I sleep with him. This man. Most days. I also eat with him, on occasion. He eats using his left hand while he writes notes and opens doors with his right. Ambidextrous. He’s a quiet man with a spongy sense of humour, yes, like fungus. His humour sponges off yours, the kind of guy who makes your jokes better. A last laugh kind of fella, which makes him the annoying kind. If you go with him to a party he will tell your jokes, passing them off as his.
He’s not a man who easily gives himself to anyone. You could say he’s mysterious, or bashful. Maybe proud. What’s for certain is that he’s forming, he’s becoming. Sometimes I see myself in him, other days I might find myself in him, and that’s usually as enchanting as it is surprising. Sometimes his very personality is like the pungent odour of burning rubber. On some days, someone will say something and I will think to myself, “..aaah that’s what he’d say too—minus the long pause.” I drive with him. I attend meetings with him. When I’m at the airport’s check-in and I’m asked, ‘Sir, do you have luggage to check-in?’ I ask myself, “Would this man be the kind of man who checks in his luggage or the kind of man who packs five boxers for a two-day trip?” I don’t see him as that man, to be honest. I see him as a man who wears his underwear and then washes it and hangs it to dry next to an open window. If it doesn’t dry, so what? He will walk about commando like Early Man until he gets back home. So, no, we have no ego to check-in, thanks.
This man has been coming alive in my head since last year. A character. An oddball. He’s going to occupy the main role for a project I want to start but I’m not entirely sure how to go about it because it’s in the deep reaches of creativity, that place where everything sinks.
So for now I’m testing him, this man, against other men but also against women. I’m testing him against himself and a world that’s resigned to a safe hammock.
Having said this, it’s not easy to flesh out the authenticity of a character you release and share with someone. Sometimes complete strangers poke the best holes in these characters. Do you know the best people to try these creative ideas on? People who read. Which makes a bookshop the best place for me. So often, in the past six months, when I find myself at Yaya Center I go to Bookshop to walk around, smelling books, reading sleeves and looking out for a shopper who I can run this character by. These are strangers who have no reason to lie or be polite to me. They don’t know me. They don’t owe me shit. They will listen and say, ‘Naah, I don’t think that storyline is real.’ Or ‘I can’t entirely imagine someone living a life like that’ (an aging lady once told me), or a young fellow with cool Jordan sneakers who said, ‘But why can’t he just return the money?’ It’s difficult to do it in a bookshop because bookshops, books, are intimate; you are interrupting magic and disrupting a moment.
So I will walk up to someone flipping through a book and say, hey, my name is Steve, I’m a writer of sorts—might you have a minute, please? Women are harder to approach because they will be thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, this jerk isn’t trying to pick me up in a bookstore, I really don’t have time for this, plus why is his forehead like that?’ Some people will ask, have you written anything I have read, perhaps? I will say, I don’t think so, it’s mostly collaborative things. If I’m in an extra mood I will add, And it’s mostly in Swedish. They might say with raised eyebrows, ‘Oh, you speak Swedish?!? I will say Yeah, and a bit of Yiddish. Only because it rhymes with Swedish. Sorta.
Anyway, I will run this character by them and ask, well, what do you think of this guy? Of this premise? Do you like him? Do you dislike him? Why? Would you leave him with your cats? With your child?
And so I’m asking you if this premise grabs you by the collar.
This man in my head grew up in a polygamous family. His father sold hides. He was gone for long stretches of time, traveling, his skin squarely in the hide game. His mom was a secretary in a small-town bank. The type of bank that has goats chewing and chilling on its verandah—perhaps waiting to apply for an overdraft. His father led a double life until he died and three families emerged from the woodwork. Some looked like him. He was 13 years old when the truth came out. He never wanted kids. The very idea of it filled him with anxiety.
What he wanted was to be an author. Studied literature and then a Master’s degree in business management. He wrote one terrible book that nobody read. Then started another, that he has been writing for years. To earn a living, he got into banking, earning a pittance, which naturally led to white-collar crime, siphoning money from the bank and stashing it offshore. He’s a brilliant man. When the anti-graft police started sniffing too close, he walked away from the bank, a very wealthy man. He ran off to the village where his mom was aging, dug a hole in the ground and stashed the money away in three different spots in big metallic boxes. Then he planted banana trees over them.
He then closed all his social media accounts, changed his name from Tobias to Job and ran off to study theology in a small-town seminary. A place on a misty hill where committed men murmured to God and wafted about, heads bowed, in flowy gowns like ghouls. There he found refuge. He ate with these men in pursuit of virtue and purity. He communed with them. Loneliness descended on him like the hammer of Thor. He read the Bible like you would read erotica, with rapt but disbelieving concentration. In his free time he smoked a cigarette he rolled himself under a big oak tree and dreamed of the day he would leave the place. Apart from Jesus, he hardly made any friends. He never called home. Never called his mother even when arthritis gnawed at her joints. After a few years, he graduated and got into the church, wearing a different white collar.
He was attached to a church in another small village town. A place with a flock of great naivety and unquestioning faith. A place where it rained a lot. The trees constantly wet, Woodsmoke constantly hanging in the air. He had a big stone house to himself with an erect chimney that thrust straight into the sky, a great mockery of his celibacy. He settled in as a respected clergy, a man of the cloth. Local politicians held their hats in hand while talking to him. Old village women revered him and left fruits, vegetables and fresh milk still smelling of cow tits outside his door. He stoically rode his bike everywhere, never saying a word to anyone, an old hat perched on his head. Everybody mistook his silence for puritanism. On Sundays, he stood at the pulpit—a bony, slight man with a wisp of pencil moustache—and led a spiritual charade. He extolled the congregation to live in virtue while the big shadow of his checkered past and rotting present loomed large above him. Once or twice a year he slithered back to his village, undug some of his stash and poured some of his illicit libation into this desperate village; he built milk collection points, a hospital ward, school toilets and sponsored a women’s self-help group. A little penance to the church for giving him this temporary freedom. An ode to the white-collar that clung to his neck like a vengeful fist.
Occasionally on a random Sunday night when the howling yearnings of his flesh became too loud to ignore, he made a call from a small phone and a fleshy woman showed up at his doorstep. See, he had a fetish; he liked hookers who dressed up as chefs. He loved that top hat thing they wear. They seemed to raise them, elevate them, above him. He’d sit—fully dressed in his church garb—at his long lonely dining table and ask her to pretend that she was taking his order. His order would always be ‘pumpkin soup.’ He then loved to watch them stir the broth on his stove. And just like his father, he lived a double life.
People confessed to him in the confession box; politicians from the nearby towns being eaten away by the worms of greed, adulterous housewives embarrassed of their insatiable desires, petty thieves, village hoodrats, a gallery of deviants and miscreants who had stolen poultry, bicycles, hay, honeycombs, men and women of sooted souls who wanted out of that chimney of sin. He sat behind the wooden screen and half-listened to them as he played his Sudoku. He was bored out of his ass with this small-town villainy. He was bored out of his pants with this repetitive cast of spiritual hooha, an unending Rolodex of souls convinced of their eternal demise in the furious flames of hell. It was like watching someone scratch a mirror with long nails. A gnashing of teeth, they say? God, he was bored. When he prayed for drowning souls, he did so with his eyes open, like a fish in prayer. His very deception bored him. It became unbelievably easy, too blasé.
Well that was until one day, a man in a suit that looked too suave for the village settled in the confession box, cleared his throat and instead of saying, “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned, it’s been a month since my last confession,” the man said, “OK, Tobias, let’s make this snappy; I’m here for the money.”
Then shit started unraveling from there. Some really bad shit.
I’m looking for voice-over artists, both male and female. And ‘voice over” here doesn’t mean you necessarily sound like the intrepid Mwalimu John Sibi Okumu [who sounds good, by the way] but just folk who can read in their own unique character. And – most importantly – who sound “Kenyan.” This means if you pronounce ‘water” as “warer” this project isn’t for you.
Email me a small voice test [a minute or less] on [email protected]