We got a baby.
Strange seeing a baby. Pink on the cheeks, like a bruised red apple. Eyes closed as if meditating. The tiniest nose you ever saw, like a comma. A small mouth that hasn’t uttered anything hurtful, or told a lie or something it wouldn’t take back. Tiny little thing, just lying there, oblivious of the world it has come into. I looked at him and wondered what digit his ID number will start with when he’s 18. Now he didn’t know his favourite colour. Never felt rain on his face.
“What’s his name?” I asked Martin, my gardener.
“Daelan Martins,” he said.
“Sounds like a boy who will play a guitar,” I said. No way of knowing Daelan Martins is Luhya any more than knowing Jackson Biko is Luo. But doesn’t Daelan Martins sound like a Jamaican sound engineer with dreadlocks brushing the small of his neck?
Martin is in his early 20s. Tall and skinny like a lamppost. The face of a baby on a body that’s only turned into a man’s. He says little. I say little. It works because little is often enough. He’s a good kid. My grass is doing better than well. The trees have grown taller than I have. Next year I will open it for campers. I mentioned that I’m setting up a place I will eventually retire to? Somewhere I can retreat to write or just sit on the verandah with a whisky in hand, looking at the sun melt. It’s pretty much done now.
Now we have a baby. He will be running around on the grass, playing with the doves, catching grasshoppers. I will watch him grow into whatever boy his parents want him to grow up into. One day you are watching your grass grow, the next there is a baby growing. Fancy that.
My early 30s were rendered frothy by the furious confusion of searching for my truth. I found it by 34. Isn’t that what we are all working towards, finding and owning our truths, no matter how ghastly some parts of it might seem? When 40 came I was in a great space. I was gazing out the window like a bride on her honeymoon. My early 40s have been fantastic. I turned 46 the other week and there has been a restlessness boiling again. I feel it drumming in my rib cage, that thud-thud sound, echoing in my head. I feel like maybe there is someone else in me who isn’t just a writer. Because that would be tragic, wouldn’t it? To be one thing and die as that thing. But curiously, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
On my birthday we went to dinner at this restaurant called Therapy in Cape Town’s 5 Park Road. It’s a month or so old, I was informed; gorgeous place, astonishing chef. On our way there we passed through another bar and I had four fingers of whisky in me. Mellow. I told my lady, “look, I was serious, no fuss. I don’t want anybody coming out of that kitchen banging pots or fluting happy birthday tunes. None of that, please.”
“Why?” She rolled her eyes, “I don’t understand it.”
“It’s too loud,” I said. “And embarrassing. These people don’t care if it’s my birthday. They came to have a quiet dinner.”
It’s horrifying, isn’t it? To have the kitchen come out banging things and singing, bearing on your table. A cake that you have to slaughter in small pieces and take to other diners with a smile because sharing is caring. It’s all too much.
“Do you mind cake, though?” She asked, “or is that also embarrassing?”
“Will it have candles?”
“Of course not, are you mad?” She said, “46 candles are a fire hazard.”
The man in Karura.
On Sunday I was riding a bike in the forest when two men ran past me and one of them shouted, ‘Biko! Call me bwana!” I turned back but the sun was in my face so I couldn’t see who it was. He sounded so familiar, a voice from the past that I can’t place. That’s bothered me since, that I couldn’t remember him. If you are the man who was breathing so hard in Karura, you call me bwana!
“I want a cover that’s minimalistic but also creative and says what the story is about,” I told Faddy, who’s designing my book cover. Faddy is a designer and a thinker. Which means he’s in a t-shirt and he’s having a coffee.
“And the story is still about this man who isn’t altogether very smart?”
“Correct. But I don’t want the whole story on the cover.”
“So, no boat and a man falling over in it as he follows his hat.”
“No,” I said. “But you can have his hat floating in the water.”
“A hat floating in water.” He scribbles something on his notepad that doesn’t have anything to do with a hat or water or a boat.
He designed my last book cover, THURSDAYS. I loved it. How he works is that you tell him what you want then he goes away. Then you call him after three weeks and ask him, “Faddy, how’s it going?” He says, “how’s what going?” You tell him, “The BOOK?!” He says, “Oh. Yeah. Being a father is engaging.” You say, “what?” He says, “what?” So you meet him for coffee at Barista and Co at Sarit. He’s in a t-shirt and jeans and he asks the waitress, “you still aren’t selling matumbo?” She giggles. You giggle. You tell him about the storyline of the book again. He nods and says, “I like it, I like it,” as he scribbles on his pad. Because he’s a designer he has a fancy pen. He has many pens. They all seem to have thin beaks. You talk about life and at the end he says, “give me three weeks with this.”
Three weeks later he sends what he calls an initial draft. You gasp. It’s perfect. Almost perfect. You say, “this is genius, you are a genius.” He asks you to stop. You wonder out loud if you can change the colour of the font. “You don’t like the colour of the font?” You say you love the font, it’s a gorgeous font. Sexy even. Irresistible. And you aren’t into colourism and all but could you see different colours? “You know, just to be sure that we aren’t leaving something else on the table?”
He makes a noise and says “I will see how I can make it pop.” It’s a dig. An old designer-client joke. Designers are like chefs, sensitive. They bruise easily. The next morning he sends me the cover. It looks the same. He’s full of trickery so I think, Oh, another Faddy joke. “This looks exactly the same!” You laugh. He says, “Oh, didn’t think you’d notice.” Two days later he sends three options. There is a problem; you love all of them. You run it by some of your closest people and they pick one, which you also loved.
You will be happy to learn that the design cover looks amazing. Next month I will be releasing the book.
I started writing this blog when I was 30. I’m 46 now. I have been thinking what to do with it for a year now. I like the house but It’s become very familiar. I have mulled and mulled over what to do with it and suddenly yesterday I went to interview this fellow called Martin who is 32 and with such fire in his belly and I sat there listening to him talk about what he does and why he does it and suddenly my answer was right there. It hit me over my forehead, a massive Eureka moment. At the end of the interview I shook him vigorously and said, “this interview has changed the course of my work.” And he was like, “what?”
You are going to start seeing some changes on this blog. They won’t be brutal but they will come slowly, like one of those rains that start slowly on a hot dry day.
There’s still a few more days left before the November Writing Masterclass. Register here to be part of the three-day program from the 22nd-24th.