They finally found him. It didn’t matter that he didn’t want to be found. They finally caught him after years of snooping around. Lots of shillings had been poured in the hope of getting him. They had gone round in circles, sticking their noses in malls and coffee shops. They had chased him across town, only to be told that he had left just minutes ago. They had come so close.
But now they found him. He was seated at a clothed table near the exit. He was in the shadows, as only where one would expect him to be–in the background, away from the center.
They thought they’d find him in one of his hats. But this was no place to be wearing hats.This was suits and clinking glasses. This was class. And it was such a scoop.
They could finally prove his existence. They could go back to the office and study his photograph. They would analyze his features and look at the smooth lines on his face. They would notice his square chin, and his neat beard, and one of them would say, “You know, he looks just like I thought he would.”
They would brew coffee and brood over his picture. They would congratulate themselves for framing him along with the signage placed behind him, written in big blue font: GLENMORANGIE.
It was definitely him. They weren’t the first to photograph him, but there was a general pleasantness around the office. All that sweat had finally paid off. They found him.
It had been a long time since anyone had spotted him. In some circles he was known simply as ‘man about town’. These days it was harder to catch him. There had been sightings of him at the airport, pulling a black bag behind him.But they couldn’t prove it was him.
They’d have three days before going to press, enough time to study his face in its entirety.
“But his forehead isn’t even that big,” one of them would say.
The top button of his shirt was open. His tall trim figure seemed to lean on one side, almost as if he might leave any minute. He was in good shape. His eyes seem to be looking into the half dark, somewhere just behind their watchful lens. He had obviously seen them lurking. He knew they were taking his picture. It was their job anyway. A scoop like this could get them a huge bonus. They could crack open a bottle of whisky themselves, once the editor got wind of it.
He wore black-framed spectacles, and his bald head shone like the sun. All the light in the room came to refract on his head. They wondered if, at 40 years old, he’d gotten used to this little phenomenon.
They found him holding a tumbler of whisky. He rested his elbow on the table. It was unclear if he was wearing the silver bangle he purchased from one of his numerous travels.
The camera man-in the newsroom- would later say that he couldn’t help but notice the man’s hands, the same black hands which, for more than a decade, have been studiously writing beautiful stories.
Stories of pain. Stories of victory. Stories of the people, for the people, for the down and outs, and the posh unwashed. Stories of hope. Stories of fruits and shoe shine. His was the literary voice that lulled us to sleep, and continued to ring in our heads long after we had moved on to other things.
And now here he was, seated among big business boys, tasting the finest drinks, mingling with the movers and shakers. Who could have thought a trade like his could bear such fruit? Who could have predicted that the painful stories he wrote in his bedroom many moons ago would get him a seat at the table?
But all that probably didn’t matter to him. It was all hype and vanity, and ego –a three-pronged assault weapon against any artist of our time. All he cared about was the stories, the art, the craft.
Nobody could deny that he had earned the right to be at that table. All that toil must have had to count for something. All those hours in front of the screen had to pay off in some way. If not to feed and clothe his children, he had to, at least, get the chance to sip some fine whisky.
But, as he sits there, with that fiery taste in his mouth, does he feel the weight on his shoulders? That his upkeep rests solely on his ability to create? When he goes to bed at night, with his family safely tucked in, does he pray about his literary powers?Does he feel like he’s earned it? If yes, where does a man like him go now?
Well, as far as weekends go, that last one should have been one for the books. It hurt deeply. It felt like a big pile of disappointment served on a shiny platter. A lot of money went down the drain. The wounds went as far as scratching the car’s bumper. And it was all my doing.
It all started, as usual, after I submitted the weekly Dusty Rugs. I was still reeling with adrenaline and I decided to make myself useful by washing the car. I cranked up the volume and danced in the twilight,sweeping a wet rug along the bodywork. I could now spend the rest of the evening with my feet up, watching reruns of Narcos and Chicago Fire.
But not before I flipped through the day’s paper, where I was shocked to find a picture of Biko, taken by some hawk-eyed paparazzi. The caption said, “Media personality Jackson Biko”.
The paper was the last place I’d expect to see him, not least because the header was titled: Clique and Clicks.
The surrounding pictures were filled with elegant suits and big smiles. His secret forehead was now out there for all to see. I stared in awe at the sheer magnitude of it, and it made me a little sad, to tell you the truth.
Years of carefully concealing his identity. Years of silently moving in the shadows, years of staying away from the limelight, all spoilt by a camera-wielding chap, hungry for a scoop.
Minutes elapsed while I was still looking at that picture, and I couldn’t help but think that that shiny bald head was the vault which awakened me (and many others) to the joys of writing. It’s now five years since I found him on the vast World Wide Web, and two years since I attended his Masterclass.
Then I stopped reading him, and then I picked him up once again, if only to study his sentence structure.
That picture reminded me of how much work I still had to do before I could sit at the table. It reminded me not to rest on my laurels. That picture was the embodiment of discipline and hard work, and I even fancied cutting it up and sticking it on my bedroom wall.
So that, when I woke up in the morning, I would see his forehead and it would serve as a beacon for where I wanted to go each time I sat at the keyboard.
Friends, this is my 100th post. Four years since I decided to make this my life’s work, and I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. I look at that figure and think: “Geez! It’s taken me four years to write 100 posts?”
Kwani how lazy am I? 100 posts won’t get me a seat at the table. Hell, it won’t even get me near the door. I’d have to endure a lot more pain. I’m a little disappointed in myself, really. I should have covered much more mileage by now.
But allow me to first tell you about my weekend.
On Saturday afternoon, and much to my dismay, there was a power blackout. I didn’t feel like reading or writing or taking a walk or any of that stuff. So I went back to the car, to listen to the radio from there.
And then I got into a rather lengthy but pleasant phone call with a girl, where we mostly talked about hair and Game of Thrones. (Hi!)
Then I got a sterling idea.
I had a bit of money in my pocket and I thought: “Why not fuel the car and go on a drive? Maybe I could do some household shopping while I’m at it.”
So what I did, I went to the authorities and asked if I could borrow the car.
“Sitakawia,” I said.
I drove out minutes later, with a shopping list on hand. Evening was falling fast and I was only happy to be out and about on a Saturday night. I called my old pal Benson and asked if he could tag along. Perhaps a drink was on the horizon?
But at some point I began to regret getting out in the first place. I had blown off money on fuel just so I could get away from a little boredom. This was really no way to spend my savings, even though I had been putting in the hours behind a desk the whole month. And then I started to think:
“Why do I work anyway? Why do I write, if not to afford this sort of thing? Spontaneous road trips and such like? It’s not like I have children to feed, not to my knowledge, at least.”
I didn’t feel like I had earned it, though. Perhaps I’d have felt otherwise if I was driving my own car, and doing my own shopping. 100 posts? Psht. If you put that in shillings I wouldn’t even be able to afford a packet of flour, for chrissakes.
Anyway, later that night, on the way home, after dropping off Benson and with a back seat of household shopping, I was overtaken by a blue truck labeled: Fresh Water. It was about 10pm and visibility on Namanga Road was nigh on nil.
From the passenger window of the truck I only saw the red cap, and the stream of saliva shooting out onto the road.
That single uncouth act gave me a strange sense of foreboding. Could this be the day that I get into a fatal car accident? What were the odds that the front wheel had caught some of that spit?
Maybe I was reading too much into this. But I thought about that ball of spit once again, when I was just about to get home–seconds before I drove the car into a ditch.
It was all so sudden. There was a loud crack, and then there was a groaning coming out from underneath. The front wheel was suspended in the air. The bumper was caught by a boulder. I was stuck proper.
The authorities would later ask if I had been drunk, to which I’d vehemently deny.Up to that point I hadn’t realized that the bottle of cooking oil in the back seat had cracked a seal and soaked everything else in the bag. Not to mention that I had completely muddled up the shopping list and purchased the wrong brands.
This was just like that time I was sent for spinach and brought kale.
As I tried to maneuver my way out of the ditch, feeling the strain on the poor car’s bodywork, I thought: This may hurt.
Then I put my foot on the gas.