God never asked me to remove my sandals: She was never sure where my faith stood. I was ten when I peeled my skin and packed it neatly in a case. I broke my bones and folded them perfectly in a wardrobe. I drained my blood down the sink and tasted father’s bitter whiskey. There were wilted flowers in a vase, a table stood in the middle of the tiny room. On that table sat mama’s vinyl records player next to her picture in a frame. There was a tiny, pink dress I wore whenever I felt like a girl, a dustbin by the corner, a quote by Socrates and a caricature of Lionel Messi on the wall. It was here I lost my boyhood between the thighs of our house help. Whenever I said I was raped, people said that a boy cannot be raped. Did I not cum? Did my thing not stand?
I was an egg, I had a protective shell around me but I’d break with just one strike. Fire, pans and oil made me squirm. I became a butterfly, a creature of change. Metamorphic. I wrote sad songs and stories for those who were still caterpillar. I was a butterfly cursed with loving storms wild enough to break my wings. The brown in my eyes always had girls swoon with love but the black in my heart always had me kneeling before boys, begging to be me. Begging for love.
To write about father, I have to stop time at the twenty-fifth hour and rewind the seasons. He died at forty but was not buried until he was sixty. For years and years we watched him drown his misery in liquor; he would set himself on fire to die but his flames weren’t hot enough to kill him. See him wearing a tiny, blue dress dancing on the table, watch him explode in ecstasy only to cringe and weep at the sight of an illusionary ghost under his bed. Then came the night, he took a rope and followed the voice in his head; we found him with his tongue out dangling under a tree, with him was a note that read – ‘my sorrow has learnt to swim, so I have learnt to drown.’ We buried him next to mama beneath the willow, rain fell and we found the strength to wipe the shame off our heads.
After papa and mama’s death our world fell apart. We toiled to make both ends meet. We cried ourselves to sleep and longed for death. Those were the days of our great lament. After the scourge of pain came the scourge of disease. Sicknesses afflicted us at whim, our souls thirsty for death. Hunger hit us with a fury that threatened to scorch us to oblivion. There was a prophet in the streets preaching of a golden home, a loving God and Her son who perished on a cross.
Where was God when we suffered? Where was She when mama died? But then what do we get when we abandon God? Hell. She sends us to hell – a bottomless pit that swallows all She created. Some who are too deluded to question the idea, cling on to illusions like faith, religion and love. Only suffering is real and death is all there is.
There wasn’t much left of us. We wore nudity and ate hunger. We boiled stones to pacify ourselves. We cooked dead dogs and fried stray cats. We made a mixture of water and white chalk so our eyes could see something close to milk. The sky was our roof and when our frail frames could no longer hoist us, we built crutches for our legs. Sister would tell me a story of a boy born in a manger, who died on a cross then left to build us golden homes. I’d drift off to sleep craving to be that boy. In my dreams I’d see myself sitting on a throne of fire, angels worshiping me and women praising my mama for giving birth to a better Christ. Weep not, weep not dear god.
Christ dying on a cross is merely a sad destiny. A mother dying for her children is true love.
When sister came back from school with blood on her dress, I tore a piece from an old mattress and gave her to put inside her panties. I’d peep through the window watching her standing outside in the rain, too poor to afford an umbrella. I watched her breasts lift her blouse, I watched her shoot dance videos for TikTok and her camel-toe challenge on Twitter go viral. I viewed her search history on her phone. How to suck a dick. Shapes of vagina. Signs a boy likes you. Signs of pregnancy. Sugar daddies in Kenya. I strongly warned Johnie, the butcher, to stop beating his meat whenever he saw my sister’s buttocks. He went on unbotheredly with his business pretending not to know which meat I was talking about.
How delightful it is to stare at a woman’s buttocks. A perfectly round and balanced back that shakes when she walks. Too big it becomes annoying, too small and it feels like a punishment. Just the right size of flesh packaged in a dress that arouses curiosity. Slim – thick. Oh boy, how I love ass.
The curtain fell on our childhood like a Shakespearean play. Our days of innocence quickly turned into nights of debauchery. We spent our days on our backs with bliss and our nights on our knees in penance. Women. Wine. Sex. Goodbye, ten.
We were boys. We conjured up a glory so far away, buoyed by the promise of immortality and fame, we took a midnight train to a future that promised to land us on the moon. When we got there, we looked around but there was no life. It then dawned on us that we left life on the rag by the door when we closed the door behind us, we forgot to live today in search of an elusive tomorrow.
We took turns on Abulu, the mad woman, in the market square. Bimbo went in first and I came last. Isn’t that why her baby boy had brown eyes like mine? It was on a rainy Saturday evening when Tom taught me how to masturbate behind a posho mill. I held it like this and I stroked it like that.
We were barely twenty-three when a strange virus ravaged our world. We saw our conventional institutions crumble at the weight of doom. Black Men on their knees with fists in the air begging to breathe. A President losing his mind on Twitter. A quarantine outside and a longing inside. The media awash with statistics of the new infections and the dead in their thousands. They planted fear in our minds, if we did not stay at home we’d die. Wash your hands, stay home or die.
Why were they looking for a vaccine instead of a cure? If a chick gets sick, does mother hen look for the vaccine first or the cure? Our questions went without answers.
My friend Eugene was only twenty-four and already on a second wife. Fela was disowned by his people for inheriting a widow thrice his age. Toto was twenty-nine and still living with his mama in a small shanty. His mama serviced her customers at night in that same house. Toto watched his mama have sex. Toto masturbated to the moans of his mama. We watched his eyes lose color, his life lost its spark, he ran off to the city and became a mortuary attendant. A year later Toto was stoned for having sex with dead bodies.
Our generation has lost its soul. We’re children of uncouth customs and addicted to mediocrity of social media. Vice reigns and virtue is scorned upon. How I long for an evening with Socrates. How about a Tracy Chapman’s concert in the 90s? The Beatles? Is a morning music session with Bach too much to ask?
Kezzie was barely twenty-four with four children and on her second abortion. She lost her home when the government destroyed their shanties to pave way for the expansion of a highway. Her husband left for work one morning and never came back. She became homeless with four kids to feed. But when you got nothing, then you got nothing to lose, so Kezzie wandered about aimlessly, drenched with the frosts of night and dews of dawn, tormented by fears of her children’s reproach and the censure of the world, her heart beset with uncertainty. She traversed the earth with a hole in her heart, a hole on the side of her bed and her sandals. She lived on despite having nothing to live for.
Some things you can’t change. Sometimes you lose more than you gain. Why die when you are already dead? The dead don’t die.
As surly as we were, plagued by unemployment and rampant corruption, we started cultivating a vision for our country. Our musicians composed patriotic songs, our artists preached justice and peace through graffiti on commuter buses and walls. We formed tiny groups that discussed politics and change. We had a picture in our heads and we knew we could build the country we all wanted. A revolution was slowly gathering weight.
The years bled into a decade. Summer came and summer went. Our women bore us sons, by day we attended masculinity workshops and drowned in beer by night. We entered a period of masculinity crisis, online classes on how to be a man, we watched Peaky Blinders and tried to be like Tommy Shelby. Our women wanted rugged men like Ragnar Lothbrok while they eloped with old, moneyed men. Goodbye, twenty.
Nairobi—the giver and taker of life. The Revolution was slowly coming to life. I borrowed my uncle’s suit and took an overnight bus to Nairobi, my heart beset with uncertainty. In the darkness, as the old engine struggled to stay alive, l played Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” on my phone. How we had gambled with our future. We conceived well but gave birth badly. But there was hope. Where was hope?
I arrived at dawn, but the city was in the dark. A broken heart is the price we pay for hope.
I lost God in the backseat of an old taxi along Kenyatta Avenue. I flushed down my faith in a public toilet along Moi Avenue. I abandoned my salvation in a beggar’s bowl by the road. I lost my dignity between the thighs of a thirteen-year-old girl in Sabina Joy brothel. When I reached Koja Streets, I turned to look back but the place where I had come from was gone. Oh, the place I came from was gone. Nairobi was in ruins, and chaos reigned supreme.
There were women with bodies devoid of flesh. They sat in groups breastfeeding their dead babies. There were men of age with grey hair; they sat naked eating dust and scratching their wounds with stone. They all held their hands out. They called out, ‘Pilgrim! Pilgrim! How far from home?’ Women heavy with unborn babies, children clothed in rags, they sang the philosopher’s song of sorrow, they slithered on their bellies, they cried out, ‘Black Messiah! Black Messiah! Break our chains!’ And when tears stung my eyes, they consoled me. They said, ‘weep not, dear god.’
The Sabbath is neither on a Saturday nor Sunday. The Sabbath is every day. Do good every day. Be good every day.
They said the revolution will not be televised; it will be tweeted and captured in videos on TikTok. There will be thousands of people celebrating the legalisation of the herb.
Even though we have lost our homes to strangers… Our children are captives to screens and uncouth customs. Honor has deserted our elders, our places of worship tainted by vice and corruption. Vagrant men prosper and the Oracles of Wisdom are utterly disregarded. Our prophets and philosophers have lost their touch, and writers are silent in the face of impunity. Lose not hope.
A time like this shall come. We will bask under the sun and dance naked on the beach. So child don’t you cry, don’t you falter in your steps, better days are coming. We will dance in the rain. The sun will shine gloriously above our heads. What has been, need not always be. Weep not, dear god.
Image by Andy Faeth from Pixabay (modified)