July: When time folded

I pity July. July isn’t a month which feels inspired or original. It feels lethargic. Stolen and repetitive. As if it’s a dull reflection of the other months of the year. If the year could tell us which month it pauses to catch a breath, it would say it’s July. It starts afresh after July.
Nothing happens in July, and nothing can save it from itself. The World Cup tried, but not even its hyperbole could save it.
It’s unlike what I feel for October (my birthday month) or for March (my kid’s anniversary). Or February (sunshine). And December (party hats and party cups). I slack through it in reminisce and nostalgia. I hibernate.

But all of that changed last July.

I am listening to the discography of a band called The Shins. I discovered it late, I know. The Shins isn’t really a band – it’s one man who calls himself the band. Its lead singer is a bored prick who plays the acoustic guitar as if he’s just been pulled out of bed. He has pale hair and parallel lines for lips. He’s one of those chaps who look utterly peculiar when they smile.

Mr Parallel Lips writes lyrics that shame me in calling myself a creative writer. A struggling writer maybe. And sometimes, because I feel creatively insecure these days, I steal a line from The Shin’s lyrics and put it up as my WhatsApp status. That’s how shameless and unthinking I have become. That’s what July makes me do.

Music critics say that in the five years between his last two albums, it’s as if time waited for The Shins – he slept then woke to find it’s 2012. He mercilessly fired his old band, hired a new one then picked up his pen and his acoustic guitar to carry on from where he left off. The outcome was a classic album. It had been five years of July for The Shins.

Last July, time didn’t wait for me. It folded: Time past folded in half like a sheet of paper and touched on its own present. The past became the present. And that’s what the reminiscing and nostalgia of July was all about: time folding. It’s what made this last July mighty fresh.

Let me show you how:

3 July 1980/3 July 2014
On this Thursday in 1980, my Moms would give birth to her second of five daughters, her second of seven kids. This child – The Child – there was nothing special about her. She had large eyes and dark skin. What would set her apart from the rest of us were the dimples in her cheeks. Dimples so deep it were as if her small face had been swallowed into them. It looked inside out, heehhe.

The Child would grow up to be a pioneer. A buccaneer of her own stamp. She drafted her own rebellious manifesto then made us, her none the wiser sisters, follow her down her risky paths. We were her obedient gang members, she our gang leader and neither of us was ashamed to acknowledge that. She broke away when we became too timid to do what she barked of us to. She rebelled to become her own gang.

The Child would be like the son my Moms would have seven years after she were born: When the rest of us cried for dolls, she demanded for a Camarillo mountain bike. She was the one who climbed the roof and tied the TV aerial to our chimney so we could get a clearer Channel 62 signal. When puberty hit, she was one of the bold ones who first crossed the river to hit on the chaps in Bobby Estate. We didn’t understand how she did it when she put in a blank cassette into the VCR and recorded episodes of Martin. Remember that series?
She’s the first one I saw rocking a beehive hair-do. And after it had bored her senseless, I remember her sitting on the edge of the bathtub with her head blanketed in baby powder and a can of Venus Hair relaxer in her hand. When Carni became a rite of passage, she took his car keys and drove her pals in my Ol’Man’s Peugeot 504. The balls. My Ol’Man was furious, hehhe. Even after my Moms had warned us against it, she pandad a number 8 jav to Toi Market to shop for jeans. It didn’t end there; such of these stories continued into her later years.

She defeated my folks, The Child did. She wanted what she wanted, and she was too stubborn, too feisty and too fearless not to have it.

I stopped looking at her as such a rebel when, in 2008, I rubbed her lower back through twelve hours of labour. It was the first time in our lives I saw her succumb to something she had no control over.

The Child is still a pioneer, though: She’s now in a Biker’s Club. You should see her cruising into the hood on her red motor bike, spine stretched in cheetah-like stealth with her ass pointed to the sun. Head to toe in black riding gear. Jesus. She checks into the digs with her helmet tucked under her arm and her rucksack sprung over her left shoulder. Two words readily come to mind: Super. Sexy.

Thursday in early July at 0130AM, time folded into itself and my nephew was born on her birthday. My kid brother’s son. She sat through his birth with his labouring mum. That’s how the Universe works – scratch my back then I will scratch someone else’s in another time. Or something like that.

I am standing at the nursery window looking in at him. Arap Silot is the only one of the six newborns who is awake. (Whenever I see a newborn, a sick thought always crosses my mind; that this is what it looks like when you miss your period.)
He is the biggest kid in the nursery. If shit broke out in there, I imagine it’s Arap Silot who would rally the rest of the kids behind him and tell them – in a reassuring voice which has a wink between each word – “Don’t worry. I got this. I got you.”

The night nurses are hurdled at their station so I let myself into the nursery. It’s quiet and warm. It smells of new life and breast milk.

I am standing over his hospital crib scrutinizing the little man: Arap Silot has his mother’s dark lips and flat nose. His eyes, those shifty gleamy eyes, those are my brother’s. Slabs of hair are gelled to his scalp and forehead. He looks, I don’t know, Mexican. He has no eyebrows.

Arap Silot squirms in his crib. He gnaws his fingers. He punches the air with his balled fists. He squeals in annoyance. He seems bothered. It must be that saggy diaper they are making him wear.
I give him my index finger so he can wrap his fingers around it like all babies do but he shoves it aside, he refuses to take. Aha, he’s a rebel like my sister. Peachy.

Our eyes meet. They tell me he won’t register stuff for another three weeks but I don’t believe them. I look into his eyes and he into mine. My God. He’s precious. And as we see into each others’ souls, the strings of my heart are tagged in a way I have felt only once before – six years ago when I first looked into my niece’s eyes in June 2008. This fuzziness, this warmth, this surrender only a newborn brings, it’s unequalled. Our baby. This is our baby. Our second child. My baby brother now has a baby.

I break into tears.

11 March 2011/11 July 2014
It’s a loose Friday in March 2011. I am in Industrial Area’s Commercial Street. Nothing fancy – not about Inda, not about the audit, not about being in this factory.

The factory offices had the personality of a kindergarten – plenty of colours on its walls, noise, unruly staff and a boss walking around with a (invisible) cane trying to maintain order.
Finance on the second floor played X FM. Supply Chain on the ground floor played Capital. Internal Audit played Classic FM. IT had a buffoon who dominated the floor with his stories. Radio wasn’t their noise, this guy was.

On this Friday, a poster on a green wall behind the main door of the ground floor caught my eye. It had a quote on it from Niki Lauda, a formula one world champion. I drafted the quote with a point of looking it up later but other things took precedence and it wasn’t until last July that I remembered to. God curse the sloppy bastard who made the poster, he had its author wrong.

Nonetheless, I stole the quote. It’s my mantra for the second half of this year. I have embroidered it on a scatter cushion I have hang at the head of my bed. I am bursting apart at the seams trying to live by it daily. It’s a struggle.

The quote is from Mario Andretti, the formula one world champion.

“If everything seems under control, you just aren’t going fast enough,”

29 August 2008/29 July 2014
It’s 4AM as I write this. My boy is sleeping beside me. He sleeps like a crab. The only light in the room is from my laptop. It hums in alternating synchrony with his breathing. He breathes in, it breathes out. In, out. In. Out.

His face is turned away from me. The back of his head is flat. Somebody stole his kisogo. It must be the same person who stole my new nephew’s eyebrows, hehhe. (Quick one: What’s the English word for kisogo? I’ve always wanted to know but I am ashamedly insecure in my sheng to ask.)

Look, I don’t know if this is the stuff of Paris romance or some second-hand tale of love, but I first saw the back of my boy’s head way before I learnt that he sleeps like a crab. I knew him before I met him.

The conversation when I realized this little overlap in the radar of our timelines went down something like this.

“Were you at Avenue Hospital at the Lifestyle in August 2008?”

“Sorry?” he says.

I ask him again, this time slower.

“Were you… at Avenue Hospital… at the Lifestyle… in August 2008?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Were you wearing a green pilot shirt with the cuffs rolled up?”

“I don’t remember.”

“It was a Friday afternoon God damnit. Did you get in, take a seat near the exit, collect your shit then leave as you answered a phone call?”

“Calm down, woman. I really don’t remember.”

“My word. I remember. I was there when you walked in. I was standing right behind you. I couldn’t smell you. I didn’t see your face either, but I noticed you. And I can’t forget that flat kisogo.”

He chuckles.

We met before, me and my boy. We met in another time fold.

The Nairobi Woman
In the eyes of the Angel

Comments (8)

  1. Torrie K.

    Love the article Bett, I miss you :((

    • fra

      Thanks a bunch Torrie.
      Quit the pout – there’s no for eating your heart out :)

  2. Mystery

    Breath of fresh air….we did miss you…

    • fra

      That goes right back to you, too.
      Thank you for the read.

  3. Savvy Kenya (@savvykenya)

    So lovely Fra, please do blog more often!

    Still no word for kisogo.. just “back of his head”?

    And I wanna be just like your big sister!

    • fra

      Hehhee. You and me both, Savvy. You and me both.

      Sigh. I didn’t think it would take me this long and this hard to get into a regular posting routine. I am working on it though.

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