new york

[this story ends well for you]

Landing in the united states feels like shaking hands with your bully at a high school reunion. Your face has grown smoother. Your backside has filled out. Strangers have stopped you on the streets to desire your hair. But somehow in front of this bully you become small again.

Unease ticks inside you to the rhythm of the wheels of a train you are trapped in for two and a half hours. You are waiting on your soul, waiting on your soul, waiting on your soul. This is the longest it has taken to come to you, a truth as foreboding as the grey clouds blanketing the skies over the lake in the adirondacks. 

You miss an important meeting and get surprise charges for a trip you assumed was free. The heart of a friend slips from your hands and pedestrians kick it away from you despite your chasing its trail of blood for hours. Once again, it is like your adult self has been peeled off from your core leaving the child in you naked in public.

You sleep in a deli and arrive at a party a zombie. You love on your friends because you swear you had so much love inside of you when you left nairobi you needed to give some away. You find there is nothing inside you and you run through the trees every morning until life feels like one long day. 

You say over and over again it is a satanish place that takes someone’s child and returns them home in a coffin. 

All the people whose minds and souls god doodled find you and engulf you like an amoeba does food. You let them fill some of the space inside you that is empty. You never stop running. 

You find a song that loves you. You go back into the city to chase it. Twice. The city envelopes itself in heat, to keep you in or out- you don’t know. You marry the music in a garden wedding in the summer- flowers in bloom, raindrops on butterflies’ wings making the sunlight sparkle,  nyatitis littering the grass, the wind making music out of lonely Tusker bottles abandoned for the dance floor and yellow bicycles taking an afternoon nap on the lawn. During your honeymoon, the music massages your body, everywhere, promises it can love you back to yourself again. The city looks at the music’s fingers between your legs and contorts its eyebrows in want, starts to beg you to love it too. Once again, it is like high school; the most popular girl likes you, and now everyone is seated cross-legged at your feet, waiting for their turn to be loved by you. 

 

*Psst I am soft launching a Patreon for paying readers, in which I will duplicate okasungora pieces (because open access). If you are capable, sign up to support my work: https://www.patreon.com/posts/34932178 Thanks.

 

 

kampala

My grandmother refuses to take photographs because they suck your soul from your body.

I read an article the dreamer sent me that claimed that when you are in love, you have no questions about it. I felt I was sure about my lack of love for Kampala until the day I found the tummy of the earth- all shining beads in the pattern of the sandals I bought by the lake- and was afraid to photograph it.

Inside there is a woman whose first love treats her body better than her husband does and a man whom darkness visits but he doesn’t know how to explain it and a little girl that wonders what to do about the bruises her father gifts her mother and a…

A day is coming when the earth will have rid itself of all of us who are alive in this moment, replenish itself, smile and make friends with whoever is around like nothing ever happened.

I am starting to feel that I could have more lovers than Nairobi. The night before I leave him I go to the club with the dreamer. I am dancing on that plane where nothing else matters. Except joy. Except right now. A boy with copper dreadlocks, a head shaven on the sides and a body that knows grace like the white bird I found prancing on the beach at Mukono winds his waist against that of the earring-ed boy whose barber’s phone number is a guarded secret. I found out videos are a collection of many photographs, and that the best videos are birthed from taking the most photographs within one second. A good video of this dancefloor  moment would just be a collection of very many little moments of happiness and happiness and happiness. 

At Mukono, there are white birds and black birds and little birds and giant birds and blue birds and purple birds and they all look ready for a beauty pageant. I am convinced it is Friday night in the bird world on the week before payday and everyone is looking their best so that they can get free drinks at the bar. 

One day in New Haven, I was walking behind a family and a maybe 3-year-old child. When we got to the street whose name I’m glad I’ve forgotten the child suddenly ran off in the headfast way of children onto the road sending everyone at that cross section into a frenzy. That is how I feel every time I’m drawn into the water even after it tries to swallow me. 

When I lay my body on the water at Jahazi and find all the knots, I detangle each one of them like the necklace the woman god made from me was obsessed with. I say sorry to my body over and over again until it agrees to cover the width of the pool without looking at me like I did my parents when they let the nurse inject me with Polio vaccine only three days to the day I would finally be old enough to bypass the torture. 

You know the drill now: I say I love you to myself in groups of ten, like I am counting on rosary beads. 

It’s back again- the feeling that I should gather sadnesses I am anticipating but cannot trace, roll them up the way Joan taught me I must do when packing and squeeze them into just one part of the suitcase that is my brain. I sing:

Satan is a poor old man

I dadada and put him in a box 

I lock the box and throw away the keys 

For all the things he has done to me

AM SAAAATISFIED IN JESUS 

There is a moving island on Lake Victoria. It reminds me of myself when anyone said I couldn’t run from everything and I said watch me- always always running away from something, always leaving behind pieces of me that I love but that I would rather do without than fight.

The street’s name is York Street.

 

 

*Psst I am soft launching a Patreon for paying readers, in which I will duplicate okasungora pieces (because open access). If you are capable, sign up to support my work: https://www.patreon.com/posts/26822808 Thanks.

usonga

My father always bought me meat when he was drunk and stumbled home and gave it to my mother to cook.

One day in Loresho my father carried his grief in his palms, stumbled into the living room and gave it to the women and he said mon, ywaguru, women, cry.

I will write about it one day.

Today, however, begging the jiko to stay up with me, I stare at the paper the cook left on your grass, grass on which leaves were classified as dirt, grass that once harboured the pride of a working woman with a personal hairdresser, grass that always made it clear how fortunate anybody was that it agreed to play mattress for afternoon naps.

And I think how love is a difficult thing to translate; that is the way to forgive teachers who made everyone laugh at us because our people mourn as if in theatre.

Maybe some of us are unable to access grief except through the poetry of others.

Like:

Coke madiaba okan madhre kendo.

Like:

Nyaminwa ma ne wa thoth kodo,

Nyaminwa ma nyakawach ga adiera,

Nyaminwa ma ka ne ber to ber to ka ne rach to rach.

Like:

An to aonge wach. Weauru.

Like.

Tho oknyal chietho. Two emichietho.

Like:

Ero wathi rumo.

Today, the road to your home feels like it is being made in real time by a child who has pinched a piece of brown plasticine and is rolling it on a green table and singing a song everybody knows but nobody remembers from where. As her plasticine grows longer and longer and longer, the road grows longer and longer and longer, as if for it too, the anticipation for your grass has been replaced by the fear of coming face to face with the reality of your no-longer-ness.

I know you are gone because for a moment, I thought myself in a 3D movie theatre as I watched the bottle you-know-who threw diving as if in slow motion onto your grass and if there is anything that could have made you get up, it would be this.

Sadness has never found me but I am also very good at running so far ahead of it that it is nightfall and the road is impossible to tell apart from the farm and the fireflies are drunk dancing to the funeral night party songs only they can hear from this far away and there is an infant lake here somewhere and today is my last chance to find it and sadness has forgotten that it was me he was looking for.

My father- he declares war on my silence but this thing- the way it eats everyone who left my womb and they stay quiet makes me think that woven into my bones is a computer code running into eternity that commands my being to be mute.

 

*Psst I am soft launching a Patreon for paying readers, in which I will duplicate okasungora pieces (because open access). If you are capable, sign up to support my work: https://www.patreon.com/posts/26822808 Thanks.

 

malindi

He also knew how the sea was with certain people, how it needed them and they it.- Dragonfly Sea, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor.

You have to tell yourself I’m proud of you over and over again until you believe it.

Some good ways to do that are:

Surviving a week in South Korea where a woman gives you an 11.27a.m. deadline and then asking the Malindi bus conductor what time you expect to arrive and he says Ni Mungu tu ndiye anajua Madame.

Sitting in the hot water pooled between the Indian Ocean and the Sabaki, alone for as far as you can see, hugging your knees to your chest, looking at all the blues the ocean manages to make beautiful, saying I love you, I’m happy for you, I’m proud of you.

Riding on a bajaji on the highway from Malindi to Mambrui, stealing glances at the impossible beauty of Kingi’s eyelashes through the side mirror, letting the wind attempt to apologize to your nyama choma back for what the sunshine did.

Saving the purple bougainvillea from the water over and over again until you realize that it likes that electricity generated from having so much life that death’s closeness is hidden.

Finding a child whose soul comes out of her body with the same force the waves used to break against the cliff and splash onto us. Watching the zebra and lion and cheetah blush from her affection.

Never getting enough of your shadow as a star-shaped heartbeat drifting on the swimming pool floor.

Cold passion juice with the seeds still in it, pasta, seafood, noting all the places with the white waves and waves and the everythingness where Kingi claims the ocean cannot swallow you. In the hypnosis, letting Uwem Akpan write his way into your life, first with the caution one does new people on first dates, then with the abandon one does friends of friends with whom it just has to work, I guess. (He writes: “Selling your child or nephew could be more difficult than selling other kids….”)

Hashim says (and Hashim never lies) that the blue which the shakwe bird keeps flaunting is from when he steals the water’s fish and the water tattoos him in return. I want my home to be fierce when I’m taken away from it.

I feel like I belong on a bookmark with a deep quote when I seat on the plank outside my bedroom window and read under the moonlight with the clouds above me and the oceans and the town’s lights in the distance seducing my eyes.

I waved at the cat with the shiny black fur and the glassy green eyes. It followed me home.

The water came for me again. I looked My Life in the face and she was a beauty. Water likes to break the lock on the door of My Life, walk in while dangling his keys, whistle and sway his stomach left to right before telling me that I will always belong to him. This time My Life told him that’s ok and then said but are you sure and for the first time Water did not leave a stench only I could smell when he left.

If that lobster- which looked like those genius Nigerian artists had found it and painted it orange and that it now belonged only on a throne- had been my last meal, there would have been dignity in my death.

You- you learned to lure my spirit back from the Grim Reaper long before you learned to claim my body back in the same way.

Akwaeke Emezi said that they have an image of what it is they want in life that helps them go through the little tasks that can feel annoying. For me, that is a tie between the feeling of sitting at the top of the boat in the middle of the ocean listening to Afrobeats and that of standing on a windy cliff and gulping the view of the ocean with greed but never finishing it.

When numbers loved me I found that there were two ways to calculate a truth. The first is by making logical step by step efforts to do so. The second is by starting from the result and working backwards. I’m glad that the result for us is happiness even if I do not yet know the steps that led to it.

 

*Psst I am soft launching a Patreon for paying readers, in which I will duplicate okasungora pieces (because open access). If you are capable, sign up to support my work: https://www.patreon.com/posts/malindi-26357664 Thanks.

seoul

This is what I think about when I make it to the tower at the top of the world while I shake my head right to left and rub my nose on the blue shawl I am glad I “borrowed” from the airline.

I say I love you to myself over and over again like a prayer.

Every time I say my own name I remember her and I think about sadnesses that are so fat they are unable to go through the vessels of the heart except in shrunken unrecognizable pieces of their former selves.

I say maybe there are other ways to live, maybe I should stand at the edge of all this and jump down and see what happens when instead of planning descent, you let the things that want to catch you do so and lay in their embrace for as long as your welcome lasts.

I realise the transparent glass box I rode to the top of this mountain did not scare me because no action was required from me for it to stay afloat, unlike the day that I capsized off the canoe after everyone promised nothing wrong could happen. Water has always wanted me in that jealous way of smoky-eyed lovers that are hiding darkness underneath their skin.

I have missed cities where the night does not mean that you must rock your soul in your palms like a baby, shush it, shut the door and tell your soul locking it indoors is what’s best as you sing Lala mtoto lala.

I buy a lovers’ padlock for half the price of stories I sell and write my own name on it and then I lock it onto the terrace’s fence, close to one that has come undone that says, “In this moment, life is good for Stephen.”

This is what the telescope whispers to my eyes: what defiance it is to think yourself special in a city that can blink another you into existence if it feels like it.

I summon an eight-year old version of me and she comes in the form of a hologram thumbing through magazines like Msafiri and the Marriott my father brought home and I tell her I can’t believe we made it.

This sorcerer child had a vision of the woman god made from me exactly as she came to me in real life six years ago, and that’s why when I tell my soul it’s just us now, she looks back at me like there may be a lie in there but won’t say anything about it no matter how much I beg her.

She said I belonged to her and I grew into a dragon and breathed out red-orange fire and roared Never. There are ways to be beautiful without being one.

I never realize how much people love me until I  stop seeking them and they start seeking me, like someone keeps hitting Kickback during poker.

You- you come to me every time I touch a pen but never actually leak out into the ink, like a permanent need to clear my throat.

That one time you let my ink find you it came out beautiful like the henna that woman at Mombasa Beach printed on my back.

You’re right to be careful. My fingers- they have thought themselves god and written worlds into existence before.

*Psst I am soft launching a Patreon for paying readers, in which I will duplicate okasungora pieces (because open access). If you are capable, sign up to support my work: https://www.patreon.com/posts/seoul-26120001 Thanks.

 

turkana

I always thought that hopping onto a Land Cruiser was cool but Turkana taught me that if you are of a certain height hopping is the only way to get onto a Land Cruiser. Driving at 100km/h on rough road for two hours in a convoy led and trailed by security personnel clad in camo into a semi desert felt like a movie, like what happens after two blonde haired gangs in Texas comprising men who look exactly the same have a shootout and one group drives off. A strange fact about semi deserts is that no matter what ills you read about them in Geography textbooks they look stunning. Imagine it: sand, sunshine, vegetation the colour of glowing charcoal, shrubs, palm-looking trees on the banks of absent seasonal rivers, hills and large large tracts of nothing else.  A wonderful discovery is fish comes out of Lake Turkana already seasoned by God. You need to be a really bad cook (me) to mess tilapia up in general, but messing up Lake Turkana fish would require a superpower, and I feel if you have super powers you should put them into something useful instead of ruining fish. On a different note, in my culture, you are not allowed to actively demolish someone’s house when they die, but you are not allowed to refurbish and maintain it either. It needs to come down on its own. I have been thinking about this because sometimes when I go to places managed by the National Museums of Kenya, I wonder if my culture inspired their values. The house in which the Kapenguria 6 were detained during their stay in Lodwar looks like something forgotten.

*Psst I am soft launching a Patreon for paying readers, in which I will duplicate okasungora pieces (because open access). If you are capable, sign up to support my work: https://www.patreon.com/posts/24977370. Thanks

kereita

cw: mental unwellness

In many ways, Kereita is indeed God flexing. With little research, and with myself on a petri dish, I can come up with scientific proof that forests are therapeutic. A tree can approach your soul, hold its neck and breathe into the back of its ear until your soul sighs, lets go of its burdens and collapses onto the tree’s shoulders.

Unfortunately, on this visit to Kereita, I had an anxiety attack which debilitated me. It had been a while since I got that wired for that long and I had started to trust that I could once again seduce the universe with my laughter and leap into it and that it would catch me very time.

How do you come from feeling like your spirits are as high as those bodies on a zipline and then feel like they are down in the valley below within 2 seconds?

It felt like every cell in my brain was battling another using the bow and arrow I was learning to work in archery. Even when the symptoms were screaming, I beat myself up for being weak not sick and for missing out because of it.

To blame you rather than itself is in part the nature of this lonely illness, a demon invisible sometimes even to its unwilling captor. In part, however, blaming yourself is a consequence of the fact that you are in more active control of your treatment than with other illnesses. When you are in charge of your wellbeing through constant yoga and positive affirmations and deep breaths, then an attack that overwhelms you feels like personal failure. As you fight and fight and fight, it is difficult to know when to look your armed brain cells in the eye, put your own bow and arrow down, raise your hands in surrender and ride the attack.

What I did ride was a horse which was good to me this time. I joke about how as a grownup I understand the darkness that drove people in rock music videos we watched with Ethel in high school on Sundays to wear black lipstick. I think when I got on Mzungu and pushed him faster and faster, it felt very dangerous but I finally understood the obsession seemingly disturbed black-leather-jacketed 20-somethings in music videos had with speeding motorbikes. I made a friend though, who got me a beautiful blue stone, and if that is all I got from the day, then it is sufficient.

*Psst I am soft launching a Patreon for paying readers, in which I will duplicate okasungora pieces (because open access). If you are capable, sign up to support my work: https://www.patreon.com/posts/24465446. Thanks 🙂