Ryan stares at the plate of cold Githeri without appetite. It is his supper, which he warmed on the microwave two hours ago. It is 10.30pm, and he is waiting for his wife to get home so that he can bolt the doors and go to sleep. She might come, or he might doze off on the couch waiting for her till morning.
Eating Githeri is not a problem for Ryan. In fact, it is his second favorite food, behind mukimo. But it has to be well prepared Githeri, not the type that is in front of him now. The beans are not even properly cooked, and he fears that he might get diarrhea. But he doesn’t have an option. It is either he eats the food, or he starves.
But eating semi-cooked food is not even the painful part. Ryan was brought up in a poor family, and he knows how to survive on bad food. Many are the times, when he was growing up, that he had to survive on roasted bananas borrowed from neighbors. This this day he hates roasted bananas. It perplexes him to see people ordering roasted bananas from roadside vendors and even restaurants.
There is one particular incident that remains inked in his mind for a very long time. There was this man in the village called Gitonga who hated him and his family with a passion. Ryan never understood why. But his wife Salome was quite the opposite. She was very kind and she used to give them food whenever she could, even though her husband had strictly forbidden it.
Unfortunately, one day she was caught giving Ryan and his siblings a bunch of ripe bananas. Her husband returned unexpectedly from the farm and caught her in the act. When he saw what she was doing, he snatched the bananas from Ryan and his siblings, gave Salome a thorough beating and kicked her away from their matrimonial home. It took the intervention of elders for her to return, but Ryan’s mother told her children never to go to her house again so as not to put her in trouble.
It is only much later, when Ryan became an adult, that he understood the animosity. Gitonga had been trying to sleep with Ryan’s mother, who was a widow, and had even offered to support her and her children if she agreed. But Ryan’s mother steadfastly rejected his advances. Gitonga continued to harass her even after she told him to stop, and she told Salome about it. That was the bitterness he was carrying.
Although Ryan’s mother forbid them from going to Salome’s house, Salome found ways of helping them even after her return. She would often give her children double portions of lunch to carry to school and instructed them to share with Ryan and his siblings. Ryan never forgot that, and when he got a job one of the things he did was to renovate her house and to buy her two dairy cows so that she could sell milk and extra income. Her husband was long dead by then.
The point is, Ryan knows that poverty is. The problem with his current situation is that it is not just poverty: it seems as though he is being punished. His wife usually doesn’t touch the food she expects him to eat, and he knows that she eats out before coming to the house. The children usually have special food prepared for them by Ryan, under his wife’s instructions. His wife, Lucy, has installed cameras in the house to ensure that he doesn’t touch the children’s food.
Ryan is a house husband, although it is not by choice. He lost his job four months ago, and although he has been applying all over for another job, he has not been fortunate so far. Ryan is trained as an economist and was the manager of a supermarket branch before he was declared redundant. His branch was the best performing in the struggling chain, which is why his declaration of redundancy was shocking.
He later realized that nepotism had a hand in it. The supermarket chain was struggling, and branches were being shut down. But Ryan’s branch was actually turning in a net profit, so when he got his redundancy letter he did not understand what the senior management was thinking. Were they shutting down the best performing branch? But it couldn’t be because no other staff member got a redundancy letter.
What happened, he came to realize later, was that the CEO’s sister-in-law was the manager of one of the struggling branches that was being shut down. She was posted to Ryan’s branch and Ryan was declared redundant. The assumption was that the performance of the branch had nothing to do with Ryan’s efforts but had everything to do with the location.
It was a flawed thought process, and it showed just a few months later. The branch started faltering and a couple of weeks ago it was closed, as Ryan knew it would. Ryan knows that the biggest problem with the supermarket chain is management. The founder of the chain, Mzee Wilberforce, was a very astute businessman and an effective administrator. He grew the supermarket from one store to a chain with 23 branches at the time of his death.
But the downfall of the chain began almost immediately after his demise. His children have proven to be incompetent and self-centered, often taking money from the company to fund their luxurious lifestyles. Nepotism and favoritism have crept in. Mzee Wilberforce used to hire people based on merit. The current directors hire their friends, relatives and girlfriends/boyfriends.
Crucially, Mzee Wilberforce took a keen interest in the affairs of the company. He demanded weekly reports from managers, and often visited the branches to see how they were operating. Bonuses were given to staff members who were performing well. This created a very loyal workforce. The current directors have no interest in the affairs of the company, as long as they are able to get cash from the company accounts. This has allowed branch managers to steal from the company, and since most of them are the director’s friends, no action is taken. Most were arrogant and treated staff members and customers like trash, and this was reflected in sales.
This was the difference between Ryan’s branch and the other managers. Ryan was a dedicated staff member. Even as the company faced challenges from top management, he ensured that his branch was well managed. He treated his staff members well, did not steal from the branch and ensured that pilfering from his staff was minimal, if any.
When he was declared redundant, he sued the company fir unfair termination. His argument is that the company could not declare him redundant while dishing his position to someone else. That case is ongoing.
Ryan’s biggest problem, however, is domestic. Ryan and his wife Lucy have been having problems ever since Ryan lost his job. Ryan feels disrespected and mistreated. Lucy doesn’t waste a moment to remind him that she is the provider, and that she “wears the pants” in the house. Before he lost his job, Ryan used to cater for all the needs of his household. He used to pay the rent, school fees, the house assistant, utility bills and buy foodstuff. Before his wife got a job, he used to give her a monthly allowance for her personal expenses. He stopped when she got a job, because he figured she could now handle her personal expenses, but he continued to handle all the household expenses without asking for her support.
Lucy is a project manager in an NGO. Before Ryan lost his job, they had a perfect marriage, and their adorable photos on social media left many either gushing or envious. They were also envied in their social circles. They were the ultimate middle-class couple: loving and moneyed.
But all that ended when Ryan lost his job. As a “cost cutting measure”, Lucy fired their house assistant. Her rationale was that since Ryan did not have a job, there was no point of hiring someone to do the jobs he could do. Ryan has been doing the cooking, washing, cleaning and all the household chores. He does not complain. He does not even remind her that when she was jobless, he had hired a house assistant who did all the work while she spending her days watching movies on Netflix, which he was paying for.
The so-called cost cutting measures don’t make sense though. Lucy fired the house assistant to cut cost, but she still could afford to put CCTV cameras in the house to spy on him so that he doesn’t eat the children’s food. Ryan is the one who cooks that food. But the food he himself eats is the githeri Lucy buys and stores in the fridge. He is expected to microwave it and eat. He cannot even recook it because cooking gas is expensive, and she, as the “the man of the house” wants to cut cost.
Lucy has been coming home later and later every night, and a few times she has slept out the whole night. When she comes home late, she is usually tipsy. As far as Ryan knows, she had never touched alcohol until three months ago. Ryan is trying hard not to be bitter, but it is difficult. Part of the reason why he became broke so soon after losing his job was because he had no savings. And the reason he had no savings was because he was using all his salary to meet the expectations of his wife. She wanted to live in a particular neighborhood, wanted Nexflix, wifi, regular out of town road trips during which they spent the nights in expensive hotels. She did not pay for any of it because she expected him to pay.
That was not a problem then, and it wouldn’t have been a problem now. Except that now that he is down, she is demeaning him. That is the problem.
Lucy stumbles into the house at 11.30 pm. She is not drunk, but she is tipsy. She stares at him and then at the plate of untouched food.
“Why are you not eating? Or are you waiting for royal food from King Nebuchadnezzar?”
Ryan sighs deeply.
“Sweetheart, why are you doing this to me? How did I wrong you to deserve this kind of treatment?”
“I am not punishing you, Ryan. It is the realities of the economy. We eat what is available.”
“You don’t eat this stuff, and you can afford alcohol. What economy are we talking about here?”
“Stop whining, Ryan. If you can’t handle the situation, then leave. My children and I don’t need you. The supermarket declared you redundant and I think you are redundant here too. We don’t need you.”
Ryan is stunned into silence.
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