Thursday, November 11, 2010

Viva Kisumu (Another nostalgic, homesick muck)

Once upon a time, as a high school student on holiday at home in Kisumu, I joined a study group of eight people. The idea was to help my grades. As it turned out, we became such a good merry band of friends that study became impossible. The study group studied less and less, until one person dropped out of it, following a judicious parental intervention. The remaining seven became so friendly that four of us condensed into two couples. For three years, it was bliss – and very little study.

When you break up with your partner, people around you are more likely to break up too. There are two opposite cause-and-effect theories behind this. Possibly, couples which want to break up wait for a precedent among their friends who are couples (it must be easy to walk away when it feels like Break-Up Day all over the world – season’s greetings!). Alternatively, couples who thought their relationships were forever secure and loving usually change their minds the minute another close couple breaks up. Or both.

All I know is this: three years ago, some months after all seven of us finished high school at the same time, David and Jennifer broke up. Shortly after, The Ex and I broke up. Maybe the long stretches of familiarity bred contempt. It is easy to find excuses to break up if you’re already inclined towards the suggestion. The spate of break ups destabilized our clique of friends, which, besides the four of us, included Sister of the Ex, Brother of the Ex, and David’s new catch Carole.

The only thing which kept the lot of us together was a group project we had devoted our spare time to: creating a CD of instrumental tracks using computer software. Fresh on the back of break-ups, the project almost didn’t come to existence. Somehow we finished our compositions. That last sentence somehow doesn’t accurately capture the difficulty involved in making a musical orchestra/rock band/concert troupe out of a laptop. Now imagine the complexities involved in trying to collaborate with a fellow composer whose major input ends at humming the tune, because the damned software interface looked like a freaking alien spacecraft’s cockpit controls, so I had to do nearly everything else: basslines, percussion, harmonizing, polyphony, instrument selection, pointless tweaks, a horde of weirdly-named adjustments I crossed my fingers and fluked blindly through, etc - and I’d dropped music in form two following funny grades. Politics also played a part in complicating life: seeing how David had dumped Jennifer for Carole, you couldn’t well expect the girls to cooperate easily on an all-girls’ joint effort. Sister of The Ex didn’t make it any easier by spending loads of time with me in the name of the project – however, her musical input, a tad evolved, is appreciated to this day. Brother of the Ex decided to go it alone, and ended up bravely submitting a retarded attempt at mixing reggae with heavy metal rock using instruments last tried by Stone Age Neanderthals. We unanimously voted to exclude his composition from our compilation and he didn’t even complain; just smirked and shrugged.

The day we finished the album, we had a low-key, high showbiz, invitation-only event to launch it, in the prestigious, um, verandah of, er, The Ex’s family’s place. The event was exclusively for contributors to the “album”. We all showed up in formal wear, for what was effectively the reception of gift-wrapped audio CDs created using someone’s computer! After an aural session, in which we listened to all the cranky tracks back to back, we shared comments. None of us are musically inclined in any professional way, but we were quite pleased with the outcome. The formality was done, so we hung around and raided the fridge, to bum and talk. With most of us soon to join various scattered universities, it seemed useful.

This unscheduled bumming turned out to be unwise. All the while, Jennifer looked like at any time she would launch herself at Carole and kill her instantly. She had to make do with insults. We often found ourselves dragged into their verbal exchanges. David always took Carole’s side in a not-altogether-surprising show of solidarity with the new love interest. My attempts at intervention were ever derailed by The Ex’s demands to know why exactly we broke up. Sister of the Ex was declared unfit to intervene as she was widely suspected to be the real reason for my break up with The Ex. Untrue, I declared. Surprisingly they didn’t take MY word for it. Carole took it all very badly in the end; after being torn into incessantly by The Ex and Jennifer, she stomped out in tears. Sister of The Ex followed her friend to comfort her – more realistically, to flee her own discomfort. The Ex and Jennifer gave chase. This left me, David and Brother of the Ex with loads of snacks and a spectacle to behold.

We took our seats, grabbed popcorn and watched the four girls arguing a long distance away. They were so far away we couldn’t catch their words. But seeing their expressions of anger and hate, and their violent gestures, we boys knew, without saying it out aloud that the group had just met for the last time ever.

And then, slowly, our clique died a natural death as even friendship became awkward. There were some good days, way back. Luckily for us, we have the audio CDs as a constant reminder of the good old days.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Party?

I live in a massive hostel block occupied by fellow college students. Often, my own room stifles me with overwhelming familiarity. At such times I flee in search of adventure, to other rooms, albeit a lot like mine. Company has a way of making wasted time seem worthwhile.

One evening I was paying a visit to Bro Coolio. We were talking about inconsequential issues, just the two of us, companionably. However, in the course of it, he failed to mention that a swarm of guests was headed for his room right then. They didn’t even knock, walking in noisily, their heels making clicking noises that almost masked their loud, high pitched voices. All of eight girls walked in, took positions (I can’t say there were seats enough for everyone, ahem, student life, [cough], yeah). For a while they gave me looks which only brides give gatecrashers at expensively organized weddings, and the air was thick with tension. But, pointing at me, Bro Coolio said, “This my boy Duski.” They all shrugged. Some lit their cigarettes.

It felt at first like I would drown in estrogen, for their stories were limited to things in the feminine realms, and their emotions were extravagantly giggled out. I felt out of place: none was familiar, their sentences mentioned people I’d never heard of. I wanted to run away. A look at Bro Coolio gave me a comforting sensation of solidarity, for his eyes were glazed over in a look of dead boredom; it was the look of an atheist who had to sit through grace. Evidently he didn’t care for their concerns.

Gradually, it dawned on me that the cigarettes were not simply stuffed with dried tobacco leaves. First, the flavor of silky threads of smoke wafted into my nostrils, then on into my lungs, and further still into my bloodstream. Before long, my brain was battling the formative stages of a trance to no effect. At length, the smoky haze, which had been wafting into my lungs in silky puffs just beneath my consciousness, began to influence the length and force required to operate my smile. Time would have frozen to make that moment freeze forever and I wouldn’t have minded becoming a statue, a perfect sculpture of an embodied emotion, reveling in an eternal instant.

Suddenly, the girls transformed in my perception from snobbish know-it-alls to exceedingly intelligent and companionable people. They had become a relaxed lot; literally taking laid back positions on any furniture available and liberally gushing verbally at the mouth, having become “loquacious and free in the impartation of information”.

So it was that I sat there and listened to them gossiping about themselves, each other, and others not present. Some of it was purely silly talk, and most of it was scandalously embarrassing and not for public consumption. Nobody took offense. The room got cloudier and cloudier as more of the filterless cigarettes were lit – they seemed to emerge in endless supply from a certain Louis Vuitton handbag – and eyes all round got shinier and shinier. The ring of laughter, energetically performed, made me quite happy, and I felt relatively at home. So I joined in the talking.

The relaxed atmosphere motivated one of Coolio’s guests to take a position next to me. Out of the blue, a certain female, who, prior to all this had been seated in a corner of the bed and smiling with the ceiling in a celebration of celestial zest which only she could elaborate ( further than this self-intrusion of mine allows), rose to her feet. She then made careful strides as she wove her long, tights-bound legs between the legs of others present, tiptoeing in a partly-graceful partly-clumsy way as she meandered towards me. Once parallel to me, she sidled over on the carpet and settled next to where I sat with my back against the wall. I turned my head to look at her face only to find her fixing me an uncompromising, direct stare. Her eyes were striking and unsettling; they seemed to be ablaze, and her sharply defined, recently trimmed eyebrows contributed to the general sensation that I was looking full-on at an all-knowing classic oracle of sorts.

One wonders how to react when someone decides to psychoanalyze you based on five minutes of conversation in a crowd. As the massed collection of crowded bodies on Bro Coolio’s bed continued to chatter and laugh recklessly, The Oracle continued to face me, and she said, “You’re a strange guy.” And Bro Coolio, who was seated smugly in a seat with a red-eyed beauty relaxing comfortably on his laps, burst out laughing at me. “It’s true!” he cackled, “That boy is totally from way out!” I ignored Coolio’s exclamations - his accent had somehow suddenly become American, which pointed to his state of mind.

“Explain yourself,” I told The Oracle simply. She shrugged, averted her stare for the slightest instant, such that I had the barest snatch of relief. Then she turned her fiery eyes back to me and said, “You’re mysterious, in a funny sort of way.” I nodded, shrugged and dismissed it as a smoke-fuelled bit of madness on the part of a stranger. How dare she presume to know me after less than an hour of not talking directly to one another? It amused me genuinely.

The moment seemed to have passed, and I sat there amongst them,everyone generally enjoying the mirth. It was truly fun, until a time the topics returned to gossip about persons not present. I can’t say I minded hearing slander, seeing how saucy a lot of it was, even if my conscience gave the customary nudge of unease. Soon, however, the topic turned towards my friend Angela, who wasn’t present. It’s a small world; they all seemed to dislike her. A particularly talkative lady began to supply us with updated accounts from Angela’s long and populous romantic history. The narrator’s own jealousy was well masked in an affected attitude of condescending spitefulness towards Angela. Her damaging revelations were well received by those present.

Something in me snapped, and I rose to my feet, and spoke up, “Stop it. She’s my friend.”

Silence fell upon the gathering. They were all staring at me.

In that instant of smoke and silence, it only then occurred to me to wonder whether or not Angela and I were friends, for we hadn’t talked in ages, and the last we’d talked, we were not being friendly. I scratched my head and wavered for a while on whether or not to take that statement back, and then I noticed that they were all looking at me expectantly, as though I had set out to make a speech and they were patiently waiting for its rousing and elaborate conclusion. Having already lost control over some of my faculties, stage fright further seized me. I fled the scene.

The downward-spiraling staircase threatened to dizzy me permanently, for I was turning constantly to my right and ever stampeding hellward between turns – or so it seemed, until I got to the ground floor and made my way towards my room. I stood outside and fiddled with the key in unsteady fingers for many minutes, my brain feeling fried. Someone tapped their finger on my back, and as I turned to face whoever it was, I dropped the keys. Once again, I found myself looking into the freakishly big eyes of The Oracle.

“Yes?” I demanded, feeling a degree of apprehension not-so-distantly.

“My name is Ailis,” she declared with a flourish - a flick of her wrist and a sideways movement of her head on her neck. That said, she waltzed back towards the staircase in a perfectly executed brisk catwalk. I stared after her until she vanished from sight.

As I went back to fingering my key in hands that felt alien, I toyed with the idea of looking for her when she wasn’t smashed on weed.

Friday, October 15, 2010

They call me Duski

Certain people in our swim team call me Duski. The name originated in 2009 at a Coast Trip. Oppressive Mombasa heat somehow mixed with a solvent called fun, and viola! All the boys on the bus baptized each other Duski. (The ladies heard the name and made faces at us for “acting childishly”, to quote their self-appointed spokesperson, and thereafter continued gossiping among themselves as they had done since we left Nairobi and as they would continue to do until we returned.) Somehow, the name stuck with me in certain people's heads. When it later emerged that I could run faster than a mob-justice avoider, they modified my name to become Duski-Bolt.

Fond memories of my time in the swimming team will always be balanced by a tinge of that “I should have known better” feeling. As these bittersweet recollections go, a girl is usually involved who should never have come into it in the first place. However, what is already done cannot be erased.

The swimming team has a dual character, which, crudely put, is determined by the ladies' team and the guys' team. Obviously there are differences between men and women which will affect teams which include both men and women. (At swimming competitions, guys are rowdy hecklers and cheerers of their compatriots, bent on offending the sensibilities and eardrums of the conservative swimming-watching audience, shouting renditions which must sound to the cultured gathering of parents and guardians as “native songs”. The girls of our team turn their eyes away, ashamed to be associated with untamed monkeys.)

But beyond the irrefutable fact that men and women are fundamentally different, even if both are in college, lies the ugly truth of the girl clique. Now any man with at least half a hemisphere of brain and a few minutes of experience in social interaction knows that any clique of girls confers upon itself the sacred duty of protecting its members from boys. A series of machinations gets this done. Girl cliques rely on gang psychology tactics including name-calling, rude interruptions, nose-curling, staring daggers and making various cold and discouraging faces, not to mention the social ostracism imposed by the gang upon any lady who falls for the wiles of a Romeo.

You, the reader, therefore have a vague impression of how anyone in the men's team must overcome great odds to put a word in edgewise to a swimming team female. This is not to suggest that we men of swimming are chickenhearted in any way or form. Quite the contrary. Between doing uncountable laps in chlorinated pools at torpedo speeds and successfully approaching one of our female counterparts, either as is easy as the other.

Still, when a lady somehow enters the team without also entering the girl clique, it seems like a breath of fresh air, a gift from the gods, a shoo-in compared to the alternatives. In actual sense, questions should pop up all over a man's head, and cause him to wonder: why is she unmoved by the natural female instinct to flock and hold the fort collectively? Why? But no, the man in his excitement only sees a woman without a rude, living, protective barbed wire fence around her, and judgment is clouded.

I leave it at that.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Childhood memories

Nursery school was all about reciting lines in books and coloring things. By the end-year you had crammed the whole damn book by heart and you chanted the stupid lines in your idle moments to impress anyone within earshot. The rest of life at that tender age consisted of fears, joys, tragedies and hopes. (Dismiss the hopes as wishes for chocolate and sweets.)

I remember the things I was afraid of, and how I would hide from them. I used to “see” devils and run from them. My dreams and nightmares were vivid and engrossing affairs. Sometimes I confused actual past events with events in my dreams. I remember feeling that within me there were two versions of me, a good and a bad me, and I remember always straining to suppress the bad one. I tried to explain these things to people a few times, but after a while I stopped trying because nobody seemed to understand, maybe because my vocabulary was limited.

Running, drawing and playing soccer defined who I was at breaktime. This was a result of my dreams, in which I would be sprinting hard, in a state of terror, away from either a teacher with a cane or a red devil. (There was always a red devil with horns, a firm eight-pack in his abdomen and an arrow tail, but who otherwise looked like me and, sometimes, would audibly call my name!) In waking hours, especially in class, I avoided going to places alone, because, in my mind's eye, the red devil would appear and start giving me ideas and terrors. Therefore I avoided going to the restrooms alone. One day I told a teacher that the red devil was in the toilet seat and he pretended to chase the red devil away but I knew the stupid teacher didn't know what he was dealing with so I hid behind the door as the exorcism continued.

The red devil never did much to harm me, except that at certain random moments he would chase me and I would take off running at the top of my speed. Other times, something funny would happen, or a joke would be told, and I would laugh so hard I was out of breath and my entire ribcage hurt; I would silently blame the red devil for making me laugh. “The devil is poking me,” I would think amidst manic laughter.

Laughter was a big part of my childhood. I was always laughing at any given opportunity, a happy kid. The laughter would make me stretch my legs forward before me and curl up my toes! My six-pack came into being necessarily as a result of laughing so hard it felt like my abdomen would cave in from the pressure! I would laugh until a tingling sensation ran down the backs of my legs down to my curled toes! My head would be thrown back! In those moments it seemed as though the whole universe had come in to participate in that particular bout of laughter. The more memorable ones were whence I fell out my seat – I was notorious for swinging in my seat, and convulsive laughs from red devils tended to spring surprise attacks on me in these moments. Elsewhere, I discovered that I could laugh while running, both at the same time, for no reason but to enjoy the sensations thus created.

Girls held a strange but somewhat vague attraction for me, as objects of curiosity. To start with, the administration at that nursery school gave the general impression to boys that girls were bad and not to be mixed with. On the other hand, my class teacher openly favored girls and beat boys with apparent malice using great vigor to swing the big bamboo sticks. One could easily cry in advance by simply anticipating the beating. The girls themselves were enchanting in a funny sort of way. Girlfriends were taboo, though I did ally myself loosely with a certain light-skinned classmate and the whole arrangement was an unwritten pact even if very little actual conversation ever happened. In those days, all that sufficed to convey that a relationship had begun was a prolonged stare accompanied by a wide smile (the resulting facial expression was mildly alarming). If she cried and ran to the teacher with “He smiled at me,” game over; out came the bamboo stick and you became enemies. If she smiled back, members of the class were supposed to see that a boy and a girl had smiled at each other, and others were required to respect the union by avoiding smiling aimlessly at either party. The same mechanism worked with best friends; you could walk up to a best friend and demand to know why he was smiling with someone else.

Of course, snitches and teachers' pets thrived in such environments. There was no question of liking or hating them. You feared them, gave them bribes to overlook your misdemeanors, and also gave then little encouragements in order to help them avoid making up imagined crimes and assigning you as their perpetrator. I remember parting with a Fudge Chocolate, then prized highly, to seal the prefect's lips, which tended to unleash multicolored versions of untruths with my name sandwiched therein. She accepted the treasured chocolate delicacy with royal airs, arrogance and a sense of entitlement which if I had been any wiser I should have slapped her for daring to display. She forgot to thank me. She also “forgot” the fact of the bribe the same day, having my name placed in the list of tiny tots who her eagle eye had spotted picking their noses without a handkerchief – a category of crime which rose above other possible crimes.

Childhood innocence was fun. Often, I would pick up taboo statements from a variety of sources, but I had the intellectual wherewithal to recognize them as proscribed in public hearing. One such maxim was “All of nature has an orgasm and we call it a natural disaster!” This statement was and still is outrageously funny, but for one complication: back then I didn't know what an orgasm was (despite the fact that I would laugh like one possessed after sharing the joke with myself). Telling this joke to close friends and the light-skinned girlfriend yielded little more than polite but entirely clueless laughter inspired by the vague awareness that a weak joke of some sort had been shared. I even whispered it to the class prefect, because her record as the class genius would serve her well in appreciating and maybe even breaking down the joke for me; but she widened her eyes at me, puffed up her cheeks and promptly added my name to the noisemakers' list, with never a care for whatever the blazes I was grinning about. After being beaten by the teacher for noisemaking, I cried soundly, overcame the hurt slowly and returned to the Nature Orgasm Joke surely. Again, nobody got it, and others even sent me away because I was smiling at them and they already had best friends and boyfriends. Desperate times call for desperate measures; I decided to ask my mother that evening when she came to pick us from school.

My brother and I sat in the back, pinching each other and admonishing each other to be strong and not to report each other to our mother for various crimes committed during the day, upto and including the ongoing pinches. I decided to ask Mum the question quite innocently and naturally, and so, pretending like it came to me unbid and out of the blue, I asked, “Mum? What's an orgasm?” She paused and asked why, and I said “I heard some class eight boys saying “All of nature has an orgasm and we call it a natural disaster!” and laughing."


Mum laughed till tears rolled down her face, and we laughed too to see her so happy, but she eventually refused to tell me what an orgasm was.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Wise Men at War



I have no way of knowing what happened to GalPal. We stopped communicating. On the other hand, all my calls to The Ex were dial tone repeating to infinity and never answered. Unlike before, when I was single and unbothered, now I’d felt a taste for relationships and the tease of it had me hunting like a junkie. The days went by and I became so intensely aware of my unhappiness that I felt madness beginning to get its cold grip on my brain. Confused, I turned to books, poetry and philosophy.

More potent means of keeping it all together were available; in those days I had not yet forsworn alcohol. Thus I occasionally found myself at a disreputable joint occasioned by students looking to get drunk, lucky or preferably both. It quickly became clear to me that sitting I these environs with the Wise Men, my team mates from the soccer team who only became Wise Men when alcohol flooded their bloodstreams, was a form of therapy. It mainly involved sexist statements, politically incorrect exclamations not defensible in a court of law and even brazen catcalls at similarly drunken ladies. Good times.

Once, a Wise Man named John had enough to drink rather earlier than the others and he decided to leave in the company of a Wise Lady. The soiree continued merrily enough for a while without him, truisms were synthesized and lies were traded with alacrity as usual; but briefly, reports came to us from outside that Wise Man John had got himself in a fight just outside the premises. We rushed outside, rallying to his aid in various states of stability. There we saw Wise John, unwisely throwing punches against an opposition of many, as his Wise Lady propped herself against the wall with her arms crossed and her eyes sleepy. A battery of swear words arose from the lot of Wise Men which would have put our wisdom in question, and then we all swung into action. Trust sports fraternities to help a member.

Our anger, inebriation and sense of outrage fuelled our rash action above any sense of rationality. It was a mismatch; they were more than us, not as drunk, and were evidently all gym-freaks. At any rate, the struggle was good while it lasted, because we threw ourselves into it bodily. I absorbed a few memorable kicks in my ribcage and landed a number of square right hooks which made my wrist throb with pain for weeks afterwards. I saw a Wise Man rolling in the dust under the forcing of many pairs of chunky boots, and soon, other Wise Men swarmed to his aid, their fists and shoes arcing dangerously as they effectively abandoned their fight partners - who didn’t take kindly to the gesture and so followed the Wise Men to their Crusades. A free-for-all ensued at that spot at which participants liberally baptized the mothers of others with names proscribed in civilized society. On my part I launched myself into the fracas, grabbed one of the enemy’s weaklings by the collar, took him aside and fixed him a number of punches in his midsection. It became darker as our fighting mass moved further away from the lights, so that there were sharp and startling noises emanating from funny directions in the dark and one could not really tell who was a Wise Man and who was a Gym Freak. Amidst the confusion, and I think I absorbed some friendly fire, my chosen weakling took off running on long legs the instant my hold on his shirt loosened enough for him to yank himself out of my grasp. I gave chase and someone else gave chase after me.

The chase was short, as I am fast. I caught up with the hated weakling under a security light. Recognition made me freeze: it was Lucas, and he too was busy recognizing me, and he looked at me with fear. His knees were shaking (I hope) and he was still panting from his futile running on puny legs (by my estimate). Whoever was chasing me caught up at long last after great effort (did I mention how fast I am?); and he turned out to be a Wise Man who had mistaken me for a Gym Freak. Once he identified me, he was unwilling to let his dedicated run go to waste, so he turned on Lucas while Lucas was still panting and looking at me with a dazed and stunned face; slapped Lucas, violently, using the back of his hand; called Lucas’ father names in rough slang and ordered Lucas to go home. The insults and orders turned out to be redundant as Lucas had already hit the ground running following the slap. The Wise Man and I then ran back to the real fighting.

I discovered a scar on my forehead the next morning; it was raw and red and ugly.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Turf War: Exchange of Fire


I liked GalPal a lot. Even so, I’d never pictured her as more than a very close friend; at least not right up to the instant we were in each other’s arms and both sober. However, that inaugural session in my room was interrupted by Angela, that self-styled enemy of mine who had previously been my friend. She sneaked in, and when we discovered her, she ordered GalPal to leave. To my great surprise mixed with outrage, GalPal left immediately, falling just short of saluting and yelling “YES MA’AM!”

Angela and I remained staring angrily at each other. “What’s your problem?” we asked each other. Then we started a shouting match. If I wasn’t shouting I may have heard what she was shouting but I told her that it wasn’t my fault that her boyfriend (“Lucas”) was so intimidated by me that he thought I had already beaten him up.

Women can multitask! They can be shouting at you and listening to what you are shouting at them at the same time. Apparently what I said struck home because Angela’s tone changed and she said, amidst much index-finger jabbing in many directions, “This has nothing to do with Lucas. This is about GalPal falling for you when all you’re gonna do is mess around with her head just like you messed with [The Ex]!”

The full impact of her accusation threw me off balance. Admittedly, my smug style of attack was shaken to its foundations. In fact I retreated in disarray. And she had mentioned The Ex. I was dumbstruck.

Guilt.

“Yeah, think about that, and by the way,” continued Angela, talking fast, as she headed for the door, “Lucas and some of his buddies from the gym are wondering where you live; they’ve asked me a few times and I’m not sure where you stay.” There was an uncomfortable edge to her statement to add to the already confusing fact that she was standing in my room talking about not knowing my room.

I smelt blackmail in the air and rose, brave and defiant, to the challenge: “So what! What are you really saying, HUH?!”

Angela became smug and fixed me a hateful smile and clarified,  quite corrosively, “I’m just saying: if you ever get clever about MY GalPal, I’ll get very clever about where you live. Kaputsch?”

The stench of blackmail overwhelmed me; its bombardment bowed my head in shameful and dishonorable defeat.

As she marched out in a flying rage, Angela banged the metal door. I stood cringing for a while, and thinking, and wondering. Then I got on the phone to Uganda.

The dial tone sounded again and again, to no end.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Turf Wars: Unforeseen Consequences

Anyone who knows anything about women should contact me and give me a speech, for I might be foolish in that realm, if indications are to be relied upon, which I advise against.

Having invited GalPal to my room, and she having turned up, we sat side by side close to each other and went over the formalities of greetings, and then there was a heavy and expectant silence and eye-to eye, but suddenly, I remembered my duties as a host and asked her to wait a while. And I vanished into the kitchen.

GalPal assumed a comfortable position on my bed, stretching herself on my duvet and giving the Al Jazeera Channel a dead stare. It distantly occurred to me that gentle music would have set the mood, but I remembered that since we were just friends, Al Jazeera would keep the ambience very businesslike, so I left it there. I was using this time to scramble together a light snack, but I ended up rushing up and down to bring back what eventually turned out to be full-blown lunch, the preparation of which was constantly interrupted by GalPal’s interjections about not being hungry and wanting me to join her and feeling sleepy but my uniform response to all these things was “In a minute.”

During and after the meal she failed to comment on my cooking but I like to think she ate with relish.

The time eventually came when we could lie on the single bed in friendly relaxation and watch Al Jazeera to update ourselves on the pertinent issues informing political dynamics in today’s chaotic world. Nothing of the sort happened. Space being scarce, we sought a place to put our hands. I decided to clasp her hand to save space. Suddenly, a manic force possessed her and she spun on me, pinned me down and straddled me in one move.

“I thought you’d never ask.”

After overcoming the surprise from the attack, I seized her and pinned her down easily and effortlessly. “I thought you’d say no.”

I saw panic in her eyes – and she stuttered. “I haven’t said yes!”

A warning bell went off in my head so I let go of her wrists and began to go away. But she grabbed my neck and we fell to kissing and rolling about – which struck me as a yes, if an ill-defined one. I drew the line at making out, even if the curves of her body encouraged me unceasingly to shift that line, and the heat of passion was escalating rather too fast to pretend that any line was going to be braked at.
After a while, GalPal practically sprung away from me with a look of alarm on her face. Soon, I too was alarmed when I also realized that Angela had simply walked into the room and quietly positioned herself at a corner I like to call The Office. Neither of us knew how long she had been there staring or how she’d come in without being noticed; leave alone how she knew to come. GalPal and I goggled at her with mouths open and I scratched my head in confusion.

“Hi BFF!” exclaimed GalPal in a strangled tone, with shock all over her face and her eyes wide open.
“My room, now!” ordered Angela, unmoved, cold, her arms and legs crossed.

GalPal upped and left in double-quick time, leaving me staring at Angela glaring at me in my own room.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Turf War: Calm before the Storm

Sometimes, when one has spent too much time in Singlehood, one loses perspective.  One begins to feel like being single is normal and, indeed, universal, except, of course, for Mum and Dad and their friends and many other misled souls. Such was my worldview for a long time until sometime after I met another pathologically single person in an attractive, slender lady named GalPal.

GalPal and I began to wonder… Some of our wonderings included spending a lot of time talking and texting, to say nothing of Facebook Inbox.  Even the person who introduced us, Angela, thought there was more to it than single people sharing their different experiences of common delusions. Angela also thought we were dating. We jointly rejected her scandalous assumptions energetically.

Fate saw to it that one day, Angela’s new boyfriend (“Lucas”) got it in his head that I had beaten him up one night.  Reacting to express her solidarity and disapproval, Angela, my erstwhile friend, cut all links with me and asked, advised, forced her BFF GalPal to follow her lead. Things returned to normalcy in my life (meaning simultaneous singlehood and solitude) and life went on - but it felt different and unwholesome to keep my twisted convictions to myself, so I initiated clandestine texts with GalPal. She was enthusiastic about it all to the extent that our exchanges kept me up, sometimes till 3am, which I found bittersweet. (I wasn’t so goodhearted when the time came to wake up early but I would occasionally see her looking lethargic too and I would laugh to myself and yawn.)

Forbidden fruit is sweet because that Forbidden flavor is, well, addictive. After a while you start to need a bigger high and quite soon, secret texting just didn’t cut it (and what exactly is that, really?) and hence I planned a face-to-face chat. The venue had to be secret, we didn’t want Angela finding out we were talking. The most secret venue we could think up was my room.

GalPal showed up for the discussion looking very attractive, etc, and the conversation started with expressions of how much we’d missed each other, etc, and very soon we were very close and I was looking into her eyes very fixedly and her smile was vague.

Now I may have remembered to close the door and GalPal may have thought not to leave her shoes outside but, no, neither happened.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Turf War

Angela's mood varies. Sometimes she talks to me willingly. Other times, she breezes past me like I'm a fly on the wall which does not even deserve an opinion as to whether it should be swatted or not. Either way, I manage.

So, eventually, the day came when it looked like we were done being friends. She introduced me to her new boyfriend, a guy named Lucas. The boyfriend part wasn't a problem, trust me. Thorny issues did arise, however, because immediately after the introduction, my latest friend Lucas immediately identified me as his assailant, and accused me loudly and angrily of events alleged to have been perpetrated on one ill-defined drunken Thursday night of some obscure historical era, long forgotten and made vague by the sands of time.

Now, I shall not embark on a discussion of what is claimed to have happened; neither shall I speculate on what may not have happened. I can however confirm that it was dark. Suffice it to say that Angela got the firm impression that I am a ruffian of sorts and consequently cut off all links with me and expressed no desire to continue our association any longer. Further, she relayed this impression to her buddy GalPal. In a show of solidarity with her BFF, GalPal put me in her blacklist.

Shame. GalPal and I were geeting along rather nicely, starting to know one another well. Maybe she even liked me before this. Oh, well...

(I hope Anglea doesn't discover our clandestine texting.)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Unwanted terminal intervention (Part 4 of 4)


The occasion was a club party to celebrate the success of my friend Angela’s elder sister’s wedding. Youths from all sides of both families were present and having fun away from the glare of the older generations. Eventually even the bride and groom had to leave – it was, after all, their wedding night, and that one is supposed to be legendary.
I was there only because Angela had forced me to come. Maybe GalPal had been kindly requested to show up. Unlikely.
GalPal and I managed to find ourselves alone on a balcony, in each other’s arms, for vague reasons not ever discussed, barely twelve hours since we’d first met. I was going along partly because I was drunk and partly because my newly minted alter-ego would actively harass me otherwise.
Let your fingers do the walking.
No way. A kiss would have to do. I searched GalPal’s enchanting eyes at the exact moment when she was searching my eyes and the decision was thus sealed. We went for the kiss, with some abandon, but a pack of intruders burst into our privacy. (Yeah, as if a balcony facing a street is as private as it can get!)
Angela led a pack of her old and new relatives onto the balcony to introduce them to us, her “friends”. The mischievous spark in her eye ticked me off and was slightly embarrassing. GalPal, meanwhile, instantly detached herself from me, rushed through the introductions and fled back into the partying mass inside.
I remained behind and pretended to catch the names of three guys and four ladies. One of them was the daughter of the second cousin of the groom’s mother in law – or something. I nodded with understanding and introduced myself as Angela’s friend who was dragged out of bed early that morning to attend her sister’s wedding. There was laughter all around. Only then did I realize that this could pass as a joke.
The lot of Angela’s relatives found that they also liked the balcony and stuck around there. Talk flowed easily and naturally between us as we got to know each other better. With time, everyone present felt lionhearted enough to play “Truth or Truth” – a variation of “Truth or Dare” – simply because there was no shortage of empty bottles to spin and also because what had previously been in those bottles was now acting on their brains. So I reeled off a string of brazen lies whenever my turn to tell the truth came around. However, the spoilsport that Angela is ever doomed to remain exposed my lies again and again.

The evening crawled onwards in this fashion, until the time came that I was to be kicked out of the venue. First I was called aside. The argument went thus: I belonged to neither side of the matrimonially united families and thus was an unbudgeted-for expense. I was told this quietly by a beefy bouncer who kept saying “Private Function,” who was flanked by a relative of the groom’s who was apparently in charge of expenses. At first I insisted that I was buying my own refreshments, then, after my collar was handled rather too roughly and I’d began to attract attention, I changed my story and professed solemnly that I was up to no harm and would have loved nothing more than to leave as soon as the exit could be pointed out and my collar released at the earliest convenience.
The fracas attracted Angela’s attention just as I was departing. She was torn between asking me to stay and shouting a spectrum of unabridged swear-words at her in-law. “He’s with me,” etc. I walked on irrespective, careful not to look over my shoulder or stop. After a while I had walked far enough to stop hearing the boom of club music. (Walking away from Mr. Vegas’ “Man a Gallis” without dancing is quite the feat. MAD beats!)
A drizzle began as I walked the streets. I sank into my thoughts as I trudged towards the bus stop, not knowing whether or not there would be buses at that hour of night. A taxi screeched to a halt besides me, hooting loudly and repeatedly. I ignored it steadfastly until someone in the back seat lowered the window and called out.
“Antony, I’m sorry, alright? That guy’s a jerk. Come in; let’s go home.”
I’d never seen Angela’s expression so earnest. I’d never thought her capable of it. I climbed into the cab for a quiet ride home

(Not so quiet – the cab driver favored late-night Lingala.)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Intervention by… Nobody (Part 3 of 4)

Angela is a vivacious dancer.
I discovered this anew at her sister’s wedding’s after-party, when, under the influence of beverages, I joined her on the dance floor. We got to busting moves in full view of her family and in laws. I can’t comment on our dancing, but as a result of it, many of the young partygoers loosened up considerably and joined in the dancing. Then the party really began.
Consequently the dance floor became too crowded. Reluctantly, I left Angela to dance with a too-enthusiastic gyrator of his pelvis who had been hanging around her rear for a while. Leaving her to her fate, I walked away from there in search of space to be on my own.
I found myself at a balcony, and was passing time and reflecting drunkenly upon the cars passing in the street below. My thoughts roamed. Maybe I now underestimate the extent to which I was sober or drunk. Whatever the case, right there and then, my alter-ego came into existence. It inaugurated itself by insulting me and arguing pointedly - albeit in a calm, measured, factual tone.
Mr. Feelings. Do you think that by letting them go, that you’re doing them an act of charity? Well, hello, you’re neglecting MY NEEDS!
What?
The hit-list is a trail of neglect. Angela is a year overdue. She serves it to you on a platter and all you do is blink at it.
I began to understand that my alter-ego didn’t like me.
GalPal back there should be a shoo-in. You’ve seen it in her eyes. And she’s drunk as a fish.
I hated my alter-ego immediately.
 Angela and GalPal. Ménage-a-trois I bet they’re up for it.
I struggled to neglect those thoughts.
You can’t even remember when last you got some.
I struggled to remember. (!)
But you can remember all the women you let slip from your clammy clutches; each and every one.
I struggled to cast them out of my mind. Sensing this, my alter ego started to list them by name.
The Ex. The Sister of the Ex – that one’s a short bus ride away, right now. Jennifer is an ”Enemy with Benefits” if you push her a little; it’s not too late for that.
I struggled to ignore my alter-ego.
The neighbor! The Church Freak! The Tall Classmate! TWO soccer team ladies! How many swimmers?! The Upstart Model! The Liberal! The Library Buddy! The ‘No’ Camp supporter! The petite one you can’t figure out but are foolish and timid around! If you’d kept your heart out of it she would have tried to break something else!!! Look; the admirer of your art doesn’t really LIKE your stupid notebook sketches God-damn-it!
I wanted to run away. I considered starting by jumping off the balcony for a headstart.
The Best Friend. I’ll bet if you get a little alcohol in your veins she could become a one-night stand, Mr. Feelings. Best friend my ass. Hit and run. You’ll forget her name in the morning.
The suggestion incensed me. I addressed my alter ego directly for the first time. “That’s outrageous! You are mad! I’ve known that girl for ten years!” I even gestured.
You’re ten years overdue, then, aren’t you? Nothing special about that…Right now, though, there is Angela and there is GalPal. Live a little, Mr. Feelings.
Even as I spewed invectives at my alter-ego, I knew that it had retired back into the depths of darkness (alright, my subconscious) with the satisfaction of knowing it had poisoned my mind already and I would never find peace again. Turmoil stewed within me as I stood at the balcony.

I didn’t have much time afterwards to recover. Shortly, someone’s silky arms wrapped me from behind; then her face pressed against my cheek. It was snug, natural even - decidedly sensual. She stayed silent but her heady perfume gave her identity away. I’d spent most of the day with GalPal, so I knew it was her by that scent.
We stayed alone on the balcony and swayed gently to party music.
 Say something sleazy, you idiot!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

When Intervention was most needed there was none to be found (Part 2)

“You’re the quiet type, aren’t you?!” GalPal shouted at me.

She needed to shout; we were at a nightclub for the after-party of Angela’s sister’s wedding, and music was loud. I needed to be quiet; firstly because sobriety was a vague, distant memory, and secondly, I was staring at the dance floor where Angela kept threatening to break something in her lower back with her energetic gyrations.

Apparently, Angela prided in her role as the family’s black sheep, because no one in her family tried to match her feat. I knew Angela too well to be surprised by such daring. I also thought that her newlywed sister was glaring rather angrily, but I may have been seeing things, being already in a certain questionable state of inebriation myself…

I turned to GalPal and made a half-serious joke about finishing my quota of words for the day. I’d spent all afternoon chatting with her anyway. I don’t talk as much in a week as I’d talked with her on the first day of meeting her, and still, I’d managed to leave the impression that I’m the quiet type. Worrying.

GalPal said something about it being “okay,” but it was lost on me, because in so doing she turned her intimate pair of eyes on me and smiled. The effect of this? I felt a helplessness enveloping me that I didn’t feel like I had the inner will to fight. So I stuck around and looked deep into her eyes – and dozed off.

Only briefly.

GalPal would have none of it. She nudged me towards the dance floor, and I found myself on it, unsteady, and next to Angela. The reality of it hit me so late and so suddenly that I felt a sudden headrush and became almost fully alert. The dancehall strobe lights didn’t help. I looked over my shoulder and saw GalPal flashing me a mysterious smile and a not so mysterious go-ahead thumb-up. Now, I’ll be the last one to call myself wild, but a certain blend of hops, barley and alcohol, ceaselessly consumed for two hours, had brought my inhibitions to the point where they could only watch and weep. Ineffectually.

I could feel eyes on me; many eyes; even Angela’s eyes were a puzzled question. A dark thought crossed my mind and solidified into action. My inhibitions screamed in unison… a cold, hard logic replied with the idea that nobody knew me here… And then my hand found Angela’s waist as if under the forcing of an alien marionette’s remote,

Friday, July 23, 2010

When tabletops intervene (Part 1)

I cannot dwell on how it was that I attended the wedding of the elder sister of Angela. (We hadn’t talked for three months when, suddenly, my “most hated friend” Angela dragged me to it one cold dark morning.) Anyway, she abandoned me at a table with her friend and went to attend to her bridesmaidly duties. It was one of these garden parties at which the groom strikes you as an obnoxious character even before opening his mouth so God help the bride.

(The bride was very attractive and so maybe I think that was my real beef with the groom.)

I was minding my own business and hoping this whole charade would end quickly. While I was fidgeting with impatience and eyeballing all these crazy idiots who were sold on the wedding environment and smiling inanely at everything (while minding my own business and bothering no one), I realized that Angela’s friend –across the table from me- had distinctly fixed her eyes on… me. She was not letting up on the eye contact. I saw it in my peripheral vision and evaded those eyes – some eyes are just too intimate to look directly at – until the feeling of intimate eyes on me made me want to shed my skin like a snake.

“What?!” I spun on her. She giggled. Such guts.

A spectrum of emotions was busy confusing my mind as I sat across the table from Angela’s GalPal. I considered speaking my mind. However, certain statements are taboo at certain social events. So I kept the conversation in safe waters. It turned out she knew me from campus; she’d seen me around, and I was guilty of the grave sin of not seeing her around anywhere or even remembering it faintly. She suffered delusions of self-importance, this one.

In the movies, the guy and the girl stumble through topics in very random fashion, and the girl or guy agrees vehemently with whatever the other just said. (Let’s be clear: I mean in chick flicks.) The thread that connects one topic to the next, that train of logic, is not apparent to anyone. They go along blissfully with shiny eyes and nervous smiles and their hearts are racing for reasons not associated with the conversation because, if anything, the conversation itself is the least important part of the conversation. My conversation with GalPal carried on for a while in this typical Hollywood fashion. I don’t remember when exactly I made that shift.

In the movies, the talkers inch ever closer together, and in a flourish of grand sissy-music, press faces. In my case, yea, indeed, wedding music was rampant and incessant, being bravely howled out by a confident live band; but then, there was a tabletop between GalPal and I. Eventually, alas! The moment was lost as I snapped out of my teenage bout of unchecked romantics and remembered that I was at a wedding and was probably being indoctrinated into the prevalent ideology.

Thoughtlessly, I made the conversation awkward; no, painful.

“I hate weddings.”