Every individual is entitled to at least one vice.
So I have read and heard.
I cannot, for the life of me, point to one particular vice that I utterly enjoy. For all I know, only music can touch me on a level that nothing else can. Well, maybe only one other person can. But music cannot be considered a vice, can it?
Anyway, I know people who take drinking so seriously they would swim through flood waters to get to a pub.
I also know those who take gambling so seriously they could sell their wisdom teeth just to gamble on a cricket game in Pakistan or Jamaica or Sri Lanka.
My father had two distinct [and maybe annoying] vices.
Drinking and smoking. He would go on to drink his career away.
I can still recall the smell of tobacco and smoke and nicotine and tar that always accompanied him when he staggered into the house in the dead of the night.
I would go on to have my first puff of smoke from the cigarette butts he left behind on an ash tray in his office.
That was 1998. And I was approaching eight years.
It is also during that same week that I had my first sip of alcohol. It must have been a Friday because the establishment in which he sat, with Dr. King’ori and Mr. Wekesa (CPA), was filled with lively and chatty patrons. If I squint real hard and marshal enough concentration, I can still hear the music that was playing from the large speakers next to the deejaying booth on the dance floor a few paces away from our table. It must have been General Defao or Papa Wemba or Koffi Olomide.
Well, that day, in the undecided December weather of Busia, I had my first ever taste of alcohol. It was Pilsner Lager. And it is still my favorite drink to this day. Probably something about first love and all. Anyway, I was sitting there in the centre of the restaurant, next to the counter.
I was eating a plate of chips and a quarter chicken which cost all of 35 shillings at the time.
I was also sipping a glass of Fanta Orange. My father had ambled over to my table where I had been alone for about half an hour while he finished up his business with some other patrons a few tables away. He must have whispered something in my ear about eating well before tasting my drink. Then he poured some of his Pilsner into my glass. It was the bitterest thing I had ever tasted.
Over the years, as I grew up, I became accustomed to that bitter taste. Today, whenever I kiss that first drop of the beer, I can still see the flashing lights of the discotheque near the restaurant and I can still feel the crispy taste of the chicken thigh. Not even Colonel Sanders’ chicken comes close to that chicken thigh I had two decades ago.
Back in college I had friends with whom we would spend all our time drinking our realities away. We never really needed an excuse or reason to indulge. I remember my group drinking simply because a lecturer failed to come to the lecture hall, or because it was Friday and Friday is Members’ Day. Or because a scheduled CAT bounced. Or because a friend broke up with a girlfriend. Or simply because someone had a friend on Facebook who had a birthday. We once went drinking because the lights were out (during the day) and we had nothing better to do in the silence of the hostels. Basically, we needed no reason to drink, and we never lacked a reason to drink. There was a time I was so tipsy, I passed out right in front of my hostel door because I could not locate the keyhole and my brain decided to stop cooperating with my fingers. I was woken up by the cleaning ladies who mopped the halls corridors.
Then I grew up a little and left college. And started drinking with my own money rather than someone else’s. The drinks got sweeter because I was spending my hard-earned money. But that also mean the frequency of indulgence decreased. Because I had a degree in Economics and as an economist you try to maximize utility, right? Over time, my drinking reduced as I got rid of more and more friends. Today, I prefer to drink from home because I find pubs too loud and noisy and crowded. Which means I drink very sparingly. And which could also mean am too old to dance away the night.
But I digress.
The jest of this post is alcoholism or something close to that. It is not intended to detail my encounter with drinking.
Somehow, I left some friends behind. In the cold abyss that is the bottom of the bottle or pitcher. Because some people will never know when to quit, or maybe will not have enough will power to do so. One of my friends from the drinking days nearly killed himself when he drove into the stone wall of his fathers’ compound a couple of years back. Another drank himself to death last year. And yet another got himself fired after throwing up on a customer – he was a bank teller. Each of those stories could have been anybody’s. Because when you go out drinking with friends, you can easily tell who drinks more than the others. You will definitely notice the one who often proposes where to drink because the waiters tend to forget bills or because the vodka and gin shots are a few coins cheaper. That guy will most likely be the one that soils a bank counter or throws up on the boss’ shoes. They may also be the one that will one day cough out their liver. Or the one that drives into a stationary eighteen wheeler.
I may not be old enough to claim I have seen it all. But I know for sure that the bottom of each bottle is empty. It is not filled with any magic that will make one’s problems disappear. Or bring back a partner who left. Which is why I tend to live by the mantra “Drink for Fun. Drink when Happy.” I think the inventor of alcohol intended it to be for happy times.
Heck, even Jesus turned water into wine during a wedding. Not during the funeral of Lazarus.
As I continue my journey in life, I will drink only when I don’t have to. That should give me the sobriety of thought to help me avoid overindulgence because the bottom of each bottle or glass or pitcher is filled with nothing but light-headedness and the promise of a stinging headache thereafter. It is better to have a stinging headache because of fun rather than from an attempt to escape the pains of reality. Which will be waiting for you when the stars disappear from your eyes.
I still love drinking.
Am sure I always will. But I tend to indulge with a lot more restraint now. Because alcohol will always be here, even after all of us are long gone. So the next time you walk into whichever establishment to drink, please don’t forget to leave some for future generations. Take only what you need.
You don’t have to see the bottom of that bottle each time.
Please drink responsibly.
P/S: Am not an alcoholic, or so I strongly believe. Am just a lover of fun and merriment, who feels fun should not be the cause of one’s death or despair.