When Covid-19 showed up unwanted, 7pm became the new 10pm. Even on Fridays. Usually, the city in the sun would be bustling with activity. Music would be booming from clubs, shops, and anywhere else with enough space to set up speakers. Hawkers would be selling their wares on the busy streets, shouting ‘beba na mia’ to anyone who passes by. Matatus would be hooting incessantly, jostling for space in a city chocking under the grip of a rapidly growing population. ‘Millenials’ would be milling around Mr. Price on Moi Avenue and Chicken Inn in their rugged jeans and converse shoes, asking their peers ‘toa form’.
But not this Friday. This Friday will be different. The streets will be deserted. Clubs and restaurants will be closed for business. There will be no young-ins milling around fast food joints with rugged jeans and backpacks full of vodka and cigarettes. It’s the reality of a pandemic.
As this will be happening, there will be a guy plopped up in his revolving chair in his office in uptown Nairobi. Let’s call him Mr. Sir – Mr. Sir is a senior corporate executive in a big firm in an equally big city, and at only 35 years of age. He’s the guy who leaves the office after everyone else has since slipped into their pajamas at home. He’s also the guy that gets to the office before sunrise to prepare ‘talking points’ for a meeting with the firm’s investors. When it’s not the investors, it’s the shareholders. When it’s not the shareholders, its the staff. On rare occasions, it’s the media who’ve come to see him. Boy, he loves the media, because for him, its a chance to project his success to the rest of the world and explain how it feels to swim with the sharks when his peers are still trying to jump from the fishpond.
On a Friday night like this he will be thinking of how the firm can remain profitable through the pandemic. Shareholders have been calling in asking whether he has a plan. To be honest, no one does.
He will allow his mind to wander at some point, albeit briefly. He’ll recall where it all started. It was intriguing how ever since he was young, everyone who looked at him saw his ‘potential’. From his folks at home to his teachers at school. There was this time he was preparing for his final exams at campus. By this time, his entire childhood had been robbed dry to pave way for that ‘potential’. There was pressure not just to excel, but excel exceedingly, so Mr. Sir studied through the day and through the night.
Soon, there were the dark circles under his eyes. But still, he couldn’t afford to slacken, potential isn’t cheap. So he looked for a way to keep up with the growing demands, and that’s how a friend introduced him to Adderall and told him it would keep him sharp throughout the night. He’d pop a pill in the evening and it would keep him alert throughout the night. He’d pop another in the morning when the effects started wearing off.
Turns out, he never let that habit go. He carried it into his career. When he needed to pull an all nighter to prepare for a big meeting, he’d pop a pill and suddenly he would become energized and he’d crunch numbers to show the company was making profits and he would make them add up, one way or another. Early in the morning, he’d dash home for a quick shower and change of clothes then pop another pill. This Adderall, it was his companion up the corporate ladder. That’s how he’s gotten to be where he is.
His mind will wander back to the present, on this particular Friday night. His hand will compulsively reach into his drawer and when it resurfaces, a bottle of his Adderall will be in it. He’ll get up and fetch a glass of water from the dispenser. Soon after, he’ll pause for a moment as his body is taken over by a sudden rush of excitement and euphoria – three pills of his Adderall, because that’s what he needs these days. The numbers must add up by the end of the night.
Sometimes I picture Mr. Sir’s life and possibly imagine that the Adderall-fueled all nighters are just but a small price to pay for a chance to swim with the sharks, for a promise of an annual trip to the Maldives when the CEO’s bonus kicks in. But I also imagine that a few years down the line, three pills will no longer be enough. Four might do. Then five. Then five and a shot of whisky on top. Then five pills and half a bottle of whisky. Then one day, the pressure will be over the roof and he’ll lose count. On that day, Mr. Sir, with all his potential, after another successful all nighter, will lay his head on his pillow to catch a few minutes of sleep, and for the first time, he will be free.
However, the doctors will differ, they’ll say it was an overdose. His family will weep bitterly over a man they loved deeply but saw not so often. His company will send condolences and eulogize him as a young man ‘with so much potential’. In a week, he will be replaced.