Failure To Launch

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I have power over fruits. Well, most people do but the difference is I’m aware of it. It’s a reckless kind of power. I know it when I walk up to a fruit shelf teeming with abashed oranges, blushing bananas, gregarious pawpaws, some deceptively meek peppers, grungy pineapples, embittered lemons and overly-confident apples. I approach them in the knowledge that the power of choice lies solely in my hands, not theirs. That their wants and needs are irrelevant. 

So I will always start with avocados which are always the dullest looking fruits, stripped of any personality, bland in their countenance. The ripe ones look weak, the raw ones are completely devoid of any allure. I poke the hearts of  a few, if they squeal, I poke them again and whisper, ‘Don’t ever show the weakness of your heart because it gets you eaten.’ I will lob a few fortunate or unfortunate ones into the basket while the imported oranges in the next row avert their gaze, pretending they aren’t looking at me. Imported oranges are the slay-queens of fruits. They are full of hubris and a false sense of grandeur. And it’s our fault, really. We propagated this neo-colonialist behavior. I normally just pass them by with nary a side-glance at their flushed, overdone cheeks. For me it’s a protest of colour, this choice, not to be associated with imported oranges. But this act lacks legs to stand on because soon, I will be standing next to a woman with a sallow look, bent over, inspecting the imported lemons. Phoniness, really because on one hand I wring my nose at the imported oranges but on the other, I pick the imported lemons. I’m guilty of bourgeois pretense. However, in my defence, my reason is that local lemons sometimes break your heart. They lack the juice of life. They also require a lot of energy to squeeze and honestly who has the time? Local lemons have led a life of sourness, so they like to transfer that to you. I have my own baggage, I don’t buy fruit to add onto my woes.

Then I will be picking pawpaws. Pawpaws are one of the most honest fruits you will ever find; because they often show you who they really are. A pawpaw will hardly ever pretend to be someone they aren’t. They don’t engage in false advertising. I like pawpaws. In my next life, I might come back as a pawpaw. I don’t like perfect pawpaws, though, I prefer the bruised type. They have more character. They have lived a life of friction and they have emerged victorious at the shelf, proudly wearing their scars, already assured of their place in the food chain. Clean healthy-looking pawpaws nauseate me. 

Often in my mind, when I go about the business of picking these fruits, I’m a chef. An unhappy chef. I like the idea of an unhappy chef rather than a happy chef. A pudgy, round-faced unhappy chef with bad premolars, in love with cooking but also dissatisfied with the monotony of his job. A chef who secretly wants to walk away from the drudgery of the kitchen but is afraid to because perhaps he won’t find something else he is truly good at. He probably lives alone with a cat who followed him home one day and he didn’t have the heart to shoo it away. So it stayed and now they live together in the silent crater of his life. But he’s a great chef; cantankerous, moody, volatile but very imaginative. A chef who doesn’t know how to slowly count down from 50 when his goat is got. He is known to hurl bread at his staff. Or red pepper. He scorns the younger chefs who read recipe books. He hates people. Especially people who buy food expensively and eat it over three hours. Laughing over wine like gnomes. 

Often when there is a table of VVIP, she will be asked by the owner of the restaurant, to go to the table and give some pep-talk about the food. He hates such moments. He hates wealthy people. He hates having to explain his food to wealthy people who have paid 15K for a plate. But he will sigh and wipe his hands on a soiled towel and walk out of the kitchen with a constipated look, whereupon he will stand stiff like a royal sentry and tell the gathering at the table in a moany voice, ‘Welcome to The Middle Finger seafood restaurant. My name is Nani, I’m the executive chef and I hope you are all enjoying the experience so far. What you are having now is the….” then he will try very hard not to explain the food while banishing all thoughts of cracking a crab against the nearest shiny dome. Once done he will quickly recede into the safety of his kitchen and then lean against the counter and catch his breath. That’s the kind of chef I imagine to be as I pick the fruits. And ironically, this time, by the vegetables, I will be at my happiest, most vulnerable. If you stand next to me, you might hear me turn over a pawpaw or a mango in my hand and mumble words of great endearment: “look at you, you are a great mango, a nearly perfect mango, you will make a good salad.” Or, “with all the skulduggery and greed of the world, you are the kind of green pepper that will save humanity…you and that onion staring back at me with big eyes.” I will see these fruits as my tribe and the ones I pick will be the ones that were destined to make culinary magic with me. 

So anyway, it was at the moment when I was turning over an apple in my hand when my phone rang. I fished it from my back pocket and stared at the caller. It was a lady I had interviewed for this week’s article. 

“Hey,” I said.

“Hi, Biko, can you talk?”

“It’s just me and an apple.”

There was a pause. She sounded confused. I was too now. I thought she’d ask, “Did I interrupt something?” then we’d laugh about that. But my joke went to the desperate wasteland where jokes go to die in the dark gloom of their failure. 

“Can you call me later when you can talk?” She eventually asked, confident that she didn’t want to get dragged into whatever fruity affair I was immersed in. I said sure, I will give you a ding when done here. But then I forgot to call her back because I was blessed with the brain of a hamster. An hour later, after I had washed the fruits and put them away to drip and dry out she called again. “Sorry, I was going to call you in not so long,” I said goofily.  

“That’s OK,” she sounded like she was climbing a flight of stairs. Her breathing was uneven. Or maybe she was in the middle of a yoga pose. Or cleaning an old chimney. “Listen, about the story. Have you written it?”

“Yeah,” I said. “It’s Monday. It’s going up tomorrow.”

“Oh God,” she groaned. 

“What’s wrong?” I asked even though I pretty much knew what was coming. 

“I..I’m so sorry, but I don’t know if I want to put that part of my life out there.”

I get this all the time. Cold feet. They give an interview and then they go home and as they remove their clothes to jump in the shower, they suddenly think; oh shit, what did I do? Why did I tell him all those things? It will piss off my family, I will be excommunicated, a pariah. Nobody will ever talk to me again. I’m done for. I need to call Biko and tell him it was all a mistake, but it’s 9pm, it’s late, he is probably bathing in a river, or basking in darkness. I will text him after my shower. 

Often, what they need is reassurance. I will tell them not to worry, their identity is safe, nobody, apart from their closest friends and family will know it’s them and so what? It’s their story, their truth, there might be a bit of murmuring in the family WhatsApp group for a few days, a few people might leave but it will all quiet down because the price of fuel is up and people have their own problems. 

“It’s going to be just fine,” I told her, “this is your truth. Remember what you said after we met, that you feel free? This is freedom and freedom is complicated and uncomfortable and most often we have to pay its price. Freedom is never free.  But next month at this time you will look back and wonder what the fuss was all about. Life moves on pretty quickly.”

“I know, I know, I know all this but you don’t understand,” she paused, “it’s just that when my husband finds out it’s me, he might punish me, he might not even let me see the kids again. He is powerful, he knows judges.”

“Oh.” 

“Yeah. Plus I’m still in love with him, sort of, despite of, you know, everything and there is a chance of reconciliation. I also don’t want to scar my children with that story, if they ever read it.”

“Okay. I still think you should do it.” I said weakly, selfishly. I was now not fighting for her story but fighting the frustration of having to waste eight hours on the story and the prospect of having to find a filler. It’s someone’s prerogative to tell their story and also to change their mind at any point before publishing, but it’s annoying as hell. Throws a spanner in the works. 

“Well, that sucks. But I understand,” I said, hoping that I sounded like Desmond Tutu, someone wise and centered and with worldly wisdom. 

“Aki, I’m sorry about this,” she said. 

“Oh, don’t worry about it. This is an occupational hazard.”

“Aki I feel bad. Like I wasted your time. So what are you going to do?”

“I will probably just eat an apple,” I said sadly. 

She laughed. “Is that your comfort food?”

So there you have it. Our story for this week went down the tube. 

But listen. I’m looking for one of those men or women of the cloth who talk to dying people at the hospital. Those who give the departing final rights. Do you know anyone? Or a priest with a child. Or someone with a priest’s child. If that’s not forthcoming, then just any story that is compelling. A unique story. 

Ping me with a small synopsis of your story at [email protected] Otherwise, as the younger folk now say, “Stay Taliban” [whatever that means]. 

 

***

 

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102 Comments
  1. I actually feel for this lady. The thought of being punished for sharing y0ur story especially if the punishment may involve not being allowed to see your children is too high a price to pay. I hope one day things will be good enough to allow her to share her story. It sounds like a story I’d love to read.

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  2. The price of fuel is up and people have their own problems! Hahaha what’s not to love here? I am glad to know that I am not the only one who talks to things. Unfortunately I have no compelling story to send Biko.

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  3. You were a therapist to her. Labour of love. You can make a great counselor considering your listening skills and humor.

    On the Avocado, you are plain cold. You are such an Avocuddler!

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  4. Now, the next time I go grocery shopping, not sure I’ll look at fruits quite the same way. I guess I’ll keep telling the fruits what Biko said, ‘Don’t ever show the weakness of your heart because it gets you eaten.” Before proceeding to choose the juiciest of the pack.

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  5. I have this karomance with these articles that I try not to come early so that there is mood and a bit of the gangs pizzazz of their own take to add on that am feeling truly vulnerable being here at this time and having finished reading only to realize I have to come back again later for the le gang comments. What will be their take? Will they feel let down? Will they avert their gaze like the imported oranges or perhaps clamor for attention on how they came and didn’t find a story story perse. May we not suffer another failed launch this side of 2021. Thanks Chocolate Man for the fruity update. Have a lovely one.

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  6. I know a priest with not just a child but with children, with different mothers. I also know a grown child of a priest who resents his priest father and the entire priesthood. Okay, enough of who and what I know about them. How about you revisit the snippet (not synopsis) of my story that is probably sitting unread in your inbox.

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  7. Oooh, makes sense, after reading about the fruits, scrolled quickly to the real story……….hmm

    Occupational hazard, totally agree.

    Thanks for allowing her to withdraw

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  8. Maybe you shouldn’t pick those calls until after the story goes up…..back to your other life as a chef,i would hate those wealthy people too-why would anyone need explaining about a dish they havent savoured yet…..just eat it ,enjoy the meal…..If i was to be a fruit,what would i be???i ginger a fruit?Anyway

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  9. I also wish I could share my story……but the judgment……I’ll get the guts to do it some day,for now let’s stay taliban

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  10. I enjoy the story, the filler or whatever just write it. We will have a story next time. Hahahah those imported oranges are a big scam they end up tasting bald.

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  11. I was eagerly waiting for today’s article.
    Thanks for letting her withdraw though.
    We stay “dangerous” until next Tuesday.

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  12. I know it when I walk up to a fruit shelf teeming with abashed oranges, blushing bananas, gregarious pawpaws, some deceptively meek peppers, grungy pineapples, embittered lemons and overly-confident apples…
    You forgot about mangos – why are Maembes looked down upon!

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  13. Yeah what does ‘Stay taliban’ mean? Been wondering too.
    Somehow, I can understand why she got cold feet with her story. Women are more harshly judged unfortunately. There is less understanding, and the murmurs in family groups can span two decades before the embers finally die down. Men will commit all manner of atrocities but it will be forgiven and forgotten in a heartbeat.
    Only Biko can humanize fruits. But one has to admit avocados have come a long way from obscurity. They are currently the most ‘pinned’ fruit/veggie on pinterest, and liked over a million times on instagram. Celebs and non-celebs alike harp over it’s fruity goodness. Words such as ‘low fat’, ‘anti-oxidant’ ‘nutrient-rich’ hang around it’s round neck like a necklace. It has been garnished, pureed or even liquefied into green smoothies. It is not only spotted on toast with sunny side up eggs, but as well has been seen accompanying plates of githeri, or ugali-nyamachoma- combos. The avocado has found fame!

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  14. Oh Biko, such talent!! I’d have never guessed the fruit story was going to end with a story that didn’t see the light (of the blog). Sounds like it was a good story.

    Anyway, I used to picture groceries the same way too. Then I watched ‘Sausage Party’ (the movie) and it ruined everything for me.

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  15. I can’t wait to read a piece on men and women who talk to dying people. I have always wondered what could possibly be going through their mind at that instance when they know its done…. Looking forward to it.

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  16. We all loudly say ‘Sayonara’ to the beautiful story that wasted Biko’s precious 8 hours and no one will ever read.

    EARTH IS HARD

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  17. The failed launch is understandable…
    The fruits in most stores are grossly grandiosed with coerced artificial freshness…
    We the avocado lovers should launch our party, we already have the symbol…
    Anyway, Stay Taliban…

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  18. Lord Peter Bailish (however his name is spelt) once uttered with profound wisdom, “Chaos isn’t a pit, it is a ladder…”
    I really wish the lady would have loved this character from G.O.T. Perhaps we would have read the story by now.

    If fruits were football players, avocados would probably be Ngolo Kante- they are overworked; from smoothies, to being used as fruits, vegetables in campus; yet still so humble in their appearance.

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  19. I’m sorry that the story for the week went down the drain. Nonetheless, we got a short story out of that. I have enjoyed reading it. Thank you Biko for the upload.

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  20. Am sure she must have been the first one here today before these ones saying 1st here. Just to see what you did for todays post. I hope she is happy and a month down she will say “What the fuss” am telling my story”

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  21. Am sad that such a story can’t see the light of day. I hope some day she’ll ring you and say ‘Whatever” (No expectations thought). Just thinking
    You have us all into this fruit personalization thing.. It’s weirdo

  22. What a juicy story! Or should I write ‘what a fruity story’?
    Biko you didn’t waste 8hrs on that story, you should email it to me and here’s why; I won’t punish her, I ain’t powerful at all, I don’t know no judge.
    Oh, and no one will comment “first here.”
    So go on na ucheze kama wewe.

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  23. So sad, but I really admire the fact that you honoured this woman and respected her feelings. Anyways, how dare you speak so horribly about avocados….really, who can live without avocados and WHO doesn’t eat bananas….WHOOOO I’m both surprised and disappointed you didn’t mention bananas

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  24. Today i have realized that everything is a story, even imagining to be unhappy chef is a story.
    speaking with fruits on the shelves is another story….
    Im just trying to say that i read everything not knowing it was just an update

    Biko you are just an amazing writer

    you will get my story soon.

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  25. Haha, I can’t imagine Biko as a female chef- why change genders and careers as well. Interesting occupational hazard- sensates! And there is a way local lemons look and feel that you know they have the juice depending on the season and when they were picked- the imported ones have a distinct flavor, on the oranges you are right to steer clear of the imported ones… next try vegetables and make some ratatouille!! I challenge you to take on fennel or white horse radish…c’est tout!

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  26. Reading this story i was like. “please please please Biko dont be like those selfish bloggers” while crossing my fingers, but as always you never disappoint. stay Taliban

  27. I feel for the lady.she can try journaling.write down her thoughts and then burn the journal.tjat way,it’s off her mind and still her secret to keep.

  28. Middle Finger Restaurant…was that a not so subtle finger to the lady for wasting your time & then also letting us down?!

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  29. Felt like deja vu, that fruit part..like how they come alive. Anywho, overthinking is a poison of choice. Cold feet? Everyone gets those once in a while but it is a hundred times better than indifference. Perhaps she’ll change her mind, or not. Just keep the script incase.. .

  30. I am glad she canceled – I love the fruit and chef piece more – so creative, evokes emotions Nd in the end there is no real tragedy. Loved reading this.

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  31. Biko. I am offended.
    Because I am a paw paw farmer
    With 300 plus trees, hanging pregnantly with ripe yellow healthy papayas.
    And they’re the sweetest of sweet. So now what’s your beef with these innocents?

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  32. Damn Biko! You really do have a way with words. Even your non-story is captivating. Some of use have difficulty keeping our audience interested even when a story is full of potential.

  33. The best filler ever, I love this story.
    ***
    About the planned story going down the tube, true, it’s occupational harzard, happens a lot in Journalism. Sources changing their minds just before you hit press.
    ***

    “Don’t ever show the weakness of your heart because it gets you eaten.” Very true

    ***
    BIKO, BIKO BIKO, team avacado is about to go on strike, please stop character assassinating our beloved Ova (Avacado). You should visit Uganda for the best ovas in the world, you won’t say bad things about ova again.

    Back to failure to launch:
    “Okay. I still think you should do it.” I said weakly, selfishly. I was now not fighting for her story but fighting the frustration of having to waste eight hours on the story and the prospect of having to find a filler.”
    Familiar experience, such is the life of a journalist, I feel like “tagging” my colleagues

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  34. Kinda glad I’m reading this a day late…the title sort of indicated we’re not launching any time soon. But the fruity filler was worth it. Biko, ever looked at a pineapple and got the vibe that it’s daring you? Like, “Don’t you dare touch me or I’ll prick you!!” Yeah, fruits and vegetables have a life.

  35. Here goes the filler, maybe in my profession I’d call it “metadata” – a story of a story. A good one , but I also second that you need to find someone who have a priest’s child, we need that hell of a story.

  36. Chocolate man, did you just attack avocado’s for no good reason and then go ahead and not mention bananas???? I really hope that lady one day gets her freedom and her voice, because spouses leave, children grow up and Yolo✌️✌️

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  37. I have been reading a chapter of the book of Proverbs every day for some time now. Today I read chapter 22. Verse 27 speaks of Biko… “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings. He will not serve before officials of low rank”. You write with amazing skill. Onwards and Upwards!!!

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  38. Jackson Biko, you’re a gifted writer. Sometimes I read your prose three times to decipher your rich usage of figurative language and analogies that send me to factory settings. I’m proud to be part of your audience.

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  39. I don’t think I mostly remember any of your stories apart from Faith the Trucker. But as a farmer and a foodie, I will always remember the fruits description you have given: I had this conversation in my head at “it’s just me and the apple” go like this:
    BZ: Its just me and the apple
    Me: Which one? Pink lady, red delicious or granny smith?
    BZ: I don’t know, it’s an apple.
    Me: Have you had the first bite?
    BZ: Yes.
    Me: Is it juicy? Did you hold with the other hand the juice trying to escape from the bite?
    BZ: How did you know?
    Me: Only a juicy, crunchy apple can have you occupied like that, and not welcome interruption. Call me after you are done with the apple.

  40. I need me some Jesus, the title and fruity story was headed to what my mind was thinking. I even had copied a number of miti shamba guy sready to post it here.

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  41. Sitting in class supervising the end of term on exams, 101/3 question 1a that begins, “Just after asking the fruits vendor to do a fruits’ salad to hold my anger till lunch hour comes by……..” I read your turn around story of the what!!! What a marking scheme. Am sorted, do another..

  42. I know I wasn’t the only one hoping for just a little more detail.. A few morsels that would give away the story, or a hint of it because.. What to do with this emptiness now? I now want to know that story. Badly. Convince her, Biko. Please.

  43. I was today years old when I came to know that whoever said “Don’t be too sweet or they’ll eat you ” might have just been referring to fruits..