Duma slipped and hit his head on the edge of the stair. He was 18-months old. It’s ironic. His dad, being the overly careful first-time father, had made the decision for the family to move to a bungalow to avoid their son falling off any high floors. He was working at an advertising agency as was his then live-in girlfriend, Duma’s mom. Neighbours and the help rushed him to Gertrude’s. There the parents got an ambulance and transferred him to Aga Khan Hospital. This was on a Thursday in 2010. He was unconscious – on life support – that ugly machine that gurgles and whines and pumps life. His small head lay there against the white sheets of the small bed. They took turns sitting by his bed. The doctors had put him in an induced coma because his brain had started swelling and it wouldn’t stop.
Doctors would show up with their indecipherable scowls and stethoscopes dangling from their necks like broken nooses, peering at clipboards, speaking in soft assuring voices while their words echoed ominously. His brain finally swelled so much it finally broke his brain stem and killed him. The young lady doctor who broke the news to the couple on a Saturday morning broke down and cried more than they did. He told them to leave him on life support machine. Let him stay on it, he told them. The doctor later explained to them the futility of keeping him on a machine when he was already dead and the financial implications of it all. He was adamant – his son was not getting off life support.
“When I went to see him on Sunday morning and stuff was coming out of his nose,” he says. It dawned on him that he was gone and wasn’t coming back. With his girlfriend, they made the decision to turn off the life support. And they did it together. “You could see his blood pressure dropping, all his vitals dimming and it took…“ he pauses and sighs, “…it took maybe 20 minutes for everything to flatline. They were the fucking hardest 20 minutes of my life, man.”
“That must have been tough,” I say.
“Yeah. We were holding hands as we watched everything shut down. My friends – all grown men – were bursting into tears in the corridors. Everybody was just crying – my girlfriend was inconsolable. [pause]. It was a such an ugly moment. Very ugly.” His elbow is leaning on the bar counter. He’s slowly rubbing his clean shaven scalp with his hand, like you would rub the fur of a pet.
“You know, they tell you that the death of a child brings you together,” he says. “It doesn’t. I started running away from all that pain, from her, from anything that reminded me of my son’s death. Actually that’s when my drinking spiked. And I became suicidal. I lived on Gitanga Road and I used to drink at O-Zone bar at Valley Arcade and I would leave the bar very drunk, close my eyes and drive very fast down the road, hoping I’d crash into something and die.”
“Yeah,” he says.
“What were you hoping to hit?”
“I don’t know. Who the fuck knows? I was drunk and mad with grief, I guess. When Duma died I had to be tough. When you’re a man you’ve got to be tough when others fall to pieces. I remained strong [scratches the air in quotation]. I’d only cry in private, in public I was the one who had it together. I mean, I had to go identify his body and you don’t want to identify the body of your child…it was just fucked up. I also had to bury him and all that shit. My dad didn’t show up for his funeral, the bastard.” He clicks bitterly and reaches for his beer.
“Why didn’t he show up?”
“He said sijui he was just a small baby and that we should just bury him here in a cemetery and move on. God knows there are many things I blame him for, but that one? I will never forgive him for that.”
I watch him sip his beer. Beer drinkers fascinate me. That thing tastes like fermented hay. Plus doesn’t it bloat you out and you have to belch in your sleep the whole night? He’s having a Tusker malt. His second. I’m on hot water, for chrissake. I’m having a case of hyperacidity so I’m avoiding booze for a week or so. But that doesn’t stop me from looking up at the bar full of whiskies, a kaleidoscope of colours. I swear I see a 14-year old Oban winking at me. The underage ones are the most shameless.
“I didn’t die on Gitanga road, fortunately or unfortunately.” He sips his beer. “I tried it four or so times and I was like fuck it, this is stupid, I’m only gonna kill someone instead. So I took shelter in what I always do; chicks. I got this very smart jang’o chick, a masters degree holder and all and a German citizen. Oh my God! We had a torrid online affair.
“Torrid,” I say. I haven’t heard that word in ages. Hey, Torrid.
“Yeah. When she came to Kenya for the first time we went to the coast. The second time she came she said ‘me I’ve moved in.’ She quit her job, sold all her shit, moved into my house and it lasted a month before I told her to get her shit out and leave. Karma. It’s one of those things that’s going to bite me in the ass one day,” he says.
“She was mad. I was grieving. I had just lost a kid and she was there all of a sudden. I felt like I had a wife in the house without really knowing how this happened. The plan had been for her to come and move into her own house, not mine. But now she’s in my house. She’s buying curtains and changing my sheets and I come home one day for lunch and there is a new couch, I was like ‘Fuck!’” He grimaces.
“She moved out of my house. Took all her shit and took the log book to my Mercedes and disappeared with it,” he chuckles. I chuckle too, but for a different reason. She didn’t just take the logbook of his car, she took the log book of his Mercedes. There must be a difference, people. “She wrote to me years later telling me how deeply I had hurt her and how I didn’t understand what I had done to her, how I fucked her up and her self-confidence and everything and I was like, ‘Fuck! This shit really hurts people, eh?’”
Hurt. Now there is a word that has a wound of its own.
That word is the reason we are seated at this bar at The Node [former Pizza Garden] in Westlands, now owned by Jacaranda Hotel. It’s got a high roof, a pizzeria on the side and a garden outside. It’s Monday, the next day is Labour Day and I’m on hot water like an arthritic elderly man.
We are opening wounds. His wounds, to be precise. A lady I know referred me to him last year and I had reached out and he had said he will only talk to me after his 40th birthday this year. Now he is 40-years and a few days in.
He’s quite the tall guy as far as height goes. He’s got a slim face and a voice with a nasal crackle. He speaks beautiful English, nice dictition. He grew up in Muthaiga, upper-middle class family, always wanted to be a writer and painter but (happily) ended up as an art director in an advertising agency, something he has done successfully because he’s now almost at the top of the agency’s creative food chain. He’s made some money and lived life on the edge. Booze. Cars. Women. Lots and lots of women. My friend had mentioned that he was a sex addict and I had thought, bullshit, we are all sex addicts then. I have always been very sceptical of people who say they are sex addicts, like it’s an excuse to shag around. Oh, please forgive me, I’m sick – I’m suffering from a chronic inability not to stick my bong into the next girl.
The first time I ever heard about sex addiction was in 2012 when Eric Benet was going for sex therapy when he was married to Halle Berry (who I have always wondered what the fuss is all about). Sex addiction was a strange concept for me. In short, I was as ignorant of it in 2012 as I was in 2017.
“I’m on my 29th car,” he says. “I don’t remember the names of all the women I have dated, I only remember them by what car I was driving when I was with them. At 28-years my libido was off the charts. Having a girlfriend would never be enough, I’d have to supplement it with flings and prostitutes. I’d drive to town to pick up the streetwalkers on Koinange Streets, or City Hall area, or Argwings Kodhek or Wood Avenue. Mostly I’d carry two women, bring them back to my place, have sex with both them, drop them back to town, pick up two more, bring them back to my place and have sex with both of them, drop them back to town and come back and masturbate. Even when the massage parlours, which are far safer, came, I’d still drive to town to pick up these girls because, I don’t know, it was thrilling.”
“The allure of the dark side,” I say.
“Yes, and it didn’t matter. I would go to these dark parts of town where you can be stabbed. It was a rollercoaster; you bang chicks in your car, places where you can be nabbed by cops, you bang chicks who you shouldn’t bang, chicks who you can catch diseases from if anything goes wrong. Or chicks you could lose your job over. You bang people’s wives, which I’ve done quite a bit of! And you don’t feel good about yourself at all when you do all this shit. You don’t feel satisfied, it’s like a temporary reprieve, it’s like, there’s always that burning urge that you have to quench with the sex but it’s not quenchable. And it fucks up all your relationships. You don’t feel like you’ve achieved anything, you feel empty, and drained and dirty, and sad. But you just have to do it. You just have to. It’s compulsive.”
He pauses and checks his phone. The light from the phone illuminates his face – he has a strong lean nose. He puts his phone away. “A whole weekend would just go like that – alcohol and women and sex – then on Sunday I’d be broke and disgusted and suicidal and I’d hate myself.”
His big brother introduced him to prostitutes, he says. And his big brother was introduced by their uncle, so it was a cycle. I want to say like a heirloom, but that would be too soon.
The deejay has now set up at the corner. He’s called DJ Jay C, which is what Jesus would call himself if he found himself on the decks in this day and age. Before the evening ends I will embarrass myself by asking DJ Jay C if he has a CD of his mix I can buy (my car only plays CDs) and I will be told that nobody has bought CDs since the turn of the century and that people get music off SoundCloud now. Sometimes it’s better to just shut up.
“I got married because I wanted her to save me,” he says. He has called for another beer. During this period he was drinking a lot and shagging anyone with an ovary and he felt like he was spiraling out of control. So he identified a girl he had known for years to marry and stop this mad spin. She fit the bill because she was very pretty, he knew her from before, had the right family background (“so that my parents don’t bitch”) and very light-skinned because he says his girls have to be light-skinned. He was surprised when she agreed to marry him. They had a big garden wedding.
They got a baby. He was there when both his children were born. He’s the one who held them and watched them get weighed. He’s the one who named them, he says. He never names his children any English names because, “I’m not English.” His second child had such long legs, he remembers, and was such a crier. It was a great feeling of “euphoria, gratitude and fear” having lost his son those years back.
Six months after the wedding his “natural restlessness” kicked in. “All of a sudden I was out in the pub with the guys more than at home.” Inevitably they divorced almost four years later. He moved into a small servants quarter in Kileleshwa for 20K a month. “I moved from a big house, a duplex, to this place where the shower leaked on your back as you sat on the loo taking a crapper.” [I laugh at that description. It’s the hot water.]
“How would you describe the marriage?” I ask him.
“It had its good bits but a lot of it was not happy. Mostly because of me. I was not ready for it, I was in the wrong space. Plus, I got into it for the wrong reasons, to be saved from myself and I realised that nobody else can save me from myself but me.”
He got back into his lifestyle; drinking, wanking off, picking up prostitutes, watching pornography. He kept hurting himself and hurting others. He kept at it for a while. He describes it as an addiction, something that just draws you from reason. You just have to do it. So he did it until he sought help.
“Shrinks in Kenya are fucked up, none of them know anything,” he says. “I went to see a shrink and I told him ‘I think I have a problem. I think I am sex addict’, and he told me, ‘You should be proud of yourself, you know how many guys can’t get it up?’ I then tried to get help from the church but the church couldn’t help me because I refused to accept the Lord as my personal Savior. You can only get help from the church if you accept Jesus Christ.”
When he says that I get a eureka moment, that sarcasm actually has a smell and it’s petrichor – the smell of rain on dry soil. Everything has a smell. Jealousy smells of wet feathers. Love, naturally, smells of Toni’s neck. Passion smells of microwaved pawpaw. Rage smells of old tyres left in the sun. Infatuation smells of burning brake pads. Euphoria smells of freshly cut grass. Betrayal smells of Lucifer’s left armpit. I could go on but I know you don’t want me to.
He started reading up on sexual addiction online and found out that it had something to do with childhood trauma. As a child he was molested sexually by their female househelp. He saw a trajectory. “I also realised that things have just been piling up in my life. I was molested as a child. At 18-years the love of my life broke up with me and I nearly had a nervous breakdown, my self esteem plunged and I started sleeping with prostitutes and drinking. Then my son died. I got married and got divorced. I got retrenched from my job in between somewhere, then got another job and then that company went under. Then I landed this great job and my boss trusts me and everything is going well, but then one day, a Tuesday I think, last year or was it the year before, I slipped into a major depressive episode. All this shit just caught up with me and I just couldn’t get out of bed.” he says. The chickens had come home to roost.
I had a friend who instead of saying the, “chickens coming home to roost” would say, “Cows coming home to roost.” He would say it so often that I didn’t have the nerve to tell him he was wrong. It’s like those people you have known for ages and yet you don’t know their names and can’t ask now. So you never ask. My friend – haven’t heard from him in ages – is probably out there, probably a father now, telling his children “Study hard or your cows will come home to roost” and his children will say it and it will just be a family using the wrong idiom for generations.
I hold my finger up and I get my phone from his pocket to check if it’s recording. You have to check these things, one day I did an interview for 30 minutes only to discover that the blasted thing had stopped recording. Can you imagine the cock and bull I had to feed the subject when I called them a few days later for a “quick sit down” again?
He continues. “I just called my boss told him I’m not coming in, I’m never coming in, I quit. I don’t want my dues, I don’t want anything. I just can’t do this anymore. I’m done. I’ll be bringing your laptop in at some point. Then I proceeded to buy as many crates of Guinness as I could and I just sat in my house and drank and drank in my underwear, curtains shut, hoping I would drink myself to death.”
“I was dating this chick who had some experience with mental illness and I fucked up. I mean the night when I had my nervous breakdown, I went out and I did my thing, I banged like four chicks that night. I hit rock bottom. I was just like I’ve dated the loveliest chick, I’ve got the greatest job in the world, I’m actually doing what I love, I’m making money at it, my life is actually getting better and I just want to continue to fuck it up. I left whatsapp groups, I didn’t shower for days, just drunk. She tried to help me, told me, ‘Okay, fine. Come drink in my house and kill yourself here.’ But I said no.”
Finally what saved him was his daughter. One day, drunk, miserable and teary, he wondered what her life would be like if he died. “I thought, who will look after my star when I die? Will she not suffer? What will she learn about her dead father? Will it affect her?” So he took his girlfriend’s offer and went to her place and she said, ‘We are going to get you help.’ They got a shrink for him and he accepted to take the pills this time.
“I had always refused to take anti-depressants, but this time I was like, it’s either this or I’m gonna die. And you know they rob you of your libido at first, those meds, and my libido was the only thing I’ve had all my life so it was like losing an old friend. And they make you dizzy for a little bit, and then you become a bit more reasonable I suppose.”
He started putting his life together. “My boss was very supportive. He told me, ‘I’m not accepting your resignation. Clearly you’re unwell. I don’t accept resignations when people are unwell. Take as much time as you want off, fully paid, go see your shrink, go see whoever you need to see, come back when you’re well and don’t call me till you’re well. If you still want to resign then, I’ll accept your resignation.’”
“So I took a month or more off, putting myself back together,” he says. “My shrink dug up my childhood from me and my dysfunctional family. She told me I had been depressed for a very long time and didn’t realize it. That was the problem. All these years, all these women and all this shit. I didn’t know I was depressed and that’s why I was angry all the time, why I was horny all the time, why I was angry about being horny. I was seriously depressed.” I watch the barman shake a cocktail over his shoulder, you know how mixologists can be showy at times, especially when they have an audience.
“I remember the shrink wrote – and it’s so weird when you see it on paper -‘subject is a high functioning depressive, comes from a dysfunctional family. Assess for ADHD.’”
His father is a polygamist. He was violent, quick with his fist, he says. A soldier. They have a love-hate relationship. “He was very upset with me for my divorce. I was like ‘Really dude? How many women have you left and you’re telling me about…’” He trails off. “So apparently we have issues in the family, alcoholism and all that stuff and some of my siblings have been to rehab and to therapy because of issues that led to the alcoholism.”
His friends refused to believe that he’s depressed. Not he. Not he who gets all the hot chicks. Not he who has money to spend, drives a great car, lives in a nice house and enjoys his job and is always happy and fun and the life of a party. His shrink says she sees many like him – captains of industry, successful professionals – people who look like they are doing great on the outside but who are actually suffering inside. “I’m not blowing my own trumpet,” he says, “but I’m not a guy who people would regard as a failure. I’ve achieved quite a bit in life and I’m a strong personality. And when I tell them that I suffer from mental illness, they can’t take it but some call me on the side and ask me how they can seek help, who they can talk to. Because people are suffering in silence and they don’t know how to seek help. They want to be men about it. But come on, if mental illness can happen to a guy like me it can happen to anybody. And it’s not something to be ashamed about, it’s something that you can seek help for. There is a stigma around it – it’s much easier to tell people you have cancer than to tell them you have a mental illness, which is what depression is. And it’s cool, man.”
“And what have you learnt about sex by sleeping with all these women?” I ask him.
He tells me his big brother told him that when you are in bed with a woman you should make her feel like she is the only woman you want to sleep with. That she is the last woman you will ever need to sleep with, and even beyond the walls and the doors of that room, no other woman exists who interests you. “I always practised that whether I’m with a prostitute or a woman I’m seeing. It’s amazing how women react to that. They all – even the prostitutes – feel dignified and special.”
I told a lady friend that I interviewed a sex addict and she was so intrigued by him she asked me if I took a picture of him (sigh) and wanted to know what he looks like. She thought sex addicts have a particular look. It’s like asking what someone with asthma looks like. Well, sex addicts have smaller mouths than our mouths, I wanted to say, and their left eye is slightly closer to their ear. What does someone with painful periods look like? I asked her.
“This is about self loathing,” he says. “Sex addiction robs you of everything, mostly the people you care about and who care about you. You hurt the ones you love the most. I’ve been so lucky, I get the best chicks, honestly, I get the best chicks. I don’t hide my past from them, I don’t sleep with them under false pretenses, I’m brutally honest with them. I tell them this is who I am, this is what I have gone through and this is what I’m going through. I get chicks who are understanding, who are loving, wife material, you know. I very rarely run into a bitch. And they open up, and they’re so great, and I’m really great for the first few months, or weeks, before my demons check in. And it robs you of all of that. It robs you of intimacy, proper intimacy. And it kills your soul a little bit, leaving you empty and sad and you hate yourself for it.”
He’s been on medication, he mentioned one called Cipralex. But when he felt better he got off them just before his 40th birthday, that was three days before our meeting. He says he feels better now. He has stopped masturbating, watching porn and he hasn’t been with a prostitute in ages.
He spent his 40th birthday alone on his verandah. He took the day off. He wanted a very quiet day to reflect. He slept a bit, watched some telly, flirted with some girls on the phone, played games on his phone and did some journaling. That’s pretty much it.
“The next decade is to make money,” he says. “Banging girls and drinking is a very expensive affair, and I have wasted a lot of time and money doing that. The next 10 to 20 years is to make money for myself and for my daughter. I don’t want to be like those retired guys who are running around scratching about for little chumes. The women have to stop. I still get laid, though, but never with prostitutes.”
“How many times do you get laid now?” I asked, unable to help myself. Come on, you would have asked that question too because you always suspect everybody is having more sex than you are.
“Twice or thrice a week, maybe? With different chicks.”
I’m surprised at that. Three different girls a week?! I ask him how and where he meets three different chicks in a week to sleep with while there are chaps who can’t even get on one date in a month! He says dating apps, introductions through friends, in bars, the usual. “Actually I realized I’m very good with chicks. Took me a long time to realize that. I never used to think I’m good with girls, maybe that’s why I went for prostitutes in the beginning. I never thought that I had the gift of the gab but clearly I do. I think it runs in the family,” he says.
“My challenge is that I get tired of one girl after a few months. I realized I can do this till I am 60. My libido is not going away, that’s now a given so, if I want to change it I just have to make a conscious decision to change and focus on the important things. And it’s coming along slowly. I mean I quit smoking years back so I can do this. I don’t want to be one of those ridiculous 60-year old guys you see still running around after 20-year olds. Fornication takes a lot of your energy and I’ve enjoyed the stage, I’ve gotten away with it, not unscathed but I’m still here so it’s probably time to do something else now. Find a different form of enjoyment, find that intimacy, my career, go back to painting which was always my first love anyway.”
He wants to spend more time with his daughter, who is the pivot of his life. Everything now swings from there. He doesn’t want to rock the boat with his ex-wife as well; they are in a good space now which means he can see his daughter often. He wants to take better care of his health. We talk about creativity and how, curiously, a lot of it is informed by socialisation and past experiences.
“I have some interest in the duality of life. I don’t think the creative side of me would exist without what I have gone through in my life. In fact, one of the reasons I was so afraid of taking the pills for depression was that I was afraid it would kill the creative side of me,” he says. “But they don’t really. They just give you a chance to take a breather and self-assess, and start trying to learn how to love yourself, and forgive yourself, and understand how you hurt, and the wounds you carry, and uh, how you should feel compassion for yourself the way you feel compassion for someone else.”
“I made choices in my life that uh, perhaps really, were not good choices. [Short pause]. My life is not over, I’m still gonna keep making choices, and hopefully the quality should get better as I go along. But I can’t change the past, it is what it is. I know it actually doesn’t make me a lesser person. I used to think it does, but it doesn’t. And if people don’t like my past, they can kiss my ass, really.”
I ask him what space he is in now at 40. He slowly rubs his scalp with his hands. He is on his fourth beer. “It’s been a hard 40 years, but it’s been good, I can’t complain. I’ll never bitch and say my life has been horrible. It has had its dark side, but it has had its brilliant sides too. And I’ve got my daughter who I love more than anything and she’s smart, and hanging out with her is joyous. I miss her brother, I wish her brother was still alive, so I could have them both together, but such is life.” Short pause, sip of beer.
“I’ve also learnt that accepting that you need help is not a weakness. I’ve learnt that you can change pretty much anything if you really want to change it. I’ve learnt to cut myself some slack. I’ve been my biggest critic, I’ve been harder on myself than anybody is, and it has been destructive. You need to ease up, give yourself room. I have learnt to understand that a lot of guys out there look perfect but are not. Everybody thinks I have the perfect life but they do not know what’s going on under the surface: “Oh, you got a hot chick, you got the nice house, you got the nice cars.” You never really know what’s brewing in people’s lives. So, live your life, not through the eyes of others.”
I start to say something, but he remembers something else. “Also, people write everything off as alcoholism. We see people who are always drinking too much and imagine that they are just alcoholics. They are more than that, most of the time, they are something else underneath. They are always battling something else- maybe they are gay and are fighting it, maybe they are bipolar, maybe they are depressed. Usually if you’re sharp enough, you’ll find alcoholism is a symptom, it’s not,to a large extent, a disease on its own. There’s something else that someone who drinks a lot is masking.”
He has to go for another engagement. I walk him out into the cold night, or in the words of Kenyans, I give him a “push.” He’s wearing white brogues. We stand by Woodvale Close, underneath the dark blue sky, and shoot the breeze for a bit before he heads out to his car. Inside, at the bar, I look up at the relentless 14-year old Oban and tell the barman, “Gimme a double, neat.” Screw hyperacidity, there are men battling with far worse things than hydrochloric acid.