I took a latte and a chocolate doughnut as I waited on Lawrence at Merd Café in town. There was a couple holding hands and laughing at nothings. The guy’s entire arm was consumed in a tattoo and wore his cap front side back. He was hairy and a watch settled perfectly on his arm. His complexion was one who must have left Africa for a while because it was a metamorphosis from scorching African sun to cool winter in Europe. He was fair. If you asked me, he was a romantic man, but was the type to limit your table with low carbs, no sugar, low fat shenanigans and the type that doesn’t look at plump women twice, but obsess over Kim Kardashian. Predictably, the girl was tiny and wore a floral jumpsuit. Her red lips were delicately moving up and down and she would occasionally support her head with both arms. At some point, the gentleman from Europe tucked some stray hair behind her ear, that was getting in her face. He would stare at the girl and I would catch a breath on her behalf, hoping they would kiss. Occasionally, he would brush his arms on hers and she would smile shyly. These things give me life.
Next to their table was a white lady with her two children who were speaking loudly and having a little fight. The lady turned pink with embarrassment. She shouldn’t have been embarrassed because they were just kids, and people don’t judge you harshly if you are a white person in Africa, with wild children. They will be awed and say they look cute. Besides she should be thankful because if they were African kids, they would by now be running down the escalator, sitting on it probably, falling and chasing each other in the mall. Those little monsters make life interesting for us, observers. For us judgy-judgy folks with shallow minds and unspeakable ignorance, they grate our nerves. But it is pointless; our opinions and reserved comments.
I glanced at my watch. It was fast approaching 5 and the traffic to town would soon come to a standing still. I was glad he had agreed to see me. There were some concerns about my book he was working on. Of the 5 stories I sent, he wanted to send 4 of them to the recycle bin.
“Did you think them through?” He had wondered over the phone, clearly morose.
“Would anyone type out a 4000 word article without thinking through?” I confront him.
“Yes. Yes. Typical of careless writers,” he responds.
I swallowed bitterly. Careless, as far as I was concerned, was his mouth. My pulse plummeted and wanted to smash the phone, but on second thought, that piece of electronic had cost me a fortune. If I was in the business of smashing things because of anger, I would have lost everything in my house and office because scathing comments were an everyday thing. Newspaper editors and online publications trashed my articles and those who were courteous enough would email and say the article needed depth and that I had not done research. One once said, “A premature piece of article.” Another one from a local paper sent me a preaching and I wished he had just ignored my article. He wrote back: “This is a respectable paper that has existed because of hardworking team of writers, researchers and contributors. I feel insulted that you could even press that send button and send me such a pathetic piece, full of presumptions and prejudice. We have a wide readership and would never jeopardize this for a few ignorant people…”
Rejection is no new thing. My editor gave annoying comments and I wanted to give him a piece of my mind. Luckily, my mouth co-operated and never lashed out at him. I needed him more than he needed me.
At 5.11, the careless editor walked into the café and I spotted him first, since I sat at a vantage position, seeing whoever was coming in or leaving. He held his bag pack on the side and smiled after spotting me. As he approached, I pushed back my chair and stood up, stretching my hand for greetings.
“Sorry my dear. I have run late,” he said politely, you would never imagine he can harm a fly.
“It’s okay. How about – ‘how are you doing’?” I laughed.
He blushed and repeated what I suggested and soon collapsed on the chair opposite me. Anyone seeing his warm smile would think he was the sweetest person alive, until he got into your written work and you would realize how pretentious that smile is. Editors are mean, for sure.
He pushed his long dreadlocks to the side, exposing his bushy beard and the stud on his ear.
“Tell me what’s up?” He says, soon after settling. If there was anything he was good at, was not wasting time.
“Why did you hate the other 4 stories?”
“Considering your previous works, these other short stories cannot match what you set. Simply stale,”
“What do you mean?”
“They are shallow. And bland. Predictable. Uncreative. And God, so boring!”
He spoke without hesitating as he fished out his laptop and powered it on.
“What?” I was thrown off-guard, considering how much time I spend writing and how attached I was to the characters.
I had thought them out clearly. I had journeyed with them, failed and rose. We had been through so much together with my characters. I could hear their voices even.
“Look at this one,” he said, turning the laptop to face me.
I peered at the screen. It was the story about a child with dyslexia. It had a special place in my heart and I was not ready for a heart break. I lifted my face and met his eyes, boring into me.
“What about it?” I twisted my mouth.
“It is too direct. If I wanted to get into experiences of dyslexic children, I can simply google. This story is pathetic because you failed to create emotions. It feels like a boring science class with a boring bespectacled teacher with an annoying accent,” he says articulately.
“But Lawrence, my intention was-”
“It is pointless to tell me your intention, because just like other readers, I wouldn’t know your intention, just from reading this. I would conclude that you wasted our valuable time.”
I told you he has a careless mouth and a dark soul. I swallowed hard again. He pushed on.
“I hated that your persona was the dyslexic child. I would have preferred a parent to narrate because it would be realistic. Or have you ever talked or interviewed a dyslexic child? Do you think they know they are dyslexic?”
I stared at him. He was right.
“Makes sense?” He ventured, when he realized I wasn’t protesting.
“Yes.” I obliged but I knew even a hundred years from now, I wouldn’t change the story.
“Good.” He gave a victorious smile. “This next one,” he said turning his laptop to face him, “made my bile rise up to my brain.”
I suppressed a laugh. See with editors, you will hate them, love them until you learn to just smile at them as you plot their death.
“And this is why I asked you if you had thought these stories through and you wanted to skin me alive I know,” he added.
“Which story is that?”
“Mmh. Wars in Africa. It has been overdone. Predictable like the rising sun. Tribes turn to each other. Main character escapes and lives through the turbulent times. Survives. Hopes for a new and peaceful Africa. The only thing I liked was the title you chose: For The Love of Father John.”
“But how better do I narrate it? I want a character that will survive.”
“Just don’t let the main character be the victim. Be the antagonist. Antagonists survive too,” he said, “Think outside the box. You can’t keep writing the same bullshit I have been reading on wars. I want it from another dimension,”
It hadn’t crossed my mind, but it sounded like a plan. But, again, I wanted to explain why my story was that way, but decided it is best the words remained in my stomach.
The waitress in a short, tight, black skirt came to take his order. Her name tag was clearly displayed on her maroon blouse. Her hair had been freshly retouched. It was thin and weak like maize tassels and exposed her light delicate scalp.
“Get me ginger tea. No milk.” Lawrence said to her.
“Okay sir,” she said, writing it down. “Anything to munch with?” She asked with a smile, her pen ready to scribble a whole list.
“You have apple pie and coated nuts?”
“Good. Get me that please, Anne.” He said with a smile and she reciprocated with a broader smile.
I bet she thought he was such a kind customer. She might have even thought that he and I made a cute couple. Girls are always thinking about love. I know she thought so, because she did not want eye contact with me especially after smiling so broadly at the dark boy-my editor.
His dreadlocks moved restlessly on his back. He was a perfectionist of sorts. His nails were neat. His dreadlocks were neat. His shoes were clean, not like mine. He was erudite, questioned a lot of things; he was a seeker. He sought the meaning of life constantly and I’m afraid he might commit suicide one of these days in a bid to understand death. He is not malicious, but needs coaching on how to put across his feedback because it is, most of the time, very abrasive. Sometimes, I think he criticizes everything, every sentence, every punctuation mark, every movement I make, because he has a disorder. Sometimes I want to ask him, who hurt you?
He explained that the remaining stories were not as creative as he would have wanted. He wanted a plot twist. Something out of the norm. He described the story about the dying grandfather as plain. He wished I brought in something out of the norm. A conspiracy, dark secrets and those sorts of things. I was this close to telling him,
“Si you write them yourself basi?”
Argh, editors we need breaks.