I received a designer watch on my birthday from my younger brother and his wife. Quite pricey, in a beautiful package. While gifting is the love language in my family, I had reservations about wearing a Ksh20,000 watch. It was excessive since the priciest gift I had ever given the couple was a Kienyeji rooster.
That was in August last year. The couple was on their honeymoon in Mombasa.
Fast forward to present day, January - barely five months later. The young marriage is already in shambles, teetering on the precipice of separation. I wish I had not kept the watch for it marked the start of a sideways trajectory of their marriage.
The couple’s casual stroll into a popular casino in Mombasa CBD was the beginning of the end.
My brother Job is just 28, has a good job in the tech industry, and drives a mid-sized SUV. At the time of their wedding, the couple had been dating for close to eight years and had a 5-year-old daughter. Job is outgoing, athletic, well-read, and funny with tons of friends. The life of the party. A lot of people would gladly give up their left arm to have his life.
When he met Faith, they made the near-perfect couple. Literally, a human mortise joint. They had lived together for years, did ‘married people’ stuff like in-law visits and clan vetting. A much-publicized Ruracio in April over Easter was followed by a wedding in August. Just a formality.
The honeymoon, in Mombasa. What does a couple that has already travelled, and done everything there is to do as a couple do on their honeymoon?
Job said: Let’s go to a Casino. Faith agreed.
It was either the casino or a strip joint. Only places they had never been as a couple.
That evening, Job had walked into the casino with Ksh4,000 in the back pocket of his Bermuda shorts. The couple had left the casino at midnight, Job clutching an envelope bulging with Ksh280,000 in winnings.
The following day, Job had splashed on an expensive music system for their SUV, a curved-screen TV, designer perfumes and shipped my Ksh20,000 watch.
The rest of the honeymoon whizzed past in a delirious blur. The couple spent days swimming in heated pools, spas and shopped to their heart’s contentment. They had the budget. They caught a flight back to Nairobi on the eighth day.
At this time, Faith had completely forgotten the night they had spent on the flashy slot machines in the casino. Job, unfortunately, had not. The adrenaline, the heady feeling when they’d hit the jackpot - gold coins raining down in a barrage.
The crowd in the casino, hundred percent complete strangers had cheered, whistled, and clapped. Job had felt like the winner of the Ballon d’Or. It was the happiest he had ever been, winning at the slots - with a beautiful woman clinging to his arm.
He was hooked.
As soon as Job had dropped the wife home, he had driven out. He knew of a friend and a casino in Westlands. He had Ksh6,000 in his pockets but had crawled home with Ksh12,000. But, loosely, Job admitted to making and losing close to Ksh65,000. It’s the wife’s calls that had pulled him from his perch at the slot machine.
That night, Job had made and lost close to Ksh65,000. He had crawled back home with Ksh12,000. It became a weekend thing. Much like the boys meet up for the game, Job soon had a crew that met Fridays for ‘The Spin-off’.
Gambling is treated much like death. Like, there is some apathy attached to the news of death in the media. Till it hits home - then it hurts like hell. The effects of gambling are easy to read about in the papers, or in TV documentaries. It’s a different kettle of fish actually to deal with the effects, in your home.
Gambling is not like drugs. People say, “Ah, I drink socially”. Or, “I smoke in the evening, after dinner and that’s that”. You can spend Ksh1000 daily on booze, or some other social drug - and be happy. With gambling, there is no limit. You do not quit till the money is gone, period.
My brother Job slowly converted from an occasional gambler on Friday ‘Spin-Offs’ who did not overspend on his budget to a hardcore, daily gambler with no limits or boundaries.
Since his college days, Job rarely borrowed or loaned money. He was, basically, someone who had his financial marbles in a row. Now, three months after putting his first coin in a slot machine in the Mombasa casino - he had become a total mess.
Job had maxed out his credit cards.
Job had missed essential bills. He was two months behind on his rent, the first time ever in the seven years they had spent in the apartment.
Job, a flashy dresser - had not renewed his wardrobe for weeks, neglected personal hygiene, skipped weekly shaves, and, more importantly - became withdrawn and irritable.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was the repossession of the financed family car. The bank agents chose a Monday morning as Job wheeled out the car, with their daughter set for school to repossess the car. He had resisted. The situation had escalated to an actual fist fight that had left Job in a cell at the local police station.
It got worse. In an effort to bail her husband out, Faith had visited the bank - to discover Job had drilled down their emergency savings account to a few hundred shillings. She had had to call a few friends for a soft loan.
On confrontation, Job had turned violent. That side of her husband, Faith had never seen. She was afraid and had bailed out to her parent’s house with their daughter. That’s when she called me. It had also broken my brother, prompting him to spill the beans on his addiction.
We are seeking professional help, as we speak.
The gambling addiction may take a week, a month, or a year to ‘develop’ - but, it may take the rest of your life to contain, abstain, or even out its effects.