In the streets of Nairobi, he could easily pass off as just any other man, one working hard to fend for his family; a typical bourgeois, chasing the Kenyan dream. Ian, a prime-time news anchor in a popular TV station never thought of himself as famous, rather, a lucky guy with a dream job. Ladies loved him and men wanted to be him.
On a bright Wednesday morning, he dropped his seven-year-old daughter to school, navigated through the infamous Nairobi snarl-up and managed to get to the office just in time for the weekly think-tank meeting. Nothing about the day stood out; everything was routine. Today, for some reason, he noticed how the morning sun shone brighter and how the cool breeze blew gently in a bid to cancel out the potentially scorching effects of the sun. Ian went about his day as usual, though a tad nervous about that night’s debate. He had hosted countless debates before so he was sure that this would be like any other.
In the evening after successfully hosting the debate, or so he thought, he left the office in a hurry hoping to find his kids still awake. He always cherished the moments that he got to tuck them in. By the time he was getting home, his phone was buzzing constantly. Due to the nature of his job, he didn’t think of it as strange. He instead put it on silent because at this point, his family was his priority. He was one who understood the value of family and did his best to show them that. He cherished how animated his kids would be at the sight of his car. This always made his evenings more colourful and his exhaustion more bearable.
Before he slept, he went through his phone to see why earlier on it had been ringing off the hook. It hit him why everyone had tried to call him. What he saw was too much for him to take in. There he stood accused in the court of the furious netizens baying for his blood. Being one accustomed to frequent backlash from the debates, he decided to sleep it off, knowing as usual, that the netizens would cool down and forget his alleged atrocities. He had grown thick skin and such incidences didn’t bother him much for he took it as part of the package of him working his dream job. Days went by and things started getting more personal, he received emails reeking of hate and angry words spewed all over his social media timelines. The fire was not abating, in fact, it was being kindled by the fact that he was silent in the face of his accusers. It angered them even more. They targeted his Achilles heel: his family. Personal photos were leaked and people wrote nasty things about his beloved wife. He didn’t understand what he had said in that debate to warrant all this hate.
It started to get to him. First, he got rid of his smartphone, then his laptop. The wi-fi and pay TV were next in a bid to sever any connections between him and the infuriated netizens. Then fits of rage followed by episodes of heavy imbibition ensued. He became withdrawn and the once lively evenings at home became quieter. He lashed out at his wife more often. Everyone in the house walked on eggshells lest they poke the bear. His life was spinning out of control. He felt helpless and lost.
After that bright sunny Wednesday morning, his life was never the same again. He could not concentrate at work and his performance was at its lowest ebb. He dreaded each morning and the burgeoning desire to quit his job became more evident. He could not stand the thought of being in the very same place that was the cradle of his misery. He tried to put up an act that he was okay but people could see right through his futile attempts to cover up the fact that he was drowning in the sea of desperation. Eventually, he decided to see a shrink as depression came knocking.
He left the shrink’s room dejected. Each step seemed to drain the last morsel of energy from his already battered soul. Maybe he should accept this new life that fate hand mercilessly dealt him. He got into his car and looked at himself in the mirror attached to the sun visor. He couldn’t recognize who he saw, an empty shell devoid of a once vibrant life. His eyes blank as if to reflect the nothingness in his mind. All he saw was sorrow deeply embedded in the very same heart from which joy once emanated. He saw shards of his shattered life, a boulevard of broken dreams and a dark shroud of despair. He hated how his heart was hardening in a bid to stop feeling the hurt. He hated the intruding feeling of intense anger and hatred towards the invisible enemy. His face became hot as he let a cocktail of emotions to come gushing out. Only tears could paint the picture of the turmoil within. He let it all out without caring about the curious stares of onlookers in the hospital parking lot. Thing is, pain has a way of inhibiting self-preservation. It reaches a point where one no longer cares about what others think. He switched on the radio and drove home. Worn by Tenth Avenue North played on the stereo as if to acknowledge the adversities yoked on this poor man’s neck.
Let me see redemption win,
Let me know that the struggle ends,
That you can mend a heart that is frail and torn,
I want to know a song can rise from the ashes of a broken life,
And all that is dead inside will be reborn…
His mind wandered away as the singer’s voice trailed off. He resolved to end his pain once and for all. To triumph over his invisible foes. To shut down the tormenting voices in his head. To stop the demons within from coming out to play in the darkness cloaking his soul. He looked at a photo of his beloved family in his wallet and felt a stinging twinge of regret as he thought of how he was about to leave them alone in this cruel unforgiving world. He held the photo close to his heart as he swerved his car into oncoming traffic. The sound of screeching tires ensued by that of metal against metal disrupted the seemingly quiet evening. Screams rent the air as he slowly lost consciousness. Memories, happy memories slowly played in his mind as everything faded away. He died smiling.
He was buried on a cold rainy Wednesday afternoon. It rained heavily as if the hosts of the heavens mourned and acknowledged of unfair life can be. The skies remained ominously gray and in perfect symphony with the mood, somber. A daughter had been robbed of her first love, a son of the one to hold him through the daunting phases of becoming a man, a wife of the love of her life, a sister of the one who had genuinely cared for her, a brother of a role model and confidant, a father of his source of pride and a mother of her heartbeat!
Cyberbullying may seem funny, almost harmless in the eyes of the perpetrator but it eats up the victim like a vicious cancer. It breaks one’s spirit. Having had a brief encounter last year, I totally know how deeply a ‘harmless’ joke can cut into the deepest cords of one’s heart. The most painful part is that one develops anger and hatred that has nowhere to be directed as the enemy remains invisible. It is easy to begrudge a person that you know and can relate to but hard when you don’t have a specific person to pin the blame on.
What happened to genuinely loving others and caring for a stranger? When did we get to a point of finding happiness at the expense of causing others heartache? A joke may sound funny but that could be the beginning of shattering someone else’s self-esteem. It could be the hammer that drives the last nail into someone’s coffin or the gavel that sentences someone into lifelong depression. Someone may have done something wrong but that will never justify trolling. Two wrongs will never make a right. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that there is no room for pointing out each other’s wrongs, but is it being done in love? Human relations are governed by two laws: loving God and loving your neighbour. The two cannot be separated, they are like the two sides of the same coin. The Bible is very clear that one cannot claim to love God and not love fellow men (1 John 4:20) Love covers a multitude of wrongs so how about we overlook the mistakes of fellow netizens? How about extending kindness and grace to each other?
This is a public apology to the victims of Cyberbullying who are hurting in silence. The ones who curse out the invisible enemy hiding behind a screen. You may never hear it from them so here it is: Sorry! Sorry for the times that you have cried yourself to sleep. Sorry for the times that words have made you question if there is any good left in humanity. Sorry for the times you have questioned yourself and felt inadequate. Sorry for driving a knife into your heart and twisting it. Sorry for making you doubt whether you matter because you do! Sorry for putting you in a position where you have toyed with the idea of ending it all like Ian, don’t do it! This is not the end.
Look past it all and try to move on with your life. Those trolls and memes say nothing about you but everything about the invisible enemy. Gather the shards of your broken heart and create a mosaic masterpiece out of it. Let them tell your story. The scars may show but guess what, broken crayons still colour! The sun still shines beyond the dark clouds; all you need to do is look up and find hope in the arms of our comforter Jesus Christ. Lay your hurt before Him and brighter days will surely be nigh!