Behind every successful man, there’s always a beautiful wound. A story that left not only wounds and scars, but life lessons as well. Mine involves a job, a bar and a girl.
The year was 2014. West Africa was battling the “most severe and most complex Ebola epidemic”, Russia fought Ukraine over Crimea, Germany won the World Cup, and I was entangled in my shortest but most expensive relationship/situationship to date.
Her name was Carol. She was a second year IT student at JKUAT, in retrospect, this should have probably been a red flag as she would go on to ‘hack’ my life to pieces. However, it wasn’t all her fault entirely.
We met a local in Nairobi West. Back then, believe it or not, Nairobi West was the party capital of Kenya’s capital. I was celebrating my one year work anniversary by opening up a joint of my own at Nairobi West Mall.
I had always wanted to start a business, and I had always loved hanging out with friends. Opening up a place where people could meet, eat, sing and make merry just felt right.
Having saved up 20% of my salary, invested in unit trusts and chamas, I was finally ready to open up my bar, which I aptly named ‘The Watering Hole’.
You’d be surprised at just how your money can grow if placed in the right hands. Financial managers may sound like some out-of-planet aliens but if you look into it, you’ll open yourself up to a whole new world of investment opportunities.
Anyway, I was ready, I had all the million plus one licenses needed to run an eatery/bar in Nairobi and enough stock to entertain the whole neighborhood for two months.
It was my big day and my friends turned up in a big way. By 11 p.m, the place was packed to a ‘waiter-can’t-even-move’ level. I had to rush to one of my new neighbors to borrow some extra seats.
That’s when I saw her.
Down the hallway stood a young and extremely beautiful caramel-skinned lady. A heartbreaker of the first magnitude if ever I saw one. She was wrapped in an expensive-looking brocaded dress that ended just above her knees.
Even in the dimly lit corridor, she was stunning. Her hair was pulled back, tied in a yellow ribbon. She didn’t look as if she belonged in this particular watering hole. Maybe some bougie joint in Lavington, or the front page of Vogue.
After almost breaking my foot by dropping the pile of plastic chairs I had just borrowed, I finally composed myself (or so I thought) and introduced myself.
“I’m Carol, and this is Stacey,” she said, pointing to her companion who I hadn’t even seen right until that point. I knew she had me right there and then.
There was a small red flag by the end of the night as I gifted my two new friends some really expensive bottles of wine...but I chose to ignore it. It’s not everyday you get to meet your future...I told myself.
By red flag I mean any actions I make that I wouldn’t ordinarily make when thinking straight...You can buy your girlfriend and her friends drinks, it’s totally ok. However, giving away precious stock from your not yet 24-hours-old business is not the most smart thing to do.
So, Carol and I started ‘dating’. However, this wasn’t the kind of dating I was used to. She called and I came running like a hapless teenager.
I was living in Lang’ata at the time. Carol on the other hand was a Juja Resident. This made meeting up a logistical nightmare.
Back then, Bolt was a Jamaican runner. Cabs used to charge an arm, a leg, plus a kidney just to get from home to town (Ksh1200 for such a trip was normal, actually a good bargain).
Believe it or not, I’d send Johny (my cab guy) to Juja every Friday evening, and engage his services for a trip back on Sunday.
I still remember him coming up to me after making these trips for a month.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, and I do appreciate the business, but boss, you are flushing money down the drain, unachoma,” he said. Going on to hint at how he thought my beautiful angel could be taking advantage of me.
I was caught off guard, who was he to tell me how to spend my money, or how to treat my girl? What was Ksh10,000 every weekend? Love is priceless, right?
Needless to say, Johny and I fell out. I needed a new cab guy, one who didn’t feel the need to christen himself as my financial advisor.
There were weekends when Carol was totally unavailable and by unavailable - I mean, totally off the grid! Curiously, she always resurfaced on Sunday evenings during such weekends and immediately called to say she had gone incognito because she had exams.
I’d then send my guy to pick her up for an ‘exam celebration dinner’ or something. I was smitten.
Six months into our situationship and I was already planning our future together. She was funny, beautiful and still very respectful when I introduced her to my people.
By this point we had been to every resort her heart desired.
However, I had been reckless with my finances and this was bound to catch up with me eventually.
The Watering Hole was drowning in debt.
Remember when I said I gifted Carol and Stacey an expensive bottle of wine on the very day we met? Well, this turned into a habit. If I wasn’t handing out free drinks to her and her new friend every other weekend, I was doing it to my own friends...just selling drinks on credit...’Ntakulipa cheque ikiivana, don’t sweat it bro,’ they always said.
For some reason, these cheques just never materialised and my suppliers were soon on my neck.
My financial woes then leaked into my relationship as well. I was grumpy and irritable 24/7 and it was only a matter before this ‘hacker’ gave up on me.
I had always kept her in this bubble. We never talked about money. Come to think of it, the only time she ever mentioned anything to do with money was a subtle ‘babe you spoil me too much’ line anytime I got her something fancy.
This was why I kept my financial troubles to myself and just acted as if everything was fine. I still had a good salary, enough to keep up appearances until I figured out what to do.
The problem was, I never really sat down and actually tried to find a workable solution. I kept telling myself my debtors (close friends and family) would pay up and I’d soon be back to normal.
As you’ve probably guessed, this never happened. I had to sell my bar (stock and furniture included) just to settle my debts after receiving several threats that involved the police.
My grumpy and depressed state also leaked into my workspace and I soon got a warning letter and eventually got the axe.
Everything that could go wrong did.
So there I was, jobless and penniless, but at least I had Carol, right? Nope, she left as well.
She said something about not wanting to be with someone who wasn’t honest with himself or something like that...I was too angry at the time...everything was hazy.
I said some things that I would come to regret to this day...called her a gold digger, cursed her for leaving me at my lowest...said I was sorry, begged her to stay, cursed her again, the whole shabang...it was messy, really messy..
I didn’t know it at the time, but her words ‘I don’t want to be with someone who isn’t honest with himself’ would change my life forever.
Once the smoke cleared and I could finally think straight, I went back to those very words and decided to undertake a personal audit of my life, both social and financial.
Well, for starters, I realised that my finances were in the morgue. To this day I don’t know how I survived for that long without any kind of financial plan.
My monthly expenses could rival a rockstar’s, I had long abandoned my 50/30/20 financial planning routine which meant that my savings were non-existent as well. I think this was what they meant by rock bottom.
My social life wasn’t any better, I had a lot of ‘friends’ but not many meaningful relationships. The audit left me with 3 friends.
I called each of them up and apologised for putting up this facade. These were friends I had known all my life and I still kept them in the dark about my financial woes.
The good thing with friends, at least the real ones, is that they will always have your back, however stubborn you may be.
I vowed to always be open with them about money. A vow I have kept to date. I also vowed to be honest and open about money if I was lucky enough to meet a special someone. I am happy to report I kept that vow as well.
It was uncomfortable at first. Telling your woman that you’re broke isn’t the stuff you bring up during candle lit dinners...but such conversations just have to be had...Plus, as she always tells me, there's a difference between being broke and being poor...being broke is just a temporary condition, being poor is a mindset.