My first two tattoos came from a place of darkness. A hidden darkness I didn’t even know I was in. The first one is a spider web, with a spider inside it, obviously. But it also has a love heart in it. And the love heart is crying. Because … I don’t know why it’s crying exactly. Because it’s trapped I guess, and the spider is coming to get it.
The crying love heart was from an episode of Sunset Beach. Paula got kidnapped and the kidnapper tattooed it near her heart. I can’t quite remember why, except I always thought it would be a cool tattoo to get. And the spider is because everyone has a butterfly. I was feeling rebellious, so I didn’t want the butterfly cliché.
My second tattoo was another love heart. Except this time, it was being strangled by a rose, and the rose was crying. I won’t even begin to explain that one, except to say I’ve been accused of devil worship. I suppose both tattoos were from the space that I was in. I wanted love, I wanted to be loved, but I didn’t think I could be.
My third tattoo is pretty straightforward. A semicolon with butterfly wings. Representing hope and a rise from depression. Reminding me every morning that I’m still here, and that I need to be here because there’s still a lot to do. Tattoo number four is along the same lines. I was on the roof getting some sunshine therapy – or trying to. But the sun was hidden behind some pretty heavy clouds.
It had generally been a miserable day. Endless drizzles with a few moments of sun. I remember thinking this is typical UK weather, and wondering how anyone who lives there stays sane. I had gone to the bank to pay rent, and after zubbing outside for 15 minutes, a nice lady told me they no longer open at 8. Sigh.
So I went to Nakumatt Ukay, but they only have a Stanchart. I stood there in the drizzle debating my options. I could wait until 9. I could go back to the office. I could try the late hours at Queensway. A watchman saw me standing there confused and asked me what was wrong. I said I needed a Barclays branch that was open.
“Si uende Westgate?”
Hmm. The idea was not appealing. I know a lot of people are happy it re-opened. They’re walking in there gladly, laughing in the face of evil. For me, it’s not that simple. For me, Westgate is a graveyard, a place where people died, where soldiers looted, where money continues to be made and justice might never be found.
Still, I needed a bank, so I trudged my way in there. It was barely 8 o’clock so the place was empty. It felt eerily quiet and void of human energy. I really didn’t want to be there. Luckily, the bank had no queues. I was done in five minutes flat. I rushed out and walked back to work in more rain. By lunch time, I badly needed sunshine.
I was on the roof for most of my lunch break, listening to music and playing Candy Crush and Bubble Witch II. For the most part, the sky was dark and gloomy, but every once in a while the sun would sneak out. I’d look up to try and estimate how much sunshine I could get. The space between the clouds promised a few seconds.
The sunshine couldn’t have lasted five minutes total. Yet every single one of those few minutes was as sunny as a day on the beach. It was glorious! It was also funny, because the sun would be so hot that I’d take off my hoodie, but then five seconds later we’d be back in UK weather and I’d have to sulk and pull it back on.
That’s when I got the idea for my fourth tattoo. Because no matter how dark and miserable the sky was, the sun was always there above the clouds, waiting to shine and warm the world. No matter how bad things are, how dark it seems, how long the winter is … the sun is always there. We don’t always see it, but it’s there.
I’m not sure if I believe in God. This morning, when the makanga charged me 20 bob instead of 10, and grinned at me daring me to fight him, I wasn’t sure. Yesterday when I made an M-PESA payment that refused to reflect at the counter, forcing me to wait for half a hour, hold up the line, and eventually pay cash which means I paid twice for the same thing, I wondered if he cared.
Last night, when I watched a true-crime show about demonic cameras, I slept with the lights on and said, ‘Dear God, I’m not sure if you exist, but those TV demons are really scary, so please protect me and my baby girl. Amen.’ And this morning as I passed the beggar who lost his feet to polio, yet spends every morning smiling, singing, praying, polishing shoes he’ll never wear, I wanted to ask where God was.
I can see an analogy to the sun. That God is always there, even if we don’t see him. I’m not sure I believe that. But this afternoon, seeing the sun peek between the clouds, I found something I could believe in.
No, I’m not going to invent a sun dance and sacrifice virgin ladybirds to Solaris. But I am going to look at my wrist every time I’m really down. I’m going to remind myself that behind those nasty clouds, beyond the darkest moods, the sun is still up there, still shining strong bright. And as long as there’s sunshine, there’s always hope.
♫ I’m alive ♫ Qqu ♫