Urban Zoning by Billy Kahora is a story that is difficult to place, that is categorise. Not that categorisation is needed to understand a story nor that it is necessary in and of itself. But Kahora has written a story so simple that it becomes complex in a way that is not easily attainable. The story, to me, is different and unique in the sense that it takes one man, tells of his idiosyncracies in an almost surreal manner; or should I say mental, for Billy's protagonist achieves notoriety beyond the realms of the physical. The title itself is proof. In this story, 'Zoning' has nothing to do with apartheid or any form of physical separatism or quarantine; yet, it does. His - that is, Kandle's (the main character's) separatism is from the reality of this harsh world, its troubles and its gloom and doom, through alcohol.
Kandle is a man of unique character: though he drinks and gets drunk he is able to control himself from going over the edge; he is a controlled-drunk, if there is such a description. He wells himself with alcohol, at levels that have proven devastating and sometimes deadly to some of his colleagues, and yet never gets so drunk that he couldn't hold an intelligible conversation or put himself together and go home. And he never sways, not even imperceptibly. But Kandle is not a street drunk. He works at a bank. And it is this occupational affiliation that makes his personality different. For he is described as an industrious worker, one who has never-missed a day at work. At least never, until he did so in a way that is stunning and cunning in equal measure. And that is the crux of the story.
Billy's Kandle puts the states one attain after getting drunk into two: the Good and the Bad. The Bad State is when one loses control of oneself and go on doing things that disgraces oneself or could potentially result in ones' death. The Good State - which is where Kandle always work to place himself - requires mastery, like any other art. It calls for controlling the stable state to suit oneself even after one has gone drinking continuously for a week. But Kandle - a young man with several sobriquets - did not just get to this stage in life. Like everyone, he has gone through many situations in life and this has shaped his personality.
As a student - in the boarding house - he had dreamed of becoming a rugby player; even now, he day-dreams about being the best and winning the girl of his heart. This aspiration remained intact until it was shattered by an incident that would further proved devastating to him, alienating him into the world of alcohol and imprisoning him in his own zone.
With this story, Kahora has provided another angle for the gossips who never tire of describing and tagging the cause of every individual's problem. The story is worth the read.__________________
About the author: Billy Kahora is the Managing Editor of Kwani? He also writes fictioin and completed an MSc. in Creative Writing with distinction at the University of Edinburgh as a Chevening Scholar in 2007. Before that Billy studied and worked in South Africa for 8 years and in between worked as an Editorial Assistant for All Africa.com in Washington D.C. He has a Bachelor of Journalism degree and post-graduate diploma in Media Studies from Rhodes University. His short story, Treadmill Love, was highly commended by the 2007 Caine Prize judges. He has recently edited 'Kenya Burning', a visual narrative of the Kenya post-election crisis published by the GoDown Arts Centre and Kwani Trustin March 2009. His extended feature, The True Story of David Munyakei, on Kenya's biggest whistleblower has been developed into a non-fiction novella and released by Kwani Trust in July 2009. Billy was a Regional judge for the 2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize. (Source)