Give a Man a Hand

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Village Elder
Unaware, he stands in the rubble of his own destruction. He thinks he’s fine. That nothing has changed. But a hell of a lot has changed and he’s launched on a ruinous journey. It starts out subtly; how he remains reluctant to go back home at the end of the night. His desperation to fill the void with human company. How at the end of the night, he shuffles to his car like a man who has a date with the guillotine.

His life starts to orbit around the bar. He either gets louder while drinking, or more silent, brooding and brewing in his glass. His lips look fuller and redder. His eyes are a constant hue of red; rheumy, like the piss of a spider. He will start losing weight. His belt will start missing more loops on his pants. His shoes will get scruffier.

Soon he will stop paying half of his bill; flaccid excuses vesseled with uncomfortable laughter. One day he will call you and say, Boss, do you have 5K on you, I’m in a small jam, I will sort you out next week. You know the only jam he is in is perhaps a traffic jam, but you will MPESA him because he’s always been good for it. You will soon write it off as bad debt. He will go under for a while; a loose Whatsapp once in a while, an odd phone call that you pick while sitting in traffic, watching your incessant car wipers waft off the rain; Boss, you are lost, where are you? Ahh, I’m headed to Sherehez for one, if you are near here si you pitia? You won’t pitia because it’s a bloody Monday. And it’s raining. Plus you were reminded (again) to pass by a store and pick milk for the baby. (Babies should just grow up and eat food like everybody else).

One day you will be in town, turning a corner in the street and there across the road will be him chatting with some guy who looks like those guys who sell land; colourful checked shirts, a flashy gold watch, & pants with turn-ups. Toothpick between lips. You will cross over and say wassup. He has on a clean white shirt and blue pants and a kabambe in his palms. (He lost his phone in a bar). He’s been biting his nails, they look like short stubby arrowroots.

He looks tired. No, maybe tired isn’t the right word, he looks resigned. He looks like one of those people who get off the bed and think, Do I have to? Anyway, he finishes with the land guy (who turns out to be the owner of a bar and a car wash…drat!) and accompanies you to run your errands as you catch up. Later, over lunch, he says how his job is shit and how he’s thinking of “doing his thing.” You ask for more lemon for your fish.

He misses work frequently because of hangies. He starts moaning – with a drink in his hand – about how unfulfilling work has become. Time passes, you don’t see him for weeks but the next time you meet for drinks you notice something weird; that between his beers, he takes copious shots of Vodka. Or he mixes his beer with his whisky. You ask him, What’s up with that and he says it’s his new thing. His eyes are redder now. His sense of dressing is getting worse. He has lost more weight. We order something to eat? You ask and he shakes his head, Nowadays I’m bila appetite.

[By the way, I’m testing this thing where I don’t use speech marks, instead to notify the start of a quotation I capitalised the first letter, is it working ama it’s a bit confusing? Picked it in the book I’m reading; The Road by Cormac McCarthy]
Then there is his car. You can always tell the disposition of a man by how he treats his car. Guys who keep their cars clean and polished all the time most likely feel the same way about themselves. His car has dents and scratches. Broken tail-lights. He has refused to fix his CV-joints that continue to make a racket when he turns into a corner. And it’s filthy inside, smells of a lactating cow. One time, riding in his car, you pop the glove compartment to fetch a serviette and you find a half bottle of whisky instead.

Here is how things come to a head. You call him on a Wednesday morning, say 10am, and he says he’s in the digs, right? So you say, Aah, I’m actually here near Othaya Road, let me pitia. So you pass by his apartment and he opens the door wearing Adidas shorts and an old tee with a collar that a camel started chewing on and changed its mind. You haven’t been in his apartment in months and you are struck at how filthy it looks now. It has this mouldy smell, like he hasn’t opened the windows since the last promulgation. You step over a book and a PS3 cord and some movie cds strewn on the carpet and a roll of tissue. He scoops up a duvet from the seat and makes for the bedroom as you head to the kitchen to get yourself some water.

Standing at the sink washing a frying pan is this girl, an extremely brown chick with a kikoi wrapped around her waist and his orange Lacoste polo shirt that hangs loosely on her body. She has this long dreadful weave the colour of genocide and when she turns to say hello, you are taken aback for a moment, not by her french accent, but her face; she has these large startled eyes framed by sore-looking eye bags, and lips that are chapped and between these crack-lines are remnants of last evening’s red lipstick or wine. She looks bleached and ghostly. Honestly, she looks like a back-up singer in a struggling band in Kinshasa.

You share niceties and carry your glass of water to the bedroom where you find him seated on the bed thumping an sms from his Iphone. You ask, And who is that Congolese mama? Without looking up he says with a chuckle, She isn’t Congolese, she’s from Gabon.

Gabon chicks are light…kumbe?

He looks up and asks, How many chicks from Gabon do you know? And you say sarcastically, Whatever the case, you sure are shagging upwards now. He laughs and says, It’s nothing. You stand there holding your glass of unsipped water and look around the room; her jeans, torn at the knees hang from the wardrobe door. He finishes his text and sighs and asks you, Wassup? You ask him if he’s going to work and he says he he might, but later, jobo has become lousy. You sip your water and there is that moment of silence when you both don’t know what to say because there is an elephant in the room…rather, in the kitchen.

Eventually he says how hangied he is (lately he starts all conversations like that) and you tell him Let’s go have a bite at Java and he says, I can’t leave her here alone and you tell him, Then get rid of her. He goes to the kitchen and from the sitting room you hear them talk and she tells him in a nice broken swahili laced with French that she has to shower first. (Oh that would be nice). She showers, dresses up and then on her way out, picks up her very shiny silver handbag from the dining table, they hugs awkwardly and she makes her departure forgetting behind her very strong aroma.

At Java, Valley Arcade, it’s pepper steak and chips for him and chicken chimichanga platter for you. Across the children’s playground, you watch this chubby-cheeked kid try to bounce this deflated orange ball with little success.

You guys talk about those Makini kids who got stuck in that bus in the floods until the small hours of the morning, he says he should probably learn how to swim, you tell him that he should also learn how to ride a bicycle while he is at it. Who, at 32, doesn’t know how to swim AND ride a bicycle? You ask. Random conversations. The in the middle of him moaning about some wedding committee asking him for 40K, you blurt out; you are losing lots of weight by the way, drinking more and eating less?

I eat.

Where does it all go? In your pocket?

I will eat more, mom. I promise.

Easy on the boozing, boss.

My boozing?

Yeah, I dunno, it seems excessive.

What, I’m now I’m an alcoholic?

Stop talking with food in your mouth, have you finished your homework? He laughs humorlessly. You joked to reduce the tension that has no set over the table. He has become defensive. You don’t say anything for a while and eat in silence. You struggle whether you should tell him to see someone about it, whatever is causing this excessive drinking. But you can’t. You feel that you have already said so much and he’s already embarrassed that you called him out on his drinking. The chubby-cheeked boy finally tosses the bloody ball away and walks away to the slides.


We all know someone who needs to step away from the bottle for a bit. Someone like this chap up here, but it’s so hard to tell someone they need to step away from the bottle isn’t it? Because they will feel like you are attacking them, or judging them, or you are being Dr Phil or being mother and they will ask YOU to get that bottle out your own ass first. You will step away cautiously and then they will slide down that hole and one day he will be fired from work and he won’t have money to drink anymore and his pals will start avoiding him because he’s bothersome but he will make new friends who drink harder and cheaper liquor off those transparent bottles and soon he will move to some sq then finally move to shags where he will drink more hard liquor as his mom prays for him day and night while his cheeks continue to sink further into his bones and his head starts to look bigger than his body. Finally he will die on a wheelbarrow as he’s being wheeled to the hospital.

Then you and your mates will shake your heads in the bar when you hear the news of his death and say just how tragic it is, how he had such promise and “opportunity.” As you stand at his fund raiser at All Saints Cathedral and introduce yourselves as his “friends” there will be no bigger irony. You will remove 5K (again) as a contribution and go back to your life and he will be buried in a shirt cleaner than all the shirts he wore for the past two years.

But it shouldn’t end this way, should it?

I’m writing this because I don’t know how else to say that you (yes, you) need help, that I know a guy who can take you to a place where you can clean out and talk things out. I’m writing this because I know you will read it and you will know it’s you I’m writing about because not many people meet light mamas from Gabon. (Nice body, though!). I truly hope you will read this and say, OK, I need help and then actually seek help. Because more people want to help than you imagine because then you will save everybody the indignity of introducing themselves as your “friend” at All Saints when they did little to help you when you needed friends. But nobody can help you if you think they have bottles up their asses.

If not, if you disregard this, and continue mixing your beer with your vodkas you will die in a wheelbarrow. Or somewhere less comfortable; like a ditch.
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