Even though everyone comes in at their own time, they are all a few minutes apart. The hall which had erstwhile been cold and empty, is now coming alive as the ever pleasant sound of genuine laughter and the blend of different voices combine forces to drive out the somber evening mood. Mark’s anxiety lessens its grip on him and he forgets that he ‘needed’ a drink. Sophia is now settled beside him, and a conversation ensues between them.
Sophia: How’s your son Nick coming along?
Mark: Ahh. He is alright. His teachers say he is finally coming out of his shell. He even answered a question in class today. How are yours coming along?
Sophia: They are well. Anita came in second during the midterm exams. Collins and Martha aren’t doing badly either. I do have an idea, why don’t you and Nick come over to our place this weekend? We can have a laid back evening away from the formalities of a chapel hall meeting, have dinner then perhaps get some time alone when the kids go to bed.
Mark’s eyes light up.
At exactly 8PM, a middle aged man with strands of grey hair struggling for prominence in an otherwise all-black bush of a beard rises from his seat. His demeanor is that of a priest leading mass on a hot Sunday afternoon. He is the Chairperson, a position that was bestowed upon him given that he has been coming to these meetings for a very long time, and it is only right that he leads the newbies through the steps.
‘My name is Sam, and I am an alcoholic. I would like to welcome you to the Wednesday evening Uphill Chapel Centre meeting. I notice amongst us we have new attendees. We welcome you. As you probably know, this is Alcoholics Anonymous, a worldwide fellowship of men and women who desire to quit drinking alcohol and are willing to help each other in the journey to sobriety. Please introduce yourselves, if you may’.
Mark has heard these words being uttered here in this hall every Wednesday for six months now, ever since he first made the decision to attend his first meeting. It had been a tough call admitting that he needed help. The period preceding this decision had been a difficult one. His life had taken a turn for worse after an unfortunate incident where his wife, Rose, was hit by a speeding car.
His mind revisits the events that had transpired back then;
Rose had just left her office, aware that she was running late to pick their son from school, and was therefore scampering across the busy street to the parking lot where her car was parked. In her frantic efforts to save for lost time, she had not noticed the black SUV, in all its power, cruising at a dangerous speed, with its driver, a clean-shaven man in an expensive suit holding an expensive-looking phone to his ear. A few minutes later, there was a sharp screeching sound as the driver slammed the brakes, then a loud thud as metal came into contact with human flesh. Rose hit the ground a few minutes later. Mark, who by then was still at work, would receive the dreadful call about an hour later when he picked up his phone to receive the unknown number that had kept it buzzing embarrassingly throughout his late afternoon meeting. The caller, in an impersonal and authoritative voice, had informed him curtly that his wife had been in an accident and that he should…..
Everything had gone blank afterwards.
Mark’s mind drifts further down that nostalgic memory lane. Like many long lasting relationships, his with the bottle began when he was in campus, many years prior to that dreadful accident, when he had been young and full of naïve optimism. By then he was simply a social drinker, indulging only on weekends with his classmates as they hopped around the city sampling entertainment spots. At that time, boyhood was shedding away like a snake’s skin and manhood was beckoning, as evidenced by the growing beard that was starting to cover his chin and cheeks like hyacinth growing in Lake Victoria………….
He tries to pay attention to the meeting.
A newbie is now on her feet, just about to share her story. She hesitates slightly. Her arms are folded across her torso, as if to protect herself from an unseen attacker. All eyes turn towards her.
‘Please go on and share with us your story. Don’t be afraid, this is a safe place.’ Sam urges her on.
Mark soon finds himself entangled in the intricate web of his thoughts again. He recalls the night prior to the funeral. It had been long and unbearable;
And he had done as he and his wife had always done on situations like this. He had prayed. He had gone down on his knees by their matrimonial bed with his hands clasped together and his eyes tightly shut, his head looking up towards the heavens and his lips humming a prayer. It was here that he and Rose had knelt down many years ago after they came back from the hospital with some bad news. The doctor had succinctly explained to them that Rose, who was at that time expectant with Nick, had developed some complications that had warranted an emergency operation. The operation had been scheduled for the following day and the doctor had informed them that Nick, who was 10 weeks due, would not make it through. They had held their hands together and prayed fervently for most of the night. Nick survived.
That’s why on the night of that dreadful day in which the grim reaper took his wife rather cruelly, he prayed with his hands clasped together – he had no one to hold them with. Nick was too young to fully comprehend what had happened, and he was sleeping peacefully in his room. Mark asked God why He would allow such a thing to happen. He didn’t get an answer back. At least not at that time. So he felt bitter and betrayed, and ended up languishing in anguish. A void began growing in his soul, a void that had previously been filled in part by his departed wife and was now seeking to be refilled. So he began self-medicating with alcohol. It seemed to help. It offered him an escape from a reality so harsh. A former social drinker, who would catch a few beers with his peers every once in a while, became a regular in the bar, choosing a harsher poison to soothe his troubled mind and match up to his increasing tolerance. Dependence turned into addiction, a subtle addiction that didn’t announce its presence at first. But soon, like all addictions, it begun to take things away from him. First was his job, which he couldn’t keep up with because he always showed up at his desk inebriated. So he was let go. Someone replaced him. Someone equally sharp and ambitious like he had been. Then his relationship with his son, began to suffer. He often came back home in a drunken stupor only to shout at his son to the utter dismay and terror of his sister who had moved in with them since her wife’s demise.
His mind is jolted back again into the room as the members clap for the new attendee who had just finished sharing her story.
NB: Catch the final Part (3) of this story next week.
Photo Credits: CBN News