Leonard stands back and looks at the building. This house is truly magnificent. Bernard will be impressed. Bernard is Leonard’s prospective father-in-law. Or rather he is the man Leonard wants to be his father-in-law. He is a stinking rich man. He lives in a huge estate in Nanyuki where Susan, the girl that Leonard wants to marry, grew up riding horses. But they also have a house in Karen and that is where Susan stays because she manages her father’s business interests in Nairobi.
Bernard’s family has always been wealthy for as long as anyone could remember. His grandfather was a colonial paramount chief and he made his bones by endearing himself to the colonial administration. Bernard’s father was a permanent secretary, as they were then called, in the Jomo Kenyatta administration. It is Bernard’s father who bought the Nanyuki estate from a fleeing settler in the sixties. It is also Bernard’s father who founded the Raven Enterprises Limited, the family’s business conglomerate.
Unlike his father and grandfather, Bernard has never worked for the government fulltime, although several of his siblings are in government. His brother is Kenya’s ambassador to Namibia. His other brother is a Principal Secretary and their only sister is a Cabinet Secretary. Their father, who is now in his late eighties, chairs the boards of several state corporations. Bernard also chairs the boards of several corporations, but his full time job is being the CEO of Raven Enterprises Limited, the family business.
This house has taken three years to build. Leonard has used the finest contractors in the construction industry. His architect is the finest in the industry, and she is the one who put together the team of engineers, quantity surveyors, landscapers and interior designers to make this dream home a reality.
A faint roaring sound of a helicopter in the distance signals the arrival of the guests. It is difficult to tell who it is, but Leonard suspects that it is Bernard. He is the one who is obsessed with time keeping.
Leonard glances at the helipad. It is big enough to accommodate three helicopters. Helicopters can also land on the pristine lawn. Leonard is expecting about three hundred guests, including members of the press. He is celebrating the completion of his house, but the ceremony is also set up as a fundraising event for the party. Leonard is vying for the gubernatorial position on a Patriotic Democratic Party (PDP) ticket. PDP is the ruling party, and has wide support in the area. Winning the party nominations would have automatically made him Governor in the past, but Sam’s entry into the race threw it wide open. Sam is the owner of Hotel Shava and Messa Oval Restaurant. Sam is so popular that the current Senator, who had been eyeing the gubernatorial position, decided to sit the race out and remain in his current position. But Leonard is confident that he can beat Sam, who is running as an independent candidate.
From his interaction with Susan and her family, Leonard has learnt that events such as this one are important for networking. And as Bernard keeps on telling him, every politician needs a wide network of wealthy friends. And wealthy people need politicians in power. It is a symbiotic relationship. But it costs an arm and a leg to host these events, because the wealthy have fine tastes and something as minor as ordering the wrong brand of wine can shatter one’s reputation irreparably. However, Leonard doesn’t have to worry about such things because Bernard is footing the bill. He can afford the best of everything.
Very few people in the Shava and Messa region have received an invitation to the event, because the event is not a political rally. The only local non-politician to receive an invitation is Dorothy, the owner and CEO of Beeline Hospital. Dorothy has been invited for three reasons. First, she is arguably the wealthiest person in Shava County. Second, she is the one who sponsored Leonard’s education, and he still respects her for that. Lastly, she is very influential in the county. Her support will go a long way in boosting his bid to be the youngest Governor of Shava County. All the other invitees from Shava are politicians: the current county Governor, who is retiring from politics, the four MPs from the county, the Senator and the Woman Representative. Leonard considers the MCAs and their speaker to be too junior and too poor for this event.
The region’s wealthy people, such as lawyer Janis and the old man Jacob and his sons Phineas and Eliab are too poor to make the cut, according to Leonard. Their kin Sam would probably have been invited, but he is Leonard’s rival in the gubernatorial race.
Through Bernard, Leonard has invited some of the wealthiest people in the country, as well as some of the most prominent politicians, including the Deputy President. He would have loved to invite the President, but he did not want to push his luck with Bernard. Besides, the President is retiring later in the year and has taken a back seat in politics.
Susan and Leonard are not exactly dating. He sleeps with her often, but she has refused to commit to an exclusive, long term relationship. He met her under unusual circumstances. Leonard is a lawyer, and at the time he was working in a mid-table firm in Nairobi. One day his boss woke him at 4 am. A client’s daughter had been arrested. She had killed someone while driving under the influence of alcohol. None of the partners or senior associates of the firm had ever handled a criminal case, but they knew that their young associate often did pro-bono criminal cases.
Leonard quickly put on his shabby suit, hopped into a taxi that his boss had provided and sped towards the police station. He met Bernard at the police station and he successfully negotiated the release of Susan, after bribing whoever needed to be bribed. The arrest did not appear in the press. Bernard was so impressed that he took him out for lunch later that day.
“Son, do you want to make money?” he had asked.
“Yes, I do.”
“Why don’t you quit your work and start working for me?”
Leonard had quickly agreed, and within no time, he had registered a firm, sponsored by Bernard. The only condition for the firm was that while he could take in other clients, he would always handle Bernard’s work personally. In case Bernard’s work conflicted with the work of another client, then Bernard would take precedence; Leonard’s employees would have to handle the other clients.
Leonard has always wondered why Bernard did not call his friends in high places to get his daughter released, but he is yet to figure that out. Maybe his (Leonard’s) stars had aligned that day.
Bernard sponsored a celebration on the day Leonard formally launched his Law Firm. The following day Susan came to the office, and the first business Leonard transacted on his brand new desk was making love to his principal client’s daughter. For the five years he has worked for Bernard, he has become very wealthy. That is how he has been able to construct this house. He bought the piece of land two years ago.
Vying for the gubernatorial position was also Bernard’s idea. He mentioned it casually one afternoon over lunch, but overtime they discussed it more and more often. In the end, Leonard found himself in the race, which Bernard is financing. Not that he is complaining. He is loving every inch of it. Leonard knows that Bernard is not doing this for free. He knows that should he win, Bernard expects to get back his money plus profit from the county coffers. Leonard doesn’t care. Everyone pinches from the public coffers anyway, so why not help the man who has made him who he is today?
Bernard has no doubt been kind to him. But Leonard knows that loyalties shift quickly. This same Bernard dumped his lawyer just because a young upstart got his daughter out of jail. It is not inconceivable for Bernard to drop him if he loses the race to Sam. But he cannot dump his son-in-law. That is why Leonard needs to marry Susan as soon as possible.
Leonard does not love Susan. True, she is beautiful, ambitious and very intelligent. But the woman Leonard loves is Hellen, his girlfriend since their university days. But immediately he slept with Susan, he realized that marrying her will dramatically improve his financial and social standing, as well as cement his place in Bernard’s life. Hellen, lovely as she is, and even though she has been brought up by a wealthy family, is the daughter of a dead drunkard and a jail bird. Nothing can change that.
Leonard grew up in Messa, not far from Beeline Hospital. His mother Asenath was a single mother. Leonard does not know who his father was, because his mother did not want to talk about it. Before the hospital was established, they lived in a single room in Messa town. She did odd jobs here and there, washing clothes for people, working in the nearby farms and so forth. Things suddenly looked up for her when she got a job as a janitor at the newly established hospital. Beeline paid, and still pays, its employees very well.
The hospital was established when Leonard was a very small boy, and he instantly decided that he wanted to become a doctor. Whenever he came down with amoeba, or malaria or any of the other diseases that are common in the area, his mother would take him to Beeline Clinic, where the late Dr. Richard held fort. The doctor became his role model.
When the hospital was established, Dr. Richard allowed his old patients from the Messa locality to access its services for free without having to prove that they can’t afford hospital care in other hospitals. Twice, doctors at Beeline Hospital saved Asenath from death.
The first time she was bitten by a spider, and by the time she got to hospital she was in a coma. The doctors injected her with antitoxins and she lived to face a different battle with cancer. She was diagnosed with breast cancer two years later. Once again the doctors at Beeline hospital worked hard until she was declared cancer free one and a half years later.
When Dr. Richard died, Asenath was one of the people who wept bitterly at the funeral. She would follow him in death only a year later. This time there was nothing the doctors could do. She was knocked down by a motorcycle and died on the spot. Leonard was in form two.
Leonard went to live with his grandmother, but Dorothy, Dr. Richard’s widow and the new CEO of the hospital, took up his education. She paid his school fees until University level. Leonard did not manage to get to medical school, and ended up in law school.
It is in Dorothy’s house, where he would be invited from time to time, that Leonard met Hellen. But they did not start dating until they found themselves at the University of Nairobi; he was studying law, she was studying commerce. She is the daughter of Christine and Alexander. Christine was Dorothy’s best friend, but she killed her husband Alexander so that she can get married to Dorothy’s husband, Dr. Richard. She killed Richard a year later, and is now serving a life sentence at Lang’ata Women’s prison. But Dorothy took the betrayal in her stride and when Christine was jailed, she took in her children and brought them up as her own.
Hellen is Christine’s third born, after Kyle and the late Matthew. She is now all grown up, and works as an analyst in an investment firm in Nairobi. Leonard has not broken up with her and she surprisingly doesn’t know that he has been cheating with Susan for the last five years. Susan, on her part, doesn’t care who he sleeps with, because she has made it clear to him that all she wants is for them to be ‘friends with benefits’.
“I like you, Leonard, but I have no time to be in a relationship. I do not want to have to answer to anyone about my whereabouts or who I am with. I prefer to be a free bird,” she has told him more than once. But Leonard is not about to give up. The fact that she admits she likes him, and the fact that they still have sex, is enough to keep his hopes up.
The plane lands gracefully on the helipad. It is Bernard’s plane alright. Susan comes out first and walks up to Leonard. She embraces him then kisses him deeply on the lips. Even with his eyes closed, Leonard can hear the media cameras flashing and clicking.
This kiss will look good on the front page of the Daily Nation, he thinks.
“Leonard! What do you think you are doing?” someone suddenly asks.
He breaks away from Susan and looks up. Hellen is standing a few feet away, flanked by her brother Kyle and Dorothy’s son Rick.
“Hellen, what are you doing here?” he asks, and immediately realizes that it is perhaps the most the stupid question he could ask while cameras are rolling.
Image by Candelario Gomez Lopez from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/driver-vehicle-transfer-limnusina-4786555/
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