In a less rational, more truthful, past Kenyans feared elections. Each mysterious disappearance, each car crash, each large-scale tragedy, all loss of life was attributed to dark forces: politicians were making blood sacrifices, making pacts with the devil. We speculated and feared. We inhabited rumor and innuendo. Feared the worst. Gave in to dark imaginings. Maybe I misremember. I was younger then. And the haziness of then is clouded by the peculiar season where children vanished and reappeared denuded of genitals and tongues. It was a less rational time, and memory shades into nightmare.
I do not miss the nightmares.
I miss the truth of those less rational times. I miss the passion that dared to imagine the worst, the value that passion placed on human life, the risks taken to speak truth, justice, freedom. I miss the question marks with which we greeted state pronouncements, the cynicism that allowed us to pursue freedom, the restlessness that persuaded us state processes were not infallible, the necessary labor of paranoia, the life-sustaining work of rumor.
I find myself ill-suited to this newly rationalized world, where speculation is greeted with contempt, rumor muted by expedience, silence praised as wisdom.
Now we are newly rational. We budget human life, determine which losses are acceptable, round to the nearest whole number, accept that loss is costly, but necessary. Far from advocating for transparency, we now place human lives in obscene ledgers, practice an accounting perfected by slavery. In our newly rational world, all is okay as long as the numbers balance.
In our less rational, more truthful, past, we were not as quick to write off losses. Perhaps time has dulled the nightmare of what we were then. Perhaps even then we sold each other to save ourselves. Perhaps we still had words like shame, guilt, treachery, blackmail. Perhaps all we had was paranoia and gossip. Perhaps we were less truthful than I recall, more rational about our flesh trades: my life for yours.
Perhaps I simply want to believe in a past where we cared more.
A young writer tells me to abandon my sorrow songs. He urges me to embrace a promised future. Mourning should be left to blood-red soil, flesh-fed trees, blood-infused flowers. Flesh-eating insects that remain to mourn starve to death. We find pathetic those who continue to wear black long after funerals: melancholia is psychopathology.
I continue to sing sorrow songs. To linger at empty graves waiting for those bodies we have not yet found. To taste the flavor of blood in freshly-harvested maize. To hope that justice is still possible. That our present and future selves can look back to the past and say, “we have not forgotten you.”