(Continued from Head of the Household III)
Beatrice realises that passersby are staring at her with curiosity, so she wipes her tears and starts moving towards Mugwaci shopping centre, which is only a kilometer away from her home. She is doing everything to stop herself from sobbing out aloud. She finds Magdalene at the café they had agreed upon.
“Let’s go somewhere private, Magdalene,” Beatrice says as she sits down. “I don’t want to talk here because I will definitely break down and cry, and I don’t want to give these people things to gossip about.”
“Okay. But we will have to take a matatu to the office first, because that is where I left my car.”
“Okay, no problem.”
Magdalene might be 54, but she could easily pass for 34. She has a slim body and a well hydrated skin that glows from morning to evening. Wrinkles have not yet come knocking on her skin. She dresses stylishly, and generally takes care of herself. Beatrice often jokes that she looks older than her boss, even though she is only 38.
People get surprised when they learn that Beatrice is only thirty eight years, and that she has worked for twenty. She happily clarifies that she started working at the age of eighteen, just after completing form four. She is very pretty herself, and quite shapely as well. She is more heavily built than Magdalene, but she cannot be considered overweight. But what she lacks is Magdalene’s energy. She is constantly tired, and Magdalene has told her more than once that it could be a sign that she is sinking into depression. It has nothing to do with her weight which she keeps whining about.
Magdalene has told her more than once to leave Ronald, but Beatrice has been hesitant to an extent that it has now become a joke. Whenever she tells her friend and boss the latest humiliation she has suffered at the hands of her husband, Magdalene inevitably asks, “and when are you leaving him?” They both laugh, because after some point they both realised that Beatrice wouldn’t leave Ronald. Now though, Beatrice wishes she had listened to her friend years ago.
After Magdalene pays for the tea she had taken, they walk to the matatu stage and board a matatu that is half-way full. Beatrice has learned a lot from this woman. One of the things she learned when she joined the Sacco is that Magdalene is free of any airs. She might be a CEO, but she has no problem jumping into a matatu like they are doing, walking to the open air market to shop for groceries or visiting the same hair salonist she used to visit as a teenager, even though more swanky spaces have sprouted in Gantaraki in the last decade. Like Beatrice, Magdalene is a local girl who got married to a local boy, so her life has always revolved around Gantaraki with the exception of a ten year stint when she was at the University of Nairobi and as an employee of KCB.
Magdalene treats the staff of the Sacco like colleagues, and not like servants. That is why, on the trip to Nakuru she opted to use the van instead of driving. Inspired by the boss, all the senior staff jumped into either the bus or the van for the trip. And that is how it has always been since Magdalene became the CEO fifteen years ago. That has inculcated a warm spirit of comradeship amongst the employees of Vanzatu Sacco. The friendship between the CEO and a junior accountant, as Beatrice was when she joined the Sacco, was therefore not surprising.
One of the strengths Magdalene has exhibited over the years is identifying talent. Almost all the senior staff members were handpicked by her. According to what she later told Beatrice, she picked Beatrice after having a conversation with Beatrice’s former boss, Maxwell Kinyua.
“I told Mwalimu Kinyua that I wanted to add an internal auditor to the team of our regular accountants and he told me that he knows someone who can do the job perfectly,” Magdalene told Beatrice as they took coffee in her office one Friday afternoon a few months ago. By then, Beatrice had already been elevated to Chief Auditor. “Mwalimu spoke very highly of you and since I trust his judgement. I knew you would be a good employee. What I didn’t know was that you would become my best friend as well.”
The two women clicked almost immediately, in spite of the huge gap in their ages and positions in the company. Beatrice was a twenty eight year old freshly employed auditor, while Magdalene was the forty four year old CEO. It was an unlikely friendship, but it has solidified over the last ten years. Beatrice considers Magdalene to be her big sister, and definitely her mentor.
From the matatu stage at Gantaraki they walk the one kilometer or so to the Sacco headquarters. They decide to sit in Magdalene’s office and talk. With a majority of the staff members away in Nakuru, no one can interrupt them. There are a few staff members left around to keep the place running: one at the customer care desk, one teller, two in the ICT department, one janitor plus the guards. Everyone else has left for Nakuru, including Magdalene’s secretary. The seminar will take two days so the employees will return on Sunday afternoon in readiness for a normal working day on Monday.
“I think you should block your ATM card,” Magdalene says after Beatrice has told her everything that happened when she went to her house to pick the charger. “I think salaries will be released in two days’ time, and you don’t want Ronald to continue spending your money on his women.”
“You think Nessy is the first woman he has slept with? Don’t be naïve Betty. If Ronald has the audacity to sleep with your house help in your presence, I can bet you my lost coin that he has been entertaining women for a while. What you should be thinking about now is how you will take care of your children. I know you have been taking care of them alone, so there won’t be any difference. In fact, you can build a better life for them now, without Ronald, because you will now be in control of your full salary. But you have to think about where you will live, whether they will continue at the same school and such kind of things.”
“I guess you are right. But I am so confused right now. I don’t even know where I will spend the night. My children are in school, and I want them with me. But I don’t even know where are we going to sleep…”
“Who normally picks them from school?”
“They are usually dropped by the school bus just outside our gate.”
“I think you should go and pick them from the school today. In fact, you should talk to the head teacher and explain to him that you are no longer living with the father of your children and so you will be picking the children yourself.”
“I don’t have a car, Magdalene, so I can’t be picking them myself. And I don’t have a home, so I don’t have an address I can give the teacher where the kids can be dropped by the school bus. It will take me a few days to get settled.”
“Come and stay with Joe and I for a few days as you settle…”
“No, Magdalene, I wouldn’t impose myself on you in such a manner.”
“You are not imposing yourself, Betty. I have invited you.”
“Okay. So what is the plan? Do you trust your husband and that Nessy girl to take care of your children as you settle?”
“No, of course not. Nessy has been taking care of them nicely as an employee, but only God knows in what ways she will try to assert her authority as a wife. Ronald simply doesn’t care, so no, I wouldn’t want my children to stay with them for even a single night. I am just so confused. I don’t know what to do.”
“Joe and I live in a six bedroom house, Betty. But other than the master bedroom and the house help’s room, the other rooms are vacant because all my children have since left the nest. You and the children can stay with us as you settle. It is no trouble at all.”
“Okay, but for only a few days.”
“Yes,” Magdalene says with a grin. “Now let’s go to school to talk with the head teacher.”
Philemon Preparatory School is somewhere between Mugwaci and Gantaraki. It is the finest school in the region, both in terms of performance and facilities. It is also quite expensive, and Ronald likes to boast about the quality of education he gives his children. The school’s head teacher is a stern-faced man in his mid-forties called Julius. But he is friendly enough, if you can see beyond his severe facial expression, and if you don’t do anything that threatens the wellbeing of the school and its pupils. He knows Magdalene well, even though her children completed school long before his tenure at Philemon Preparatory. He is a member of Vanzatu Sacco though, and he definitely knows the woman in charge of his savings. The Sacco has over the years attracted even white collar employees and businesspeople; people like Julius.
When Julius sees Beatrice, however, the severity of his face turns to shock. He manages to tell his equally stricken secretary to serve his guests coffee.
“What is it Mwalimu? Why are you and your secretary looking at me like you have seen a ghost?” Beatrice asks as she sips her coffee. Julius’ secretary has poured each of them a cup of coffee and then left the room.
“That is precisely the point, Mama Adrian. Pastor Ronald was here about half an hour ago and he took Adrian and Brenda.”
“What! Why would he do that? What were his reasons for pulling his kids out of school before the day is over?”
“He said that you died this morning in a road accident, and he wanted to take the kids home so that he could break the news to them gently, before they heard it from other sources.”
“What?” Magdalene and Beatrice ask in unison.
“That’s right. He even cried right here in my office. He left the cup of coffee that Daisy offered him untouched, because he was crying the whole time, saying he doesn’t know how he will survive without you. He cried for about twenty minutes, then he composed himself just before the children were brought. He even promised to keep me updated on the burial preparations.”
For the second time in a matter of hours, Beatrice is stunned into silence. Magdalene and Julius don’t seem to find the right thing to say either.
(This is the last free sub-chapter of this story. To find out what became of Beatrice and her children, kindly follow the instructions below to purchase your copy of the novella for only Kshs. 100)
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