Sam eats his meal quietly. Jane, his wife, is also eating silently. Their spoons hit the plates and the clicking sounds are the only noises in the room. Sam looks up to see his wife studying him carefully.
“What?” he asks defensively.
“Don’t you think you are being too hard on yourself?”
He does not reply immediately. He scoops another spoonful of the pilau and puts it into his mouth. He chews slowly while avoiding eye contact with his wife. Jane continues eating as she awaits his reply. But Sam doesn’t even know what to say in reply.
They live in a beautiful two story house that sits on an acre of land in Juja. Until recently, Sam had been the owner of a couple of hotels: one in Thika, another in Nairobi’s CBD. Then, three years ago, the Thika hotel caught fire, and that is when his problems began. It was the bigger of the two, with 50 rooms, 5 Executive suites, a VIP suite and two restaurants. The fire razed down the entire hotel: two towers in Thika’s central business district.
Fortunately, no one was seriously injured. A few people sustained minor bruises but that was it. But Sam obviously lost millions of shillings worth of investment. He had just leased the twin towers the year before, as his business grew, moving the hotel from the rented three story building to its new home. He had not yet even finished paying off the loan he had taken to lease the buildings.
Worse, the insurance company refused to pay, claiming the fire was not accidental. The police report was inconclusive, although it cited probable arson. Sam sued the insurance company, and this led to a protracted court battle. Eventually, the High Court ruled in favour of the insurance company. Sam was devastated. During the almost two years that the court battle had lasted, he had been under intense financial strain. His lawyer, James Kimeria, had been gobbling up hundreds of thousands “to enable us (him) proceed with this matter”. Suppliers were on his back, some refusing to supply the Nairobi hotel until he paid for the goods supplied to the Thika hotel on credit. The bank was on his neck over the loan he had taken to lease the buildings. And the rumours, fueled by bloggers, that the fire was caused by the demons (majini) that he had used to get wealthy did not help the Nairobi hotel either. Customers significantly reduced. And now the legal system had failed him.
Kimeria advised him to appeal. He convinced him that the High Court had misinterpreted the facts of the case. He really wanted to believe that, because if the decision stood he would go bankrupt. And the truth is, he knew nothing about the fire, and was shocked like everyone else. He had suspected electrical failure, but the guys from Kenya Power ruled that out. So he appealed the decision as advised by Kimeria.
The insurance company threw every delay tactic at him. Application after application. Adjournments every time their lawyer sneezed. Probably after visiting the dusty town that is Rongai. But Kimeria admirably fought them. And to Sam’s relief, the Court of Appeal ruled in his favour. The company was ordered to pay him 550 million shillings, plus costs of the suit. He was jubilant. Life would now go back to normal.
He was wrong. In a way he would never have expected. Kimeria disappeared without a trace, right after the insurance company deposited the money in his firm’s account. The insurance company had copied him in the email confirming the payment. But when he called Kimeria, he did not pick his phone. This did not worry Sam at first. But when he still could not get him on phone two weeks later, he decided to visit his office. Kimeria had moved. In other words, Sam’s money had vamoosed. That was a month ago.
The last one month has descended on Sam furiously. Auctioneers came calling. The property in Machakos was the first to go. It had been held by the bank as security for the loan. His car was also taken. And as suppliers descended on him, he also sold the Nairobi hotel and paid them off. He still had a deficit, and some creditors wanted to auction his house. But Jane had fought them, going to court under a certificate of urgency. The house, she argued, belonged to her, not her husband. It is, after all, registered in her name. She has obtained a temporarily injunction, although the suit is still pending in court. So they have a roof over their heads. At least for now.
But the creditors filed bankruptcy proceedings against him. Jane has hired another lawyer for him. The same lawyer she used to block the auction of the house. Jane has been very supportive throughout. She has kept the home running. She is a civil servant in middle management, and it is her salary that has been keeping them going.
Sam swallows and sips the water from the glass next to his plate.
“I am a self-made man, Jane. I built the business myself. Yet a criminal runs away with my money.”
“But if you are a self-made man, you can make yourself again”
“How? I am forty four. I do not have the savings I had when I resigned from my job 10 years ago. So how do suggest I start again?”
“But you are a self-made man Sam. You should know how to make yourself again,”
“Are you mocking me? You do not think it is enough that I am eating YOUR food? Living in YOUR house? Driving YOUR car?” Sam raged.
It is the first time he is raising his voice against his wife. Even when they disagreed, he always checked his temper. But right now he is agitated. And Jane can see that, so she chooses her words carefully.
“A small detail Sam. I am YOUR wife. So this is also YOUR house. It is YOUR food. And YOUR car. The same way YOUR hotels were MY hotels. They are OUR things,”
Sam looks at his wife. Sometimes he does not understand this woman.
“Sam, we could start all over again. We could sell this house and move to a smaller house. Then you could use the money to restart your business. We can even send the children to cheaper schools to cut on costs”
“Then we will be the laughing stock of the country. Journalists and bloggers will have a field day”
“Does it matter?”
“Of course it does!”
“I think I know your problem Sam. Your problem is not losing your property. Your problem is pride. You have been calling yourself a self-made man until it got into your head. Sam, you did not make yourself. God did. When your father died, your mum stepped up, did odd jobs to ensure you stayed in school. When she died, your uncle took you in. He was not rich, but he fended for you like he did his own sons. Yet he did not have to. And when you graduated with your degree in soil science and could not find a job, Mr. Kimani believed in you and gave you a job to manage his hotels. Yet you had zero experience in hotel management. And when you told him you wanted to start your own hotel, he did not hold it against you. Instead, he encouraged you and mentored you. God used these people to bless you. Yet you keep throwing that word self-made man around” Jane stops to catch her breath. She is surprised by her rant. Sam is surprised too, but he knows she is saying the truth.
He stands up, holds her hand and pulls her out of her seat. Then he embraces her tightly. They have been married for twenty years. He married her when he was 24, right after graduating from college. He did not have a job, so they did a simple ceremony with a few friends. She had just been employed as intern by the government, and so she was the one who paid for the rings and refreshments. She did not come from a wealthy family, but her parents were a jovial Christian couple who told them not to bother about dowry if they were sure they would be happy with each other.
Right now, they remain silently locked in each other’s arms for a while. Then Sam’s phone rings. He disengages himself and picks up.
The news from the other side is apparently good, gauging from the widening smile on Sam’s face.
“Kimeria has been arrested,” he tells his wife when he hangs up. “He was picked up in Busia trying to cross the border. And yesterday he deposited a billion shillings in a small bank run by his Asian friend Protesa Singh. Sing has also been arrested and the account frozen.”
Jane moves to embrace her husband again. But Sam pushes her away and holds her by the shoulders.
“Jane, a few minutes ago you listed the people who God has used to bless me. But you left one very important one”
“Who?” Jane asks frowning.
“You. You have been a blessing in my life ever since I met you in campus. Thank you. If not for anything else, I am mightily blessed of God to have you in my life. I love you. ”
Jane looks at her husband. He has gained weight over the years. And his hair is greying. But in many ways he is still the boy she fell in love with 22 years ago.
“I love you too Sam. Want some juice?” she asks, picking their empty plates from the table.
*** **** **** **** **** ***
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