To the creative writer, there is something morbidly inspiring about morgues and barstools. Morgues because dead men tell no tales, as the saying goes, and the man looking for inspiration wants to tell tales. Barstools because, well, just barstools.
I often wonder how all the people who work in morgues live without a daily dose of writing about their experiences, about the different people they meet every day. But barstools are the place to be, partly because you do not look like an insane person when you talk to the person on the other side and partly because imbibing has a way of opening up the creative juices. The bar is morbidly relaxing, if you enjoy the sound of your own thoughts or if you are lucky enough to have good, non-demanding company.
Its times like that that seemingly small things become writing ideas, and you sit at 5.30 AM in the morning, with pains in places that probably should not hurt, and pen a story about the struggles of writing and the barmaid who might not know she is a shrink of sorts.
Immortality would not be good for any species, especially our kind for whom sated primal needs such as food and sex are not enough to keep our non-existent sanity. In case you do not bother to be regaled with stories of a man looking for inspiration, here is a link to flexible women, everybody likes flexible women, I am not so sure about pregnant women doing the split though.
I am thinking about sitting at the bar because I met Joyce this past weekend, a barmaid with a keen eye and a soft motherly look. Actually, I called her ‘mami’ several times before she gave me the evil eye and said ‘Ninaitwa Joyce’ (my name is Joyce) and someone pointed out that she actually had a tattoo of her name on her left arm. I had already been imbibing before I sat at the bar so a little blindness was allowed.
I like to watch barmaids/men work, there is something about the woman or man behind the counter passing out poisons to men and women looking for escapism that is intriguing. The barmaid at my kalocal, a heavy woman called Mumbi, or something like that, was a scary woman I used to stare at through the grills and wonder whether she enjoyed her work. She had no life in her, no spirit to make conversation, except when talking to older men who looked to have a woman listen without necessarily having to listen to their bantering in return.
Mumbi, or whatever her name was, was replaced by a thin thing with absolutely no life at all, even when an smiling old man bought her shots of things strong and potent. I have not cared to know her name, partly because I ‘bonded’ with Njeri, a waitress who has a happy face. Okay, I think she has a permanent smile but in actual sense she has one of those teeth structures that make the teeth stick out of the mouth at all times. I am sure you know someone with teeth like that, an oddly smiley face. I always wonder how people who look like that kiss without harming the other party.
Talking about risky kissing, I recently recalled an old story from high school. A student sleeping on the lower bunk was woken up in the middle of the night by a sharp searing pain in his upper lip and an odd weight. The weight was the upper bunk, complete with its occupant, which had come off the hooks on the ‘head-side’ and fallen on our protagonist. Sharp pain, and the weight meant that he could not scream, or he could, but it would emerge as a muffled cry like that of screamer with a pillow on her mouth.
For the few seconds it took the occupant of the upper bunk to realize he was now sleeping on his bunk mate, and not in a good way, our protagonist had a wound that required about fourteen stitches on his upper lip. On the bright side, my high school is next to a world-class hospital with a lot of hot nurses and doctors-hoping a good friend of mine does not read this because his sister works there-and a higher than proportionate number of white staff.
On the dull side, however, he now had to spot a bandage for a few weeks as the wound healed. Anyone who went through high school knows that there is a special place in hell for the kind of sadists who walk around in high school uniforms or with chalk imprints on their jackets. One of those men was Mr. Kiroko, a burly man who could chew on a blade of grass like there was a gift somewhere in the middle, and ignore the dripping drops of saliva, and overly disgusted students, trying hard to ignore him.
Granted, he was a Physics and Metalwork lecturer, perhaps the worst combination of disciplines for anyone hoping to be sane. Mr. Kiroko walks to our bandaged friend and asks
“Joseph, nini lifanyika?” (Joseph, what happened to you?”
Since there is no way of answering the question without it coming out as plain weird…
Joseph: Niliangukiwa na kitanda (The bed fell on me)
Mr. Kiroko (laughing): Ooohhh, I thought you had been kissed by an inexperienced person.
Those are the kind of men who deserve to burn at the stake for making sick and injured people laugh their way back to the theatre.
Okay, yes, barmaids. Njeri is special, she reminds me of the barmaid at another kalocal in South C who does not mind placing a lid over my unfinished beer and keeping it until I go back, even when it is a few days later. I first met Njeri on my birthday, when three girls raided my house and dragged me to a bar to stop mulling over my first major event as a single guy. She could not get over the fact that I had three women in a bar on a Saturday when the bar lacks any despite being in the residential area next to a public university.
I think I made around ten friends that day, men giving me the evil look because I seemed to be hoarding a precious commodity. Old men, to be precise, with clear worry lines on their face that only come from having two children, mortgage, a nagging wife, a demanding concubine, an old car and loans from all banks. They are the kind of men with tired looks on their face like the weight of all the people in the world has been placed upon their shoulders. They love sweet young things who can marvel at their experiences, and who are impressed by their seemingly fat wallets despite the fact that half the weight is just business cards.
I saw the kind at a club some time when I misguidedly decided to see what goes on in the dark side of Corner House. On the table next to me was a young girl, probably what Waga Odongo call’s ‘girl’s born in the multiparty era’ with two old men who could only have been her dad and uncle, or vice versa. One was fat and stubby, wearing the kind of coat you are sure your dad either looted from a stall during the 1982 coup or has had since his university days when Sabina Joy was still cool.
The other guy was younger, probably in his forties but was not interested in the particular girl. It was weird because she was dancing along, and she had moves from an alien planet, the kind that make you wonder whether the dancer has any bone structure at all, especially a pelvis, how can someone survive without a pelvis? The guys, on the other hand, were doing moves akin to swallowing a Taser gun and a raccoon with untrimmed nails.
Njeri still marvels at that, and every time I am hit by my withdrawals and I need to sit among strangers and block out the world, she always asks me why ‘my women’ are not with me. I smile then, because I do not want to tell her I have noises in my head that need silence in the middle of all the noise, and a fixation like counting the drinks behind the counter. I know she means well, so I buy her a beer, a Guinness Kubwa at the lower limit of Mututho time and shake my head as she tries to make conversation. She is hard to read, partly because her teeth are distracting and partly because I do not care to do so. It would not help either of us, she believes I am a pimp and I am happy to let her think so.
I met Joyce on Saturday, the barmaid with a tattoo of her name on her hand. That’s either vanity, or there is some sort of kidnapping ring going around in Kenya where people are tattooed their own names for easier identification. Maybe the bar is her prison? Think about it, she does not move from the bar, so maybe her legs are chained to something underneath so she does not move outside. She has to say in her circle, figuratively, and semi-circle, literally. It could be a project by the evil overlord, he of the all-seeing eye in the form of a bouncer who stares at your date like you are a chicken sticking its neck out begging to be killed. The thought crossed my mind, but I could not save her even if she was. She is not exactly hot, and the good lord, or evolution, or wherever it is we wretched beings came from, saw it fit to give me an untamed mind in place of smashing princely look. I do not think her parents are royalty so ours would not be a Shrek-kind of a story, so I let her be, and followed her with my eyes as she did her job.
There is something intriguing about the barman/barmaid and the way they maintain sanity in the middle of madness. Joyce even has a system behind her, which I noticed when I tipped her and she took the note and placed it on a tumbler on one of the shelves. The tumbler had her name, and there were other tumblers, probably five or six, with names of people I guess are the waitresses. The system seems pretty simple, given the madness of a bar, so everytime anyone gets a tip they take the money to her and she, hopefully faithfully, places it in the respective tumbler. I sit there and try to guess what led her to this life that is still not fully appreciated as an art in our country.
Is she happy about what she does?
Does she have kids?
Do they know their mother is pharmacist with a limited inventory who cures the worries of men by feeding them on what they order?
If she is a slave, does she have any sexy stories about why she is now behind the bar?
Like she tried to run away and her captors chained her there, so her way of asking to be saved is to tell me her name so I can stop calling her ‘mami’?
I missed the cues then I guess, and she is destined to live in captivity behind a bar her entire working life.