Sometimes you just know a good story when you see one. You know it a few minutes into the conversation. You don’t have to rummage to find its ambition. Or seduce it to see its heart. It has strong legs. It has tons of soundbites. Great quotes. It’s a wonderful, long curving narrative that doesn’t snap like a dry twig even when you think it will. It’s almost elastic, like a river that winds beautifully, never breaking into tributaries. The frame on the story never moves and if it does it doesn’t leave anyone behind.
While you sit there listening to it you are already constructing paragraphs in your head. Thinking about intros. Building it’s structure. It takes form in your bones, you feel yourself falling in love with it, all of it. Even the boring parts lend a hand to the bigger prose. You never throw anything away because every part is useful. It’s a story that just tells itself. And it stays in your head while you pack up your stuff after the interview. It thrashes about in your head like silvery fish out of water, as you reverse park the car in the basement, eager to go up and turn it into something that will stay longer than you will. Then when you sit down with your chisel in your hand, you knock it into shape, creating this sculpture of a tale. I don’t know how you feel reading a good story, but as a writer the feeling is one of immense satisfaction, especially if you tell it the best way you can. You don’t squander it. You dignify it. Mostly you let it speak for itself because its voice is bigger than yours. And such stories are rare. They come around perhaps once in a long while. Sometimes I can go for months without coming across one but when I stumble on it, I know it even before we are properly acquainted.
Last week’s story was one of those stories. It was a diamond. It had a pulse.
But it was also a story that hurt certain people, caused great discord in a family. It put the subject in dire straights, casting him on an island of his own making. And when a man, a decent sounding man, the age of my father, called me and we had a sober conversation and later I spoke to the boy in question and with KCDF, it was agreed that it was only fair that it be pulled down. Because stories we tell here shouldn’t harm others, or diminish them, unless they are the villains. They should inspire and uplift cause us to reflect and hopefully make us better in our own way. If it stops doing that then I might as well learn how to paint boats and move to shags. (I think I can make a great boat-painter).
So I pulled it down because it was the most decent thing to do even though most times the most decent thing to do can be the hardest thing to do. Oh, well. But you know what? There will always be another great story to tell. The world out there is waiting with astonishing stories. And we will find them if they don’t find us first.
Also, for those who have been wondering why I didn’t post on Tuesday, it – regrettably – was not because I was in police cell. Although that would make for good content.
It’s past midnight and the beefy man with a chin the size of a rusted hoe has just asked me to take him the metallic bucket. He shouted, “Wewe, mwanamke niletee choo hapa.” And everybody turned to look at me at the corner, leaning against the wall. I don’t move because I’m not mwanamke wa mtu. I’m chocolate man and not even his chocolate. But then he repeats his orders thunderously, pointing a thick finger at me, a finger that on the opposite wall, casts a shadow that looks like the very root of evil- “Wewe mwanamke! Nikijikojolea utanipanguza na hiyo shati yako!” Unbeknownst to me, he calls every newcomer in the cell mwanamke, and your job is to fetch him the metallic bucket that is used as a toilet in the cell. He is supposed to pee as you wait for him to finish, then you carry the bucketful of piss back to the corner. And because I don’t move, because I have never taken another man his toilet, or been called mwanamke for that matter, he slowly gets up on his feet and instinctively, everybody seems to recede into the wall away from the coming violence, as he slowly makes his way towards me, his approaching snarly face increasingly looking like the bucket he wants to me fetch….
Anyway, I wasn’t in a police cell. I didn’t post a story this Tuesday because it was a public holiday, Labour Day. A day that workers are celebrated. I also happen to be a worker. You know, sometimes I tell God, Lord, how about you do your magic for the next public holiday to fall on a Tuesday? Because when it does fall on a Tuesday there is no way in hell that I’m going to sit down to write a post while you guys put your ashen feet up at home, eating eggs and watching TV, nursing a hangover while I labour away here. Oh, no, the dark days of some people slaving in cotton fields while others sit at the master’s feet in the house are long gone. So to be fair, if a public holiday falls on a Tuesday WE all rest.
So si we see you next Tuesday? Inshallah.
PS: That picture has got little to do with this post. I just like the texture of that man’s face. And how his mouth has aged faster than his other facial features. Plus, he is carrying bananas, who doesn’t like bananas?