The Dark Side of the Moon
I have never been on a boat. Never floated on an ocean. I never even learnt how to swim. Until I was in high school, the only swimmable water I ever got in to, and I use “swimmable” loosely, is the River Awach in the hills of Seme. This might be the cause of the shortness of my breath and my sweaty palms when I first stared into the deep end of a swimming pool.
I don’t understand floating. Maybe because I can’t do it for more than 4 seconds before imagining clawed hands reaching up for me. Water was made for drinking and washing. For cleansing. With this reasoning, floating could be the result of one’s own cleansed sins keeping them afloat, hence the reason to why I can’t really float. Maybe my sins are not as grave and lack the strength to lift me in the water. Maybe I commit weaker sin. Sin that has no reason to float to the brim and have others see it because it is ashamed of the ways in which it is lacking. Maybe I cannot swim because I don’t have suitable sin.
Or, and I am just grasping at straws here, maybe the gravity of my sin is too dense to cleanse. My sins could have its own in-built anchor, and it could be that they are heavier and sink deep and stay down, without the resolve to come up for air. I tried having a swimming instructor teach me the secret to having my body suspended in the water. A teacher of the ways that floating men follow. I should have found a John the Baptist instead.
This teacher came in checked swimming trunks that were so worn I could swear he found them in a Salvation Army bucket. “Make yourself float!” he would shout. When I asked him why he was shouting, he said that he needed me to hear him better. As if I had taken out my hearing aid like some white 60-year old woman because African grandmas don’t even want to perceive the idea of hearing aids.
“Dani, I know you have been having problems with your ears…”
“I SAID I KNOW YOU HAVE A HEARING PROBLEM.”
“Oh no child,” because she doesn’t understand the grand part of relativity. “You have problems with your talking”
You both laugh.
“No, Dani.” Sigh. “Look…” you take out pictures of the hearing aid. “This is a device that will be able to help you.”
“Speak up child”
“THIS WILL HELP!”
“These misungu things cannot help me. I was the one who would hear your grandfather’s call from that hill,” she points, “when he came from war. He would call my name immediately he got up that hill so that I could slaughter a hen for his arrival. You young people are influenced by misungus. That snake around my ears will not help me.”
“When I was young, I would walk to Kisumo with my own two feet. Nonstop. I am strong my child. My ears are strong. The ears of a woman who has raised men that work in Narobi.”
“those are not things that relate to you not hearing.”
“What did you say?”
He would walk around the pool like an entitled spoilt child watching the servants clean his mansion. He walks in strides. Slow paces that give him a false sense of authority over those who can and cannot swim. He barked commands at any and all men, without looking at who he was talking to. He had me in a mesh of confusion, splashing and following commands that may or may not have been for me specifically.
“Use your arms!”
His were behind his back, hands clasped. Manicured hands that have known no other kind of work other than shouting at half-naked men and women who were there to relax in the piss of strangers. Hands that get calloused by carrying a bucket of water. His were clean nails, left to grow a little longer than was acceptable for a man. Nails that some girls would scratch each other’s eyes out to get.
He came around to my side of the pool. There seemed to be a glint in his eye. The last time he was in a true relationship might have been in high school. And that was only because he didn’t see her as much. He only copied great works onto perfumed paper and sealed the deal with his saliva. That was how she fell for him. Through Shakespeare and Maya Angelou. He called her his muse, without understanding what being his muse really meant. He won her with words. Empty like the ones only men like him can make up. He told her he gave her all of him and was gone immediately he gave her the part of him he was interested to give.
“Just float. It’s so easy, a grandmamma could do it!”
He should meet my Dani before making such comments.
He probably never calls his mom. She calls him weekly, like all mothers do. The last time he called her was when he heard from his brother that their father had died. He called and said sorry, heard her crying and hung up. He hates the sound of a woman crying. Calls them weak. Says they feel too much. But if they didn’t feel as much, where would the world dump all its problems? A baby cries in the distance. His grin flattens for a moment then curls right back. He probably cries when he is drunk. People are usually more honest with a little liquor in them.
Climate change is a farce and he believes Hitler was a victim of circumstance. He cannot remember the last time he went to church. He lives on the dark side of the moon. He drinks all week and shows up to work any time he wants because his uncle owns the chain of hotels. He doesn’t know his mother called the uncle one cold July night begging for a job for her son. That she had asked for anything. Something he could do so as not to waste away in the puddle of broken dreams and drunken nights.
The crying baby and its mother pass by him. He looks at the little bundle with disdain. He tells himself that he never wants kids. They will destroy his life. Ruin his fun. He tells this to all his friends and they agree with him. They always do until they find the right woman and start a family and forget all about the drunk swimming instructor who never cries.
“Collo is just a disgrace to the superior gender, that he is.” hiccup “Says he fell in love. What kind of bullshit is that? Love. He is bewitched, that’s what he is. That Kamba girl did something. I just can’t say what.”
He talks like this. Saying something then justifying to his audience that he did not say it. He hides behind innuendo and fallacy. He winks or grins or plainly says it, but he makes sure you know what he said without him saying it.
“See that girl. I don’t like girls like that. She needs to get a bigger swimming costume, or rather, come out with a really long T-shirt. Nobody wants to see those things!”
For a guy that doesn’t like crying, he sure knows who to make cry and has mastered the art of doing it. He thinks himself clever. Sees himself as superior to all beings. Nobody can hold nothing to him. He has an amazing job where he is practically self-employed. He chips in a comment about his uncle owning the chain of hotels in every conversation.
Another stroll around the pool.
His head is balding. The area around his stomach is bulging, probably from the beer in his breath. He looks like he was in a gym at a point in his life. His shoulders are broad, arms muscle-y. The depreciating version of a man who once had his life together. A man who held a steady job that he woke up every morning for. A man whose being is now clouded by a false sense of self-appreciation. A man who once had love to give, even had hope for the kids he says ruin lives. A man who cries himself to sleep.
His eyes are mischievous every time he spots a girl. Particularly girls old enough to be his daughters. He looks them over like dead cows hung on a butchery hook. He calls after them, taunting. He has no shame. The women stare in disgust, the men hide their faces on his behalf. Once in a while,when a colleague walks up to him and asks him to put down the glass of frothy brown liquid in his glass, he threatens to have them fired.
“Do you know who my uncle is?” he shouts.
He doesn’t talk, he bellows. All the time. You would think his vocal chords would tire or he would take a break and pop some Strepsils in. You’d be wrong. He has a gift, this man. In another life, he would be a pastor, one of those in matatus or on the streets who holler at passersby. I picture him with a worn out bible in a City Hoppa and he fits right in. He was made for something that has him speaking all the time, without any sense of success. You have to see him to understand him. To picture his balding head sweating along Tom Mboya preaching a gospel that seems to have eluded him.
“Do you know who my Father is?”
“Use your Bible!”
The waiters apologize every time they serve. You ask for fries and it comes with an apology. They are sorry for the trouble he is causing. He did not mean what he said to you. He is just drunk. He is not usually like this. He doesn’t even come every day.
They apologize with a feigned look of remorse in their eyes. They also laugh behind his back. He is the boss’s nephew who they can do nothing about but laugh at for being who he is. They laugh when he calls people names then rush behind him when the customers make to leave because an offended customer is a non-paying customer. The boss will not understand an unpaid bill, even if it is his nephew’s fault.
In the evening, after downing a couple more bottles at his uncle’s expense, my swimming teacher will leave saying he is going home. Nobody knows where he lays his head. They do not invite themselves the way people interested in your life would. They do not ask to be invited for supper or a nightcap. They only pray he does not show himself tomorrow, because tomorrow is a Saturday and there will be more customers. They do not want to apologize to more people that they had to today. He goes out shouting his goodbyes to “his good people” and yelling that he is now going to finish in the mansion. Nobody asks if he is going to finish a bottle or himself. No one cares. Not even him.