BY MIKE MUTHAKA
Love can make a man do crazy things. Love can make a man run through the rain clutching a bunch of flowers. It can make him pick up the microphone during karaoke night at The Tav and take Ne-yo’s ‘Sexy Love’ for a spin. Love can keep a man awake at night. Love can brighten up a man’s face and do his laundry, and make love to him, and tell him how beautifully endowed he is.
In late 2016, while he was still in Daystar, Athi River, love made Charles Kibatha get a cat. A grey kitten called Gato. His campus girlfriend liked cats. He didn’t.
“She used to carry cats and I was like, Meh. In school I’d leave Gato in my crib. Sometimes I’d be out with the gang and I’d be like, Eh, guys, wacha nijikate. I have a cat at home.”
“I became one of those dudes. I’d be out and think, What’s this guy [Gato] doing right now? Is he hungry? Is he clawing everything? Is he shitting on my bed?
“When I came in [to the relationship] I was very rigid. I was uncomfortable about expressing myself emotionally, but being around somebody like her, I was able to mesh and get out of my comfort zone and not be afraid of showing that I care or saying how I feel. Yeah, fucking is nice, but if you grow it’s better. You know?”
Charlie is 25. He’s sitting in a booth at Java, Westlands, under a chrome yellow chandelier. It’s after 2 p.m. on a Sato. Charlie’s haircut makes me think of The Weeknd. He speaks with a self-assured drawl, and, just beneath his sleeve, a greenish tattoo sticks out.
I ask him what it is.
“I got this before my 18th birthday. It’s a dragon and a rose,” he says as he lifts up his sleeve. “I wanted to mark it. It had a meaning when I got it. The rose was meant to be beauty and innocence, and the dragon was a protector. Protector of purity and innocence, basically.”
He’s having a glass of iced coffee with milk. He’s no longer dating. And he hasn’t seen Gato in two years. Now he works at Ogilvy as a content manager. He’s an ad man.
He stirs his drink with a straw, making the ice cubes clink, gazing over my shoulder, telling me how tired he was in campus, doing a bachelors in computer science.
“I was like literally in the endgame, like ‘Avengers’,” he says with a chuckle. “I was like fuck it. Let me finish it. Let me make the folks proud. I’ll graduate. But I remember just struggling that last year. Like is this shit even worth it to be honest? I was doing attachment at this software place here in Westlands in fourth year.
“I was on the verge of depression, ‘cause the job was doing nothing for me whatsoever. We were working on a mobile app that tanked. It was complete bonkers.”
Did you always know you wanted to make films? I ask.
“There was no inclination to even start film,” he says. “I think all I was focused on was going to school.
“In hindsight I should have probably done something communication wise. I’ve always liked film. Growing up I watched a lot of movies and shit. I was drawn to the basic ones, like ‘American Pie’, those fun, cool high school movies where’s there’s someone trying to bust a nut.
“I was like oh shit, I wanna be like these guys. I wanna be like Stiffler, even though Stiffler wasn’t getting much action to be honest.
“I liked fantasy. I liked anything superheroes. Sci-fi stuff. Funny enough I haven’t watched ‘Star Wars’. And ‘Lord of the Rings’. Me I just don’t fuck with them. But I’ll get around to them. I think I have them on my hard disk or something.”
So what kind of films do you want to make?
“I think I just wanna tell good story. A good story can translate into a good film. For me I want to write good stories and turn them into film. That’s it.
“I write my scripts in prose. There’s a flow to stuff, and you can explain it deeply. I feel like scripts can be very…” He rubs his fingers together. “Like you cut out things. There’s a lot of context when you’re writing in prose form.”
The way Charlie came to the film idea was this: He couldn’t find a job. All the IT departments in the world couldn’t stir him the way he was stirring his iced coffee. He was “chilling at home” watching Wrestle Mania. He’d always been a fan of wrestling. And he thought maybe he could write about wrestling. So he started a blog and called it Gobsmacked.
“Then from there I got into more entertainment stuff then I just decided I’m going to be writing short stories. And from the stories I got the idea for the films. I was getting mad reception. I wasn’t expecting people to read my shit, like 200 hits in less than a week. 200 was very encouraging.
“One thing people don’t realize is wrestling is a form of storytelling as well. ‘Cause how do you think of someone like The Undertaker? He’s like some mystical wizard guy. He comes and fights your favorite wrestlers. I remember there’s a time he crucified Stone Cold. And it was like a whole thing. I remember watching as a kid and I was so scared. This guy is the real deal yaani. He’s out here doing this bullshit.
“To evoke an emotion is somebody, that’s the point of storytelling. People like Stone Cold, The Rock, these are characters. That storytelling aspect of is what bambad me. ‘Til today I watch wrestling but I don’t know what the fuck is going on anymore. The stories are iffy iffy. They’re just doing things because.
“I’ve worked at three IT places. But imagine working at three places and not feeling anything. Like you can do so much better. So the writing kinda felt like it was more my suit. Like it was flowing more than whatever else I was doing. And joining the ad world, I don’t feel hindered. I feel like I can be creative at home and at work.
I’d want to be known for my films. I’d want to work on a big project with a budget and marketing and shit. I think I just want to put myself out there but more than that I just want to work on good stuff.
I feel like the only facet I wouldn’t want to be part of is production. I don’t want to be, Oh we need to get budget for this’. I feel like I’m very creative-minded, not business-minded. I’d make movies even if it won’t make me cash.
Being employed has taught me that you need to get your shit together. Things cost money. For you to get money you have to spend money. You have to invest. You have to make sound business decisions. Like, I can get my salo and drink. If there’s no plan, if all I’m doing is drinking, I feel like I umiza whatever movie aspirations I have.
There’s a way especially in this Nairobi life you can get lost in the partying, but you have to have a solid foundation for what you want to do. For me it’s the movie stuff. Like, do I want to keep drinking till I’m a 35 years old?
I’d give up drinking if it meant making movies. I could give up a lot of things. Even my job. If it fikad a point where I was stable enough, I’d leave. Just do films full time.
It’s going to 4 p.m. The restaurant is a bit louder and Charlie’s voice has become slower. He finishes up the last of his iced coffee. Then I ask him for a final word to the millennials:
“Failing is not inherently a bad thing. That’s how you learn. Failing is a fact of life. Everybody does it. You can’t go without failing. That’s one thing I didn’t realize until later on.
“Late last year I went through a low period. There was a lot of friction. My work life and home life clashed. I felt like I was being suffocated. Work was coming in full force. I was stressed. I’m the man of the house at home. So there were a lot of things dependent on me being there and being responsible.
“I feel like I needed to get to the lowest of my lows. Whatever ounce of strength I used it. I was hanging by a thread. I felt like there was no one I could turn to. I dabbled with drugs. I did my fair share here and there. I’ve come through a lot of shit. I’ve been really low. I can say….”
He sighs and looks out the window in silence.
“Whenever I get a chance to talk to someone about it I usually tell them like, Eh, my friend be careful. Because the next step after that you, start thinking suicide, man. And I’ve thought about it. It gets really blurry. And this was despite having a job, after me being stable, having a film out, after everything. You can have everything and still feel like shit. And that’s just life, man.”
The aforementioned film was showcased at Shorts, Shorts, and Shots last month. It’s called ‘Everything Comes to Light’. Charlie says he has a hard time explaining what it’s about.15