Say one day you are having lunch alone, across the road from your office in one of those small restaurants which lay out a buffet and someone – without asking – pulls the empty seat across from you and sits. Irritated, you look up from an article you are reading on your phone at this uncouth person, even though this is Kenya and nobody cares much for personal space given how close we stand behind each other in queues or how we grab the saltshakers from other tables without excusing ourselves.
But your irritation quickly dissolves into something gooey when you discover it’s an attractive female. Suddenly her action doesn’t seem mannerless anymore. Maybe she’s just proactive. Or bold. And surprising. She’s all adjectives that mean valorous. She’s also very welcome. To sit. At your table. With her big hair. Because isn’t sharing caring? Besides, what kind of a crazy person eats lunch alone with an empty seat for company? This is the kind of antisocial behaviour that should be discouraged in schools at an early age. People should eat like they did in the olden days; together. And salt shakers? Those are for everyone. Nobody is born with a salt shaker. We will all die and leave behind all these salt shakers we fuss about. Folks have to stop being so stuck up. And learn how to share. And sit. Together.
The article you were reading earlier was by an intrepid sports writer called Jonathan Liew, on how Thierry Henry transformed English football forever. You are a big football nut. You go gaga over it. You are an AFC Leopard fan because, well, you are from Butere and being a Leopards fan isn’t a choice in Butere, it’s an heirloom. What you aren’t is an Arsenal fan. You are a Liverpool fan who also loves Barcelona, so you have loved Thierry for a minute. Plus, he’s black. Yeah. Anyway, that article isn’t important anymore now that the energy at your table has been disrupted and your chi slightly unmoored. What’s very important isn’t that article but that there is a very attractive woman seated across from you who could have sat anywhere else in the world but she chose your table. Which could mean many things, least of which is that she has been sent to induct you into some secret sect where you are not allowed to shave your legs.
When you look up at her you smile and mumble, “Karibu.” She smiles back demurely.
Suffice it to say, you can’t focus on the Thierry article now. She has – as Samuel L Jackson says in Pulp Fiction – “broken your concentration” with her smell and spell. She smells like a Kiwi fruit that was forgotten overnight in a bowl of desire. Your head is bent over this article on your phone but because you can’t entirely focus, you keep reading one sentence over and over: Henry was at its heart; a pure creator even as he laid the rest of the league to destruction. You are ignoring her. Or pretending to ignore her. But you are afraid she can hear how your breathing has changed. Because you are now breathing like a deer. And you hate yourself a bit for that, because you are an adult male from Butere, a man born of a long line of males with strong backs and stoic resolve. Omwamis. Strong.
Henry was at its heart; a pure creator even as he laid the rest of the league to destruction….
Oh, screw it. You look up. Her eyes are so white it makes you wonder briefly if that’s the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. She has big hair. Yeah, I know we mentioned that already, but it’s worth a repeat. It’s massive hair. She’s in team natural hair. They look like dreadlocks but they could be anything because this is 2019 and not everything is what it seems to be. She has a red ankara-like hair wrap holding these locks up, giving her that very African look. Her hair reminds you of a granary, at the top, at least. A good looking granary that feeds a whole village with life. Long earrings dangle from her ears. She looks like the heir to something. She’s having veggies, fish fillet and two small potato wedges. Of all the things you will remember about this chance meeting – save for her hair and how her skin soaked in light in the room – are the two potato wedges. You will remember the wedges because she didn’t even eat them in the end. She ignored them. Pushed them around her plate, made them think that she was saving them for last, the final encore, only to turn her back – and fork – at them in the end. No potatoes deserve that. Nobody deserves that. And you don’t have to be a potato champion to know that it’s wrong. You just have to be human.
But from this potato saga an important hypothesis emerged; that chances were she wasn’t Kikuyu. Because no Kikuyu worth their potato would walk past a waru, let alone leave one on their plate. Many a Kikuyu has been lured by potatoes. Many a great man from the house of Mumbi has died from his inability to turn his back on a potato. Potatoes have changed English idioms in the cold lands below Mount Kenya; for instance they don’t say “To fall on one’s sword” they say, “To fall on one’s potato.” A stitch in time doesn’t save nine down there, it saves a…you get the drift. Her skin is dark chocolate so she could be anything.
When she finally speaks, she does so unprompted. She says, “I’m in solar.” Her voice is aloof and confident. You are confused momentarily. Solar? As in the sun? Since it’s neither a question nor an answer you say, “I’m James from Butere.” She laughs – like everybody else usually does when you introduce yourself – because people normally think you’re joking when you introduce yourself like that. But you aren’t. You are James from Butere. And proud of it. It irritates you whenever people laugh at your introduction. But this one could never irritate you. This one is attractive and mysterious and she can laugh at you all afternoon if she so desires, you won’t even bother going back to the office. HR can stuff it.
“I want to give you a chance,” she says after her laugh that really sounded like a jingle. A laugh that can sell Coke. And Sunlight bar soap.
“I said I want to give you a chance.”
“A chance? For what?”
She takes her time to deliberately slice into her fillet. She makes you wait in this gathering pool of mystery.
“I want to give you a chance to be anyone you want to be. To start over. To reinvent yourself. Here,” she waves her knife around the room, “or anywhere you choose.”
It’s your turn to laugh.
“Who did you say you are, again?”
“I didn’t.” She chews thoughtfully. “I said I’m in solar.”
“You are in solar.”
This is getting strange. This is getting pretty strange. These are the type of strangers your mom told you never to speak to. Who would have thought they’d wait to show up in your adulthood? These are the kind of women who you might watch in Women Who Kill on Netflix. Only you didn’t imagine they come in black. You start getting anxious and she notices because she says, “Don’t be nervous, I don’t bite.”
“Oh, I don’t…” you stutter, “…rather, I mean, I don’t fear…being bitten.”
She puts down her fork, dabs her lips with the serviette and smiles.
“One chance to reinvent yourself. Just one.”
You look at her. She can’t harm you here, she wouldn’t dare. The place is full of people. You will scream…as sacrilegious as that sounds, because Butere men don’t scream. The part of the brain that controls screaming never evolved.
“And you have the power to do this how?”
“I just do.”
“And I’m supposed to believe you?”
“Why do you think I chose this table?”
“Because I gave an air of charisma and animal electricity?”
She laughs out loud at that. It stings you a little but you don’t show it, you have to play your cards close to your chest.
“Well… sure. That played a big role in my choice, I have to admit,” she says.
You stare at her. She has a small tattoo on the side of her neck. A beetle, or some bug.
“Are you going to give yourself a fresh start?”
“Naah, actually I needed to finish reading the article about Thierry Henry.”
She sighs and says, “Look at that flame under the buffet stove. I’m going to turn all of them off by tapping my fork against your glass of water.” You stare at the flame burning in the chafing dish burners.
She taps her fork against your glass of water and all the four fires go out at the same time!
You stand up instinctively. Shocked.
“Sit,” she says. “It’s not voodoo. It’s not magic. I’m not here to harm you.”
You shake your head.
“Please sit. You are standing in my sun.” She laughs at that. Obviously an inside solar joke.
She rolls her eyes when you refuse to sit and taps the glass again with her fork and when you look you see all the fires light up again.
“Fuck!” you mutter. “Who are you?!”
“I’m the queen of solar. I’m not from around here, obviously. And I want to give you a chance to be anybody or anything you want. Please sit, James!”
“I will sit if you tell me why? Why do you think I need a chance to start over?”
“Because a sunrise is God’s way of saying let’s start again.”
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we have redesigned the website. We are starting over. This is our second make-over in the past nine years. And the website is a metaphor for life as I see it. The older website had a bit of bells and whistles, you know, a jumpy background, slightly chunky lines running across, wider at the hips, more impressionable. The young’uns who designed it -3 Geeks – did a good job. But then you get restless at some point and you want to move about, throw away old furniture and feel like you are onto something new even if it’s still old wine in a new wineskin. What I wanted for this new look was something simpler, because as I grow older I’m trying to shrink my world. Seeking smaller and more intimate rooms, perhaps something with a fireplace or at least a potted plant with big leaves.
So the web designer who did this – Delasoi of Mwangaza VIP Ltd – followed the brief; something simple, functional and good to look at. No frills. Something with big windows and lots of light, one that’s easy to navigate. Delasoi doesn’t work for free. She hasn’t started a foundation that builds websites to give back to local youth like me. Like most things that aren’t free, there are certain operational costs that run a website like this. Bills. And since not one of you has ever been kind to Mpesa me something and say, “Biko, have a Fanta on me.” I have started a section up there called
LIGHTS ON. Do you see it? It’s a section whose job will be to keep the lights on in this website.
So on Thursdays – depending on who is buying – there will be products, ideas, events in that section. Anything appearing there will be paid for content but it won’t just be about things, it will be about their stories, because isn’t everything about a story here? So LIGHTS ON is like a classified story section of the blog if you will, but a very cool classified story in less than one thousand words. (If I can help it). So say you are selling a big sofa that your grandfather left behind after he died. We will tell the story of that chair.
So if you are one of those chaps who is always complaining when I write about brands here, don’t read this blog on Thursdays and certainly don’t go to the LIGHTS ON section because I will be paying bills there to keep the lights on here and I don’t want to intrude in your important reading.
And because we have just moved here, we are doing a small housewarming with Johnnie Walker Green because what drink personifies a journey, a long walk, other than Johnnie Walker? The striding man has always walked since we knew him. We don’t know where he’s from. Some say he’s from Kilmarnock in Scotland but we can never be sure. He could be from Komarock. But those are mundane details, because where a man comes from doesn’t really matter. It’s where he’s going that often matters. And we are all going some place and sometimes we aren’t even sure. We just follow the route that has the most traffic. Or the person who seems to know the route. Some of us prefer to use shortcuts. Others take the high road.
But over and above walking, we forget to appreciate that sometimes the most important part of walking is not walking. Stopping, voluntarily or otherwise. We hate to stop because we see it as a lack of progress. But stopping is perhaps the most important part of walking. Not only do you catch your breath but you have a chance to look back and appreciate how far you have come because it’s easier to beat yourself by looking at how far you have to go. I don’t know how far we have to go here on this blog, but I know we have come very far – nine years and counting. We had old readers who left us and are now reading The Economist and The Financial Times . We wish them well. There are new guys who joined, most are ghosts who read and go, some comment.
And now we have a new digs and we have a bathtub for those who love to drink wine under bubbles reading a book. Like the Butere man up there who loves Liverpool, not because it’s the best team, but because Liverpool promises that you will never walk alone, we keep striding like our striding man to wherever this literary journey chooses to take us, together or as lone wolves.
So, cheers to the next phase.