In Kwani Vol. 7: The Majuu Edition, Tee Ngugi recounts moments of his sojourn in Namibia with memories of ‘lost love, hard times and the search for self’. Indeed, the essay When You Arrive At the Far End of a Continent echoes his conflicted view of a wide range of themes that characterise his short story collection, Seasons of Love and Despair.
The collection is made up of seven stories. Love and Damnation is the first story, a narrative similar to the vain nostalgia and self-destruction that consumed Jay Gatsby in the American classic, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The story traces the life of Jula, now a rich man, with a huge farm full of ‘cows, horses and sheep grazed in the meadows’.
However, Jula, like Gatsby, is unable to recover from a past love that connected him to Isha, a prostitute, twenty five years ago. Jula grieves over lost love until he meets Isha again when she comes to his home asking for work. Before that, he had to seek refuge in innumerable occupations only to ‘kill the yearning and memories through physical exhaustion’.
Isha finds him a saved man, married to Ruth, a devout Christian, whom he married in a holy matrimony in the presence of Reverend Simon Mata, a man who will betray him later. His obsession with Isha leads him to her servant quarters where he finds her making love to Reverend Mata leading to the murder of the latter.
Tee examines the hypocrisy of religion, lost love; women constantly heart-breaking men leading to their downfall as evident in other stories: Mystery of the Missing Girl, The Red Flower, and The House in the Savannah.
For solace, people resort to the bar where you find peasants talking loudly and dancing perilously to the music from the juke-box trying to forget their poverty. Life breaks everyone – schoolteachers, priests, peasants, prostitutes, mechanics, politicians, and even university graduates. In Broken Lives, none is spared and the downfall of Melissa, formerly a bright girl in school, reveals despair and haplessness at its peak.
The writer employs the first and third person narrator perspective to walk the reader into the crooked lives of characters such as Stephen Mwangi Thogoru in The Devil’s Dance. He is a jolly chap who buys people drinks at Meko People’s Bar during the day, but murders them at night. Thogoru is in fact a symbol of a rotten society that will maim and kill at will thus forcing the poor to resign themselves to the vagaries of fate. It is what compels the narrator to pose:
‘I was transfixed! Was this how we died? Quickly and agonizingly, and at the hands of a presumed friend?’
A ruthless realist, Tee is not afraid to sketch a wasteland littered with sadness, betrayal, endless disillusion, hopelessness – in fact, except for the last story, Love in the Age of Innocence, all end tragically. Some of his characters constantly peer into the lives of their counterparts through spaces left by the curtains signalling a world of eroded privacy and the determination to conceal crimes.
The book is available at the Prestige Bookshop.