In January I was in Watamu, writing and eating mangoes. I was also swimming in the ocean and the swimming pool, tiring my body, clearing my mind for more writing, and building an appetite for more mangoes. I was in a house full of artists and every hour of the day somebody was awake making something. It was affirming. The mangoes were so good. It didn’t seem real that my father was in Chennai getting ready for his first chemotherapy session.
Early in February, I converged with other writers around a computer to learn the experiment we’d signed onto had failed. I had a sore back, a stiff neck, a stiff right hand, and real-life responsibilities. The Swahili word kusambaratika best describes what happened to my heart.
Without the comfort that swimming provided, I sought help from a physiotherapist. He was kind and demonstrated how to sit properly at my desk. He suggested I customize my furniture. I needed four sessions to make things bearable. On the upside mango season extended from Watamu to Nairobi, I ate mangoes, even the overpriced ones.
Pear season followed mango season. I don’t like pears.
My friend gave me a cancer awareness t-shirt. A good quality t-shirt. I wanted to turn it into a mop for cleaning my floor. I folded it and kept it away. I didn’t want to wear a cancer awareness t-shirt. I was aware. I was angry.
It was dusty in Nairobi. It was hot in Chennai. It was very hot in Chennai. It was very cold in Nairobi. There was no water in Nairobi. It was so hot in Chennai. These were the conversations between Nairobi and Chennai. Placeholders for “How are you feeling?” “Is this going to work?” “I am afraid.” “What if it doesn’t work?” I learnt that I don’t listen enough to conversations around the Kenya Shilling to Indian Rupee exchange rate.
My parents shared videos of loud hospital waiting rooms and so much sun outside. I suggested they watch Bollywood movies. They said Tamil was a difficult language to learn. I said they could watch cricket. They said they had CNN, Aljazeera, and BBC. I didn’t watch the news at all. I watched Bollywood movies on Netflix.
Rage is expensive. In Nairobi, it is exacerbated by the queues. Hospital queues, police station queues, bank queues, immigration document queues. More waiting, more rage.
In June, enroute to Busia with two relatives, we stopped at Mau Summit and tasted oranges from Tanzania—so green, so sweet. In Busia, we bought pineapples at the Kenya-Uganda border—so juicy. After three days of activity we had our last breakfast at the table. We ate lots of pineapple and watermelons until we were sugar saturated and it was time to return to Nairobi. I should have carried some pineapples.
I read about health supplements, about chemotherapy as a money-making scheme, how chemotherapy affects the body, alternative medicine, and prayer healing. I struggled to find words about what I was feeling, I wrote sentences I didn’t like and found it hard to read sentences in books. I watched myself fall behind on my Goodreads goals. Carried books everywhere, still.
I ate raspberries at my friend’s house. Carried a bag full of avocados home. I started to feel less angry. A little happy, even. I ate bread with avocado, beans with avocado, chapati with avocado. I shared avocado with my siblings. I collected cooking bananas from a sibling, and more avocado.
August was for loquats. I asked someone to climb a tree and get more for me. I might have eaten a half a kilo of loquats just sitting there in the compound with so many loquats. I carried another half kilo of them back to my house. Just one more chemotherapy session left, and then maybe I could relax a little.
Rage is exhausting.
My parents returned from Chennai after months of isolation. They bought gooseberries along the Nairobi–Kisumu highway, even though my father had been warned his immunity would be low for a few months. We gobbled them. My father told us about the time black balloons floated everywhere in Chennai.
Following my father’s return, I moved my desk to a new location, hoping that the sentences would return, and that the words suffocated by rage would now emerge. The tastiest fruits should be eaten when they are in season. Imported and refrigerated fruits do not taste as good. It was not difficult to think of my words and sentences as fruits waiting for their season to return. Yet, fruits do not remain untouched by soil and climate, and I wondered how rage and relief would flavor my words. I still wonder.
I had breakfast at a friend’s home in Thika. Leftover chips, black coffee, and Thika pineapples. The house is built on a former coffee plantation. I talked and talked and shouted and so breakfast lasted many hours. From the backyard you can see coffee plantations. I laughed I do not yet have a farm in Africa.
I’m going to stock up on red plums as the year ends. In a few weeks it will be mango season again. I can’t wait.
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