Last night I was working late as usual, banging my computer as she warmed my thighs, praying that she (the computer) would not construe this to mean any other thing. It is what it is. Me banging her is just work; may she never stop her humming and ask me, “G, what are we?” or even worse “Where are we headed?” I would have banged her for longer last night, but I was tired and the sound of mosquitoes ringing all around me spoiled the mood. So I pressed CTRL + S and went to bed. By then, as usual, Jaber was asleep, facing the window. Next to her was a copy of Fifth Draft anthology, a bookmark peeping out of a page. She must have fallen asleep reading it. She always does that. She reads until she gets tired, until sleep takes her away from the author’s world with swift wings, into another world that she can only experience with her eyes closed.
I took the book and put it on the stool next to the bed, and then snuck into the sheets, as quietly as possible, like a thief breaking into a house. Every single night when I get into bed, almost like a ritual, I kiss her on the cheek and whisper, “I love you babe, goodnight.” It is one of those things I started doing from the first day we slept on the same bed. Well, not every night, just those nights that I remember to do it, which is on most nights. I have no idea why I started doing it, because when I get to bed she is usually too fast asleep to even hear it. On some nights however, I go to bed when she has not been completely swallowed by slumber, so she feels my lips on her cheeks followed by a whisper.
On such nights, she says it back, albeit groggily. Yesternight was supposed to be one of those nights when I find her half asleep because I had stopped work early, all thanks to the mosquitoes. I wanted to kiss her goodnight and then read one more chapter of Abubakar Ibrahim’s Seasons of Crimson Blossoms before turning in. I kissed her, as usual, and said the words. But instead of saying them back, she said;
“I miss you.”
I thought, at first, that it was the sleep talking, so to humor myself, I asked,
“What do you mean? I am right here. How can you miss me when I am right here. Always.”
That is when she turned around, opened her eyes and in the clarity of her sight, it was clear that she had not slept a single wink. She had been waiting for me.
“You are never here, G,” she said, and with that I knew exactly where this conversation was headed; South.
See, throughout December when everyone else seemed to be having a ball, I was up late, working on a project. I never felt December leave. When 2015 walked out of my life, I was too busy. I did not even get to hear the fading click of her heels fade as she walked out of my life. Now she is gone. But it does not feel different. There is not even a warm spot where 2015 used to sit.
Because I was busy opening up a kiosk. A kiosk for books. What most people would call a bookshop. I called it theMagunga Bookstore.
I have always wanted to own a bookstore. I remember telling Jaber this someday when we walked into one in town. We weren’t there to buy books. We were there to get them to stock her poetry collection. So as she spoke to the manager of the store, I paced around admiring the shelves of neatly arranged books. They scared me, those bookshelves; because those rows and columns represented stories that I will never get to read, because surely, nobody can read all those books. Or can one? Her meeting did not go well. The bookshop rejected her book, saying that Kenyans do not read poetry and that her book was too small. She needed to write bigger books to be stocked in that particular bookshop.
She found me staring at the African fiction section, lusting after the titles that I wished I could buy but could not afford. Her eyes had lost their sparkle. They are usually big and white- the kind you would read in those old African poems, but when she came up to me, they were sullen with a familiar disappointment. She did not have to tell me that they had rejected her, the way she looked at me was the same way she had looked at me twice before after the previous two attempts to stock her books in local bookshops. After four tries, only the bookshop at Yaya Center gave her some room on their shelves.
“I wish I had something like this,” I told her.
“A shop like this.”
“A bookshop? But why?”
“What do you mean ‘but why’? Look at all these stories.”
Reading is one of the most amazing feelings. I want everyone to feel what I feel when I open a good book and look inside
That longing to someday own a bookshop never left me. I fantasize what it would be like to be at the center of so many books. I wonder whether they would overwhelm me; if by some sordid chance I become like a butcher who does not eat meat. I picture lines upon lines of books standing against the wall. I imagine I would know where each and every book would be on the shelf. I imagine I would be that guy who, when you mention an outstanding sentence from a book, I will have the title and author ready on my lips. I would challenge someone, anyone, to mention a memorable line from a book and I would know exactly where he quoted it from.
X “You’re the good one. The good one shouldn’t fuck her sister’s lover.”
ME: “Ah. Get serious. That is Kainene in Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie aka Queen Mother.”
X: “Sex means more to a woman because it happens inside her.”
ME: “Easy. A Man of the People.”
X: “…she would count slowly under her breath, her eyes closed, of course, and somewhere between sixty and seventy – always between sixty and seventy – he would grunt, empty himself and roll off her until he was ready to go again…”
ME: “Season of Crimson Blossoms by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim. Now that is a writer to watch.”
X: “As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”
ME: “ John Green, The Fault in Our Stars. Too sad a book. I would not read it again.”
X: “ ‘I left my bag open.
My poems spilled to my feet.
I tried to gather them up but all in vain…’ ”
ME: “ ‘…now there’s word on the street.’
Michael Onsando’s opening poem in Something Quite Unlike Myself.”
X: “Hate is not a disposable thing like that.”
ME: “That is Olubunmi Familoni, Smithereens of Death.”
X: “The question is, what colour will everything be at the moment I come for you? What will the sky be saying?”
ME: “The Book Thief – Markus Zusak.”
X“I could be your poetry…”
*cuts in again*
ME: “’..but I would rather be your rhyme.’ Akello by Abigail Arunga.” And then at that point I would turn to whoever is shooting these questions and ask, “How the hell would you expect me not to know that one of all people?”
When I opened my kiosk, it was mostly out of vanity. But also, I love books. I want books around me. I want the smell of freshly pressed books mixed with the woody smell of old, yellowing pages. And I am writer, without reading, you would not have the tools to write. What inspired me? Reading is one of the most amazing feelings. I want everyone to feel what I feel when I open a good book and look inside.
So I called up my go-to tech guy, David Mabiria, and told him that I wanted to open up a kiosk. He built a temporary one on this blog www.magunga.com/bookstore . It was one of those vibandas made out of second hand mabati, recycled wood and rustic nails. It has housed us for the two weeks that I have been operating this business. A number of people stopped by and bought books. Some paid cash while the others bargained like normal Kenyans for credit. I let them. They promised that they would pay me when the year turned and they did.
Luckily, I have not met the kind of people who do not pay debts, and every time you ask them to pay you back, they fly off the handle saying, “Oh please, Magunga. You cannot possibly be giving me a mental hernia over 2k only. That is small money bwana. I will pay you back soon.” Such people make you feel guilty for asking for your own money back. They make you feel like a wuss. Thankfully, I have not encountered such people, and I would not want to because I know pigs will learn to fly long before that debt is honoured.
Here is the thing, guys, about this store of mine. I opened it so that I could stock African reads primarily. Truth is most of us do not read our local writers, not because they are not good, but simply because we do not know they exist. And why is that? Too much infiltration of titles by odieros that bring such a stiff competition for poorly-promoted local writers.
I cannot pretend to have all the answers. What I do know is that I would like to do something about it. For myself, I will embark on the tedious journey of writing a book, and when that happens, I want to be able to market it properly and sell it. I would not want to be walking around events in Nairobi, selling my book from my bag simply because no bookstore is willing to have my book. To be honest, I did not quit a law career to become a poor writer. And I do not think any writer wishes to be broke because their work is not selling – poverty does not make you any more or less of an artist. It only means that you cannot pay your bills, and that is no way for anyone (not just writers) to live.
Right now, David said we can now use our new shop. We are moving the kiosk from the kibanda to a proper shop. If you want to get there, follow here www.books.magunga.com . David has not finished clearing up, so you might want to mind where you step so that you do not hurt yourself. There may be a lone nail or a hammer somewhere that you do not want falling on your foot. Of course it is a pretty new building so the smell of fresh paint still lingers, but do not worry, you will get used to it. The most important thing is that we have our kiosk and it is open. Buying is simple. You make an order, fill in your details and wait for my call. Delivery in Nairobi CBD is free. But if you are ordering from Nyapiedho in Bondo, then you will have to pay something small for the postman. That applies to you too, Rongai people, who celebrated New Year a couple of hours ago. Also, if for some reason you cannot manage ordering from the online store, you can get in touch with us via Twitter (@MagungaBooks), Facebook (The Magunga) or Instagram (@MagungaBooks).
Heads up: when we started we ran a Christmas Sale on books, and the sale is still ongoing till the end of this week. You might want to catch that.
See you on the other side of the till, folks. Trust me, in between the pages of a good book is the best place to be.
Oh, and Happy New Year. God! I should have started with that. Where are my manners?