Job is in a good mood. It is a fine Saturday mid-morning. He is already done with the day’s work, so he logs onto Facebook to see what the world has been up to. He is very excited today, and his excitement has nothing to do with work. It is all about football. Job is a Manchester United fan, and today is the last game of the season.
When the clock hits one, Job shuts down his computer. On Saturdays he and his colleagues normally work a half day shift. He clears his desk and quickly leaves the office. He is an accountant at a steel manufacturing company. He is a bright and hardworking man. As a result, he has recently been promoted, and is now a senior accountant, reporting directly to the head of finance.
Job rushes home. He wants to take lunch at home before heading to the club. All the top five teams are playing today, and he intends to watch the three games that will be aired live on TV. At 3pm Manchester City will be playing Leicester City. That will be the first match that he will watch. At that very moment Leeds will be playing West Brom, but that match will not be aired on TV. At five, Liverpool will be playing Arsenal. The main match, Manchester United v Aston Villa, will start 7.30 pm.
The Manchester United v Aston Villa match is the main match for him because that is where he has placed most of his bet money. It is also the match that will decide the title race. With only one game left to play, Manchester United is in a pole position to win the league. At 85 points, United is sitting one point ahead of surprise contenders Aston Villa, and three ahead of traditional rivals Liverpool and Manchester City and another surprise package, Leeds United. Liverpool, City and Leeds are all tied at 82 points. But Liverpool, Manchester City and Liverpool have all scored more goals and conceded less than Manchester United. If they all win today, they will earn three points each, which will take them to 85 points, equal to Manchester United. But that can only happen if Manchester United loses.
Job is confident that sixth placed Arsenal will beat fifth placed Liverpool. Arsenal has been in fine form recently, while Liverpool has lost three matches in a row. Leicester City is also in good shape, but Job doesn’t think they have what it takes to takes to break Manchester City’s defense. But he doesn’t think Manchester City can win either, because their main striker is injured. He suspects it will end in a 0-0 stalemate, and that is how he has placed his bet. He didn’t bet on Leeds v West Brom because it is difficult game to predict. Like Liverpool, Leeds United has been wobbling recently, and they are only amongst the top because of their outstanding performances earlier in the season. West Brom, on the other hand, are inspired. They have won the last five matches they have played.
Job has placed bets in favor of Arsenal beating Liverpool and a draw between Manchester City and Leicester City. But the bulk of his money is on a bet in favor of Manchester United beating Aston Villa at Old Trafford Stadium. Manchester United has not lost any of the eighteen matches they have played at Old Trafford, and they defeated Aston Villa 3-0 at Villa Park Stadium in January. Job is confident that his bets are water tight. Tonight he will walk home with one and a half a million shillings. That will be enough to pay all his debts and have a reasonable balance. He bet heavily today because it is the only way he can rescue his battered finances. Besides the money, he will walk home with a heart full of pride because his beloved Manchester United will be English Champions for the first time since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013.
Job gets home at 1.15 pm. His wife Tabitha is in the kitchen, doing dishes. Their house manager and the boys went to the market to buy groceries.
“Hello babe” Job greets his wife sweetly. “I am home. What have you cooked for lunch?”
“Ugali and sukuma wiki,” she replies.
“Why do we keep eating ugali and sukuma every day like rabbits?”
“Have you given me money to buy meat and I refused to buy?” Tabitha snaps at him.
Their marriage is strained. Although Job is paid well, Tabitha is the one who shoulders the burden of running the household. She knows he gambles, but she also suspects that he has an affair. He doesn’t contribute even a cent to the household, meaning she has to buy food, pay utility bills such as water and electricity, buy clothes, pay the house manager, and pay school fees for their two sons, Antony and Jairus.
She handles the responsibilities without complaining, but he gets on her nerves when he starts complaining about food. He is a liability in her life, and she has often told herself that she is better off alone. But she has always been convincing herself that doesn’t want her children to grow up without a father, and that is why she tolerates him. Besides, he holds the title to the land where they live, having inherited it from his father. They built the house together, pooling resources. Until three years ago, he was a very responsible husband and father. She has no idea what became of him.
When she finishes doing the dishes and tidying up the kitchen, she goes to the sitting room just in time to see him sneering at the vegetables. He has already changed from his work clothes into a pair of jeans and a red Manchester United T-shirt. Although it is a Saturday, they are still required to dress formally at work. They only thing they are allowed to do on Fridays and Saturdays is to drop the coats and the ties.
Job shakes his head and walks out of the house. He doesn’t touch the food. That annoys Tabitha. She knows he is going to watch football, and that he will be sharing alcohol and roast meat with his friends, while she and the children are surviving on a tight budget. Maybe he will go to his girlfriend later and each a rich meal, before coming home past midnight, dead drunk. Some Saturdays he doesn’t come home until morning.
She watches him from the window as he hops into the vehicle and drives away. That vehicle, a Honda Fit, is also hers. She took a loan and purchased it to ease their movement. But she wonders why she even bothered. She and the children hardly ever get inside that car. Job uses it to go to work, and since he leaves very early in the morning, Tabitha is often forced to pay extra to have the children picked up by the school bus and thereafter use public means to go to work.
Job is hardly ever at home over the weekends; he is usually, without a doubt, busy ferrying women from club to club. But that will come to an end next week. Tabitha has made up her mind to sell that car next week. She has already found a buyer. She will use the money to clear what is left of the loan she used to purchase it. That will improve her pay slip, therefore she will have more money to afford renting an apartment where she and her children can live in peace.
The game does not begin the way Job expected. 18 minutes in, Aston Villa score. The noise levels in the bar rise to fever pitch. All the Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea fans are supporting Aston Villa because they don’t want to see Manchester United lifting the title. It is the enemy of my enemy is my friend kind of scenario. Earlier in the day, Manchester City clobbered Leicester 5-0, Leads beat West Brom 3-0 and Liverpool narrowly beat Arsenal 1-0. That means that if Manchester United lose this game, they will finish fifth.
Aston Villa’s first goal would not have worried Job on any other night, but today Aston Villa’s defense looks inspired, and Manchester United is finding hard to get near their goal. Still, he convinces himself that United will shake off the setback and win. They have done it before. But just before half-time, Aston Villa score again. Job wishes he has a cashback option to redeem some of his money. But he doesn’t.
The bar erupts into cheers at full time. Aston Villa have beaten Manchester United 2-0 to become English champions for the first time since 1981. Job is gutted. Not only has his team lost, but he has a mountain of debt to climb.
He leaves the bar quietly and goes to the parking lot. There, he finds two men leaning on the hood of his car. One is a giant of a man, but the other one is more or less the same size as Job.
“Hello J,” the smaller man says. “Do you have my money?”
The man is the shylock who loaned him. He is a wealthy and ruthless criminal who runs an auto spares enterprise, but who is suspected to make most of his money through drug and human trafficking. Job, confident of United’s victory, had borrowed him a hundred and fifty thousand shillings, with a promise that he would pay back two hundred thousand.
“We had agreed that I would pay tomorrow. I still have a day,” he says feebly.
“Let us stop wasting each other’s time, Job. We both know you borrowed so that you could bet on Manchester United.”
“Yes. But I also bet on Manchester City, Liverpool and Leeds, and they all won. I have only lost United. I will get my winnings tomorrow and pay you.”
“Okay, let me see your bets on your phone.”
Job’s mouth becomes dry. He knows he has been cornered.
“Please Ray, give some time. I will get you the money.”
“We have an agreement, J. Give me the car keys. I am sorry, but business is business.”
As Ray and his thug drive away in the Honda Fit, Job wonders how he is going to face Tabitha. That car is hers, one she took on loan, a loan which she is yet to clear. But his problems are far from over, because that car has only settled one debt, and he has accumulated many of them from friends, the Sacco, colleagues and a couple of other Shylocks.
He has not told Tabitha, but he took a loan from the Sacco and used the title of the land where their house stands as security. That house will be auctioned soon, and they will be rendered homeless.
Image by Comfreak from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/football-ball-fire-flames-burn-1406106/
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