By Wr. Dismas Okombo
Presently, on the left side of my laptop is a dark, ungainly huge mug brimming with a hot concoction of ginger, ndimu and garlic. For the first time, against the insistent craving for the habitual coffee, I have opted to give in to my brother’s pesters and try the concoction. Glancing at the rising steam from the mug, I anticipate the potion to taste unpleasant. For, in the stillness of the night as I type away on the keyboard, anything besides coffee is often bitter. It is supposed to be good for my health; that has always been his only argument.
I doubt if it will be less effective, should I let it cool first.
I stare at the monitor, and as the bubbling eagerness to recount today’s late evening chat with Gloria Mwaniga gradually stir in me, the concoction and my brother’s argument for it recedes to the periphery of my conscious. Perhaps the proper way to write about her is to foremost mention the glint of passion in her eyes. For, whenever she talked, the passion would flare her facial. This greatly mismatched the quiet calm in her voice, and the relaxed posture she would, thereafter, hastily recoil into.
On the huge windowpane behind Nekesa, as the night closed in, the reflection of the boardroom had begun to form a blurry outline. Later I did glance at the window, and briefly observed [before the glamour of the city’s night skyline thrust itself to my attention] sixteen silhouettes of persons seated around the boardroom table; greatly engrossed in a discourse. The intent of the evening was to chat with Gloria Mwaniga, the winner of this year’s Miles Morland Writing Grant, about her writing journey. But every often, she would spontaneously redirect the conversation towards the actual act of writing.
From each ear, dangling in balanced harmony, were three pebble-like marbles stacked together. They would sway gently as animated gestures accompany her every statement: ‘Reading, and reviewing books for the Johannesburg Review of Books and The Daily Nation has been very pivotal in building my writing. There is an intriguing subconscious manner in which reading and reviewing the materials feeds into one’s writing.’ She had then paused, and at that moment, the numerous instances when I had bought data bundles exclusively for reading online literary journals but, after ten minutes ended up in YouTube flashed through my mind.
I had then smiled; the anguish of frustrations slightly trembling my lips and, timidly glanced at the window; half expecting her to make me feel worse about my inability to adhere to my reading schedule. But instead, with an aura of calm understanding, she had said: ‘Developing that reading habit is painstakingly hard. It demands sacrifice. In my case, I opted to relocate from Nairobi to Baringo, a place I had never been to before. Quitting a lucrative position in an assurance firm to go and teach. Because, I determined that in doing so, I would have quality time to read and write.’
Her manner of gentle frankness stimulated in me the steel resolve to develop the discipline demanded of a writer. The discipline to read. The discipline to review. The discipline to sit down and do the actual writing. And although not a single word from her actually articulated ‘discipline’, her every expression and mannerism gave a subtle emphasis on it. Throughout the session, I would frequently conclude to myself: ‘She is the writer every beginner will immediately identify with, and effortlessly learn to master the discipline of writing.’
Despite her glamorous millstones in writing, she doesn’t hesitate to talk candidly about the unpleasant behind-the-screens of writing. And, I consider it important; such forthright talks between writers. For, faced with a black page, the hesitancy on how best to execute our ideas so often builds up to frustration. Behind our laptops, so often self-doubt sucks out our enthusiastic desire to create something novel. We are kindred spirits; we all desire to know that we are not alone.
‘How many books do you read in a year?’ Nekesa inquired of her as the session neared the end. To which, she flashed a smile and said: ‘Aah, I am a slow reader. I read with a pencil. Early warning: never lend me your book.’ Laughter followed. She chuckled, and quickly added: ‘I write book reviews, and so, naturally I read a lot of books. This year, the Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi fascinated me most.’ It was in similar liveliness that the discourse came to a close.
I lift the dark mug and take a big gulp. The bitter taste stings my tongue and I hurriedly gurgle the content back into the mug. I desire badly to shout: ‘What a horrible taste! To hell with good health.’ But I restrain myself. And, some part of me re-evaluates the situation; maybe it is better to endure the bitter taste of this concoction now than to have to bear the agony of diabetes or hypertension in future. But I flash a haughty grin rationalize with myself: ‘I will have to start drinking it some other time, perhaps tomorrow, when it’s still hot. Perhaps just like the act writing, I think the potion is most effective when still hot.’
Wr. Dismas Okombo is an affiliate writer at Writers Guild Kenya.