There are readers who don’t comment. They email me thoughts. Some are long emails, others are short emails. Some make sense to me, others only make sense to them. Some become e-friends, others become real acquaintances. This particular one began with this girl emailing me to tell me that her widowed mother – now a retired teacher in the village – is a big fan of Mantalk and that she would be thrilled if I emailed her on her 65th birthday to wish her a happy birthday. I thought, why the hell not? After all, we are both products of mothers who were teachers. We have to stick together against all those people whose mothers used to wear high heels to work. Plan was; she would transfer the content of my email to a Word document, print it as a letter and deliver it to her mother. So I wrote her mother an email on her birthday. Something as cheesy as you would expect. You know;
“Hallo Mama Purity
Boy, was I chuffed when your daughter emailed me to tell me that you read me, a whole English teacher! What an honour, ma’am! I hope retirement is treating you well. How do you fill your time, anyway? Do you have goats and all? Do you sit in the verandah, reading glasses balanced on your nose? You must be so relaxed. And happy.
Anyway, a little birdie – okay, your daughter – mentioned that it’s your “happy birthday” today and that you are – for some reason that I don’t understand – a huge fan of Mantalk. Well, happy birthday! Do you have a cake? Are there balloons? What is your wish today when you blow the candle? I hope you blow many more candles because your daughter thinks the world of you…yada yada yada…
I went to town with that letter.
She was very happy to read from me, the daughter told me. Flattered even. I was flattered too and happy that she was happy. I honestly thought I would go to heaven after that.
Anyhow, the daughter and I kept in touch. She would write in once in a while to comment about a story I had written or just gas. She was sharp, funny and very queer. It helped that she never wrote those long, dreadful emails because I never want to spend my life reading long emails. They were snappy emails, over before they started, sometimes not even ending, as if she started writing them and lost interest midway and sent them anyway. She also addressed me as Jacko, perhaps to mirror her whacko.
Sometimes she would write very strange, one-line emails: “Jacko, today I saw a bird that reminded me of you.” I wrote back asking if she meant a bird as in a chick or a bird with beaks and wings? Then she wrote, “A bird; warm-blooded, egg-laying vertebrate. I know it’s odd but I saw it and thought, that bird reminds me of Jacko. No reason at all.” Inread that and giggled like a bird. Then I said, “Well, I’m flattered. Why did it remind you of me, was it because it was peeing on someone’s windscreen?” I have been told I look like many things, but not a bird. It’s the highest compliment you can receive on earth – to be likened to a bird – because some people remind others of crocodiles or porcupine or snails.
Like a submarine she would resurface after several weeks, without warning. “Jacko, I have a question for you and answer me honestly because you don’t know me and I can’t judge you. Ready? Okay, here we go; When do you consider yourself an adult?” My first thought was to say “All the time,” because it has an adult ring to it. But when you sit on it for a moment you realise that it’s a question that demands, at the very least, some form of exertion in the form of introspection. Because technically half the time we aren’t even adults. Like on the road, we are all juvenile, not giving way, tit for tat. At work, we are even worse; kissing the ass of the boss visiting from the London office, wanting to be the favoured one, to be seen as the only one working by waking up at 2am to send emails and copying the whole bloody world. We moan on Facebook, which is nothing like being adult.
I mulled over her question for hours and then wrote back something I imagined was half amusing but also illuminating. I wrote, “When I don’t lose my national ID. I’m one of those people who hardly lose their national ID. What about you?” She wrote. “I’m at my most adult when I’m buying sultanas. Have you ever shopped for sultanas? Only real adults know how to shop for the right sultanas.” Then she was off again for a month. No email. No smoke signal. Like a spy in a movie who steps into the rain at night, collar turned up, and is gone.
I never knew when or what she would write about next. Or what time that email would come. Sometimes I would find it sitting there in the morning, sent at 3am. Other times I would find it after coming back from the office washroom at midday. “How have you been?” I’d write in reply and she once said casually, “I have been battling depression. It’s like walking around with a black paper-bag over your head.” And then she changed the topic by writing about something that happened to her in the underground parking after work. “I got to my car and remembered that I had forgotten my car keys upstairs in the kitchen. I then leaned on the car and waited, hoping that a good samaritan in the office would have seen them and would bring them down. No chance. Talk later Jacko.” Then she was gone.
Sometimes it would be a short email with something like, “ Jacko, from these emails, do you think I’m a good or bad person?” (Me: Definitely a bad person.) Or, “Jacko, you seem to know many things. Here is a cracker – can one tell how fast a beard belonging to a teenage Nordic grows?” Or, “Hi Jacko, what do you think your enemy would say in your eulogy? If you condensed their whole day’s speech.” This one time she wrote and said that she had a pimple in her nose and that it would wait to itch in a meeting and she asked me if it was unlady-like to use a pen to scratch a pimple in one’s nose.
Some days – after days of radio silence – I would find an email from her asking me if I knew anyone, a contact, in the Ministry of Water and Natural Resources. I would not know if she was for real or just yanking my chain and so I’d write back and apologise for my lack of contacts in the water department, but that if ever, in the future, she needed a contact in the city council’s water and sewerage department I would be of great help. There would be days she would send me a passage from a book she had read, always something with cobwebs. Or I’d wake up and find an email about her thinking that she had a twin in the rural villages of Kraków who thought, ate, walked, slept like her. (Me: Like a doppelganger?) “Yes. Do you think I’m being a bit crazy?” (Me: “Yes, but just a bit. I will tell you when that becomes a bit more.”)
It would go on in that fashion – disjointed, fractured, drifty, voluminous thoughts. At first I suspected that it was a guy writing in as a woman. (It has happened before). Then I figured it was actually a woman but maybe someone who belongs to a secret cult. Then it occured to me that they were not 100 percent, and not just the quirkiness but the yoyo-ness. Like they were two women in one woman. Both unhinged. Both lost and unknown to each other.
Of course she was fascinating. There was no knowing what she would write. I never asked her about her life – where she worked, how old she was (estimate mid to late 20s), or if she lived in Nairobi or Isiolo – because her emails were always like smoke, you could never catch them and retain them long enough to make complete sense of them. Her name on her email, I googled much later, was a rare flower: Kokio. To mean it was most likely a fake email address, like some people write from when they want to email me about something they are embarrassed or scared about. She always signed off as Purity. But for all I knew she was a man. Or a clerk who worked in the water and sewerage department. It could be Fred, who sits next to me in the office. It could be a bot. It could be a spirit from the other world. It could be a bored doorman at a hotel in UpperHill.
Over a month ago she emailed me. “Jacko-man, how are you? That’s the only guest writer [Mannequin Wedding] you have brought that I didn’t want to put in my blender and make a cocktail from. Can I confide something?” She was three months pregnant, she said, and added that I shouldn’t worry it wasn’t mine (haha) and that she was depressed on top of being pregnant and that she was thinking of finding peace with it by “checking out of this theater of life.” She said that she couldn’t live with a baby on top being “ill inside,” that she had to do it fast because she could already “feel the legs of the baby growing in me,” and that she had to end everything. “Do you think I’m doing the right thing?” I wrote back and said, “If you are planning to kill yourself and are asking if it’s right or wrong then I’d say wrong. I’m sure there is another solution. I can’t think of one right away but I’m sure dying isn’t the only one.”
That was many weeks ago. She hasn’t replied. I have sent two knock-knock emails, nothing. I have been on look out for suicide reports in the newspaper and searched RIP in Facebook but seen nothing. The death reports on Facebook don’t tell of the causes. She could have been buried by now, with her baby with grown legs. Or she could be at work, forgeting her car keys and waiting for an angel to bring them down to the basement. Or hospitalised with mental health issues. Or this could have been someone’s very healthy joke, a personification, something born out of boredom or curiosity or, worse, both.
The internet remains a weird place; you never know what you are looking at – smoke and mirrors or the real thing.
Purity, you odd child, if you are real and you didn’t off yourself, send me a smoke signal.