By Immanuel Lokwei
(A story about Love, Hate, Invisibility and Kenyan Politics and The Prospects of Reconciliation)
That smile was not meant for me. I intercepted it nonetheless, and I must have added more thrust to it for once I let go of it after I had churned and siphoned off its inherent goodness (I hope), the guy on the other side did not receive it well. He was hit with such a force that he lost his equilibrium, rolled under the counter-tables and made through the exit door right past the two humongous bouncers and was about to roll into the street when he was stopped by a parking meter. The parking meter went either by the name Jesus the son of Mary or Moses the son of Jochebed — thanks to its messianic service, the man was saved. This is Washington DC at 11:35pm.
It is here that I discovered my quality of invisibility, because the girl, who had now supplemented her smile with laughter whizzed past my station and, like a dog in heat, followed the trail of this rolling man. I prayed the man be her brother or worse, a friend in the friend-zone or at least, that the trailing girl was a humanitarian fully compassionate for the suffering and the rolling. But more of the girl’s explosive laughter was soon heard from outside, probably inspired by the union between the rolling man and the parking meter. I did not wait to hear the man on the ground say, “I thought we had put it all our quarters.” But I heard it anyways and I don’t know how, because besides the loud music that filled the room and the busy bodies on the dancing floor who could have otherwise deflected these words in infinite directions, a phalanx of hosts and other visiting friends surrounding me but more concentrated on my left side, should have definitely blocked any communication with the outside world. My heart ached; my questioning of whether I was really that invisible and my hopes that the girl was probably a volunteer with a Human Rights organization soon evaporated in that Friday night heat. These are discoveries I cannot deal with. Surely a rolling stone gathers no moss but on its trail are beautiful asses, and faces, and broken hearts. So I turned away from the vanities of that couple to what I am good at: discussing Kenyan politics.
Washington DC is known for its cosmopolitanism, but the company of hosts and friends I was with in that nightclub was known for its Kenyaness. Let’s say 50% including myself were black Kenyans; there were no white Kenyans and all the blacks in the group were Kenyan. Despite this profusion, one girl (obviously not black) had the spirit and verve to ask my country of origin. It’s simple mathematics but since this simple question was directed at me I knew I was without a doubt called to respond. With patriotic sincerity I said “Kenya.”
My execution was so perfect that it elicited a second question from her which met with overwhelming reciprocity and then another question, another word and the circles of exchange in no time gathered whirlwind speed and I was so caught up in these motions that I did not realize the ride was on a self-destructive path so that in the end when I was caught with my pants down, all I could do was hope for a miracle to intervene. At the beginning of our conversation I got the details of her mischievousness: that she was currently dating a girl and that she was yet to officially rescind her membership in the other league and that her doomed boyfriend did not know about this and that. As she said, he really has no promising future with her.
This was a revelation out of the blue for she did not even have the slightest lesbian-like features about her. I threw all caution that strangers observe to the wind, the secrets she was divulging were of the highest order, so that even the Pontiff himself would toss in his bed if he were privileged to be entrusted with them, and yet here I was sharing and in complete partnership with the Dark Forces of the world. I searched deep the labyrinths of my heart for any pity for the poor boyfriend and found none. Then the next thing the girl said though, a fraction of a second before I demonstrated my allegiance to her by sharing all the memorable facts of my dark life, changed the tide of everything that was going on between us and it surely did stain forever the mutual complicity we had found in each other.
She said she does not like and never uses “dildos.” My grandfather was famous for his quantitative skills and so was my father, who having left the dry lands of Turkana in search of name and adventure, came back with a tremendous faculty that enabled him to accurately approximate the number of cows, camels, donkeys and women that had been born and those that had been raided in his absentia, and he also brought a rejuvenated ambition to expand Lokwei’s Empire. And here I was with an opportunity to demonstrate this hereditary knowledge to an unsuspecting Westerner.
I then quickly measured the connection between the facts that she was dating a girl and not a boy, and her detesting of “dildos,” and I hastily ran down the logical path, beat a corner (nikachapa corner) of irrevocable certainty and, before reaching the conclusion, I shouted an order for two shots of scotch to celebrate the imminent exhibition of my logical ingenuity and proof that I was indeed a legitimate progeny of my grandfather. Really grinning in her face I said, “So you don’t like penetration?”
Until this point I must say my hot engagement with her was not motivated by an insidious intent to turn her current ambiguous sexual involvement in my favor, nor a desire to use, if Providence in the end would bless the proceedings of this engagement, my human mechanics. This was a different investment. A pure stimulation of my non-consequential curiosity drew me closer and closer to her; I thought I had found a friend at first sighting. Furthermore, she had a chiseled-like facial structure that was reminiscent of the numerous stories that my uncles and older siblings had told me about the era when our Turkana community and neighboring pastoralist communities had not yet procured modern Kalashnikovs and G-3s but instead used spears to survive, to terrorize and to dominate other tribes. Since my childhood, I had developed, not really because I preferred peace or cared for mutual coexistence but just to be different from the rest of my tribe, an irrational dislike for spear-shaped objects, and therefore my engagement with her was purely inspired by nobler causality.
Heaven broke loose as the last word of my question left my mouth and I did not know until then that she commanded a legion of galaxies that flashed before my eyes as she receded farther away into her chair. I did not know exactly the precedents that brought us thus far or what was really happening, but from her abrupt reaction I sensed that the mortality of our interaction was imminent and that it was going to happen if not that instant, then sooner. This is also a hereditary instinctual capacity that I have.
It goes without saying that Chinua Achebe is a prophet, for indeed things fall apart. She had completely mistaken my simple and undiplomatic curiosity for something more aggressive, more disgusting and more disturbingly negative. I have no doubt that this is the same kind of mistake some Kenyans are letting themselves commit when they jeer at our presidential “loser” Raila Odinga’s petition to the Supreme Court under the banner “Democracy on Trial.” The petition could actually be a misplaced sentiment that should not necessarily be a comment on the election outcome, but on the fairness and maturity of the judgment of the tribally-prone Kenyan voter: that is, if Democracy is to be defined on the basis of this voter’s judgment and if election-voting processes are tailored as purely individualistic exercises. The banner could easily be remodeled as “Kenyans’ Prudence on Trial.”
But hey Jubilee comrades, do not mistake me for a sympathizer with Raila, Democracy or Ahmed Issack Hassan, just like this girl is mistaking me for filth or Raila mistaking his petition as a quest for Democracy and Justice. I’m just nationalistic and probably as biased as you are. I actually supported the Jubilee alliance, but not because of the moral higher ground of its representation at the top, but for the same marvelous pan-African sentiments of self-sufficiency and political autonomy that some of my friends have claimed which puts us, the neo-pan-Africans, on high alert for any visible forms of neocolonialist interference (if you’re a Jubilant you’ll get me). This sentiment could be overly short-sighted, but hey, so are other countries foreign policies. We’re even now, cool?
Now I remember before my diplomatic overstep, this girl, still in sexual transitional mode (and I believe she’ll remain a watermelon many centuries to come), jokingly said that I should be called “Immanuel White” instead of my usual beautiful name Immanuel Lokwei, for I had strongly, I don’t remember exactly how, expressed that pan-African belongingness and lectured her on the historical injustices that my race in Kenya had endured, especially during the Mau Mau uprising under God knows whose dominion (I could say who but I am afraid of foreign sanctions). I had emphatically said that being very conscious of this history, I was collecting reparations in whatever capacity I could and, given that I happened to be abroad and had white girls at my disposal, I was willing to take reparations from them too. She said that injustices were serious offenses that should not be joked about and that justice should not be denigrated to the level of sexual reparations, and I said that was indeed on point and that if she felt that way she could change the status quo and start the overdue retribution and offer herself to me for that’s the least she could do. I think that was when she emphasized her ambiguity and noted that I gravitated towards white ladies just like all the black men she knew and that was how she baptized me “Immanuel White.” She seemed then very charmed by my diligence. I did not press on in that direction though for I respected her ambiguity and even became more attached to our formalities.
But when mistakes are bound to happen they do happen. There is a moment when you realize that all your efforts have been consigned to oblivion. As someone said, you realize you’ve specialized yourself into oblivion. This was not the moment but one of those moments. We the Turkana, unlike a few lucky tribes, were born with an already engrained familiarity with oblivion, and it is usually just a matter of time before we realize our places at the bottom of economically developing regions. I know with this girl’s reaction, with my imminent relegation to oblivion, I would handle this happening much better than my countryman Raila (and may he forgive my voting bias) if his petition fails to obtain his objective. Perhaps if he were a Turkana he would deal well with the threatening political obscurity. Anyways, what is to spill will do so. With this deterministic thinking, I was able to sanely handle my panic.
The girl’s shift in her chair caused such a huge cosmic imbalance that God himself opened Heaven’s windows to see what went amiss in His Divine Will. He barely had them opened when He had to shut them before the vulgarity of my utterances could soil His Holiness. Thunder was heard as chairs screeched as the girl’s temper soared and she pulled herself farther away. God asked the parking meter if it could intervene but the parking meter said it was no longer called Jesus nor Moses but Jonah and that unless a sea, a whale and a boat were provided, it would not budge. God shuddered at the mention of Jonah and said His Omnipotence was not prepared for this cost again and He was just about to turn to Gabriel when a close friend of this girl, who had been following the proceedings of our interaction from the horizon, stepped in and saved the day. In the meantime NATO called off its jets to the annoyance of the president of America.
An arbitrated dialogue commenced at a separate table; Israel and Hamas take note. From my vantage point I could see that other miniature universes of interactions between my hosts and friends proceeding perfectly fine without incident. The busy bodies on the dance floor kept on with their weird twisting and the loud music was neither soothing. Our universe had receded all the way to this other table and I wondered where the instability of our encounter had come from. Well, our arbitrator’s skill cooled down the girl’s anger, normalized my shock, and at the same time championed Peace, and soon pointed out our cultural differences as the source of this significant dispute, this debasement as she put it; significant in the sense that if reconciliation was not achieved, its consequences would ripple beyond our imagination – that is I would be deported and you know what that means, a whole village that is looking to me would have to wait another two decades before they could produce another son like me who could initiate and lead them out of oblivion (imagine two more decades, when we were just so close!).
I was happy when our arbitrator recommended that the Kenyan culture be sacrificed in order to appease the offended girl. I joined the festivities without even asking what about the American culture, what about its contribution to this dispute, and whether the Kenyan government should first form a commission of inquiry to investigate these allegations. A very ugly and emotionally frail woman had once told me that in the process of arbitration, justice is not shared equally but is distributed in the proportions of power that each disputing partner brings to the table. Between America and Kenya, it is obvious where the scale tilts. Okay girl, crucify even the neighboring South Sudanese culture if mine is not enough.
For long I have been lamenting oblivion, but maybe even in the desert of oblivion Peace can be found. After cordial terms were stuck between the girl and me, I went back to our former table to retrieve the two shots of vodka I had ordered. One of the shot glasses had the following written on it: “Take one every fifteen minutes until you feel no pain.” But fifteen minutes’ wait was too long. It’s been a rough night. I did not remember that it would have been nice to share one of these shots with the girl to cement our terms. But after such horrendous accusations, generosity is out of question. The second shot followed the first in a matter of seconds.
I thanked not God, not NATO and not the parking meter but the arbitrator for saving the day and I was happy that I escaped unscathed from the consequences of our dispute, had it not been resolved. I made it to the door in a drunken stupor. I thought I was heading back to my ancestral land just as my sensible father had done. I was fed up with striving to be socially conspicuous and with unnecessary alliances, so that when the waitress who had been supplying us with liquor, the two final shots included, and who had been hovering around our table constantly in the name of delivering service, said it was too early to leave and asked if I could stay, I said no. All I wanted was the obliviousness of my land and its peace. Well we have our own disputes in our land but isn’t peace the state of mind that comes from being accustomed to disputes you are familiar with? The dispute between the girl and me is something totally unfamiliar to me and shameful for I would have to explain to my people that this dispute revolved around sex, dildos, penetration, and imagine what they would think when they find out that this girl is not the kind of girl they are used to but a budding lesbian; they will just shake their heads and say “Our son, you are lost!” Anyways all these aside; I did not want to take another chance since everything I touched would turn stale.
The waitress, seeing that I was firm in my decision, broke down and with the usual women’s tears begged me to stay and revealed that she had been keeping a watchful eye on me because I reminded her of something: I was an adult version of her former teenage boyfriend. Apparently they broke up or the boyfriend died prematurely, otherwise why would she insist on my staying? I think more of the fact that he died than they separated, and if he was still alive, she would definitely have seen my quality of invisibility. I pushed the girl away. There was no time to linger on. Another characteristic of my grandfather and father: Once we make up our mind, we actually do something.
I walked back, flanked by that phalanx of hosts and friends who had come to show their solidarity, to my hosts’ apartment, thinking I was journeying to Turkana. Oblivion is in my DNA, I confessed. Our desert of oblivion, Turkana, was calling. Nostalgia was calling. Raila, what have we done to deserve this? The rest of what transpired on the way is not yet forgotten history. If you can send me donations I will resign from my job and concentrate full-time on this narrative; the much I have said already in this piece is just but an abstract of the bigger things to come. All you need to know for now is that when I woke up the next morning I was disappointed.