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A short story

‘The other day, as my drowsiness took charge, I heard the nurses whispering. They said how sad it was that I ended up this way. I don’t think it is sad. I think it is sad they think it is sad though. They said I used to be a lawyer – imagine that! Me! A lawyer! I told you I was bright. They mentioned about a generous pardon I had received from the Head of State (HoS). They also said I was very lucky, for I ought to have been sent to the gallows.’

Blue, black and all other cool hues not so crystal-defined, seemed to be in a conspiracy to deny his identity the chance to separate itself from his conscience. As a result, he increasingly became his own worst critic, leaving no chance for error. In his mental guidebook for life, it read on every single page that error was to be attributed exclusively to folly. He was clear too that folly, as infectious as it may be, was to be left to be the basest of instincts, for the average man who really did not deserve the burden of carrying humanity in his purse. Every time he was angry, he would quickly declare the foolish as being selfish, for dragging down humanity with them every time the normal curve decided to be all-inclusive. He would often be caught saying, with little pride, that if such folly were his destiny, he would end his life other than deride a great cause such as humanity was.

He could generously share, with no pretence for decorum, his unending list of things he detested. His understanding of humanity was very different from the teleological character fallen from God’s grace: He believed much like the humanists, that God lived through man, and therefore purity and perfection were man’s innate characteristics. Anything short of that must not be of God, and must therefore be of the Dark One, a threat to humanity that must be fought with passion. He fought many battles, bruising many egos in the process, picking strings of enemies in a world where politeness held the strained fabric of society together. It was unambiguous for him: Evil will never love goodness, to do good one must expect to be fought back by such forces of wile. Humanity was a superior force, which must be preserved at all costs, often times by a loss of the humane in the battle.

His fellow human beings didn’t understand him. They could easily describe him, speaking always in vitriolic tones, of his baseless pride, his acidic unappreciative nature, his self-righteous narrow-mindedness, his feigned intelligence that could only efficiently serve Paleolithic ends, his brash outlook that mirrored the rough edges of a worthless diamond, and a countenance that knew no way of knowing if it was expressing happiness. Many blamed his childhood, not because they had access to such a background, but because such unhappiness could only have arisen out of inadequate breast feeding or early weaning. It was believed that early weaning robbed one of childhood and forces one to grow up untimely. The result of that was likened to the early harvesting of mangoes in a bid that if kept in warmth they would ripen: Therein arose the paradox, yellow skin but bitter taste, acrid after-taste. Indeed, this was one of those fruits; they called him in popular fashion, a fruitcake. I still don’t understand where the ‘cake’ part was derived from; a fruit would have just suited him okay. Since no one bothered to ask my opinion, I didn’t volunteer to brand it silly. He never understood why the mention of the word would elicit giggles of satisfaction either, so he didn’t protest.

I think he was very intelligent, even though I never told anyone. To carry oneself with such an air, one must have had access to information not easily reached. He must by necessity have had an intense understanding of self, such that the understanding of others would come uninterrupted and easy. He must have had superior vision, in his smile of wryness, it always appeared to me that he could see how we were all trapped and didn’t even realise it. In case you wonder how I knew we were, are trapped: It was by looking at myself in the reflection of his eyes. Even though people tended to think of me as mentally retarded, on this count of recognising his mental capacity, I was the genius. Sometimes I wondered whether my identifying with him meant that I was like him, intelligent. Somehow, such thoughts would reach their intensity when they were about to inject me with a dose of palliatives, taking me to a safe dreamy land. As the drugs would take effect, I would edge closer to common wisdom that he was but a fool, and the doctor would monitor the progress and advise that I keep on the medication.

Of late it has been getting harder for me to live within myself. When the drugs fade off my body, I am having recollections. Unlike the initial years when the dosage would wipe out my memory and I would wake up in a revisionist crisis of self-definition, these days I am putting thoughts together, editing out the long pauses of drowsiness. Thankfully, I have lived in years of silence, and even though it now rabidly itches me to speak and share my thoughts on this debate, to tell them that this man is superior to them, and that if they listened to him, they may find liberation like I have, I keep mum. I tend to get excited by my convictions, and it is at such points that I am always thrown into a straightjacket before the nasty shot is administered. For the sake of an even deeper understanding, I must remain docile, detached, and even strung-out. I must go into a longer stupor than the drugs can sustain, so that I use my drug free mind to figure out this genius.

One thing still troubles me deeply. If there are any similarities – and I believe there are many – between this man and myself, how come they don’t put him on the same medication as me? How had he managed to escape the People’s wrath all these years? At times it gets very irritating to my sensitive mind. Is he like I think, exceptional, or is he like they say of me, a lunatic? What’s with the double standards? Who was conning the other? Which was the truth? Who was behind this conspiracy to keep me from using my natural brain, in its organic form, without artificial chemical incentives?

I wanted to reach out to this gentleman. If not for my own good, at least to let him know that they were going to go after him, and they would not stop until he was committed to an asylum. I also really wanted to find out from him, how I could escape from this condition that he could see in us, but of which we were too socialised to realise that we were trapped. I think the many years of living against the grain had made him, like me, paranoid. He could not trust anyone. He also knew I was on medication, and from the rumours abounding about me, he remained very keen to escape my madness. Even though he didn’t know or understand whatever my ailment was, he knew that most things human were contagious. He suspected that my condition was a variation of a strain of folly, and he would have rather die lonely than breath the same air as a foolish man.

It hurt me that he had to be alone, when he could easily have had my company. Sometimes, even in his brilliance, I could easily discern his weaknesses. Pride aside, the prime of it was that he didn’t recognise obvious survival tenets, like safety being a function of numbers. Some people said that because of his snobbishness, he had missed out on important communal lessons. Others mentioned the milk theory. I don’t take milk of my own volition no more, the aim being double: That if a milk-deprived person becomes that conscious I will chance the experiment, and secondly, I don’t trust this milk if the design is that it make one more social, if not sociable. Sometimes they force me to drink it. I always feel giddy as a result, and no, I don’t think it is psychological. Nothing is psychological apart from the wars, perpetrated by the State and financed by the People, to control people’s consciousness. I also don’t believe in a collective conscience, neither does the State, even though I heard somewhere that the Laws have prescribed it. Wait. I remember now, my apologies, I didn’t hear it. I read it in the Constitution, now that is one twisted document. I am surprised sane people vow by it. I think sanity is an illusion.

The other day, as my drowsiness took charge, I heard the nurses whispering. They said how sad it was that I ended up this way. I don’t think it is sad. I think it is sad they think it is sad though. They said I used to be a lawyer – imagine that! Me! A lawyer! I told you I was bright. They mentioned about a generous pardon I had received from the Head of State (HoS). They also said I was very lucky, for I ought to have been sent to the gallows. I think I must have lost consciousness because I don’t remember any other part of that particular conversation. I would love to ask Sister Lucy about it, but I don’ t think she likes me. If she does, then she has an amazing way of hiding it, even from herself. I digress.

The reason I am letting you in on this, which is not to be repeated to anyone else, and which this is the maiden and final mention of, is because I need your opinion. Assuming that what they said is true, that I was once a lawyer, then it must be logical that I was punished for my arguments. It is not natural for the lawyer to be sentenced, right? Correct me if I am wrong, living in parallel worlds means I am no longer sure of anything. Do you know the fate of the client I was defending? I sure hope my pronouncements did not condemn him. If so, I apologise, especially to his loved ones. I am not sure whether I need to apologise to him, he must have been guilty any way. Everyone is guilty at any time; it is a pity because the State often chooses to prosecute on the wrong guilt. They could learn a lot from me.

Wait! Could it be that I was defending the Bright One I told you about earlier? Help me out here: How come I don’t know his name? Do you know his name? It is not important. If it is because of him I live like this, then he has a rather unusual way of showing his gratitude. Perhaps everyone is right; maybe he is just a fool, and I even more so for taking an almost romantic interest in his foolishness.

I must be the most hip drug addict of all time, considering HoS pardoned me. However, what kind of pardon takes away a quick solution that the gallows proffered for a dragged out pain on medication like my life is? Why would HoS pardon me, if such pardon were not an admission of guilt and liability by itself? I must talk to the Bright One, and let him intervene on my behalf. The State must pay for my suffering, and I don’t mean they keep supplying the cheap drugs they keep jabbing into my body, as if there was a risk these drugs would expire if they were kept anywhere else apart from the insides of my body.

‘I don’t think HoS is an intelligent person, judging from the character of the State’s citizens.’ Said I to myself.

‘We know, and haven’t you learnt anything about saying that aloud?’ Sister Lucy bellowed at me, her lips curled like a wilted flower in early evening, waiting upon the early morning rays of sunshine to open up and smile again. Why was she so angry with me? Should I ask her for an explanation? My gut feeling, at least whatever is left of it, tells me that her calloused hands would rashly bruise my skin if I were to even think of smiling in her direction.

I realise Sister Lucy must have been quite a gem in her prime. The way she carries her now dead-weight shows traces of grace, and generosity if you like a curvaceous body. I know I do, I have just realised that, letting my powerful mind do some quick time travel into the past. I like what I see, in the past I mean. I can even see that she used to smile, and it is – sorry, was – a beautiful smile. They must have gotten to her, and it is no wonder she frowns consistently. I don’t think she loves her job. It must be hard condemning the lives of others when all you want to do is save them. I think she is frustrated that she can’t save me. I think she still likes me. I also know, like she does, that the drugs are not meant to save me. I don’t feel sorry for her; she works for them, for the State. I do not agree with anything about the State, after all they say the State made me what I am today.

As she jabs my arm once more, I can see a trace of something strange. Allow me to describe it with one word: Almost. Indeed, it is almost a smile, almost reassurance, almost pity, and almost love. No, strike love out, I don’t know how love looks like. It looks like something, an unimportant detail to this story, once again. Too many pieces that won’t fit together: HoS pardon to me, the identity of my client, and Sister Lucy. When the drug subsides I will try yet again to figure it out. I must work fast before the next dose, the effects are getting stronger with every passing day, and my memory is slowing down fast.

As the last milligram of the State medication takes permanence in my blood, acclimatises and receives acceptance from the other molecules that preceded it, I will figure it out. I already have a few leads:
My client: Either HoS, Sister Lucy, or the Bright One
My crime: Human rights activism, Treason, Insanity (wrongful count of course)
My pardon: Pity, Conspiracy
The Bright One: He could have been HoS during that trial.
Sister Lucy: Former lover, perhaps was once a nun, hence the Sister bit. She must also be related to HoS.

I am very close to figuring it all out. I will be sure to share. Please don’t tell anyone about all this, they won’t understand. They never do. They are not like you and I.

* Karest Lewela is a Kenyan poet and activist for social justice. He is based in Nairobi and is currently the contracting and procurement manager for Kenya Shell Limited
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.