When You Misplace Yourself

There is a store at the intersection of nowhere and everywhere owned by a woman with hair like gnarled hardwood branches wearing a patched cloak of forest floors. There, in grimy jars marked with the yellow tracks of time are stored the scents of imagination, the last dregs of dreams; the battered-but-still-usable hope of those who have owned nothing but second-hand fear. For the right price you can buy back fate. But what do you give to a woman who is dressed in the world, who wears earth as an off-the-shoulder, like a last minute addition; existence as an afterthought.

If you walk past on a Tuesday morning, you will find her blending knives with a sprinkle of lemon-grass: flavoured pain. The store is filled with people who can buy nothing; who come to gaze at what-could-have-been, lying trapped behind glass, close enough to touch yet ten-different-lifetimes away.

It is a store for those who have known the non-sleep of cold floors; have wondered why if ‘frozen’ is a solid word, how does it then soak through the skin into the bone until you are nothing but skin wrapped around ice. She keeps the place open for those whose power was carried away on the backs of obese cockroaches: the coup d’état of ideals. They who came to understand that the absence of beauty can cause a physical pain, can cause a throbbing ulcer that breathes and sighs on the tender back of stolen happiness.

Art by Philippe Guffanti

It is for them, the ones who have the notion of better as a memory, false, a trick of the light of conscience. How many times can you die without dying? Infinite: again and again on a divine-loop. The body will turn to mush and the spirit to pulp, you will lose the capacity to bleed and still live. Still live. A collection of unseen bruises, an unending open wound, a tapestry of hurt but alive. Deceptively: alive.

There is no empathy without imagination. Maybe that is why the woman, the one who rose fully grown from the womb of the earth, made this shop cluttered with befores and if-onlys, to stand as proof that the wounds of the spirit can be bottled, placed on display, acquire a physical form. Perhaps it is her way of fixing a language that does not have a word for the unseen ways a body can hurt beyond itself. Maybe it is her way of fixing a people who can only understand within the boundaries of their own realities.

You will always find them there, in that store, the broken. They walk around, grazing the jars with callused hands, suspended in the glow of the yet-to-be-improbable, ultimately to-be-impossible, finally to remain as the potential of something that never-became.

Gathoni Ireri, ‘When You Misplace Yourself’.

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