I loved you when our love was blessed
I love you now there’s nothing left
but sorrow and a sense of overtime”– Leonard Cohen singing Closing Time
Before sitting down to write this I brewed me a cup of coffee and sat down at the entrance of my house to overlook my view for the last time. Blaring from my speakers was a mix of the Bobs- Marley and Dylan, and Leonard Cohen. A randomised playlist so I couldn’t know what was coming next. Just as I was finishing up the cup of coffee the song closing time came on, whose lyrics were apt. Sometimes there’s a runner running the random things.
I’ve been kicked out of where I stay.
It’s not just me though. We’ve all been kicked out. The landlord wants to renovate, everyone I tell this hears speech marks around the word. “You’re sure he’s not selling?” Look though, I don’t know. I have no idea. All I know is I was just renting and now the owner has asked for it back. This will happen with this home we call life too and when it does we can rage against the dying of the light. Then when the light turns to night rage no more.
Despite any flippancy that may fall off the previous paragraph have no doubt that I loved this place. Loved it. Loved it so much that it’s the first house I remember dreaming about since my childhood home. The first place I have lived in by myself that holds that intangible element that makes it sound, turns the noise of the air into music, that special magic that some places just have.
It’s this compound in Nairobi West that’s rumoured to have belonged to one of Kenyatta’s ministers. Not the one we have right now the one we had after uhuru (and we should all hope that in three decades this sentence won’t be rendered ambiguous by current events.) The set-up of the place brings to mind the compound that Don Corleone retired to with his family when all the mafia wars were extracting too high a price.
There’s 10 dwelling units here. Once you enter the gate there’s a parking lot long enough to hold maybe 8 cars side to side. Then there’s the main structure. This contains 6 houses on 2 stories. The upstairs houses are 2 balconied constructions. There’s bathtubs in the bathrooms and 3 rooms each in those main houses. To the back there’s a two room place where the watchmen live, next to this a long dwelling place, never been inside this. Next to it is a standalone bedsitter, then there’s the structure I live in.
It’s a two-story building, one-bedroomed houses stacked on top of another. It’s perfectly rectangular and shares a wall with Ciderwood Hotel on Gandhi Avenue. It’s just big enough for me. It fits everything I have perfectly. It’s a contained place, is how I feel about it. The sun rises from the windows to where my bed is faced. This means on sunny Sundays I get a show since I don’t have curtains but shears. Even in the dark of electric light they glimmer with patterns of flower and circles and these concentric lines leading away from the flowers and circles. When I look at it just right it looks like Salvador Dali paintings of a five-limbed creature with suns for hands and planets for legs. As the sun rises it plays on this glimmering and shimmering. The windows are slightly open so that the shears are set a-flutter. And when they flutter it looks how a heart feels when it does this in the presence of the most beautiful person you know, it’s not even beauty that sets that feeling off in the heart, I think it’s being able to tear down the barriers between you and that person so that the God in you can see the God in her and release tears of boundless love at the reunion. The fluttering is accompanied by shots of light in colours purple and maroon, textures obsidian and absurd, moments fleeting and ephemeral.
I’m a second floor denizen so to come to my house I have to go up this flight of stairs, a small zig-zag, not enough to put the breath out of even the fattest of my friends or relatives. We get to the door and there’s a little space just before the door. There’s a wall here too, it’s just tall enough for me to rest my ashtray on. There’s a slight elevation before you enter the house, this means that I can sit on this porch cross-legged and look out at Nairobi West.
The view to the immediate right is one of the Ciderwood parking lot which also serves as its smoking zone. I wave at the regulars when I come out here for a smoke. I see some on random mornings as I’m polishing my shoes and shout conversations over the wall, usually about the evil nature of the souls of lawyers. On very occasional mornings the dregs of a fight can be heard. Shouting and screaming. There’s usually a woman involved and insinuations of slutty behaviour, this is usually answered with the assurance that, no your mother is a slut who else could have slept with such a man as sired you?
And I loved you for your beauty
but that doesn’t make a fool of me
you were in it for your beauty too
There’s a blockage of electric lines and then a tree with bare branches. Sometimes birds come to perch here. In fact there’s a bird’s nest right in my neighbour’s roof. I remember listening to Bob Marley sing “Three Little Birds” as I stood there looking at the 2 birds that live in the nest and hoping a third would show up to chirp me into serendipity. It happened. Those two birds broke up though just the other day. I saw the fight happen, I saw one push and muscle the other until it flew off in indignation. Ciderwood has a resident cat, or it’s roof does. It’s gold and white and had a cute little kitten the other day. It was tiny and an exact replica. I got to see the coldness with which these animals treat even their kin. Hanging on the tree in the distance has been a Jubilee flag. The flag flew tall and clean for months. Recently it’s been becoming ragged and dirty. The promise of what it could be even to those who believe in the endurance of such symbols has faded and will soon be nothing but strips and a rag on a tree.
Then there’s the view of the sky. I’ve stood and sat watching the sun ignite it in all the famous colours of indigo and lavender. Seen birds fly across my view-path. Solitary birds out for a soar. Groups of birds flying in a v pattern. A profusion of birds that looked like a whirlwind, there were dozens of them and they were flying upwards in circles, and wherever they were being produced from it seemed like it was by an angel with a bubble machine. They weren’t ending and their flight patterns were so intricate that I wondered once again what the birds are up to on earth. It seemed obvious it was no small thing.
At night I can see the stars as well as you can from Nairobi but the real gift of this place has been the sighting of the moon. I saw the blood moon from right there. The most recent moon I’ve seen was September’s full moon. When you can see this thing without cloud cover it feels like it’s giving you health, the whiteness with which it shines must purify. When the clouds cover it though there’s battle in dream. The gravity it exerts can turn them wispy, change their shapes so it looks like a dog with a bright eye in its face. Then you look again and the moon has scuttled everything so now it looks like the remains of a shuttle taking off, then you look again and all you see is health.
And the moon is swimming naked
and the summer night is fragrant
with a mighty expectation of relief
My world has been a universe of things that I’ll never do again.
Added to this my neighbours have been moving out. The one whose house is overhang by the bird’s nest left at the beginning of last month and within 2 days I realised that somebody in that house had been cleaning up birdshit for the entire duration of my stay as splatter of white started dotting the concrete.
My neighbours left one by one and there was a mass exodus last weekend leaving just two of us in the compound. I wanted to move on a Friday, also so I could see the emptiness. The lights that shine in the compound don’t anymore. The windows have no curtains. There are no sounds of life anymore. It looks shuttered already, it looks derelict immediately. The clothes-hanging area seems to have a wind blowing through it and this wind sounds forlorn. It stirs nothing as it blows except for my memories of what used to be. The only light that shines is mine. The only sound playing is mine. The whole place is mine and it feels empty. Extremely empty. The darkness assumes a physical force and a menacing character.
“And the place is dead as heaven on a Saturday night”
Water is running out, I haven’t had any in my pipes for 10 days now and all I have is 2 days before I leave. My stores and stocks are depleted but they needed to be so I could move all these bottles but I miss water. When I first moved here there was a family downstairs. They had this little girl maybe three years old and we became friends. She’d light up when she saw me and get me to throw her up and down. She’d enter my house and ask for discarded items that she could play with. She’d write with chalk on the walls. Once she plucked me a flower. They moved about nine months ago but she was my favourite neighbour. I still remember her clear now, this was my favourite house and I really hope I’ll still be able to remember it clear, and hold it dear for a long, long time.
I also felt a love in this house that was intense and true and that ended like some novel whose last paragraphs would have left me walking around shell-shocked. The seeming inevitability of endings once we look back at them has the effect of giving meaning to every little thing that happened. It can make you see the seeds of destruction in the germination of everything. A good ending can make everything seem almost perfect, it can turn it into those ruins of castles that are so beautiful to look at. What we are seeing is decay and the reminder of death but what we are feeling is beauty and the endurance of love, the strength of faith.
and i lift my glass to the awful truth
which you can’t reveal to the ears of youth
except to say it wasn’t worth a dime