Okuthe: (As if in agony) Let me speak! Let me tell it all…it’s my story


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WHY ART: Fifteen Paces

Why art? Because art matters. It’s not a biological hunger or a metaphysical need like sex and religion but art matters. Matters because it’s true…is the truth. Is a symbol of every human endeavour. Matters as one of the simplest and most economical ways to prove that one has a soul, and is human.

Art is we are real life objects encased in fragility. It’s the flicker of appreciation in a man’s eyes at the sight of a beautiful woman but something…something more. Something higher.

Why art? Because we’re here so briefly…so briefly and we love it so, and when it all gone who will know how much you loved it?

Why art? Because there’s a boy of course, and I rush to school every morning to get to class…to get to him. To sit in the fifth row from the entrance because that’s where fifteen paces across from me I think, the rays that elude the blinds at near noon catch his skin just so…just so. Not a word between us but he is the most real thing in my life. Art is the distance between us. Art is fifteen paces.

I choose art everyday because art is spice, and the opposite of death. Because not to choose it would be to live at the mercy of a need.  Art matters because we forget it more. In the mad dash to live we forget what being alive means.  And art is alive and breathing.

Art matters because it involves looking, and looking leads to seeing, and seeing means understanding. Just by standing in front of a canvas, you’ve gone through an experience. And art knocks in my inner places, my dark crevices. Art matters because I was here, I lived and in a way that matters.

Art matters because not everything is blunt intelligence, because cleverness is foolish, because sensibility craftiness and wit and words are a little to much sometimes or not enough.



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My kingdom, my kingdom….

“Books are good enough in their own way, but they are a mighty bloodless substitute for life.” Stevensonian wisdom. I agree with the first half of this statement, and I have proof of second.  I spent my whole life reading about how the world was, how it could be and when I finally took a step out into the world…it was bad fiction, horribly scripted and cheaply produced. And there seemed to be no place in it for me.

My father gave me my first book. It was titled Kenna, after its eponymous hero, a boy in Gaborone who ran a race and won. I know because I met him at the finish line.  Sleepy as it seems… it was the beginning. After that it was The Drummer Boy then it was For Mbatha and Rebecca my first Kenyan love story. Pacesetters, the fear street series, the Hardy boys, Nancy Drew… I watched my adolescence fly by feeling blazé because it seemed such a late entrant, and filled me with a sense of déjà vu. I had lived my whole life in books. In his 1971 Nobel acceptance speech, Neruda said: “We {writers} are called upon to fill with words the confines of a mute continent, and we become drunk with the task of naming and telling.” It is the foremost task of books. To name us and to tell us.

Books saved me. Saved me from the noise of unhappy parents in the next room. From the quiet within myself. Books sought me out, questioned me, and mocked me, asked me to stand. Gave me the world within their musty pages, gave me something of themselves, gave me my dreams. Books saved me. By letting me run away without alerting the mean gatekeepers.  Books taught me how beautiful the world was, how fragile and dark. They explained to me that I had a place in the world, if I could keep it. In books my heart would quiver but not break, they reminded me of the aches and kissed my scars. Books were my sandbox of insane passions.  Inside them I was wanton, I was la femme insensee, and they made me respect rules, gave me principles and taught me when to cede them…never. The book was my eternal playmate.  I was always safe with a book.

Also, books change me. Their words define me, breathe new life into me. I meet the most interesting people in books. Soldiers with soft hearts, world savvy wise-guys, rambunctious children. I could be a happy voyeur through books. I could stand outside people’s windows, look into their lives. In books, I could reject reality, substitute it… the quintessential escapism. Reading is one of the things in which I can completely lose myself. Books embolden me. I’m less nervous with a book around. In a bank lobby, on concrete seats on a sidewalk, I’m less self-conscious.  I’m braver after books; they give me my convictions, fortitude. They affirm me, deny me. They are the last real magic.

Allow me to share some of the magic with you: A few excerpts from some books I like.  I can’t even get the ones I love because I’m in between houses. Here’s to hoping I’m not breaking International Copyright Law.

Caesar and Cleopatra by Bernard Shaw: this was my first encounter with this Irish dramatist.  His is by far my favorite representation of Caesar shrewd, charming, vain, light and with a bit of flair for the dramatic. I love his soliloquy before the Sphinx.

The man: Hail Sphinx: salutations from Julius Caesar! I have wandered in many lands seeking the lost regions from which my birth into this world exiled me, and the company of creatures such as myself. I have found flocks and pastures, men and cities but no other Caesar, no air native to me, no man kindred to me, none who can do my day’s deed and think my night’s thought. In the little world yonder Sphinx, my place is as high as yours only I wonder and you sit still; I conquer and you endure; I work and wonder, you watch and wait. I look up and am dazzled, look down and am darkened look around and am puzzled, whilst your eyes never turn from looking out- out of this world-to the lost regions-the home from which we have strayed. Sphinx, you and I, strangers to the race of men, are no strangers to one another: have I not been conscious of you and of this place since I was born? Rome is a madman’s dream: this is my reality. These starry lamps of yours seen from afar in Gaul, in Britain, in Spain, in Thessaly signaling great secrets from some eternal sentinel below, whose post I could never find. And here at last is their sentinel-an image of the immortal and constant part of my life, silent, full of thought, alone in this great silver desert. Sphinx, Sphinx: I have climbed mountains at night to hear the stealthy footfall of the winds that chase your sands in forbidden play-our invisible children, O Sphinx, laughing in whispers. My way hither was the way of destiny; for I am he of whose genius you are the symbol: part brute, part woman, part god- nothing of man in me at all. Have I read your riddle, Sphinx?

Troubled Sleep by Jean-Paul Sartre: a story of from the fringe of society when the world was burning, the Second World War. The artists, the pacifists during the Nazi occupation of France.  Sartre is a celebrated existentialist. The excerpt is about Boris, a career soldier and in the style of the picaresque hero.

It was true of course that he thoroughly disapproved of melancholy, but when the mood was on one, it was the very devil to shake it off. “I must have an unhappy temperament,” he thought. There were many reasons why he should rejoice; in particular he ought to congratulate himself on his narrow escape from peritonitis, on being quite well again. Instead of which, he was thinking: “I have outlived my day,” and the knowledge was bitter to him. When one is melancholy, even the reason for rejoicing become melancholy too so that one rejoices in a melancholy way. “Besides,” he thought, “I am dead.” For all practical purposes he had died at Sedan in 1940: all the years of life remaining to him were only boredom. He sighed again, following with his eyes a large green fly moving across the ceiling; and then he concluded: “I’m a second-rater.” This idea was profoundly disagreeable to him. Until now Boris had made it a rule never to question himself introspectively, and it had always worked very well. Besides so long as his main problem had merely been that of getting himself decently and neatly killed the fact that he was a second rater had not very much mattered; on the contrary, he had less to regret. But now all this had changed; destiny had decided that he was to live, and he was being forced to realize that he had no vocation, no talents, no money- none of the qualities in short which were necessary for living, with the single exception of good health. “How bored I am going to be,” he thought with a sense of frustration.


Oxford Lecturers on Poetry, 1909 by A.C Bradley:  this is an excerpt on a criticism of the Anthony and Cleopatra play by Shakespeare. I don’t know why I like this one but I really do. I like this by-gone era of literary debate

When he {Anthony} first meets Cleopatra he finds his Absolute. She satisfies, nay glorifies his whole being. She intoxicates his senses. Her wiles, her taunts, her furies and meltings, her laughter and tears, bewitch him all alike. She loves what he loves, and surpasses him. She can drink him to his bed, out-jest his practical jokes, out-act the best actresses who ever amused him, out-dazzle his own magnificence. She is his playfellow and yet a great queen. Angling in the river, playing billiards, flourishing the sword he used at Philippi, hopping forty paces in a public street, she remains an enchantress. Her spirit is made of wind and flame and the poet in him worships her no less than the man. He is under no illusions about her, knows all her faults, sees through her wiles, believes her capable of betraying him. It makes no difference. She is his heart’s desire made perfect. To love her is what he was born for. What have the gods in heaven to say against it? To imagine heaven is to imagine her; to die is to rejoin her. To deny that this is love is the madness of morality. He gives her every atom of his heart. She destroys him

A room without books is like a body without a soul- Chesterton. Read something.


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Remebering with you: part I

1 - 2 And finally I twist my heart round again, so that the bad is on the outside and the good is on the inside, and keep on trying to find a way of becoming what I would so like to be, and could be, if there weren't any other people living in the world. Anne Frank

Writing like living is something you can’t fake.  You have to sit in the chair, stay in the room, don’t dare leave the room unless…until it comes ‘in search of you.’ Shards of a past or glimpses of the future. Even when it comes in shades or shadow you always get the same feeling you get when you’re staring at the first crack of light in the skyline at daybreak.

I just finished watching the movie Darfur and I feel something dark and pungent in my soul that tastes like metal. There’s literally no one in the world I don’t hate. No one. Even knowing that that murky Chapter of history is closed, I don’t trust that knowledge. Maybe the victims may have lightened in pigment but the Al-assads and the Bashirs of this world are blood-brothers and Syria is the new axis of Evil. Maybe we lost the war somewhere in Kabul or Auschwitz or Eden…man’s innocence couldn’t survive one bite of the apple.

Little by little I’m learning not to be surprised at myself but the world astounds me. Ambivalence looks to be the code of our civic belief system and seemingly the most economical way to prove one’s self apart of the world. If you don’t have a personal “fuck you” stamped on your forehead you’re not one of us. In such a world oil is the only spoil. Oil is the only term of engagement. Libya had it; Syria doesn’t. Congratulations citizens, you’re living in a world in which governments take a rashly extravagant view as to the question of whether the government exists for man or man for the government.  According to deathly reliable statistic, governments alone were responsible for cold-blooded murder of 169 million people in the first 88 years of the 20th century. The Soviet Union alone could claim 55 million of these.


USSR: 61,911,000 murders

Vietnam: 1,678,000 murders

China: 45,314,000 murders

Poland: 1,585,000 murders

Germany: 20,946,000 murders

Pakistan: 1,503,000 murders

Japan: 5,964,000 murders

Yugoslavia: 1,072,000 murders

Cambodia: 2,035,000 murders

North Korea: 1,663,000 murders

Turkey: 1,883,000 murders

Mexico: 1,417,000 murders


Maybe…maybe the world really wasn’t created for us.

The data on moral behavior provides no support for the widespread psychodynamic belief in the unitary entity of conscious. Anonymous, cynical and honest. Evil like the flu just keeps on catching.

Understanding the genocide has been termed as ‘…part of being a moral adult.’ But what a genocide is, its mechanics , metaphysics and human truths is something we can never really understand.  Out of the experience that has been described by survivors as something outside the human experience, that has no place in it, only truth remains…unscarred, unapologetic. It is for the others to cower in discomfort and grudging acceptance or imprudent denial over its unabashed existence. And this is the truth, one of many…that it happened, that it has been allowed to happen and that it could happen again.  And it is for us, the detached third parties to stare at our TV screens in stunned disbelief and secret relief that we had no hand in it, that we couldn’t possibly resemble them. A Rwandan survivor said: ‘in the quiet moments, I think about the Genocide so as to know where to put my life but I can find no place for it. I simply mean that it is beyond the human.’

Genocide has left me shaken and faithless especially in man.

Why do I bother talking about something that I have never experience?  There are parts of me that God has left void…that He doesn’t fill. He has left them void for his own purposes, to punish me or to teach me. And it is because of this void that I am those children. I am all those children defaced by war and debased by it cruelty. I am all those lost souls displaced, ravaged and dehumanized. And you are too.

Did you know, in Rwanda they cut off the Achilles tendons of the women before they raped them so that they wouldn’t run. In Sri Lanka, the Sinhala casually set fire to a bus that had20 Tamils on board. These are things which we must remember, and which they must forget. You have voids too.

It takes all kinds to make a world; not so many to make a nation. In Rwanda it takes Hutu murderers and Tutsi survivors. Her political requirements after the Genocide were famously termed ‘emotionally incomprehensible.’ So what does it really take to make a nation? Ernst Renan ruling out dynastic linkage, race, religious ties and language rather eloquently concludes that a nation is ‘…a grand solidarity…a soul, a spiritual principle…a culmination of a long past of endeavors, sacrifice and devotion.’

‘…to have common glories in the past and to have a common will in the present; to have performed great deeds together, to wish to perform still more- these are the essential conditions for being a people.’

But greater than all these fundamental requirements as to commonalities, the individuals of a nation must also have ‘forgotten many things.’ Now there’s the rub. Forgetting. The real moments of life are brief, whether breathtakingly beautiful or achingly abhorrent. Always, always it is forgetting that spans a lifetime. Slights are easy, petty betrayals too but how does one forgive a child born to her and whose face reminds her of rape that spanned weeks? In the Armenian genocide, after they raped the women, they defecated in their mouths. In Rwanda, they fed them human blood. How do you forgive life or the world for treating your survival as an inconvenience? ‘Forgiving will help us forget together.’ The unbelievably brazen words of a Hutu genocidaire, a killer.

Is forgiveness not just right but moral?  “Only I possessed, and still possess, the moral truth of the blows that even today roar in my skull, and for that reason I am more entitled to judge, not only more than the culprit but more than society—which thinks only about its continued existence. The social body is occupied merely with safeguarding itself and could not care less about a life that has been damaged. At the very best, it looks forward, so that such things don’t happen again. But my resentments are there in order that the crime become a moral reality for the criminal, in order that he be swept into the truth of his atrocity-“ Jean Amery.



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Cupid’s Reflections II: Love and other pains

For Violeta:



At Violeta’s insistence I’ve decided to pen something down. A well-deserved admonition, needless to say…it seems so long since I put pen to paper. Seems so long since I lived out loud.

Violeta also generously provided a theme: Valentine’s. It does nothing for me. Never has. This Valentine’s I won’t do anything out of script. I’ll do what I’ve always done for so long. Cook myself a nice meal or settle for a consolatory bowl of ice-cream with the possibility of wine then sit with Neruda for hours or Ronsard or the Venezuelans perhaps this year. I’ll probably go out to stare at the sky, there’s no moon tonight and the night seems endless, expansive. I must be a diminutive figure from the sky looking downwards. And I like feeling small because it means I have no control over any of it; war or peace or love.

I’ve survived so many Valentines alone that the real surprise would be to take a walk inside my vast loneliness and find a friendly intruder there. I feel immune to it. To the undeserved importance lavished on the day, to the empty grand gesturing, the unabated consumerism. I’ll stop before this starts reading like the revenge of the unhappy.

I’m a loner…perhaps that reads more dramatically than I intended. I definitely know that the romanticism of being a loner has waned. But it has always come easily to me. To some extent I feel some inflated sense of superiority to those who can’t be alone. I love people, even those I’ve never met but to me they are simply impermanent wood, materials for my writing. I endured loneliness because I could see the magic that came out of it. I can only write in pure solitude. It has made me so aware of myself and the things around me that to this day I find it hard to form a conscious thought unless I’m surrounded by anything near 20Hz and under: silence. Am in eternal awe of people looking for chaos and noise in dens, in busy streets or inside themselves.

Sometimes I wonder if this is symptomatic of some deep character flaw. My arms-length way of interaction, my near-perverse need to run from those I feel I could need.  Maybe love is like any other religion and per Borges it is still easier to die for it than to live it truly. So Romeo had it made but…am I the faithless one?  Is it my fault for not believing hard enough? Because I do believe in love…still. Yet this and every Valentine’s I see people aiming for less. Chocolates and flowers…things that wither and melt. I want every day to be worth the rose. I want a man who can penetrate my loneliness. Because I do feel it. Even with the unwavering pride of conviction I feel at times so hollow that when a cold wind passes I can hear it echo inside. On such days my heart is emptier than my stomach.

 At twenty-three I feel very unfulfilled still.  No one can understand standing at the smallest spot in the world, which for me was the back of my father’s house by the water meter, and wanting everything. How can the world be so full and how can there be no one in it for me? I’ve endured the third rate psycho-analysis from friends; a childhood trauma, impossibly high standards, high school with nuns who ‘did a number on me’…no, they all draw blanks. A woman who pretends to laugh at love is like, they say, a child who sings at night when he is afraid of the dark. But I like love. I feel a healthy instinct for it.

Maybe I don’t make myself amenable to love; I’m not relationship-compliant. I hate order. I have no compulsion for it. It doesn’t add anything to my life. I like reaching into my messy closet, messy bag or life and extracting just what I need. And I can’t be trusted to be sensible. Not when the rest of me is certifiable.  I have my head in the clouds, sometimes in the sand but I like it that way. I’m out for feeling, and this need compels me more than my reason. There’s no room for sensibility. And I’m a restless person always searching for instant illumination in people else I’m bored. When I finally sit still I find that it is my soul that is moving. ‘In chaos there is fertility.’ It would take a special kind of man to understand this.

Yet love is the sine qua non.  And by not admitting to a need we live at its mercy. I dream of love. I have all my life. That dream overpowers every need, every compulsion for loneliness. I have wanted that feeling for which love itself was too small and ineffectual a word to encapsulate the depth of sensations that tangled every molecule in the distance between me and that friendly intruder.  

When you look at me, I feel waves crashing against my heart…kiss me; maybe you’ll feel the waves too.

Yes, I want a great love story. Epic. Blood, tears, waste, ruin and spoils. A love story that would span worlds and lifetimes. The ones poets write about and angels bear witness. A love story on which ‘the gods themselves would throw incense’, like a great sacrifice.  Everything else seems like a cheap production; light years away from this.

I’ve dreamed of loving someone like I love rain. I’m not a farmer…I need it for poetic reasons. I need it for my soul garden.  I would love for this to be any other ordinary day but it isn’t. It’s a defining day and I feel I need a new mantra. I think I just found it:

Be still my heart,

And let yourself be touched,

By groping hands…love fumbles at times


Be still my heart,

And let yourself be broken,

By love…too little or too much


Be still my heart,

And let yourself be taught,

How to love.

I’m 23 and I still think life is beautiful. I have a right to that.

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I tried my hand at a story writing contest for a national short story contest…Kwani eat your heart out!

“Loneliness,” he replied with a disaffected shrug; as much dis-affectation as a fifty-one-year old priest could manage. But it was too simplistic, true but simplistic. It was loneliness unlike any other he had read of before. It was more than haunting, worse than abject

He hated Nairobi in April. It was everything a city should be, perhaps more so. Cold, impersonal like a rich man’s handshake. He sat shuffling a few photos in his large hands his mind wondering on and off to the morning call. He hated mobile phones; any and all gadgetry that was awash in the market nowadays and he’d only got one at the volunteer Matron, Edna’s insistence. For emergencies. But almost out of insolence it rang incessantly, extravagantly and hysterically.

The weather made him pensive. He hated that too.

Pacing the narrow space spared by the cheap sparce furnishing of his meager office, he could imagine the man to whom the voice over the telephone belonged. It was sonorous and clinical. It doled out de riguer wishes of good health and congratulations on his well merited award without the slightest inclination to sincerity. It wasn’t distinctive, except it made suggestions in the peremptory tone of a thirty five-ish over-achiever pumped with ambition strong coffee and yesterday’s liquor.

He’d heard intermittent shuffling and the monotonous buzz of a slow news day over unsettling silence which the voice tried to fill with short hollow laughs that he resolutely refused to join.

There was something superior about it, about the way it sounded out that word, “sir” as to leave no doubt if its European inflicted education.  About the slightly condescending way it put the word “well” before “sir”.

“My name is Albert. Albert Duma. It started and paused momentarily. I write for the daily express.” It paused again this time well-meaningfully for his benefit. Waiting for a friendly quip from him about having read one of his articles. It was a curious thing to him; the human propensity for lying and the commensurate need to be lied to.

“I don’t read the gossip pages,” he replied.

“I’m a journalist,” the voice sounded martyred.

“Same difference.”

“Well sir, I suppose,” it conceded with a resigned laugh: quicker than he’d anticipated.

Albert Duma had called to warn him of their interview, alert him on the possible questions. He didn’t believe in “spontaneous eloquence”; he crisply informed him.

It was Sunday and the outside was lending itself to a precarious and gloomy grayness that saw many reluctant to leave the warmth of each other to hazard any potential precipitation. It made him long for a sunset he had seen on a bus out of Limuru, once. It made him wonder about the voice and his reticence towards it. It made him accept the other man’s suggested meeting date with gruff friendliness.


“My earliest memory is of shearing sheep as a young boy in my grandfather’s mountain farm. I was born in a farming village in Vent, Tyrol-“


The older man laughed indulgently, “You read up on me?”

“You’d be insulted if I hadn’t”

He regarded him a bit and after what seemed like mental note taking he retrieved an old Bible from one of the two shelves peopled with books on philosophy and theology and bibles, variedly sized and colored. He took out four photographs and spread them out on a mahogany table decadently out of place in the frugal office. A donation no doubt from a penitent well-to-do West side city dweller looking for bloodless redemption.

“You want the truth I suppose, not a story.”

“I am a journalist” the bespectacled Albert Duma restated, he was thirty four.

The musty smell of age that he loved so much spread from the old bible across the room. He opened his arms expressing, partly in resignation and partly to gesture him to pick up a photo.

Two were monochromes, two in colour. The oldest, older than himself was the only thing that had come to him in the old Bible was his family heirloom. It and the other black and white picture which was fairly recent; this of himself on a July 7th protest march in the 1990s evoqued wistful nostalgia in him. The protest photo was a courtesy of the photojournalist who had taken it. It was signed and dated at back.

The two colored ones were of equal and immensurable importance. One, a scenic vista was his own effort and the other a gift at his request from the unusually lovely and intent doe-eyed girl who was its only subject. By far the most visually rewarding. She must have been twenty three in the photo but with hair held back and her face devoid of make-up yet lit magnificently, she didn’t look a day over eighteen.

With calculating discretion and restrained curiosity, he chose the older monochrome. It was dog – eared. The adolescent wisdom to preserve it had come too late. It was of a young man, badly out of focus. It must have been shot by a giggling girl or a nervous young woman lying on the grass that made the back: either way his mother. The young man of the photo had jet black hair cut even tastelessly at shoulder length. His hands supporting him from the back as he sat were cut out midlength as was his lower body.

“Your father?”

It was the closest he had ever been to him.

“They died soon after his picture was taken.” It had been handed to him at twelve by his steel faced grand father and effusive grandmother. They are with God now …and so was but he had never been with them. He’d spent most of his life pouring over it; trying to decipher some subliminal message or discover a forgotten memory. With childish reverence at first, then adolescent resentment, youthful disaffectation and now wistful sentimentalism.

At twenty six, he had been the spitting image of the photo despite colorful efforts on his part to thwart a genetically foregone conclusion. At times he felt a nostalgia for something familiar and unknown. At times it was a warm emptiness. He’d often wondered about the other darkness where his father was and such musing developed unusual precocities in him as a child. Mysticism and religious ardour.

“Is that why you became a priest?”

“Yes and No”

Vent was really as rural and insufferable as it sounded. Its somnolent charms did little for him. There had been no still, small voice in the mountains but a consuming desire for meaning. But he took a rather lofty view to his occupation. He’d wanted to change the world and back then he had a flair for the dramatic. He envisioned himself a custodian of humanity’s humanity. He had had hopelessly rudimentary conception of evil, perhaps he still did. It was to him something insidious; an entity with physical manifestation. He thought of borders like geographical semantics, and at twenty he considered himself a citizen of the world.  So why not Africa? Why not Kenya? Why not Kibera, Nairobi Kenya?

In this way, to his cost, he couldn’t argue to be any better than the many back packing, demin-sporting. “Friends of Africa” Yet white guilt was lost on him. He could claim to be different on that regard. He had come in search of adventure and as Kafka had once eloquently echoed in him a “concern” for “higher things” A feeling that he was at the front for something, and in that way, yes, unwittingly championing the white man’s burden.

He had been born in the compunctious shadow of the third Reich but his motives were also self serving. And that was the extent of his heroism, if there had been any at all. He’d set up a health clinic, for which he sourced funds and workers. He’d also set up a church done good deeds for which he was slated to receive a presidential award.

“Yet all this wasn’t enough. You engaged in politics…”

“Engaged is too committal a word,” he protested highly.

“You are an activist.”

He had been the golden white boy of the tumultuous late 80s and 90s that the opposition dressed in African regalia and neatly presented to the West, to solicit funds, and no move. He got up to gaze disinterestedly out the window.

“You believed -”

“It was easy to believe back then …in everything. Anything.” He began and ended with a good natured laugh. He thought of politics much like a Salvationism; the religion of the poor, only politics was a false religion.

They had all blindly wanted change back then, and they hadn’t been specific.

“Do you feel betrayed by them, the politicos?”

‘Yes, if you can forgive the paradox.” After a silence he started abruptly, and quietly, more to himself. “You know I was there at Saba Saba, there in ’92 and before…there in ’07. They chopped off a boy’s ear right in front of me.” Maybe to show that they weren’t afraid of his skin. Angry, poor, poisoned machete-wielding youth. He covered his eyes with his hands as if trying to relieve himself of the memory, and not.

“These people are no better.’ Albert said in idle commentary but it was the superior voice he heard.

‘They’re no worse. Either.’ He didn’t think poverty and inhumanity to the synonymous nor was poverty an excuse to be inhumane. No, there was tenderness here but it was fated to die a quick death from a familiarity with the course landscape, like excess harvest that rots away in the granary.

“You’d been summoned to State House once by Moi…’ At the very height of the reformed chatter. He had wild fantasies of martyrdom in a darkly lit, unswept corner of a chamber at Nyayo house but his fears had flattered him greatly then.

“You know the old man is everything they say he is.” There was a hushed smile in his voice and grudging respect that betrayed themselves, and him.

“They say a lot of things.” The young man replied blandly, wishing to leave no doubt as to his unconflicting loyalties where tyrants were concerned.

“He’s a lot of things.”

“So there was a girl…” he begun brightly and conversationally, trying not to look too curious, too scandalized, too blazé all at once and failing. He was somewhat mollified that she was a girl, not a boy. And he didn’t like what that said about his morality. It could be bought. And he could see it gazing into the old priests face, the same liquid eyes and soft face that ended expectedly in a double chin. Distant echoes of the old photo. His body too that had increased somewhat in girth had the same lean and slender build.

“Unofficially… yes.” He was gruff and somber and inwardly he wondered at the ease with which a sinner’s sin rolled off his tongue. Still he didn’t feel repentant. He felt old and he blamed her for that.

“Why?” Albert asked a bit stupidly.

“Loneliness,” he replied with a disaffected shrug; as much dis-affectation as a fifty-one-year old priest could manage. But it was too simplistic, true but simplistic. It was loneliness unlike any other he had read of before. It was more than haunting, worse than abject. It martyred him every night. It was a crippling eternal hunger or disease. It made him lie in a foetal position motionless in bed stuck within himself; stuck outside. Or prostrate on the cold cement floor blinking into the darkness to discern the strange and hostile forms that the heavy blackness gave to his chair, his lamp, his table and his life. On other nights he walked streets that were as empty as himself, looking into windows and catching the limp eyes of mannequins through the displays. Looking at the distant, unchanging horizon and the low, inconstant moon. Or sitting up alert at daybreak listening to the light play of footfalls form the rain’s innumerable feet over his iron roofs.

He was alone…not lonely, wasn’t that how irrationalized his life? Cost to self; the essence of sacrifice…and he suffered. On some days he dismissed strangers at the start of the impersonal handshakes, on others, often on others; he made it his business to be in the middle of the crowd so that he brush shoulders with them or touch a hem and be healed.

No, it had not been the manly desire for a woman. He was seeking something slightly lower than God; turbulence, a conditional love or a mortality of soul, fever or a scent lingering on the sheets. His vocation allowed him curious opportunities to thrust himself into the lives of others. But it was such hygienic contact…and they always left. Maybe it was a need to be more than the habitual detached observer. A desire not just to be admired as a hero but loved as a man. A selfish need to win a heart, chain it to himself and yes…to be worshipped.

It was then that she had arrived. At that age when he was old enough to know that it wouldn’t last and older still as to want to believe that it could.

He was forty two then and even then he had been too young for him. Kasanza. She came back to him now like a distant memory of madness. She was beautiful. It was still the greatest thing a woman could be. And having possessed her, he knew intimately about the other worlds he’d abjured. You couldn’t tell from the picture how long her hair was, held back in a tight bun it was. And sitting up on his sofa, perusing one of his thick philosophy books, her thick hair down …she looked ridiculously young.

He caught whiffs of her from hushed whispers in the wind, the Kenyan love for gossip being what it was. She’d married or eloped with a young accountant and relocated to Mombasa or Voi. Somewhere remote and unreachable.

“Do you regret your vows?”

“Old men shouldn’t hope for love; chaste affection at best or tolerance, not love.” For a while he was vacant.

“Do you feel Kenyan?”

“I don’t know, what are the symptoms?” It was his first half-hearted attempt at humour and he was rewarded with a serious, gummy smile for his troubles. He had been in Nairobi over a couple of decades, he still couldn’t claim it. The city. He hated the cruelty relentless pace of life, the night sound still as foreign to him as at arrival. Distant sirens, distant music, distant gunshots …like hazy memories of a bad cinema production. Nevertheless something started in him here. He felt himself in Nairobi a part of the four million souls circling each other, looking for connection, money, meaning. In some respect it had changed. The sky line was under the constant attack of Babel-minded constructors, fresh paint over old signs, rushed recarpeting of pot-holes which the rain merrily washed off. Yet in some respects, it hadn’t. The rhythm was perennial. But he was an anachronist and he saw everything as it was; as he was. He could feel the burgeoning of hope, good in the city as in himself. “This is Nairobi.”

He pointed towards the shot of a panoramic view. Albert nodded agreeably, unconvinced.

He had stumbled on woods on one of those moist, uneventful Tuesdays of January. A happy accident on a whimsical detour ten years ago. They were still  untouched, still untamed, still made him nostalgic for the little forest near his maternal old father’s country house in the mountain region, which seemed to him now, a middle aged man, a magical childhood fantasy. He remembered running through the little forest of his youth laced with heavy, ethereal mist, through closely spaced conifers his happy feet cutting through pretty weeds and undergrowth. Fluttering, curious and happy. Full lungs and sweaty palms; it was the only conception of freedom his little mind could understand then and even now, feeling older than his fifty one years he found himself no wiser.

They were about sixty kilometers west of the city. To get there he had to get off the highway, travel up a dusty murram road and climb up a gentle incline carpeted with Napier grass and dotted with lemon green shrubs like an artistic after thought of nature. The woods broke abruptly reveal a clearing, circular and with a Mugumo tree at the center. He panted more getting to then than he had the first time. He never allowed himself fatalistic moments that he could feel the sunset of days, of years…of life.

The clearing was covered with a prefusion of wild flowers like a dust of European spring spread out. There were the usual creatures of small forest; lizards moving in fast paced semi leaps over rocks, ants in single files to crimson anthills. The Columbus monkeys that patronize his little paradise refused to scurry in panic at his surprise arrivals perhaps out of reticence on familiarity. He fed them macadamia nuts from petrol station en route. He often went there when he wanted to be a boy. And he was determined with that intractability of age, even through the melodrama of it, to die there.

“I am this mud.” He was part of the muck and the mafia, the stagnant sewage and flying toilets. Life was hard but bearable. He paid protection money to the local gang Siafu or Mungiki for the clinic; they were gentle to an old priest but persuasive. He was part of the narrative. An everyday man. He wasn’t black or born here but that didn’t weigh heavily on him. The lion’s story should be taken with as much pinch of salt as the hunter’s, he thought.

“Are you seeking absolution through public plagellation?”

Redemption. If he believed and hoped it for others he could believe it for himself. He subconsciously rubbed the beads of his crucifix.

“Do you accept the president’s award?”


He had finished reading a glowing tribute to tirelessly dedicated friend of Africa by Albert Duma in the Daily express. Albert Duma had defended the phrasing as honest but admitted to its less than good taste. The voice over the phone was still superior, still clinical, still sonorous but familiar.

“You didn’t write the truth?”

“The public doesn’t need to be entertained as much as you think. God knows the country doesn’t need another scandal”

“Was that all?”

He paused for a while. “A feel good story is what the public needs”

“You don’t sound like a gossip writer.”

The journalist laughed and the old .priest felt compelled to join in.


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