I go to restaurants alone and have conversations with the waiters. They tell me about their past lives in Poland and Portugal and Papua New Guinea: how London is the land of opportunity, even though homesickness clings to their breath like borderless hunger, the kind that can't be sated with sedatives or sex or stiff drinks.
I look at these young men—earnest and untarnished by the bitterness of the immigrant experience with all its hyperspectral disappointments. I make friendly chitter-chatter with these young blokes—most of them not much older than my teenaged nephew. I eat my food and tip them generously before traipsing home.
When I return to the cocoon of The Blue Temple—my beloved home with it's exotic tchotchkes from Bali and Mali and Congo, the whole place smelling like black cherry and passionfruit candles and Gloria Vanderbilt cologne—I reluctantly check my phone. There are missed calls from friends and family members. I dive under my lavender-scented duvet not because I'm depressed, but because I don't want to talk to my father or my sisters or most of my friends about their lives—or mine, for that matter. I don't want to console them as they express their misguided concern for me. I don't want to talk to my clubhead pals in distant countries about their dull cocaine habits. I don't want to talk to the multi-culti crew of cute guys who want my attention and the softest, sweetest part of my essence, which has everything to do with being seen and understood and emotionally held: something I have learnt that most men of every proclivity treasure more than coitus or any kink under the glow of the kindest sun.
I have no problem spending months inside The Blue Temple without venturing outside, but reality doesn't bend to such a rhythm. Reality also doesn't have any regard for who I am, which is a highly sensitive hermit who's not socially maladroit or lonesome or bored or stunted in any setting. I'm atypical, but I like being atypical, and I don't see myself as a problem in need of a solution.
When the invitations and requests come, I make wild, ludicrous excuses that even a two year old can smell as shit-hot nonsense. This is the era of the author as actor, and like a bad bit player in a mediocre production, I flub my lines constantly: a fool not fit for public performance (because politricking has always been the meat and bones of the arts industry even if it's not what I signed up for.)
But there's never any lingering embarrassment. The whole enterprise is like a knockoff scent. It simply doesn't stick to the skin. Maybe this is due to my faulty memory, but it feels like my capacity for giving a shit decreases by the day.
I don't see this as a negative. For the first few decades of my life, I had been a robust people pleaser. When I was a teenager, my aunt mistakenly thought that this was due to substandard self-esteem, not realising I had a healthy sense of self-regard. What I lacked was safety as a visibly queer, traumatized Somali kid living in ultra-homophobic Nairobi in the nineties.
I didn't tell my aunt that I really liked myself, but that other people around me found the idea of a skeletal hyper-femme refugee kid with creativity to burn offensive. When my aunt would share her Oprah Winfrey-lite encouragement about having self-respect and such tings, I was genuinely confused. My takeaway from those pep talks was like an Amel Larrieux song in a heightened loop complete with caveats: 'You don't see me—and it genuinely doesn't matter if you ever will.'
None of what I'm saying sounds like the material for a traditionally successful life by any metric. I'm not married, I don't have children, I'm not invested in the idea of full-throated romance (even though there are quite a few options), I rarely travel outside of the one mile radius of my home, let alone outside of the country, and the idea of vacations makes me sweat in unseemly places. I eat like a greedy teenager and I don't lose sleep about whether I'm fat or thin.
The reason why I'm stating all of these quirks is to illustrate the fact that you can be weird and wonky and well-adjusted and confident and passionate. The reason why I mention all these quirks is to reiterate the fact that you're the sole proprietor of your life. It doesn't matter one iota if anyone finds you appealing or unappealing (both considerations come with their own highly specific burdens.) As Lauryn Hill elegantly phrased it, you are our own standard.
What matters is that you protect the most gentle aspects of your humanity; the small voice which reminds you in the still of night that your life means something incalculable—that you must nurture yourself and tend to your very real, multitudinous needs.
I share these stories because life is always good regardless of any detrimental experiences. I share these stories to remind you, darling reader, that your life is sacred and no-one (not lovers or friends or family) can dictate the terms of your autonomy—even when it might feel easier to believe otherwise.
Stay wonderful and wonky.
ARTWORK: The art in this piece was made by Diriye Osman using a combination of artificial intelligence, digital painting and collage.
SONG OF THE MOMENT: 'Salvation' by ONLY GIRL