Some would say that it’s an act of cowardice but I know better, I know that it takes courage to unshackle yourself from the heartstrings of sisters, brothers, parents, lovers, people you have to be silent and muted around just so they can be. Happy. In that fleeting inconsequential way they preferred to be, not real happiness; that can be taken away from you, temporary fleeting happiness was what this world was about, a sharp jolt of electric happiness once in a while, something solid enough to reminisce over in the burning cosmopolitan lights, a scab one ripped off whenever necessary so as to recall that moment. One was so busy documenting happiness that they only knew it through the memory of documentation: pictures, notes, texts, calls…these were the new insipidly diluted portals of happinesses of this generation, even happiness was caged and forced to replay itself in continuum until it deteriorated into a tasteless unwantedness.
“There’s no place for gods here; no gods wanted.”
I was walking down Cabral Street when he came to me. I always wore my jeans too long so no one could see that I don’t actually touch the ground. Bastet invented shoes that bridged the gap between us and the ground, but those ‘high shoes’ always felt so heavy and I knew what the ground was made of; it was my destiny to become part of it. I was walking out of the archives when Tom Mboya had turned his face to me and I had walked faster before he could talk, but there I was, on Cabral Street, with Amilçar pressing his face to mine and Tom poking his bronze finger into my back. I had felt Amilçar leak out of the bold black letters CABRAL STREET, trickle down the street sign and into a reality of vapours and dust but my mind was so heavy I couldn’t float away into unmade realities of my own, and the traffic lights wouldn’t let me. I thought for a second of shutting down all the cars on the road so I could pass, but only for a second.
“Hathor, you have seen what they do to us now.”
Tom says heavily, almost pleading that I should leave. These are no longer the days when thousands would lay their dead bodies by our graves, hoping we will will life unto them upon our return. Cults were no longer a way of life, religions were no longer liberties held close in the night, patience was no longer a creed to live by. I always left people behind and now they were tired of hoping I would take them with me and their lack of hope was a rot in their bones.
“They want no gods here; strength is reproachable, vision condemning, ambition too heavy for them to carry, revolutions a hundred and forty words or less parroted through a protected world of screens and anonymity. You are weak if you do not bring them to their knees before you; they want no gods here, only demagogues, cryptids and demons.”
Amilçar repeats, as if I did not know this. Had I not kept mum about who I was while here, had I not camouflaged myself in a saccharine pseudo-mediocrity and blended as best as I could?
“Why are you telling me this now?”
I demand, having passed by this street several numerous times, smiling at them, asking them how they are doing, avoiding touching them and falling down the black hole of their histories. I had felt their breath through the soles of my feet as I floated past them. Had we not exchanged hapless smiles of reverence and nods?
“Because you are shrinking into captivity; their rejection of you makes you want to stay here, now; to abandon all the historicisms and futurities you currently undertake and untangle them from their miasmatic despondence. You think you can instigate them to start fires; they will burn you.”
Tom hisses, his voice a dangerous indigo revolting viciously against the stiffness of my spine. I have burned to death before, he and I know this; I ate the flames and they became me.
“Hapi. Remember Carthage, Libya, Alkebulan, Ortegia and Kush. What is this compared to that? Compared to losing your home Itiyopianu…”
I start, turning towards him.
“They will cut you open and use the rivulets of your blood for roads.”
Amilçar says, and I know that he had seen the black opal stain of my worries jut out of the darkness of my skin, worries that wondered if this post-structural world where one could say but never be sure what was heard was worth saving or salvageable.
“But what is death Anu? Have we not been through it a million times before? Had not each death built a bridge to a world previously unknown to them?”
I challenge. He should know, he ferried the dead to the womb of the earth, made sure their carcass did not drip blood and feed the children of the Kongamato, the Popobawa and the Inkanyamba; creatures only spoken of now in hysteria and dying folktales. The greatest trick of the devil, it was said, was in leading everyone to believe he didn’t exist. There was no devil, no hell or afterlife in the sense now believed, only a rebirth in a new skin to a slightly newer world built over the cadaver of the old. Popobawa, the one-eyed bat-winged rapist, the Kongamato no longer satisfied by the blood of the crew whose boats she flipped over, the Inkanyamba who caused storms so that she may drink the blood of its victims – these were the devils nobody knew of.
“They will burn your bridges and dance by the firelight. They want no redemption, Hathor. Why don’t you understand that?”
Amilçar points out. Tom agrees, in the beautiful way that he does, as if he had said it himself. I can’t pretend that I hadn’t noticed the malnourished ambitions they proudly wrapped themselves with, the tattered anorexic hopes they wound limply around their necks, hopes so thin they could not hang from them, not that they would ever want to, the borrowed perfunctory leaking masks they hid their faces behind. Some wore the masks of freedom, indicating a longing for it but an acute misknowledge of what it was, others wore the mask of their cages, either announcing the comfort they found in them or their hopes that if they stayed in long enough things could change. I had found that redemption meant many different things to many different peoples, that while we had always been here to lure people out of caves, to launch them into space, to break them free of the cages set around them, these generations were intent on making their cages as comfortable as possible, with electricity and running water and shiny objects to distract them from the fact of their enclosure. They now believed this was the best they could offer, or have, or aspire to.
“This is not the end of the beginning that I envisioned.”
I sigh, knowing I would die for them anyway. I had never died for myself in the cosmic explosions and galactic expanses of my being.
“We have done everything we could Hathor. We fought for libéraçion, we ploughed the earth for them, we swallowed the crusty loss of our names in the annals of history, the buttered demolition of our faces and reimagining of our lives, the divorce of our peoples from their places in the world we made for them. We cloaked ourselves in anonymity and pushed them as far as we could, and now they will not move unless under the watchful eye of silent tyrannies.”
Amilçar says. I regret having come this way today. I usually pass through Kenyatta Avenue and then Moi Avenue; there were no remnants of gods to be found there, just ghosts of soldiers who had been conscripted for a war that was not theirs so they could learn to fight their own.
I had been otherwise employed during the liberation struggles and had only awoken in my earthly form at around the eighteenth birthday of my seed, appearing as a crow in the third floor of her subconscious, pecking at its window to be let in. She was a lovely thing, as loud as she was silent, a mystery with the colourful appearance of none. I whispered to her in the wind while she was younger, and like me she had the ability to feel things, sometimes with a touch, most times with her eyes. She would wander to the thorny bark of a tree and place her hands on it and see the tree as a seedling, untangle the reason it grew thorns in reaction to this world, heal it of pains yet discovered. It was my weakness and strength that I had only to touch something for its history to unravel before me, chairs and tables turned into seeds blown by the wind stretching out of tight earths with ambitions of heavens yet unreached, meat into knobbly kneed calves chasing after their mothers’ tits as the herds boy sang them songs so beautiful they never imagined their death at his hands. Her visions of the future were cloaked in a deep understanding of mathematics, a subject she abhorred in school for its lack of humanity. This is not the math of our times, the math of the pyramids and solar insurrection, she did not know how to say, mainly because she innately knew that time did not exist and that math came from the spirit and not the mind. She could reach on her own, the possibilities of parallel universes within the same spot. Once while lying on her back, she saw herself in ages long gone doing the same thing, one in which she was a seer princess freshly escaped from the claws of Kongamato, starting her new empire in the deep forests of the Congo near Lake Tele. This frightened her considerably. She went to school to close her mind. I had to yank it open to the universe once more and here we were, reading up about the liberation struggles, occupied with the futures of what must be done.
“You cannot do this by yourself. You cannot do this with an army of us.”
Tom states, and I had recognised the army that had been here during the liberation struggles. It was a physical liberation, and I could not have contributed anything but song and reconciliation at that time. I was in America with Ra and Osiris (or Malcolm and Martin) as they had then been known; Tom had come over to ask for help for Kenya, whispers of him everywhere. I was never political, it was never my concern or specialty, but it was the only way to move our people; Tom, Malcolm and Martin knew that. I worked the bars and dingy outposts, filling music with painful histories as I always did; I was Robert Johnson’s devil at ‘the crossroad’, I was playing Billie Holiday’s vocal chords as she sang ‘Strange Fruit’, I appeared to Sun Ra, Fela Kuti and Miriam Makeba hidden in darknesses they spew out in liberation songs ‘a lutta continua’ she would say, ‘It’s after the end of the world, don’t you know that yet?’ Sun Ra would say ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ Fela would sing, and these are only some of the people I touched with my eyes; they called it jazz. I was behind the population burst of the early liberation years, where countries entered double digit millions as if they had not had their sexual and other organs mutilated in ways no one wanted to ease out of them in song.
No one noticed that Tom was no longer where his statue was meant to be, that he had followed me down to Cabral Street, knocking some flamingos over in his urgency to have me leave immediately; this was how blind and distracted they were, my children. I knew the history of statues, that’s why we never made them. Statues were a reminder of what not to do, who not to become, the equivalent of placing the head of a captured chief outside his village gates on the sharp end of a spear, a bronze, marble, steel, stone warning to curb your ambitions, a pedestal to climb with your life so that others may stare up at you and chase their visions of futurities away in fear of becoming you. Statues were the modern public hangings, the village guillotines with a touch of art and deeply cruel viciousness to them. Statues had a way of capturing you at your best human form, so that you were pleasing and beautiful to the eye, so that children would be pushed to ask ‘who is this mummy?’ so that adults can think ‘She could have been here now, if she had just looked down instead of up.’ Statues said ‘He tried, but don’t we all wish he didn’t?’ and so it was easy to see Tom’s despondency as a reaction to his new statuesque state. Amilçar had his reasons too, Street names were more invisible than statues; Kenyans were in the habit of noting buildings and not streets: something was on the way past Odeon, near Hilton, opposite Afya Centre, close to that blue building that had a lot of shops in it. No one cared whose blood they stepped on while getting there, with the exception of Koinange Street where women could be lured into things at a price, though no one was sure which Koinange it had been named after, or that there were two. Who cared for Cabral Street, or went off in search of Amilçar’s history fighting and farming for Cabo Verde and Guinea Bissau? All they knew was that it was that short stretch of yellow market stalls that connected Odeon to Nairobi Sports House, that corner where a bakery had once been. He had the arduous task of being there and not existing at the same time; these were the wounds of timeless gods unwanted.
I do not remember my most recent past, something I had done intentionally since Catharge, or was it the south of France? Perhaps I had sat back, content with touching people rather than stepping in myself…but there was a lack in love and a deterioration in music that brought me here and demanded my attentions.
“These are my children, they deserved a second liberation and a third and a six hundred and eighty fifth if need be.”
I felt him approaching. It took a kind of art to cause havoc on a still street with people standing and doing nothing more, yet somehow Tikoloshe has snapped an ankle of a perfectly stable girl and started a fight between two otherwise tired men. My alertness betrayed his presence.
“What will you have me do then? I have worked to have their past and present in their hands so they can dream of a future worthy of their being; they simply do not want it. You can take a cow to the river…”
He says. I didn’t understand why my husband chose this form, this short invisible hairy eye-less being filled with a thirst for slightly harmless chaos, but his voice washed over me as it usually did, in ways that echoed billions of worlds breathing.
Amilçar says, his words stiff with respect. Tom nods as well, but the gouged out eyes of the Tikoloshe rest on me and I know his next sentence. I was the fabled stubborn cow that would not drink and this had been the symbol of my worship; I have been leaving people behind since eternity began.
“Where is your Impundulu?”
I almost smile at how predictable and mysterious he could be. He had grown worrisome of my adventures and assigned a cowbell to me, a man-bird that could summon him in lightning form if I should ever need it, if Set should ever have me as he had Osiris once.
“London. Only slightly aware of what he is.”
I shrug thinking of him, my lightning bird, devourer of human blood, legendary creator of storms, doomed to a life of caring for me heavily and intensely, bound to me by the god of gods himself. I often built a life for him and then left him behind, hoping he would be tempted to live it; but he always followed me, thick with duty and affection.
“If we tire of liberation there will be none for them.”
I declare before he can demand that I summon my Impundulu here, or he states the obvious, that these were not times to wonder freely spreading love, prosperity and music to those I touched, and that Set had the upper hand here in this land of rotting half-eaten revolutions.
“Everyone is tired of liberation.”
Tom breaths, it is Amilçar’s turn to nod in agreement. The people were tired, the gods weary.
“Perhaps it is time we left Set to his victory here.”
Amilçar suggests, as if Set would not follow us to repeat his destruction of our worlds and peoples.
“We will leave when she is tired.”
Horus announces knowing well that I loved these people intensely even if they did not know who they are. I had worked with Chantico to free them in America, and though they were not free there, and not free here, not free in the islands or in the continents, in the hills, slums, flavelas, barrios, villages, mountains, defunct irrigation schemes, dams, highlands, lowlands, swamps and deserts, though they continued up the same struggle to got Atoo, to Lalibela, Meroe and Kush, whose names they did not care to hope for anymore. I would die over and over again to have them realize they were a family of demigods playing a-spiritual games in the hands of cruel monsters to pass time.
Awuor Onyango (@SojournerMagere) is a 24 year old queer womanist and former reader of laws who embraces existential depression, delusions of united Africanities and extreme curiosity about humanity as her preferred catalysts to call for change in society through various art forms. Her first memory of writing is that of using charcoal on walls to tell the story of the quick brown fox that jumped over the lazy dog. From about the age of nine, she went on to write poetry and plays that were performed by the various schools she attended up to national competition levels and even attempted to revolutionize the high school romance circuit by writing novels with African characters in them on exercise books and distributing them throughout the school “To combat the notion that romance only happened to women with rose-coloured nipples in the ranches of Arizona”. She is a writer, a fine artist, a photographer and a budding film-maker.
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