I turned 35. Please, remain seated. The morning of my birthday I woke up at 5am, laced up my trainers, threw my hoodie over my head and silently slipped out into the bleak dawn chill. You know it’s very cold when you hear your nipples sigh reluctantly. Normally I run to clear my head, to keep the realities of 30’s off my waistline (unsuccessfully) and to keep the cholesterol in its rightful place. Also, my gramps chipped from HBP, my mom with a heart condition so I also run with the remote hope of outrunning death. It’s foolish, yes, but it makes me happy, this massive momentum of immortality.
But that morning I ran for different reason; I ran because I was slightly anxious of the very idea of 35. Of being five years from 40 and another half dozen years to the life expectancy of a man in Kenya. Five minutes into the run, it started drizzling, that incessant drizzle that puts a decent puddle in your shoes. But I wasn’t going to turn back, so I dutifully put one foot before the other. Running in the rain has the same feeling like siting in a shrink’s chair; you are compelled to evaluate, to introspect.
It wasn’t long before John Mayer’s, “Stop This Train,” started looping in my head. That wicked guitar, that voice that gives you fears a face. Don’t know what else to say it, don’t want to see my parents go, Mayer sang in my head. The older you grow, the closer your parents inch towards their graves. Unlike Mayer, I’m more fearless in that front. I already lost mom, once you have lost your mother – apart from your child – there is no loss that can possibly top that. Losing your mother leaves a massive ugly crater in your heart, one that when it rains – like it was when I was pounding the lam that morning – fills it with such bitterness and horrid loneliness.
So scared of getting older, I’m only good at being young, Mayer continued singing. So I play the numbers again and find a way to say that life has just begun/ stop this train, I want to get off and go home again/ I can’t take this speed it’s moving in…
And because the reality is that we can’t stop this train, because this train will continue moving even in our absence, I find myself on Ngong Road later that morning. I find myself seated in a chair in a scruffy living room because I want to subscribe to those maxims that you will read from great men who almost figured life; I want focus less on the moving train and more on enjoying the locomotion. Corny like hell.
The hour hand of the clock above pokes at 9. There is a mobile phone in the bedroom that has this ugly sms-tone of a bulimic song that I was later to learn is a Korean hit called Gangnam Style. It’s the kind of rubbish song that Nairobi’s “socialites” adopt as their own unique anthem that sets them apart from the rest of the peasants. Every time that phone received an sms – and it did receive many – that song started playing Gangnam Style and I felt my bladder fill.
On the seat on my side, also waiting, was an agreeable gentleman who introduced himself as Coco. Given the conversation he had been having with our host, I figured he hosts a night-show on some radio station. Next to him was his company, a pleasant and calm mixed race chick with seemingly proper breeding. Although we are all in that room for one thing, our reasons, I’m certain, remained virtually parallel.
Our host was a poster-child of quirky; a cylindrical tube lodged into his earlobes like a pseudo-Maasai, dreadlocks tied up behind his head like Maxi Priest, old stubble, a body swathed with tattoos, fashionably knackered look and a scratching voice that gnawed at us like a greyhound’s bite. He’s called Newton and he wanted my shirt off. Then he got to work, the master himself, the best from Malindi to Cape Town. Ask around; ask for Newton and you will hear of his fame, his dexterity with ink and his needle. You will also hear that he was the first black invitee to the Cape Town Tattoo Convention this year. He finished with me in 45mins flat. I didn’t cry. I wanted to, but I couldn’t -there was a lady in the room after all.
That evening I walked in the house and removed my shirt and showed my, now-raw, bicep to Tamms. She squealed, “That’s my name!” I wouldn’t say she was excited at me tattooing her name on me, more like intrigued.
At 30 I wanted to get a tattoo but the missus took exception and said it was sort of “demonic.” That it just wasn’t something I would do, that it was “out of my character.” And she was right, about the character bit, I don’t know about the demonic bit. . I think demonic is when you wear red skinny jeans and curly kit your hair. Then carry a violin. Demonic to the end. Good thing I didn’t because I would have had a tattoo of something senseless, like a scorpion. Or a barbed wire
I don’t pierce and I don’t ink, I have never, but 35 will put you in a different place. You want to define that age with something timeless, because unlike turning 30 – a bewildering time when you are grasping with the notion of self qualification – 35 is a safe house of adulthood where you hanker in to contemplate and stock-take. It makes you think of yourself and it makes you selfish and surely every man is allowed selfishness every five years. OK, maybe 10.
So I showered and waited for the missus to get back home and give me a windy dress down on how I don’t consult, how I will so burn in hell because of my juvenile whims, how I have lost focus and how she is totally disgusted by me dragging “the baby’s name” in my trivial demonic hedonism (She still calls Tamms “the baby” but between me and you I think you revoke the title of being called “the baby’ when you are able to finish a whole medium pizza, alone!).
This is a tip for those living with women. If you have to break some bad news to her, if you have to make an admission that’s going to get her goat, don’t wait until after they have showered (assuming yours shower. I hear some don’t. God bless you strong fellows). Always ambush them before they put their purses down, before they settle down and get their bearing. Always ambush them while they are still breathless from the traffic jam, this is the time they are too tired to kick up dust. Trust me it works.
So I showed her the tattoo before her purse hit the bed and she stood there looking at it like you would look at a child with a running nose.
“Nice huh?” I said unconvincingly.
“A tattoo,” she mumbled. No, a bowl of spaghetti, I wanted to say but it just wasn’t the time for humour.
“Does it hurt?” she asked moving closer to it, and I instinctively stepped back because I was certain she would grab my arm and bite it or twist it, anything that would maim the devil’s agent forever. “ No, just a sting.” I said all macho and shit. She stared at it for a while before finally saying it’s “OK”. Then she started talking about something else, something about work, or shoes, or her cousin or her brothers. Then she went to shower and when she came back she suspiciously didn’t mention the tattoo that evening. Or the next. Days have since passed and she hasn’t said anything! You are thinking exactly what I’m thinking; this is not over! Something’s a foot. Hardy Boy’s used to say the clue to a crime is that the dog that didn’t bark.
She’s planning something, and she’s waiting for me to get comfortable then she will move in for the kill (and this is not a pun). I have, since, decided not to leave my back exposed to her. Or my arm for that matter. I tell you that woman is planning something dark. I can see from her eyes, how she looks at my arm. And if I ever disappear, Gang, if you never hear from me and she says I went back to Kendu Bay to keep company my grieving father, please don’t believe that hogwash. Don’t stop looking for me, or my arm. Don’t give up on me.
Mid-thirties, huh? This means that I’m changing. This means that I have already changed. I wonder if I’m any different than I was at 30 and honestly I think I am. I also wonder if I like me at 35 than I did at 30 and I think not necessarily. I’m more impatient now at 35. I anger faster now. I worry more now about stuff like my health and the people close to me. I worry about money, about the life I will lead after sunset. I worry sick about being called by my daughter’s school because something happened to her. That would – with all certainty – irredeemably crush my spirit.
My expectations of people are much lower now than it ever was at the beginning of this decade. Which means I value friendships less now than I have ever. Now I question less why people do certain things, I simply stop acknowledging them. My cynicism of things, of happenings, is at its all time highest. I’m more dismissive now than I ever been, more impatient. I think less of love or of being loved. It doesn’t worry me as it did ten years ago. I don’t care to be loved, I care to be respected, and understood. The greatest virtue has stopped being love; I don’t think love makes the world go round, I think its compassion.
But for all these flaws and shortcomings, you will be surprised to learn that I’m happier now than I was at 30. I’m less forgiving now than before because I generally care less for the things that used to get my knickers in a twist before. This attracts happiness because when you care less you avoid heart diseases and ulcers. I let go easily now, of people, of emotions, which means it’s much harder to hurt me now than it was at, say, 28. I might anger faster now, but I cool off faster too. I certainly drink less now than I used to drink at 30, and when I do I drink better drinks now simply because I can afford what I want to drink not what’s there. I eat better. I sleep sounder. I don’t care much for pleasing people now than before, this shortens my decision making process significantly. It also makes me feel lighter, less baggaged. I read more, voraciously, hungrily. I read slower now, than ever before, because words mean more to me. I cling on them, like a jealous lover.
I’m slightly more at ease with my art now than I was at 30. I write shorter sentences. I’m in better shape physically than when I was 29. I read people better. I have more hair on my chin than I ever had. I give more now than I did at 30. Even though I think less about love and being loved, I still fear being alone. Of being abandoned. I crave human presence, even if it’s just the sound of a human being breathing.
I don’t fear death; I just fear dying alone, without someone holding my right hand as life ebbs from me. In fact, I’m less afraid of death now as compared to say, five months ago, this is because I’m convinced that someone will be there to receive me in the land of the dead; my mom.
Generally, I smile less now, thanks to a second premolar.