Distracted in company. Irritable. Brooding, and all manner of words which denote detachment, creative and otherwise. Also, bed-haired into the late afternoon (on the rare occasions you wake up early). Feral, wild-eyed, and hungry. This, perhaps, is the best way to describe you. The barber tosses you an understanding look when you finally show up at the shop. “Woman problems”? he asks. What? He says he would know: break-up and divorce haircuts—these are specialties of his. Apparently his clippers provide some kind of therapy. No, not woman problems. You blink and the haircut is already over. In these in-between hours time seems to fold on itself. Nameless moments flow into each other.
Bright, searing afternoons; slow-burn dusk which fades into deep, muggy nights; the threat of the next day finding you fighting with form, structure, and content—your biological clock struggles to keep up with the ticks and whirring of the brain, even if the night has always been your creative dominion. (Maybe this is age creeping up on you—a disturbing thought.) Now the darkness has strange sounds and on-goings, noises you were never aware of before, life carrying on its nocturnal shift: the neighbourhood watch volunteers do their rounds in bakkies, driving slowly, protecting property and property values; two cats fight; a moth flutters its dull wings against the lampshade; ants trail from the bin and underneath the kitchen door; a midnight drizzle—quick—the rain dries up and moves on like it has another appointment to keep.
Were those gunshots or six consecutive flat tyres?
It is definitely time to go to sleep.
Your father asks if you are okay. You grunt something. Your brothers ask if you are fine and they get muttered responses. Your wife does not ask you anything. She is already familiar with this new condition as the two of your figure out marriage, a partner dance of union and separation. Friends’ messages are not responded to on time, if at all. You watch films, but only half way. You turn on the PlayStation and hold the controller, buttons unmoved, for half an hour. The monitor and console dose off.
What was the point of this?
You shuffle through your music collection, jumping between genres and decades. David Gray’s live version of This Year’s Love is what you hope everyone hears before the bombs start dropping and the world is consumed by radioactive ash. You write many letters and emails to that effect. Just as you think you have found the right soundtrack for creation Ms Dynamite’s Dy-Na-Mi-Tee and Oddisee’s Contradiction’s Maze roll through the ear canals and change the mood.
At least there are books.
Masande Ntshanga’s Triangulum (enterprising speculative fiction); Chigozie Obioma’s An Orchestra Of Minorities (Booker Prize-shortlisted, epic, and “magisterial”—as the critics say); Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenya’s Friday Black (a rarefied and hyper-violent collection of short stories); Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister The Serial Killer (as slim and trim as a featherweight, but with a lethal jab-cross-right hook combo like the very best of the heavyweights, another Booker Prize contender that was not allowed to go all the way); Kevin Barry’s Night Boat To Tangier (a nostalgia-ridden crime story with dark humour and descriptive writing which makes the eyes sweat from the effort of imagination); Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains Of The Day (the rawest and most powerful storytelling abilities on display—a classic); Gaël Faye’s Small Country (an effervescent book about memory and trauma from your part of the world—too fleeting); Marlon James’s The Book Of Night Women (unflinching and harrowing, a descent into the origins of genius—a true master); Julian Barnes’s The Noise Of Time (about creative freedom under the heel of all-controlling tyranny) Peter Orner’s The Second Coming Of Mavala Shikongo (a rare book which defies the restrictions of form, held together by humane humour devoid of cynicism); Teju Cole’s Every Day Is For The Thief (an amusing book about hesitant homecoming); Djamilah Ibrahim’s Things Are Good Now (one of the best books of immigrant fiction which achieves more than representation); Adam Hothschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost (a monster of a book about a monstrous time); and, Ann Burns’s Milkman (in progress, but imbued with a rhythm and lyricism all of its own)—the reading comes thick and fast since you untethered yourself from most time restraints. The recommendation list grows longer.
And that is not accounting for the lost hours of your peculiar search history. So many portals into new worlds: the French and Russian revolutions; the geography of the Antilles; the Merovingian and Angevin house (Damn those Wikipedia links and the way they suck you in so easily!); the sweep of African independence in the 1960s and 1970s; the South African Border War and its many actors and stages; notable poets of the romantic movement; the nomenclature of rocks (Rocks!); and a list of the popes of the Holy Roman Empire.
Like, all the popes? Damn.
So much to know. So much to read. So many words. So many sounds. So many colours, tastes, and sensations.
You are searching for something.
It will make sense when you find it.
You trawl short story and poetry collections, novels, music, and films. You search for signs in the season of butterflies, with the white wisps of insects flapping themselves through the dry afternoons like the breeze-blown ashes of a fire that is yet to come. You scroll through memory—what was and what could have been. And the present, as well as the hopes of the future. Grocery lists, recipes and their ingredients; street names and random dots and lines on maps; the way tea diffuses in water or how a spoon doles out frustration when it pops out of the dishwasher with a stain still sticking to it; new morning and evening routines; apertures of light and Instagram captions; on the dance floor where you have learned it is the supreme destiny of those who try to succeed; in the gym; in sweat, in effort, and pieces of writing which contain the pure effort of living—everything is examined.
The search continues.
The notes pile up.
It will make sense soon. You can feel it.
The way things come together.
How a flood in East Africa has a distant connection to bush fires in Australia which, in turn, are connected by unseen gravity to an exploding star 200 million light years away. They will coalesce together in the strange alchemy of time, patience, and persistence.
And when they do you will no longer be between stories.