For V., in whose company I rediscovered myself.


Strolling down this street for the first time in months I get the idea that a trip, in the way it immerses someone into the present from which the past and the future knots and unfolds through backward and forward glances, has to be the one thing that best explains the theory of time. A couple more strides in the same direction and the streetlights come on, assuming the role of the sun which, true to form, has now set, along with it the people that were here when I last came, and all those who for different reasons have been here in the period between then and now. With the entire country under curfew, this evening is in many ways nothing like the one I am trying to reminisce about. But what stands out is how it feels like a moment so unreal I could only have dreamt myself into. Still and all, it lends itself to reason, making it possible for me to fully make sense of this absence and its connection with memory when suddenly in this profound emptiness I am dizzied by the ubiquity of people, so full of life, their existence ever so limitless.

To hold my attention so closely I can't drift off completely is a woman, as beautiful as they come. She is leaning against the wall of an Mpesa booth, her protracted right leg and toned midriff sensually bare. Cupped in her right hand is a phone. The lambent glow of its screen bounces off her white crop top to reveal the splendour of her features. By a sweet twist of fate, as she puts her phone over her ear and mine startlingly buzzes and trills in my pocket, as I nimbly receive the call without even looking at who is calling and the voice on the other end synchs with the movement of her lips, and as she lifts her head and from either side of the highway our smiling eyes lock, it hits me that she is the woman I have been speaking with on the phone for the best part of the past one week, the same woman I am here to go out on a blind date with.

She is even more interesting up-close. While she is outspoken I am reserved, but she goes out of her way to tone herself down, bringing me out for the rest of the meeting, a moment so brief it can't outlive the poignancy of her questions, questions whose answers I know, always have known, and yet without any words for.

The train of my thoughts cruises into the subway of my mind and out of my head, back into a reality that is as bleak as it is dark, if a little heightened. It is only after this moment that, while seeing myself as this lone shop with a makeshift reversible sign swinging across its glass door like a pendulum, closing the shop to the rest of the world and at the same time opening it only to its little self now free from the fear of uncontrolled social conditions that come with crowding customers, the answers to her questions of my identity and individual culture begin to take shape, and it occurs to me that in the simple act of enquiring lies our knowledge of things we sometimes can't bring ourselves to speak about if there is nothing in particular to put them in context.

 

With this realization I am left to wonder whether my world has all along been plagued by a phenomenon whose magnitude is similar to a pandemic’s, and all this time I have put myself in isolation to ward off its after-effects, always felt but unspoken of until now.

Bungoma, 2021

Karino C. Emmanuel is an emerging Kenyan writer and poet. His works have appeared on The Kalahari Review, Kreative Diadem, Ghana Writes Journal, Praxis Magazine, and The Blue Nib. For his poetry, he assumes the pseudonym KC Manuel.