I haven’t been able to write for awhile but now I can. I lost a friend today, and I just want to tell you about him.
I knew Joel, as a blogger and a book reviewer, and I knew him because he was really good at what he did. When I met him he’d heard my name from a colleague but didn’t know who I was. So he called me “Mystery Lady.” I didn’t mind that, I actually thought it was really cool. Then we said hi, and sat down to have a conversation. That was August 2017 at the Writivism festival. We exchanged ideas on what made a blogger different from a writer. I was very curious. Then he took a picture of me on his phone. It was one of those unplanned ones, the ones that have you looking a certain kind of awesome. He couldn’t show it to me because his screen had a big black spot. So he asked for my number so he could send it to me. I gave it to him, which I almost never do since I have lots of issues. He just seemed like a really nice person. (Besides, no guy would go smash their screen, then take a picture of a girl, just to get her number.) We talked for at least an hour.
Joel would check on me. It just happened that he would find me really low. I last saw Joel at last year’s Kampala International Theatre Festival. He was covering it, and I was selling books. We would always go home together, but not before he bought us drinks and we talked. We’d sit on those long stools at The Square, and look out at the city. After the first night of drinks, I was grateful. On the second night, when he said “Can I get you something to drink?” I hesitated. I didn’t know what to say. Sensing my hesitation, he said “I really don’t mind.” I still didn’t believe him. Then he smiled, his reassuring smile and I was like; “cool.” I told myself I wanted to raise a son as awesome. I remember telling him how I was struggling, feeling like I wasn’t doing anything good. And he said, “don’t stress yourself, give yourself space to grow. Do only what you can.” Everyday, he’d pass by my table so we’d go eat together. He was thoughtful like that. And I guess he knew how much food meant/means to me.
On the last day of the festival I met a guy. A cool, drunk guy who may or may not have been hitting on me. As the taxi was nearing the old park, the guy asked where I was going. I told him I was going to Kagugube. “I’ll be 7spending the night in Kagugube too,” the guy replied. Joel laughed. He laughed till the taxi stopped. When we got out I asked why he was laughing, he just kept laughing. I still don’t know why. He left us to “sort ourselves” but called later to make sure I’d gone to Kagugube alone.
Amongst my many fears was the fear of mispronouncing Joel’s surname. I knew I could pronounce it right, I was scared I could also pronounce it wrong. I told him about it and he laughed. Then he asked me to pronounce the name of Zimbabwe’s president. And I did; Mnagagwa. He said if I could pronounce Mnagagwa I could pronounce Ntwatwa. And so I practised. Alone, I killed it. In his presence I laughed every time I tried. But I kept practising… Now I can. And I know he hears me say “Ntwatwa” and he’s proud of me. Joel was like that, always challenging me to be better. When writers’ block hit I’d tell him about it. Then he’d send me prompts. And I’d scribble something and send to him. He’d edit, and I’d try to work again. He invited me to the recent UG Blogging workshop. He wanted me to learn, he always made learning possible, especially since he was a great teacher, a humble incredible teacher.
I once took a pen from him. A Stanbic Bank pen. (First of all, I only take stuff from people I’m fond of.) At the time, I was telling him how I had no more stories to tell. When I saw the pen, I started talking about my favorite bank, and which bank I’d work for because my crush worked there. He listened with a smile on his face. As soon as I was done he said, “See, you still have a story to tell. Stories are all around us, in pens, glasses of Smirnoff, street lights, green scarfs, everything. Stories are everywhere.” Now I can never say I don’t have what to write about, but I can admit I get lazy.
He called me on the first day of this month. To check on me, to find out how I was, if I’d found a job… Today when I had the news, I wished it was a joke, I hoped it was a dream. How can Joel be dead I keep asking? How? But I know he’s in a better place. My sweet, kind friend, my gentleman, my excellent blogger and writer. When I think of him, his smile is all I see. I knew him for a few months and he had such an impact on me as a person, and as a writer. He’s gone too soon, but in my heart, he’s forever living; because strength like his can’t be forgotten. Not ever.