Farah Aideed goes to Gulf War
The pages of Mein Kampf have aged into freckles of yellow-brown, soft purple blotches tint the words, the bones of its spine have disintegrated and now straps of cello-tape hold everything together. That I am going to read this sitting reclined in a hot steamy bathtub.
And in my bathtub there sits Tabitha.
She says, “You walked a few steps ahead of me, like we didn’t belong to each other. Like strangers. You walked sideways, trying to drift away. Always an arm’s length beyond reach, the edge of your shirt beyond the pinch of my fingers.”
Naked Tabitha, mordaciously mellow in the afterglow of Kulungula, the meat of her gazelle tenderness having been devoured by the lion of my libidinous hunger. The long copulation of last night, the poetry of musosi, her curved calf muscles and nipples delight, Kikuyu fleshed but Maasai engineered.
“You are afraid. You remain simply a pandre, a coward unable to embrace me in front of your kind of people.”
As she says that I read on. Hitler’s chapter on ‘Race and People’: There are certain truths which stand out so openly on the roadside of life...yet because of their obviousness, the general run of people disregard such truths. Even a superficial glance is sufficient to show…one may call it an iron law of nature – which compels the various species to keep within the definite limits of their own life forms when propagating…The titmouse cohabits only with the titmouse, the finch with the finch, the stork with the stork…Only the born weakling can look upon the principle as cruel.
I put down the book.
“You’re right. I don’t know what to do when that kind of thing happens. I freeze up. I completely sense a social suicide. I want to be like some terrorist, a socio-cultural terrorist. Radical and careless. I can’t do it Tabitha. Maybe someday. I don’t know,” I say.
“That girl we saw has more guts than you. What did you call it? The show-stopper?” she says.
“I want to blow up buildings. I want to make victims out of the spectators who would watch us hold hands.”
Tabitha upraises a leg, bubble-bath foam drips and trickles down knee and thigh; she then brings it down, back into water, and mildly stomps my groin.
“So you have ambitions of becoming a sauce-show and cult-choo terrorist, all for love, that’s a start, because all there is between us now is this thing I am stepping on, your balls and your Farah Aideed,” she says.
I would like to claim this dialogue in the bathtub is happening right now. But I daydream. I am the only one sitting in the bathtub.
It is true the Nazi bible is in my hands, a swastika emblazoned hardcover, August 1939 edition, an original Third Reich publication, the August date just a month shy of the start of World War II, just as it is true my cruel memory is my last remembrance of Tabitha. The bathtub reverie was once the real thing. The last real thing.
I remember how the screen went that white grainy way. The station just went off the air. I remain haunted by the radioactivity of that past: Did she see it coming? Did it burn? Did she for a nanosecond get to see her skin evaporate? Did it blind her eyes? Did she feel fear? Did she reflexively think of me as one of her loved ones?
I first met Tabitha in the bowels of Nairobi’s city centre where in midst of chaos-theorized choreography that is the walking dance across zebra crossings with my fellow banana box kikoys and garissa lodge jeans and little red suits, the cars squeezing their brakes at the edge of the stripes, Nissans curving fast around discount cash and carry skirts, dodging past the dance and escaping into the mess of skyscraper sprawl, the pavements where I swim like a city fish through the currents of white collar tides that drift from fast food chips and bhajia outlets to bus-stopped ATM queues, the fist of roar sounds of premier-league infested pubs punching through my ear, the shortcut gulley that folds the space between Biashara Street and Tubman Road, street urchin spoor dotting this narrow passage, shit rots and the shit is black in colour, then into the dark cave of Dev Towers, up the lift whose doors open slowly and tease to close again on arrival and at last fully open and I step out, there lies a chess club called checkmates, and she was seated at the board, pawn pushing, rook peddling, her rastafarian head crowning her blue stitched, yellow embroidered, pink and purple stone-washed harlequin attire. She was instantly noticeable.
We studied the deeper intricacies of the game together under the tutelage of the country’s best players, ‘top dogs’ as they are called. We adventured into the kaleidoscopic world of complex chess openings, the Kasparov Gambit, the Boleslavsky variation of the Sicilian Defence. On opposite sides of the board the first tingle of lust-laced affection was felt, the thinking of next moves translated into mental autoeroticisms, I would castle and she would play a Greek-gift sacrifice on my h7 square but fingers would brush against each other. Feather touch foreplay.
We learnt to record our games on score-sheets. I would write ‘22.Rd5’ and she would make her move ‘22…Qxd5’. She would lose the thread of her game score and ask to borrow mine so she could update hers. I would write on it ‘Want to go for a movie at 8:30pm after your modelling audition?’ and she would pass it back with her reply. Other players saw the childishness of this to and fro but we paraded on shamelessly.
I kept them all. When I now hold in my hands to read that sheaf of our personal palaeography, it weighs heavy.
Here is the one where I played the Maroczy Bind on her. During the post-mortem after the game she stood up, asked me why such and such a move and not this, she look at my head as I hunched over the board, looked at my mop, and saw where the hair was going away. Going away fast. Something was happening to me and she wanted to know what. This is when the first cracks appeared between us as I kept quiet and played en passant around her queries. I let my mop grow wild and long so that in the careless frizz the sense of receding hairline was lost, something she found strangely cute.
We were trapped in the beautiful uselessness of our game. Chess was our homing device and addiction. My black knight was incomplete without her white bishop.
Then there is this last one with which our final journey began:
Nothing here, not a move, not a name, nothing. Just some doodles. I was waiting for her at my Westlands house, exploring the textures of the scoresheet with a pencil nib.
She came, I put the scoresheet into my pocket by habit and we proceeded to the matatu stop.
"So these are the warm streets of Westlands," She said.
The morning sun shone through the cracks in the shadows cast by buildings, houses, trees and Tusker billboards.
"Add some more people and life to these footpaths and we'll have Eastlands," she said.
"Eastlands is like Bobby Fischer, a scoundrel, an uncouth madness, a place where if you have a lost position it will enjoy watching you squirm," I said.
"Ha! You've never been there."
"We're going there."
“And Westlands is?”
“Like Vishy Anand, someone who will let you take back your bad moves, smile at you, and instead of letting you resign will suggest idli sambar and a couple of White Caps.”
The tides of morning traffic were coming in. On the narrow roads between the footpaths cars came, stood at junction stops or at the back of traffic lines for awhile and then went into the arteries feeding Uhuru Highway and after that into the city bowels.
"It's less of a problem than bringing me to your house," She said.
"Hey, I am trying," I said.
"Look I get paranoid when I see these mutherfuckers who look like me passing by in their Toyota's and 4WD's. It's not because of you. It's because of me."
"It's good you can feel sorry for yourself."
"When I see them seeing me walking, it's like telepathy, I hear them thinking: I've got no car because I can't afford one."
"No, because my father is probably some hard up middle-class accountant working for a company owned by one of theirs, and his son is just like that."
The tides of traffic grew. The cars moved more slowly now. The drivers inside looked bored. We passed underneath a giant Safaricom billboard.
"What is it exactly? These sunglassed, clean shaven, cigarette smoking, mobile-phone-talking rich mutherfuckers at the steering wheel getting to you?" She said.
"I am saying, in Eastlands I think I can disappear," I said.
"Or is it because your father and his son don't have the balls to imagine the artistry of Kamlesh Pattni or some other similar tritonite?"
A matatu came along and we got into it. It took me away from the exposed footpaths. And I preffered my matatus to be like this one - tinted. I didn't want the tritonite motorists looking into them and seeing my conspicuous light skinned face.. They would not have recognized me, not unless they knew me, but they would have known it was me nevertheless. They would not have known my name, not have known where I stayed but they would have known me.
"When do you leave?"