Yesterday's Leaflets

A Long History of Love Letters

          My first time at the movie theatre a girl jumped off the roof of a high-rise building. My second time there a boy killed his own mother, whom he had subconsciously substituted for a prostitute. That’s Cronenberg for you. The light from the projector was the same light that struck Saul on his way to Damascus; it converted the walls of the theatre into something essentially beautiful, so that they began to speak to me. I sat next to my mentors who had evidently witnessed many young men on their first night out at the movies. When they asked me to write a first draft I sent them a story about a girl who gets depressed because she hallucinates about having an aborting, later, to everyone’s surprise, she finds out that she is actually fantasizing about it. She then overdoses on antidepressants, knowing very well that this will only get her as so far as a long sleep, like Snow White, or Sylvia Plath when she faked her own suicide just to be able to get some sleep.

          I got to think about this kind of recluse as a sort of lying game where you get to trick your body that you have gone for a long trip somewhere, the idea being to stay behind in a halfway gone state.

          A few weeks later I found them talking about that first draft. If death was to be thrown around like in pinball then I wanted to be in on it. But it was not that simple, it is never that simple. The girl in the first draft began to haunt me. I’m considering the option of burning it and deleting all the electronic copies I have. I want to talk about that girl, who has died five times since I met her. I’m only counting the times she confessed to me. I know she has died more times but somehow she is embarrassed to admit all this to me.

          I met her outside Kenya Cinema. She was much taller and skinnier back then. I watched her from a distance before I decided she was the person I had seen on the photographs. She insisted that we walk around the CBD, along the cooler shadows of buildings. This was the first time she was out in the open in a long time but somehow still preferred to answer to the call of shadows. There were moments when she lingered in the sunlight and dashed back to the dark, like a coldblooded animal. The meeting did not last for long. I imagined she did not find my long silences and inarticulate self very pleasant. I tried to venture into the areas of ice cream flavors and nature poems while all around us were blue glass monuments and beggars. What most people call ignorance I call metaphysics. We both could not wait to get back home and start texting each other; it was much easier that way. We talked all night, everyday for a few weeks.

          Consider for a moment a girl who carries her jewelry box everywhere she goes. This is what I was dealing with. Once, we woke up next to each other in a boys’ boarding house and she took thirty minutes to put on her jewelry. I will not dwell on the circumstances that led us to a boys’ boarding house, but during those six hours of sleep our bodies did not touch. We had declared to each other that matters of the flesh were for the weak, and for all those who read Oscar Wilde. I began to write love letters. I have a long history of love letters. In fact, the first time I ever wrote anything outside the classroom it was a love letter written at the back of a mathematics exercise book. It should come as no surprise that I rarely mail the letters unless they have been written to a stranger. Once I get to know someone I find no use of mailing the letter. Somehow the contents of the letters find their way into our respective conversations, for example, the conversation about nature poems outside Westminster House. It was during one of these nights that she first died, and sure enough, without warning, all communication between us came to a stop.

          Three months later she called me. Apparently she had picked up smoking and an appetite for spaghetti. By then I had around ten love letters all addressed to her. We got back to the late night conversations. While she was pulling her hair I was making coffee at the other end of the line. This happened until her next four deaths. After her third death the details of her coming and going did not matter so much, except for the time when she came back married. Eventually I learnt to forget her.

          I have come to the conclusion that the expansion of the universe is a function of the character we create and/or eliminate from the first draft to the manuscript. That’s the kind of thing I tell a friend whenever the silence between us becomes too awkward.

          A year passed before I found myself in need of the memories from that encounter. I called back our conversation whenever I needed material for the first draft. I had sworn never to talk to her again. With the first draft all this felt terribly difficult. I had to see her again. I picked up a few poems I had written and went to visit her. She cried and hugged me –the first time flesh became consequential- after I read her the poems, in my inarticulate manner. To my relief her tears were staccato. Metaphysics.

          Now that I come to think about it, we never really had the kind lyricism found in some poems. I imagine lyricism to be a continuous thing, like a stream. I imagine it to be a long dream where you wake up smiling. We never had continuity, me and her. We were in opposite directions and the traffic lights between us were showing different colors. While I was given up to the simple pleasure of my generation she was ascending to the heights of the elusiveness of our metaphysics. I am aware of the counterintuitive fact that that, at least for me, nothing is ever final. She will come back. I can hear her voice through the walls when my neighbors are arguing. I can see her face in the obituaries. I can smell her in the shops of cologne vendors along Moi Avenue. And when I close my eyes and listen to Miles Davis I can hear her trying to get through to me.


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