archive - issue 18
Tuesday, 04 October 2016 11:08
Kinoti's Flower BudBy Michael Thuo
A green writer is one in constant motion. This motion is in the state of mind: seeking ideas, inspiration and appealing to the yet to be discovered reader of their works. This barren earth must be watered with optimism. Writing is not for the faint-hearted, as Kinoti came to discover when he first made a stab at writing. The words moved hazily into the subconscious. They could not form substance and neither could they be tangibly penned down into a coherent thing on paper.
Kinoti searched in the libraries and devoured books by famed writers. There was diversity in theme, language and the appeal seemed like an expanse of the sea. He could hardly place himself in the context of any of them. The dwarfism with which he wallowed seemed like a writer’s block unique to him only. At what point do you decipher that your writing is quality and acceptable? This perturbed him; jarred up senses to a crescendo. His thoughts flowed as he flashed back on the writings of many great writers: Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Mwangi Ruheni, Stanley Gazemba, Austin Bukenya, Micere Mugo, Grace Ogot and such literary sons and daughters from Kenya.
The haziness in his mind did not clear up but was glad it opened up a longing to chart a similar path to writing excellence. He however felt the yawning gap in the generation of these writers and the young upcoming writers of his calibre. Would they care to read whatever he wrote? Perhaps, perhaps not. The challenge seemed to have not departed the confines of his consciousness. It resided and ruffled within. He felt a re-awakening that sapped up his energy. The creative juices trickled painstakingly and an urge to express him was rekindled. Was he alone in this state of limbo? He hoped not, otherwise his budding work would never be published in its entirety. This wishful thinking was akin to hoping to move a mountain by merely pushing it with your thoughts.
Kinoti wandered off, literally. He questioned the ethos; the standards of writing that define modern writing. He felt that they rigidly conformed to certain norms that were not dictated by anyone; they just were. His fingers itched at the prospect of breaking new ground. There was need for a handbook that would set the ball rolling for the new generation of writers in his generation. His soul searched and came up with a routine: a panacea of some sort that would usher a new, bold writing activism in him as well as the breed of writers of his generation. He would write a book about how to write a book. It seemed ridiculously to give it such a title.
The hunter’s instinct
Angela’s visit was an inspiration that came to his mind. She was his acquaintance with a self-effacing demeanour, an aquiline face and a petite shape. She found him staring into the blank. He had suffered a writer’s block. He saw her approaching from the narrow winding path leading to his bachelor’s pad at one of Nairobi’s most obscure estates. He wore nothing but a vest and a short in the sweltering afternoon heat, seated near a window overlooking the sprawling city shanties. She saw him but turned her glare away from him, swung her arms gracefully and approached at a discernible pace.
He was lost in a trail of thoughts on his fictional character in a story he was trying to mold at the back of his mind. She knocked softly and stepped back. He could hear her feet pounding behind his light, gaping door as he got up to unbolt it. She smiled as he ushered her in. His pad was really nothing worth writing home about. Inside it was a beaten rickety bed, chair and an old table. The space was too little for more than one person to manoeuvre without stepping on the feet of another. She sat heavily on his chair and scanned into his first few paragraphs that he had jotted down before her intrusion. ‘Writing a book, I see’’, she finally mumbled something.
He nodded as he sat next to her on the bed. She looked up after reading and stared at him. ‘’Your character is dead wood’’. ‘’Whoever they are, they are unreal to your world’’. He weighed heavily on her words, sighed and thought twice before dismissing the storyline. ‘It’s a draft, don’t worry’’.
It suddenly dawned on Kinoti. He needed a real character to cloth his unreal character in the story. A hunter imagines the hunt before seeing one. But he only unsheathes when the hunt is in sight. The climax of the hunt is when he shoots and knocks it down. A miss is usually an anti-climax and would easily be a misadventure not worth his effort. Angela was his hunt but his creative juices only started flowing when she showed up for a totally unrelated cause. She was the inspiration he needed. Could she have been the set up he needed for the story?
He led her out after handing her some assignment he was doing for her on creative writing. They talked on diverse issues as they followed the path leading to the main road. The setting sun lit the horizon in crimson red, a ripe, soft yellow ray caressing his eyes. Angela was on her phone for the umpteenth time as his my mind staggered off on the next trail of his budding novel. His love affair with writing struck again.
As he settled that evening for the continuation of his story, he could see his character forming from Angela. Their interaction earlier in the day had clothed his fictional character with literal flesh and breathed life into it. He savoured at the Angela in the book, pounding her feet behind my wide gaped wooden door. The only difference between them was the fact that the one in my book was silent, so he had to bring her into talking the real Angela. Sigh! He had at last cracked his first stab at creating a character in his story. He however realized that the writer’s block was beckoning somewhere in the distance. Where does he go once he is done with Angela? The plot development was headed to the rocks and he had to act fast before losing his grip.
Starving the fears
Kinoti realized that though he had began to make inroads in clothing his character; there was still a stumbling block on the way. Was he on the right track? Would his character survive the onslaught of newer characters? He stalled and caved in. He was about to introduce a new character to grow and develop his existing one but found himself at crossroads. Maybe he should continue feeding and clothing his current character until she is strong enough to be on her own; a new character would crop up his single character embodied in the real Angela...maybe, just maybe...a trail of thoughts led him into a deep slumber on his rickety bed. It was his second day and was still stuck to his second page of his debut novel. He woke up at the stroke of midday, wiped his lazy eyes and yawned.
He then stretched himself. Rays of the midday light filtered through his holed and rusty iron sheet-roofed cubicle. His eyes wandered about in his less than modest four walled ramshackle. There was nothing to show for his years of study at University. Poverty had crept inside without warning. His adept skills at writing started shining when he led the university’s Writer’s Club. He helped to establish the first ever authoritative students’ magazine. He was the editor then and wrote punch lines that earned him admiration and scorn with equal measure. It was now a year after clearing his degree but had found that only writing could keep his sanity intact. A stab at various menial and lowly paying jobs could hardly sustain him. He took up to writing interesting stories for journalism students like Angela for a pittance. She was a fresher when he was his in fourth year and she knew him as an astute writer and brought him her writing assignments. He felt empty without a published work that would help him earn some royalties. His previous articles in the magazine he edited were sharp critiques at the university’s administration and established writers of the day, whom he referred to as ‘pompous’, ‘elitist’ and a sham. It seemed that he had a bone to chew with everyone. His childhood shaped his highly opinionated columns. He had a rough childhood in the Nairobi’s Eastland areas where the majority poor lived. He felt that the society unjustifiably discriminated among the poor. He could not understand how the city’s largest dumpsite, broken sewerage system, shanties and run down infrastructure ended up in one stretch of humanity’s abode. Today, he muttered to himself as he washed his face in his steel basin after hours of slumber. He had found a past time in writing but his latest project was giving him a nightmare before it set off.
He sauntered out, whilst buttoning his checked shirt, some strands of his bare chested hair being caressed by the afternoon breeze. He had a pen and writing pad in his sports bag; he wore some torn sandals and descended into the sea of humanity a few meters from his humble dwelling. He reckoned that great stories are not made in the confines of the subconscious only, but through interaction with the life itself. He measured his steps as he passed through narrow paths lined with wares for sale. There were stalls selling vegetables as half-naked children zigzagged in their limitless frenzy of children play. Men and women filed past, laden with merchandise as the air filled with acrid smell of raw sewage and rotting vegetables. Kinoti’s nose was stung by the smell but pangs of hunger subdued the nauseating feeling.
He stopped at a man roasting maize, picked one fully- roasted maize and paid for it with some coins he had in his pocket. He ate it hungrily as it burned his tongue and cheek and then walked past the file of humanity ahead of him. The noise in the air told him it was an unusual market day. Buyers and sellers used their most powerful tool of trade to woe customers-voice. One of them blocked him in his steps and beckoned him to buy some new pair of leather sandals bedecked with multi-coloured beads. The seller pointed at Kinoti’s torn sandals and bade him a good offer. Kinoti waved him off murmuring about not having any money but would care to take one next time. He was obviously offended at the intrusion into his sad state by a stranger. He shuddered at the thought that someone who knew he was a graduate would stumble into him in the sprawling, squalid living that was the estate that he now strode in a disguised form. There were merchandize of all kinds, sold at cheap prices to the equally poor. He wondered where he could place himself as it was long since he bought himself anything.
The narrow busy but dusty road led him at a junction. He took a climbing path that opened up to a beautiful view of a valley on the other side. There seemed to be tranquillity that he yearned for on the other side. He needed time to himself to ponder and resume his writing. He descended the lonely valley like an explorer, studying his environment whilst propping himself from the steep nature of the terrain. His feet hurt from beneath, causing him to squirm at times as sharp thorns tore through his sandals and into his soles. He rested under an acacia tree as the searing afternoon heat blazed the valley. A trickling of water from a rivulet could be heard a few minutes from where he rested. Nay, it was the raw sewage that found its way to a stream yonder.
Kinoti smacked his lips and cursed at the realization. He had just thought of going to lap the water to quench his thirst. He cursed humanity for infringing on nature in most horrendous way through directing raw waste in nature’s territory. He eased himself, took out his stationery and readied himself. His trail of thoughts went into full drive and felt like an epiphany. He had more than he bargained for. The happenings of the day unfolded like a book. He saw himself leaving his shack, unbuttoning his shirt as his bare chest hair stuck out between the button holes; he saw himself saunter with his ‘backpack’ trading towards the hustle and bustle that was the sea of humanity; he could vividly see the seller persuading him to buy the sandals; yes, there he was, buying a roasted maize cob by the roadside. He chuckled unto himself as he heartily devoured it down the heavily congested narrow path, lined with wares and people filing past haphazardly.
He could see himself plucking out the rows of the roasted maize with one deft stroke of his left thumb. He chuckled again. Now he was heading to the junction, the empty cob in his hand. He was looking for a place to throw it away. Every time he tried to hurl it away, a human or object on the side would block his aim, so he ended up carrying it all the way to the junction. He could see himself holding it and fiddling with it and like Diogenes of yore-who wandered in the day seeking to establish the truth, carrying a lantern in broad light-he posed a similar stance no less. The comb felt rough in his hands, cold now after stinging his hands at first. He could not let go of it; it’s like it held a secret in it. He turned round and finding no one around him, hurled it down a ditch on one side. He could see himself wiping his hands by rubbing them together to remove the chaff left in his hands. He turned right, then left before heading right again. It was a familiar territory, only that today, there were too many thoughts in his mind. He headed down the valley to while the day away.
The flower bud
This was the flower bud that Kinoti held in hands. He had watched it every day as it grew from an obscure seedling beside his wooden door. It seemed like nothing initially. For all he cared, it always seemed like a weed and he had on a number of occasions been tempted to uproot it. It had been brushed and knocked down by his heavy feet; Angela had stepped on it too while standing at the door during one of her frequent visits to deliver assignments to him. It had assumed a horizontal position but somehow managed to start growing vertically, albeit with a stoop. Did they call it geotropism in school? It was growing towards light again, hence assuming an upright position despite being battered by Kinoti and Angela’s feet. It had a resolve to grow. Kinoti had started to forget about it. The rains had failed and most of the sprouts around his house had withered. They had shed leaves such that only greyish stumps stood around. He had never watered any of the few flowers there; there were no flowers by the way. This was a wild flower that Kinoti knew not where it came from.
Now there was a drizzle. Some greenery sprouted everywhere and the flower regenerated with life. It formed a soft bud that swelled by the day. He peered at it one day on his way out and discovered that it was a flower. He propped it and pulled some soil around it with his bare hands. It held his promises for a bright future, potent in what it held beneath the bud. Every day, he would pass by; he would stop to look at the progress. The bud was getting bigger. He peered through the folds inside and saw some red, white and yellow colourings. This was going to be a beautiful flower! He was tempted to open it up but new that its maturity had not yet arrived.
His writing project soon got the better of him and he momentarily forgot about it. A few days later, he woke up as usual, deep in thoughts that he almost stepped on it. He stopped in his tracks to marvel at a most beautiful flower that stared at him. It was a single flower with yellow, red and white petals, radiantly reflecting the morning glory of the rising sun. His eye reflection danced lazily in the water droplets that hang on its stalk. He leaned over it and kissed it. He smelled its refreshing aroma and remembered Angela. She had a strong fragrance that smelled the same. He smiled and headed to the road. He had a book to finish writing. As he walked, there was a spring in his stride.