Poetics

Falling Objects from Space

‘On May 1 1989 my mother fell from space. A month later a plague of locusts fell. A clock fell another month later. I took the three and put them in my pocket, my mother was not happy. She sings old lullabies now, hoping I might fall into eternal sleep, like never wake up, as a reprimand. I use the clock to tell meal times. “A nymph is a delicate thing,” I’m told, “so go easy on you mother.” The locusts all died, except one, the great orphan, I call him Prometheus. We have staring contests when we are bored,’ Kimani says.

He’s been having one of his visions again. He calls them beautiful but he wakes up terrified and feverish. I take him into my arms and hug him, tell him they have not forgotten us, they will be back for us. The red light on the camera winks.

***

No one is likely to die from a falling object from space. In fact, the chances are trillions to one. And somehow my long-time pal Kim manages to find himself at the other end of the collision path of space debris. That’s the kind of luck he has. He does not smoke or drink, yet I’m sure he’ll die of cancer. Used to be a good catholic boy, still wears his rosary although he stopped praying a long time ago. Whenever he prays, like at meal times, it’s more from habit than devotion. Bless us Oh Lord, and these thy gifts, etc. Kim has changed a lot over the years, becoming more eccentric and unreadable, his eyes always red from some kind of hangover.

‘Prometheus. That’s the bastard that falls on my head. I try duck kumbe I’m aligning myself perfect to his trajectory, like God’s way of a joke. Kim the appointed landing strip. Him and his black thoroughbreds die on impact, the chariot is beyond repair, but the god himself is well and alive, drinking gin and tonics in my living room.’

This is the story Kimani tells me as we walk down Kirinyaga Road to this new strip club – his idea. ‘Bastard is drinking all my gin. He’s out of tonic so guess what he does? Water. Just my luck, man. Have any gin at your place?’ No way I want to share.

Kim spots something through a messy display window of an Indian shop. Walks into the shop. I follow him in. A big shop but the amount of junk in there makes it seem small. I find it odd I have never noticed the shop here before; this is a road I used often on my way to the fruit market.

‘How much?’ Kim asked. A golden miniature chariot. The man replys in a way that suggested he would be doing Kim a favour by selling it to him. Turns out the chariot is too expensive.

Few shots of gin and two lap dances later at Kirinyaga Road, Kim, too bored, tells me he wants to fuck Prometheus in the ass.

***

Arthur Prysock’s Funny How Time Slips Away, all three minutes thirty-eight seconds of it, has been playing since the piano broke five years ago. Soon after the piano broke the song came on, and it has not stopped since, because someone is having a good time watching us fall deeper into madness through six different cameras. We have spent hours scanning the house for speakers without luck. The sound comes from where darkness itself comes from. Nothing like repetition to drive a man crazy in a place where there are no marks for the passage of time, just the light of emergency rooms at night. How time slips away in here is that it can easily kill you, especially now that Kim will not shut up. He has been going on and on all night, telling me about his dreams and visions, the visions of his mother eating locusts, her eyes turned into clocks. Between the two of us he will go crazy first. Time will no longer matter for him. I don’t know whether to fear this or envy it.

I ask Kim: ‘What kind of monsters did you create as a child?’
‘My mother,’ he replies.

Kim walks to the middle of the room and begins slow dancing to Arthur, a cigarette between his lips. I have always been unable to hold a cigarette in my mouth like that, not without choking or the smoke stinging my eyes. Kim says it is because I breathe using my mouth. The way he dances is like I have seen in old black films, when suffering was pure and love was true between new lovers. He is in a loose black dress, the hems of it flowing to his slow steps, his thin, hairy legs, the way waves always return to the shore, return home, and I can just catch the smell of his cologne. If a woman was lying on Arthur’s chest and heard the echoes of his voice inside, she would just cry, remembering her dear father. Me, I just watch Kim slow dance and force myself not to remember home.

‘God is not in the detail, he’s right here with us, in Arthur’s voice, and I’d like him to know I’m bored, but I will keep dancing,’ Kimani says. He squeezes the dress from between the crack of his ass. There’s just something about hairy legs under a black dress that spells Freud for me.

‘Do you think time is flat?’ Kim asks after sitting down, and passing me the cigarette.
‘I think time is too far up your ass,’ I answer.

He smiles and returns to the middle of the room, snapping his fingers to Arthur, to God, moving his upper body, a man possessed, a man outside time. The dress makes his chest look absurd, like he was born with a medical condition, but also strangely attractive. Now I remember home. Masala tea, mahamris, salads at dinner time, sticking my fingers up wet holes, fingers being stuck up my own holes. Ice cream. Long walks. A total absence of music.

‘We will die here, you know? He takes the cigarette from between my lips. ‘I always knew I’d die young.’

I walk to the window and look out. I don’t know what to do with him when he gets this way.

‘See anything out there?’ He asks.

If there is anything out there we will not know until it comes to us. Or for us.

A wrapping at the door, the sound of hooves in loose sand, the smell of warm moisture on an animal’s hide in the morning, sand in the air, the smell of combustion fumes. But nothing quite visible, not even shadows, nothing that can be seen out there. Forget sight, is what I tell myself. Out there is the kind of darkness God might have needed in the beginning, the kind of darkness that birthed God.

The last person who manned this post was a woman, left all manner of traces of her life here except for her name. Sometimes Kim and I play a guessing game; so far she has been five hundred people, from the Minister of Defence to my dead sisters. She kept a very detailed logbook and diary. Kim has read the diary but I stay clear of that thing, fearing it’s last pages.

‘She had a lover come visit her, a minotaur-like handsome, dark man, not unlike myself, but with no hair on his body, not a single hair, and he’d let her play with his horns. Tut tut,’ was how Kimani would tease me in an effort to get me to read the diary. Among the traces she left were her clothes and personal effects – dresses, panties (all black), make up, jewelry, logbook and diary, a scary assortment of knives, books on geolocation, an old volume of Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound. Like she did not want to take anything with her that might remind her of this place, like she left naked.

‘Or the minotaur took her, my dear, unajua?’ Kimani is fond of saying.

Since we use all the water we have for drinking and cooking we have long run out of clean clothes, underwear in particular. While I prefer to stay without any, Kim is not against helping himself to the black panties. I prefer drinking water to clean underwear. Wearing her underwear was a necessity, I understand. But with the passage of time Kim has taken to wearing her dresses and putting on her make up. I’m afraid to admit he looks princely in lace, and what with the huge chest in a v-neck dress.

We live in a small cabin, a sorry affair of a place to be assigned to, in an outpost in the Ilemi. Except for sandstorms and strange wrappings at the door on rare nights, and this is when it’s clear to tell night and day apart, nothing much happens here. Once in a while there will be an outline of some kind of predatory animal in the distance, but that too disappears and we return to haggling over crossword puzzles and arguing about the origin of certain Gikuyu words. Kimani is much more interesting than I could ever be, he knows all the classics, for instance. And knows all the gods. He has been with both men and women, and on occasions with artificial objects. He has lived. I feel small and invisible next to him. He even writes poetry – some weird stuff, things that begin with lines like Last night I fucked the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Says it’s autobiographical. With Kimani the line between truth and lie continues to get blurry the longer I get to know him. He has listened to Bach. In the first few weeks after our arrival it was fun listening to him play the piano – can’t say any of that stuff made any sense to me – but then the kind of rats we have in the cabin can tear through wood, and lead if it comes to it. So no more piano. When this happened Kim suited and waited for them for what seemed like days. I remember the sun did not come out all week that time. Once he had all of them he skinned them real nice and made us a sweet stew with mixed spices. Arthur started playing soon after.

If I don’t get out of this place soon I will go crazy. Sometimes Kimani looks at me funny and I fear if it ever comes to it he will tie me up and make a run for the next Carrier that arrives with food, toiletries and decade old newspapers. The toilet paper runs out very quickly and we have to decide which headlines are undeserving, which of our old heroes faces we will use to wipe ourselves with. I’d like to get out, get back to the city, go back home, maybe Kirinyaga Road, or somewhere where I can come up with a new routine, maybe find a girl and live with her and teach her how to use a gas mask and make sweet love to her in our bomb-proof house. I’d rather the city with its many problems than here. And if it comes to it there is no saying what I will do to Kim to escape. Let me be a fugitive, I don’t care. Kibiko Road, that’s what I want.

***

Kim has been asleep for forty-eight hours now. Since he got into bed he has not stirred; I’ve been watching him, makes good sport. How easy it would be to kill him right now. Often he is the one who wakes me up. I decide not to wake him up, maybe he needs the time off. Soon enough I get bored watching him sleep and I report to my station. The red notebook is on Kim’s station. I pick it up. It feels heavy in my hands. I stare at its redness all morning. Kimani begins to snore. I open the first page. It says dedicated to, but it does not say to whom. Her handwriting is rough and labored, almost as if her words were resisting entry into our material world. I’m not sure I want to read any further.

After another twenty-four hours Kimani is still asleep. The days are longer without him but I’m glad our rations stay longer. If he sleeps for another week that might set us ahead pretty well. Arthur has slipped so far into the background he blends with silence. The diary with its blank dedication stare at me. Finally I decide to read further until I myself slip into the background, into sleep.

I wake later up to find Kimani at his station, staring outside, the diary closed in front of him. The sun is out today. Through the screen it looks how bodies appear through bathroom windows. As weak as its power is I feel that pull in my eyes when bright light is shinned in my eyes. My legs feel weak. I join him at the station.

‘Man, you’ve been sleeping a week now,’ he adds.

He sees the shock on my face. I want to tell him that it is him who has been asleep but my tongue feels heavy.

‘Thought about waking you up but you look so cute when you sleep,’ he laughs.
I drink some water and open my logbook. No entry for the past seven days. Fuck. There is an empty pack of cigarettes next to him. We smoke one pack a week. Kim passes me whatever is left of his cigarette. He has painted his nails different colors. A true bastard, this man. They probably rescued him from a dustbin covered in birth-milk soaked newspapers.

‘What do you think?’ he gleams, showing me his fingers.
‘Haven’t seen a rainbow in years,’ I say.
‘Fuck off,’ to mean thank you.
‘So you have read about the minotaur?’ he asks, fingering the diary, winking at me.
‘He’s big, walks slowly, like time itself. Barely makes a sound. He has been here where we sit, has seen the same things as we see. A knock will be heard on our door and one of us must answer. In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. That he appears in the diary and not the logbook suggests he does not exist. But let us not be fooled by bureaucracy at the end of time.’

Kim bites off the edge of his thumb’s nail and spits on the floor. It is a very clean cut; he has such nice, sharp teeth, like he’s evolving into some kind of animal.

***

Prometheus looks old and sick, his skin too pale. Kim looks so proud when he shows him to me, like he is curiosity itself, the way young boys compare their small uncircumcised penises, pulling the skins back like it is a magic trick. When Prometheus speaks I step back. ‘Nugu ici,’ he screams. ‘I want my bloody gin and tonic.’

***

The cabin has six cameras. Three in the main area where we look out to the desert, one in the bathroom (to monitor suicides, as the manual says), and another two in the bedroom, each pointing to our individual beds. During my first weeks here I was cautious to watch my every move, aware someone was watching. Not anymore. Kim was never afraid of being watched. He says if there is a person who has been sitting in a cubicle on the other side watching footage they must have gone crazy a long time ago. I suspect he just likes the idea of being watched.

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