“There are worlds out there they never told you about”

August 11, 2016

(after Jackie Karuti III)



Last night, I walked my grandmother to her gravesite because my uncle’s wife insists on being taken home, to die. My grandmother can no longer walk: either because she is too sick or too old to. It is December 2009. On 20th February 2010, my grandmother will die of a fractured rib that has survived bad readings on the blue glucometer now sitting on my mother’s side-table and, near-comas on Kenyatta National Hospital’s 10th Floor. My cousin, Tasha, stands there crying, she hasn’t wiped her running nose since yesterday. “I want to have my mucus run on the day my mother dies”, she says. I have been mourning my uncle‘s wife even before she is dead. On day five:

We mourn people yet to die,
Breaths yet to be taken, for the last time
Our sadness morphing into an angry sob
We’re too angry, to mourn you.



Outside Poppy’s on Melville’s 7 De Laan, we shall think of Jazz and Nova’s Jazz women. Women, who love men while getting hurt in advance, like rivers that meander into valleys that get lost in swamps that have never known the croak of a frog. These Jazz men! Men who will lay your heart out like a bass guitar, playing into Detroit’s blues graffiti-ed onto factory walls and repossessed houses carrying memories of black pain and ghosts of yesteryears. These Jazz men!


Just before they can hit the note, Atieno stretches her devilish red painted nails, once, twice, once again, she switches off the light. Dineo used to do this with installations in galleries across Mzansi. We can no longer tell what was and what shall be. We have played with switches in houses not our own and Atieno won’t stop. She knows how to puncture a heart in the rhythm of Jazz. The man on the saxophone wears a tweed jacket stolen from a dead white man whose family has never known the full details of its patched elbows.



In the same year that my grandmother is admitted—for the last time—in hospital, Jackie Karuti’s other-worlds are born in the brush in her hand. (Like witches are with bows and arrows, Kakunda, my grandfather’s sister likes to say). Days after my aunt’s body is left lying in a home no one calls home anymore, we sit between whiteness as specimen, thinking of a Karuti III that does not form a sequence in the imagining of worlds they never told us about.


We are being area-studied. Again.

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