“We’re in this together,” They said. “We are more than friends and junkies. We are family,” They said.
I hear the sound of ocean waves gracefully swooshing along the seashore in a slow but vigorous manner. The sound continues to duplicate, creating a rhythmic sound, which echoes towards us, mammals of the land. The waves bring with it the breathe of life: A smooth, cold and windy breeze that cools down the extremely humid temperatures. It caresses your skin and removes all the sweat from your body leaving your cool and relaxed. Mother Nature’s cooling system I suppose.
It was midday. At around 1300 East African Time.
The month of February is usually the hottest month of the year. That I can affirm to you with the greatest level of confidence. Walking for a few meters under that treacherous sun will doom you to a period of exhaustion, dehydration and unpleasant odors to the abnormal excretion of sweat from all parts of your body. You then console yourself that one shower would refresh your body and you would return to your normal self. You spend an hour enjoying the cold water trickling down your body as your body cools down like an overheated car engine. You head out of the shower refreshed and ready to face the endless struggles of life. Only for you to begin sweating heavily once more, which leaves you cursing and lamenting on Mother Nature.
But for us, sitting under the coconut tree next to our home did the trick.
There we were, seated in a long bench strategically placed under the tree in such a way that the tree’s long, slender leaves provided the cool shade for all of us. The coconut tree was a rather lucky one. It had escaped being cut for quite a long time despite its fellow trees being unceremoniously chopped down for human capitalist purposes. If only it could speak. The things it had witnessed will remain a mystery to us millennials enjoying its cool shade.
There were six of us. Seated on the long bench. We were the best of friends. Having known each other for more than a decade, we had considered ourselves brothers, much more than friends. But our connection was not solely based on our knowledge of each other from childhood. We had similar interests. Similar hobbies. Similar taste of music.
Out of all these similarities, one similarity stood out from the rest. A unique comparison only the six of us shared in the whole neighborhood. One that made us be viewed in a totally different perspective by the community.
The six of us were seated there; each one busy with his phone, doing whatever one does with unlimited Telkom bundles. I was the third person to the right. Literally in the middle of the wooden rickety bench. I was glued to my phone concentrating on placing a bet that would secure my account with a few thousand shillings, if all went well that is. I was keenly analyzing the odds, switching form tab to tab of articles and analysis done by various international sports specialist whose predictions were most likely to come true. The level of concentration that was in me, one might think it was a matter of life and death.
Of which it was.
As I was finalizing, placing the bet and leaving the rest to God, the one seated on my left patted my shoulder to capture my attention. I ignored him as he proved to be a distraction as I was “busy”. He tapped my shoulder one more time. I logged out of the betting site and the one seated on my right hand patted my shoulder as well. I placed the phone into my pocket and looked at my friend on the left who was handing it to me. His eyes were bloodshot and sleepy as red veins protruded out of his retina.
“Oy…oy…oya bro..shika sss..ss.sinda..a..aano..o..” He spoke in a slow, stammering manner, evidence of gradual degradation of his cognitive skills. His name was Musa. A long-term friend of mine before I knew my other five friends. He slowly lifted the syringe he had in his hand and pointed I it towards me. I took it from him and pressed the nozzle to release the whatever contents which had remained. I took a piece of paper from my lower pocket and placed it on my laps. I was then passed a cup that was half-full of water by Musa. I opened the piece of paper and in it were the powdery substance we all were addicted to. A white, shiny powdery substance, which had an odor similar to the chemical elements we used to combine during our high school days.
That was what we had in common. We were all drug addicts. Really heavy drug addicts.
I poured the contents of the paper into the cup and it formed a yellowish solution. I used the syringe to stir the contents into a uniform mixture. I stirred slowly and carefully. I had to make sure none of it spilled or went to whatever wastage. A single ounce of that commodity went for two thousand shillings on a good day. If the supply was low, the prices would double or even triple, making it harder for a jobless youth like me to afford. After stirring for a couple of minutes, it turned into a whitish solution, an indication that it had been evenly dissolved in the water. I grabbed the syringe with my right hand and the solution with the other hand. I placed the syringe inside the cup and pulled its nozzle upward, sucking the solution into the syringe. As you all know, syringes are calibrated. I was supposed to inject 30ml of it every day for my normal body functioning. I measured the required amount and then passed the cup to the next person seated on my right.
I looked at him and his state was worse. He was trembling. His hands and feet were shaking uncontrollably. He had gone for two days without his dosage and he was one step closer to mental instability. I rolled the sleeve of my right shirt until it reached the elbow. I took a brown scarf, which I had tied on my forehead. I clenched my right hand into a fist and tightly tied the scarf on my hand, making my arm veins protrude outwards. I counted the second vein from the elbow which was normally larger than its counterparts. That was where I was supposed to inject the syringe into my body. I placed it on the vein and slowly pushed it inside the vein. It slid in for a few centimeters and knowing it was well placed, I pressed the nozzle downwards with my left thumb, pushing its contents into my vein. I felt a sharp pain as I pressed the nozzle until the last drop was transferred into my body. I removed the syringe from my vein and immediately, the drug took effect. I began breathing heavily and feeling nauseated. I could feel my heart beat increasing its pace and my eyes became blurry. The six of us were used to sitting under that tree which was next to the road. I looked around and saw people looking at us with eyes of pity and disgust. Despite the road being wide open, people resisted passing next to us on fear that we might pounce and rob them of their belongings. School children passed the road while bursting with laughter, pointing at us and imitating our dizziness selves. Then an old man yelled at them, telling them to rush home or we would kidnap them. The kids ran away laughing, as the old man looked at us in a disgusting manner. He clicked and continued walking away. We had gotten so used to the endless mean stares by the public that it did not affect us anymore.
But that was not a good way to live.
I passed the syringe to my friend seated on my right to repeat the same procedure. We had only one syringe, which all six of us used. For the past two years, that single syringe had kept our drug urges satisfied without any malfunction. The syringe was not just given to us on a silver platter. Our desperation led us to break into the local dispensary and steal a packet of syringes. Some of them slipped and fell as we were running for our lives since the security guard heard the commotion and was on our necks. Only one syringe lived to be used by us: and ever since, it has served the six of us up to date.
The drug was finally reaching its peak and I felt my brain become ‘elevated’.
Then a sudden memory flashed before my eyes. The very memory that led to me being in this hopeless state.
The events of a decade ago that completely changed my life. I was in primary school when I received news that both of my parents were involved in a road accident and their lives ended as they were transported to the hospital. That was when my life took a different path from the dreamy, surrealistic path of one day becoming a pilot, doctor or a lawyer. The unbearable trauma connected me to Musa, who introduced me to the drug world. On trying out the drug for the first time, I felt a relaxed sensation and I felt as though nothing had happened. It was an interesting experience.” If this simple dose made me forget my problems for a whole day, then if I used it daily I can get on with my life without feeling traumatized,” I thought as the drug took effect on my body. Musa took me to meet his so-called ‘family’, which were other five users of the drugs who were undergoing or have undergone a fate similar or worse than mine. We immediately became friends as we shared our stories, something that made me realize that my experience was the least tragic compared to theirs.
From that day on, we became the best of friends. We went everywhere together, did everything together. “We’re in this together. We are more than friends and junkies. We are family,” one of them said as he patted my shoulder. Those words became our slogan from that day.
But we had a major issue. We grew heavily addicted and we could not survive a single day without injecting ourselves with the drug. And it was quite expensive. We were more focused on getting the drug than having basic needs.
Then another memory flashed before my eyes.
I saw the old man before my eyes. He was looking at me with eyes of disbelief. He could not believe what had just happened. He was on the ground, eyes looking up at what I was holding. There I was: a stone stained with blood on my right hand and his wallet on my left hand. I looked at him with fiery eyes as I clenched the stone tighter. I had just stolen his wallet after a rough confrontation. I hit him with the stone one more time and he lost consciousness. I dropped the stone, looked around to see if anyone was looking. It was dark except for the crescent moon, which dimly lit the sky.
“Come on bro, let’s go!” Musa said as he came to where I was. He looked at the old man on the ground and looked at me. I threw the stone into the nearby bush and we began running. That was my first time to commit crime: with violence.
More memories flashed into my mind as the drug continued its journey throughout my body. Normally when I took the drug, my mind became empty and void. But this time round, memories of all the bad things I had done in the past returned before my eyes.
I felt a tight grip on my left shoulder. The grip became tighter and tighter.
I opened my blurry eyes and looked to my left. It was Musa. His eyes were bulging outward as his grip became tighter. He was still. Then a white substance began coming out of his mouth. Then his nose followed. I looked at him, trying as hard as I can to think what could be wrong.
Then he fell to the ground and started shaking. Shaking vigorously. With his hand tightly gripped on my arm.
My other friends woke up in shock and observed him. One of them came closer to him and peeked into his eyes. We were all shocked, as they had turned from white to green. His shaking continued as he wet his pants.
“We have to go now! He injected the drug to the wrong vein. He will not survive. We must get out of here.”
When he finished uttering those words, everyone ran in different directions. The bench fell on the ground due to the commotion, making dust rise in the air. I stood there for some seconds trying to contemplate what was happening. Musa was my best friend. I looked behind me and all the four of my friends had vanished into unknown locations. I walked a few steps away from him. I looked at him one more time. His shaking was gone. He lay there still, not moving a single muscle. The white substance stopped coming out of his mouth and nose.
He was no more.
I could not begin to imagine what would happen if I was found there lingering next to a dead body. It was almost 4 PM and soon people would be streaming on the road next to the coconut tree.
I took off as fast as I could. Not looking back at all. I had no idea where I was heading. I just kept running. Deep down I recalled the words we told ourselves each and every day for the past decade.
“We’re in this together,” They said. “We are more than friends and junkies. We are family,” They said.
They meant nothing.
Nothing at all.