By Ona Akinde
- Title: Drunk
- Author: Jackson Biko
- Number of pages: 167
- Year of publication: 2018
- Category: Fiction
For years, Jackson Biko has run Bikozulu, one of the most widely-read blogs in Kenya. He has since become one of the country’s most prolific writers and journalists, so it was no surprise when he decided to put pen to paper and self-publish Drunk, his ‘first little book’, which tells the story of Larry, an alcoholic, and The Artisan, a devoted father. The book opens with Larry reminiscing about experiences shared with his girlfriend, Tina, and how she deserves better, but in no time we learn that it is not just Tina. There are a host of other girls. Alcohol is not the only thing Larry overindulges.
Our encounters with alcoholism in the book actually begin with Larry’s brother, Jeff, who returns from India with a degree in Zoology instead of Engineering. Despite her disappointment, his mother gets him a bank job which he refuses. Instead, he spends his days drinking. His days begin with a glass, maybe two, but then things escalate to the point where he drinks any and everything. Larry tries to talk to him but ends up having his own first drink. Eventually, Jeff decides to stop drinking and take control of his life. Within six months, he has moved on with his life. Larry, on the other hand, graduates from three fingers of whisky to drinking full mugs without flinching. What began as an indulgence ultimately becomes the bane of his existence.
Larry also happens to be a ladies’ man. He is surrounded by women who truly love him and want the best for him, but he is unable to reciprocate. His unresolved internal conflicts make him a toxic boyfriend. All he does is take and take from the women who love him until they have nothing left to give and must leave in order to protect themselves. Larry is, himself, very much aware of his behaviour in these relationships. He says of Tina, for instance, that he knows he does not deserve her and describes his life as a bomb about to explode.
On the day he turns thirty, Larry decides to visit his father. In his entire life, he has only met with his father on five occasions, the first of those being when he was in the university. He spends all day waiting at his father’s clinic only for the meeting to be postponed. Over the course of the book, we see Larry struggle between resentment towards his father for being absent when he was growing up and the need for his father’s validation. It is clear that Larry wants a relationship with the man but pride and ego get in the way. This unresolved dilemma eventually dictates that he refuse help even when he desperately needs it.
Alongside Larry’s story is that of The Artisan who spends his days making things, from pots and pans to wheelbarrows. He is diligent in his work and primarily concerned with providing for his family. A significant part of The Artisan’s story is about his daughter, Malkia. For years, he and his wife try to have children but to no avail. After ten years of multiple miscarriages and trying everything, from the medical to the religious and the traditional, they conclude that it is not God’s will for them to be blessed with children, so they give up. Soon afterwards, they have their miracle baby, Malkia.
By and by, things fall apart for Larry. First to go is his job as a marketing agent, which he is good at. He has a great memory, and during his many travels he pays attention to detail and listens attentively to his customers. In no time, his boss offers him a better position, an office job that he does not want but accepts regardless. At first he does well, until boredom sets in. He drinks to get through work, to cope with his mother leaving for the village when she retires, to escape from his emotions. He misses appointments, incurs losses for the company and then stops showing up at the office. He loses money, relationships and, ultimately, himself. His health and mental state deteriorate.
Larry’s and The Artisan’s stories unfold side by side. Each carries on with their separate lives until, one day, their paths cross. Larry has an accident with a school bus carrying Malkia. It is a minor accident but Malkia goes into a coma. This sobers him up. He reaches out to his mother for help, after months of not speaking to her, and so begins his recovery. His mother, on the other hand, goes to the hospital and meets with Malkia’s mother, where they pray together for their children’s healing.
The rest of the book relates what happens to Larry and Malkia after Larry’s return from the rehabilitation clinic. Drunk is a short but heavy read. From alcoholism and dysfunctional relationships to mid-life crisis, spirituality and mental illness, the book addresses a host of issues. The language is conversational. Sometimes, it reads like the protagonist is addressing the reader directly. The author paints an honest picture of Kenya, making it easy for the reader to imagine the setting. However, the standard of editing of the book leaves much to be desired. That aside, Drunk is a good read: funny, thoughtful, insightful, a book that engages all the reader’s senses.
Photograph: ‘Uncorked’ by Stephen Train
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