It is my hope, and also an editor’s, that we can make a thing of this. You will be on your way somewhere and a shiny new copy of Nkwazi will call out to you … Except it will be me, like the stranger that got the window seat first. I leak personal information quite easily, so you will know by then that I’m a struggling novelist, an advertising executive and also a bit of a basket case. But not in the classical sense; just as a result of having to, you know, make things up for a living.
“We’re going to be homies,” I declare, encouraged by the fact that you haven’t asked the hostess if you can change seats.
I don’t know about you, but I’m still very much a pandemic survivor. As Zambians once again enjoy the summery comfort of lower COVID positivity, I’m the one chicken licken that can’t help but smell the déjà vu. I still wear my mask when I go out for long, contemplative walks on largely empty streets. I’m still freaked out a little by how many people, globally, have died, and highly likely to bring this up if you drag my behind to a ‘small party’. I’m still wary of sitting in restaurants. Never quite saw the appeal in tailgating at Grandaddy’s anyway. And no, I will not shake your hand but it is a pleasure to meet you.
I’m not pointing this out for the empathy points (even though, sure, I’ll take some, thanks). I’m still hell-bent on selling a novel whose essential content might not mean much to the grand scheme of civilisation, let alone African civic discourse. I still follow far too many sports teams, and use real-life relationships as barometers for good or bad ‘juju’ thereon. I do not think deeply enough about the situations in Haiti, Syria, Afghanistan, or even Chibolya, but I am capable of frowning at bad news when I refresh a page. I’m just a little shocked, is all, at how quickly we’re stashing away all the bodies, moving on; as though we hadn’t all just undergone the exact same nightmare … twice. Thrice? Four times? Sheesh.
My best friend — who is also a grumpy artsy fart, and maybe not even my best friend anymore, because what are best friends really — voiced things perfectly last year. A global pandemic has proven quite an excellent opportunity for people to suss out who they really are. Who are you when Monday is Friday is Sunday, and your material wealth or facial symmetry is meaningless, because you have to make sense of your own company? How much soul can you actually transmit, with the fibre-optic Internet you finally have a real use for?
Not plenty, it turns out, if our answer is to be a collective one. Generally, humanity has proven its short attention span, but everyplace else (please hear me out) there was soft power to hurry up and export: terrible super-hero movies, unbalanced soccer tournaments, exclusive video games. Every place else, vaccines are a lightning rod for (this is sarcasm) nuanced discussion. Here, there are still highly learned quarters in which the virus itself is but a damn good conspiracy theory. We’ve all sort of just gone back to normal … Elected a shiny new president, sure, but what else — beyond the personal promises we’ve always made ourselves work harder, and cheat less, and listen more? I’d rather hoped that more of us would wonder what ‘normal’ was, or start to reject how repetitive ‘normal’ was: flex on Friday, repeat on Saturday, recuperate on Sunday.