What if success never made us happy

Hangovers always make me wish I hadn’t put that first glass of whisky on my lips. But I still do, always, like another night when I almost drank a whole bottle by myself. Reason, it was Friday night. Anyway, it’s about 10am, usually when hangovers torment me the most, and I’m in bed, agonizing and swearing never to touch anything alcoholic ever again when my phone rings. The tone cuts into my ears like a sharp knife, and amplifies my headache. I groan and blindly reach out to silence that damn phone but in my post-drunken stupor, I fumble and press the receive key so I have no option but put it in my ear,

‘Hello’, I ask.

‘Hi, I am calling you from the Research Institute. This is to inform you that you have been selected to participate in our experiment to further the cause of science in the universe. The experiment basically entails taking a pill that will allow you to travel and see into the future, your future. Kindly be at the Institute by 8am on Monday for further guidance.’

I’m not surprised that I’ve received such a call, I’m young, broke, restless and yearning to discover and explore life so I’ve been pursuing any opportunity that would thrust me forward in life. Therefore, even though I do not remember signing up for this particular experiment, I’m sure I must have.

That following Monday, 8.03am, I find myself seated at the waiting bay in a large hallway together with five other volunteers, most of them as young as I am. They must be unemployed otherwise why are they here and not in their offices on a Monday morning?

I’m dressed in my favorite suit like I was going for an interview and I look pretty odd from the others who seem to have gotten the memo and worn casually.

This waiting bay is exquisitely furnished, the floor on which I’ve rested my anxious feet is finished in parquet and the walls are white with a cream wallpaper overlay. Portraits of famous dead scientists are hanging on hooks high up these walls, evoking a sense of scientific mystery in the room. I’m looking at the portrait of Isaac Newton with his long blonde hair that flows all the way to his shoulders. I notice the look he has, a look that seems to say, ‘even in death, I know more than you.’

I’m still eyeballing him a few minutes later when a tall lanky and nerdy middle aged man with a forest of grey hair on his head walks in and introduces himself as the lead researcher and subsequently leads us through the hallway into an experiment room and we’re all made to lie on recliner seats and given a red pill.

When I swallow the pill, everything goes blank for a while then I regain my consciousness, only that I do not know where I am, my body is numb and I can’t move a limb. I stop focusing on the state of my body and realize I’m watching something that looks like a movie, and it’s in my mind.

Someone’s in a car, driving at a considerable speed, his tie is loosened and the sleeves of his crisp white shirt folded up to the elbows. He seems to be rushing home before dusk settles in. The road on which he is driving is well-tarmacked, exquisite storeyed houses line either side of it, and each is fenced off from the rest of the world with electric razors all round. It is Runda, I’ve been there before and I recognize its familiar terrain that reeks of affluence, mistrust and seclusion.

He takes a turn to the left soon after, into a compound whose gates are hastily opened by uniformed guards. I see him park his car in front of a palatial home that sits on the large compound and gets out of the car.

I look at him closely, he is tall, slim and saunters authoritatively like he owns the place. He actually does. As he walks towards the door, it swings open and I see a pretty woman, her curves are visible through the kitenge dress she is wearing. Her face is glowing and her smile is home. They hug, and I get a chance to see his face, and when I do, I can’t help gasping in shock. This mysterious character is actually me. He looks older and all but I’m not mistaken. He is the future version of me.

……Everything goes blank…….

Then I regain consciousness once more. The movie in my mind is still on.

It is evening again. A guy is in a car yet again, this time it is a Land Cruiser V8, black and polished, and his right arm is sticking out of the window to display an expensive golden Rolex watch. The road is tarmacked, just like the last time, but I can tell it is not the same place as in the previous scene.

He is stuck in a traffic maze that extends way back to an intersection with a sign written Galana Road on it. I recognize Galana Road, it is in the heart of Nairobi’s Kilimani. Traffic starts moving and the V8 cruises effortlessly for a couple hundred of metres and takes a right turn into the parking lot of Galana Plaza.

The guy gets out, he is tall, but not lanky like in the other scene, this one has a beer paunch, his shoulders are much broader and he has that middle age fat that settles right around the waist. He trudges into the building, into the lifts and presses ‘Eighth Floor’.

The lifts go up and a few minutes later, he’s arrived at his destination. It’s Kiza Lounge, a popular club in this city. He saunters in and is greeted with a chilled ambience, glamour and the smell of expensive liquor. He savors this sweet nightlife aroma like he would a home cooked meal and heads to the counter and where a waiter is standing.

‘Pour me the usual’, he mutters.

The waiter pours a double of single malt GlenFiddich whisky into a glass and pushes it in front of him.

Our guy gulps it all at once and when he does, he makes this look, you’d think he’s in pain. I immediately recognize the look, it’s the look I can’t help making when I’ve taken a shot of whisky and I can feel it burning as it flows down my throat all the way to my stomach. I realize that this guy is actually me. He is a future version of the guy in the first scene, that guy whom I told you is a future version of me. But one thing that is surprising me is how different he looks this time, his hairline is receding and wrinkles are fighting on his face for prominence. Even then, it is undeniable, the way he holds his glass of whisky in his hand contemplatively, and the way he brings it up to his lips, it’s my signature.

He orders another double. And another, then another, until he can no longer hold his drink steadily in his hand. He’s clearly had enough, but he wants more. He is stubborn. I want to tell him he’s had enough, but I can’t. I can’t move a muscle.

Then he does the unthinkable. He orders the whole bottle of the whisky he’s been drinking, takes a swig and heaves his body down from the seat and staggers out of the lounge with the bottle in his hand. He is mumbling incoherently and people are staring. I am ashamed and angry at the same time. I want to reach out and smack some sobriety into him but I can’t. And even if I could, I probably wouldn’t, because he looks so depressed and helpless it makes me want to cry.

Staggering into the lift, he presses Ground Floor and leans at the wall of the lift as it hums and travels down to the Ground Floor. When it stops and opens, he staggers out into the parking and towards his car, opens it and slumps into the driver’s seat heavily and the opened bottle of whisky falls on the co-driver seat. I watch helplessly as the liquor starts pouring onto the seat. He turns and looks at it with indifference, like he could do something about it but it takes too much effort so it’s better to just leave it be. Eventually, the booze has soaked into the leather seat and is now trickling on the floor carpet. Our guy ignores this and takes out his car keys, fumbles briefly and puts it in the ignition and starts the car.

Soon, the V8 is cruising on Thika Road and I’m scared that he is going to crash, I can feel my heartbeat rising dangerously and my bladder is about to give in. But he doesn’t crash, he defies all odds, switching lanes like a pro and turns left onto Kiambu Road. The car is now hurtling downhill like a bullet from a gun, and within minutes, he’s passed Karura Forest and is approaching Ridgeways. He switches on the stereo, a song is playing and he joins in the lyrics:

What in the world am I gonna to do tomorrow
Is there someone whose dollar that I can borrow
Who can help me take away my sorrow
Maybe its inside the bottle
Maybe its inside the bottle
I had some good old buddy his names is whiskey and wine
Hey hey
And for my good old buddy I spent my last dime
Hey hey
My wine is good to me it helps me pass the time
And my good old buddy whiskey keeps me warmer than the sunshine
Hey Hey
Your mom of mayhem just a child has got his own
Hey Hey
If God has plans for me I hope it ain’t, written in stone…

His singing is incoherent, but he is loud and confident, driving without a care in the world and oblivious of the impeding danger that he is in. But he’s also lucky, there is no one else on the long stretch that forms Kiambu Road because it is a cold dark lonely night.

Within minutes, he is taking a left turn into Runda. I’m starting to feel impressed that future me probably lives in Runda but I’m crossing my fingers just in case he’s only making a stop over at someone’s before going home at a less posh neighborhood. The way he is turning the corners is starting to convince me that he actually lives here, but I don’t want to get excited yet, I’ll wait the next few minutes to know the truth.

He stops at a black majestic gate which slides open automatically and he drives into the compound. It’s beautiful inside, a palatial home with a swimming pool at its side and a well kept lawn with flowers and carefully trimmed hedges. This home is better than the one in the previous scene. I feel a tingle of pride creeping in because our guy has made progress in life. Noticeably, there is a different song on the stereo now. It’s a classic, Notorious BIG’s Mo Money, Mo Problems. The chorus is on;

I don’t know what they want from me
It’s like the more money we come across
The more problems we see

He stops the car, climbs out and begins staggering towards the door. This time round, it doesn’t swing open so he walks up to it and tries to open it but it’s locked from the inside. He decides to ring the doorbell;

Ding dong!

Ding, dong!

Ding…

The door finally opens.

Guess who’s on the other side? It’s the same woman from the previous scene. She’s wearing black jeans and a white blouse this time. Looking at her closely, I notice her curves are not as visible as they were before, they’ve waned and in their place now lie layers of fat. Her glow has faded and where her smile previously was now rests a frown that looks like it’s been there for a few years.

She seems sad and lonely too, just like him. Why on earth would they be unhappy when they seem to have everything going on for them, a beautiful home, money in the bank obviously, and probably a lot of property in their name? It’s like there is something fundamental lacking in their seemingly rich lives. A deprivation. To me it’s a puzzle, and I can’t seem to find the missing pieces.

I’m looking for the missing pieces to this bizarre puzzle when everything goes blank again and I zone out……..

I don’t know how long I’ve been out for but I’ve now regained consciousness, and I struggle to find out what’s going on. I’m in another scene now, the setting is different, people are dressed in black and grief is hanging in the air. It’s a church and it looks like a funeral procession.

Someone is speaking at the pulpit, saying nice things about the departed, how generous, warm and caring he was. A typical eulogy. The rest of the people are seated on the wooden pews looking dejected and beaten.

I can see the woman in the previous scenes. She’s now old and her body is frail and covered in a black dress. She’s seated at the front most row and she’s weeping bitterly and deeply that it makes me want to cry too. Beside her is a young man dressed in a sharp black suit. He seems like he is trying to be strong, but death has a way of robbing you of everything you have, even the strength of staying strong for the people that look up to you. Maybe this is why he is crying intermittently. He buries his face in his hands when he cries like he is ashamed that he has to cry and the woman hugs him tight whenever he does. He looks like he’s in his mid-twenties, and I cannot help noticing the striking resemblance he and I have.

He could pass across as my son if I ever got one….Wait, so whose funeral is it? I turn my eyes quickly to the portrait on top of the coffin at the front of the church. It has my name on it. The guy in the coffin is me!

I’m short of breath and want to gasp for air, but I can’t move. I feel the nausea coming and my heartbeat is rising again. Tears well up in my eyes. I’m about to cry at my own funeral!

Looking down at the procession I feel myself undergoing a paradigm shift. Suddenly all my dreams and ambitions are starting to seem too small. All the cars, the prime property at the beach and the fame don’t even matter anymore if this is how I go out in the end, alone in a coffin that fits shoulder to shoulder, and head to toe. Perhaps all these things are only as meaningful as we make them to be when we’re alive. When we die, they become as irrelevant as the letter ‘s’ in debris.

Picture Credits: Pixabay

4 thoughts on “What if success never made us happy

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