We’re getting to the end of the year and the end of the decade. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that at the beginning of the decade I was just starting campus. A shy boy who wore baggy clothes, I would go to the shops and without any fitting, pick a shirt or trouser because it was a shirt or trouser. So that I looked like something out of a botched tailoring experiment.
I picked Bachelor of Commerce and thought, here is something safe that will give me a safe future. A house in the suburbs. A wife that is not too demanding, maybe a secretary or a teacher. We’d have a daughter, maybe two. Get a cat and have a ToyotaPremio parked outside. Until four years later I got my first job in an advertising agency and realized a few months in that it wasn’t the thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
It was a media buying gig for mainstream media at WPP Scangroup. The title might sound suave but all I did was sit at a desk and print orders for your Citizens, NTV’s and KTN’s all day. I felt like I wasn’t using any of my brain. I was grumpy, I walked with my shoulders hunched and made everyone around me feel rained on because the slightest thing got me into a mood. My colleagues—cool people—would often ask what was wrong. Hi Jane, John, Judith, Marion. Nothing was wrong; I was just misplaced.
To sink me further into misery, I was given this other job of ferrying newspapers around the company. ‘Is this what my newly minted Strathmore university degree was good for?’ I often mused, to no one in particular, and the more I did, the more my energy wrinkled. I felt terrible. I would get to work early and place newspapers on the bosses’ desks before people arrived so that they would not see my shame. You might say, “Oh, just a few newspapers to a handful of bosses, grow up.” Scangroup was about four floors; Mindshare on the first floor, Scanad on the fifth floor, our offices on the sixth, and Hill and Knowlton on the seventh. And everyone had a title besides me. A myriad of honchos each getting about four newspapers; People Daily, The Star, Daily Nation, The Standard, and the occasional bonus of Business Daily and The Nairobian. I had a stack of newspapers so high it reached my waist.
It wasn’t all gloom; after supplying the newspapers I would sit with them at my desk and read each, cover to cover. I could tell you about the lonely hearts looking for love. The political and business temperature in the country then. Which celebrity was dating who. Which pastor was sleeping with which congregant, according to the hottest gossip on The Nairobian.
I got the courage to start a blog. In between shuffling newspapers and printing orders I would log onto Blogspot and write. It was all hazy but I got picked up by this online lifestyle magazine called Spyce that has since closed shop, ran by Jack Mugi. A man I still respect and admire. He gave me the job after I sent him a few articles I had written for fun. We met for drinks at Sarit. A team of five; three gents and two girls. I made friends with this one girl immediately. Tall, light skin, built like a model, with a voice like a nightingale. Sherry, never stop singing. We wrote an article a day for five hundred bob for about a year and that gave me the confidence I needed to think that I could be a copywriter.
I remember going to the fifth floor. Fifth floor was a bittersweet experience for me. It reminded me of everything I wanted to be and everything I was not. It had a bar and a pool table. Every time I got a break I went there. It was where all the creatives hung out. The designers, copywriters, brand partners and directors. When we wore khakis and shirts on the sixth floor, these guys wore shorts, t-shirts with quips and maps of Africa on them and beaded jewelry. They carried iPhones and spoke in short, cool lingo like, ‘That’s a vibe’ and ‘It’s chill.’ They drank aged whiskeys and smoked their cigarettes from Monday to Monday while saying, ‘It’s chill.’
And the ladies? God, the ladies. They wore short dresses and high heels and they smiled their toothpaste ad smiles and carried their Java coffee cups. And they never had a bad hair day and their skin was always glowing and smooth and they never broke a nail. Simply put, they were a vibe. Hi, I’m only a newspaper boy but I can rock your world.
I remember walking into this Creative Director’s office. Light skin gent, average height, with a bald head and a beard. The words cold, dull, bored, disconnected come to mind when I think about him. I knocked on his door, literally trembling, and told him I wanted to write copy.I went ahead to show him my small blog the way you would present your first love with your heart, hoping they don’t break it. I held my writing like an egg then. Any opinion about it shattered me. Nowadays I throw words around because I know regardless of what anyone says, tomorrow I will write more words. “Oh, we would give you the job if you wrote like Biko,” was all the dull Creative Director said. He went ahead to give me assignments that fell through the cracks. I resented him then but now I harbor no hard feelings. It’s the climb. It’s grueling.
I cut my losses and pitched Radioafrica, Ogilvy and Redhouse. Radioafrica and Ogilivy called me for interviews that got lost in the mail. Redhouse wanted to take me as an unpaid intern. I had rent, I was buying milk. I was having girls coming over on weekends. Unpaid internship wouldn’t cut it. Funny enough, around that time, I resigned, with about twenty thousand bob to my name, and started this blog. That was in February of 2016. After two years at Scangroup I had had enough of printing orders, shuffling newspapers and being jealous of the cool people on the fifth floor with their aged whiskeys and cool lingo. Scangroup was no longer a vibe for me.
After a few months out in the cold, I went bust and got another job as a Media Planner in late 2016 at this company that was run like a mom-and-pop kiosk. I lasted all of nine months. The person I worked under loved to take out her frustrations on me. She was a Muslim woman with a young family and she was always in a mood. The words angry, depressed, sad, overwhelmed come to mind when I think about her. We were only two in the department and according to her I was the reason for all its problems.
I think I grew white hairs in this job and my shoulders hunched even more. Every morning felt like waking up and going to the Muslim woman’s prison. This one morning, the sky was blue and the sun was out and the birds were on the trees chirping what sounded like a song of liberation. She started giving me fresh shit and I looked at her and gave her the ‘Look ma’am, this is not the morning to give me fresh shit; the birds are singing a liberation song’ face, but she didn’t pay attention. She just talked and talked and drowned in her own words and I went to my desk. I had a desk complete with a PC and a phone and people called me ‘sir’. I went to my desk and picked up my jacket. It’s a brown, leather jacket. Whenever I wear that jacket, I usually whisper to myself, “Today is a day for anarchy.” I wore my anarchy jacket, grabbed my keys and left her talking and talking. They called. I did not pick. They texted, I did not reply. I withdrew all my cash and went swimming. Two weeks or so later, they emailed a letter of termination. The birds sang their liberation song.
That month, I sat on my couch and wrote the first part of Drug Paradise and titled it ‘The Engagement’. I put it up on this blog as a PDF and sold it for three hundred bob but it’s now free and you can download it here. It sold about a hundred copies and you guys said, “To hell with him. He doesn’t even write like Biko.” And I went bust yet again and this time it was really bad. I sold my TV and my fridge to try and get by. I remember this one girl calling and asking if she could come over and I told her I wasn’t in. I was sitting on the floor. I had no food, my water and electricity had been cut and my head was spinning. You never want your head to spin on an empty stomach; it spins twice as fast. I eventually ran out of things to sell and I ran back to the village. You can read about that here.
I came back to the city and got another job as a content creator in 2018 with this hip company. The boss is so cool and he talks to people and remembers their name and doesn’t comb his hair. The words vibrant, cheerful, driven, brave come to mind when I think about him. The management smiles at you and asks you if you’re okay and if anybody is bothering you, and everybody is free to dream and be who they truly are.
I wrote content for a handful of brands and sat in big boardrooms with serious men and women who ran departments and entire companies and wore custom made suits and flew business class, drove showroom guzzlers and said words like ‘reiterate’ and ‘bottom line.’ I ate samosas and drunk bottomless tea and learned a whole lot but I didn’t forget my dream. I wrote for brands during the day and wrote my novel during the night.
I finished my novel and put it away in a folder. I was skeptical to publish it because who buys novels anyway, the same readers who refused to buy my PDF? I finally took the leap. Sent it to my editor and had it printed and things started happening almost instantly. We had a successful book launch at The Nairobi Club. A reader of this blog volunteered his membership and we got the space with trinkets for next to nothing. Thank you, Duncan.
Instead of the usual frown, God was smiling down at me at last and things that were not even in my wildest dreams started happening. I started getting book orders from Nairobi, Nakuru, Thika, Lodwar, Eldoret, Uganda and within no time, I was making more than my employer was paying me. I handed in my resignation letter and because they are cool peeps, they took me on contract to write for this one brand that I was particularly good with. Text Book Centre came into the picture and we were soon out of stock and now we are back in print with a sexy, new cover. And all of it started from a dream of being a copywriter, only to fail and become something even greater.
This year I started posting my poems. I wrote most of them when I was broke and sad and life was bleak but to my surprise, readers love them. I put my soul in those poems. They get me through a hard day, week or even month. And now I’m working on my first poetry collection with these cool doodles. My mom always says, “Kariuki, don’t forget about your drawing. You used to draw so much as a child, now you don’t even draw anymore.” Well, Mom, I’m drawing. Drawing, drawing, drawing. And my thoughts have trailed off because I have had to wipe tears from my eyes and mucus from my nose because of the effect you have on me.
This year I started a series on this blog called Nairobi Love and wrote Eight Years of Toxic Love, a story that trended on Twitter for about two days and started important conversations on domestic violence. And you came to the girl’s aid and gave her a helping hand. I am glad that in its own small way, it’s giving back.
This has been a strange year. I have been signing books every week from April to September. Women have been in my inbox asking me out. I went on a couple of free dates. I tried to love a girl, it did not work out. It’s not a sob story, there will be another girl and another one and another one after that, till I find a good woman or become the man the woman I want needs.
I started running, not away from the women in my inbox but for exercise. I do it at least twice a week. I would do it every day but it puts a strain on my legs. It’s done wonders for my health, both mental and physical. The sweating, the heavy breathing, the adrenaline after you get to the finish line when you thought you couldn’t. It reinforces that you can go further than you ever thought possible by simply putting one foot in front of the other.
I want to write more this coming decade. I want to get a publisher and share my words with the world. I want to finish the Drug Paradise series. Write another poetry collection. Write more stand-alone novels. Write sci-fi. Have my novels turned into movies. Write even more poetry. Do more book signing events. Go for poetry readings and in my own small way, contribute to the next generation of writers.
I want to travel and interact with different cultures. I want to properly know a woman beyond restaurant dates and weekends together. I want to know who she truly is. Live in the same space with her. Go shopping. Cook. Spend entire afternoons doing nothing. Argue. Meet her family. Try to suck up to them and fail because I’m poor at sucking up to anyone. Go through something difficult together. Share secrets. Make a daughter. Think about baby names. Worry about the price of diapers and Weetabix. Try to rekindle our romance after our daughter starts kindergarten; date nights, surprise trips, poems in the bowl. Make another daughter. Think about the schools they will go to. Piano lessons, ballet classes, birthday parties. Stand on the podium before the decade ends to receive a Pulitzer or some other accolade and attribute it to my readers and the three beautiful women in my life.
Thanks to everyone who has been here and continues to be here. Here is to you, to the friends I have made and to the stories I have written that have touched you. Merry Christmas; see you in the next decade.
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