(I first posted this story in February 2018. I have altered it slightly so that I can convert it into a novella)
“Why Lord?” she asks herself. She looks around her house. She lives in a bedsitter in a village close enough to the city for her to convince the folk back home that she lives in Nairobi, although in actual sense her county of residence is Kiambu. She can feel a lump of frustration rising up her throat, threatening to choke her. Instagram is becoming depressing. So is Facebook, but especially Instagram.
Twitter is bearable because KOT don’t flaunt that much. Facebook and Instagram keep reminding her of her social inadequacy. And since Facebook bought WhatsApp, they introduced that thing called status, and made the app another avenue for people to flaunt. LinkedIn reminds her that she is stuck in a miserable job with almost no pay, when everyone else is either starting a new job, graduating or making giant strides in their professional lives.
All her peers’ lives seem to be going on well. Some are getting married. Others are in stable relationships. Most are in good jobs and are obviously doing well with their lives. And what does she have to show for herself and her 31 years? Nothing! She is employed as a teller in a struggling Sacco, earning a paltry twenty thousand shillings. Her social life is in shambles. The only people who seem interested in her are married men, or losers who just want to sleep with her and tick their score cards. Like that fool Tony.
Rose does maintain an image though. At least on social media. She spends a huge chunk of the twenty thousand shillings she earns on clothes, shoes and jewelry. Those are very important for one to earn respect on social media streets. Her social media images are therefore glamorous. Some photos are taken near top of the range vehicles. One or two are actually taken behind the steering wheel of a friend’s car. For the purpose of the photos, she has had to acquire an expensive phone. She cannot afford to have photos that look like mug shots of Wanugu.
As a result, she is in a financial mess. Her mother was asking for help yesterday, but she could not help because has no money. In fact, she is deeply in debt. She lied to her mother that she works in a large bank. She couldn’t face the embarrassment of telling her mother the truth: that after graduating she couldn’t secure a well-paying job. She is embarrassed of her situation, but even more embarrassing is the fact that her mother is on Facebook, and sees the photos she posts. She knows that her mother believes she has money, and it hurts to tell her that she doesn’t. So yesterday she lied that her employer has delayed salaries. Some of her debts were taken to send money home. What that did is that it reinforced the idea in her mother’s head that she has money.
Rose’s mother, Edith, is literate. She worked for many years as a clerk in a coffee factory until the coffee industry hit the headwinds and she was retrenched. At 54, Edith lives in a rented apartment in Runyenjes. She runs a small eatery that hardly turns a profit.
She works hard. She is up every day at 5am. She walks to her café, which is not very far away from her apartment, and starts preparing breakfast. Her milk supplier arrives at 5.45 every day. At 6.30 am, when Runyenjes is still sleeping, she opens her doors hoping to catch any traveler stranded in Runyenjes. Only travelers check in at such an hour.
Edith has three assistants: two cooks and a waitress, all of whom work for below minimum wage because that is what Edith can afford. All her employees check in at eight in the morning and leave at 7 in the evening. But she closes at 9pm because you never know who might be looking for food long after the other restaurants have closed shop. Like most rural towns, Runyenjes sleeps early.
Edith founded the café after she was laid off from the coffee factory. It was popular enough to put Rose through school, all the way to the University. She had hoped that after Rose completed her education, when she would no longer have fees to pay, she would be able to save her income and buy herself a piece of land on which to build her retirement home. Edith dreams of one day retiring to her own farm. She doesn’t own land because most of her income in the earlier years went to Rose’s education, and she did not inherit any. Her own mother was a single mother with little education.
But her mother struggled until she took Edith through school, all the way to form 4. She got a Division Three and therefore could not proceed to form five and six. It is the form four certificate that got her the job at the coffee factory. Edith lived with her mother in her apartment until the old woman succumbed to diabetes two years ago.
Edith’s father had land but sold all of it and spent the money on women and alcohol before succumbing to liver cirrhosis. Not that Edith would have gotten a share anyway, being a girl born out of wedlock. Edith’s father’s wife proved not to be as strong as Edith’s mother, and turned to cheap alcohol when her husband died. She lives a miserable life in Kathageri. Her three children, Edith’s half siblings, never went beyond class seven, which was the final primary school class in the seventies and early eighties.
Edith’s dream of owning land started crumbling when newer and swankier restaurants and hotels started popping up all over Runyenjes. Since she doesn’t have money to upgrade hers, most of her customers have fled. Now she is forced to have to beg her daughter to money to pay bills like water and electricity at her apartment because after paying the rent for her café and apartment, paying suppliers and her staff, nothing much is left.
She has asked Rose to help her upgrade the café so that it can be competitive again, but her daughter keeps giving her empty promises. She is trying hard not to keep a grudge, but it is difficult. She took care of her own mother, why is her daughter refusing to help her? And she is not asking for much, all she needs is a small capital injection so that she can spruce up her restaurant, get better furniture and utensils and perhaps uniforms for her staff. She is certain that that will be enough to win back the loyalty of her customers, and make the café competitive again.
All she is asking of her daughter is a little help to get back on her feet. But Rose prefers to live a luxurious life in Nairobi while her mother is struggling to survive.
Rose knows that she needs to change her lifestyle and live within her means but for some reason she finds that she has no will power to do that. For instance, her friends are organizing a trip to Mount Longonot next weekend. Rose does not have the money. She knows she should say no, and stay at home. But at the back of her mind she knows she won’t. She will borrow money somewhere and go, looking happy like the rest of them, but dying from the inside.
Which is why she has been thinking about Derrick a lot these past days. Derrick is her branch manager at the Sacco. He is married, but he has been hitting on her since the day she arrived. He claims that he and his wife are technically separated although they live in the same house. But isn’t that what they all say? He does not wear a wedding ring but that doesn’t mean anything either. She has resisted him so far, the same way she has resisted every other married man who has been hitting on her.
But now she is beginning to wonder whether she is being naïve. Her friends have high profile jobs and expensive tastes. Salome is a globe-trotting employee of the UN. Lavender is climbing the corporate ladder at PWC, while Martha is doing the same at Ernest & Young. Christine was a fellow struggler a few years ago when she decided to follow her heart into fashion designing. Now she is a celebrity tailor, and she routinely designs outfits for other celebrities and politicians. She has even designed Ankara shirts for the President and dresses for the first lady. Each of these girls can fork out two thousand shillings for lunch without batting an eyelid. Two thousand is a tenth of Rose’s total income. Yet they were all her classmates at the University of Nairobi School of Business.
But Rose knows that some of her peers are getting along with the help of older men and women. Like Jane. Jane works as a cashier in a small fast food restaurant, but she lives in a nice neighborhood, with a nice car. Jane does not hide the fact that she can afford these things courtesy of her ageing and married boyfriend of hers. Two years ago, Rose considered Jane to be the filth of womanhood. A husband snatcher. The blot that was disgracing all women. Women should work hard and go up the ladder through merit, she thought. But now she is not too sure. She had hoped that by now she would be working her way up at PWC. Or KPMG. Or perhaps one of the major banks. Equity. Standard Chartered. KCB. But here she is, stuck in a struggling Sacco.
Rose sighs deeply. She is a Christian. She cannot date a married man. Besides, what a married man would want is what she cannot give. Sex without marriage. Yet all the single men she meets are either broke, or jerks. Dave, her ex-boyfriend was a decent man. But he could not even afford to take her out for a proper dinner date on Valentine’s Day.
Dave could not even sacrifice a thousand bob for her to take Uber after meeting her friends for coffee. One day after staying out late having coffee with her friends, it occurred to Rose that she was the only one in the group of five without a car. Salome had offered to give her a lift home, but she declined, saying that she would take an Uber. She did not want Salome to know where she lived.
She called Dave, and dude told her to take a matatu. He said he did not have a thousand shillings, even though it was end month. She had taken the Uber with her money, sinking a thousand out of the twenty she had just been paid. She had already sank another five hundred on coffee and snacks. Those meetings with her friends are difficult to attend, because she is increasingly feeling like she does not belong. From the conversation to the expenses, she knows she is playing in a league that is not hers. But since she cannot tell her friends that she cannot afford their lifestyle, she shows up once in a while and comes up with excuses when she is up to her neck in debt. Her favorite excuse is pressure from her job because it gives the impression that she is a high ranking official in a thriving Sacco.
Rose misses Dave. He wasn’t a miser, he was just broke. Okay, he was also financially prudent in an annoying way. He was a lawyer working for a small law firm in the city and earning a gross salary of fifty thousand shillings. He insisted on saving ten thousand shillings in his Sacco every month. He was also educating a couple of his siblings. That means he was living very cheaply. He lived in a cheap bedsitter in Gachie, wore cheap suits and as far as Rose knew, Dave had never seen the inside of Java House or used an Uber.
He wasn’t the kind of guy she would proudly introduce to her girlfriends. They would laugh for years. Dave wouldn’t care of course, but she would be humiliated. So she had maintained the single and independent vibe, even when she was dating him. She kept him off her social media pages, which she updated several times a day.
Then Salome introduced her to Tony and she quickly dumped Dave.
Tony was rich, but arrogant. At first she was excited because of the way he spoilt her. He bought her expensive gifts, took her on dates in expensive restaurants and hotels. She recorded all these things and posted them on social media, and so did he. Whenever she and Tony ate out, it had to be recorded for the Gram. If he gave her a gift, it had to be recorded. It didn’t take long for Rose to realize that she was nothing more than a trophy and potential sex partner to him. When he showed her off to his friends, they openly gawked at her legs, her chest and her behind. She had a lingering feeling that they had discussed her anatomy beforehand.
Tony did not hesitate to flirt with other women, even in her presence. She felt insulted, but she stayed on. Because one, he bankrolled her lifestyle, and two, she had not only introduced him to the girls, she had also introduced him to the world via social media. On the day she introduced him to the girls, which is something he had insisted on, he had stared at Lavender’s bosom they whole time, and started hitting on her (Lavender) that evening. Lavender told Martha, Martha told Salome and Salome told her (Rose). So almost all the girls knew, with the possible exception of Christine.
Tony kept pressuring Rose for sex, and when she kept refusing, he dumped her for another girl. He didn’t even tell her it was over. She just saw his posts on Instagram with his new bae, a stunning beauty. She tried calling him and realised that he had blacklisted her number. A short while later, he blocked her on all social media platforms. They had dated for a total of two tumultuous months. She spent a painful afternoon deleting his photos from her timelines.
Today is Saturday, and Rose is whiling away the afternoon in her house, if it can be called that. Her situation hurts, and she suddenly feels the need to cry. She takes her Bible and walks to church. Being a Saturday, very few people are in the church compound. The church itself is an old Anglican chapel in her neighbourhood. It is alleged that it was built in 1957. This is where she fellowships. She heads to a corner, kneels down and starts pouring her heart out to God. He has to provide a way. He has to give her a better job and a decent man to marry. And soon, otherwise she will find herself in her boss Derrick’s arms.
[Continued Here. A kind request, if you are yet to like Sanctuaryside’s page on Facebook, please do so. You can also follow Sanctuaryside on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. Remember to share the stories with your friends, and invite them to join out little community here. Thank you all for your support so far. I am grateful- Edward]
Image source: https://pixabay.com/en/smile-happy-people-fun-young-2072908/
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