I often ignore the moon, unfortunately.
When I do pay attention, it’s usually because:
A) It is in the wrong place (by which I mean that its bottom is consorting with the top of the wrong building)
B) For whatever reason, someone has said, ‘Look, the moon! (And, to be honest, when someone says ‘Look, the moon!’ one has no choice but to panic and say ‘What’s wrong with it?’ and then look at the moon)
C) It’s in its full phase.
Once, a while back, the moon was so full it appeared brighter than all the fluorescent lights (on the rust-brown building that over-looked the garden in which I stood) put together.
For some reason, that night smelt different—not of cleanliness and moonflowers, as normal nights do, but of left-over afternoon. It smelt, faintly, of something singed, and of after-lunch breath.
I was watching our then national chess champion. (I wasn’t watching him the way one watches TV, mind. The watching of TV requires a special set of skills, which we won’t get into today.)
He was standing tall, almost too tall, in the centre of a makeshift rectangle, surrounded by a flood of light, chess boards and excitement. He was elaborating the rules that would govern the simultaneous match he was about to play with close-to-forty kids.
‘If you touch a piece, you must move it. If your intention is to simply re-position a piece on its square, you must say ‘j’aboube’ before doing so.
‘Make your move only after I appear at your board, and not before.
‘Remember to press the clock after making a move.
‘If you need more time to think about your move, just say so and I’ll move to the next board.’
I remember thinking how sad it was that, while there were many children that had displayed an aptitude for the game, there was so little support for them. I later mentioned this to one of the players and inquired into what he thought he and the chess community could do.
He sighed and said, ‘There’s nothing we can do. We just have to make do with what we have.’
I am from a community (and a country) in which, to borrow the title of a book, it is always someone else’s turn to eat. Where, until your turn comes, you must make do with whatever is available. Thus, while many things are started, very few of them reach completion. Also, and unfortunately, on close inspection, such completion often reveals itself to be half-completion.
Thus, the road that was supposed to have four lanes now only has two (because someone ate the other two lanes). The building that was supposed to be fire-proof has since succumbed to a suspect fire (because someone ate all the fire extinguishers). A health centre that was supposed to provide relief to the terminally ill has now turned into a death trap (because someone ate all the morphine). And so on.
I am from a community (and a country) whose psyche seems to have been filled (rather quickly, and seemingly beyond capacity) with a near-permanent sense of powerlessness and inadequacy.
Thus, what we do, right after we read headlines like –
Eleven year old boy circumcises himself (he grew tired of queuing outside the clinic)
Twelve year old girl aborts two days to exams (pregnant girls are not allowed to sit for Primary Leaving Exams).
900 billion shillings lost every year (in procurement related processes)
Foreign investor in jail (because, all along, what he’s been doing, instead of creating 5000 jobs for the youth, is molesting children)
Pregnant women resort to fake husbands (apparently, the women in such-and-such a village can’t access antenatal care unless they are [seen to be] married).
– is cradle our heads in our hands and say, ‘But, surely, what can we do? That’s life. Such things are beyond us.’
Perhaps I have, slowly but surely, become infected with the afore-mentioned sense of powerlessness.
For, I find, these days, that I have shed every romantic (and, I daresay, noble) idea I ever held about the role of writing and literature in effecting continuous change and/or effective action.
Certainly, I have been ‘changed’ by books before—I have sensed a transformation in my thinking about a few, select issues, and I have abandoned certain prejudices. Yet, I cannot say, for sure, that this change has been uniform (or even that I have been able to consciously or otherwise transfer any of the capital gained, through this change, to other people).
No longer do I find myself thinking that what I write could possibly transform my community (and country). Instead, I like to tell myself that my writing is mostly informed by more sensible and practical considerations—I write because a) I can, and b) writing has proved effective in neutralizing every force of boredom I have ever encountered.
Perhaps I have, through no fault of mine, (hey, osmosis is inevitable), since capitulated to a sense of inadequacy.
For, whenever I start to write about things that are so-called ‘common knowledge’, things with which we are all supposedly familiar but about which we don’t think we can do much, I start to think that I could never make it uncommon enough for people to give more than the two hoots they currently give.
Because, really, if someone ate the 300 billion that was meant to build a hospital and no one did anything about it in Real Life, why should I assume someone will want to do something after reading a novella on the same?
When I consider all the half-finished stories that are stagnating on my Desktop and in My Documents, I feel myself growing angry. I get angry because it is obvious, is it not, that a haggard and woebegone someone (whose turn it was to eat) has eaten the other halves of all my poems and short stories!
Or, maybe, just maybe, I was a powerless and inadequate writer long before I became a powerless and inadequate writer, and my attempts to export blame to my community (and country) are a gimmick, a much-needed exercise in the absolution of guilt.
‘Davina [officially] started writing in 2007, after reading a ‘Teach
yourself writing’ she bought on sale. Well, that’s what she tells
everyone. She is one part armchair psychologist, two parts recovering
introvert and three parts insomniac.
She enjoys chuckling at irrelevant posts left (in blog comments
sections) by trolls, haunting cheap pizza places, watching romantic
comedies and finding new excuses for why she hasn’t finished her
She wishes she’d written Getting Mother’s Body, Godhorse, Midnight’s
Children, The God of Small Things, A poem of Villeneuve St Georges,
The Laugher, The Blue Bouquet, Black Mamba Boy, Desertion, Perfume,
and House of Leaves.
In her idea of a perfect world, she writes novels during her lunch
break and publishes them shortly before she goes to bed. She used to
be afraid of poetry but isn’t anymore, which is why she lives in