Fredrick stares out of the window of his second floor office. He is trying to avoid eye contact with the man sitting in front of him. His office is spacious, and has large windows overlooking the parking lot. He has gotten here through nothing but sheer hard work and dedication. He loves his job, and he knows he is good at it. He is well liked and respected by his colleagues, which is not the same situation back at home, as William keeps reminding him today. William is the man who is seated in his office; he is the Chief Principal of St. Monica’s Boys High School, Kabuuri. He is Fredrick’s boss.
Fredrick’s wife Alicia likes poking fun at him (Fredrick), reminding him that he is nothing more than an unambitious and underpaid teacher. She and her family have made it their business to ridicule him and make him feel small every time they get a chance. He hates it; and he hates all of them, including and particularly his wife. Every day he dreams of divorcing her and either spending the rest of his life either alone, or with a woman who will love and respect him; like Becky.
But he cannot dare walk out of his marriage. The home where he lives with his family belongs to Alicia. She is the one who bought the land and built the house, and that land is registered under her name. Everything in that house belongs to her, including his clothes. Under their arrangement, the only thing Fredrick takes care of is the children’s school fees. But Alicia and her family insisted that the children would go to the same expensive private school that she and her siblings attended. It costs an arm and a leg, and Fredrick is up to his neck in debt. If he walks out of his marriage, he might as well forget his children because he cannot educate them in the same school and still sustain himself. After paying fees and getting other school requirements, he needs his wife to feed him, clothe him and even fuel his car.
Fredrick married up. Everyone knows that Fredrick’s wife wears the pants in the family. While Fredrick is a laid back, non-confrontational man who is often willing to be led, Alicia is an alpha female who always wants to be in charge. She is abrasive, manipulative and crude, but ultimately a go getter. Her family is wealthy: her grandfather and father are successful businessmen leading a multi-billion business empire. They were strongly against their daughter-a lawyer by training-marrying a “lowly” teacher. But her mind was made up, and since she is as strong willed as her father and grandfather, there was no stopping her.
Fredrick and Alicia had met at a Kenya Model United Nations (KMUN) meeting while they were in campus and got intensely attracted to each other. They started dating shortly afterwards and got married after graduating two years later.
Fredrick was in love, but his friends, and even Alicia’s, speculate that Alicia married him because she could control him. She makes no secret that she has ultimate authority in their marriage. She is an executive in the family business, where she gets remunerated handsomely. Fredrick’s gross salary from TSC is less than her fuel allowance. It is not a secret that Fredrick is unhappy in his marriage, or that he is afraid of his wife.
Fredrick is a Deputy Principal at St. Monica High School, a large national school that performs exceptionally well in KCSE. Year in year out it produces top students nationally, and for five years now it has sent all of its student to the university, which is not a small feat for a school with three thousand students. Only one student had missed out on university five years ago, and before that the school has sent all of its candidates to the university for ten years in a row. The school has a hundred and twenty teachers including four Deputy Principals.
Three of the four deputies, excluding Fredrick, are ambitious men with massive egos. With the principal said to be considering early retirement to venture into politics, these men are in an intense rivalry over his succession. St. Monica is a large and prestigious school and all the deputies believe they have what it takes to take the helm. William and the board are said to be quietly lobbying for William’s replacement to come from within the school, so it boils down to the four deputies. The only difference between Fredrick and the other three men is that Fredrick is not egotistical. He is ambitious, but he doesn’t know how to blow his trumpet or to fight turf wars. He just does his work in the best way possible and hopes his efforts will be noticed and rewarded with promotions.
Fredrick is definitely not an alpha male.
The administration of St. Monica High School is large and complex. The school has four deputy principals: academics, boarding, extra-curricular affairs and administration. Each of the four deputy principals has his own secretary, while the Chief Principal has two secretaries and a driver. Fredrick is the Deputy Principal in charge of academics.
The four deputies are often jostling for space and importance, although it is well understood by a majority of the teachers that the offices of the DP-Academics and the DP-Administration are a cut above the other two. The DP-Administration feels more important because of his administrative roles, but many in the school believe that the DP-Academics is the more powerful of the two. Not only is he in charge of the core mandate of the school-academics-he also has more people reporting to him. He also has the largest office amongst all the deputies. Fredrick’s office is equal in size to the Chief Principal’s.
In the performance of his duties, Fredrick is assisted by a dean, form principals and class teachers. There are four form principals, each in charge of form one, two, three and four. Class teachers report to their respective form principals, who in turn report to the dean, who reports to the Deputy Principal-Academics. Heads of Departments (HoDs) also report to him through the dean. “Department” in this case refers to four clusters of subjects: mathematics & sciences, languages, humanities & social sciences and technical subjects.
Because the school is large, HoDs do not deal with individual subject teachers. Each subject has its own head of subject (HoS), who reports to the HoD. In modern school parlance, “dean” is the office that used to be called “curriculum master” or “curriculum developer” in the older, less sophisticated system. The DP-Academics together with the dean are in charge of academic programs-preparing teaching and examination time tables, overseeing the setting and marking of examinations as well as processing of results and release of report forms. Teachers report to him, through the dean, on all matters relating to academics.
It is rare for the Chief Principal of St. Monica to go to any of his juniors’ offices. He simply gets his secretary to summon whoever he wants to see to his office. So for him to have come to Fredrick’s office, it has to be important.
“Think about it, Fred,” he now says with a sly smile. “This is your chance to get one over your wife. When we win, she and her family will never look down on you again.”
He allows that to sink in.
He knows that Fredrick wants out of his marriage but is afraid of his wife and in-laws. A couple of years back, one of the teachers in the school got infatuated with Fredrick, and they became very close. Fredrick was flattered to have a woman who seemed to care so deeply about him, a woman who thought he was important, and a woman who respected him. Her name is Becky. One thing led to another, and one day they kissed in his office, with the door locked and curtains drawn. As the story goes, things became heated and the kissing became heavy petting. Becky unbuckled his belt and lowered his trousers and boxers. She leaned on a wall and pulled him close, and that is when Fredrick came back to his senses.
“I can’t do this, Becky,” he told her.
“Why?” she asked while removing her skirt with one hand, the other wrapped around him.
“Alicia and her father will kill me.”
“No they won’t,” she murmured. “You only need to be courageous enough and leave her. We can be happy together babe.”
But Fredrick pushed her away and started dressing.
“I am sorry Becky, but you don’t know Alicia. She will destroy both of us if she gets a wind of this.”
Frustrated and hurt, Becky shared the experience with her two best friends in the staff room. It wasn’t long before almost all the staff members knew, including support staff. Fredrick was humiliated when he one day found a group of teachers discussing the issue. Becky apologized to him amidst tears, and he forgave her. She was also suffering, because a group of the gossipers had labelled her “cheap”, “desperado” and “gold digger” amongst other unenticing names. She severed ties with her two “friends” whom she had confided in as trusted friends. To date she doesn’t speak to either of them. But the damage was already done, and everyone knows that Fredrick had tried to cheat but couldn’t because he is afraid of his wife.
Alicia has been County Deputy Governor for the last nine years. Her relationship with the Governor has been one of convenience. Both of them have massive egos, and they are always fighting. The chemistry they displayed in the first campaign is long gone. Some say they were lovers until Alicia caught the Governor in bed with his secretary. But they are sensible enough to know that they need each other. The Governor needed the money that Alicia was bringing to the ticket. And Alicia needed him because he was bringing the votes. He is a hugely popular man in the county. The Governor is retiring next year, and has eyes on the senate seat. He has offered to support Alicia’s gubernatorial bid if her family finances his senatorial bid.
William, the Chief Principal of St. Monica, wants to challenge Alicia in the gubernatorial race. And he wants Fredrick to be his running mate. He doesn’t tell Fredrick this, but there is one primary reason why he wants Fredrick as his running mate: Fredrick is not ambitious enough to challenge him and divide his administration should they win the election. Fredrick doesn’t even have the spine and mettle to even vie as an MCA. Fredrick prefers structured employment where he works hard and gets rewarded through promotions. That makes him the ideal running mate and deputy.
But there are other reasons which William freely shares with his deputy. First, Fredrick is a very competent man. He is the kind of deputy William knows he can trust to do the real work while he concerns himself with politicking. Second, they come from different subtribes, and Fredrick’s subtribe is actually larger of the two. Third, Fredrick is a very likeable man, and will be a huge plus on the campaign trail. Fourth, having Fredrick as his running mate will annoy Alicia, and cause her to make serious of blunders that he, William, will capitalize on to beat her to the Governor’s Mansion.
Fredrick knows that joining William in the race against Alicia is a gamble: he could win big or lose mightily.
If he and William win, he will have finally earned his freedom from an abusive marriage. If they win, his position as Deputy Governor will shield him to some extent from bullying by Alicia’s family. He can then start rebuilding his life away from her. He might rekindle his relationship with Becky, and probably even marry her. After she apologized to him, they have remained good friends, but their friendship is now platonic. Becky has not dated anyone else since then, and Fredrick suspects that she is still in love with him even though she has never brought up the subject of romance again.
But the flipside of this gamble is brutal. By vying against Alicia, Fredrick will be severing ties with her. There will be backlash from her and her family of course. For starters, he will be kicked out of his matrimonial home. To vie, he has to resign from his teaching job, meaning that he cannot even move into his staff quarters house, which has remained vacant to date. And if he and William lose, Governor Alicia and her influential family will destroy him completely.
“I don’t know, William,” Fredrick says, turning away from the window to face his boss.
“Are you afraid of Alicia? Do you plan on being afraid of her forever? She will always disrespect you, Fred. It is time you showed her that you have guts and can stand up to her. So what do you say?”
Fredrick sighs and gazes outside again.
Image by Leandro Aguilar from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/man-lawyer-office-desk-computer-5806012/
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