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.”
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.”
“He hasn’t gotten back to me.”
“Have you called him?” I ask.
“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.
“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?”
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.”
“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.”
“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.