It begins in a bar because of a girl. A whisky glass dangles loosely on my fingers and I stare at it, looking unresponsively at its content which is running low for the umpteenth time. The more the number of times the base of the glass gets into view the deeper my mind sinks into a drunken abyss. My eyelids become heavy, constantly fighting off the increasing demand for sleep occasionally teetering on the razor edge between deep relaxation and unconsciousness.
The bar is poorly lit with party lights blinking on and off in unison with the raucous music playing from the bar’s loud stereo. It is rap music, which on usual circumstances would have had me listening closely to the lyrics in an attempt to obtain a unique rhyme to use as a Facebook status but not today, more so, I had heard the song more than a hundred times making all discoverable rhymes already exhausted.
I am seated across the bartender, on a seat I had made mine for the past few months. Behind me, is an open dance floor with a few scattered people, mostly couples, swinging their hips to the music, infrequently screaming a common word from the chorus of a song. This bar is a common escape for young people and today being a Thursday would have the bar full to the brim in a few hours. My plan is to be nowhere close to the bar before the small space is flooded by drunken people.
‘Do you want a refill?’ The bartender inquires re-claiming me from my thoughts momentarily. I nod slowly in agreement and she pours another brown liquid into my glass. The bottom of the glass disappears yet again. Each time in this same bar, the bartender was a different person which was both disturbing and conducive as I did not have to stare at the same judgmental face each time I was here. She smiles at me softly and I stretch my lips into something that is supposed to be a smile. Secretly, I hoped she would not be one of those who forced a conversation with me over the music.
A closer look at her and I could tell she had not done this for long. She was in a white shirt barely buttoned, tucked in a short black skirt. All the other waiters were dressed in the same colours too but there was something in the generosity of the lipstick on her lips and smudged nail polish that affirmed her inexperience. The many different orders seemed to overwhelm her and which constantly made me feel sorry for her. Earlier on, one her customers had asked for a Tusker Malt beer and she had served him a Tusker Lite beer which is understandable because of the likeness of their bottle’s presentation. The customer had got agitated and scolded her unnecessarily and she had apologised profusely like her life had depended on it and when the customer had cooled off, I could swear her eyes were teary. Yet she still managed a smile after she had poured me a double shot of a cheap whisky with I name I can barely recall.
Her determination reminded me of someone I had known a little too well. A single thought about her and drunkenness seemed to have vanished. A cold shiver runs through from the back of my head to my legs and all over sudden everything seems to be heightened except the drunkenness. The music feels louder, the lethal alcoholic stench seems to have multiplied. Quickly, I let all the contents of the glass go down my throat. Even the bartender seems shocked when she turns around to find my glass already empty.
‘Just give me the bottle, and the bill too, please’, I shout to her over the gangster dancehall rap playing loudly. The DJ had switched from hip-hop to dancehall music meaning that my chance to escape the bar before it was crowded was slowly running short. She hands me the bottle that she had been serving from and quickly scribbles something on a paper and also hands it to me. With that, I lift myself from the seat grab the bottle by its neck, the glass and the paper that was supposed to be my bill and walk over to the end of the counter to an abandoned seat. I could feel that I was getting really drunk but somehow I felt that I had not had enough.
The seat provided me with an excellent view of the dance floor, which was getting crowded by the minute, and the entire bar in general. I felt guilty for letting my thoughts wander off to remind me of things I had wanted to forget for the longest time I could remember.
After several futile attempts to stop thinking about her, I let my mind wander off to the same location four years ago. A time I was one of those youngsters who took alcohol for fun, danced on the same dance floor to every song that played. It was a time according to my view when life was less complicated and not interwoven in an unsolvable arithmetic headache. Such days, I was always in the company of friends toasting to everything we could think of. When one of us had a new girlfriend we toasted, when it rained we toasted too, we just loved making toasts.
On that night, however, I was in the company of several friends who had got off to the dance floor immediately the liquor had sunk in and I was left alone on our table. Then my eyes had roamed and settled on a table across the dance floor that was relatively empty apart from a single occupant who was a lady. I could not put my finger on what exactly set her apart from the numerous girls in the same heavily populated bar. Maybe it was the way her unnatural hair fell comfortably on her shoulders like a cuddly warm hug. Or her short dress that revealed her legs to her knees. She was one of those conspicuous light skinned, slender and pretty Kenyan girls with flashy outfits which did much to announce that she was a junior in the university. After the discovery, I could not get my eyes off her long pretty face. She would constantly sip from a wine glass and then place it back on the table before her. Her table was full of brown beer bottles, a clear indication that she was not alone. She looked nervous. It was as if an atmosphere of restless anticipation had taken hostage of her organs making her look more prickly than scared.
Our town was a tiny one. If you discovered someone new then probably they were not from around or you were the new guy in town. The single university present in the town supplied numerous drunkards to every single bar in the town during the weekends. It was easy to tell a student from a non-student, however. Students were loud, travelled in groups and always ordered cheap beers and vodkas that would get them high fast and under prevailing limited financial circumstances. The nightlife in town would be set ablaze the day the government supplied student loans. Such days, any bar and liquor store owner made worthwhile sales enough to stock their reservoirs until the next time the loans were released.
When I did not talk to her that night, I was not worried at all. I was certain we would meet again. Some of the perks that came with living in a small town, if you met someone new, then within the following fortnight there was a high chance that you would have met them again. Still, a craving grew strongly in me, the desire to meet her, to know her, to listen to her story, but my dreams ran down the gutter when she left with an older man. He was probably in his late thirties or early forties. He looked like a man of means especially by the way he waved his car keys as they swept past me but I did not pay close attention to him as much as I did to her. She never turned my way against my vicious prayers that she did. That was my first encounter with Nataana Leshan.
A middle-aged man leaving a bar in the dead of the night with a young female university accomplice is a common phenomenon in the twenty-first century. As a young guy in university and a junior, I was slowly coming to terms with the fact that the same girl I was often interested in, had the attention of another man working in the government, a wealthy businessman, a landowner or an office worker with a big car, a heavy wallet and even a finer ego. It is a common means girls use to get through their higher education years. University is not only a learning institution but a platform that burst open the social world enlightening the young ladies the need for expensive lifestyles that came in unfathomable pricy weaves, dates, cars, phones and other temporary privileges. Yet, all the same, I stayed adamant in the hunt, the secret to victory lies in the organisation of the non-obvious.
As Nataana blew her exorbitant body perfume odour to my nostrils as she rushed out, my agitation raged to the skies. It was more of hopelessness than anger, jealous even. I felt that she owed me an explanation that the very perfect muse of my mind in the last twenty minutes had to be one of them that never turned their face towards me. It was more of childish hope that she would have been different. I was a student of life taking lessons by disappointments.
I glance quickly at my watch and the hour hand is close to ten. I turn to the bottle and it is closely getting to the half margin. I refill my glass distractedly and consequently place the glass on my lips. I felt no need for a chaser. Life was never kind enough to chase its callousness with an equal share of honey so I never did see the sense of concealing the bitter unbearable aftertaste of malt whiskeys with lime juice. I sneer mischievously at the person I was four years ago, always asking for something pleasant in nightclubs. I shake my head placing its full weight on my neck that felt like an overworked farm animal.
A young lady in silver-coloured shorts brushes roughly against me as she dances to the music. I turn to her expecting no apology. She continues enjoying herself merrily and I dive back into my narrow thoughts after a quick calculation that moving on would be easier than demanding a sorry from a fellow drunk.
A familiar vibration runs in my pants and like an immediate reflex, my hands dig into my pocket and begin searching for my phone. I clutch the edge and strenuously pull it from my tight pants and hold it parallel to my face. I reach for the power button but the moment the screen goes on, I realise that I am holding the phone upside down. I turn the phone upright and swipe the lock screen to reveal a series dots that I hurriedly key in the familiar password pattern embedded in my brain like shrapnel. A pop window from the common android screen informs me that @Queen_B_254_ had just followed me on twitter. I disappointedly dismiss the notification.
I am not sure who I had expected to have had me in mind and appear on my notifications but it definitely was not any of my 1796 followers on Twitter, 800 on Instagram or 2700 on Facebook. I tap a Facebook icon on the homepage of the phone that opens the application. I scroll down my timeline to find out that Ashley Mwendwa had graduated with honours from the University of Eldoret, Lily Muthoni had shared a memory from one year ago when she had a professional photo shoot while she was expectant, and now her caption said that she was a strong single mother of the bouncy ten months, Kirk. I spend quite a few minutes on this post, I knew Lily from the university and I am actually shocked that she was expectant one year ago, leave alone a mother to Kirk. After that post, my desire to keep on scrolling disappears and I calmly press the lock button and slam the phone faced down on the counter.
Social media is not only a global village which social people share their lives but also a burden which unintentionally they tie yokes behind their followers’ backs. If a friend was in a road accident, a post had to be made, if a peer follower had got a new car he had to post it and make you question what exactly you lacked and the reason behind your failures. Worse was during the holiday season when everybody seemed to be having a time of their lives in sunny sandy beaches, drinking red wine with families upcountry and I was stuck alone in a room that was supposed to be an apartment. Social media is a well-meant modern custom that no one really takes time to consider its imposing nature.
Silver shorts lady now has two male abettors. She is in between them like ham in a sandwich moving her waist provocatively in a way that would make Jamaican parties look like rehearsals. I eye them from a corner of my eye still holding my glass to my lips so that it looks like I am minding my own business. Such a dance was quite a norm although I never really got it. It was more of a sexual ritual than a dance. The girl contorts her waist in all manner shapes while the man stood behind her occasional rubbing his groin against her butt. It was a dance that if it was ever brought to the light of day, our ancestors would renounce and cut ties wholly with the living.
In the process, silver shorts rubs again against me with her arm. I could swear that she did that on purpose because her two dance partners manage to keep a distance from me all through. I glare at her and she pauses her dance to throw a face smudged with a nasty scowl at me. Her hair is tousled like a bad Nigerian hair day from the dancing. A single look at her, I confirm that she was just a miserable troublemaker. Maybe I am in her personal space, I think to myself. I stand on my feet pull the seat furthest it can in the small space from the dancing trio and resume to fill my cup. I am fully aware of my potential to cause trouble which would most likely find someone in an emergency room and the other in a police cell. I do not want that tonight.
My whisky is running low, halfway down now. I can barely tell the difference between the party lamps and the stars on a clear night. In the few past years, the only relationship that had proved permanent was between me and my drink. I loved the feeling of intoxication. I loved the feel of nothingness that came with the high. The burn as it set ablaze my food pipe was a thrilling insatiable sensation that I could not exchange for anything. I never did mind drinking alone, unlike eating alone. When you are in café on a table and all around people are busy enjoying all kinds of food, and all you have before you is a hotdog and white coffee from Tuskys, alone, with no one to share the beauty of the hotdog, then you automatically become miserable. Drinking is different, the more the people you sit with to have a drink with, them more bullshit you have to handle. So I preferred drinking alone. Locked up in a world of my own thoughts. Thoughts of Nataana Leshan. Thoughts that made me flinch because they were tinged with bitterness and regret that stung my wounds like the juice of the lemon fruit.
To be continued…
A few years ago, I made the first attempt to write one long story that would be read as a book. The book progressed like a drive on a smooth highway until it went dry after exactly five Chapters. I have always harboured and entertained the thought that this infant story would one day mature to a rude adolescent teenager and then a full-blown adult. Now, I am not sure. The story you just read is an excerpt of an old story.
Feature Image by Mukiri Gitiri.