On Inspiration

Those moments rare, when the veil is lifted,
The old light shines once more,
Not as faded gleam nor glimmer faint
Through the woven fabric’s pores,
But quickening the weary soul,
Illumining the mind;
A sudden burst, a brilliance fair,
Eternity’s bright, tender stare –
Oh, how I languish for those moments rare!

From the Passenger Seat

“Up with Uber, down with the taxi!” Of late, the number of cab franchises has been on the rise. More and more Uber-owned cabs, ‘Little Cabs’ cars and similar vehicles are pouring onto Nairobi’s roads and topping more and more Nairobians’ lists of preferences. I recently heard someone say over a drink, “Taxis? They’re headed down a one-way street to oblivion!” His companions nodded in agreement. And why should they stay? Uber has made them obsolete, right? Uber has well-trained employees who open the door for you (or so I hear), arrive on time, ask what music you would like to listen to and, best of all, charge cheap, just prices – and if your driver tries to weight his pockets with your money when they feel lighter than would be desired, you can just report it and get refunded! Those other guys, the taxi guys, they’re all thieves, right? Right?

WRONG.

This isn’t an ‘Uber vs. taxi” article, nor is it a call to arms. No revolutions here. No cries of “Out with the invaders!” But it is a plea, an impassioned on, for truth. It is an answer to one question born of the despair that afflicts so many Kenyans: aren’t all taxi guys corrupt?

I know one man who doesn’t fit the mould – to preserve his anonymity, I’ll call him John. During working hours, wearing a simple pair of trousers and with a loose shirt draped over him, nothing sets him apart. He’s lanky but not gaunt and despite his height, he seems to consume a minimum of others’ attention. Stubble creeps in around his mouth, closing in on it as if to seal it off completely before his razor undoes everything a few days later. Most of the time, his lips are shut and when he does speak, he struggles to get the words out; they sputter, like his old car used to before he got the (marginally better) one he uses now. On the surface, he looks just like any ordinary taxi driver. Only his eyes, deep, crinkled at the corners, hint at a difference.

 

Several evenings have come by and found John and me together, sometimes sheltered in from storms that frosted the windows, other times staring at feminine lavender skies mingled with the fire of dusk while car horns blared irreverently below. Occasionally, my sister would be with us too. I remember how she’d chat with John about all kinds of things as he drove. He would ask questions, a rare animation lighting up his face; the words would flow out eagerly. Slowly, she would drift off to sleep. I remember how John looked at her. how he smiled, how the unshaven roughness of his face became so gentle, how the tender fire burned in his eyes as he looked at the little girl, like her father would.

 

John had his weaknesses, as we all do. He’d throw up his hands in vexation when a matte overlapped, drive straight into traffic jams after choosing the worst routes then get anxious and angry, click his tongue at other drivers and murmur at them under his breath…. He was not immune to temptations. He fought them. He stopped at red lights, even though he was the only one doing it; he only overtook on the dotted line; he stayed still to let stranded pedestrians cross the death trap we call Waiyaki Way….

In fact, one evening, John had just dropped me off at home and after he left, I realized my trousers were feeling somewhat lighter than usual. Shock came. Anger followed. I plunged my hand into my right pocket to call him – emptiness. I checked again just to be sure. Nothing. Frustrated, I turned it inside out. A few pieces of lint floated lightly to the ground. Just then, my brother’s phone rang – it was John!

Half an hour later, John was standing outside the house. “You left your phone in my car. I only realized when I got home.” His voice was warm, gentle, simple.

 

Corrupt? A thief? No. An unsung hero. And where there is one, there are many. To paraphrase a certain wise man’s words: where evil abounds, goodness abounds all the more. You just have to look for it.


More “Stories of Nairobi” coming out after two weeks! Stay tuned!

Physical Beauty

…borne by silent wind away.

Awakening, her perfume breathes the wind, sweet reminiscence,
Bestowed upon her morning’s golden kiss, she blooms, she blushes,
Innocent, O queen in candid gown, silken, enchanting,
Beauty, empress of the bleeding dusk, his heart thy chattel:

Blossoms all to death succumb; remain but blackened fragments borne by silent wind
Away.

“Love” – The Feeling

…naught but dust.

Smouldering, O fruit of married spark and withered branches,
Flickering, like sunrise born anew, life’s breath pervading,
Vehement, to frigid limbs and hearts thy warmth imparting,
Ardour, O inflaming of the blood, O sanest madness:

Life’s breath steals away; the embers’ light to mortal pallor fades,
Leaving naught but dust.

A Smile in the Dark

It’s like looking at the stars in the night sky…

A flurry of activity, all around him: children are running about, playing soccer in dusty school uniform, clouds of dirt rising at their hurried footfalls; birds flit about from branch to branch like black streaks in the brightness of an August afternoon, withered blades of grass dangling from their beaks as they fret about their nests; tides of animated chatter surge and recede; here, shouts of raucous laughter resound; there, a cry bursts from the lips of a lively storyteller.

As he speaks, there is a depth in his eyes as the words trickle forth from him, a depth that beckons, invites his listener to come closer, almost as the clear stillness of the ocean calls one to plumb its depths. His gaze is gentle. Now, a laugh escapes from him, thick and heavy and soft. His brilliant smile wreathes the hard stone lines of his face into smooth, mirthful curves; a twinkle dances in his eyes. It’s like looking at the stars in the night sky, or the warm light of a distant flame in the dark. So black a face, yet so radiant a smile!

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/discover-challenges/portraits/

 

Riches

…end in rust.

Glittering, the heartblood of the earth, O treasure cherished,
Like water-gleam in crevices infused, her vibrant art’ries;
Ornaments, adornments finely wrought and deftly flourished,
Splendour of majesty, sun’s repose, soft light unblemished:

As the starlight ebbs, the moonlight wanes, the sunlight, bleeding, dies,
Thou shalt end in rust.

A Man’s Eyes

What shall I call them? To what shall I compare them?

Looking at it, the details lead you in, the little touches left in place by the deft hand of the artist. Candlelight, so soft and gentle, almost like a kiss laid upon the walls, to make them glow with a muted blushing – it bathes the painting with a rosy light.

Dive through the frame like a window and stare. Stare at his eyes, there, in the scene. Look at the light in them, bright, arresting. Hear the clamour of the people, feel the sweat slide down your skin and look, look into his eyes.

Let the sunlight burn into your skin, and the burnished armour blind you.
Feel the people brush against you, push you aside, and see him still, upon the ground, fatigued.
Let the weeping of the women pierce your heart.

See the blood flowing like a river, like the blood of roses spilt on desert sand. His blood.
Hear the whips that crack against his skin, and their shouting, and the cries, like blades come from the hand of a beloved friend.

Look at his face.

Look into his eyes.

Then, a movement, and the desert melts away. Startled, you look up, beyond the candlelight’s reach, into the shadows. There’s someone there!

His eyes catch your gaze, hold it, arrest it.

What shall I call them? To what shall I compare them?

Diamonds, hard and glittering, white-hot with flame the likes of which has never been beheld by men, or blazing embers, bearing a fearsome fire within them, the very heartfire of the earth?

Stars above, radiant and lofty, jewels adorning the firmament, or ice and snow, brilliant, colder than the breath of winter itself?

Lightning, swift and terrible, piercing through the heavens, or steel, firm and unbending, like the warrior’s resolve?

A man’s eyes.

Words to a Weary Soul

“Come forth, venturing the narrow way;
Let nothing hold you.
I shall wait.”

Turn not, tread in spite of mist and dark,
this thorn-strewn way;
Bleed, bare your heart.



Hold me, lest I crumble, turn to dust!
Your light, so distant…

Quavering.


“Fear not, let me see the wounds, the tears,
Your dolours, sorrows;
I will soothe.”

Forward, braving night, and wind and rain,
Burn, love again,
Arise,

“Beloved.”

Like the Albatross

Away now he flies, off into the blue,

White-winged and shining, gleaming bright.

 

Away, two birds race, one aloft in the wind,

And the other ‘neath the sea, gliding, glistening white.

Calm, noble movements, every single one twinned.

They circle, untethered.

 

The sight smites the heart, having many years weathered,

In its darkness, and weakness, and greed.

And it longs for the hour it’ll be freed.