Jediel is stretched out on his couch. His cup of coffee is already cold, but coffee is the last thing on his mind. He sighs and rubs his temples. He has done that several times already. Today he threw away about a third of the food that he had prepared at the restaurant, and as he stares at his finances, he can feel the beginnings of a headache. Like most restaurant owners, he has a margin of error when it comes to food. He knows that the food he prepares cannot all be eaten by customers. That is expected, and it is factored in the prices of food.
But a third is a lot of food to throw away; it means that he is not going to meet the targets of the day. If things continue like this, he will not be able to pay his suppliers and ultimately, his landlord and employees. If it was a one day thing, Jediel would have ridden it out. He would not even be bothered. Jediel is very prudent with money, and so his business is quite liquid. He can easily ride out temporary financial storms. But for the past one month his sales have been declining, and he knows why. His business has been heavily reliant on construction workers, but the number of construction projects in the area has declined, and several ongoing projects have stalled. He doesn’t know why, but that is just how things are.
Construction workers eat cheap food, but they eat in large volumes and that has made Jediel’s business quite profitable in the last couple of years. But with construction projects declining he has a tough decision to make: should he wait, hoping that the constructions will pick up again, or should he change his business model to target white collar workers?
He has been toying with the idea of cooking-on-demand. His research on the internet shows that that is what some of the top restaurant do to avoid food wastage. The customers either call beforehand to have their order prepared before they arrive, or wait in the restaurant as their food is cooked. Jediel is not sure that that model can work for him though. His customers are mostly blue collar workers who do not have the luxury of time. They eat on the go. And it is very unlikely that they will stop mixing concrete in order to place an order for chapati and madondo, especially when they are used to finding ready-made food. Besides, cooking on demand would force him to hire more staff, and the prices of food would inevitably have to go up.
The cook-on-demand idea can work if he changes his model to suit white-collar types. True, there are office people who come to eat in this kibanda, but they are not consuming enough to sustain the business. Attracting more of the office types will mean amongst other things transforming the look of the restaurant from a kibanda to something classier and changing the menu to suit the more choosy palates. And that means money; money he doesn’t have.
At the end of the day he might end up solving the problem the traditional way. He might have to downsize: fire some of his employees and cut down on the amount of food he cooks daily. That will cut down his operational costs as he waits for the business to bounce back. But he will still have to pay rent for the premises and pay off the expansion loan he took six months ago.
Business is stressing Jediel, but it is not the only thing that is stressing him. He and his fiancée, Doreen, have been making tentative plans for their wedding, and that is stressing him as well. In fact, it is stressing him more than the business.
Jediel has dodged this wedding business for two years, but now his relationship with Doreen is becoming strained because of the issue. She is accusing him of not being committed. He loves the girl; that is not in doubt. They have dated for five years and he has no problem marrying her. His problem is that he doesn’t think he can afford the kind of wedding that she wants. He has been honest and forthright all along. He has told her from the start that he is open to conducting a simple wedding.
“I am sure I can set aside three and fifty thousand for us to get married: two hundred thousand for the wedding, a hundred for dowry and fifty for the honeymoon. Then we will come back and continue hustling to make our lives better.”
“A wedding is a once in a lifetime event babe.”
“I know, darling. But we cannot have something that we cannot afford.”
“Why don’t we form a wedding committee like everyone else? I have contributed to so many weddings. Why can’t people contribute to mine?”
“You will be disappointed, sweetheart, especially when your friends contribute less than you expected. Besides, I am absolutely not for the idea of harassing my friends begging them to contribute to my wedding. I prefer to cut my coat according to the size of my cloth.”
Two weeks ago he caved in to pressure and he allowed her to form a wedding committee, and his fears were confirmed. The first committee meeting came up with a budget of Kshs. 1.9 million. The budget includes an imported wedding gown for Doreen, and a hired limo to ferry the bride on the day of the wedding. The committee also came up with a list of Jediel and Doreen’s friends who they need to call to ask for financial support. The list was of course supplied to the committee by Doreen. It was agreed that the couple would make the calls because it is their wedding, and after all, those people are their friends. Jediel has not touched that list so far.
The cash and pledges as at now are totaling to Kshs. 250,000. The first Kshs. 200,000 is listed as contribution from “Jediel & Doreen” although Jediel is giving the entire amount. Doreen is not contributing a coin, although she has a well-paying job. Kshs. 20,000 is cash that was collected from the two meetings that have been held so far. Kshs. 30, 000 is in form of pledges. That means that the budget has a 1.65 million budget hole that Jediel is expected to find ways of filling.
Jediel sighs again. He heaves himself out of the sofa and strolls to the bedroom to find a painkiller. Tomorrow is the day the wedding journey officially begins, because tomorrow is the day of the traditional wedding, the ruracio. He is still in Ruaka, where he lives, but he intends to drive to the village in the morning. It will only take him two hours. This traditional wedding has already cost him a lot. His delegation from the village has about fifty people: aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbors. He has hired a thirty-three-seater minibus and a fourteen-seater matatu to transport them from his parents’ house to Doreen’s parents’ house. Their city friends are coming as well, but they have organized their travel arrangements amongst themselves.
Jediel had set aside one hundred thousand shillings for the traditional wedding. But after talking to his favorite uncle Yusufu, he set aside an additional twenty thousand as emergency cash. Yusufu is Jediel’s father’s first cousin. His name is Joseph Makano, but everyone calls him Yusufu. Yusufu told Jediel that a hundred thousand would be a reasonable amount for dowry, but he would need to have some emergency cash just in case. So Jediel set aside another twenty thousand.
But Jediel has already spent fifty thousand that he had not budgeted for. Twenty thousand went to hiring the vehicles to ferry his relatives; ten thousand went to the new ankara outfits that Doreen insisted they should have. Fifteen thousand went to the photographer. He gave five thousand to his parents so that they can get new outfits for the event. A dark thought crosses his mind. If Doreen’s people have the same relationship with money as she does, then Kshs. 100,000 that he has set aside will definitely not be enough tomorrow.
His headache pounds even more. Jediel swallows two tablets of Paracetamol with water and goes to the kitchen to warm his coffee. Jediel opens the coffee can and pours more coffee pellets into the coffee he is warming. He knows that the coffee will probably make his headache-and blood pressure-worse, but he needs something very strong; and since he doesn’t take alcohol, he might as well take concentrated coffee. His blood pressure will have to understand.
He is stressing over this thought when his phone rings. It is uncle Musa calling. Musa is Jediel’s father’s eldest brother, and therefore the leader of the dowry delegation. Jediel would have preferred to have Yusufu lead the delegation, but it was not his decision to make.
“Jediel, what are the plans for tomorrow?” Musa asks.
“We will meet at my parents’ home at 10 am and then we will start moving at 11 am.”
“Good, good. What about the money?”
Jediel hates that “good, good” phrase that Musa likes using.
“Oh, the dowry money? I will give you tomorrow.”
“Good, good. I hope you have factored in the elders’ facilitation.”
“Elders’ facilitation? What does that mean?”
“The elders who will be negotiating on your behalf will need something to soften their throats.”
“But all of you are my uncles, and you promised to support me.”
“Of course we will support you son. We will be there for you and we will make sure you get the girl. But you have to understand that these are old men. They need to feel appreciated. A small token of appreciation will go a long way.”
“That is perfectly okay uncle. How many are you?”
“We are six of us.”
“I am sending you three thousand shillings right now. Give each elder five hundred shillings.”
“That is an insult son. Do not let the elders curse you.”
“Give the elders something reasonable. Ten thousand shillings for each of us will be fair.”
“Tell me you are joking uncle.”
“Of course I am not joking son. Don’t be stingy. I know you can afford it.”
Jediel hangs up without replying, and then switches off his phone. He can literally feel his blood pressure rising, and he has not even taken the coffee yet.
Image by Pexels from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/beach-curtains-wedding-setup-1854072/
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