I’ve been listening to a lot of Michael Buble lately. We all know that anybody who listens to Buble is either heartbroken or planning to commit themselves in an institution. I’m neither. I’m in the blues, a writer’s blues. I’m sorry, a writer’s blues is when you find yourself unable to tap into your writer Qi. When words have fled your heart. When you struggle with the basic concept of subject and verbs and how they eventually marry to form a sentence. That’s how simple writing a sentence is. For example; Biko eats quickly. Now you need many of these sentences to form some sort of a story. And therein lies the problem; my sentences fail to launch. They have turned into dust in a pantry.
I don’t know what brings it, but I know it. I know it very well. It comes often. Like a common cold. And like a cold, a virus, you reality can’t treat you. You just have to have some bedrest and drink lots of water and wait it out.
The only person who understands this moment is Buble even though he only sings about love. But love, like writing, is pain and loss and beauty. It’s not often compensated. Other times it’s so toxic it eats your bones. I have seen someone start limping because they are having love problems. Love eats your bones. I think Coldplay talks about it igniting your bones in Fix You. I think. Writing does the same.
Anyway, I play Buble a lot lately. Mostly in the car. Sometimes I just drive around the neighborhood, going nowhere, stopping at lights and looking out at nothing until someone honks behind because the lights have changed. Sometimes I think of my mother. Sometimes I think of my children. Sometimes I think of old lovers who stopped talking to me. Sometimes I feel the sadness of writing pull me into the ground. Strange place this. Place of little windows and doors that open from the inside. Place of listlessness. Place of no discovery. Of little intuition. Or curiosity. Sometimes I realise that I look for danger, pain, something to jolt me out of this zone. I’m reading stories of people getting lost in forests and never finding their way out. Boys who spent months on a boat out in the sea, almost eating each other. I’m watching Top Boy, where friends fetch friends who are snitches from their houses and then shoot them over 20 times on top of a rooftop with a beautiful London skyline.
The other day I called a woman whose baby was mauled by a leopard. She’s all the way out there in Mitabooni, Machakos. I didn’t even know leopards are in Machakos. She was in bed, recuperating. She was hurt in the attack, I gathered. She was wounded but her worst wounds were in her voice. She said she wasn’t ready to speak to me yet. She wanted a month. I was disappointed, selfishly.
I’m currently trying to write a story about a guy who almost died of TB. He came this close to dying. I’m taking him as close to death as I can to find horror in his story, to find the face of fear. If it’s done you will read it this Thursday.
For now, I asked Eddie to fill in. Bless him. He has written a story that made me chuckle. A story that isn’t about his father.
To tell you the truth, I was planning on writing about something else. Had a whole other article mapped out, about KCSE and university and whatnot — but stay on the lookout for that. Coming soon.
But not right now.
Right now, I have some news. I moved out. Okay, this is not a big deal, unless you consider the fact that I am a place hoarder. I used no house agent(s), which sounds badass until you realize you have to pay them. I went the old school way, the old-fashioned way, for old times’ sake: that is to mean I searched. I didn’t want no agent like some gauche simpletons.
I was looking for a place to live and one breezy Sunday afternoon I walked into an apartment off Ngong Rd and my heart stood still. Love. At first sight. This? This is it. Eureka. I was at the table, I didn’t need a second invitation to eat. I said, “Nalipa deposit wapi?” We got on like a house on fire. The apartment was huge. It was on the third floor, shackled in between trees with an eager caretaker who I discovered has a penchant for rosemary (the herb, not the girl). The rent is manageable, which, by ‘larger Kilimani’ standards, was practically a bargain. Trust me, it was.
Hold on. I am getting ahead of myself here. Let’s go to where it started, where only the OGs can relate: bedsitters.
I loved my bedsitter. It was my first real responsibility. I was paying KSh 8,5000 rent, 8700 if you add water and electricity; we were two peas in a pod. Even as I went through my career rungs, I refused to move out, staying in that place for one election cycle. Bedsitters, for those of you who can’t relate, are a class above Single Rooms in the social stratosphere. We are the upper class of the lower class. I don’t know if you’ve ever lived in a bedsitter, it is a sobering reality.
But every zig has its zag; for the bedsitters ying, its yang was the ability to access everything from the comfort of your bed; heck, you can even bathe while watching Young, Rich and African. Everything is a convertible … the microwave is the coffee table, the sufuria is the plate, the TV doubles up as a mirror. Even when you have a fight with your prayer partner, you have to sort it out, because she cannot slam the door on you ati oh she is going to the next room, ati oh you will sleep on the sofa. What sofa?!
You can’t be a plant daddy in a bedsitter, true story: I tried growing a plant in my bedsitter – I almost died at night competing for oxygen. As we used to say back in campus, ‘chwarni makae tindo tindo.’ (The bed bugs were also very small – for fear of killing you, they ration your blood.)
But this is not a story about bedsitters.
I had called up my friend to buy him lunch – à la American Gangster. It was all a ruse. I wanted intel on houses along where he lives.
I wanted somewhere that was rather private. A place with little to no kids, because I have that famous impatience that childless people have for people with children. Look, it’s not that I hate kids, but, you know. It’s kids. And who am I kidding (hehe)? I’m a man on the move, I’m a bird, I can’t have a four-year-old start calling me ‘uncle’ and asking why I am always in biker shorts.
I wanted somewhere along Ngong Rd because I have a career trajectory I am aiming for. Ngong Rd, Kilimani, Lavington then I am out of Nairobi and leave it for the youngins. I started with Highrise Estate, drawn in by the ‘estate’ part of its name. I am sorry if you are reading this from Highrise Estate, but this is what, verbatim, the agent told me:
“Tutakupea mitungi mbili ya 1000 litres. Maji inakuja Friday na Saturday.”
Hehehe! You had to be there.
Let me have a glass of water. As I said, I am a man on the move. What will I be doing in the house on a Friday? And a Saturday? What am I, 36 years old with a bad back and chia seeds?
I left my bedsitter estate WhatsApp group because the admin was rather loquacious. I’d wake up to 400 messages, combing through looking for relevant information on whether rent had been reduced (ha!) or who is the new girl on the 2nd floor who comes in at 10pm daily and never talks in the group? I didn’t want to move because I never paid for Wi-Fi or Netflix. I’m not ashamed. You can’t Wi-Fi-shame me. I was doing what girls my age have been doing for millions of centuries: using what you have to get what you want—in this case, free logins. My immediate neighbor, who was a lady, was a man-magnet (mangnet?). Can I tell you this short story? I am going to tell you this short story.
Men fell over themselves trying to curry favor. I was too busy trying to stay alive in my bedsitter to particularly take a liking to her. Well, not in that way anyway. And because we all want what we can’t have, she always wondered why. The guys gave her Netflix and Wi-Fi passwords. And guess what? She gave me the Netflix and Wi-Fi passwords. So, you see, my reasons to stay were justified. And let me tell you, I am a heavy streamer. Oh. Heavy. I put the ‘I’ in internet. Do you know what the best part of this story is? I am not ashamed at all. I am Wi-Fi positive. In fact, if you continue reading, I may just give out the Netflix account password because I am my own man. For now.
I moved out of that bedsitter without notice, not because I did not want to hurt her feelings, but because I am terrible at goodbyes. She was not impressed. You’d think we were Wi-Fi and Netflix parents or something. Now, we live in that ghost town of silent viewers of each other WhatsApp statuses, a physical manifestation of being close without being intrusive. I will miss that free Wi-Fi, though.
When I got my new house, I felt something shift in me. I had touched the hem of the garment. It is one of those things, one of those you’ll know when you see it. I knew it, when I saw it.
I’ve already made friends. My neighbour, the one on top – I realise how that sounds – is a cool guy. He has invited me for dinner but I just don’t understand how you can have anything other than ugali for dinner. Also, where I come from it’s called supper.
Like any new homeowner, I wanted to show off my nest. You know, the oddest thing about what’s happening right now is that we’ve stopped living our lives and we’re just recording them. It is the idiom of the city and one of its many voices, for where else in the world will strangers bear their intimate secrets to one another with such urgency and such speed?
And not that I am planning to live here until I am 36 with a bad back and on a diet of chia seeds. I want to live here forever. or at least until I am 36 with a bad back and a diet of chia seeds.
Look, I’m living in Nairobi – the international capital for the untethered. Nairobi is a very livable city. But try moving away and coming back and you will notice the city turning hostile against you. It’s much more expensive. It doesn’t help that Nairobi is always under construction, giving the impression that it is getting ready to go somewhere important, to go chill with the big boys. When you leave Nairobi and come back, you find it has moved on. Moved on without you.
Here’s what you discover when you move to a bigger house: you think you have stuff until you move out.
Everything that fit in my bedsitter looked so small in my new house. Confession: I used to enter the sitting room, ahem, excuse my manners, the living room and I would be met with a damning echo so loud I swear I could have conversations with myself. I’d waltz back into my house in the evening and head straight to the bedroom, and sit on the bed because that is what I am used to. What I know. It was Stockholm Syndrome, but for houses. You can take the boy out of the bedsitter but you cannot take the bedsitter out of the boy.
What I know is that I had to first lock down a key cog in my bachelor wheeling lifestyle: mama mboga. Here’s the thing, there are three important women in a man’s life: Mama Mzazi, Mama Fua and Mama Mboga. If you have all these three women working in tandem and you take care of them, monetarily, I assure you your days will be blessed on earth.
Speaking of, for the heathens in the room, there is no church around. Okay, I’m lying. There is an SDA makeshift in the horizon but they only meet on Saturdays. And guess who’s never in the house on Saturdays? This big boy, that’s who.
So you can see how I fell. I was in love.
The point I want to make is that love may or may not be homesickness, but homesickness is definitely love. I’ve morphed into one of those slogs that embraces the comforts of depravity: I can spend a whole day in bed watching Young, African and Dumb on mute while mindlessly scrolling through Twitter, getting enraged and muting Manchester United and Ronaldo fans, those old bastions who prefer to live in the past. Manchester United is just a big bedsitter. You can tweet that.
I don’t want to overshare but: The windows are big: if you like art, the windows are expansively lit, trapping the morning due like Venus flytraps subduing a hapless fly. If you like science, as a plant daddy my succulents wouldn’t die out of neglect. If you are into religion, this window represents the big opportunities coming into your life.
Which reminds me, can we talk about curtains? Let’s talk about curtains.
Nobody told me this, or maybe I wasn’t listening but the price of curtains in this country is unsustainable for a developing nation. Jesus did not die for this. May the god of curtains or whoever is in charge of material in heaven cut us some slack. Surely. I had to acquaint myself with Eastleigh, the curtain capital of the world. I was told my dad jokes would greatly factor the discount prices so I carried enough material. No? no?
The thing with Eastleigh is that it looks like a Mercedes on a Probox chassis. The skyline, in the dusty haze, looks like the cover of a dystopian science-fiction novella. Clusters of skyscrapers lurch out at the gray desert accompanied by their moribund cranes, propped up with scaffolding, swagged in plastic sheeting. Eastleigh wants to grow up to be Dubai.
I dropped a cool kidney on the curtains in Eastleigh. The kind of luxury you’d sell your wife to buy. For me, I was comfortable with mooning my neighbors and putting up bed sheets to cover the windows because this is my house and I pay the rent. I will put bloody bed sheets if that is what I want.
When they run me the curtain Math I was there like? What? Just to close the windows?
The value of one pair of curtains rivaled my sense of self-worth. And she told me, “You need curtains to gather.” Gather? Tf is gather? Gather where? Gather what? Gather who?
This is the apogee of bachelor life; the circus in town and you are the clown regent. If curtains don’t fuel your desire to get rich, then nothing will. In fact, I am voting for the leader who will address the economic disparity in curtains. It will be a cool day in hell if you ever see me buying curtains again. It’s easier for the Catholic Church to embrace John Calvin than to find me in a curtain shop. Bloody curtains!
“A totally empty home, with only an echo inside, feels like closure.”
That gorgeous line, with its waltzing dactyls, pops into my head time and over again.
Because finding the right place to live is often like finding the right spouse. Just like you can date or marry a place, you can divorce one. You find yourself on a new journey when you’re still not out of love with where you were. But we are always grappling with the past, trying to plant it in the present, trying to go back to ‘the way things used to be.’ Wake up and draw the *expensively acquired* curtains: it’s gone.
It’s not love. It’s just where you live. Chia up.
We are leaving town for the creative writing masterclass. Going to frolic in words at Enashipai Resort for two nights and three days. And have Singleton cocktails in the evenings as we stare into a bonfire under a starless sky. Maybe someone will sing. Maybe not. Silence is also good. Register for the class HERE.