IN THE BUSINESS

IN THE BUSINESS

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It’s 7am and my gaze is starkly cast on a computer screen. I’m in a green walled office, carpeted blue. Next to me is an Epson printer in ruins begging for it’s life. Personal ambition rents the air with an accompaniment of my thoughts.

Here and now, this blank page and the blank check to sculpt this story is all I have. Tomorrow never comes. Worse, I reside in Nairobi where it’s unwise to procrastinate because life is like a highlight reel. It’s fleeting. Where if the cost of living doesn’t kill you first, it’s either an Amazon web worker Ponzi scheme or the city’s poor plumbing that flay off your life. 

Say you are standing on a kerb in the CBD waiting to board an evening matatu home. You are certainly weary, jaded by queuing and the demands of the day. Suddenly the heavens let loose and it rains. It rains hosing down the streets. Before long the floods sweep you off your feet and you prematurely kick the bucket.

It’s possible and it happens. We are in Wakanda. We make the most of today. We don’t plan much for tomorrow. Tomorrow is hinged on your ability to survive today. We live to see the sun settle at dusk. And sleep fending off nightmares teeming with the demons of the day. We are playing Temple run but not on a smart phone. We are playing Temple run in real life. 

Hence as I jot, seated on this desk, I’m locked in. Hypnotized by my task and concentrating with laser beamed focus. I’m a tenant of my dreams and I have to pay the rent due to live them. To work half-heartedly is way above my pay grade. I can’t afford it.

As I write, the serenading voices of Les Wanyika from the 1970’s waft into my ears. This band of four crooners is famed for ageless records. The likes of Sina Makosa, Afro, Pamela and Sikukuu are songs that decorate their catalogue. It’s inarguable that few are and were as sonically gifted as Les Wanyika. Their timeless music continues to rock East Africa. No doubt they were the stars of their time.

The name of the track I’m listening to is ‘Ufukara sio Kilema’. Which translates to poverty is not a disability. It’s a love song that sounds more like a dirge because of the grieving tone of a pleading lover. The Wanyika boys narrate the plight of a poor man neglected by his wife because he suffers destitution.

In spite of what he faces, he remains hopeful that his estranged wife will return home sooner or later. He’s sure that he won’t be damned to poverty forever. His fortunes will change. His trifles are just but a passing wind. He’s adamant things will look up again for him and by extension his marriage. He’s privy to the impermanence of his situation. The man knows that unlike the indelible scar of disability, poverty is transient. Darkness shall pass and dawn will prevail eventually.

What a hopeless romantic flogging the carcass of a bygone love. She probably moved on and made something better of herself and never remarried. Or she scaled up to a richer man. Or maybe she came back and endured his deprived state. Stockholm syndrome things, you know.  Or maybe his feet caught gangrene and he couldn’t afford treatment so he had them amputated. Then it finally hit him that being poor can actually disable someone in life. I have so many questions.

Questions not only inspired by the nostalgia of the past that Les Wanyika’s music seems to evoke; but also concerning the present and future. Like why I’m awake at 7am seated before a bloody computer? What’s the end game here? Since when did words get someone farther than palpable action? I should probably go blue collar, get myself a real job, learn handy skills and do tangible work. Perhaps be a plumber and fix Nairobi’s drainage system for once. Do the heavy lifting just as other men do. Isn’t that what the Holy book says? Psalms 128:2, “You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.” God seemed to be very categorical there – the labor of your hands, not of your gab. Writing as a career must be a pipe dream if not a shot in the dark.  It must be debauch living off words. A man must do solid work; failure to which he must be strung on a market pole and whipped by a maddened crowd.

I have so many questions.  Why is the desire to drop out of University more urgent in my final year than it was the first? Why do nduthi guys insist on conversation amid windy trips? Is water wet? Will I make it? Will I ever amount to anything? I am aboard a train of life where my journey is my destination. I ponder on my mother, whether she’ll live to see the best of me.

Slowly and day by day as I subsist under the blue sky, the demands of success become more apparent to me. The stakes of what it takes to be better than the next man. Success is in any vocation, at least in my own terms, is doing whatever job you are good at well, then doing that act over and over till you die. Success is putting your favorite song on repeat so as to grasp the lyrics. It is a loop.

In the 13th Century Mongolian general, Bayan of the Baarin defined Kung Fu as follows, “It is supreme skill from hard work. Practice, preparation, endless repetition until your mind is weary and your bones ache. Until you are too tired to sweat too wasted to breathe. That is the way, the only way one acquires Kung Fu.” It should be the only way success attained as well.

There are no flukes. Anything worth having requires one to be intentional and habitual practice. 10000 hours. It’s a lonely endeavor that persists throughout the four seasons. As a novice it can be daunting. But every master was once sophomoric. In this writing journey that I trudge on, I’ve learnt to be high on my own supply. Sometimes you’ll be the only one to pat yourself on the back and that’s alright.

The Holy book also has a place for those who unabatedly hone their crafts. Proverbs 22:29 “Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.” Whatever you believe in, God or not, there’s only one way to the summit. You have to climb the mountain.

As for us nascent writers, we keep reading, writing and believing. We might also wear colorful clothes in the hope it will improve our prose. As the butterfly stems from larvae; we writers too are in the business of becoming. We stay at it not to become perfect but to perfect it.

Muhammad Ali famously quipped, “It’s just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.” 

I say, “Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand and writers write.”

The show goes on and we carry on. Maybe on our way we’ll realize water has been wet all along.


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