Kwani? 2010 Litfest Finale – Random Excerpts

I had written a long 9000 word story on the Kwani 2010 litfest back in Feb 2011. Never submitted it or anything coz I thought it was way too bizzare and felt insecure about anyone else seeing it. I tried to structure the piece like a star collapsing and becoming a blackhole…all the different stages it goes through…and that’s how I did the story. Piece has been sitting on my laptop for over a year and reading it again it’s probably not so bad. I am a bad judge of my own work. Here are some excerpts…I am currently trying to edit the piece. Hopefully it turns out well.

KWANI? 2010 LITFEST FINALE – Random excerpts from da original story

Then I turn my head and on my cornea the reflection of a Tyrannosaur curves around one square centimetre of eyeball sphere. She’s huge and her shadow eats me. I look elsewhere and see bulbs powering away like baby novas yonder on the Old Museum precincts where they are taking out all the catering stuff: silver buffet caskets, crates of Tusker, microphone technology. Because tonight we will eat amplified words.

There is nothing to do for now and I loiter around a little and then decide to have coffee at Savanna.

I have arrived early.

The nebular gas of Kwani? Literati is just beginning to coalesce. Gas okey, gas wa thiongo, gas hubble space wambuiscope. They are certainly floating in but behind the fluid in the anterior are my hazel pigmented iris and my lens and I cannot see their emitted photons. Their stars have yet to ignite.

And it appears the china of my coffee cup is extra glossy tonight. I see in its curvature my rat face, clean shaven with no whiskers, the straight thin nose, my big ears, healthy red lips, and the ticked baseball cap. I see the sides of the amphitheatre falling down into darkness. The undulating courtyards studded with small manicured gardens. The empty tables. The waiters posed like sloths, sniffing their phones, waiting for something to happen. Everything looking see-sawish in the shiny china.

I have a few sips. Put the cup down. And wait. Pick it up and have a few more sips. Put it down. I then see my eye in the china. And almost see the jelly of the vitreous humor. But it’s the black hole of my pupil that gets me. It shrinks as I see it; descending into a singularity.

***

The night grew older. The traffic noise softened. The crepuscular of downtown dimmed.  

“If you laid Serumaga flat on the stage there would be the very top of a dromedary camel’s hump waiting to pop out of his belly. But otherwise he looks fit. Tall and broad shouldered. A dangerous guy to get into a fight with.”

“Brenda tonight. Pants and plain top. Relaxed hairdo. Specs as usual.”

“You have gone inside already?”

“I caught the first reading. But Serumaga is not dangerous. He can keep cool like Mari in East Dulwich.”

“Mehul, you have a thin threaded zigzag pattern on your shirt and this style fits you like the gusty winds fit Tsavo.”

“Well Joji, what can I say? During my ascent up the cupboard hills, the odd shirt and dark blue jeans coalesced; the unlikely baseball cap idea came along.”

“There was a point in his reading when the chatter from outside filtered into the hall and spoiled the listening experience. Serumanga was upset. I thought he was going to go supernova and there was hint of sweat on his forehead and I thought he was going to abandon the stage, go outside and stuff the papers he was holding down someone’s throat. He said something on the microphone. For a minute the chatter went down but in no time it was back up. He ignored it and continued.”

“Joji, I suck at this dress code process. I told my brother where I was going. And he would have come along but he didn’t. The shirt is his. The shoes are his. The jeans are his. I am my brother and I have to say this because here you are with cousins and here she is with mother, brother, sister and here I am by myself. But I am wearing his clothes.”

***

We ooze into the Old Museum.

The entrance hall is bewitched by an orange glow. There are carpets laid down on every square inch of the cherry wood floor. And on the carpets are low round tables masked with dark cloth. Around these the literati corps lay relaxed in crumpled poses, some with legs stretched and torsos reclined, others in Buddha crouch. Scattered wine glasses sparkle in the constellation of Kwani.

Serumaga is still on stage.

I see a waiter come, bend and lean, put down a brown bottle on the next table and pop it open. Froth launches out of the Tusker silo.

“Even though the laws of natural selection point to the triumph of youth.”

“He’s impressed by how Mukoma bonds with his father, the grand Ngugi. How precious it was for him, Serumaga, to have done the same with his own before it was too late.”

I stand up.

“Earlier you said Waigwa was ‘on they way’. That’s a nice one. On they way.”

And I come out of the Old Museum because I want to walk to the gates and see if it is true.

Outside, they are munching at the expensive buffet spot or they are seated on stone benches and random stairs. Or they are standing in the courtyard. Groups collecting here and there, gossip machines and friends circles. There is the spirit of hi’s and hellos in this place in the cosmos. Everyone’s chatter. A movieman stands opposite a publishing house trustee and with the curt handling of their glasses and the elegant nodding of their heads they engage in dialogue. I see their mouths moving and their shoulders dancing, slowly but gracefully, in set corporate rhythms. The literati crowd is growing. Caine Prize winners arrive with under 18 nephews.

But I want to walk to the gates.

So I come to a quiet and dark space from where I see the Orion Belt above me in the sky, the sky cut into a shape by the walls of the Old Museum and the walls of the Fisheries Department. I wonder about the middle star in the belt.

Then the air becomes viscous and anything I breathe in I cough out. Waigwa, Renee, Nekesa and Betty have come back.

***

“See them crashing through the Event Horizon.”

“They have all but obliterated the defences around the Schwarzschild Limit.”

“Not that they needed to, it was inevitable.”

“They are almost all in. This litfest is now a blackhole. And it’s going to collapse further, into the singularity that will be that orange glowing hall in the Old Museum. And that will be the end, wont it?”

***

I make my way back.

The courtyard has become a dynamic human jungle. Tens of thousands of writers are colliding into each other and I can’t believe how they all fit in this space. But there is no time to believe. Some force or some inevitability is moving me deeper into the jungle, toward the Old Museum steps. And it is proving a harsh journey. I am squashing into writers; suffocating in the smash of their body contacts. Any small gaps I see between two of them, I dash into. With small sharp steps. But the writers sense my intention and they collide. Into me. Like the doors of a strong and rogue Otis lift closing in from left and from right. And because the writers hold their wine glasses so gingerly, their Tusker pours on my clothes. And eventually it becomes freak madness and the writers stop bothering to balance themselves and throw the ever foaming liquid anyhow, anywhere, and I get drenched.

In Tusker rain.

I am at the Old Museum steps now. Relieved, thinking I have escaped. And strangely I discover I am not wet. But the writers are still after me. Climbing the steps. Their pen and pencil fingers catching hold of my clothes and their tug is strong and I feel they are going to strip me naked and then draw nude portraits of me using Tesiro Dore paragraphs, as I stand there confused and discombobulated, without even one yellow brassiere to cover myself with.

When Tom Maliti throws me a bottle of Tusker. By instinct I extend the hand holding it forward and, like vampires who have suddenly seen a cross, the writers back off. The force then moves me back into the Old Museum.

***

“It smells like the first thing I ever smelt.”

“There is a hint of something salty and primordial.”

“Something oceanic.”

“Now that he’s back, let’s ask him. Mehul, what does it smell like?”

“What? Like something beyond the realms of a bikini wax. Something even deeper and salty softer. I wouldn’t know. There’s many strange things happening. And it’s warmer inside here isn’t it?”

“Like a body temperature.”

“Like what? I wonder why you are looking at me like that.”

“Is that a Tusker you are drinking?”

“Of course it is. What’s the problem?”

“Are you really drinking it?”

“Did you see that Brenda?”

“Is it really a Tusker?”

“Hey guys, tell me what’s the problem?”

Brenda and Joji seem to be looking at my stomach. I look down. I look at them.

“I wonder what you’re looking at.”

There are ivory tusks leaning against some of the Old Museum pillars. There are old colonial era photos of hunters and British East Africa politicians hanging on the east wall. Various curio items like traditional Maasai bead necklaces and earings and lengthy sea-shell ornaments crowd the west wall. Interspersed are 17th century Luhya spears with sharp blades shaped like leaves. There are Nandi shields reclined in between the ivory tusks.

“Your stomach has become X-ray. The beer you drink goes into your stomach and we can see everything inside. Right now, the beer is percolating through your gut walls and into your bloodstream and wherever it goes it glows so you have a glowing stomach and glowing blood vessels.”

“Seriously?”

“I would go out and get a beer and come back and maybe you would see the same happening to me but it’s too far to go because I feel lazy sitting here on the carpet, smelling the Madagascan vanilla thing that is sweet and sticky, and oceanic, and salty, primordial even, but let me have a few sips from your bottle.”

The moustachioed SLS American stands behind me and he looks like one of those detectives in that Beastie Boys video. The SLS American wears specs. His shirt is tucked in neatly. Lean body. White skin.

“Here Brenda, have a sip too.”

She drinks and I see it.

“I see.”

 And behind him, through the rest of the Old Museum crowd, past the door and outside, amidst the human jungle, floats the colourfully attired Hubble Space Wambuiscope.

“Damn, you mean this liquid makes everyone’s body glow when they drink it?”

“Just the stomach area.”

“Well, some are totally aglow. Look at that guy called Tony.”

“He’s glowing like a fluorescent condom.”

North West is the short man stretched out on the carpet like a 1001 Arabian Nights sheikh, the man who’s always seen wearing the earth brown jacket, the man with the don’t-fuk-wit-me face, his eyes intensely focused on Gas Okey who’s live on the mic, that eye focus sharpened by many lives of reading 8pt literary typescript, his hair perhaps slightly overgrown and dyed loam soil red-brown…

“Brown jacket that hides a body power ready to eviscerate anybody’s fucko-academic bullshit.”

…Billy Kahora.

“All around us are glowing stomachs and glowing tentacles of blood vessels protruding out of them. It looks like everyone has a glowing jelly fish in them. And like the way a jelly fish’s head or whatever it’s called flaps, expands and contracts as it moves around in the water, the beer in people’s stomachs sloshes about and it looks just like that.”

“Not as incredible as this glowing woman walking to the stage. Look at her jelly fish stride. Look at her legs. At her very heels and toes.”

“That’s singer Sambili.”

“I am looking at those legs and at those very heels and toes.”

Sambili makes her way to the stage, seizes the mic and kisses it with song. Her back up guy on the drum invents the groove. Pop snare clash and hit bop smash, we get kicked up into standing positions and those in Buddha crouch levitate. Our arms go forward, but slowly because earth’s gravity lost eight tenths of its power upon mic kiss. Our legs bend one at the knee and other at the ankle and then quarter rotate under the swing of hip gyroscopes. Some try too hard and end up propelling themselves to the ceiling and those who are lucky fall on the indoor balcony, when Sambili stops singing, but the others crash back to earth and twist their bones and howl in great pain.

I look down at my torso and see the glow almost wants to leak out of my body. I want to pee. So I jump and in one fluid motion I go through the air, about two feet over the heads of everybody, and land almost into the human jungle outside, their arms reach out to catch me, but I kick and make swimming motions in the air because I don’t want to be in the writers’ hands and glide over all of them and when I touch ground I am already at the toilets.

Billy Kahora is coming out of the toilets. I see that toughly menace in him. We just look at each other for a second or two and then we burst into dialogue:

BILLY KAHORA: Hey.

MEHUL: Hey.

Billy Kahora moves in and I compass my eyes on his don’t-fuk-wit-me face, checking the direction of his lips, whether it will north-easterly reveal a canine fang.

BILLY KAHORA:  I am sorry but some people requested several conversations with me and they told me you saw the shaping of the creative matter on the page and an idea came from an ominous sense that it had failed to capture the voice of the chessboard. What can I do? You can see how strange things are out there in the jungle.

MEHUL: It’s ok. It was that dystopic guy who must have exploded the correct edits with his mono-waragi identity and binary understanding of Bend in the Matoke (Nile Crocodile vs Green Banana In The Sun).

BILLY KAHORA: Cheers.

I piss against the Armitage Shanks, relieving the pressure on my jelly fish, and then go back out, where Waigwa has once again disengaged from the invisible air, and he comments freely:

“We will become like babies. The sweet sticky thing more sweety, more sticky. The Madagascan, more vanilla. Now you’ll see time’s a disease. Stuck. Does not move, does not breathe, does not look forward, and does not look backward. It cannot sell us our destinies using any tactics or strategies. Time has h-a-l-i-t-o-s-i-s.”

I nearly piss inside my boxers when I hear that big word.

***

A stream of light lifts dust particles.

“What do you mean?”

“They say you can cut tension with a knife, how about cutting light with the chopping edge of your palm?”

Waigwa straightens both his palms and chops the air like a kung fu guru going through practice runs. He cuts shapes and lines out of space. It is like the light has frozen and can be treated like a block of butter which you go at it with a hot knife, cutting out knobs. It’s hard to describe what’s left behind. For example, Waigwa is now slicing forty five degrees diagonally toward the Tyrannosaur and her bulging buttocks get erased from sight; her tail appears dangling in mid air. But when you move your head a few inches and look at her from a slightly different angle the body regains its wholeness. It’s like running an eraser over a part of paper shaded with a dark 4B pencil and carving out a white stripe, but when you turn the paper around the shaded area reappears, intact.

“Follow me.”

Waigwa walks away, but it doesn’t look like a walk. I looks like swimming. He leaves a trail of erasures as his body passes through space and time. Then he stops and points a finger at many things, he’s animated like a standard one kid who’s just left school for December holidays.

“Take a look man! Take a look!”

The crowd of writers on the courtyard have become still life. The stars in the sky are leaking out of the sky and smudging into a blur, like Van Gogh’s stars. A bat has been stunned into a pause next to one of the baby nova light bulbs, its wings forming a V-shape, a creature out of another planet surely. Sound has disappeared from the landscape. I cannot even hear my own footsteps. But it feels so loud because I am suddenly aware of the tremendous noise inside my head. It must have always been there. I am wondering how Waigwa and I are able to talk to and hear each other.

“Waigwa, honestly, what’s happening?”

“Time’s finished that’s what.”

“I thought we saw the cars coming through the gates –”

“It means nothing.”

“I thought the cars had breached the Schwarzchild Limit. That we were already inside the black hole of things.”

“We are exactly at the Event Horizon, exactly the last of what we are.”

“So we thought wrongly?”

“Yes, it was an optical illusion.”

“What does it mean?”

“You can’t say it’s infinitely possible for things to keep pouring into the black hole so we have the Hawking Radiation, to compensate. Something equal, to what goes in, bounces off right before the edge. But this is what it means – what we see right now and what we’ll see afterwards will be maya, the cosmic make believe of the Bhagvad Gita, bouncing off Krishna’s lips.”

“Come on!”

“Do we even know what’s inside a blackhole? We can only speculate. Perhaps it’s all fiction inside there. Fiction collapsing into a singularity. Do we even know how it looks inside a black hole? Perhaps that’s the wrong question. What does one see inside looking out? That’s the question! How did we come out of a nothing Big Bang just like that? Someone inside is looking out and seeing things. But maybe there is nothing outside and maybe from the inside looking out there’s everything: the litfest and the whole cosmos and us. Maybe Godess is nothing. She’s just looking outside and she’s seeing things and we are that. Nothing but figments of her maya.”

Van Gogh’s trees overlap the night sky to my left and right. The thick twisting branches seem to exactly form the shape of the thighs, knees, calves, ankles and feet and toes of a chocolate brown woman. It’s like the woman is lying down and her legs bent and spread apart, knees pointing directly upwards. Like the litfest is inside a cosmic cunt.

“There is neither end nor beginning. No big bang. Things simply are. It can only be maya. The Big Bang was the mother of all fiction. Think about it, the only words, sentences and paragraphs that have the most power, the most feeling is all fiction. Poetry is all maya. Short stories, all maya. Novels are Big Bangs themselves. Take away everything, strip away the illusions, the fictions, the maya, and there is nothing left. Except Godesses and blackholes.”

The only thing that changes is the humidity in the atmosphere. The air is now moist. Perhaps the legs of the woman have snuggled in a little.

“I want to take a walk around the place. It’s a moist, relaxed night. I want to take a look at the people who came here.”

Waigwa and I stride into the Old Museum courtyard. Van Gogh’s stars have smudged and blurred so much, the black stripes of night are nighter.

“My nursery school teacher gaves me an A3 size paper. She gave me crayons, water colours, oil paints and linseed oil. She stacked the brushes in front of the easel. I painted the whole paper black. I then studded it with yellow dots. Then a white colour crescent, which reminds me I cannot see the moon tonight. How interesting. Then I took all kinds of colours and splattered and brushstroked them anyhow. And I ran a black crayon over the dark patches of the night in that A3 cosmos, making black go blacker.”

The sky has turned into something I cannot call either day or night. It’s a phase of earthtime that’s unique and marvellous.

“Just before we popped out of our mother’s wombs we were sliding through their canals. At that point did we know what was day? What was night? We came out born either into sunlight or tubelight.”

“Birthlight.”

“We don’t remember that. Imagine being Born Again, aware of the trip from womb to the canal and out into the lights, Zen aware.”

Everything looks like a piece in a jumbled puzzle. Picture a Tusker bottle like this: Bottle top well fastned on the mouth and, together with the slender neck, its suspended mid-air, the middle body simply not there, then its thick base, brown and filled with beer. Heads are halved: slanted outlines, one eye, five eighth noses, nine tenth lips, complete chins. The courtyard is a crude zigzag runway, chunks of it not there, looking down I see orange lava deep under Nairobi.

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