Favourite paragraphs III

They tell me to respect the way we do things here in literature and write about a character dictated by a list that’s been prepared for building bards. By the committee of the Writers’ Board of Kenya: streetkid, prostitute (with heart, perhaps, but victim), fat wabenzi, youth who’s no respect for those who’d cut her clit-bits off, and sundry other minor folk whose role it is to represent the mass (who’ve been betrayed, who only suffer) — and to do this in Gikuyu or Kikamba. Well, that’s fine, for I respect our great tradition of imprisoning our authors. — Stephen Derwent Partington

It is in captivity — ringed, haltered, chained to a drag. The bull is godlike. Unlike the cows, he lives alone, nozzles the sweet grass gingerly, to pass away the time. He kneels, lies down and, stretching out a foreleg, licks himself about the hoof. Then stay, with half-closed eyes, Olympian commentary on the bright passage of days. The round sun smooths his lacquer through the glossy pinetrees. His substance hard as ivory or glass — through which the wind yet plays. Milkless. He nods. The hair between his horns, and eyes matted with hyacinthine curls.  William Carlos Williams

His horses, hard of mouth, swerved suddenly and dashed against a Libyan army. From this single mishap there followed crash on crash. – Sophocles

The motion sun has this pure millimolar thing it does when it settles on the thin layer of dust on the block wood and even before those specks of dust trap the light and disappear into other regions of the air in my mouth-room. Two pairs of eyes in the room dart from object to object and never to each other. The arrangement of shapes and sizes in these rooms is something out of a set in a film written by directed by edited by scored by and produced by a young man in Nairobi with no education and a lot of love and kisses from his mother. Plastic teepee and Tupperware I got as a gift from an Italian man who comes to me in the late night hour, a man who looks at me with blank eyes and offers me his life savings if I can tell him why cold-blooded animals like the shade so much. He often says he loves the sun and he walks for kilometers without water or pauses. He’s third generation Italian-Gikuyu. Once he offered me a story for free. Emphasis on ‘free’. His father, after playing dead in the bloody fields of Wal Wal, 1934, bribed a merchant with silvers and gold to a southern border where he bribed a hunter with anal sex to take him to Marsabit. This man, he likes to spit in my garbage bags, I imagine those who like to spit are hydrated people and I spend nights and days thinking about this. I think about his bad breath and good intentions, his love for highlife benga and the many wrong histories he likes to offer me. I want to be like him, wrong in my convictions and happy as can be. In my garbage cans and in addition to spit are the remains of yesterday where I did things no one has ever done to a vegetable salad and later made that okay with a banana-strawberry-yoghurt splash. A lot of paper has been wasted printing recipes and turning them into manifestos for cats. – Clifton Gachagua

They both laughed the laughter of tipper trucks: it carried all the worry behind them and dumped it in some bola far away. The planets were the dancing hearts of vulnerable witches. Accra could harm the hearts of beings hundreds of feet up in the sky. Accra be sweet-ooooo; only avoid the history, avoid the gutters. When Adwoa Aude ended up finally at her house, she saw Aming standing at her door, waiting to enter with 1976. Her father had thrown her out. Adwoa took her in with her own tall puzzled look. Adwoa was completely exhausted and one had left Sally soon asleep suspended in the sky. – B. Kojo Laing

Wide sea, that one continuous murmur breeds along the pebbled shore of memory. – John Keats

He saw a vendor selling sugarcane from an open-sided van, mangoes in wooden crates and tall cane sheared with twine. Some things get better, Albert thought. A library, a play street, prods to his optimism, block by block. – DeLillo

When a clueless security guard locked up the library with us in it, we spent half the night in there, fucking on the stairs. You bit my lip until it bled and wrapped yourself around me as though the ground were a floe, breaking away from the continent, sending us over a waterfall and out to sea. With my tongue inside you I was licking the insides of a plump oyster. With your breath ragged in my ear I was listening to a shell from an ancient shore of an alien planet. Then, like wall geckos, we climbed out of the bay windows and ran, glittering with fucking, into town. — Nicholas Ochiel

I recall being told, when I first moved to Los Angeles and was living on an isolated beach, that the Indians would throw themselves into the sea when the bad wind blew. I could see why. The Pacific turned ominously glossy during a Santa Ana period, and one awoke in the night troubled not only by the peacocks screaming in the olive trees but by the eerie absence of surf. The heat was surreal. The sky had a yellow cast, the kind of light sometimes called “earthquake weather”. My only neighbour would not come out of her house for days and there were no lights at night, and her husband roamed the place with a machete. One day he would tell me he had heard a tresspasser, the next a rattlesnake. – Joan Didion


Tusker & Fritz

300521_219943391395878_1622357992_nKQ-470 taxis, faces the runway.

The seatbelt sign lights up.

Some of us had problems tying our shoelaces in kindergarten and now clicking the seatbelt tongue into the slot part looks tough. It’s like throwing one string of shoelace over the other, left brain over right brain, mixing up our logic.

The Rolls Royce engines thunder, it’s the sound of ten thousand atmospheres rushing past. The metal ends of the seatbelt vibrate in-sync with finger bones.

Without looking outside the window, those of us in the middle seats know KQ-470 is now floating because the tyres are no longer bumping over the runway tarmac; the vibration in our finger bones has stopped. Looking outside, those of us at the window seats watch Nairobi slope as KQ-470 banks right. And right, and right, until we have all turned one-eighty and are climbing, moving south, outbound to Maputo.

There are streaks of rat brown rust on the aileron at the edge of the right wing and the aileron flutters spasmodically in the face of powerful winds. That’s how we know KQ-470 is flying fast. We see the rusted part juxtaposed against a dropping Nairobi. Some of us think about what happened in Cameroon. (A nocturnal Cameroon jungle 5 kilometers south of Douala International Airport where KQ 507’s flight recorder is found. Analysis in Canada confirms KQ 507 banked too much that night and the pilots panicked and it fell out of the sky.) Some of us have a fear of heights.

Over Nairobi National Park now, carpets of bush and trees. Water surfaces like ponds, rivers, streams fracturing the landscape symmetry. Clouds outside our windows, their fluff, their shadows on the carpets, the landscape running into the horizon where its hazy because the clouds pack up over there under the pressure of perspective and all the far things look obscure except for the infinite blue sky. Sometimes the landscape symmetry is fractured by shining rooftops which may be isolated game warden posts or some safari lodge using solar panels. This is where some of us admit we have been brainwashed because we are looking for something more dramatic down there. Like an overwater marina trench gouging out some hallucinatory valley, or a Kilimanjaro rising high into outer space. But it’s boring outside their. Kilimanjaro to the left is some small stone burger with melted white cheese spread over it and all else is a flat plain stretching on and on, carpets upon carpets of trees and bush. Small looking hills here and there.

Fingers clasp the edge, the elastic edge, of the pouch that’s in front. It’s warm inside the pouch. Fingers of the other hand grasp the glossy in-flight magazine called msafiri. The name has no capital letters. The magazine is warm. It’s like the pouch is part of a living animal, warm blooded and soft inside. Possibly the body heat of the guy in front has seeped through his seat and now comes out from behind here. The elastic edge catapults back into position as fingers let go.

It shows four elephants walking on the banks of a lake shore at the golden hour. It could be either late dusk or very early dawn. Thick orange sky flaming around the top of page 36, around the elephants in the middle, around the lake water which reflects everything above and around it. The photographer has also employed contre jour technique; the four elephants and the thin strip of ground they walk on form the only darkness; elephant silhouette. They walk eastward, following one another, ready to walk out from the right edge on page 36. msafiri has no capital letters.

The air-hostess rolls the drinks trolley down the aisle. The drinks trolley is a tall steel box. The air hostess puts her hands inside the tall steel box and brings out a cold can of Coca-Cola. Fingers leave page 36 and curl around the cold can. Is it possible the guy in front sucks the heat out of all the Coca-Cola cans on KQ-470 and leaves them chilled? Because after a while the fingers curling around feel the cold fire. The fingers burn in the near freezing heat because they don’t want to let go. Then, on the lower spine, a soft push is felt. From the seat behind a hand has gone into the warm blooded animal and has pulled out a glossy magazine. This is what is felt on the lower spine. The air-hostess rolls the drinks trolley down the aisle and puts her hand inside.

It shows an aeroplane window. Outside, grocery shopping is in freefall. Clouds are sculpted carefully in the shape of cauliflowers. Millions of conjoined cauliflowers and no two have the same size or shape though they all have the same feel. The sky is the blue colour from our nursery school days, the blue that looks happy and carefree. Grocery is falling out of a brown paper bag. Bananas, loaf of bread, milk packet, leaves of lettuce, or is it cabbage, a box of eggs, eggs as white in shading as the cauliflower clouds, a packet of pasta. A slice of pizza seems to have docked away from the brown paper bag earlier and is in a more advanced state of freefall but the particles of mushroom, capsicum and green olives are clearly visible amidst the cheese of the pizza. This is on page 33. The advert for yayayaya does not have any capital letters.

On page 21 there is another aeroplane window. This one shows portion of an aeroplane wing where the Rolls Royce engine is. Colour of the aluminium is very clean. The wing edges and round Rolls Royce engine are like buttocks, thighs, breasts voluptuous curvaceous. This is aluminium pornography shot with a Carl Zeiss Apo Sonnar T* 4/1700. An aeroplane wing and engine have never looked more beautiful. No rat brown rust. No clue that beyond the page the wing has an aileron fluttering spasmodically in the face of powerful winds. And looking past the boudoir photography, down on earth there is wildebeest migration (savannah, acacia, Mara River and stuff). On page 48: “It looks like it was assembled from spare parts – the forequarters could have come from an ox, the hindquarters from an antelope and the mane and tail from a horse. The antics of the territorial bulls during breeding season have earned them the name ‘clowns of the savanna’.” What does one of us recall? Which white guy said that in which documentary?

Fingers have memory and they left something in the pouch. They left a touch. A plastic bag. The plastic bag is torn open. It’s a pair of headphones. Like a headband they go around the skull, the fingers adjust the earpads. The fingers of the other hand explore the sides of the armrest, trying to find the hole. The headphone jacks in. But it’s a dirty sonic. Sonofabitch aeroplane radio, can’t hear anything clearly. The earpads are farting poo booh. Stuff the headphones back into the pouch, crumple the torn plastic bag and drop it to the carpet. Some of us are susceptible to barotrauma at this stage when the cabin pressure levels to seventy six kilopascals; the internal headphones, in the head, start whining like hungry dogs under a full moon night. Some of us become aware the aeroplane is still very loud and we need to pee.

Walk down the aisle, handball team here, canoening team there, the black T-shirts, ‘KENYA’ in big capital letters blazing in white ink across everyone’s chests, boxing team here. Every team has its own physical dimension. Basketball team have bigger biceps, judo team have more pronounced deltoids. We are talking of each team having its own unique body size. Tennis ladies team have the best looking legs, steeple chase ladies are small, short, thin and hard as stone at the thighs.

Though we all wear the same black T-shirt, we are not coeval.

Every team has its own mental dimension. Boxing men don’t hear the very loud plane. They comport noise into silence. Focus goes into the hand. The coach is shouting outside the ring, the crowd is roaring in the stands. Hear only the hand hitting the others jaw, the sound of spit flying out from between teeth. The steeplechase ladies think of rhythm, how they will proportionately divide running strides every four hundred meters by how many jumps over the hurdles by how the wind velocity will keep harmony with the rest of the track variables.

As we stand on the pee line, the curvature of the earth cuts clean shapes outside the windows.

Everyone in front of us in the pee line is a federation official. Big stomach guys of Judo Kenya or National Basketball Federation. Skinny, too much lipstick, skinny lips, pee ugly Tennis Federation ladies.

Inside the cramped toilet there are stripes of faeces clinging onto the sides of the metallic toilet bowl. The officials always shitofy everything. The toilet paper is soggy. We are not sure whether it’s because of the alcoholic disinfectant they were doused with at factory level or because of the humidity inside here. We are even afraid to touch the taps because officials have touched them before us. We come back outside with raw, crotch grabbing fingers; squeezing past big stomach of Handball Federation, to enjoy the pleasant climate of the economy class. Ahead, big stomach of Judo Kenya is walking past curtain, the purdah behind which a seven course lunch is being served in Premier Class and we wonder why the big stomachs wants to use our toilets.

We are back outside, walking the aisles. Some of us get back to our seats next to colleagues and in that particular row we feel like one family because to the left is a chess player who specialises in the Najdorf and to the right is a chess player who specialises in the Grunfeld. In that row we speak the same language, Kasparov, and we fly over middle Africa together.

But some of us get back to our seats and feel estranged. To left and right are some of us who speak in incompatible languages, like how do we process a Minority Attack using Judo’s Ashi-Waza, foot and leg techniques? We feel alone. We are mixed up in this row over here.

Sections of mountain ranges and vast clouds gradually slide out of one window and reappear in the next one.

And then one of us will use the aloneness and pull out a laptop, have the air-hostess put a cold Tusker can on the fold out, slide out table, next to the laptop. The Tusker tab is then peeled away, froth foams out and slides down the can whilst Fritz is fired up and King’s Indian moves are put up for scrutiny under the infinite analysis function. That’s it; there are no other sportsmen like the chessplayers. We look like we were assembled from spare parts – the weak chest could have come from a malnourished parking boy fluttering in the face of powerful winds in urban streets like a rat brown rusty aileron, the big stomach from a sports official, and the sharp eyes of the brain from Carl Zeiss.

KQ 470 floats over Maputo. It banks sharply and we are pushed by gravity rightwards. The windows show white is the predominant colour in the city, white buildings sprawling across our field of vision. We are now like a satellite ready to drop to earth. We entered KQ 470 carrying Nairobi oxygen, we will walk out of it exhaling Maputo carbon dioxide. The seatbelt sign lights up.

Book hunting in downtown Nairobi

book sellers


A friend said “I know Mehul bought a bunch of Delany and so on. On the NBO streets.”

“Which streets?” another friend asked, “Pray tell, Mehul, where did you chance upon this treasure?”

I said:

It’s not so hard. Find a weekday. Pick a time around 5:30pm when rush hour starts to peak. Start from just outside Wakulima Market (the other side of it, the non-Haile side, the side where it seems you will end up on the railtracks). You might have to cross a stinky swamp just as you exit Wakulima (on the other side) to get here, especially in this rainy season. Regulars like me know which stones and wooden planks to step on when crossing the swamp waters. I suggest you wear gumboots on your first excursion. Here you will find about half a dozen book hawkers strewn across a length of about one hundred meters. It’s the cheapest place. They sell the books for 30/= each. My latest find here was a juicy 600+ page Herman Melville collection of ‘tales, poems & other writings’. You will find lotsa sci-fi. Largely because most sci-fi (all?) novels have the cheap paperback look. If you find 10-20 books you like, you could hustle a deal for all of them for a mere 200/=.

Next stop is inside Wakulima Market itself. The price goes up slightly. 30/= to 100/=. Usually, they have a boring collection here. Needless to say, I have never found anything worth it. But I still do check the place, simply out of book-hunting addiction.

Then you come out of Wakulima, now on the Haile-side, and you can fish around. There are a bunch of random book hawkers in the vicinity at this time of day. Sometimes you might get lucky with something good. Like ‘To Our Scattered Bodies Go.’

The goldmines are on Tom Mboya Street, but you may want to take a detour to the Bridge Over Railways. That’s the one just past Kenya Poly towards the tracks. Just at the foot of the bridge you will find a bunch of book-kiosks/hawkers (or whatever they are). Mostly it’s school books. But if you talk to the book hawker fellows nicely, they will take you into the backdoor areas of the kiosks where their ‘godowns’ are. I found some Delany here. You might meet an old fellow, who looks like he’s in his sixties now, I don’t know his name, I just know how he looks. A head full of grey hair, no balding, square face with a grey moustache. He should probably be considered a legend in Kenyan literature. Because I think he may be the first book hawker in Nairobi. He has been in operation at this same spot since the early 1990’s. My dad used to take me to this place on Saturday afternoons when I was a kiddo and he would buy me a bunch of DC comics and hardcover illustrated science books and so on. I bought my first DeLillos from here in the mid 1990’s (End Zone, White Noise and Ratner’s Star…apparently I thought they were sci-fi novels, and on reading them I did think I had read sci-fi) These invisible Kenyans make life tick. Go to some litfest-hayfest and you find a bunch of yuppie-like literati who have got to be good looking. Back at the Bridge Over Railways the guys are so hard to see but that’s where the books come together.

Then you can take some further detours along Haile and Moi Avenue. At the ‘Agip’ petrol station. Adjacent the Central Bank. The collection here is mostly girly pulp fiction. Nora Roberts and such hairstyles. But sometimes you get wonderful stuff. Last year I managed to pick up a bunch of Philip K. Dicks.

Outside the Tusky’s (the one next to Bomb Blast) you will find one of the more popular book hawker spots. But this one is no longer as good as it once was. There appear to be some turf wars going on between the book hawkers. For a couple of years (2010-2012) the book hawkers at this spot were different guys. And their collection was generally kick-ass. I bought over a hundred books in those couple of years from just this spot. The news guys seem to have liased with City Council askaris and had the good fellows kicked out. The bad guys have now taken over. Their collection is crap. So is there customer service. Plus they have hiked the prices to over 200/=. Stuff they have is mostly these big hardcover things about cookers, sewing, modelling, Ferrari cars, organic chemistry, Princess Diana and so on. Boring things. They have killed it for this particular spot. When it was good, the place was jam packed by book enthusiasts and we used to block off this section of the pavement completely.

Further down, are some other book hawkers. Again nothing much that interests me. Just after Kenya Cinema there is this gulley. This spot also used to be good. There was another old fellow who used to have some very interesting books. Then his sons came in and took over and fucked it all up. The old guy is no longer there and the sons now sell DVDs instead of books.

You can then cross over to the other side of Moi Avenue and find three other book hawking spots. These ones are good. Lots of Philip K Dick here if you want. Philip K Ubik is alive and roaming in downtown Nairobi and as long as he is read and used as directed, is absolutely safe.

Now onto Tom Mboya. Several spots here. You can also try these stalls inside the buildings. But the sci-fi motherload is at the spot just after the Tusky’s (the one diagonally opposite National Archives). The dude who runs this spot has got everything you would want when it comes to sci-fi. I found six Delany novels here. And there is a whole range of other sci-fi writers. Sometimes you have to be patient (this is a general rule), come in day after day, because these fellows like to sell out one lot before they replenish. But this dude always has something worth buying. Last week I picked up a book because it had a nice cover, metallic look with the word “LIGHT” creeping through. By M. John Harrison. Had never heard of him. Was a wonderful wonderful read.

The other fine spot is the one next to the other tusky’s (the one at the short road that connects Tom Mboya with Moi Avenue). Here, there is an excellent selection of the more literary sort of fiction. I have bought Beckett, Pynchon, DFW, Doriss Lessing, and even Soyinka’s “The Interpreters” from here (I have NEVER seen “The Interepreters” in any formal Kenyan bookshop. And it’s one hell of a novel). It’s like these two bookhawkers know what their clients want and therefore they seem to specialize. But I suspect they are not conscious of it. Instead, there seems to be some strange kind of natural selection going on.

If you have a Kindle, some of the electronic shops on Tom Mboya can hook you up with cheap and pirate .mobi format books. You give them a list of 50-100 books, pay them like 1000/= and they will hunt them down. You collect after a few days.

There are other spots I have not mentioned, downtown Nairobi is a rich book place. There are those fellows around French Cultural Center, on Kenyatta Avenue, on Ronald Ngala and so on. Over Easter, I was playing in the National Chess Championships at Kenyatta University. So I got to pass by Githurai every morning for four days. Just at the round-about next to the highway there are a bunch of book hawkers there too. Most of them sell pulp fiction but I didn’t have time to explore for long. And who knows what is happening in Mombasa and Kisumu and Nakuru and so on. People are reading. Don’t think the only Women of the Aeroplanes are those you see within the established literary circles.

Jalada Girl & other weak stories written in the Friday jam


A yellow flame burning the tip of Anne’s cigarette.

Smoke. Glowing yellow tobacco embers. Paper slowly burning. The transparent flame. See right through it. The dog is flat dead on the road.

The cigarette leaves her lips. Anne blows out such small clouds. From her mouth. Nostrils. The Cigarette Dragon.

The dog’s head lies on the road part. Rest of the body on the footpath. The dog was looking at traffic in the Mlolongo night. Now the dog can see through the dark. Better than Anne. She imagined him looking at the headlights. No night now. And some car comes and knocks him on the head and he goes flat dead on the road.

Look left, look right but don’t look into the headlights.

She puts out the lighter.

Her breathing is shallow. Snakes of cigarette vapour rising lazily in the stale car air. Lips sucking kissing the cigarette. Her cheeks dimple, go inward and touch her teeth. The molars.


Nisha is taking off her earrings. She is about to put them in the drawer when suddenly she stops. Her lips are curving into a smile, and we see in her eyes she has come up with an idea. She looks at her earrings.


In the garden, Richard hears a shout.

“Richard! Can you come in here!”


 Nisha is standing in front of Richard. Her fingers are twining around each other. She is obviously nervous. She comes closer to Richard.

“Can you go get my earrings from top?”

“Yes, Memsahib.”

Richard goes up the stairs. Nisha looks at how his trousers bring out the shape of his buttocks. She waits for Richard to come back down. She is biting her nails. Richard comes down the stairs.

“I cannot find them.”

“They are right on my bed!”

“I looked everywhere. You may have put them in the drawer.”

Nisha begins expressing herself with quick, sharp hand movements.

“How do you know I keep them in the drawer?”

Richard’s eyes are showing confusion. His eyelids are blinking.

“I don’t know madam, I am just saying…”

Nisha puts one hand on her hip, leans forwards slightly and sharply points an index finger at him with the other. She shouts.

“You know because you have been spying on me! You have STOLEN my earrings.”

“Nuh..noh..I..I dee..deednoh.”

Nisha grabs Richard by the shirt. She gives an impression of a lion having a rabbit in its paws.


Richard, in a moment of desperation finds some energy to say –

“No, no! Memsahib. I am not a thief.”

Nisha throws her head back like an operatic heroine in the middle of a poignant aria.


Then just as dramatically brings her head back into normal position.

“Let me check your pockets.”

Nisha quickly puts her hands into Richard’s pockets. She moves her hand deep inside it. She takes her hand out. We see a pair of gold earrings in her palms.

“Memsahib…it can’t be.”

“It can be. IT IS!”

Nisha grabs Richard by the crotch. Richard is frozen in his posture. An extreme confusion has come over him. She leans in.

“You know, I can report you to the police.”

“But I didn’t do anything.”

Nisha now has her whole body leaning on Richard. Her eyes now look dreamy and her lips are pouting. Her bosom, nestled on Richard’s chest, is heaving rapidly from quick breathing. She says in a lusty, low voice –

“I will make you a deal.”


A certain human tribe living deep in the heart of the Sahara Desert, a tribe that has never had contact with other humans before (or after), never seen a camel or oasis, who hydrate themselves by simply imagining what water is and water becomes real inside their throats. When one day a boy asks his mom why the world is only sand. The mom tells him why. That God was once a boy like him. And God lived in a world where he had imagined fantastic things – solar panels, fast Subarus, buildings and cities, headphones, 3D movie theaters, Sarakasi Dome rock concerts, heartbreak in Konza city, Maputo Maporomoko, billions of humans walking this world – and so these things were real for God. But God went crazy in this world. He lost his own soul in a dream one night when he found out he could never fall asleep because the lights would never go out. He lost himself in his own mind during the wakeful nights. And then he dreamed with eyes open one night. In his dream he started collecting the furies and angers and hatreds of all the billions of people. A girl would get angry with the ice-cream man because he gave her a smaller Choco-ice than her friend. A small anger to collect. A boss got angry at his accountant. A Robben Island inmate hated Mandela for fifteen seconds because Mandela farted inside a crowded room on Robben Island. God collected the smell and hatred of that fart. God mined the memories of the billions of people for these things. When he had collected these from everyone, he woke up. Our God is an angry God. In that instant he realized he didn’t want all those things to exist so all the anger and hatred and bitterness and furies he had collected were put together to create one uncontainable emotion. And the whole world blew up. All the rockets in the silos were launched. A man would look at a woman he hated and she would vaporize. All of Liberia was mobilized for Civil War. Cannibals and open heart surgery in Monrovia. The hutus came back from Congo to finish the job. The jews herded the Arabs into the gas chambers of Tripoli. The locks at Mathare Hospital were picked and all the madmen set on fire. Fire everywhere. Uhuru slept with Ruto in an affirmation of gay rights and televised the porno live on NTV. The jews who watched this porno on the 172 inch LCD screens at Artcaffe whilst munching croissants. The Kalenjin and Kikuyu going to war. Wrestling in bed as Eldoret goes supernova. Kissing beards as the parents bring the baby with the football size head, born free of charge at pumwani, back home to radioactive Kiambu. And a virile boy like God sees a Makueni girl, short hair and defrocked, the ambitious girl lying supine in bed, she waits for the boy, her body is ready, God wants it, the carpet bombing of Kethi Kilonzo. The missiles went to and fro like shuttle cocks over the Rift Valley. Uhuru and Ruto were macheted in their room at State House Mombasa. Mandela is pregnant with North Africa at Pumwani Hospital. The hens inside their prisons at Kenchic warehouses went mad and gave birth to live chicks who pecked their mothers in the cunts and ass. Libraries of Ginsberg were set ablaze. Boy and Girl love affairs died in the bonfires. The trees and grass and leaves and all the plants crackled in the heat. The stones atop Mt. Kenya glowed red. Bipolar bible men on the Aga Khan Walk became sane and saw the world in its crystal clear horror. That was the end of God. Live life simple son. Imagine water and food. The rest is sand and mirage and heat and sun and history.


Nisha and Kunali are seated by the coffee table on the porch. Richard is pouring tea into their cups from a silver kettle.

“Richard. You are leaving for home soon?” asks Nisha.

“As soon as you finish your tea, Memsahib,” replies Richard.

“Hmm..,” hums Nisha.

“That’s a nice aftershave you have on, Richard,” says Kunali.

Nisha giggles.

“Well…umm..,” hums Richard.

Richard looks to the driveway. He sees Boniface waving to him. Nisha and Kunali also look toward the driveway.

“I see your friend has come. Guess you want to go home now,” says Nisha.

“As soon as you finish your tea and I clear up, Memsahib.”

“I tell you what. Why don’t you invite your friend over and you two join us two for tea?”

Richard’s eye become big. Nisha is biting her tongue. A blush comes over her face.

Richard calls Boniface over. Boniface walks over.

“Have a sit you two.”

Nisha turns to Kunali.

“Kunali, you said you were in need of some house help,” says Nisha.

“Yeaahhh,” says Kunali.

Nisha turns to Boniface.

“Boni right?”

“Rrrr…Right,” says Boniface.

“You think you could help Kunali out?”

Boniface looks at Richard then at Nisha.


Kunali is looking at Boniface. A smile is forming on her lips.


Sometimes I would be sitting on the chair and get a hard-on which refused to go. Not because I was aroused but because my dick rubbed against my trousers. Or maybe half my blood got trapped at the barrier where my buttocks pressed on the hard chair. I had to hold my breathe and pray hard that nobody in class ever figured out what I was going through. The blood would get blocked below my buttocks and create a dam in my dick and it would be such a solid hard-on that I’d think it was going to be a hard-on forever. The worst times were when this would happen during English. The English teacher who was young and had some Somali blood in her, a Mrs. Abdi, and she was very cute. On certain days, when she was in the mood, she’d wear this really loose top and when she bent down at our desks to look at our books we would see her small breasts. She knew we were looking. Yet she would walk to the front of the class and smile at us all. She would come to the side of my table and lean or bend down, look at my English sentences, and I just wouldn’t know what to do.


“Coco’s? It’s in my slum.”

“Yes, Coco’s”


We are outside Coco’s Bar at night. A Mercedes parks. Richard comes out. All eyes are on him. He goes over to Nisha’s door and opens it for her.

Richard walks into Coco’s Bar with Nisha. He is dressed in an immaculate black suit. He could easily be mistaken for a big businessman. Nisha is wearing an Issey Miyake, there are diamond teardrops hanging from her earlobes.

The waiters, sensing VIPs, clear a table for them.

Nisha orders two bottles of Tusker Premium. She puts her legs on the table and crosses them, relaxed, showing off her legs and thighs.

“You could almost be mistaken for a regular here!”

Deepal laughs heartily.

Fimbo enters, wearing a suit.

Nisha takes her legs of the table and stands up.

Fimbo goes to Nisha and hugs her, gives her a peck on each cheek. Richard is taken by surprise.

“My lady, great to see you hear. Absolutely excellent,” says Fimbo.

Nisha adjusts Fimbo’s tie.

“It’s great that you made it. Thanks for the ride.”

Nisha turns to Richard.

“Richard, the car keys.”

Richard gives her the car keys. He is confused and his face shows it. His nose is flaring more than usual. He seems to have been confronted by a puzzling equation.

“Fimbo, as you can see, I was chauffered!”

“An excellent touch!” says Fimbo.

Nisha throws the keys to Fimbo. He catches them mid-air.

Richard is shifting uneasily in his sit. He feels out of place. Nisha takes a quick look at him and senses his unease.

“Oh by the way, Do you know Richard?”

Jaws, Zadok and the art of how to begin a novel

On Saturday, I bought JAWS by Peter Benchley for 30/= from a book-hawker. The first four pages introduced one of the main characters, ‘the great fish’ (shark), by showing how it attacked, killed and ate a young woman who had gone for a night swim in the cold ocean after a boozy date.

A hundred yards offshore, the fish sensed a change in the sea’s rhythm. It did not see the woman, nor yet did it smell her. Running within the length of its body were a series of thin canals, filled with mucus and dotted with nerve endings, and these nerves detected vibrations and signaled the brain. The fish turned towards shore.

Peter Benchley shows the shark as a character without any self-doubt. This contrasts to the woman character who feels fear etc. The shark attacks and kills without psychological motive. The writer does not give it human characteristics (yet it is not a machine) and this helps make the shark vs woman contest a gripping affair.

At first the woman thought she had snagged her leg on a rock or a piece of floating wood. There was no initial pain, only one violent tug on her right leg. She reached down to touch her foot, treading water with her left leg to keep her head up, feeling in the blackness with her left hand. She could not find her foot. She reached higher on her leg, and then she was overcome by a rush of nausea and dizziness. Her groping fingers had found a nub of bone and tattered flesh. She knew that the warm, pulsing flow over her fingers in the chill water was her own blood.

Pain and panic struck together. The woman threw her head back and screamed a guttural cry of terror.

The fish had moved away. It swallowed the woman’s limb without chewing. Bones and meat passed down the massive gullet in a single spasm. Now the fish turned again, homing on a stream of blood flushing from the woman’s femoral artery, a beacon as clear and true as a lighthouse on a cloudless night.

A wonderful first four pages.


Today, I received a personally autographed copy of SISTER SISTER written by the South African author, Rachel Zadok.  I will quote the entire prologue of this novel. You’ll want to read more:

sister sister

The woman dreams she approached KwaNogqaza Falls, just as she did on the night of her initiation ceremony, twenty five years before. She reaches the pool at the bottom of the waterfall and sinks to her knees to pray, but the sandy bank collapses and she slips into the water. The Inkanyamba swirls around her, dragging her down to the river bed where weeds dance with creatures half snake, half fish, and long-bodied crabs watch from crevices in the rocks, eyes like jelly-berries on silver stalks.

“Dig,” Inkanyama tells her. She buries her arm up to the elbow. Sand clouds the water, enveloping her in a storm of glittering grains. Her fingers close around two small stones.

The serpent-god takes her into his mouth and spits her out at the surface. She is no longer in the forest. A beach stretches out before her. The woman walks along the sand with the pebbles in her hand. Before long, she comes across a dead gull lying just above the tidemark. Two white chiks sit on the bird, picking maggots from its feathers. As she watches, the water subsides until there is a single blue on the horizon. Where there was ocean, there is only sand. The dune grasses shrivel. The trees in the coastal forest sicken, dropping leaves until they are nothing more than splintered grey trunk and branch. The world dies as the chicks grow fat on their dinner of maggots.

There is a searing pain in her hand. She opens her palm and looks at the pebbles, perfect white ovals, identical save for a scab that discolours the purity of one. She picks at the scab with her nail. Blood wells from the pebble and a sound like that of a mewling baby fills the air. The stone shudders and rolls away from her prying finger towards its twin. They merge, becoming one. She contemplates the single stone in her hand, but before she can glean meaning, it splits in two and her palm begins to bleed.

Someone shakes her. The woman opens her eyes and sees Sizane leaning over her.

“It’s time, Mama,” she says. “The baby is coming.”


Short Story Day: Interview

Rachel Zadok asked me to do this –

Short Story Day Africa 2013

The Interview

 We’ve compiled twenty-one questions our followers want to know about writers in Africa. Please post your answers on your blog before 21 June 2013, in celebration of Short Story Day Africa, then forward the questions to another writer.

The Gorilla’s response is as follows:

  1. Do you actually enjoy writing, or do you write because you like the finished product? Yes. I also like the finished product. When a short story has gone well, it’s a masturbatory experience reading through it and silently moaning over all the killer and neat edits you’ve made, the fine sentences you came up with and seeing the story idea is now real.
  1. What are you reading right now? And are you enjoying it? (No cheating and saying something that makes you sound like the intelligensia). Reading ‘Attacking Chess’ by Mihail Marin and Granta 117 (the horror issue). Marin’s book is a bitch to get through. Difficult and complex but full of beautiful variations. The Granta 117 I got free from the Granta Workshop. I deliberately poached it from another writer, largely because it has DeLillo’s ‘Starveling’ in it. Have read that story before but still I wanted the Granta 117 because of it.
  1. Have you ever killed off a character and regretted it? Not yet.
  1. If you could have any of your characters over for dinner, which would it be and why? Aeron. She reads Dambudzo, is pretty hot without her costume and I can fuck her afterwards.
  1. Which one of your characters would you never invite into your home and why? I like them all. They can come home anytime they want. But some of them should call me first.
  1. Ernest Hemingway said: write drunk, edit sober. For or against? I don’t drink. Write sober, edit sober.
  1. If against, are you for any other mind altering drug? No. I can hallucinate pretty well without the drugs.
  1. Our adult competition theme if Feast, Famine and Potluck. Have you ever put food in your fiction? If so, what part did it play in the story? Yes. In ‘Bass Weejuns on Tiptoes’. The story explores a Post Election Violence landscape in Kenya after the 2007/2008 blowout. So food is scarce and the food in the story plays the role of…well much wanted and tasty food. Even the mouldy bread is tasty.
  1. What’s the most annoying question anyone’s ever asked you in an interview? Have only been interviewed once before. So this has yet to happen.
  1. If you could be any author other than yourself, who would you be? Don DeLillo, of course.
  1. If you could go back in time and erase one thing you had written from your writing history, what would it be and why? Nothing.
  1. What’s the most blatant lie you’ve ever told? That I can play chess at Elo 2600.
  1. If someone reviews you badly, do you write them into your next book/story and kill them? No, I would prefer to kill them in real life.
  1. What’s your favourite bad reviewer revenge fantasy? Torturing the reviewer with screwdrivers of all sizes, a sharp knife and a hammer and then watching him/her/it die a slow and mafucking painful death.
  1. What’s the most frustrating thing about being a writer in Africa? Nowhere to find a place to publish my stories. Fiction writing is not valued in countries like Kenya so you have to live with a soul and talent destroying office job. Watching far less talented writers make it and then show off in the newspapers, in social media and at literary functions and parties. You have to look on and feel useless. Welcome to Africa.
  1. Have you ever written naked? Yes.
  1. Does writing sex scenes make you blush? I like writing sex scenes. Some of them end up making me horny. I don’t know if I am blushing when this happens.
  1. Who would play you in the film of your life? I would play me.
  1. If you won the Caine Prize for African Fiction, what would you do with the money? Buy land.
  1. What do you consider your best piece of work to date? Everything I have written so far is shit.
  1. What are you doing on 21 June 2013, to celebrate Short Story Day Africa? Hanging out in Nairobi with a bunch of young and promising ‘African’ writers.

The Scrapbook

June last year, I started writing a novel. By August 2012, I started running out of story fuel. What I mean is the overall story was there but I couldn’t come up with the sentences to continue showing it. I kept the project aside for a while. I was not happy with the linear method of writing such a long thing. That I start from the beginning and systematically move on from there. It felt artificial. I also didn’t like the lined rules of my loose leaf pads (I prefer to put things down with pen/pencil before going to the laptop). The straightness and neatness of it all did not appeal to me. So I bought myself an ‘Artists Sketch Pad’ with A3 size papers. On the big blank pages I could write in curves rather than straight lines. I could scribble, doodle etc. I started putting down the stories thoughts, ideas, plot thoughts, sentences, phrases, dialogue sequences and visions in random fashion. I picked on story parts I liked. So now I have a few filled up Artists Sketch pads and a novel growing and building up from various points. Whether it will work out in the end, I don’t know. E.g, I have finished the final chapter but have no clue how to proceed with Chapter 3, I have written out various cadenza-like sections but many other chapters are quarter or half done and look moth-eaten. Fiction will find a way.

One of the useful side effects of this Artist Sketch Pad method: it has allowed me to write some of my short stories more easily as I can shamelessly steal stuff from my novel scrapbooks. Or use some of the reject stuff in the scrapbook to make a blog post.

Below is a page from one of the Artist Sketch Pads. Reject stuff. And below that I have typed out what’s on the page. Just some random nonsense ramblings etc.

Scrapbook page

Make way for the soaring rocket that speeds into the Milky Way, slippery as an eel in the cheese of Earth’s gravity, going for a hike out there in outer space.

The Farmer’s Choice sausage gets cold as they watch the 9 o’ clock news on Citizen TV.

I wear a belt to keep my jeans in place; tie my shoelaces so that my shoes don’t fall off.

A forest of Uganda along the way.

Fields of cornflakes in the factory.

Buses of illegal immigrants on the border.

The sky, the violet sea whose waves are the winds that crash on the beaches of cloud, dazzled the dog, the happy creature that wagged its tail.

The hammer fell on her head and cracked her skull.

The bomb blows. The ink drops. The pen leaks. The machine rusts. The accountant calculates. The chessers sacrifice. The city pollutes. The bulb warms up. The plane lands. The Playstation’s lust to graphic traffic terrific horrific magic tragic.

The statue points in two directions. It has hands. It’s name is Tom Mboya. Assassinated when coming out of a chemist shop. A bullet to the heart. Blood on the avenue. The blast sound still alive in a hundred thousand ears. Jomo Kenyatta’s photo, hanging in almost every shop on the avenue, shakes, moves out of position.

Eco-friendly literati.

The soldiers of Ngugi.

Editors sign Words Reduction Treaty.

Murderer plus kills plus pedestrian.

Triplicate moves.

Booze being flushed down the toilet.

Acres of factory space.

Wednesdays of office work.

Jumbo oats and calories and after-sunset meals during Ramadhan.

If you say goodbye, do you again hope for a hello?


- Where is Holland?

- Three dozen latitudes North; and one and a half dozen latitudes West.

- Why do we call them ‘The West’?

- They take care of the sun when we are in the dark.

- But didn’t that change when we got ourselves Uhuru and bulbsand VOK?

- When they are in the dark the sun is rising over us.

- Does that make it equal?

- They want to have the last laugh.

- So the rotation of the Earth suits them?

- Because the Earth is round, we can say we are to the west of them as well.

- But the Earth. The Earth is also flat, isn’t it?

- It’s how people see things. You can’t see beyond the curve.

- But we have satellites. Rockets can curve around the Earth.

- There is no oxygen in outer space. And The West lives in a space station.

- But there are also Russian space stations. Russia spreads vastly into the East.

- The Iron Curtain cut off Western Europe. The East side of the curtain was communist. The Acropolis monuments sit in Western Europe.

- But it’s in ruins.

- That’s why they are no longer part of the Eurozone.

- But Vladivostok is still in the East.

- Bloodyvostok, huh?. The poles or polarities are going through a change, aren’t they?

- And they practice Eastern religions in New York.

- Witchdoctors and bullfighting in Kakamega.