If there was a small whisky flask in your pocket and you were in a different country, you would draw it out and take a few sips. But in this country, you have to be connected to get alcohol. You probably will walk into a specific chemist and pose as a patient seeking medicine. A few minutes later you will walk out with a whisky bottle wrapped in a brown bag. There will be some accusing eyes trailing you. Eyes that know your dirty little secret but you will pay them no mind. Because you are obeying your thirst.
As you walk along the famous street lined with fruit trees, most of them pomegranate, you will notice two boys on a tree. One holding a mirror and mischievously pointing it at unsuspecting villagers to burn their eyes and make fun of it. Ali, father to one of the boys will scold his son about such behaviour and caution him on what it means to be a good Muslim. He will then ask the boys to head home for lunch.
You will hold your bottle of whisky close to you as you pass the kabob place. The smell of the roasted lamb tempting you to walk in for a bite, but not even that will quench your insatiable thirst. You will lock the door behind you, sit at your favourite desk and pour yourself a whisky. Then, you will turn the page.
She is your favourite neighbour in the flat. You love how she laughs, a beautiful cackle that knows no restriction. Her kids laugh the same. You like her because she is fearless, a lioness. You like how she plays the coach when her kids entangle themselves in these ongoing intellectual debates. How she listens on, amused and happy to have brought forth such replicas of herself. You like how she tends her garden, a garden that has rare flowers. A hobby of hers.
When her niece and nephew came visiting, the atmosphere in the flat changed a bit, but not for long because just like her infectious laugh, her family’s attitude rubbed off on the visitors and they became part of the big family. Sometimes her first son has to siphon fuel from the frequent visiting priest’s car to fuel her SUV then head out for errands at the market.
You watch as all this unfolds from the comfort of your balcony. If you were single and searching, you would pick a woman like her. But you are not.
You puff your cigarette, then turn the page.
He’s in for stealing the company resources and cooking books to cover it, until he was caught. You’re in for a theft charge. When you learned both of you would be released on the same day, you became friends instantly.
One time in his low spirits he narrated his story to you. He was a village man. He worked hard in school and got called to join the university. A rare feat for people from his village. They sang songs of praise as he left for the city. When he came back, years later, he brought with him a girl. A city girl. Eyebrows were raised, whispers exchanged and behind his back, fingers pointed.
He later married the girl against his parents will to stick to the old ways of marrying from the village. The girl despised the village, she desired life served with a big spoon. And so he packed all he owned and moved together with his wife to the city.
The girl wanted it all and she pressed him hard for that new car, for money to shop, for an arm and a leg to keep up her city lifestyle. He was blinded by love rather stupidly and he gave her all she wanted. He even stopped sending money back home to his folks.
It was a lifestyle he couldn’t sustain and part of him knew it. So, he started stealing from the company. He wasn’t that smart after all. Too many questions were asked. He was caught red handed, charged and taken to prison. He left the city girl in the city. He got locked up and that’s where we met.
The day we tasted freedom again he asked me to take him to find his wife, the love of his life. We walked the city like aliens that had just landed on planet Earth. So much had changed when we were locked up. Luckily, we found the house.
I saw his face shatter when she opened to find him standing there. His house was now occupied by another man. The only option he had was to go back to the village. I bid him goodbye. I could feel him wet my shoulder with warm tears. As I turned the page, I too cried inside.
Books are an escape. In them you find stories that are unforgettable. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi. Secret Lives by Ng’ug’i Wa Thiong’o and many more spectacular tales you can relate to. Stories that offer solace when the world is too much to bear and you need to escape even if just for a moment.
Books make you smart. Reading sharpens you and I can’t tell you how insufficient I feel knowing all the books I haven’t read and I still need to read. I love books I find a part of myself in. Life, though intricate in its complexity can be repetitive. I guess the Maker meant it when he said there is nothing new under the sun. And no matter how much a tale may sound original, there are bits of it you know to be similar to your life. You have lived it.
As a writer, I cannot emphasis enough the value I place on reading. Any writer worth his salt knows that reading makes you a better writer. Books are the tools I use to learn my other language, writing.
“If you don’t have time to read, you
don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
― Stephen King
a thousand books, and your words will flow like a river.”
― Lisa See
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