We stood by his grave weeping, leaning on each other and holding hands as we sang Kumbaya. “Come by here Lord,” we said over and over again. The pain was razor sharp but the guilt was a huge black cloud that hovered around us, never to be spoken about just to be seen and felt.
With every heap of soil dropped into his newly found 6 X 6 abode, the distance between us increased and a sense of permanence was established as we lay the white roses on the grave.
Everything was carefully picked out; white roses to signify his youthfulness and new beginnings. We wore blue shamballas encrypted ‘The Don’ as we liked to call him. We also had yellow ribbons: yellow for suicide awareness and blue for mental health. This one had hit us really hard.
“Yani Don is really gone?” Mark remarked, more of a statement than a question.
“If I hadn’t seen his lifeless body I wouldn’t have believed it,” Alfred joined in the conversation.
“I didn’t think it was this bad,” I said trying to hold back my tears; tears of pain but mostly of guilt.
The MC interrupted the conversation with an announcement letting everyone know there was food to be shared. So we headed over to the tents. It was difficult to think of hunger given the circumstances but dining with the family felt like holding on to him a bit longer. We needed it.
“Did you work with him?” An uncle of Don’s asked without directing the question to anyone in particular.
“Yes, we did,” Mark responded.
“Didn’t anyone see the drinking had gotten out of hand? What was he going through?” The same uncle asked.
Silence filled the air for 2 very long minutes. This is what every one of us had been asking ourselves but the answers were too heavy to handle.
“Not now Kamau. What is done is done. My firstborn son now lies in the ground. Nothing will bring him back,” Don’s mum said with finality.
The uncle with the questions opened his mouth as though to say something but then just nodded signalling his respect for her grief.
We couldn’t wait to leave. We soon said our goodbyes to the family and left, but not before taking photos and flooding social media with posts and hashtags as is the custom.
The hour of reckoning lay ahead. We decided to stop by a bar and take shots in honour of our fallen friend.
“To Don, may he rest in peace, “Alfie started.
“To Don, to his randomness,” I said.
This opened Pandora’s Box. A few more shots and everyone had moments shared with Don to talk about. By now the group had grown bigger. For a moment there was laughter.
Then one person asked, “When did it get this bad?”
“I don’t know man, but once he was suspended from work things just started spiralling down,” Alfie said as he stared at his glass.
Don had been one of those guys who could sell ice to an Eskimo. So it didn’t come as surprise when he got a permanent position in a microfinance bank. He had done well marketing their products and he had gotten many people to open accounts with them. His starting salary was 70k.
Like many young men in the city, he moved in with his friend in a three-bedroomed apartment which they were paying 20K each. Each contributed half of the rent and they split the other bills. There was plenty left over to party with. So the partying began.
At some point, it got really bad because he would get late for work. He got two warning letters, one more strike and he would be suspended. Don loved his alcohol but he was still a smart guy so he decided that he would only drink on Satos. Month one worked out well, month two, three until the sixth one.
One of our mutual pals was on leave. He had just come back from Juba, made some good money and needed a good break before getting back to work.
“Guys I’m back in town with some good liquor. Come chill out at my place in the evening.” The message read. It was a Wednesday. We all went and Don was there too. He could break his no alcohol unless it’s Saturday rule this one time. Our friend was doing really well and we had to celebrate.
That was how Don’s troubles started. A week into breaking the rules, his phone went off. So he missed the alarm. It was a Tuesday, he woke up at 9:30 a.m. He’d missed a presentation to his superiors. That was strike 3 in one year.
He called in and gave an excuse that he had to pass by the doctor’s but he was reeking of alcohol. HR sent him home with his suspension letter. He was good at his job so they didn’t want to let him go but they needed him to solve his drinking problem first.
On the night that he was suspended, some of his friends invited him out to drown his professional sorrows. This went on for a while. He didn’t think he needed rehab and his friends enabled his drinking. By now he was chipping into his savings. To make matters worse he was constantly fighting with his girlfriend so to make it up to her he flew her to Lamu on his dwindling savings.
It was now clear to the company that he wasn’t willing to solve his alcohol problem. They fired him. The girlfriend cheated on him and then left him.
‘One shot for my pain, one-shot my sorrow’, was his new mantra. He sank deeper into the bottle. Rent and food were soon a problem too. A few people tried talking to him but it didn’t help him.
He sent his CV to several companies. Convinced that he would get a job soon, he started taking out loans. He didn’t let his parents know what exactly happened so they sent him money for a while before his dad got wind of the truth and cut him off. Don was now on his own, jobless and debt-ridden and still partying with his friends but his woes were visible.
When he wasn’t around we all talked about talking to him. We had different intervention measures. Some offered to use their connections to get him a job. We also pleaded with his roommate not to kick him out or move out without him. We even contributed to keeping him afloat. However, we never really talked about how we were enabling his drinking. How could we prevent him from drinking with us and he had no one else?
He was depressed, and it was evident. He would engage anyone and everyone who cared to listen in his rantings about women after his last ordeal. Don also spoke of dark things all the time. During his last days, he talked so much death but always linked it to series that he was watching so it didn’t raise alarm. It, however, came as a surprise when got the news that he had drowned in a pool. Don was a good swimmer so it made no sense.
A few days before the tragedy, a conversation about the SGR had started and soon Don and 3 others decided to try it. In the wee hours of the night, they booked the morning train and some cottages with a pool for the weekend. He looked just fine, happy even. They went to the coast, had fun and were prepared to leave after two days. The day before the scheduled leaving date, he waited for everyone to sleep then got into the pool quietly. He was found floating by one of the workers at the cottages at 6 a.m.
He had been kind enough to leave a note that said, “Sorry for ruining the randomness but I am tired of this life. Don.”
Maybe he didn’t have time to say more or maybe he just couldn’t speak up, we’ll never know. Don had rested and we all knew we could have done better. Suddenly the idea to celebrate his life in the same environment that aided in masking the problem seemed very distasteful.
We walked out and suddenly all I could think of was the Kumbaya song and Don resting forever in the soil.
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