- There will be no shortage of metropolitan narratives to embellish the pages of books that will focus on this precarious age.
- However, how does one fictionalise a reality that is stranger than fiction itself?
Humans have a proclivity for creation of stories and narratives. Major events in their lives almost always act as stimuli for wonderful accounts of survival against all odds. Such moments turn normal persona into heroes and heroines who remain memorable from one generation to another. They animate our sense of the extraordinary and in their lives we live out our wondrous imagination beyond its normal limits.
A burning desire to tell a tale forged out of such extraordinary experiences abides in most communities. Americans marching against racism today against the dangers of the Covid-19 pandemic are actually minting experiences out of the ordinary. This will be retold there for years to come. Writers will mint books of all kind out of all facets of the George Floyd murder. One remembers an uncanny parallel here between him and Bigger Thomas, the ill-fated black character in the famous novel Native Son by Richard Wright.
Modern societies behave more or less the same. With the dawn of the Covid-19 pandemic, or what others call globemic, many are the narratives being woven on it and its impact. Some of these stories are urban myths being circulated on rona. This is the localised name given to corona, especially by the youth. Snippets on bravado and bravura of Kenyans in the Metropolitan Nairobi outwitting the times, abound. Remember the young people riding in an ambulance from anti-curfew binge or the ferrying of empty coffins as a pass against lockdown. Not all corona time accounts are bizarre, others inspire.
This week I boarded a boda boda and sought the expert opinion of the rider on the pandemic. What are people saying on the ground? He told me that many believe it is a passing cloud. The many months of extended lockdown have bred a weary spirit. The rise in the number of recoveries has fortified the masses. The wanton misuse of face masks, he noted, is evidence of it all. Many families in the metropolitan have a choice to make between dying from rona or from starvation.
It is this basic need for food, survival for families and weariness that inform the masses who dare out to eke a living. He cited his case for instance. He ferries all and sundry and is in the direct line of possible infection. But, he has six children and a wife who is cut from her work as a mobile bishop in Kabati – a township just after Thika. She cannot reach her place of work because of lockdown and respect for the law. The biker-husband now carries the risky burden as the rona hero of his family against all odds. His is a narrative that replicates itself across different parts of the city and its suburbs.
The woman who washed my clothes as the President painfully extended the lockdown is another interesting rona champion. She has unleashed extraordinary energies within to cope with the times. She sells anti-rona masks between 6am and 9am at the junction between a wealthy suburb and the superhighway. She then evolves into a washer-woman up to noon for youthful Nairobians who continue to work online and adapting to the new normal: the digital metropolitans. I pretend to belong.
At lunch hour she hawks githeri and black tea to construction workers on credit. In the afternoon she helps her husband’s last tour of the posh estate with a handcart selling vegetables, fruits and potatoes from gate to gate. Her job is simple but demanding. She croons for customers. It is her duty to approach the fierce gate-men. In the old normal days, she had a steady job as an ECDE teacher. She has a diploma and has been trained for the new curriculum twice. She is a fashion blogs fan.
However, it is the local shoe-shiner/cobbler at the main exit of the gated community where I dwell who offers a curious account. At dark daybreak he offloads Githurai trucks for an hour. He then morphs into a jogging trainer with local youths for an hour “eating” superhighway miles between Githurai and Ruiru. He then shifts into a supermarket attendant in the posh neighbourhood up to 4pm. He goes home to quickly take a bath and change into his night soldier persona.
There will be no shortage of metropolitan narratives to embellish the pages of books that will focus on this precarious age. However, how does one fictionalise a reality that is stranger than fiction itself? How does one render a true reflection that imitates an extraordinary reality? How will we name these accounts when they come to audiences who never lived these days?
Will what we call the new normal, one day be treated casually as quite ordinary by future metropolitans who will be natural multiworkers? As we brace for 30 more days of dramatic heroics of Metropolitan Kenyans let us remember. We have to treat this pandemic abnormally so that it treats us normally.
Dr Makokha teaches Literature and Theatre at Kenyatta University