I wrote a good chunk of this novella in a treehouse in Elementaita. It’s called Pinklakeman Eco-Lodge, where a gorgeous treehouse teeters from a gorge (the gorge makes it gorgeous) of a seasonal riverbed. It’s a cabin made from old wood that smells of age and sports a massive stone fireplace. There are birds. Lots of birds. They sing all day long.
I had initially set out to write a small book but quickly discovered that you can’t write a small book in one sitting. You write a chapter and then you cook excuses for a month. And I’m good in that cuisine. The world is full of excuses not to write if you are interested in finding them. I found a ton of them. I found them in my pockets amongst washed receipts and in the corners of a heart darkened by sloth. I found them in the bedside drawer and in the glove compartment in my car. It was a long-standing farce. I had previously only written a few chapters over a period of a few months and I was embarrassed by my work ethic.
I’d think of this failure all the time when I was doing things unrelated to writing. Like while waiting for someone to leave the shower compartment in the gym locker room. Or when pushing my son on a swing. Speaking of which, sometime ago as Tamms was riding a bicycle at Karura, I chilled on a bench reading an article on my phone, an eye on Kim, who was playing on the slides. I lifted my head at some point to find him pushing the swing and I told him, “Kim, stop doing that, you will get hurt!” But do boys listen? They imagine they know better than anybody else. They are superheroes, they can’t get hurt. He continued to push that swing. “If you don’t stop it now I will chapa you.” I said again and he ignored me because perhaps he knows I can’t. (I can). After a few moments I heard a piercing scream. The metallic swing had swung back and hit him right in the mouth. Ha-ha. I ran there to check to find his mouth completely bloodied, with lots of blood gushing from his mouth, bright red blood which means my son is quite oxygenated. He was holding his mouth and more of it was streaming through his fingers and down his shirt. It was like a gory scene in Game of Thrones. I freaked out. This was the equivalent of going away with the kids and then you lose one of them in the mall. How do you even start calling their mother? How would that conversation go?
“Hey, something has happened.”
Panicked voice. “What? What has happened??”
“Well, it’s both bad and good.”
“What has happened?! Are the kids okay?”
“That’s the good news. One of them is,” you say, “the bad news is that I can’t find the other one.”
Anyway, he was screaming and he was bleeding and Tamms, who had abandoned her bike in the field and run to us, was panicked so badly she was on the verge of tears seeing all that blood on her brother’s shirt and on mine. “What happened, papa? What happened to him?” And I wanted her to just shut up because I was trying to open his mouth to see if he had lost his teeth or cut half his tongue and he would never be able to talk again (to me).
There is a ka-lady at Karura who sells oranges and apples on a table by the edge of the pitch. I carried the boy there and grabbed some water from her (“Ngai! Ngai!” She kept saying, which goes to show just how much he was bleeding. I washed off his mouth to assess the damage and the blood kept oozing. It turned out that his upper lip was busted a good one but I was glad to find that his teeth seemed okay when I shook them to confirm. A few people gathered around. Kenyans love tragedy. Someone very smart – probably a First Class Honours holder – said to me helpfully, “Take him to the hospital,” and I almost threw an orange at her weave. I told Tamms, “He will be just fine. Stay here with him, I will be right back.” Then I ran off.
You know how the police always insist that we have to have First Aid kit boxes in our cars and we moan all the time and buy cheap ones to keep them off our backs because when would we ever need to use one? Turns out the police are right. I retrieved mine from the boot but it turned out to be about as useful as a saw without teeth. Because the First Aid kit only seemed to have things that you need if you break an arm or if you cut an arm or if you lose an arm. Those kits have no provision for if your child’s lip is busted by a metallic swing or if you are pregnant and your water suddenly breaks.
I rummaged through the kit for something that could stop bleeding. There were lots of useless bandages that you can’t use to tie around lips. But there was a pair of scissors. Quite useful for busted lips. I dabbed the cut with numerous wet gauzes which I held there until the bleeding ebbed. Tamms was now tearing. “See?” I kept telling her, “he is a big brave boy. Big boys don’t bleed for long. Right, Kim?” He nodded his big trusting eyes staring up at me. I felt like that doctor in Grey’s Anatomy, saving children’s lives.
Two minutes later I washed his mouth and teeth and then stared at my handwork. The bleeding had stopped but the lip looked ugly. “I want to go play on the slide.” He said, to my surprise, and before long he was sliding and running around, with his lips ballooning slowly. I debated whether to tell the mother or just go back home and abandon him there and sneak out, the way we would hide broken cups at the very back of the wall unit for our mom to discover many months later.
Eventually, I sent her a Whatsapp and said the boy hurt himself and she freaked out and asked me to send her pictures (what is it with women and pictures?) because maybe she thought I was lying that it was the lips when he had lost all his teeth. Or worse, lost a limb. I didn’t want to send a picture because his mouth was a mess and then there was lots of blood on his collar and she would see that and go nuts and make me feel very irresponsible. So I took a very creative picture and sent and one video of him running around to show that he could still walk and she didn’t say anything. Not immediately at least. It just remained as blue ticks for a while and I kept checking to see if she had said something but she hadn’t and I felt more irresponsible as those messages went unanswered.
Later, to bribe Tamm’s ass so that she didn’t tell her Mom just how much her brother had bled, I took them to Two Rivers and I bought her fidget spinners that I had previously refused to buy because I read some weird stories about them online. I then took them to The Spur and people stared at the boy’s shirt, which was all bloody, and at his pants which were all bloody, and at my shirt which was all bloody. Even my shoes had drops of blood. We looked like butchers. Very gangsta. I’m sure they were judging me. Especially the mzungus there. They probably thought I was abusing that child and that someone from child welfare should take the child away if I was the kind of father who was unable to stop his child from bleeding that much. At the restaurant, the waitress who handed us menus was shocked. “Ooh poor thing, gosh, what happened?” She made that woishe face; lips pursed, sad eyes. I told her, “He got involved in a fight.” And I could see Tamms turn to look at me with that who-the-hell-is-this-guy stare and the waitress squat to examine his mangled lips, her hand touching his cheeks. Kim was enjoying that; he was pretending to be more hurt than he was. She asked me with much concern; “My goodness,he got involved in a fight with who?” And I mumbled embarrassingly, “With me,” and she laughed out loud but Tamms didn’t even crack a smile. That child has ice cubes in her heart. If one day she grows up and she meets a man (at 40) who she describes as so funny, “He makes me laugh,” I would die to meet that guy, this one guy who can make the ice-queen laugh. It would probably turn out to be Jesus himself.
Anyway, what was I telling you about? Yeah, the book.
I would think about the lack of traction with the writing of the novella at the oddest of times. So I called Macharia of Pinklakeman and told him that I wanted to come down to the Treehouse and write for two full days, so was the treehouse available this weekend? He said sawa come. So I packed a bag. I would wake up in the morning and run for 5-8kms around the Sleeping Moran hill and back, sometimes going up to Nakuru highway, shower, have breakfast then sit down to write in that towering silence with my phone on airplane-mode. I’d bang 4,000 words in a sitting and when my brain was worn and smoke was coming from my ears, I’d go downstairs to one of the tables in his garden and edit what I’d written. From there I would see Macharia up in his shade tinkering with his Utility Terrain Vehicle which the locals call Al Shabaab. Macharia is that handyman who can’t see a machine without opening its hood and getting grease on his nose. My evenings were spent reading at the balcony as the sun set and the nights spent writing as the fireplace roared, only standing up to stoke the fire with a thin metallic rod. There is no radio or TV in the treehouse. You can feel the darkness press against the windows. The night is marked by a thick silence punctured by the distant howls of a hyena or some animal that you don’t want to believe is a lion. I’d retire to one of the smaller rooms at 10pm, happy with the work I had put in.
I had decided I wasn’t going to drink in this trip; just write. On the last evening I was just sitting on the couch reading when I heard a car drive in and a bit later I heard laughter. An hour later a Whatsapp message from Macharia pinged into my phone: “There is a ka-whisky here, take a break and join us for a very polite one.” I sat there and gave myself a pep-talk; “Don’t go. One drink will become two drinks and two will become three and you won’t ever finish this book. So don’t go. Be a man who stands for something. Don’t be swayed by the mention of whisky. Or a bottle. Ignore the happy laughter coming from Macharia’s house, that’s just the devil calling you. Be strong. Keep the faith. You are the man. You are bigger than good whisky.”
So I replied Macharia’s message proudly and wrote:
“I will be there in a few.”
I joined him and his boy Erico who sells very cool men’s clothes from a shop on Wood Avenue. We drunk on the verandah of his cabin with Macharia pouring drinks and bringing out plates of cottage cheese and occasionally disappearing inside the house once to attend to his daughters. His dogs, that he is immensely proud of, and which have won dog show competitions napped at our feet. Big dogs with lots of long hair.
It wasn’t a very proud moment for me.
Hours later I went back to my abode and ate a nice meal (chapos and chicken). Grace, the chef, had laid the table and disappeared. Then I drank lots of water as I sat and stared into the raging fire in the fireplace, absentmindedly holding the metallic rod, feeling the heat on my face and the warmth of whisky in my veins and right there I came up with the title of this novella: Drunk.
Thank you, Macharia and Pinklakeman Ecolodge, and thank you, EnglishPoint Marina where I finished writing it in their beautiful, sea-facing rooms. Thank you, Wanji for reading it first and seeing the diamond in it when I had insecurities about it, and thank you Wangiri for keeping me on the timeline. Thank you, David the editor, for cleaning it up with your critical eye.
And to you, dear reader, thank you for buying it, or for considering to buy it, but most importantly for not pirating it because God is seeing you. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
PS: Two things; the IT guy has made sure that your card details are secure should you choose to buy using your debit or credit cards. And two, you can also buy the book off Amazon from 6pm today.