Let’s Make A [Small] Fire

My doorbell rings. I open the door to find a tall, good-looking boy standing there. He stands cockily with his legs apart – his weight resting firmly and equally on both long limbs. He’s got big, wonderful eyes that I recognise. His hands are thrust into his pockets casually, like he was settling in to wait for a while until the door is opened. From his ears a weird cordless and colourless contraption glows blue. That’s how they listen to music nowadays. And send voice messages. And monitor their steps. At his feet is a leather duffel bag, an ominous sign that he’s planning to stay longer than a night.

 

“Did I catch you in the middle of a sentence?” he asks with a wry, powdery smile.

 

“No, in the middle of life.”

 

I step aside to allow him in.

 

We hug and he strolls in loosely, in the same way he lives his life; with every disregard for distance and destination. I can smell him; something like dried pine leaves soaked in a musky fragrance. And gasoline. Maybe he’s planning to burn down my house. He tosses his duffel bag by the sofa  and settles at the counter of the open kitchen where my laptop is humming. It’s going to 6pm.

 

The last time we had spoken, a week ago, I had shouted into the phone at him – “This is not some fuckin’ game-show you pause to powder your nose and wax your dreadlocks in, this is life…LIFE, GODDAMN IT!” I had been cranky because I couldn’t find my socks. But unlike me, who hangs onto things, he now seems to have forgotten all that. He’s like his mother. Well not quite, because he drinks whisky, which he finds in a glass next to my laptop and asks, “May I?”, to which I say, “No, I will pour you another one.”

 

“Oh, are you afraid you might catch something from me?” he laughs. “Something worse than these genes I caught from you.”

 

“Yes,  herpes,” I say. “You smell of herpes!” He laughs as I pour a finger of Glenmorangie in a fresh glass. When he laughs his shoulders shake. His shoulders always shake when he laughs. I like that. He’s a beautiful boy, full of soul and life and with much disregard for anything but his selfish pursuits. I envy it and despise it in equal measures.

 

“I’m sorry I wasn’t born yet when herpes was a thing to catch 25-years ago,” he says as I set his drink before him. “What does it smell like?”

 

“Gasoline,” I say.

 

He dramatically raises his drink at me in a toast. “Well, to gasoline.”

 

“To gasoline.”

 

We sip silently.

 

“I sent some of my portfolio to the gentleman you referred me to,” he starts after we have shared a few niceties.

 

“Which one? I have referred you to many gentlemen.”

 

“The guy from Top-Deck.”

 

“Hmm. And?”

 

“He hasn’t gotten back to me.”

 

“Have you called him?” I ask.

 

“No.”

 

“Emailed him?”

 

“Er, no. I thought I would give him time.”

 

I blow dust from the keyboard. I need to get those soft brushes to clean up this keyboard.

 

“How much time do you intend to give him?”

 

He shrugs and looks around the house. There is a big abstract oil painting of him on the wall, right next to a big sculpture of his sister’s profile. The sculpture was done by some Kisii guy I met on a flight to Kisumu. His sister was horrified when she saw the finished product, “My head isn’t that big!” she complained. I said, “No, of course not, darling, in case you haven’t noticed this is art, abstract art. It can get hyperbolic.” Well, she didn’t like the sculpture. Or the hyperbole. She didn’t like abstract art that blows up her head. She said, “It sends the wrong message to people who haven’t met me!” I said with a big grin, “I don’t invite people who haven’t met you to this house.” She said her nose was also too “flared,” and it diminished her good qualities by drawing attention to her massive head. Her brother got it, though. He gets abstractions. He’s an artist, a multimedia illustrator. I promised to burn the sculpture in the backyard. That was 6-years ago. It’s my house – I decide whose head I make big.

 

“I thought maybe you’d call him up for me and ask him what’s up,” the boy is saying.

 

I sip my whisky and say evenly, “ Listen, you are 23-years old now. This right here now is called life, and it’s happening. Unfortunately nobody pays fees to be taught life. You just learn. And now you need to learn to take charge of shit. All I can do now is to give you a scent and it’s your job to use your nose to follow the scent. Remember the quote; ‘Stay foolish, stay hungry’?”

 

“Who said that?” he asks.

 

“Steve Jobs?”

 

“Never heard of him,” he says, ironically, looking at his phone, this odd contraption the size of lipgloss. “And anyway, I thought you said hunger is a good thing?” He has that mischievous laughter in his eyes.

 

“Hunger is great when you are staying under your own roof, not when you are eating all the food in my fridge and using my toilet paper,” I say.

 

“Did I catch you at a bad time?” he chuckles, “You seem high strung.”

 

“I’m trying to write. Two days now…”

 

“Oh these short stories that you write that give you such misery!” he says. “Sawa, let me go up and settle in.” He picks up his whisky, “Does the WiFi upstairs work now?”

 

“Unfortunately, yeah.”

 

He jumps up and grabs his bag. “This is some good whisky, what is it called?”

 

“It doesn’t matter,” I mumble. “You wouldn’t afford it…much less pronounce it right!”

 

I can hear his laughter as he stomps up the staircase. A door closes shut. Then silence. I sit there in the void, the dead space that his voice and his presence just vacated. His lingering smell of gasoline. Even though dusk is almost an hour away, the room seems darker, like something else has occupied it as well, that thing that Paulo Coelho describes as a ghost town of passions, enthusiasms, loneliness and failure. He also forgot beauty. Because darkness can also be beautiful. I know many beautiful things can come out of darkness. Like children.

 

My point is in 20-years time I intend to have written hundreds of novellas. Digital novellas. Urban lore. That phase starts in a week or so.

 

I started this blog seven years ago, in 2010, at 32-years of age. Other than write to have fun, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. (Still don’t.) Now I’m clocking 40 in two weeks’ time. (Indeed time is like a smoker’s cloud.)  In essence, this blog has pretty much seen me through the whole of my 30’s. I’ve had two children. I’ve changed my barber and then changed my mechanic. I’ve travelled to many wonderful places as a result. (As a result of writing, not changing my barber and my mechanic. The highlight of my travels? Meeting a hooker in Pattaya, Thailand, who called me Chocolate Man.) I’ve done (half) marathons. Met some amazing people from this space and people who stopped being amazing. (Life.) My life changed drastically at some point, and then went back to normal. I eat granola now.

 

But you have also changed.

 

Back then we used to call this place High School. Then we grew up. Some outgrew this space and moved on to other things and some discovered it after the redesign and joined with abandon. Then I came to the fork in the road which begged the question; where do I go now? What do I do now? What does Kalonje mean?

 

But those were the wrong questions to ask. The right question was; how can this continue making sense literarily, monetarily and, most importantly, creatively?

 

So I gathered some millennials (and their dangling headphones) in a room and together we came up with a platform where I can tell different kinds of stories. We called it, FIREPLACE, where traditionally, grandmothers told stories with the soundtrack of distant howling of hyenas in the far hills sooted with darkness. Now we have the internet and nobody has to sit around a crackling fire. Not literally. The idea of this FIREPLACE remains a meeting place where we gather to beat contemporary stories about ourselves. I don’t see myself growing old importing charcoal. Or wood. Thus FIREPLACE.

 

When I explain this concept to people they get lost. They ask; “So, what, like you are starting a new blog?”

 

“Not it’s not a blog. It’s a section on the blog that leads you into a website that hosts my novellas.”

 

“Why a novella, I didn’t know you write erotica?”

 

“Novellas aren’t erotica, they are long short stories, anything between 17,500 to 40,000 words. A novel is 40,000 words plus.”

 

“Oh, right. So why don’t you then just have the section and not let it lead us into the website?”

 

“Because it’s a different, uhm, project. A different phase, or journey.”

 

“Oh, right. Is it free?”

 

“The good news is that getting in is free but reading the novella isn’t.”

 

They sigh.

 

“How is that good news?”

 

“The blog is still free.”

 

“So what you are saying is that this is the premier side so it’s chargeable?”

 

And that’s the thing. There is no premier side. The blog will still run every Tuesday and FIREPLACE will host my novellas, which I plan to write every quarter. None is premier. Think of FIREPLACE and the blog as airport lounges that serve pretty much the same thing  only one serves alcohol and the other doesn’t. One is run by an SDA guy and the other isn’t. If you don’t like the sight of people drinking booze then you can check into the other one where people order green tea and macaroons. There is a bit of a sin tax involved in one.

 

“But I don’t like digital books. I like real physical books.”

 

“No, shit.”

 

“I like to smell my books. I want to make a big bookshelf where I can keep all the books I buy, because they are sentimental and people who come to my house can stand there holding a glass of chardonnay as they admire my collection and secretly marvel at how well cultured I am.”

 

“After four novellas I will put them together and publish a book of short stories that you can smell,” I say. “But you will have to wait a year to smell it.”

 

“But why do I have to wait a year for a physical book? It’s unfair!”

 

So this website is free to enter. Log in. Look around if you want. Don’t touch anything. If you break something consider it sold. Nothing will happen in there this week, but next week on Tuesday I will upload the book, er, small book. You will be able to buy it for a song. Then you can read it. It’s a short read.

 

The good thing is that there will be no first commenters. The universe eats its own children, eventually.

 

Here is the link www.fireplace.bikozulu.co.ke But you can also find it up there on the menu button.

 

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154 Comments
      1. If you are going to be collecting login details from people and collecting money, tell those millennials to boost the security of the website with an ssl certificate. If they don’t know what that is, fire them and hire me. As for that boy of yours, I bet he has pot in that room of his. He sounds shady like that. He also sounds like he needs to be taught about condoms. Herpes might be a thing of the past in this future world of your, but I’m sure babies will still be conceived the same way. Wait, I take that back. I’m not so sure about that. If they can get rid of herpes, hmmm

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        1. And then is it just me or is every other username taken already? Makes me wonder if that’s really the case or the site is messing with me….

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    1. Love the idea of a little corner of writing heaven where you can stretch your mind and give us longer glimpses into life and characters hitherto unmet. Kudos!

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  1. Wow, what a transition. I believe life is a journey, like a staircase where you climb up towards your final destiny. I hope the novella inspires us, and still stays humorous. Great read Biko.

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  2. “The good thing is that there will be no first commenters. The universe eats its own children, eventually.”

    And that is the end of that!

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  3. Dear Biko,
    May I take that beautiful blonde boy out, maybe teach him a few life lessons? I’ll be gentle.

    P.s I’m only two years older than him 🙂

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  4. To say that this news excites me is an understatement! I can’t wait to read your novellas biko. If it means selling my piece of land to afford the novella I’ll do it. And when the book is out, I will buy it too so that my guests can think I’m cultured. Also, to show your work off biko. I’ll be like,
    “…and this one here is by one of my favorite writers, biko. I know him personally.”
    ” Wow, the great Steve Biko?”
    ” No! The great bikozulu! I know him personally.”
    “You have met bikozulu?”
    “Well… I meet him every Tuesday on his blog and every quarter by the fireplace” Heheee…
    Oh, just remembered I do not own no piece of land. I’ll still read your novellas nevertheless.

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  5. I also don’t like hyperbole in art. My friend got a painting of him done and it looks like the ghastly alternative of him. I told him that and now he doesn’t hand it in the living room anymore.

    So, we are moving Biko? Ama you want us millennial to read both the blog and stuff in the fireplace? And why aren’t the not-millennial people allowed at the fireplace? Who is out leader at the fireplace? Like the guy who calls all shots? But I think the change is great.

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  6. I’ve also dreamed of having ‘a big bookshelf where I can keep all the books I buy, because they are sentimental and people who come to my house can stand there holding a glass of chardonnay as they admire my collection and secretly marvel at how well cultured I am.’ Excited about Fireplace.

  7. Brilliant one Mr Choccywoccydoodah!
    I read the Pattaya piece, and cringed all the way. I’m a woman but not that bold to watch ladies of the night light cigarettes with their ermm..lady parts.
    How will we pay to read the novellas? By credit card, M-pesa or paypal? Let us know, especially we Kenyans of the daya-spora!

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    1. People of dayaspora should be allowed to pay with credit cards. Even people of the city. Although I think he will let us people of the city also pay him with mzinga bottles. I am also somehow sure if I drop a bag of warus at his offices he will let me read one piece in return.

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  8. So its kinda like a massage table and a pink curtain but you just come through a door and you just itch to know whats on the other side of the curtain. And its a blend of breath and whisper that informs you its for happy endings but corprate doesn’t cover that but who doesn’t like happy endings

    We are all trying to understand chocoman here!

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  9. Haiya- nice idea Biko… But how do you plan to keep things interesting and not commercial ?

    Some people write and it starts to get commercial and it goes sideways …real fast…

  10. Done checking out the fireplace!
    The intro says it is “A place I will be tell my own short urban stories.”
    Kindly correct that before the grammar nazis see it.

  11. Pray do tell you have a till number…
    And who is that tall lanky boy, taking whisky at 23! And yes, you are given a scent, its upto your nose to follow it, till it strikes that big meaty bone. Life!

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  12. “…No it’s not a blog. It’s a section on the blog that leads you into a website that hosts my novellas…” You had me with that phrase! You know you are amazing right? As a writer. I am happy with this new phase! Congratulations

  13. Cheers Biko. wishing you the very best. I hope the 40’s Series won’t end after your Birthday, It’s been an inspiration reading about how people tackle this thing called life.

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  14. Mark Manson taught me to mind what I give a fuck about and thus I have kept of the “first comment stuff” I guess it is all in the spirirt of competition but the essence of competition is recognition. Recognition we try to allocate but how do you recognize anonymity.

    That Idea of fireplace Is one I love. We can sit on the on the floor. With legs crossed cuddling a long glass in between them. It doesn’t matter it is ginger smoothie or it is a hundred year old whisky. Everybody sticks to their drink and drinks from the ‘Wisdom of our host’. From the 40 year old grandfather of the house Biko has become.

    And we live happliy ever after. Without having to deal with ‘First to comment’. No again in this life. Or the other.

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    1. Please tell me the subscription will work for both the blog and the fireplace. I like the sound of notifications I get. I might not be 4o yet but God knows I am an old soul. Something 150 years old soul. And amnesiac tendencies develop as a result.

      I love sarcasm. And the dosage in this post is enough to keep me going. At least for the next 24 hours

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  15. I have so many questions now.
    Like wtf happened to the beautiful boy who came into your house and went upstairs? Is he your son? Did you cheat on your wife with that hooker in Thailand and it shattered your marriage and the kids hate you but they still come around to check on you? Or is he someone else? Or something?

    1. Lol…Must be his baby bro. The way he describes him, his too damn handsome. Too bad am way older. Maybe I can be his sugar mama. wink wink*

  16. Something about those made in October. Already booked my spot at Fireplace. Journeying with you till I have to pay for cheap botox. Bring some good whisky to Fireplace too 🙂

  17. That must be Kim, all grown up and a typical young man in his 20s. I can’t wait for the novellas and I really hope we’ll have an option to pay via M-pesa. It’s the Kenyan way.

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  18. A huge part if not the whole of this year ive been battling this thing called weight. I am overweight and its depressing.you know what else is depressing those apps and facebook posts that lead you to a website where you have to pay for the content. Some even cost a whooping 15000/- And now the FIREPLACE . This guy who is volunteering to teach the boy about life make me your first client.The boy will wait maybe ,9 years to be 23

  19. Am soooo excited about the fireplace and thanks heavens the Universe eats its own, it was long overdue.

    The first section got me laughing so badly, African men will always be African men. I heard my dad speak in you.
    “It’s my house – I decide whose head I make big”.
    “It doesn’t matter, you wouldn’t afford it…much less pronounce it right!”

  20. Finally Biko! I am one of those people who have been around since high school. I also remember being one of the early people to ask for a short stories book from you. Dreams are valid…. I will buy the first short story to read on my screen and a book once out to squint on when my watery old eyes can no longer handle the screen. God speed.

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  21. This is progress Bw. Biko. Life is exciting if there’s something great to look forward to. I pray the gang here can gather at your fireplace… Let’s support our own. Pamoja and may the new project reward a thousandfold.

  22. This is deep ,

    Listen, you are 23-years old now. This right here now is called life, and it’s happening. Unfortunately nobody pays fees to be taught life. You just learn. And now you need to learn to take charge of shit. All I can do now is to give you a scent and it’s your job to use your nose to follow the scent. Remember the quote; ‘Stay foolish, stay hungry’?”

    About fireplace, you are doing great Biko. Can’t wait for the novellas.
    Felt like you were just about to give some good advice to the 23 year old boy ….the story of Millenials should continue.

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  23. Really Biko………Really!!!!!

    ************Shrug*********

    Ok sawa……let me just sign up coz id never like to miss a story. Fireplace it is.

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  24. I’m just excited to pay you for all the joy all these years. And excited for this new chapter too! (even if I much prefer your human interest pieces/ life observations to the creative fiction).

  25. Sisi, folks of bookshelves and sentimental value of books (minus what people think about us) will await the print version and be first on queue to purchase it. Kudos on embracing change. It’s a challenge I look forward to see you surmount.

  26. I wouldn’t mind a bit of erotica to (excite my lady parts) together with the Novellas…Biko. I bet i’m not the only one…..

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  27. Thank you Biko, from the very deepest part of my heart for making my Tuesday’s… for giving me reasons to look forward to Monday’s sister(she, Monday, can be mean sometimes..) I love the idea of novellas, your humour keeps us coming back for more… congrats chocolate man… cheers to your handsome son? hope he can afford to buy whisky soon?… I wouldn’t mind a date.

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  28. Great idea but please make it secure. since we shall be buying my guess is we shall be inputting confidential data there and you don’t want some naughty geek sniffing around our stuff do you?

  29. on second come down to kipungani and under a mango tree squeeze out your juicy thoughts
    less stultifying than that Fireplace.and there is a story in Kipungani if u nose around

  30. Ha ha ha ha! So the Moniker “Chocolate man” came from a prostitute in Thailand! Pray tell, what other memories did she leave you with?

  31. Congratulations. I like the name, and the intro. Looking forward to the novellas but it also got me thinking of how we should make the most of the hearth- as this generation of fable-telling granmas still exists 🙂 Thanks

  32. Congrats on this new move Biko! Very innovative. Writing a book has been a dream you have mentioned a couple of times and you are now a few steps to achieving it. Been here since High School and after all this time, I am confident I will love Fireplace. Also, ’40’s People’ has been a very inspiring category that you have pursued recently. It brought out some of your strongest writing. One could sense that you were leading up to something big in your life – seeking out kindred were you? It sure does seem like life begins at 40. As a 30-something, I am inspired. Onwards and Upwards!

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  33. I like the sound of your son, not his smell…not too fond of gasoline. But then again considering you had him at 17 (according) to your math, he probably ‘sees’ you as his big bro!

  34. I feel like I will be deep sea diving for treasure, considering I have been in absentia for almost two years.
    Congratulations for the fireplace, can’t wait to warm up.

  35. I don’t comment much but I am one of those people who love the smell of new books… I am looking forward to reading your novellas

    Godspeed!

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  36. A friend told me about bikozulu about a day ago and am literally hooked
    On this post specifically, I am in my early twenties and the lesson I have learnt is that in between goals there is a life to be lived..
    Growing up I thought my life should be in line with my goals n targets n by the time am 30, I would be having my life together..having probably a PhD being a young prof, driving, having lots of money and investments..n then from there life would begin(whatever that means cause am already living it-life)
    My life lesson so far.. IN BETWEEN GOALS THERE IS A LIFE.

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