Lokeshen: Kiongos Barber Shop.
Audience: The boys (and the barber of course)
The tunes of Lil Nas’ ‘Panini’ cut through the air like a knife through Swiss cheese, interrupting our raucous conversation about who we should install as captain this week on our FPLs, and more importantly , whether the Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium would be put to better use if our folks from Kach (Western) were allowed to sow managu on it. A little later, one of our boys Mannu received a call, and guess what, the caller screen displayed the name ‘BABE’ in block letters, accompanied by those love heart emojis that am pretty sure other boys of the crew myself included last received in Sicily, 1918 or The Berlin Conference 1885. The fellas watched Mannu keenly as he pressed the receive button and spoke into the receiver “Niaje babe (hi, babe)…” We couldn’t help but giggle as this champ was chronicling how much he missed her (let’s call her Heather), ask about her day, and go on to make those sounds that are a poor if not inaccurate imitation of kisses. That sound is the killer straw on the camel’s neck as they burst out into fully-fledged laughter, shaking their their heads while repeating the mantra commonly reserved as a funny jab for the gentlemen on TikTok: “we have lost another man.!!!”
If I had a nickel for every time this incident had happened to him or other guys I know, I’d probably have enough bucks to afford summer vacations on pristine Hawaiian beaches as I sipped Pina coladas and lived true to the phrase comrades use on receiving a ka-thao: ‘maisha imeanza kuwa nyororo’. Shocking surprise for one who thought that the only time Mannu would ever have to give the reply ‘we thank the Lord’ to an ‘I love you’ was when his girlfriend called him as he accompanies his mum to church I know , but that’s a story for another day. As I headed back home from the barber shop that day, the events at the barber shop kept replaying in my mind ,leading me down a rabbit hole marked by questioning why something as wonderful as love need be a reason for secrecy, or worse, shame. Like Alice falling through her rabbit hole and into Wonderland, everything seemed to be upside down, and only rigorous psychoanalysis (which I shall call The Road not Taken because of how much I hate thinking), could give me respite from my whirlwind of confusion and the feeling of being tugged at both ends .
The fundamentals of love have largely remained unchanged since times of Adam and Eve: love as the zenith of human emotions, an expression of affection and as the crowning jewel of the connection between two people. As long as we remain humans, we shall continue to both experience and express emotions, or at least feel the need to do that, given that they’re a pertinent part of our nature. That established, the variable in what I shall call ‘the love equation’ is the means by which we express this love, and the perceptions of those around us on how ‘properly ’we do this given that we increasingly depend on them for a thumbs-up sign/KEBS stamp of approval that we’re doing it well. That leads us to our second conundrum: is there a correct way to express love? Is love personal in nature, and if yes, should the opinions of others matter influence how we choose to express it?
I shall transport you again from Wonderland (or rather Sigmund Freud’s land) back to the barber shop, and try to tackle such questions in that context. We can all agree that the greatest double edged sword on the subject of love is the vulnerability that comes with it. After all, to love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, and irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable. So it should probably be okay to conclude that Mannu’s expression of love, and the act of doing it publicly and in an environment as testosterone-charged as a barber shop offended the ‘sensibilities’ of those to whom vulnerability is an affront to machoism, a construct deigned either for the private crush’s inbox, or even sadder, to no place at all.
A tangent that stems from this train of thought leads us to the question of perceptions of love, and why they matter. Vulnerability demands a lot of a person, comprises putting themselves both literally and figuratively at their mercy and hoping there’s no need to photocopy our hearts as we do this. In a world where heartbreaks abound and emotional displays are considered more and more as indications of frailty, the instinct reaction is to abhor all forms of vulnerability, to build a fortress around our hearts at an attempt to guard them. This default reaction is fast becoming the norm, and is reinforced both by the increasing rates of ‘character developments’ and the widespread view that both feeling and expressing love, and in extension vulnerability, is the shortest route to hurt. This both forms and enhances the perception that ‘mapenzi ni ya kuchezewa chini’ (lie low like an envelope while in love) and that hearts shouldn’t just be handed over like bursaries. It is from such events that folks out there have decided that the new normal is staying dangerous, also christened ‘staying Taliban’. Given that we are social beings, to whom the approval of our peers matters, we are bound to feel the need to live up to this widespread notion of love in some way.
Building fortresses around our heart does two things though: keeps people out, and also keeps us from people. In a bid to protect our hearts, we end up depriving them the very thing that sustains them: affection and connection; we go against the very reasons why we have hearts in the first place (that is apart from pumping blood). Denying an inherent part of our nature does not make it any less existent, fighting the need to connect does not in any way diminish the deep most desire to have a person or people with whom the symphonies of our hearts resonate. Any attempt to fight this need to be vulnerable is thus a fight against our very natures, a bout between an amateur boxer and Mohammed Ali; an assured loss. A fight against being vulnerable is in its core a feeble attempt to fight for control because of the fear of letting go, an analogy akin to a sailor who though the desire to conquer new lands and discover archipelagoes, is afraid of leaving the shore.
Vulnerability does not come easy. But Cristiano didn’t just come from playing ‘ligi mless’ (estate football) to being doing step-overs and dizzying runs around defenders. Vulnerability, like all good things, involves putting ourselves out there, practicing it and taking a chance on both ourselves and others, giving when you can only hope that the magnitude of that gesture will be clear to the recipient. Vulnerability is not a mark of weakness, but rather a show of strength, because it forces us to acknowledge a part of our nature that’s easier hidden, and not only to acknowledge it but also embrace and nurture it. It is a contract between ourselves and our humane side: a promise to let our humanity show without a guarantee that it is not going to be abused, and even when that happens, we shall strive to try again when the sun rises.
Well, although the road not taken is not easy, it also doesn’t have traffic jams. Mannu expressing his platitudes and undying love for Heather might not do his street credentials much good, but it sure does his heart a whole lot of good knowing that its owner embraces its higher metaphysical and lower physical functions ,and heeds yonder to its call not to be suppressed. Now, when my time comes to be in the position Mannu currently is, I shall make my street cred and ‘gangster points’ take back seat to my affections, let love be a hallmark of strength and not weakness, call her babe both publicly and privately, treat love as something to be embraced rather than be ashamed of, something I proudly did before The Berlin Conference when I was suddenly thrown off my sphere of influence but well, I don’t mind doing it again when the sun rises and we try again at the crack of dawn. And maybe at the end of it all, I shall say that ‘maisha imeanza kuwa nyororo’ while actually meaning it this time. That’s my take.