Us: In a parallel Universe.

You and I would still be together, four years strong. We would have invented new games to play, and I would tell you all about my day, even the most mundane of details.

You’d probably be glad that my phone anxiety has reduced and I can have more than a 3-minute conversation. I’d still be wearing all black, my hair still shoulder-length, and you, your shirt and pants and dreadlocks.

You’d still pick me up from the station and we would drive around with an updated playlist, replacing Cheerleader and Sura Yako and Humma Humma.

I’d still drag you along to Yoga at the park, and you’d still send me mirror selfies after working out at the gym in the middle of telling me all about work.

I’d read you my fiction and send you songs and write you mediocre poetry. I’d still be reading Arundhati Roy and you, some businessy book.

We’d share clothes and food. We’d share a cigarette and I would finally tell you how cool and not cute you look. We’d make strangers uncomfortable by holding hands and locking arms in public.

We’d attend pride together, under the UK sun, taking selfies and secretly sipping on gin and tonic.

We’d have debates again and then argue over our disagreements.

We’d kiss and have sex and laugh endlessly. Exchanging energies. Exchanging scents. Growing closer.

I’d entertain you with the news. We’d go to the cinema, for a Bollywood movie this time. We’d take that trip and have pancakes and roasted marshmallows.

In a parallel universe, I’d have said yes to you and not be sat miles away from you wondering what it would have been like even four years later, then maybe I could dedicate this or this to you, even though you wouldn’t understand a single word.

 

I’m at the airport

Half crying, half trying to pull myself together.

Change is temporary, it always is.

Is it cliché for me to look at the people around me and wonder what their trips looked like.

Who did they visit?

Family, friends, lovers, their pets, loneliness?

Are they happy to going back to where they are going? Are they going back at all? Or is it a quick trip to a fun, sunny, beachy destination.

That’s where I imagine people always go. To fun and beachy and sunny places. I mean, that’s what they’ve fed us as the ultimate place to be, right?

There’s someone opposite me reading The Powers of Blood (if that is an entirely made up book, I am sorry, I can’t see short distances or long distances most times – despite my massive glasses.)

Speaking of glasses, one of part of me wants to grab a glass of wine. Another part of me tells me, don’t drink anything because then you will want to smoke and smoking is illegal in this building.

And heaven knows being in trouble by the law isn’t something I plan on doing in 2019. Or ever.

So I got a copy of My Sister The Serial Killer.

I’m in a (for lack of a better word) weird state of mind. I used to be excited to be at airports at one point in my life.

I would dress up. And by dressing up I mean: Get my hair done. Put some make up. And even Instagram a selfie with Gifs and all round-wit from the airport’s washroom’s full mirror.

But now?

I am not particularly excited to be here.

There’s a sense of unsettled strangeness.

I am on the plane now.

I am going back home.

Home is Nairobi. Nairobi is home.

I’ll see you there, readers.

A Playlist

i.

‘I don’t know what’s wrong with my sister. I don’t get her. Can you check she’s okay?’

She read the message on his phone when he was outside smoking. Her heart dropped and she knew immediately she had to leave. He was halfway through his cigarette when she met him outside.

“Do you want me to walk you to the station?”

“I am okay. I will see you next week.”

A lie.

They kissed.

“I’m sorry, I just can’t.”

All he got was a text message.

The song they listened to was number one on her playlist.


ii.

“I dated a Kenyan girl once, and she showed me the exact same song,” she rolled her eyes.

“Okay, but I bet you’ve not heard THIS one,”

They were driving along the jam-packed streets of Dubai to “this epic sports bar that has a jukebox, trust me, you will love it”.

She hit play.

“I like this, humma humma humma humma humma,” she sang.

Now at the Epic Sports Bar With A Jukebox.

“You look cute smoking that cigarette,”

“Cute? I am supposed to be looking tough.”

They part ways before she could translate the song for her.

Song number two.


iii.

Her father came bearing gifts each time he would visit.

“Is everything okay? Here these are for you…”

His visits never had a set timing. Sometimes he’d stay a month. Sometimes two weeks. And sometimes an hour.

She’d take the gifts and run off.

A pattern she was now used to.

There was a shift in the pattern when she left home one day, unsure of whether she would return in a day, a week or two months.


iv.

“I want to be in a band. Imagine being like him, and having that sense of style? Come, let’s dance!”

 

v.

“I can see that you are an expert at running away.”

Every day seems to be on repeat.

The discomfort of being in a place that carries so many memories. Fighting the urge to slip.

Eating. Sleeping. Smoking.

Scrolling endlessly through the happy faces on Instagram, what must it be like to be them?

Watching endlessly the fake happiness of people in the movies.

One friend is a doctor. One is getting married. One is moving to Canada.

Life isn’t really waiting.

*

(Picture credit: Pinterest) 

 

 

 

 

Teacup: please stop spinning

Our childhood house had a medium sized garden. And there was this large fence covered with trees and leaves working as a partition from our neighbour’s house.

We couldn’t access the neighbour’s house from our compound. But there was a little gap in between the bushes that we could possibly fit into as children had we tried.

And we would spend days just looking into the neighbour’s house.

They had two daughters and a dog.

It felt like a such a far away place.

I’m not sure if it was real or a figment my imagination, but it sticks very vivid in my memories from that time.

And as a child, I’d often wonder what would happen if I went through the gap and into the neighbour’s house.

Would my family come searching for me? Would I be forgotten? Would I make it back?

When I was little, I would wake up in the middle of the night or very early in the morning with a strange fear.

It would involve me being in a massive field, or a never ending black space, entirely alone.

It was almost as if I had braved the crawl through that gap.

The place would be so dark, cold and eerie.

I would spot my loved ones at a distance, but either they were slipping away from me, or I was slipping away from them.

It was terrifying.

And this visual has recurred over the course of my growing up.

A few mornings ago I woke up, sweaty, with that same feeling, and I burst into tears asking God to watch over the people that I love.

I tried to tell myself that it’s just a nightmare, a bad feeling, and somewhere in between the process I realized it is perhaps the fear of me losing touch with myself.

Of me no longer recognizing me.

I see snapshots the way you see the background spin and blur when you’re on a really fast teacup ride.

Half shutting your eyes, bargaining with your body to please not throw up.

I am laughing. My mum is there, my sisters, my aunties, my friends, the roads of all the cities I’ve lived in, the dreams I had are all there.

They’re looking at me.

I try to call out at them, but my voice is blocked by a playlist of the songs I listened to growing up mixed with the sounds of their laughter.

I beg my body to relax, but it is slipping away.

Everything is spinning fast. Everything is blurry. I am starting to slip away.

And I am terrified.

*

Escape: at the salon

“Hey, oh my god, you’re Alia, right?”

“Rahila, Alia is my sister…well, cousin,”

“Ahh right, sorry,”

“No, no, people mix us up all the time,”

“I wouldn’t expect to see you here…”

“What, doing my hair?”

“No, look don’t get me wrong or anything,” she shifts in her chair causing the lady doing her hair to flinch, “just out in public,” she pauses, staring at Rahila, and whispers, “you know after everything that went down with the family.”

“I mean…”

“I mean it’s great and all but gosh you’ve got a lot of guts…” tsk “here at Joe’s?”

“It’s a good place, no?”

“Sure, sure…” she shifts again, the frustration is visible on the lady’s face “so, did he really do it?”

”You’ve read what the papers have said, right?”

“I mean, yes”

“And so you have your answer”

“Look, you don’t have to be afraid of me and and like-”

“Seema auntie, I respect you, look-”

“Please just call me Seem-”

“What’s happened has happened and will continue to happen most probably, who knows, right? It is not linked with me really, not really, it’s not, not, so why don’t you worry about you and I’ll worry about m-”

“Not linked with you?”

“No, not really, I mean, it’s not,”

“Whose funding your hair today?”

“Well…”

“That’s what I thought,” she let out a sigh “Alia, look,”

“It’s Rahila,”

Rahiilla, Rahila, right…you want to escape all of this”

“…um, yeah, I guess…it’s just”

“That wasn’t a question…come with me after and I’ll show you what to do.”

*

Maya & Rani

“Stay alive for the kids.”

“Isn’t it stay together for the kids?”

“What?”

“That Blink 182 song? It’s stay together for the kids”

“I’m not talking about Blink 182”

“No?”

“Look, Maya, please.”

“Please what?”

“Can you stop diverting the conversation?”

“I’m not diverting the conversation, I’m just telling you the right words to the Blink 182 song.”

“Maya this isn’t about Blink….” Rani rises from the seat and sighs, “look, Maya, I am your friend and I ca-”

“My friend?”

“Maya, please.”

Maya rolls her eyes, lets out a scoff, turning the lighter on and off.

“Maya, look, you know, you know after all that’s happened with you, I can’t be associated with you, I mean look at the news and the cha-”

There is a power cut.

“Fuck this fucking electricity.”

“What, are you scared of the dark now?”

Maya keeps the lighter switched on. She begins humming stay together for the kids.

Rani sighs.

The power is back on. Maya places the lighter in her pocket. She stops humming.

“Look, Maya everything that has gone down, you, your name, everyone knows and I cannot be seen with you, and then there’s this job, and my…my…my…”

“Your fame?”

Rani began to raise her voice at Maya.

“My CAREER, my GOALS, you know how long it took me to get here…you kn-”

“Why are you here?”

“What?”

“Why are you here?”

“Maya I”

Rani’s phone rings. She speaks in a low tone. Maya guesses it’s her grandmother.

Maya starts rolling a joint.

Rani hangs up.

“Well?”

“Maya, look. Please. Here are this week’s consignments, these are the addresses, you will get the mon-”

“I know how it works.”

“I’ll come back to see you.”

“What? When you run out of people to deliver your shit?” She twirls the joint between her fingers. “Also isn’t this the perfect roll? You’ve taught me so well, you know,”

“God damn it, Maya, I’m trying to help you out here.”

Maya lights the joint.

“And can you please stop that?”

*

 

Grandma’s Playlist

My grandmother always told me that I should become a storyteller. She said I would never get bored. There would always be Another Story to tell.

“Every day will be completely different, can you imagine?”

Grandma was not wrong. Every day is different, but it is also a whirlwind of the same different thing every day.

“Nothing changes in my world, but everything around me is constantly changing,” I told her.

“Your generation lacks patience. Just wait. Just wait.”

I’ve been waiting for seven years now, and grandma decided she wanted to leave, and so she did.

She disappeared with the wind and never looked back.

Was that what she’d asked me to wait for? She was like that, you know? Always cracking jokes under the pretence of telling us to find some deep meaning in life.

She was my bundle of joy.

Grandma left me with a strange gap in my life. And I started to fill that gap with stories.

Stories about what the President said on that day and what the Senator thinks of this and why we shouldn’t implement a new housing tax.

There is always Another Story for me to lose myself in, and grandma was right, everyday is different.

But sometimes different can start feeling like an illusion. And you begin to wonder which part of the story really matters.

What am I doing here? Why did he say this? Why are all these people around me? What are they thinking about? And does it really even matter in the grander scale of things?

I wish she was around to answer these questions for me.

“Please let me disappear,” I’d said to her some three years before she left.

And she’d reply by singing her favorite song, which at the time was, Dhol Yaara Dhol.

Don’t ask, grandma was weird and I never fully understood where she’d learned these songs from. She had her own playlist of music.

But there she was, singing and taking me with her voice.

I’ve been wanting to disappear again. So as grandma would, I let the music take me.

My mind travels with the music. My thoughts appear right before the chorus.

I can’t smoke anymore, not when I’m living here. Please don’t let me cut myself again. See, it’s hard to stop when I start. And I can’t remember why I started. I can’t find the inspiration to work on Another Story.

And as always, my thoughts land on grandma.

What song would I have sung to grandma if she’d told me she was planning on disappearing. Would my voice have convinced her to stay? Is she finally living the life she was destined to? Is she out there creating Another Story for herself? Had she updated her playlist?

The song comes to a sudden halt. Fucking wifi. I connect to my phone to 3G and hit play again.

My thoughts have disappeared. The music has taken me. I am going. I am going. I am gone.

The Pool

On the count of three.

One, two, thr- I plunge.

Within minutes the water is swallowing me. It’s holding on to me, welcoming me home, like a long lost friend.

Come, you’re safe with us.

As the water washes over me, I am met with memories that I’ve taught myself to bury.

I am somewhere between five and nine. My mother is telling us bedtime stories. She’s letting me play with her long black hair. I am standing under the scorching Nairobi sun, waiting in line, hoping to sneak in some school lunch.

I am ten. The bathrooms at my new school in Kampala smell like paint. The smell makes me sad, and I wonder why we’ve had to leave home all of a sudden. I look at my classmates, I wonder what it would be like to be them. Did they have a normal functioning life? What was a normal functioning life?

I am between 24 and 25. I’m on a train, in the park, in a club. I am crying. I am laughing. I am drunk. I am high. I am coming to terms with all that has happened.

The water is talking to me.

Things are going to happen so fast. People are going to forget so fast. Life is going to carry on as normal. Nothing really matters.

I’m slipping further into the water. But I don’t feel short of breath, nor do I feel the urge to swim back to the surface.

But wait. There is a strange creature here. He’s nearing me. Get me out. Help.

“Where are you from?”

The question that has haunted me at ten and 16 and 18 and 24 and 26.

“I don’t know, I’ve never known.”

He does an underwater backflip.

“Is it Kenya? Is it India? Is it even Dubai? Dare you say London?”

“I’ve never been enough for any, I’ve never been enough for myself.”

Oh God, he’s disappeared.

The memories are floating back.

I am seven. We are playing hopscotch on the pavement opposite our house. And just next door, there is a massive maroon house in a compound where I ride my bike in circles. I tell myself that there is a witch that lives in there who takes small children away and I wonder when my turn would come.

I am nine. We are driving away. My house. The pavement we played hopscotch on. The large maroon house. No, please, make it stop.

I’ve reached the end of the pool now. I am everywhere. Me at five, at nine, at 12, 16, 19, 23, 25. I am trying to reconnect these parts of me. I am trying to make sense of the person they’ve made me become. They’re singing to me in unison.

“Where are you from? Where are you from? Where are you from?

“I don’t know. I’ve never known.”

“What are you doing here?”

All these versions of myself are staring at me, studying me.

They’re inching closer to me, merging into one, merging into the water. It has swallowed me whole.

“Where are you from?”

I’ve lost my breath.

 

28th March 1998:

21208927_10155725907043708_1661837278_nDear Reader,

I am on death row. Ha, to write that on actual paper. I have said it out loud plenty of times. But to write it: I am on death row. Death row. Damn, will I ever get used to it? Death row. I am on death row.

I Am On Death Row.

Okay, I will stop now.

Reader, let me explain what has happened. How I landed here. Here on Death Row. Sorry, sorry. There’s a sense of addictive giddiness in writing that again and again. But let me explain.

I must warn you, it isn’t a good story.

It’s something I refuse to address for three main reasons:

1) People say I am bull-shiting the whole thing (how could I possibly be bull-shiting eight years of my life?)
2) The details of it makes me wanna barf (like literally barf)
3) I am made to look like the villain (see reason number 1)

Reader, you decide what you think is true.

Here is a slightly detailed account of what happened:

I was 23 years old. A normal 23-year-old, working a job at the local newspaper, writing the most depressing column on earth: obituaries. Yes, there is someone who writes them. And no, they don’t get sent in to the paper to be printed. I had to write the obituaries for the dozens and dozens of strangers who Will Be Deeply Missed By Their Parents Because They Were Such A Gentle Soul Taken Too Soon By The Good Lord. And it was a pretty ridiculous job if you ask me, because, all I was doing was writing Will Be Missed and Taken Away Too Soon in multiple ways. Writing the obituaries just about paid my rent and kept my stomach full. For the remainder of my income, I had to waitress at the local coffee shop. It wasn’t too bad. I would divide my time between serving coffee, reading magazines, imagining what the lives of customers that came into the shops must be like, and imagining what I would write in their obituaries. A Cheerful Man Fond Of Bicycling, Active Member Of Gay Men’s Club, Taken Away Too Soon. A Quiet Lady, Spent Half Her Time Reading and Caring For Her Ailing Grandfather, Gone Too Soon.

It was a regular day like this, between the coffee serving, the magazine reading, and the scenarios I formed in my head, that I first saw him.

Reader, it’s time for me to eat. The food here is shitty. I thought that being on death row, ahem, meant better food because, well, I was dying. Being electrocuted, if you are keen on gory details. But no, the food tastes like shit here. But I have to eat it. Give me a moment.

    * * *

Right, I am back. Where was I? Where was I? Oh yes, him. His was a fresh face. Unlike the regular old and groggy customers that were the norm of our coffee shop. He was young. My age, maybe older by two, three years? He was dressed like the men in the magazines I read. Suited up. Smart. The Rich Business Men that have an in-house library type. He was tall and skinny. His hair was blonde and gelled up so much that the light from the lamp bounced off its sleekness. He spoke with a stammer: “Can I get the m-m-m-macchiato, and a brbrbrownie, please?”

“You’re a wri-wri-ter?” He said to me some six weeks after his first visit. Yes, technically. I am a writer. He asked if he would have read anything of mine. Sure, I said. The obituaries in The Daily. They get someone t-t-to do those? They do. Wow.”

A year later we were dating. And a year after that he got on his knees, “m-m-arry me?”  I said yes. The first few years of our marriage were great. It was just like we were dating. The same kinda excitement. The same kinda love. The same kinda sex. It was year six of our marriage when things began to change. He began to change. “You c-c-can’t even gi-gi-ve me a ch-child!!” he said during one of our billion arguments.

That one always got to me. It hurt the most. I had failed as a wife in the eyes of my husband: I was still writing obituaries. I was still serving coffee. I was still thin. I was not popping babies.

My husband and I had spoken about children long before our marriage. Way back when we were dating. “I have nevnevver really p-pictured myself as a fa-ther either,” he had told me when I told him I did not want kids because I would make a shit mother.

I think it was around then that I had fallen in love with him.

borders-frames-notepad-backgrounds-powerpointI still did not want kids. He suddenly did. “B-b-become a mm-mmother, you wh-wh-whore, then you wi-will know ho-w to r-r-respect yours-self-,” He said to me during an argument about the Same Thing. He had started to change. He had never sworn at me to that extent before. All the promises he made during our dating days and during the first five years of marriage suddenly seemed to have watered out of him and evaporated into thin air somewhere. They lingered, but barely. He had changed.

It was his 30th birthday. I was writing him a card. What I wrote was: I love you, Happy Birthday, Handsome. What I wanted to write was: Okay Man. Kind of an asshole. Gone. But Not Soon Enough. Ah, to write an obituary of someone I know and love. No, loved. Imagine that.

He came home on the night of his 30th birthday. Cut his cake. Read his card. Ate the pasta. We had sex. He told me “I l-love you, b-b-eautiful.” And fell asleep. Everything was so systematic. It was as though he was one of those pull-string dolls with big black eyes that stared directly at you and spun round and round and round probably saying some shit like “I love you, mommy” until the string ran out, bringing the doll to a sudden halt and filling the room with an eerie silence. It was then that I had decided. The string had to run out. He had to go. I had to write that obituary.

I have to go, reader, it’s time for my daily walk. Did you know they let us death-rowers (I just made that word up, damn, death row is doing the writer in me well) step outside? It’s like a fucking ball. I love going outside.

Bye.

– Elizabeth A.
1998

  *

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ananya

“Name?” asked the bearded middle-aged white man behind the counter. I eyed his bulging belly, the buttons were so tight, I was surprised they didn’t pop open. “Ananya,” I responded. “Ana-what?” “Uh-nun-yah-,” I said, now slower, more robotic. His eyes skimmed through the list of names on the yellow paper before him, his pen tapping at what was probably my name, “Ah-nanny-yeah Triv-ve” he struggled. “Trivedi,” I gave in, “Ananya Trivedi, that’s me.” He shot me a look that was a mix between dire annoyance and utter disgust. I smiled at him. He got off his chair, turned his back at me and rummaged the large box for my parcel. I watched how his body worked, the formation of a tiny sweat patch between his lower back and his butt. The crease on his trousers. His mismatched socks. “Ah-nanny-yeah, Ah-nanny-yeah,” he said rhythmically, “AHA!” he blurted out at his eureka moment of finding my parcel. “Pretty heavy, Ah-nanny-yeah,” he said, sluggishly bringing the parcel to me. “Sign here, please.” “Thanks, sir,” I said.

I stuffed the parcel in my rucksack, the big-bulgy-belly man was right. It was heavy. It’s gonna get the job done, at least. I stopped at a coffee shop almost adjacent to the postal office, half struggling to get my phone out my back pocket, half struggling with the weight of my bag. “I’m at the airport, I will see you on Monday, be good, I love you.” It was a text from my husband, “be good? safe flight, love you too!” I wrote back.

The uber ride home was swift. I threw my bag on the floor and made my way to the kitchen and fixed myself a cup of tea, rummaging the drawers for the bag of weed my husband had bought two days ago. I never knew how I wanted to do it, all I knew is I wanted to be high when I did it. I somehow felt like it would numb the pain, make the process easier.

I  switched on the T.V. to watch Friends reruns, placed my cup of tea on the side table and began rolling a joint. My husband was so much better at rolling than I was, he had tried to teach me his technique but I never learned. My husband was the love and light of my life. He was everything I wanted and so much more. He was always so kind to me, knew the right things to say. He loved me so much. And I loved him back. I did, but I had to go. I started smoking as I thought of my family – settled between Mumbai, London and Johannesburg. My mother had the world’s best smile. And my father was a man of few words, “beta, don’t forget where you’ve come from,” he would always tell me. I thought about my wedding day, Din Shagna Da replayed in my head, and before I knew it I had started to cry and I was done smoking.

I had to go, it was the only way out of the mess. 

I picked up my bag from the floor and went into my bedroom. I hit play on my husband’s iPod and ‘Kho Gaye Hum Kahan’ started to fill the room’s silence. My husband loved that song. He would play it over and over again when he was happy. I opened my bag and pulled out the parcel. I laid it on my bed and fumbled with the packaging until I decided to go get scissors. Now high, and still crying I opened the package, and there it was – safely protected in bubble wrap. I peeled off bubble wrap and held it in my hands. The gun felt cold and heavy, but not deadly.  ‘Tedhe-medhe raaste hain jaadui imaaratein hain main bhi hoon tu bhi hai yahaan’ the song went on in the background. It was my husband’s favourite line. “It’s you and me, through thick and thin,” he had told me one night.

I placed the gun in my mouth and shut my eyes. The tears mixed with the high brought back a memory from my childhood. Every Sunday, my parents would take me and my siblings to the arcade across from where my mother worked, and I would sit on a tiny red bus that would move back and forth with a song playing in the background. “Beta, smile,” my father would say as he snapped pictures of me in the bus. The flash from my father’s camera would hurt my eyes so I would shut them tight and focus on the song and the bus. And just like that, everything else would phase out. Just me, the song and the bus remained. And I was happy. I was disappearing. Happily disappearing. Disappearing happily.

*BANG*