Malindi continues to socially police solitude. Lamu too.
Once in a while, one wishes to switch off the mind, to get rid of the stain of everyday’s noise. One then resolves to visit a new town, alone, without the baggage of company. To shake off the dust that has accumulated over the years. To have new conversations. Eat new foods. Learn new words. Swear in a different language. For the rare opportunity to think about nothing for days, except wonder how it feels like to be a cloud. To look into the sand and in a reflection, recognize yourself.
One then randomly hops into a bus and heads to Malindi, then later Lamu.
Before you leave, a friend taking you to the booking office will say: it is not so good for a girl to do these things by herself. Someone needs to take you to the bus. You need to lean on someone sometimes.
After the eight hours bus ride, in the potent pride of a lone traveler, you will send him a text and apologize for your aloneness. I do not know how to be taken care of. It is awkward to depend on someone. I like to control. Maybe I have taken care of people all my life; it is the only thing I know how to do. All notable points of contention. Then it will hit you, you are excusing your solitude.
In Malindi, solitude is unwelcome. There are no tables for one. A man in a restaurant will ask you if you are ready to order. Focus on the undertone. He is asking if you are there alone.
At 2.00 pm, you will wake up and go to the beach. A girl does not walk alone in Malindi, unless she is looking for old Italians to fuck. You will pick up these things from conversations with the boys and the fishermen littering the beach. You will pick them up from restaurants. Once, in a restaurant on a street I do not remember, the waiter will fail to serve you. We thought you were just waiting for someone, he will say when you ask. Girls who go there do not buy. They smoke cigarettes and wait.
In the evening, the sun will sink and the lights will come up. In darkness, every house becomes a dot of light. The shacks and the mansions are all equal, reduced to light bulbs suspended in the oppressive darkness. Beyond the shack under which you are having your dinner, the ocean will be there, in its pomposity. There is something threatening about the ocean in the dark.
When traveling alone, you are visible to others. Even the ocean knows you are here unaccompanied, afflicted by aloneness.
In this shack, a man will be sitting there, in the company of a cigarette. You will wish you could smoke. He will ask If he can join you, and before he speaks, one already knows what he will ask first- who are you here with?
In Lamu, you will meet a man while having your evening drink in a floating bar. Why are you sitting alone? My friends and I want you to join us. Amidst conversations on nothing and tremulous laughter that shakes the ocean underneath, they will ask you why you are traveling alone. You could have come with your friends. You will have to explain that your boyfriend was working, and he couldn’t get time off.
While walking back to your hotel, a young boy will ask you if you want to ride his donkey. Another one will ask you if you need a guide. You will not hear them. You will be thinking, wondering why after all these centuries of humankind, we are still strangers to solitude. The terms of the world are to not be alone. Solitude is a deficiency. Solitude is loneliness. Solitude is unwelcome. Solitude and loneliness are a state of the mind. You could be here in a room full of people and still be alone.
And solitude, like quiet, is a rare thing to find these days. Why are you quiet? Is everything okay? Who are you here with? You must be here with somebody. Are you here alone, littering the world with pieces of yourself, hoping that by them, you will be found?