Everybody knows Okwan.
You’d be a fool not to when you reside in Kisumu for where else in this sunny city would you get the best pilau and beef stew? There are things about Okwan that the world does not know like how she had to leave her husband’s house at 2 am for fear that her brains would be splattered all over their sitting room wall. Or how the neighbors, Mama Peace and her household kept their doors locked even as she wailed long into the night. They don’t know that in running to avert a blow, she had lost not one, or two but three unborn children all the while being taunted by her in-laws whose wives kept popping children out of their wombs like goats defecating.
However, there are things about Okwan that matter to people in Kisumu like opening the restaurant from Monday to Saturday as early as 6:30 am. People also want her to pick up their calls and remember what they had for lunch two days ago because the usual is not a guarantee in her restaurant.
One thing is certain this is not just about Okwan, but it begins with her.
“Would you hire me?” Okwan laughed. She laughed so hard that the fat under her arms danced as her chest heaved up and down. The people around her turned to look but what they could see was Okwan and a young woman. The woman’s skin glowed like the darkest of nights and she had the kind of figure that fit in every piece of clothing. She was wearing blue jean trousers and a white chiffon blouse. Her face was as smooth and soothing as her smile. She stood until Okwan turned to her and said, “No.”
“This is not the place for you my dear. The kitchen is small, we stay on our feet all day and to be honest I don’t think you can cook and clean as fast and efficient as the people here.”
“You can tell all this by looking at me?”
“Yes, so I am sorry but this is not the place for you.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow. Thank you.” She turned and left. Okwan shook her head and laughed once more, sending that giggle out into the world of her perception.
The woman showed up the next day and the day after that. She asked Okwan the same question every day, “would you hire me?” until one Friday morning when Okwan showed up at the restaurant to find that two of the girls working for her had not shown up. She called them but each time her calls went straight into their voicemail. It was seven and she had not even lit the second jiko when the woman showed up. She looked at Okwan and walked straight past her to the small kitchen and started working. Okwan gave her instructions and she did as she was told without a word. When the customers walked into the restaurant at half past seven, the floors had been cleaned, the tables sanitized and breakfast served. The woman moved like air, Okwan felt her but didn’t hear her footsteps as she made her way around the kitchen and so on that day they worked like that until six in the evening.
“What’s your name?” Okwan asked her.
“Belinda,” she said.
“You did well today. I don’t know how I would have managed without you, are you serious about working here?”
“Can you make do with the hours?”
“I can report at seven thirty every morning and leave at three in the afternoon when my kids return home from school.”
“This job does not pay much but I will pay you eight hundred shillings every day for the work done. I also want you to inform me of any issues that arise in good time so that my work is not affected. You’ll work from Monday to Friday without fail.”
Okwan fastened the lesso around her thick waist then said to Belinda, “Do not thank me, show up to work and do what you are supposed to and we will be just fine. I also do not want to see your problems show up here.”
“Thank you,” Belinda said as she accepted the five hundred shilling note that Okwan handed over to her.