The elusive opening line

Tanaka Chidora Literature Today
I have been staring at this blank page for a while now. After reading a novella which begins with “I took my things and left”, I want my own opening line to be just as cool. So I invest in it. If it means staring at this laptop for hours so be it.

There is a copy of “Cemetery of Mind” lying like a stray goat some centimetres from the bookshelf. I lift the laptop on my lap and place it on the small desk vulnerably before me before shuffling towards the book.

I pick it up and scrutinise it. In my mind, I am convinced that the elusive opening line that I am looking for is only waiting for a fresh breath of inspiration, that breath that makes dry bones live again.

I am convinced that the fresh breath is hiding somewhere in Marechera’s cemetery. After rummaging through 10 poems, I sigh heavily and shamble back towards my chair which, like a faithful servant, is waiting for me.

“I look at the hostels that stand in a row like chicken buses at Mbare Musika . . .” I look at that line and it does not strike me as an opening line that will have readers drooling. I try to fine tune it, the way a guitarist fumbles with the strings when trying to locate a tune in the archives of his mind.

“The hostels look at me with their gaping eyes, and the lighted electricity bulbs that peer at me through these gaping eyes look like flashes of recognition that cross the irises of these gaping eyes.”

I feel good after writing this. A second reading, however, reveals to me that this line is too long to be an opening line. I mean, “I took my things and left” is only six words long. And here I am, stuck with an opening line that is 35 words long. As if that is not enough, the opening line has the audacity to repeat a single phrase (“gaping eyes”) three times! I remorselessly delete it. Once again, I am staring at a blank page.

There is a rumble in my stomach. It begins as a muffled one, then gathers courage and threatens to display my empty entrails for the world to see. Being hungry and desperately searching for an opening line is a bad combination. Very bad for the mind. It as if some over-ambitious farmer has invaded my insides to extract nutrients for his shrivelled crops.

There is nothing to eat. The shops are closed because, someone told me, some dudes have been throwing stones at them. I open the refrigerator and two sad bananas stare back at me. They are so sad that to eat them feels like a sin.

There is no water in the refrigerator. I drank the last few drops two hours ago so I have to wait for things to clear up a little bit before going out to hunt for some water. Once beaten (or is it bitten?) twice shy. After an encounter with typhoid, there is no need to open my mouth for anything that flows.

I try to read something. “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ” looks like a potentially interesting read. My friend professes that it is the most well-written book among those that he has so far read. I pick it up and feel its texture with my fingers. My fingers stop at the drawing of a hand. In the drawing, the hand has a hole. Probably a nail.

I open the book and read the first line: “The sun appears in one of the upper corners of the rectangle, on the left of anyone looking at the picture.” I can’t tell whether the opening line of the novel is cool. I am too hungry to think about those things now. I put the book back onto the shelf.

I move towards the window and peer outside. Not a soul in sight. Even the mangy dog who usually patrols our street seems to have tucked his tail and retreated to some hovel until things clear up. I stand there at the window, staring, staring, staring, until staring and not staring begin to take place simultaneously.

I sigh again. The laptop’s screen has turned dark now. It has gone to sleep I think. I move towards it with the intention of waking it up. But I decide not to. When you are looking for an opening line, staring at a blank screen kind of gets in the way of looking.

On impulse, I find myself standing before the fridge. I open it and the two bananas are still in there. This time they do not look sad. Eating happy things is cool. Cooler than trying to find an elusive line.

I pick the two bananas and move towards the laptop.

source:the herald

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