The wizard in Kangundo who owns a shop and likes to buy people’s toenails; the hill, somewhere in Ukambani, where things slide uphill; thirteen-year-old girls who swarm around bars like this one, selling their bodies to send money home, or to take care of their babies; the billionaire Kamba politician who was cursed for stealing money, and whose balls swell up whenever he visits his constituency; a strange insect in Turkana that climbs up your warm urine as you piss, and does thorny unthinkable things to your urethra.
Painful things are shed like sweat. Somebody confesses that he spent time in prison in Mwea. He talks about his relief at getting out before all the springs of his body were worn out. We hear about the prison guard who got Aids, and deliberately infected many inmates with the disease before dying.
Kariuki reveals himself. We hear how he prefers to work away from his family because he can’t stand seeing his children at home without school fees; how, though he had a diploma in agriculture, he has been taking casual driving jobs for ten years. We hear how worthless his coffee farm has become. He starts to laugh when he tells us how he lived with a woman for a year in Kibera, afraid to contact his family because he had no money to provide. The woman owned property; she fed him and kept him in liquor while he lived there. We laugh and enjoy our misfortunes, for we are real in the group, and cannot succumb to chaos today.
Kariuki’s wife found him by putting an announcement on national radio. His son had died. We are silent for a moment digesting this. Then somebody grabs Kariuki’s hand and takes him to the dance floor.
We talk and dance and talk and dance, not thinking how strange we will be to each other when the sun is up in the sky, and trees suddenly have thorns, and around us a vast horizon of possible problems will re-establish our defences.
The edges of the sky start to fray, a glowing mauve invasion. I can see shadows outside the gate, couples headed to the fields.
There is a guy lying on the grass, obviously in agony, his stomach taut as a drum. He is sweating badly. I close my eyes and see the horns of the goat that he had been eating trying to force themselves through his sweat glands. It is clear – so clear. All this time, without writing one word, I have been reading novels and watching people, and writing what I see in my head, finding shapes for reality by making them into stories. This is all I have done, forever, done it so much, so satisfyingly; I have never used a pen. Maybe – I am not just failing; maybe there is something I have that I can barter, if only for the approval of those I respect. I have lived off the certainty of others; have become a kind of parasite.