In Summary
  • In a society out of joint like ours, it is hard to mourn a young friend in a healthy way.
  • I was so tentative that I couldn’t seize the moment and publicly embrace in death a friend I chatted with daily.

I have never wept for anybody as I have for my departed friend Sean L. Alpha Blonde (Boniface Ngari Mugo), a 27-year-old artist whose music never saw the light of day and probably will never

be sung again because its lyrics were not recorded in any way. Sean was not a Binyavanga Wainaina (1971-2019), the Kenyan queer writer whose work even those who don’t read anything by our young writers might have heard a little bit about.

BORN-AGAIN

I had not come to Nairobi to bury any of my young friends; my return home was to enjoy what I shamelessly consider, in spite of my laziness and unproductivity over the last few years, a “well

deserved” holiday, after being away in foreign lands for some two good years. I also needed a huduma number and the new-generation passport, so our almighty government can serve me better. I

got neither, thanks to government inefficiency and thirst for bribes.

A born-again Christian who is definitely far holier than you and all your churchgoing relatives combined, I’m not the type to be found near sinners or anything sinful. But my dog Sigmund (not me)

goes to all sorts of places when he visits Nairobi and has all kinds of friends the world over.

Sean would have been the one to show Sigmund how to dance to Wamlambez, the new Nairobi anthem, in many of the pubs they went to together — from K1 to Club LA, to Razzers. But the

young man was sick when we saw him in July, and all we did was have lunch together a couple of times. No Wamlambez. No Wamnyonyez.

Named “Ngari” (Kikuyu language for leopard) at birth, Sean was the embodiment of the thin boundary in an African community between entities considered opposites: human/animal, man/woman,

straight/queer.

IRRATIONAL FEAR

It is the European colonialists that erected the walls between these categories and put a knife through the rainbow that accepted us all as part of the cosmos. With their cartesian logic, which divided

everything into neatly bounded opposites, the colonialists sowed the seed of hatred in Africa: ethnocentrism, speciesism, racism, homophobia etc.

Yet the rainbow is the symbol of beauty, hope, and absolute freedom in such fine works of African literature as the Angolan Pepetela’s The Return of the Water Spirit and our own Shaaban Bin

Robert’s Upinde na Mvua (The Rainbow and Rain).

Like the inefficient government that colonialism left behind in Kenya, did I ever let Sean L. Alpha Blonde down? Many times. I have even turned him away at my gate when he and his cute young

friends came over to see me in the dead of the night. I put them on ramshackle boda boda motorbikes to go back to where they had come from in the rain, even when that was humiliating and put

the young men in mortal danger in this city of many robbers.

My private jokes with Sean were a bit naughty and intensely queer, such that I may not reproduce any of them in a forum like this one, which upholds family values. Yet in spite of my closeness to

him there was this irrational fear that Ngari, the leopard, would (with apologies to the poet Jonathan Kariara) invade my muu tree with his friends, grab my rusted sword from its scabbard, and sing

Wamlambez to it. But can anyone reorient this my singed sexuality?

MELANCHOLIA

Never one to keep grudges, Sean always forgave me. I seek forgiveness from the other young men I turned away in the rain that night.

In a society out of joint like ours, it is hard to mourn a young friend in a healthy way. We have collectively let the youth down. There are no decent jobs for them. The health system is dead. We

have led them to give up and contributed in some way or the other to their slow death. Many young people are walking dead, even when you find them dancing to Wamlambez in our pubs.

In fact, I am not very sure whether what I am going through now is not depression, melancholia. This is especially when I remember that the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (no relative of my dog

Sigmund) distinguishes between healthy mourning for a departed soul and melancholia, a pathological inability to mourn that drives one into depression.

In Mourning and Melancholia, Freud (1917) observes that “mourning is regularly the reaction to the loss of a loved person, or to the loss of some abstraction which had taken the place of one, such

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