I fear the end. I fear it for its uncertainty. I fear it for its finality. I fear it for its destructive power. I can no more prevent it than shape it and that terrifies the living shit out of me.
Remember that scene in that movie when Sin La Salle goes, “Be cool?…I AM COOL!” and blows a gangster to kingdom come? It was quite something. And it got me thinking.
Every now and then, I get to experience a moment of clarity. This morning, having cut my right eyelid in the morning because Kenya Bus buses are shit, I was forced to be cool, against my better instincts.
I didn’t know that a paper I was writing was needed at 8am sharp. Make that 7:30am, but, apples and oranges. Anyway, it was needed by 7:30am, but I didn’t know. The instructions came down at 5:30pm, yesterday, long after I had slunk out of the office for the solace of my pokey crib and a glass of ice-cold Coca-cola.
I roused at my usual ungodly hour—4:30am—and did the things that a man alone at the arse-end of the witching hour does. Then, as soon as I heard the first rumble of the Double Ms, I was out my door at 6:15am. It had rained the night before so obviously the arse-hole in the just-arrived Belta thought it would be fun to douse me in Buru Buru’s finest matope. Which he did with avid enjoyment. That meant that my 7am office arrival went right out the window because I had to walk back to my pokey crib and change.
So I make it to the office at 7:45—already late—and try and find Fred with a draft of the paper I’m supposed to make. He comes through, kama kawaida. But his system can’t print, so I have to spend another ten minutes rushing back to my office so that I can print out the paper. It’s already 8:05 when I finally get to her office and hand her the file with the paper.
She is not amused.
When I get there, she’s on the phone to someone, giggling and essentially ignoring my presence. She stretches her hand, the way a dismissive boss does when she wants to Put You In Your Place. I hand over the file and stand there before her, feeling foolish as she finishes her phone call.
She adopts that accusatory tone they adopt when You Have Screwed Up: “You were supposed to bring this at 7:30!” she says, without looking up, voice dripping with faux anger. I keep my mouth shut; I know her blood is up and she needs me to say something stupid. I’ve dealt with her before; she never comes at you direct. She always wants you to say something stupid, put your foot in it, have a reason to start a memo to your boss or some such shit.
Clear as a bell I hear Sin La Salle’s voice: Be Cool. I hold my tongue. She does her thing while I stand there thinking of tea and scones and a Dunhill Red. The other shoe is about to drop. She’s talking but I don’t need to hear her voice, I know what she wants. I’m not buying today. I have a sore eye and a desk full of papers that need attention.
She pulls rank. She will make me stand and wait. And wait. And wait. Because I made her wait, even though I didn’t know that she needed that piece of paper at 7:30. Why didn’t she say so yesterday? If she had, this day would have turned out mighty different.
I pity her. Really. It’s not a good life to be scowling and growling at 8 o’clock in the morning. It’s no life when your colleagues cut a wide berth when they see you. It’s no life to be your master’s voice, even when he is mute.
Being cool is about knowing what is and isn’t possible. Being cool is about not showing weakness even when you have no power. Being cool is about finding that sliver of silver lining when the storm clouds gather and threaten to overwhelm. Being cool is knowing that someone can be rattled.
Never show weakness. Never bow. Never scrape. Be you. Do your thing. Play it cool. Don’t smile, though. That tends to bring out the vindictive nature of your nemesis. Instead, walk away. If she wants to throw her weight around, let her. If she wants to vent, let her vent to her minions. Give her a wide berth. Her day is already fucked. No need to get sucked into her already sucky day.
In other words, BE COOL.
I don’t know if you’ve ever met Liz, Jennifer, Marion, Josephine, Lilian, Dima or Tom. I hope you have. I first met them in 2011 and they were wonderful.
They didn’t have to be, but they were. Dima, Tom and I have India in common. We all have the intricate minutia of the Law in common. We write it. We interpret it. We make it make sense.
They took me in as one of their own, and under the tutelage of Nzioka and Fred, they made me the Parliamentary Counsel I am today. Without their help or counsel, I would be floundering. I can’t thank them enough.
I miss Jen, Liz and Dima; greener pastures called to them and they answered the call. But wherever they have gone, I can imagine that other drafters get the same frisson of excitement at working with them.
If you do get to meet them, tell them, please, Thank you.
If you’ve never met her, yours is a desperately empty life. If you’ve never seen her, there’s something to look forward to. If you’ve never experienced her smile, I’m so sorry but those of us who have find it very difficult to share her with others.
One year shy of three score, she makes it look so easy. Her grace is the first thing that strikes you before she even speaks, in that dulcet mellifluous voice that soothes, encourages and urges.
Until my sisters came along—I think of them as my sister’s, her daughters—hers was a life surrounded by men, boys who became men. Though we’ve flown the coop, ber counsel is still as important now as when we were ankle-biters. I don’t know what we would so without her.
We celebrated her life in fine fashion yesterday. Full of laughter and in-jokes only we could understand. As always, she surprised as all with the depth of her love and charm. May she love long and prosper.
It’s easy to get into trouble. When the opportunity to do something comes, and you’re feeling a bit lazy, laziness wins and Bang! you’re in trouble. Laziness has put me in trouble more times than I can count. If I were Superman, cape and all, laziness would be my kryptonite.
Every time something has gone tits up, it’s been because I was too lazy to do something I really should have gotten off my desk. Like that duffel full of dirty laundry that I say I’ll take down to Wash ‘n’ Fold, which I don’t till the laundry basket overflows. Or the coriander that I say I’ll dress, which usually gets done three days after I stuffed it in the chiller.
There is a reason not to be lazy: the benefits are amazing. There’s usually a smile at the end of the day, usually not mine, but a smile nonetheless. Hers is quite important to me. It radiates from her lips to her crinkly nose to her eyes and makes her eyebrows arch just so.
Being not lazy makes Her smile and that is a very nice feeling. I don’t smoke when she does; it might give Her ideas and sometimes Her ideas require me to be even more not lazy. Not that I am complaining. Not at all.
I wonder if She knows how nice it is to make Her smile. More often than not, I sense Her smile based on the number of LOLs and emojis on Her texts, DMs and WhatsApps. But every now and then, after a particularly not lazy day, when She sips something or the other, it feels nice to finish something when it was meant to be finished the way it was supposed to be finished, because it means I don’t have to overthink the thing and just revel in Her smile. Really nice, good people.
I remember my first train journey. It was just at the tail end of the monsoon, from Delhi Central Station to Pune to Sangli. I came down with Jackson, who is quite the accountant now with an expansive waistline, a wife and daughters down in Meru, I think.
We stopped over in Bhopal, I think. We snuck through Agra around eight in the evening, so we never got to see the silhouettes of the Taj Mahal or the Red Fort. I think there was a portion of Gujarat we went through around midnight on that first night when they put armed police on the roof just in case bandits decided to attack the train. It slowed down and kinda freaked me out because the Hindi suddenly died down and the conductors put up the metal grills in the carriages.
It was a long journey, 34 hours end to end. The cjapatis and sausages we carried grew stale and the water ran out somewhere on the eastern border of Maharashtra. I can’t remember where else we stopped to restock.
I remember when the Hijras boarded, demanding alms a bit aggressively. In their bright saris and dupattas, they cut quite the feminine figures even with some of the prominent Adam’s apples on display or the hard-to get-rid-of bristles on their chins. They sang and danced in the confined spaces of the sleeper cars and made away with quite the haul when they were done.
You can’t take a shit without worrying that it will all end badly. The train rocks left and right and the heat and noise in the toilet cubice is quite disorientating. I somehow managed to hit the mark with some difficulty then discovered that the tap outside the door didn’t have water.
We sat with an army captain and his family. He’d been billetted for a while in Mombasa and spoke passable Swahili. Generous to a fault, he let us share in the family’s roti and aloo gobi. There were no incidences of Delhi Belly, thank God!
You’d think that 34 hours cross country in a very hot chamber with strangers would have been scary, but it wasn’t. I quite enjoyed myself. Jackson was good company as were Captain Naresh and his family. At least I think his name was Naresh.
I made the journey annually till Agnes left for home. I still remember the frisson of excitement every time I booked a ticket down at Sangli Station, 300 rupees I think. Holding that cardboard ticket with the Gandhi quotation in the back was quite something. I didn’t keep mementos, sadly. I was stupid that way. But I’ll never forget that first journey.
When I was a boy I could see the future very clearly. I knew exactly what it held for me. It scared the shit out of me, knowing what the future held. It never occurred to me that the future, just like the past, is a foreign country. Something that became clearer as I matured.
The future, today, is as clear as mud, yet it doesn’t bring despair or fear like it once did. When I was a boy, all I had was the promise of things: education, skills, talents yet to be discovered. Now I know who and what I am, what I can do, what I can accomplish. I am better for the uncertainties of the future, and it brings me immeasurable peace not knowing where I will be in five years, ten years, thirty years but that I will be somewhere new and exciting.
What I have today, I did not have as a boy. Some of it I came upon by chance, others by experience, still others by education and learning. What I know and what I have are a promise of where I will go and whom I will finally become.
I do what I do, and say what I say, because I no longer fear where the future is headed. It is like learning to speak a new language. At first there’s the fear that you’ll look foolish. Then comes signs of confidence as you get the cadences right. Soon enough, though not a virtuoso, virtuosa, you can string complex sentences together and hold complete thoughts in that language. That’s how the future feels. Some confidence in your assets, an awareness of the risks, and an appreciation of the learning that got you there.
The future may be foreign, but it is no longer a threat.
Bubbles! There are bubbles. Millions of them. In a glass. A nice, tall, chilled-sweaty glass. They dance, upwards, incessantly. Over and over and over. What we do for bubbles, all day, every day.
Bubbles. We love them, but they don’t love us back. They turn us, change us, sometimes destroy us. We willingly succumb to their seduction, and watch as our worlds crumble.
Bubbles. The reason why fecklessness is all around. The reason why sophistry and cant abound. The reason why fecundity is on the decline.
Bubbles? No! The Devil’s Water!
What do you do when the rock your life is founded on begins to wear away, eroded by a lifetime of strength and duty? What do you do when you realise that it is your turn to be the rock, for others to build their lives on? If you are me, you rebel, you say No! You run away. You hide.
You do what you have trained yourself to do: deny, deny, deny. Deny because that is what the lawyers say. To admit that it is now your turn is too much. It is just too much.
They say time and tide wait for no man. Time always runs out. Denial will not do. Fear will not do. Rebellion is for teenagers still looking for the melancholia and angst that they reliably note down in their “journals” or hide away from in copious puffs of the green dragon.
So you buck yourself up, accept your fate, take the reins and pray that at the very least, you will live up to his expectations, be the man he is, has been, shall forever be. You become a rock in the hopes that one day others will see you as the rock.