THE BIGGER DREAM
It is natural enough that man should have a dream upon which his life is built. Children envision themselves as successful adults, living a fulfilled life, and being the professionals they so desire. They think of themselves as doctors, pilots, engineers, and hardly teachers or secretaries. And so they grow with this dream in mind, until the point when the truth raps them in the face. But human beings are hopeful creatures. So the child who is now grown, seeing that the dream he had woven for himself is far-fetched, trims it down a bit, and fixes his eye on it, with the hope that it should now come into fruition. Now, this is what happened to Wavinya, a writer I met in the beginning of my career.
For Wavinya, the reality rapped her hard on the face just when her work began to promise. I was there with her, when it suddenly became hard for her to write any worthy paragraph, when reading became troublesome, and when her carefully structured ambitions rammed into each other in the lane of disillusionment. And suddenly, I will regretfully say, that for her, writing became a hateful thing, and books were like torture pins in her nails. It became painful, for me of course, to see her this way, for this brought hard questions to my mind, and I could see that they intended to spin into ruination. More painful however, was the loss of my colleague. I do not mean loss as when we mean that one is dead in the physical sense, but in the manner to mean that she was no longer useful to me as she was before, and that he worth in my life was reduced to that of a guinea pig to a scientist. No. Wavinya was not to me like a guinea pig is to the scientist, for I know realize, upon a careful study of my erroneous analogy, that a guinea pig is more useful. Of course, she became an experiment of a sort, and I confess that I played the role of the observer, and thus took notes, and discovered that unlike a guinea pig, she could not be consistent in playing her part.
I have already mentioned that I began to watch my former colleague with a curious eye. Thus I will only add that on top of this, I designed ways in which, like a marionette, I would manipulate her to produce the desired results. At first, when I realized that she had before her feet the ruinous path, I narrated to her the dreams we had weaved together. I reminded her of Oxford, Leeds, Harvard, and many famous academic dreamlands we were to set foot. I made her eyes see beautiful and voluminous books under her name making it to world’s biggest libraries, and her name and mine written on the writer’s hall of fame, a landmark on writer’s land. Now, for we had been in a pub, after I had narrated all these to my satisfaction, I reclined on my seat, and pursued my drink, only fixing on her my curious eye, waiting to see the results.
“I will tell you this” she began.
I could see her struggle to keep her eyes open, and I knew that it was the result of the drink. She had taken to drinking lately, much like a hobby, and I should imagine that it could be that she meant to steel herself, or rather embolden herself so as to fight the reality that had antagonized her rather harshly. But to my eyes, I saw her as a staggering boxer with a swollen head who was being beaten mercilessly by his competitor. Yes. To my mind, her drinking bouts were but the faint jabs of an exhausted boxer, who knows very well that he has lost the fight, but continues to fight for the sake of his dignity. So pitifully I sat there, sipping my drink, and watching her wrestle with words.
“I will tell you this…this I say young man” she began again.
Then she halted amid the incomplete sentence, and helped herself to her whiskey. I did not find it absurd that she was drinking it straight from the bottle, against her constitution, for I knew that it was the circumstance that had forced her to, and she could not do anything else but to agree. I decided that I should be patient with her, as a man is with a lady he is courting.
“I am a happy woman. I am full of life…still young…beautiful, rich, you can see? Can’t you? I have many friends who look up to me, and a son who thinks am the best woman in the world. I am married. My life is not bad. Actually, saying so would be an insult to God. You hear me young man? Stop smiling when I am being serious. It is an insult to our maker. Shie, let me tell you something Kababy. I still see you like my little boy Benny. Ok, that is not it, what I want to tell you is, you see, writing is not important these days! No one reads! I declare!”
I did not say a word, but watched her climb the table and propose a toast to the revelers.
“I want to make a toast.” She began. “to all the rubbish of books which we will burn, to the wretched writers and sorry publishers, to the shy guys burying themselves in books instead of perusing the thighs of girls as their mates, to the dirty old professors who will die unwanted and lonely, and finally, to dear young me, for realizing it too early, and getting the fuck out” she continued.
After she had finished her last sentence, a man who had been sitting at a corner took his drink with him, and approached Wavinya, who was now busying herself with filling her glass so that she could make a toast.
“My name is Musembi.” He began, “I have been writing for a long time now. There is no genre, and God knows this, that I have not attempted. I have volumes of poetry, novels, plays, epistles, name them. And all these are rotting in my library. What is the use of this? Of struggling to write when no one even reads? Did I mention I have a blog? God! Not a soul is interested in it. Well, they can busy themselves with all the raunchy articles about sexual exposés and politics. That’s what the 21st century man is interested in now. Sex, politics, celebrity hood…”
Here was a man who commanded silence when he spoke. He was a man who made you listen to him without him coaxing you. His words were rather careful shot arrows, and seldom did they fail to hit their target. You would listen to him, and anything he described would come before your eyes. You would know he was capable of making castles sprout from the ground. Now, he had charmed every drunk in the building, and they were all moved with feeling. Wavinya too felt his words, and I could see that she was very thoughtful. I waited her to speak.
“Let the man talk” she stammered.
As if he had not been interrupted at all, the man continued with his speech, waiving his hand occasionally, so that even if you wanted to cough, you could not attempt.”
“And worse of all are the celebrities. Name them all, and I will tell you that they are as a coin to another. No difference. Do you know why you worship these men and women so? But why, they are placed there, on top of the hierarchy, to make all of you believe that the ideal life is possible. We human beings are very clever. We know how futile it is to live the ideal life. The life of freedom, the life whereby we have wealth at our disposal such that we can eat what we desire, go where we desire, see what we desire, and so on. When we notice that it is impossible, we gather our resources and heap them on a few people, who we then put on top of the human hierarchy. There they are. Our gods! Demi gods to worship every morn, to follow on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, name all the platforms. So if you are tired friend, then I say, make your toast, and I will drink to it.”
He raised his glass, and everyone remained silent. Then he nodded, and mad cheers filled the air. Wavinya was standing on the table. She raised her glass.
“Burn the books, lose virginity, marry, party, and forget the pen and papers. Cheers to that man’s words. Screw the demi gods, screw the celebs. Cheers! See, like that little man over there. He deserves a good lay tonight”
Everybody cheered wildly, and a few shy men were forced into the company of women. I had been the first, since Wavinya had declared me a virgin, and suggested that I should get a lay that night. Now, being among ladies heavily blotto, I could not follow up what she was saying, for these women, having been inspired by their drinks, touched me in all the inappropriate places, and I was beginning to feel myself respond. Yes, I wanted them, I wanted them to continue. I loved to feel their thighs, and their soft breasts were heavenly in my hands. However, I realized that it was necessary that I should stick to Wavinya, to make sure that she would not pull more stupid and ill-advised stunts. So I excused myself from my unbecoming company, and convinced my writing mate, for I still considered her one, to climb down the table at once and go home with me. This I had to do not with words alone, but hands as well, for the pub was a mess of a place, and revelers had grown mad after intoxicating themselves, so that there was very little room for reason. And thus any little disagreements were settled with blows, and women pulled the skirts out of each other. Finally, upon succeeding, I led my lady out, with the intention of taking her straight to her abode, for I felt a little guilty and responsible.
“Where are you taking me? Look at you!” she began once we were out of the pub. “I am not going home. I am not tired. Why? Let’s go to the park.” I nodded.
“It’s too early to sleep boy. And why sir, I should have sworn you were going to get a lay tonight. You really are a coward.” She said, then broke into wild laughter. “Anyway, you have already made the damages. So c’mon. We go to the park, and you tell me one of your life’s stories because I know you are your favorite subject.”
Now that she was not morose, she inspired a little laughter from me, and I should believe that I was beginning to feel lighter, though I still felt giddy and want of talk. Upon my reflection on the strings I had believed to have pulled in order to work her in telling me why writing had become hateful to her, I found that I had not succeeded, and had instead, been pulled into folly by my own devices. I thus, as we were going to the park, promised myself that I was going to get it from her, as to why she had given up the bigger dream. Yes. She was my friend and my writing mate, and her perpetual hiatus invoked fear in me, that I should, as I did mention, take the ruinous path and see the end of my dream too. I therefore do not believe that I had any genuine feeling of empathy towards her. I was only concerned about her plight because I could see that her fall was somehow connected to me. And thus, my interest in her could not have been more than the interest a father has in his son, whereby the father pushes the son to succeed, because it is this success of the son that brings out the father’s repute.
As we walked, it seemed in my mind that we were swimming in yellow light, and therefore I thought of it very beautiful. She was beside me, but my imaginative mind decided that it should stand a distant in front us, and bring in my eyes the images of Wavinya looking very blissful, with her left arm around my neck and her right one clutching her purse. I, on the other hand, was staring into space, with a look of awe and anticipation, and when I walked, I staggered, and let out rough laughter, as that which should be heard from a mental place.
The stars where high above the sky, and I could tell that they were not very many. My favorite star (Nanssah) was still there, and I thought that it was still beautiful. The moon was in its crescent shape, and seemed to be sprinting fast against the clouds. I remember, that when I first caught sight of it, I made Wavinya to look up, so that she could share with me the mysterious moment. But then, since we were very drunk, and upon fixing our eyes to the sky, which seemed to be fast rotating like a spun ball, felt dizzy and toppled down. We both laughed, and I felt stupid, that I was engaging in this folly, and that I did not have the aura of the composed gentleman I so desired to portray when I had been calmly sipping my drink.
When we reached the park at last, it was very deserted, and I think that it was only the two of us there. It was very enchanting, to see how the grass wore a most charming look, that made one feel as if he/she was in a fairy land. There too was a cold breeze travelling across the park, and this made us shiver with delight. I forgot, at that moment, about interviewing my mate, and instead, focused on the sensations that had so overwhelmed me. Yes, in the park, I felt that I was in a fairy land, and so felt age ooze out of me, and death shut out for eternity. There, for a moment, I felt that I was all alone, and blissful, for a time that was static. I fancied that I could travel many miles around the land, and discover tinker bells and other creatures. Yes, my drunken mind played me a lot of rotten tricks, as I was fixed on that spot. Finally, Wavinya woke me from my reverie, and my world came tumbling down to my dismay. I looked at Wavinya, and there she was, with the look of a sage. Yes. I was once again motivated to indulge her in a conversation, for the bigger dream had returned to me, and the air seemed perfect for a talk. For a minute or so, we stood there, beside each other, silent, each mulling over thoughts.
“I saw you happy moments ago, when you climbed that table, and on our way here, and then I thought to myself, well, blast the bigger dream, life’s good for you after all. You were happy. I mean, you looked really happy, free, careless, and nothing held you down. You just seemed like one who charts her own dreams. But here we are, and it seems to me that the happiness was something interim.
I see, and I cannot be wrong, that the demons are now back. Yes, they are haunting you under these beautiful stars, in this beautiful park. How do you feel? Whipped? Because it does not look like it is milk and honey in that world of yours. And can I tell you something? Benny can never be trusted for his opinion. It does not count. See, as much as he is a son to you, and invaluable as such, I do not think that he has had enough sense experience to make any worthy opinion of anyone. I should think that when he calls you a sweet mom, he is motivated by his title little memories of him breast feeding, and maybe a little car toy you bought him. Yes, you might have your husband with you, he might love you, yet I do not think that he has any other alternative. He is bound by duty to you. I say, it is the bigger dream that can free you from the shackles of slavery, from these drinking bouts, from having to fool everybody that you are happy. It is that big dream, that thing the God Lord put in you. Yes. I have my doubts yes, many of them I will say, and I will confess to you that I do not like talking too much on the topic, but the least number of times I have thought of it, it occurs to me at the end of it that it is the bigger dream that can truly save us from this misery.
The farmer has his hoe, the painter has his brush, the doctor has his stethoscope, and we have our pen. I know what I am talking about. The craft hurts. You write what you think is the best manuscript that was ever written, and yet, no one pays it any attention, while on the same time, rubbish stories are being celebrated. Then you think to yourself, well, there goes my craft! I am the unlucky buffoon! I am the dull one! I do not possess any wits! I do not have the required humor in my stories! Maybe I am too descriptive! Yes, all of these disagreeable thoughts fill up your mind, and then it occurs to you that the pen is not worthy. You say to yourself that life is beautiful out there, and yet you know very well that despite the individual happiness, we have that duty towards society, towards the universe, towards the human race. And what else could it be? Is it not being true to ourselves, being true to our bigger dream? Our craft? Our talents? Yes. It all boils down to our talents ma’am. Nothing but this.” I finished. I waited for her to talk.
“God knows how I have tried, how I have struggled to write. I write merry stories. You know, those kind of stories that have lovers in them, where girls believe in love, fall in love, and sleep at night and dream all about love. I write those kind of stories which have cheerful schoolboys in them. You know, they play in the dust, and play rotten tricks on each other. Mine have been merry stories, eavesdropping stories. How much have I admired Oscar Wilde for his sense of humor? How much have I envied Marry Higgins for her suspense? How much have I envied you for your vivid description and subtleness? You tell me son. You tell me. And all these years, I will tell you, I have been true and loyal to this craft, like a faithful, humble wife to her husband. But see, just as the husband is wont of sleeping with younger damsels on her account, and spending his time with them, and money too, the readership plays the same card. The publishers sing the same old tired song. Write for political emancipation. Write about the black man’s culture. Pepper you work with instances of corruption, tribalism. The African readers are not yet ready for merry stories or philosophical thoughts. They are not ready for subjects on age, the individual vs. society, personal conflicts, no. we are not there yet. Tell you what, why not write a good sensual story. A good erotic story. It will sell. They don’t seem to see how it is out of tune. And there you go son. Why write? Tell me. Why write? Don’t be the kind of a priest who preaches about marriage when he is not in one himself.”
I could see what she was talking about, and I knew that she was contesting on valid points. I wanted to tell her that it did not matter that she wrote merry stories and no one was interested in them. I wanted to encourage her, to tell her that it was necessary to write, even if she was the only sole reader of these stories. I told her that it was only the bigger dream which was the avenue to true freedom and beauty in life, the avenue to true happiness and contentment. And yet, I confess, I too felt that I needed comfort myself. I was hopeless. I remembered the man at the pub, what he had spoken of, and then I wondered if I had not wanted to be a demi god myself, if Wavinya had no badly wanted to be a goddess.
“It is not about you Wavinya. The bigger dream is not about you. It is about the world. How will we leave it? For sure we are not going to live in it for eternity. Our time will come, and we will have to rest our bones. How will we leave the world? That is the question I ask myself, and I believe you should too. Everyone should. Just think about the doctor rejecting his stethoscope, or the syringe, because he hates the smell of blood. Um? The farmer rejecting his jembe because it is too hard. See, the world would come to an end. The farmer should go for the syringe, because it is not his forte. Nor should the doctor go for the jembe. I think, we have no power to reject who we are. If you are a merry writer, continue writing your little merry stories, and pray to your maker so that he can help you endure the pain. I will continue to write my mad tales. And that way, with each and every one contributing the little he/she has, the bigger dream comes into fruition.”
I didn’t hear any word her, I did not feel the need to coax it from her, and neither did I feel the need for further conversation. We sat there, side by side, each ponderous, waiting for morning to come.
BY OSCAR GHITTO