Mothers and grandmothers all over the country dutifully wake up at 3am to pray for their adult children and grandchildren in the city. They pray for them to meet someone to marry. They had wanted, nay, demanded, for someone from their tribe, but now with the clock loud in its brokenness, they pray for someone nice. Someone who isn’t into bestiality or sorcery. They pray for their safety, to avoid not just getting into cars driven by drunks but houses owned by drunks and drug addicts. They pray that they don’t get tattoos, and should the devil triumph and they get one, not on their calves, for chrissake. They pray that they find decent employment because writing poetry and dressing up people for a living isn’t a true career. They pray that they learn how to save money because YOLO is not a concrete plan. Most importantly, they pray that they find the Lord and embrace His ways.
My mum’s gone to a better place, of course, and that leaves my dani (and dad) with the duty to pray for my safety and grace in this city. I’m not ever going to get a tattoo on my calf but there are certain loopholes that the devil has discovered to find me because they are not included in the prayer items. The devil is alive, Gang. I know it. I have seen him. I have felt him. He has no barbed tail. His tongue isn’t a dancing flame. He doesn’t have green eyes and pink tits. Contrary to popular belief, the devil isn’t hairy; the devil waxes regularly.
The devil is bright and shiny and inviting. He opens his arms wide and says, “come on, just a look.” Because how the hell else would you bloody explain how whenever I’m in a mall and I’m going up an escalator I feel an overwhelming seduction urging me towards a doorway? How do you explain that as a 45 year old man who prides himself on being fairly well centred and rational, I constantly lose any sense of responsibility when faced with this doorway of no-return?
Maybe it’s the light. Maybe this is the light at the proverbial end of the tunnel. It’s a flame to a moth. You find yourself walking towards it, thinking, I’m an adult, I’m a father to a teenager and a football fanatic, there is nothing that can sway my will. Nothing. I will just look at some stationary and maybe get another notebook I don’t need. They are cheap anyway, nothing that will cause a dent in finances. Something that isn’t above 5000 bob. Surely, what’s the use of working your ass off as a writer if you can’t get a nice notebook worth 500 bob?
So you go in with a straight back and a determined chin and proceed to look for the notebook rack. A lady, staff, smiles at you but you don’t smile back because, men have sold their souls for smiles and in here, particularly, smiling means spending more than you intended to. Patan of the sorcery is the staff. So you focus. You take a turn and you find yourself facing what you should not be facing.
It’s a serving spoon, obviously. You don’t need a serving spoon. You have several at home, some of which don’t even use that often. But what if one day you want to host some friends, won’t this spoon create a nice culinary experience? Won’t your friends think later, “did you also want to steal that serving spoon?” I have seen salt shakers I wanted to nick. Unique whisky glasses I wanted to ask the person I’m drinking with to slip in their purse. Art and creativity sometimes beget irrationality. For this spoon, it’s the wooden handle, you realise. Who can claim not to like good wood? You weigh it in your hand while the devil whispers over your shoulder, “take it, Biko, it’s only 459 bob. Take it.” You drop it and run away.
You, one, the devil, zero.
As you pass a shelf you make eye contact with some sort of a cup. It looks to be napping. It’s yellow, which if you know your colours symbolises amongst other things, spontaneity. So, in a spontaneous moment, you stop. But only for a second, you promise yourself. Besides, to look isn’t to sin, after all.
It’s the lips on that cup that capture your imagination. You are a lips guy. (Among other things.) You look at the bedroomy eyes. Everybody loves bedroom eyes. This is as seductive as a cup can get. You hold it by the waist and say, “you are a very seductive cup.” Its expression doesn’t change after that compliment because it’s used to being complimented. It’s heard it since it was a child cup. It just remains a cup with sexy lips and bedroom eyes, unmoved by your longing overtures. Maybe you need this cup, you convince yourself, you know, to brighten the mornings you are feeling blue. But do you really? Do you really have to brighten all gloomy days? Why this aversion to a little unhappiness? Why do you need another cup to raise your mood? You hear some sniggering and turn to see three naughty cups, gymnast cups, monkeying around.
This is when you realise it’s time to get the hell out of the kitchen…section. So you stagger around. There is enthused piped music, like a nursery rhyme, pouring into the store. The light is bright and white. The tiled floors seem to emit light of their own. You pass a clutch of teenage girls in mom-jeans clustered together conferring over a product. You pass some Bucket Hats and realise that although it’s not on your Bucket List, you have always wanted to buy a Bucket Hat. Yes, sure you own a couple of Buckets Hats for the sun in the village, but none have a smiley. And in these great times of uncertainty and financial trepidation we all need symbols of hope as much as we can. Plus, it’s only a few hundred shillings. So what? Are we going to split hairs over a Bucket Hat?
The devil, one, you one.
You wear the Bucket and amble down the aisle as you take a corner and an attendant offers you a shopping basket, which is a shopping euphemism for, “don’t wear the damn hat, sir.” You place the Bucket Hat in the basket. You pass a very sexy looking Bluetooth speaker, white as snow and handy as all Bluetooth speakers tend to be. You have a Bluetooth speaker at home, a JBL that works just fine. You don’t stop to inspect this sexy white capsule, a grown-up decision you are mighty proud of. The devil loses this round.
You look around trying to find the damn notebooks. The aisles seem to come rushing at you. Problem is, based on where you are standing you have to take a circuitous route to get to them, which means as you pass by a very bright section with all these animals staring at you, whispering your name, you are compelled to stop and ask one of them, what??
It’s the blank expression for you. The general aura of indifference against the yellow. A paradox. This fellow has got nice thick-rimmed spectacles over its blank expression. Is it smiling? Is it frowning? They leave us to guess. You have always wanted to wear an expression like that because who wants to be read by everyone? You want to walk into a meeting and wear a face like this.
“Hey, excuse me,” you flag a passing attendant prancing off to help someone buy what he doesn’t need. “What is this?” You ask him. He’s a skinny young fellow with bright eyes and almost no eyebrows.
“It’s a toy,” he says.
“What is it for?” You ask him.
“The toy?” he asks, trying not to sound incredulous because they were told the customer is always right. “It’s just…a toy…I mean….” he chuckles, “to keep….like any doll. Stuffed doll.”
As you stand there staring into the blank expression of the doll you hear someone say, “Biko.” You turn and it’s some lady you know. You interviewed her a long time ago. You hide the doll behind your back and say, “Hey! How you doing?” You can’t remember her damn name, it could be a Mary, Rose or a Jane.
“I’m great! Good to see you,” she says. “I see you’re looking for a doll?”
“No, no, no, no. Ha-ha. No, No dolls. Just browsing through.” Then you notice that she isn’t alone. She is with her daughter, a small girl of about 5 or 6 years wearing the same expression as the stuffed doll behind your back. You immediately feel bad you didn’t notice her but then quickly get over it because it’s not your fault she’s 2’0’’ as children tend to be. “Hey, sweetheart,” you bend to her eye-level “What’s your name?” You ask her. She hides her face behind her mom’s leg. She isn’t in the mood to socialise and certainly not in this part of the store.
“Tell my friend your name, baby,” the mom urges her. She refuses to offer her name and it’s a bit embarrassing for both of you. “She’s cute,” you declare but the little person glares at you like she’s about to kick you in the shin with her size one shoes.
You return the damn doll after she says goodbye. You walk down the aisle and pass all manner of stuffed dolls all staring at you with various alluring looks. You even see one headed for their wedding.
“Big day, huh?” You say as you pass.
She has her lips painted yellow and all, wearing mascara which will run later that day when she weeps during the reading of vows.
You see a Type C charger and remember that your son lost his. You pick it up and study it. It’s packaged well. It goes in the basket.
The section is now filled with shoppers walking about in a trance, their hands held by the weight of their own demons. The mood is strange. In here it doesn’t feel like the cost of living is dire. Doesn’t feel like the price of fuel is unprecedented. There is no sense of anxiety in this bright happy space with stuffed animals off to wed the love of their stuffed lives. Here prices are low and attainable. Here rationale is expunged and control is fleeting. Here we see things like these.
And we are compelled by some unseen force that is in the blind spot of my dani’s prayers, to buy them. It’s reckless and irresponsible but also somewhat uplifting at that moment. Because you already have a better kettle just like this but somehow your soul is weak in here. I mean, look at this sorcery.
Who the hell needs an electric mosquito swatter. Electricity is unaffordable as it is. Just flashing your loo seems to consume your tokens. Why would you need to charge this damn gadget anyway? To kill mosquitoes? It’s a ruse, first because you don’t have the time to run around your bedroom naked in this cold trying to kill 12 mosquitoes while the 13th bites your ass, let alone one. Second, anybody knows that these modern day mosquitoes are immortal. They are the John Wick of mosquitoes. Insecticides can’t kill them any more, it’s like spraying Eau De Parfum on them. They can get drowsy but they never die. You think a swatter will kill them? Truth is, you are not going to use this swatter, maybe twice at best, then you will grow bored of it and cast it aside. But you stop at that shelf and consider it. Is that not madness, to consider getting what you don’t want or need?
Mosquito swatter aside, we all need a good cup. Preferably with a small puppy sporting sunglasses on its forehead. We need to be reminded that life is a journey, often not very smooth but one that’s worth living. That the sum total of all good we do might not be rewarded. That horrible people sit on thrones of abundance. That we should just find our own paths, no matter how unpaved and lonesome, and walk our walks. And so what if this reminder comes in the form of a cup that’s worth only 899 bob? Are you going to put a price on that level of revelation? You gingerly place the cup in the basket. The devil keeps winning.
Finally what brought you here in the first place. If you are like me, you’re a sucker for notebooks and pens. Your desk drawer has two. You have two in your car. Your laptop bag has two. You like your notebooks unruled, plain, because you hate being made to write along a line. You aren’t the type who likes to walk a straight line, or get in line. Writing in a ruled notebook is walking the plank. We didn’t fight for freedom to be told where to write. Dedan Kimathi didn’t get hunted in caves for that. Then the pens. You have a thicket of pens in your pen holder because you want to reach out and pick a pen that writes well. Nothing beats a good ink pen with a good grip. But since you have a million pens already, you check out the notebooks.
Look at this one.
It’s a cat doing what cats love doing; being conceited and mysterious. For some reason this cat thought it would be cool to pose for this photo like that, on its side, with a pinched expression. Cats take photos and don’t bother looking at the photo to see if it came out well. Because they are cats. You want that level of chutzpah on your notebook.
And this other one.
That quote is cheesy as hell because it was written by the cat.
Who doesn’t love a bear who’s just woken up and realised they have run out of toothpaste?
I love notebooks that have a band around them. Something serious about that. You can use it as a signal when a meeting is done; by snapping it back on. It’s an action that says, ‘OK, we are done here.’ The band is the message.
This is a mini-notebook that’s great for writing grocery lists. Never mind that you have an App to do that on your phone. Never mind that you will never write any grocery list on it because you buy the same shit all the time; tomatoes, ginger, onions, lemon, avocado, apples and spinach. The photo on this notebook is of a duck’s behind. A great metaphor of consumerism. Duck porn. And all these notebooks with different pages and sizes and all dirt cheap. Devil wins.
You toss what you need in the basket and move swiftly to the counter before you buy something you don’t need, like a manicure set. Along the way you see these very shiny things and because you are distracted by shiny things you stop and look. But even when you discover that these shiny things aren’t shotgun shells and are – disappointingly- nail polish you still linger there, turning them over in your hand. To what end?
Your bill will always surprise you even when the prices didn’t. As a final slap on your face they also shamelessly charge you for the bag. Which you carry out of the store like a poached animal, feeling the dead weight of your actions. The light outside the store is different, it’s the harsh light of reality. You pause outside the doorway to catch your breath, to get back your head. Defeated, you slowly shuffle to the parking lot, eyes downcast, where you stand outside your car pressing the car key repeatedly for the door to unlock. You keep pressing. And pressing harder. Nothing. You look through the driver’s window and see a Red Bull in the cupholder. The hell? You don’t drink Red Bull. Ever. There is a woman’s shoe on the floor of the passenger side. Is this a Black Mirror? What the… whose car..…you slowly step away from the car as if it’s booby trapped when it dawns on you that it’s not your car even though it looks exactly like your car.
The devil chuckles and shakes his head.
Can you sit in a creative writing class for three days? Do you have three days in September? Do you have a problem buying things you don’t need? Like wine or gin or stuffed animals? Do you want to write a book about your time living in the bush as a child with a squirrel for a friend? Does your job require you to write constantly but you just find it exhausting and difficult? Then you need the writing class. Register HERE.