How it goes with these things is, sometimes, you are not ready.
No one is ever truly ready for anything, I’ll tell you that, but you just have to be ready enough. Ready enough for the experience. Ready enough to experience it as wholesomely as it was intended. The classic jaded one-liner now rings true – It’s not you, it’s me.
Imagine that you meet someone who is an easy fit for you. They communicate to just the right degree: not too much that you feel suffocated, not too little that you feel neglected. And they listen to your mundane musings on the daily. And you share the same brand of humour, you guys are always cackling together, like a school of spotted hyenas.
And one day, when you are lying on the bed looking into the ceiling talking, as you often do, talking until you don’t know what time you fall asleep, you tell them what happened to you when you were only seven, that thing that you have never told anyone else before.
They show up at your place on a loose Saturday afternoon, when you are both counting coins to payday, so you can do nothing together. You build a Spotify playlist, then an Amazon wish list. You buy them candles, they buy you a sex toy. You buy them a desk succulent, they buy an apron that says, ‘Made with Love. And some other shit.’ They insist that you wear it in their kitchen… with nothing else on.
But because you are not ready for them, you are such a royal ass sometimes that it even surprises you. And you subconsciously do things that drive them away, even though they keep coming back and giving you another chance. But one day they go away and they don’t return to you. And later, much much later, you will acknowledge that it was your unreadiness that pushed them away.
Sometimes it’s not just people you are not ready for. Sometimes it’s also jobs, clients, pets, places… the elements that make life, you name it.
You take a weekend down to Lamu. Everyone who has been to Lamu speaks of the big magic they encountered in this little town. A town with a personality that spills into the ocean. Not you, though. The only thing you encountered in Lamu was your own petulance. It even makes you wonder whether you packed it in your carry-on with JamboJet and brought it down with you.
Experiencing Lamu was like watching a 3D movie without the 3D goggles on. The locals dragged their feet, the donkeys made you impatient, the sunset dhow cruise made you seasick. You almost split your patella in the shower. The seafood platter at the hotel’s restaurant poisoned you, the town’s humidity gave you all-day migraines. The next time you see someone on the socials speak of Lamu, sharing stories and reels, you roll your eyes so hard they get stuck in your sockets.
It’s not them, it’s you.
This is how it went for me with a book I finished reading a week ago. ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’ by Mark Haddon.
The first time I picked it up was in late 2018. A chap I had interviewed for a story had mentioned it as one of his favourite books of all time. Ian Arunga, remember him?
Ian wrote that hilarious off-the-cuff blog called Dear Doris. He doesn’t write the blog anymore – which is a real pity, we loved Doris, Doris with her thick thighs and small feet – but he is now a purveyor of men’s clothing and accessories under his brand Dapper Monkey. He is also the co-owner of a coffee house off State House Road, it’s called Lava Latte. (They serve the best paninis in this town. They also made me comfortable with throwing the word ‘panini’ around like that.)
In the interview, Ian said he is drawn to books and movies about boys because he feels like he grew up too fast, that he didn’t have the childhood he desired.
He had read this book years back and he loved it! Still re-reads it from time to time. I picture a tattered dog-eared copy that smells of youthfulness – and paninis, he-he – sitting on his nightstand.
GB picked up Ian’s recommendation and bought the book on his Kindle. He read it. Loved it!
I picked up GB’s Kindle to read the book but I couldn’t get past the first few chapters. Christopher’s voice grated me, his perceptions as a child did not endear to me as I wanted, never mind that he is a child with special needs. The premise of the entire story seemed wobbly, like a stool missing one of its legs.
I felt lousy for missing its appeal. But what I didn’t know at the time is that I was not ready for the book yet. Or for Christopher.
I set it aside and forgot all about it.
That was late 2018. Life happened, as it is wont to. The biggest one of which is, GB and I had our son in September of 2020. A Christmas conception baby. A Covid baby. A Coronial, ha-ha.
Njeeh was unplanned and unexpected but we didn’t love him any less. He is one of those things you didn’t know you really wanted, you had really waited for until you got it. And now that he is here, you wonder what life was like before him. Know what I mean?
By the way, I used to be curious about it and now I can tell you this: it is different mothering a boy than it is a girl. At least for me it has.
Girls are adorable babies, boys are beautiful. They have beautiful souls and a beautiful neediness and a beautiful masculine energy. You want to be party to it all.
Njeeh has a bald solid head (I am avoiding the word ‘big’) and a belly like his dad’s, hehee. (Again, I am avoiding the word ‘big’.) He doesn’t cry much and he sucks his thumb, soothes himself most times, especially to sleep. This just makes him more endearing because he doesn’t need me as much, even though I want him to need me. He keeps me guessing, keeps me hoping that he will look my way.
I am drawn to my son’s masculinity.
Anyway, life happened and I picked up the book again in early March.
I am currently on a no-buy until June. This no-buy is a self-imposed rule whose purpose is to, among other things, manage the excess and clutter in my urban life. I am not buying anything new for my wardrobe, my book library or our home décor unless it is necessary.
This no-buy rule has me wearing what I already have, reading the books we already invested in, using the home décor we already own.
This rule is what led me by the hand to GB’s Kindle.
It is where I stumbled upon this book again.
The book is about a boy called Christopher Boone.
(Christopher, dear Kenyans, not Chris. Kenyans have this infuriating habit of shortening people’s names without their permission, and butchering the good name in the process. ‘Hey, I’m Florence.’ Nice to meet you, Flo! Eye roll. I used to die a little bit inside every time someone called me Flo, now I am getting resurrected – never again will they crucify me.
Last week, when we still had fuel in this country, I was at Total Ngong Road fuelling then I paid through their M-Pesa Till number. The attendant cocked his head my way and asked, ‘Jina?’
And I said, ‘Florence.’
He shouted to the guy at the other end of the station, ‘Angalia Flo.’
His name is Christopher, please.
Christopher is 15, an only child who lives with Father. Mother died two years ago. He lives with Father in Swindon, a small rural town Father calls the arsehole of the earth.
Christopher also has Asperger’s Syndrome. Asperger’s is a neurodevelopmental disorder that falls in the autism spectrum.
I have looked it up on Google. Children with this disorder are diagnosed in their teens and are generally higher functioning children (well, relative to other disorders in the autism spectrum). They can communicate verbally but they are socially awkward and have obsessive interests in particular topics.
Christopher has an interest in Maths and space science. He also latches on to the mystery of who killed his neighbour’s dog.
Christopher is writing the book himself, so it is told in the first person. I like books written in the first person, they are more personal, they speak directly to a deeper more intimate part of me. This one is especially endearing because you are inside the head of a child – a gifted child with special needs – and you can’t help but want to give him a hug. Or a squeeze on the back. Perhaps a pat on his head. Anything to let him know you are there rooting for him.
I read this book slowly, carefully chewing on the simple sentences, turning them over in my hands, to feel their weight and texture. I was eager to know what happened next but I didn’t want the story to end either.
And when I was not reading the book, I could still hear Christopher in my head saying the things he says, in that way he says them. There was a day I had a WhatsApp tiff with one of my pals and I found myself telling her, ‘I would like to be on my own now. I will speak to you another day.’
I even said it in a Bri’ish accent, ha-ha.
In case you are wondering, Christopher solves the mystery of who kills his neighbour’s dog and even though he has never left Swindon on his own, he goes past the end of the road.
I don’t want to tell you anything more about this book lest I ruin its child-like wonder, its magical appeal, that small-town rural charm.
Let me end this story. Here are some snippets from the book, I am certain they will make you take as much delight in Christopher as I have:
“I stepped outside. Father was standing in the corridor. He held up his right hand and spread his fingers out in a fan, and I held up my left hand and spread my fingers out in a fan and we made our fingers and thumbs touch each other.
We do this because sometimes Father wants to give me a hug, but I do not like hugging people, so we do this instead, and it means that he loves me.”
“And when I was asleep I had one of my favourite dreams. And in the dream nearly everyone on the earth is dead, because they have caught a virus. And I can go anywhere in the world and I know that no one is going to talk to me or touch me or ask me a question.”
“When I was little I didn’t understand about other people having minds.”
“And then I wanted to go for a wee, but I was on a train and I felt a panic starting. When I want to go for a wee I have to go really quickly which is why I like to be at home or at school, which is why I leaked a bit and wet my trousers.”
“I didn’t speak to anyone and for the whole afternoon I sat in the corner of the Library groaning with my head pressed into the join between the two walls and this made me feel calm and safe.”
“And I didn’t like all the people being near me and all the noise because it was too much information in my head and it made it hard to think, like there was shouting in my head. So I put my hands over my ears and I groaned very quietly.”
“I had to get out of the house. I couldn’t trust Father, even though he had said, ‘Trust me,’ because he had told a lie about a big thing.”
“Then Mother said we had to go and buy some clothes for me to wear. Except there were too many people in John Lewis and I was frightened and I lay down on the floor next to the wristwatches and I screamed and Mother had to take me home in a taxi.”
“When I used to play with my train set I made a train timetable because I liked timetables. And I like timetables because I like to know when everything is going to happen.”
“I like it when it rains hard. It sounds like white noise everywhere, which is like silence but not empty.”
“And then I looked up and saw that there was a policeman standing in front of me and he was saying, ‘Anyone at home?’ but I didn’t know what that meant.”
“Father was sitting on the sofa watching snooker on the television and drinking whisky. There were tears coming out of his eyes. I decided to leave him alone because when I am sad I want to be left alone.”
“Mother was cremated. This means that she was put into a coffin and burnt and ground up and turned into ash and smoke. But the smoke goes out of the chimney and into the air and sometimes I look up into the sky and I think that there are molecules of Mother up there, or in clouds, or coming down as rain, or in snow somewhere.”2