Monday, 25 November 2013

Saturday by the Lake

Kiboko Bay, after a bone-shaking tuk-tuk ride on the dirt road, is incongruous in its luxury. A small pool gleams bluely next to the lake. The noise isn’t birdsong, it’s more like bird-uproar, they are exuberant. Above me, the flamboyant tree is oddly Christmassy, but simultaneously not at all, tiny leaves smaller than a child’s fingerprint, great pods hanging ponderously down.

The breeze is strong here, and I can see my shadow’s hair blowing wildly, tugged out of its messy knot. And my starry earrings are blowing too, casting pale quick lights on the page of the diary where I write.

But it is the music of the wind chimes that makes me feel hushed and blank-hearted, as if the watch on my wrist is meaningless, and my to-do list is a mere extravagance.

I wonder if Queen Victoria ever dreamed of her lake, and if her staid, modest, loving soul was stirred by the sight. That little plump woman with her affected voice would have been horrified by primitive Africa, and yet I believe Lake Victoria would have silenced her with wonder.

I walked down to the water’s edge, telling myself that the crocodile I saw last time I was here was a mere monitor lizard, to stand on a boulder at the lakeside. And there were these dragonflies – pink, their bodies striped and their wings diffused, but pinker than I could believe. It’s funny how in Britain, when we speak of a pink bird or flower, often we mean pinkish, off-pink, a faint tint of blush. Even a robin’s red breast is nothing on the scarlet of my bearded barbets. But in Kenya, colour is overripe, true and feverish, unforgettable. Those dragonflies were fuchsia, pink as a child’s party dress, pinker than flamingos.

We went on a boat ride, to which I objected, since I will always think of our voyage on Lake Naivasha as a near-death experience – the look in that hippo’s eyes! But it was a peaceful trip enough, not a hippo in sight. We saw hyacinth, with its lilac flowers and leaves curved like a hand. It’s bad for the lake, they say, but I thought it would be wonderful, to see the lake blossom like an oasis, like a wildflower meadow in spring.

Back on solid earth. My soul quieted by the spread of shifting sky and water.

And the flamboyant’s petals are wrinkled as a dress left on the bedroom floor all night. Pollen staining my fingers poisonous orange.

A snatch of wind chime lullaby on the breeze.

Thursday, 7 November 2013


It rained this afternoon, and I pulled on turquoise rainboots, unclenched my umbrella and stepped outside. The scent of rain hitting scalding earth drifted towards me. Petrichor rising, blood of the earth, scent of dust and thirst, not sweet at all and yet so sweet it could be music, dazzling and painful and thirsty and home all in one. I feel like I could live on this aroma, eat it, drink it. It makes me feel so strong.

Warm steam curled around my legs. The road shone, every clean wet pebble blue-silver beneath the semi-sun, the lake molten silver on my right. A raindrop landed on my back and rolled slowly down my spine, making me shiver. Grainy mud spattering on the back of my legs. My glories, so splendid at eight this morning you’d swear your eyes were malfunctioning, now curled in upon themselves. Surely Solomon, in all his glory...

Cold Diet Coke burnt a path down my throat. Mzungu the rabbit licked my ankles. The kids, all eager, bright smiles and greetings, sweet lazy so-and-sos who haven’t yet glimpsed the toil of their futures. I find myself liking them more than I was ready to. They are so young, they hold nothing back, their stories tumbling over each other, and each wants to be heard, to know, to be known. They are peculiar, beautiful. And even though I know better than to patronise them, I still marvel that each child is so different.

Lightning glinting silently in the sky after dinner, and not much later, it pours and floods the floor to the starboard of my bed. I close the windows, rain falling on my arms and my hair.

And the night blows in, smooth and velvet on my face, starridden, strange, immortal.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Being young and RVA

Every so often, when I least expect it, I'll be working or playing or dreaming or walking, and it hits me in the back of the knees and almost brings me to the floor. And I miss that past so much I could hardly breathe, and it seems so INCONCEIVABLE, almost RIDICULOUS, that I’ll never live that life again. The boys wholeheartedly-important and the ugly Aeropostale T-shirts and tight jeans and the cafeteria food, the rush and the line, cutting in line and cutting my skin, I just can’t believe it’s over. Eucalyptus trees and dramatic crushes, arrival day, that excitement, and dorm cleanup and wanting OUT to see the boys and to run across the rugby field in rain and starlight.

The smell of fire. Killer hill. Birds so loud in the trees there’s not a moment of silence, and colobus monkeys. Caring community. Pikis. Ah, I want back all of a sudden. I want back.

And wanting to be in love so badly that I thought my heart would break. Those romantic images I’ve sensibly replaced with the hope that maybe someday I’ll find a friend close enough that we can unite our stories. I don’t dream of roses anymore, or stars, or (help me FORGIVE ME) I don’t dream of African soil.

Picking roses. Thorns tearing the palms of my hands. Picking all the old-fashioned and tropical flowers out in the garden to leave at the grave.

Studie. Or more precisely, studie bridge, where we sat for hours on warm dusty concrete. Talking to people you’ve been with for years is different. It’s so much newer than you’d think it could be. Those conversations, they went deeper than any I’ve had before or since. We told each other everything. Those half-sacred conversations, and our explorations searching for something new. Roofward we went, of course. The sky was the only hope of something untouched, untameable. We climbed the siren tower and our legs hung loose in the winds and the singing from AIC. We lay on our backs on the sun-baked sloped tiles of the cafeteria roof. We found a make-out spot behind the pond, with an oddly placed clock, and climbed on cylindrical logs to break into the mattress room, where I began to wheeze at once as dust rose to shape the light.

We were fire-new to feeling, then. And there was feeling, and hormones, and emotion all bottled up. Since our parents weren’t there, we raised one another, little wolves all teeth, and were all unadulterated, we were so black-and-white. Things were right or they were wrong and WE KNEW the difference, even if no one else did. Like animals, they put bars all around us, and we battled and fought the metaphorical ones and surrendered to the physical ones. We were just kids, after all. We weren’t that strong. And they told us we were bad, and we believed it. We were slutty, because we longed for someone to want us. We were female, and they said boys clouded our minds. We were weak and made weaker. They told us our purity was the only gift we had of value.

Hang on. I mustn’t get too dramatic. We’re not in those days anymore. They loved us as well. They wanted the best for us. They knew they’d caged us right next to each other, boys right girls left. I suppose they were scared all our feelings would combust. Mine did. They didn’t shatter cage bars, though. Those red-hot feelings just shattered me. And I was badly burned. I carry the scars to this day.

Physical scars are not that big a deal, though I have them too, ugly white-purple markings. But what’s worse are the scars of starlight and the stripe of milky way in the far north of Kenya, fine lines across my heart. The scar of DESIRING EVERYTHING and receiving so much but not – not-what-I-wanted is a stab wound with still-ragged edges. I tried to be stronger than the people who told me I had to fall into this mould to deserve love, and I AM, I AM STRONGER. But I still haven’t found what they have. Yes, I’m not strong enough to disdain a man’s arms and his strength. That’s true, too.

I lie here in marshmallow winter duvets like a snail out of shell, naked in the nightdark, easy to kill. And I don’t know why I suddenly miss this place, this school among volcanoes and hot springs and the valley, the great scooped out savannah. It’s good, though. I mustn’t forget how I cherished it. I mustn’t deny that it’s forever lost to me.

Tyre swings and ankle-turning stones, starry nights and ten pm curfews. Senior store and banquet and Sadie Hawkins and interim. They’re over.

Of course, we move on. But there's no forgetting our youth, is there? I miss them. I miss them. I’ll miss them always, let’s face it. Nothing is the same. I’m not the same, and neither are those girls who were my dearest friends. We have all lost it. That innocence. We have all grown old.

We were so raw then. We were so raw.