Biko is away. I don’t know where, but he’s somewhere writing or taking care of things that are above my paygrade. Which leaves me here, to tend to the flowers and serve tea. I think he’ll be back next week. I think.
Until then, a little story from me.
By Gloriah Amondi
I have always had a complex relationship with love.
Granted, everyone does (or believes they do), but I think we should be allowed to think of our situations as more special than others’. In a world where a lot of things are denied to us, we should at least have that.
When I first sat down to write this piece, it was intended to be about something else.
Last Tuesday however, I had a writing-on-the-wall moment (the part where Archimedes displaces bathwater and runs naked into the streets of Greece screaming ‘Eureka,’)- where a password of a once-owned blog (and which I have not accessed/bothered to access) since 2016 was revealed to me in an incredibly plain, anti-climactic manner.
That’s the name of the blog.
Because it is 2016, it is WordPress. 2016 was the year of WordPress, just like 2023 is the year of Elon Musk.
It’s a bold title, considering I do not and will not be someone’s mistake until about seven years after that. Rather truthfully, I will attempt to have people to whom I can be a next mistake, but I will not succeed at the time for obvious reasons including that while my peers are blooming like flowers in spring, I am thin, flat-chested and my skin is a mess.
My face at the time is patches of black and brown, like a properly cooked dough. In the middle of all this, my nose sits untouched — fat, shiny and proud- with wide nostrils that are more oval than they are round. On top of that, my hair is the dry kinky type that is hard like steel wool.
In the end, I find a community among the rugged of the world: loud campus boys who showered only once a week, watched English football in the common room while jeering each other, and left campus every evening to eat life-threatening foods in the kibandas outside campus and to drink jugs of kegs. Then they would get back to smoke petrol-laced weed behind the smelly washrooms. Once in a while, there would be a girl, often from a different Campus, because no self-respecting lass in Law School would be seen, let alone screw this motley crew, and it would be the talk of the week.
Also, my dearest, dearest Cyril Ja Siaya, KJ, DK, Lofe, Ogodo, JB, Laurent, what would I have done without you!?
Of course, there are other things happening in the world in 2016:
- Brexit- the Brits vote to exit the EU
- Lemonade is released (Beyonce’s sixth album, and which I thought brought out the socio-political side of her as an artist. Her magnum opus, in my opinion.)
- Pokemon Go is launched and throws the globe into frenzy
- I turn 21
- On the second Tuesday of August, I travel by road for 26 hours from Nairobi to Kigali to settle a score (read: to get laid, and finally say ‘amen’ to the hymen). While there, I find a new score to settle (an eccentric DJ with a childlike face, and a childlike demeanour which for some inexplicable reason, I found appealing.) My other score is terribly -and understandably- unhappy.
But at the time, what could have been bigger than WordPress?
(Actually, the answer is all of the above).
There are only four posts on the blog (the other blog). One is an opinion piece about Project X, the event that was supposed to be a young people’s orgy and that sent the whole country into a moralistic panic, like the time Sauti Sol released ‘Nishike’. In the post, I’m pro (the supposed orgy or any other, really) of course, but I don’t need to mention that. You know me.
The second post is a prose poem about Josephat Mwenda, Willie Kimani and the taxi man Joseph Muiruri (Remember Them) who were murdered by police men coming from a court of law where a case involving one of them was being heard. Because I’m a sentimentalist, I’m telling my mother in the poem that they are ‘murdering us’, that if ever (which is what the title of the piece is) they come for me, she shouldn’t cry because I’ll have spoken/fought for people who could not speak for themselves. Boy, didn’t I have ideas! (They have come for us, in a sense, and I said not a word)!
The third post is a rant about being a tomboy. It’s titled, ‘Seven Questions to NOT ask a Tomboy’. Granted, it has a collection of some of the coolest, earliest memes, including one where Jay-Z is in a black and white patched dress, sitting amongst some women, looking like a typical African-American aunt, and visibly disgusted by something (head swung back, his fat, billionaire lips parted slightly). From the post, you can tell I’m feeling ugly, lonely and angry.
The last post (all of these published within an impressive span of three months) is titled ‘I Forgive Your Dog’.
A part of it reads:
INT. INSIDE A KITCHEN:
A lady is standing by the sink, leaning on the wall, a plate with half eaten apple and fruit knife beside her and a glass of water in hand. She is startled by the voice of the man and quickly puts the glass next to the plate but does not move from the wall.
Marcus walks in. He drops a plastic bag at the door and walks to her. He hugs her by the neck so hard kissing her head continuously she starts gasping for air.
Marcus: ‘Lovely thing. Oh, Small one. I’m home now’…‘Come with me, let me show you what I got you.’
Marcus: ‘Let’s try them on. I think white looks better on you. Or maybe the red dress is better. No, no, I am a little undecided. Let’s see’… He dresses her white first, looks over her frail body spread on the bed; he shakes his head and pulls it off her violently.
Marcus; ‘No, no…this makes you look like a sad animal.’
He then picks the red one and helps her put it on. She shivers a little, he notices.
Marcus; ‘Oh Bunny. My little dumb doll is cold. Come here.’
In the end…
Marcus is lying on the floor of the bathroom, face down and covered in blood coming from his skull. He must have hit his head hard. The girlfriend walks in, stares at him emotionlessly then walks to the bedroom. Seconds later she walks out, beautiful, dressed in the white dress and with makeup on. She stares at the motionless body.
Girl: ‘I didn’t know Karma acts that fast’.
She then walks out of the house.
It’s nowhere near a masterpiece, although at the time, it seemed incredibly dark and sophisticated to my young eyes. Also, I cannot remember the context of the title (regrettably, reading the story doesn’t provide any either) so I can’t exactly tell you how I arrive at that grand, rather embarrassing decision.
I’ve thought of this piece a lot since I bumped into it.
What was happening in my life at the exact moment when I wrote it? What day was it? What was I wearing? How had my day been? Why does Marcus speak like that- My dumb little doll? Why do I, for instance, think of love so violently? And most importantly, why do I sound white?
What does love got to do with it? And what do I know about love?
This love of foxes and bunnies.
Whenever I think of love, I think of it as my father’s love versus my mother’s.
While my father’s love was the easy, undemanding, light-hearted, full of laughter and banter (a lot of it) sort of love, my mother’s love was strict, ambitious and careful. You had to earn it, and by Jove, I tried. My mother’s love language was provision. My father’s love was laughter. The roles would reverse years later. When it finally came in abundance, my mother’s love found me in an irreparable state: sad, broken, semi alcoholic and no longer a virgin.
Subsequently, all my loves have been in some identifiable ways, my father or my mother:
For instance, the boy with a silver tooth, who parted his eyebrows and spoke with an American accent although he had never been there, was in some ways like my father. Except for his acquired identity, he was suspiciously uncomplicated. Eternally broke but easy going, with the most boyish smile I have ever seen in an adult. Months after he unceremoniously dumped me, I saw Nairobi in the eyes of the boy with the silver tooth and I could not unsee it for a long time.
In his gentleness, J – the Dane dude from Copenhagen– was also my father. He left me for a gorgeous, blond, blue-eyed American (with German ancestors) called Sasha. Like how could anyone even compete with someone called Sash? Because it was winter, the heartbreak was exaggeratedly massive I tried to hook-up with some Japanese boy in the camp to get over it.
The first time I found my mother in a partner, it was new and refreshing. They were older, they were smarter, they were academic, just like my mom. They were ambitious. They were Punishers. It was the love of a genius. But they were also a lot of things that were neither my mother nor my father. They would say things like ‘what are you telling me! What do you even know?’ when we argued, or ‘At my age, you surely cannot expect me not to want some other sexually interesting people.’
I would fall deeper in love, each time.
Okay, you may take a minute to cringe.
Last winter when I was respectably struggling for love, I listened a lot to ‘Last Last’ by Burna Boy. I discovered that listening over and over to the part: ‘Na everybody go chop breakfast’ (everybody gets heartbroken) can save you therapy money.
Bien’s ‘Inauma’ also has the same effect.
I know now that love can be a lot of things. That it is not just black or white (like me and my summer bunny, ha!)
Like you, I know that it can be gentle and violent and then something else. But there’s knowing and then there’s knowing. That it can be defined, and then it can be undefinable.
I also do know now that my love is laughter and provision. Once, it was light hearted and careless, but now it sometimes is cautious. It is everything and nothing. It is foxes and it is bunnies. It is gangrene and stinky, and then it is fresh flowers in spring. It is Tom Waits agony playing the trombone. And then it is the gentleness of Aretha’s Little Prayer or the sophistry of Madonna’s ‘ Like A Little Prayer.‘
That it can be dumb and little, but then it can also be blood.
Not too long ago, I sent my favourite person- i.e., the person I want to do ungodly things with the most after the one I’m doing ungodliness with- this poem by Stephen Crane:
In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
“And because it is my heart.”
They replied with Jose Olivarez’s ‘Citizen Illegal’:
“I killed a plant once because I gave it too much water.
Lord, I worry that love is violence.”
The first time I played Tom Waits ‘Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis’ to Robert- Bobby to his friends- I was sitting in his apartment, on the fourth floor of an overpriced flat somewhere in Hurlingham.
It was on a Tuesday, and the building was reasonably quiet. Outside, the night retired in hushed tones, pierced occasionally by a honk or two. Once or twice, a group of chatty, frenzied voices noisily climbed the stairs, stopping to linger a bit on our floor to chat over each other’s voices, but that was it.
We sat on his couch, our covered legs rubbing under the light, warm blanket, quietly, holding our breath, rewarding him with that certain silence which is more than a silence- the silence generated by someone holding their breath as Tom sung, contorted face, in a drunken, pained voice alongside his piano. His voice sounded agonised, as if he was holding his heart by his mouth and it was bleeding right into his throat,
“Hey Charlie, baby, I’m pregnant.”
Someone in the audience chuckles heartily.
Robert -Bobby to his friends- and I are dead silent.
“And I been living on the 9th Street here, right above this dirty bookstore off Euclid Avenue. Believe it or not, I stopped taking dope and I quit drinking whisky. And my old man, he plays the trombone and he works out at the track. He says that he loves me even though it’s not his baby…”
It was Tom’s live performance at Austin City Limits. It was not particularly his- Robert’s- type of music but he sat patiently, replaying it for the third time at my request, without complaining. All those times, he leaned back on the couch, running his fingers through my hair to recreate the tension, as if he were playing it for me for the first time. With his other arm, he held his phone slightly above my head, so that I was watching the performance from a much lower angle than he was.
Before that, he had played for me ‘Toxicity’ by System of a Down, paradoxically followed by Kurt Cobain’s super-haunting ‘My Girl, Where did You Sleep Last Night?‘ Then I played for him “Champagne & Reefer” by Rolling Stones (the one they feature Buddy Guy), instead of a Kenny Rogers, which I normally would have. Then he played Paramore’s ‘Brick by Boring Brick’ and I replied with Nina Simone’s cover of Jacques Brel’s “Ne Me Quita Pas’, and then because he couldn’t immediately think of something, I followed with Queen Latifa’s ‘Georgia Rose.’
Two months later, he would play me with an eccentric, crazy-energy Swede, with cornflower blue eyes.
But I do not know that then.
Or maybe I do, but I sit between his legs, tranced by the back-and-forth rhythm of his fingers on my skull.
Our relationship was doomed to fail from the start, Robert and I, for obvious reasons. For instance, while he was older, thrice divorced (twice from the same person), he was my first long-term relationship. He loved metal music, I liked everything but metal. The first thing he admitted to me when we officially started dating was that he liked threesomes. The second thing was that he was not looking for any more children since he already had two (from his first and third marriages). Since I did not want to have kids either, I thought it was perfect. The third thing- him and his sister (the only surviving family member he has left) had not spoken to each in over six years. This last one, he had said casually, the way you would say you don’t listen to a certain genre of music, or watch a certain TV program.
A week before Robert – Bobby to his friends- admitted to having an affair with the Swede, he had come home with her from a night of binging and club hopping. By a quirk of (unfortunate) Fate, I was at his place that night (I had a key) and so he was genuinely surprised to see me when he walked in.
Needless to say, we broke up not long after, or more truthfully, I showed myself the door.
That was the last I saw of him, although we vaguely kept in touch through Facebook where we occasionally commented on each other’s posts.
As fate would have it, I recently bumped into Robert – ‘Bobby’ to his friends- at a grubby little restaurant somewhere in the town center with his cornflower-blue-eyed Swede who was so openly, and obviously, furious at him (about something) that it was a wonder, really, how she hadn’t killed him yet.
With the mere impulsive frankness of an old friendship, we hugged cheerfully, and managed a brief, hurried but warm conversation.
“How goes it? I asked.
“Good. Good. Terrific!”
Something in the heartiness of his assurance made me think he wanted to say more, but we shook hands and I walked out into the world waiting outside.
Writing masterclass is on next month, slots are running out like Gloriah’s lovers (relax, it’s her idea). Reserve a slot here.