11/40

If anyone told me that Sunday afternoon that I would be at the office going through proposals with Martin trying to save my job, I would have laughed at them and probably searched for contacts to Mathare Mental Assylum. I know Mathare would have been the stronger thought, but as it is no one tells you when you are about to served a good one.

No one also tells you that the person you get along with at the office is the one who wants you out because your department is a liability. The proposal Nicole wrote was based on the never ending war between Human Resources and Public Relations. It was a case of I can do what you do, and can even do it better. Reading her work was like walking on coals trying to strangle your master who was seated at the end watching you with a smirk on his face. For someone whose job was to be aware of my job description, Nicole was clearly off the mark. Even as I read through her working drafts and reviews of the contributions made by the PR department, I found myself torn between dealing with the matter professionally and pushing her down a flight of stairs.

The spreadsheet detailing the funds set aside for the project I was assigned was attached to the proposal together with a reviewed version she had in mind.

“This is outrageous!” I said.

“What? the fact that she stole the document you accused me of stealing, or that you were having the last supper with your friend?”

“Martin, do you know what this means?”

“What? The proposal or the impending apology from you?”

“Look, now is not the time to play games Martin. I understand that the HR department has the right to look into appraisals and make amendments on certain issues, but this is not just a forty percent slash, it is more like a sixty percent slash because there will be no funds for the marketing department to follow up on the project I was assigned. She is…”

“Saying to hell with your project!”

“Exactly and”

“It is making you mad.”

“Yes, but…”

“That is not all, she is doing this and has got Lillian backing her up, an epic case of HR versus PR with the Board of Directors as an audience.”

“Exactly and would you”

“Stop interrupting you!’

“Yes!”

“Well, I am hungry and the food we ordered is cold. We cannot warm it up because the microwave is in the kitchenette and we do not have those keys.”

“I carried my keys. There is a microwave in my office, but there is a way we can save face because I mean that’s what we do. We make other people look good for a living, so here are some notes I took as I was going through the proposal. Read them and let me warm the food you bought.”

“Yes Boss.”

“Martin, please don’t call me Boss.”

“For as long as you keep dishing out orders, Boss it is, now what duty did you assign me?”

“Please, just take a look at what I noted down, some are weak points in the proposal and they can be sued to make a counter proposal. Others are just ideas I guess, I would love to know what you think.”

“Now did it hurt you to have started with that Marjorie?”

“Whatever, just read them, I will be right back, I am hungry just going back and forth with you.”

“I know, right?”

I was about to add a sly remark but he smiled. He looked better without those brown sweaters.

10/40

The Boss called me on Sunday at 2:00 P.M.

I had just finished mopping the house and my knees had become noodles. His response to Jeremy’s idea for a collaboration was ‘just do what needs to be done to make us look good.’ I set the phone on the brown leather chair Dad had bought me.

I looked through my fridge hoping for a different result every time I swung the door open, but magic had ceased to appeal to me. I could go down to Mama Jacinta’s kibanda and get mboga ya ten and stop over by Jose’s shop for two eggs and come back to prepare lunch. Or I could simply make some tea and have the two slices of bread with it. The healthier option would involve adding a tomato to it. The phone started ringing as I was still standing by the fridge hoping to open it’s door once more and see a piece of grilled chicken.

It was the office.

“Hello.”

“Hi, Marjorie, it’s me, Martin. I had to talk to you about something urgent and I knew you would not answer if I called using my number.”

“I might just hang up now that I know it is you. What are you doing in the office on a Sunday?”

“I was working with the Board of Directors on next quarter’s plans. The golf event that I was working on took place today at the golf course so, that’s why I am calling.”

“Okay, how can I help?”

“There is a disconnect between the PR department and HR and Accounts departments. The HR and Accounts do not see the need of what we do and their proposals have come down to a forty percent budget slash and if this gets to the meeting on Wednesday, we might be forced to pull out of the project with The Light Keepers and also consider letting go of two people in our department.”

“Do you have soft copies of the proposals that HR and Accounts made?”

“No. They are in hard copy.”

“How long will you be in the office? Have you had lunch?”

“I had some heavy breakfast at the Golf course canteen but I can order something for us at Tuffoam Mall.”

“Okay, I would appreciate that. I will get there as soon as possible. We can work through this and I think a budget slash on my project with The Light Keepers would not be such a bad idea.”

 

 

10/40

When Jeremy dropped me off, I realized two things; I talked more about myself with him and I had no control of the project. It was nine o’clock. My neighbor, Suzie, was coming down the stairs in her black knee high boots and red bare back dress. She pulled me into a quick hug and smiled at Jeremy then took to those stairs like a swan. Jeremy shook his head and tucked his tongue into his mouth. 

I held out my hand and thanked him for a wonderful evening and took those stairs two floors up to my apartment. 

Two things needed my attention: Nicole’s two timing face and Jeremy’s stubbornness.

If I was lucky, then I would find a way to deal with both issues without breaking a sweat even if it meant not talking to Nicole over those lunch breaks.

9/40

Jeremy smiled to himself more than any guy I had ever met. The view was not amusing neither the music nor the company. He smiled as he sipped his coffee, answered a call or stared out the window at the busy road beside the cafe. When I looked at the time by the screen on my phone, I nearly lost it. He remained seated and shrugged his shoulders as though a few dark skies were nothing but bliss to him.

“Hey, I better get going,” I said.

“Sure, where do you live? I could drop you off. Is it within town or out of it?”

“Out of town actually, I live in Lolwe,but I am sure I can get a mat now.”

“I live in Kenya Re so it seems we are neighbors which is great,I will drop you off and then make my way home. Do you like it there?”

“Yes, I actually do. It’s a small cosy place and I have my own gate which makes it easier to access without running into the people from the main house.”

“Why did you choose Lolwe?”

“I like it there.”

“Why did you stay in PR?”

“I think you are doing this just to unsettle me, but I will still insist that I love it. It was not the course I had in mind but I realized I could do it.”

“You could be great at investigation or law, anything that involves little or no talking, but you’d laugh it off now.”

“I still do a bit of that because I have to get to know you and your organization first before introducing you to the people I work for so that’s investigating if not checking you out.”

“I will enjoy working with you, and I can’t wait to see how you handle yourself out there.”

“I am not sure if you are complementing or mocking me Jeremy all I know is that we had better leave so I can get to the house and rest.”

9/40

He reached for the croissant before him, took a bite and wiped the sugar crumbs beside his lips with the back of his hand. I held out the serviette to him. He shrugged and wiped his mouth with the back of his hands again.

I returned the serviette to it’s spot which was on a saucer beside his cup of coffee. He smiled and went for his coffee.

“So, Marjorie, how do you like my life story so far?”

“Was I supposed to pass any judgement on your life story?”

“You are something else you know, but it’s okay. I like where this is going, so tell me when did you decide to go into Public Relations?”

“I did not decide. It was my Dad who did. I wanted to study Sociology but he insisted that I try Public Relations or anything to do with diplomacy because he felt like I had been doing that ever since I could talk. So, I took a course and then advanced it and now it seems to be getting me somewhere.”

“You are your Father’s daughter right? How many siblings do you have?”

” I have two brothers, they all come after me. What about you? How many siblings do you have?”

“Four now, and I mentioned my mom having six kids, one died leaving five of us, so if I set myself aside we are like four! But, enough about me, so how long have you been here in Kisumu?”

“Three years on and off. I would love to hear the rest of the story if you don’t mind.”

“Okay, I will share it with you when we meet but for now I have to ensure you get home in good time. It will be unfair of me to keep you here way into the night, hata kama ni Friday.”

“Sawa that’s fine by me, but I will hold you to it.”

“That’s okay, we can finish up and I will see you off if that’s alright with you.”

“Sure, and listen Jeremy, thanks for giving our organization a chance. I hope our partnership would be a great one.”

“We’ll see.”

8/40

“You say that I like being in control, but that is exactly what you have been doing since we met,” I said.

“If that is what you think then let it be. I will not argue with you on it, but I insist that you spend a week with the team of LightKeepers. You will learn more about what we do and it might help you get creative in how to impact the society as an organization.”

“So, does that mean that you are against cheques?”

“No, I love cheques. In fact, receiving them is much better than writing them, but what does it say of the one who writes it? Most of the challenges we face need our engagement. I might buy clothes for the homeless or build them houses, but what good would that do in the long term? If I can engage them to understand their weaknesses and strengths, and also to know what their needs are, then I stand a better chance of helping them.”

“So, you believe that my participation is the kind of thing that is needed to come up with an action plan for my boss?”

“See, you are smart.”

“You are still bossy. Why did you start your organization?”

“Do you need the long version or the edited version?”

“I need the version you are willing to share now.”

“Sawa, so, I grew up in a family of six. My Mom was the third wife. If you don’t know what that means, allow me to spell it out for you. It meant that her cries were not heard. It also meant that we were the extra mouths that our father had no time to feed between his ego and athritis. He died when I was ten. My mom and all of her six children were kicked out of the home because she could not forge an alliance with either the first or second wives. We walked for two days to her ancestral home. When we arrived my youngest sister died of hunger and thirst. Three days later, my mother started sweating in her sleep and vomiting. She died of Malaria or as the villagers loved to say ‘tuo marach.’ We also had this disease and as such we ate only after everyone had eaten. My brother left every morning to dig and weed in people’s farms so we could eat. My elder sister cooked and cleaned and never missed a day of school. My Grandfather sold his bulls to pay for our school fees and he would ensure we had enough kerosene to keep our lamps on as we studied into the night.”

“How is that so far?” he asked, his eyes trained on me, but even as I set my cup back on the table, the words could not come out of my lips.

7/40

The text from Jeremy came when I had just boarded the matatu heading home. I looked around the matatu and stepped out careful not to meet the tout’s eye.  I was in no mood to explain my actions to him.

I dialled Jeremy’s number immediately my feet hit the pavement. He answered after a prolonged mix of skiza tunes with that lady telling me to dial one to copy the tune.

“You forgot!”he said.

“Yes, I did but I am on my way now. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

“Take your time I will wait.”

“Thanks. See you then.”

7/40

There were two things I knew to be true about the organization I worked for; employees were hired and they were fired. What you did between the “congratulations, you’re hired,” and “you’re fired!”is all that mattered. If you were wise you ensured that forty five percent of your monthly salary went to an emergency account. Everyone showed up to work by nine o’clock in the morning and left by six o’clock in the evening. 

The organization occupied two floors. One floor had forty five employees. The one above it had fifteen. The forty five knew everything that happened in both floors thanks to an active switchboard and two receptionists who valued office drama over being overworked. They are the ones who started drumming up a possibility of Martin and I dating. It was no surprise when Evans called me to ask what the thing with Martin was all about. I hang up and wrote an email. I sent it to all the departments ensuring that the boss was the first to receive it.

I stared at the desk phone until 5pm. 

The desks were vacant as I made my way out of my office to the reception. The people whom I met along the way did not make use of their mouths like I’d hoped. I waved at some, smiled at two and ignored the rest. 

I walked to the elevator. I pressed the button and waited. We were on the seventh floor. When it came to a halt on our floor and the doors opened I came face to face with him. Martin. It was twelve minutes or so past five. I had to get home by seven and do laundry. After a few thoughts I stepped in and clutched my bag close to my ribs. 

“Listen, I wanted to come talk to you about everything. I am sorry,” he started.

“What are you sorry for?”

“Everything. Look, can we put this behind us?”

“Can you put that into writing and copy the HR?”

“Um, is that necessary? I mean, if you think that would help then it’s okay.”

“Do that then.”

“What is your problem? I’m being nice about this and you dish out orders?”

“Martin, I asked you to write a formal letter of apology because from where things stand what you did was neither professional nor ethical. I do not know how much of it is an order, but I am good at what I do and I work hard. You do not get to take credit for my work, and if you think that talking to me in an elevator is an apology then you are neither remorseful nor considerate.”

“Look!”

“Have a good evening Martin. In your apology be sure to mention that you tore two pages off the budget prepared by finance that was on my desk.”

“Wait! Now you’re accusing me of theft?”

He was about to take a step towards me when the elevator came to a stop. I stepped out as soon as it stopped my feet leading me as far away from him as I could get.

6/40

When I got back to the office I called Francis to get the update on our father’s health condition that he had promised. He insisted there was nothing to report because Father was doing great and the doctor felt he could be discharged.

“Francis, is the doctor sure or is he basing the decision to discharge Dad on a feeling?”

“What did you hear me say Major?”

“He has to be sure because we cannot discharge Dad and then bring him back to the hospital again!”

“He has a home Major, hospitals are meant to be visited not dwelled in, what is wrong with you? Dad is fine and he needs to wake up and move a bit, check on his cattle and feed his hens or something, did you see hens in this hospital?”

“Stop joking Francis,please tell me that he is really okay.”

“He’s fine Major. He’s ready to go home.”

“Fine. I will talk to Raphael. He will come and pick him up and take him home and you can go back to your Theology classes.”

“Are you okay Major? You sound a little tired, is something wrong?”

“I am just exhausted from work. I will be fine and thank you Wuod Meja for taking care of Dad. I owe you a lot.”

“We owe him Major. You know how Dad is, saying things and shaking his head like no one listens to him.”

“Yes, he’s always saying that we do not listen, but he’s done us proud. I will call in the evening to talk to him about his discharge. Have a good one Francis.”

“You are the only one who calls me Francis! Everyone calls me Jayalo but not you Major. Have a good one too.”

I looked at the time after he’d hang up. It was almost two o’clock. My brother might see himself as a priest but he would always be Francis to me. The boy who always insisted that I cool his tea or porridge before serving it to him. The boy who had typhoid when he was ten and made my Father weep. He promised God he would go to church everyday if he was healed. The boy who always looked up to me even when I brought home a report card reading C+ in Mathematics. Father would yell, “how can you not know Mathematics and your Uncle is an Accountant?”

The boy who acted as a messenger to John and I. Each letter was delivered with the seal intact and promises of love and better tidings. The same Francis who broke John’s nose when he saw him with that girl from house number ten. Matilda, Martha, whatever! 

My Francis, a priest?

6/40

What are you thinking about Marjorie? You have just closed your mouth on me right here. We had better finish up and head back to the office. I have some interviews to conduct at 2pm.”

“Nicole, if you talk this much around me, and we are not best of friends, I wonder, just how much do you spew around your family?”

“Family is crazy. You are born into this group of crazies and you deal with it, but with friends, ni kama buffet, you can choose what to add to your plate. So, tell me ,what are you thinking about?”

“It’s just that Martin is seated at that corner, next to the window looking at me.”

“Where?”

“Stop doing that! You’ll break your neck! And, wait, next to the blue pillar with those flowers on your right, act like you are picking something from the floor…Nicole!”

“What? I do not have to check him out, we are not scouting for a future husband. We don’t have to steal glances. I want him to see us talking about him. Kwanza let me wave!”

Martin meets her eyes. Nicole looks at me, smiles and turns to Martin her right hand going up, and she waves. I shake my head. My Father’s daughter.

I push my plate aside. Push the chair back, a screeching sound startles Nicole. I’m up and walking out, but I do not miss it. Martin waves back at Nicole.

His eyes are on me.

My Dad would know what to do. He would know what to say to make things better. His only fear was that he let me carry the world at a young age and I have never shrugged since then. I had expectations. The issue with Martin unsettled me because I was the only one who seemed to be aware that it was a game to him. He would apologize and do it again. He loved being punished but what did that say about him as a person? Why did his actions unsettle me? What was it about this project that made me realize how much of a jerk my colleague was? This was the sixth day after the boss assigned me that project. It was a charity event, why would Martin want it so much that he would put me down?

Nicole did not come after me. I wished she did but I would never admit it to her.