Jackson Biko, is a lover of whisky and people watching. He likes to walk the shadows of the city at dusk, picking conversations of a people spurred by the night and by their drink
I’m writing this from Entebbe International Airport, waiting for my flight to be called. I came to attend a small writers forum where I was to hand a plaque to the winner of a writing competition. The organisers thought it would be grand if I gave a speech. So I remember standing in the middle of this garden last night, a floodlight from the camera crew in my face, and rumbling on about rubbish with a plastic glass of whiskey in my hand. A girl screamed (Bless you, ma’am) and I ploughed on bravely. I was distinctly aware of how weird my voice sounded on the speakers that blared in that lovely compound in the Ntinda suburb of Kampala. I sounded like someone was trying to shave my beard by force and I was kicking and fighting. I had some few points in my head but as the light shone on my face, the only thing I could remember (barely) was my name. Another girl screamed. (Bless you too ma’am). They wanted to hear about writing. I wanted a stronger drink. A better drink.
One of the organisers had asked me what drink I fancied and I had told him, “Chivas 18 or Glenlivet” and he had asked, “Huh?” And I said, “anything decent will be okay.” When I got there, I walked to the bar but didn’t find any of the drinks I had requested for and the whiskies that were there didn’t exactly give me a boner. I was caught between coming across as an insufferable snobbish and annoying writer from Kenya who was too good for their choice of whisky or to live by the rule I made when I turned 32years- that I would not drink just any whisky because it was there but because I liked it. Quality over quantity. I figured I work too damn hard to drink whisky I didn’t like. The lady behind the bar waited patiently as I made up my mind, and I eventually picked a lethal whisky famed for splitting men’s heads in half the following morning. I said to myself, “Come on, chocolate man, how often are you in Kampala in the presence of all these intense and lovely writers with weird hats and big bottoms?”
Here’s the thing about whisky that I should have learnt in my younger years: you can nurse a double for a whole night while keeping the tempo at a constant. As I mingled, moving from one small group to the next, asking names, forgetting names, touching arms, doing shoulder greetings, laughing at jokes, telling some lousy ones in return and saying pretentious things like, “Surely, there has to be some level of emotional accountability when you sit down to write a story?” I realised something important: people are more comfortable with you when you have a drink in your hand in a public gathering as they imagine your are getting toasted. Since the writer’s forum had a hell lot of poets, people were bound to get toasted. And as the crowd got more boisterous and adventurers and the traffic to the bar increased, I realised that it didn’t matter what I had in my disposable cup. I started feeding off the energy and drunkenness of whoever I was talking to. It was strange and beautiful in unequal measures. And the evening was lit!
I didn’t finish either my double or some of the conversations. Especially with one poet who stood so close to me I could smell all the rhymes hiding in her body. At 1am, I bowed out. I jumped into a two door car driven by a lady with a drink in her hands, my designated driver to the hotel, and she and her pal seated behind me kept asking me what writers worry about so much. I wanted to say, “being driven by a drinking lady in the middle of the night,” but that would have been misinterpreted as a subtle flirt. Not that I hate to flirt any more than the next guy, but I was just wondering if a double of that lethal stuff would split my head in half the next morning. I’m happy to report that it didn’t.