SHORT STORY: The white powder

Saturday April 13 2019

She’d not stood up from her desk in hours. Not

She’d not stood up from her desk in hours. Not even to eat. Craning her neck, she stretched her muscles then stood up to view the city from the window. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA | NMG 

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Karin rolled over and shoved the alarm clock to the floor. The display screen cracked and the battery compartment opened, releasing its content.
“Hell,” she cursed, her eyes half open.

Karin then pulled the bed sheets over her head and promptly fell asleep again…. Until the jingle from the backup alarm on her phone across the room went off. It was ear-splitting.

“Ahh...” she cursed louder, as she sprung out of bed with a jolt.

The golden rays of the morning sun were already peeking through the curtains.

Karin picked up the phone and began to scroll through the text messages, then the “to do list” that she had hurriedly scribbled at night.

“I can’t do this...” she sighed, as a familiar feeling of panic rose in her gut.

The whisky bottle from last night stood half full by her bedside. Karin picked it up and sipped the liquor, wincing to the warm burning sensation down her throat.

Another sip, and another...and in no time, she was alive and ready for the day!

Karin freshened up and rushed down the stairs, heels and briefcase in hand. She suddenly stopped by the kitchen counter with a frown on her face.

A dirty plate; smudges of ketchup; dry breadcrumbs; a slice of cucumber; bits of chicken from the sandwich; and a colony of ants having a field day.

She gasped in despair at the sight, her shoes and paperwork dropping to the floor. A cold chill ran up her spine. Hadn’t she cleaned up before retiring to bed?

“Not now,” she whispered, quickly picking up the documents and slipping her feet into the shoes.

Karin then scraped the last of the white powder from the clear plastic bag into the vial before slamming the door behind her.


It had begun right after her first promotion. The youngest newcomer to become a manager, Karin was already feeling the pressure, having worked herself to the bone for the position.

Out to celebrate with colleagues, she’d bumped into a former university classmate and they’d rekindled their partying days.

“You look tired!” Sheri screamed in her ear over the din of the night club.

“I am!” Karin shouted back, “Adult-ing means working long hours...I feel like I’m always trying to keep up!”

“You know what you need?” Sheri cajoled, pulling her face away from Karin’s ear, a devilish smile curling at the corner of her mouth as she retrieved a small plastic bag from her pocket.

Karin’s eyes rolled in disbelief. But only for a moment.

Memories of her carefree lifestyle returned. She recalled the two times she’d experimented in college and grabbed the drug from Sheri’s hand.

Soon, the two girlfriends were in the cloak room snorting the white substance. A habit was born.

This was how the young manager warded off the stress, and worked her way to becoming second in command at the office.


The first rays of the sun were peeking from behind the clouds signalling the dawn of a new day. Karin turned left towards the slip road.

Her office was less than a minute away. She was cheerfully singing along to Mavin Gaye’s 1970s hit Let’s Get It On, playing on the car radio.

She was still humming the golden oldie as she sashayed past the glass doors into the marble lobby of the office complex.

Karin took the elevator to the top floor and slipped into her corner office. As always, it was just her, surrounded by the four walls at this time of the morning, exactly how she liked it. She kicked off her heels, folded her legs under her and dived into her work.

The door was ajar.

“Good morning Karin! Are you joining us?” a familiar voice interrupted.

It was the CEO.

She looked up then glanced at the clock, only realising that the morning briefing was already 10 minutes in. “Sure, why not?” she joked.

Their relationship was easy. In the CEO’s eyes, Karin did almost no wrong. Even when she appeared spaced out, it did not bother him.

But it was not so much about her rank. It was her brilliance that the CEO was drawn to. Karin worked harder, longer and better than anyone else.

“We have to finish the soap account before we take anything else on, otherwise…” the CEO was saying when Karin interjected.

“Actually I managed to lock that down last week, I sent you an e-mail? We can move forward with incoming projects.”

“Oh, great!” the CEO clapped his hands and grinned, “Would you mind taking the lead?”

Ignoring the mountain of work she was already drowning under and her responsibilities as VP which kept her at the office until midnight on most days, she smiled and nodded in approval.

The morning meeting over, the office was already a hive of activity with workers rushing to complete one task or the other.

Karin shut her office door, dropped into her chair and sighed.

She felt a dull pain on both sides of her head. Again, the panic stirred her stomach.

She pulled out the powder-filled vial and sniffed her way to “sanity.” Then she ploughed back into her work, robotically checking off items on her “to do list” with an unnerving speed and efficiency.

“Uhh, Miss...?” It was her secretary.

“I’m leaving for the night...”

“Night? Is it already? Oh yes, sure go on…and good night,” Karin smiled, nothing betraying her strained back and tired mind.

She’d not stood up from her desk in hours. Not even to eat. Craning her neck, she stretched her muscles then stood up to view the city from the window.

The galaxy of stars against a background of a sapphire blue sky was a marvel. But worn out from work, Karin did not notice the scenic view.

Unsteady on her feet, she locked up and left. As she climbed into the car, tossing her briefcase onto the passenger seat, the vial rolled out onto the floor. It was as irresistible as dark chocolate truffle. Karin picked it up and sniffed the white powder. She was alive again.

She sped home, singing along to the love songs playing on the late night show on the radio. She wondered how breath-taking a rising moon would be.

Then a loud bang reverberated through the air. Suddenly, she was weightless and flying. She was dimly aware of her surrounding. Her muscles ached. Her bones were full of pain.
“Hold on, miss!” a voice shouted in the distance.

“Stay with us! Just breathe, the ambulance is coming!” another said.

The place was cold and dark. Why were they telling her to stay here? She’d been in darkness for way too long. She did not want to fight anymore. She wanted the light.