There are a few things that I refrain from telling the world. These are often phrases prompted by situations. Things like “I don’t care,” and “Really, that’s nice,” and “I’m sorry.”
Most of the times I intend to say the opposite, but for the sake of peace I utter them.
Yesterday was one of those days for me. It’s been four days since I resigned from my position at work and I was stressing about writing when I ran into someone I looked up to in the writing scene. He smiled when I walked into the New Victoria Hotel, the one directly opposite Tuff Foam Mall, and pulled out a seat for me.
“How are you doing?”
“I am fine, thank you Sir. How are you?”
“Growing old, so how is the writing coming along and please don’t tell me you are working on something.”
“Writing’s great and yes, I am working on something.”
“You know, Prof showed me some of the material you’d written and I was taken aback because, well, you have a long way to go and don’t tell me that you are into what these young fools think is the epitome of writing. Don’t sit behind a screen and type things and call yourself a blogger, because that is a waste of time. I see it every time with my students here at Maseno. A student cannot differentiate between ‘there’ and ‘their,’ and he or she is so proud over the number of likes the post has. It’s like they are applauding the disregard of grammar. They like what is full of trash,like the chips they eat every time! Before you say that I am being harsh,let me tell you what I told Prof after reading your book, Fire. I told him to advise you to get a job, work, and do something else because, and I agree with Prof on this one, the world right now encourages folly, a shallowness that your book does not. It needs one who can enter the realm of literature and see beyond the proverbs and sayings of a drunk to grasp what you’re talking about. You do not have that kind of audience. You cannot create that kind of audience. So, forget it and do something else with your life. It’s what I told him and I am glad I met you in person, because you need to hear the truth my child.”
“Thank you Sir, I appreciate your honesty.”
“I do. I really do and I’ll hear what Prof has to say, chances are he won’t utter a word about meeting you or that you read the book.”
“I read all four. It was the third one that really depressed me. Enough about it, tell me, why are you not at work? Prof mentioned that you do something with young girls here in Kisumu.”
“Why? Did you get a better offer?”
“Yes, I chose my own. I have a few months before I focus on school.”
“Great, now I am almost done drinking this tea. I hope you heed my advice and that all goes well for you.”
“Thank you Sir.”
We talked for a while and he invited me to talk to some of his students in the coming week. I accepted his business card and jotted down his phone number in my notebook promising to call when the time was right. He left after insisting that he pays my bill.
I sat there looking around trying to see familiar faces because when you are breaking down in public it’s best to know who’s around. The first ten minutes after he’d left were the hardest. He was not just “Sir,” but the one who inspired and worked with the best of the best in the writing scene in Kenya and Tanzania. He had not only read one but four of my books. He found the third book,Wind, depressing! He’d read my books, not just opened a chapter and forgot one,but actually read four of my books!
I sat there and for what seemed like ages, let the tears roll down my cheeks. I am sure the people around noticed, even the waiters but no one approached my table. It’s one of the things about breaking down that no one tells you; when you silently shed tears everyone stays back uncertain of when you’ll start bawling. So, there I was, with a brownie and tea cup in front of me,crying because someone I looked up to said that I should keep my pen locked up and get a job.
It’s what stuck with me as I went back home. At some point, I found myself picking apart the words he’d uttered and thinking back to his face then. He’d seen the frustration I’d face writing and was offering me the easy way out, but he also knew for sure that I would not take it. He was asking me to stay down knowing that I needed the strength to keep standing and it was only Prof who told me of this later on as I called bawling my heart out.
Truth is, when someone says anything about something I create, it makes me feel something. Sometimes I feel good, sometimes I feel confused or I feel bad, so in his own weird way, he was making me understand what shutting down felt like so that I’d fight to stay on, and that is one awful way to do it Sir!