It’s 6pm. Kevin is doing his last shoot of the day at the Buntwani jetty in Malindi. His cast is a group of Giriama dancers dancing (more like gyrating) at the beach. The sun is curtseying out stage left. I’m bored and tired. This morning we were to meet at the reception at 5:15am but somehow I confused my times and got there at 4:10am. Meaning I woke up at 3:45am for nothing.
Throughout the day we have shot monkeys at Gedi ruins, Giriama dancers in a village and a Kiriri (sandal maker). I got a quick haircut and a shoulder and neck massage from Eva at Deluxe salon in Malindi town and then late lunch at the bustling Simba dishes. Now we are here.
So I’m knackered. The breeze gets nippy as the sun slowly disappears in the horizon. The waves froth and get angrier, lapping at the shore with an aggressiveness that seems to remind us that we don’t belong here anymore. I hope Kevin wraps it up pronto. My skin feels sticky. I can’t wait to go back to the hotel, stand under a warm shower for ten minutes and wash away the day. Lillian is standing further off staring at the shoot, hands folded defiantly across her chest, wearing a cold determined look. She just had a small tiff with Kevin moments ago. Production things. Sometimes people get anxious. Sometimes people say things and people take offence and curt words are briefly exchanged. It’s inevitable when you spend every waking day working with someone. They will be fine. Everybody is just tired and pressured and isn’t having enough sleep. [Cue in: raised hand].
To kill time, I take a small lazy stroll by the beach and pretend I’m on holiday. There are a bunch of boys chasing a football across the jetty. A very old mzungu couple painfully shuffles along hand in hand. Darkness slowly blows across the beach.
Then I see this shoe.
It’s been washed ashore, a poor battered old shoe. Seaweed grows out of its toe. The lace is missing. I can tell it belonged to a struggling man because alongside the heel you can see threads that a shoemaker awkwardly stitched to hold its sole intact. It’s a right shoe. But where is the left shoe, its life’s partner? I look for it along the breadth of the beach but don’t find it. So I carry it to where Lilian and Muiruri are now chatting and ask, “Don’t you look at this shoe and wonder who the owner was?” Muiruri stares at the shoe and then slowly stares at me. He looks like he wants to say, “no” but he smiles politely. That smile when someone thinks you are idle.
“No seriously, is the owner of this shoe alive or dead? Is he from Tanzania? Or from Mombasa? How old is he? Does he have kids? Did this shoe drift in from India?” They just stared at the shoe. “Come on, aren’t you guys a little curious about who last wore this shoe?” Muiruri looks at the shoe again. I can tell I now have his attention. Lilian chuckles reluctantly. You know that chuckle of, “I’m still pissed off and I don’t want you to get me out of this zone. I want to be pissed off for a little longer.”
Then Muiruri says, “I think the owner is dead.” I ask why. “Because when people die, one shoe normally flies off the foot.”
“Yes, in road accidents! Was he hit by a trailer out at sea?”
Lilian now laughs out loud. I have won.
Kevin finishes his shoot. We leave. Listen, this might sound cuckoo, but I really mulled over the history of that shoe and its owner. Sometimes when I start thinking about shit I get a bit obsessive about it. It squats there in my mind, like putty, and I keep going back to knead it into any shape my mind desires. And the more I knead it the more it imprisons me. Does that make any sense? Forget it, I knew you wouldn’t understand, your lives are paved so nicely with sanity.
At night, I sat down in my room at Lawford’s Hotel (large wide beds in large spacious rooms) to write my log of the day, but that damned shoe kept intruding on my thoughts. So I highlighted the 143 words I had written, deleted all of it and then wrote about the shoe. To exorcise it.
I think that shoe didn’t belong to a fisherman because fishermen don’t go out to sea with shoes. That shoe didn’t come from the nearby villages because of the seaweed that was stuck in it. It was washed in from the sea where it has been for a while. I think the owner is dead. I’m sorry, but I think he died. Maybe he got pushed out of a passing steamer. Maybe in anger someone hurled that shoe at someone on a ship and it missed the other person and fell into the sea. Or maybe the owner committed suicide, perhaps after hearing some chap wekelead Agwambo a good one.
Question is did he die in deep sea? Highly unlikely. Muiruri told me that if you die in deep sea the fish eat you and then eat your shoe. Unless it’s an Adidas, naturally. There was seaweed sticking out of that shoe, which suggests that it had stayed in the sea for a while. Like fish called it home for a bit. A family of fish with a father fish and mother fish and baby fish as Tamms would put it. And they all slept in the dead man’s shoe as one big happy family.
Did I tell you about Tamm’s fish that died (RIP, Baddie) and as we buried her/him out in the flowerbed (the missus’s genius idea, like a little last respect kind of thing. A Luo burying fish!) She asked me if the fish would meet my mum in heaven? Imagine she did. Like the soul of Baddie would float and meet the soul of my mom in heaven and my mom would inquire about my health etc. It made me sad, flattered and amused. Sad that she thinks little of my mom’s soul; that it ended up in a place they would send the souls of fish! Flattered that she hasn’t forgotten my mom and amused that she even asked. I wanted to tell her that if her fish ever met my mum in heaven, my mum would certainly ask for some tartar sauce! Anyway, I only remember this story because she always called the fish Baddie the baby fish. Kids are insane.
But back to this shoe.
What we know for sure about this shoe is that it doesn’t belong to someone from Migori. Or Somalia. Because those chaps from Somalia don’t wear shoes. We also know that it couldn’t have drifted in from India because this shoe is a size 10 and Indians generally have small feet. Unless of course, it’s Aleya’s feet. It’s highly likely that the shoe belonged to a man, but if by some disturbing chance it was a woman’s then chances are it was a Kalenjin woman, those who just love wearing sports shoes with dresses. You know, like for Sunday things in Iten. By the way, let’s not take offense here; we are simply trying to get to the bottom of this shoe business and I need everybody to put aside their emotions and be supportive.
I went to bed thinking about this shoe. It will be on my mind for a while. Like at least until Friday. I think it would make a great coffee table book picture and story because I don’t think Safaricom would put it in their calendar. This shoe is more than a shoe; it’s a metaphor of just how uncertain everything is in life. How you can disappear.
This shoe represents the questions we all struggle with through our lives. And we all love to obsess over questions that we have no answers to: like will I live to see 60? What happens to us when we die? What about fish? What happens to fish when they die? Does anybody even care, apart from Tamms?
But maybe that’s the whole beauty of life, the elusiveness of some answers and our constant pursuit of them. Otherwise there would be no National Geographic, or Discovery Channel. It’s because of the absence of answers that men with creased eyebrows, adorned in white lab coats are flocking to Liberia to mull over Ebola.
Oh, sod it! I’m going to bed.