Mercy gets to the house at around three in the afternoon and heaves herself on the sofa with a sigh. Her three-year-old son Jude comes running and jumps at her.
Although she is very tired, she lifts the boy and gives him a big hug. He is her second and last child. Her seven-year-old son Kyle is still in school. His father will pick him up at four and bring him home before going to his workshop.
“Hello Mama Kyle,” Mercy’s house manager greets her.
“Hello Ruth. Have you had a good day?”
“Yes I have, and you?”
“My day was perfect too, thank you. May I serve you tea?”
“Yes please, thank you Ruth.”
As Ruth goes to the kitchen, Mercy cannot help thinking that she is very fortunate to have such an assistant. Ruth has been working for her for three years now. She came to her house shortly after Jude was born. Mercy remembers the hard time she had when Kyle was born. None of the assistants she hired then stayed more than six months, until she started wondering whether she was the problem. But she was vindicated when Ruth came to work for her. The last three years have been pure bliss. Because of Ruth and her other employees at the workshop, she has been able to perfectly balance her duties as a mother, wife and businesswoman.
Mercy is a fashion designer, and has spent the day working on wedding outfits. The clients have eight different outfits that they want designed: Ankara-themed shirts for the groomsmen, a full outfit for the groom, dresses for the bridesmaids, dresses for the two mothers and then there is a second and different set of shirts and dresses for the groomsmen and bridesmaids, a second and different outfit for the groom and an ankara dress for the bride.
Apparently, the wedding will have two parts: the church service and the wedding reception where the first set of clothes will be used and an evening party where the second set of clothes will be used. Parents will not be in the evening party, so a second set of clothes for the mothers is not necessary. The fathers will be dressed in traditional suits which will be designed by a different person because that is not her specialty.
Mercy has a team of eight tailors at her workshop, but even then, they have to push themselves to the limits because the clothes are many, and each one of them has to be stitched to a very particular detail. But she is not complaining. Working hard has never been a problem for her and her team. The reason her business has grown into what it is now is because she has a reputation of delivering quality on time.
She is a tailor too so she is usually able to explain to her tailors what exactly a client wants. She doesn’t do much tailoring these days though. She spends the bulk of her time coming up with trendy designs. Very few clients come to her office knowing what they want. Usually, they will give her a sketchy idea of what they have in mind and then she advises them on the design. Once the client makes the order, she explains the design to the tailors so that they can make it a reality.
She is grateful for her business. She started out as a tailor. After her KCSE, her father was unable to take her to college, so she apprenticed as a tailor. She learnt all there was to learn about tailoring from a woman called Mama Blessing. It is at Mama Blessing’s shop that she met her husband Robert. At the time, he was a young secondary school teacher and had just gotten employed by TSC. Robert has always been stylish, and Mama Blessing was his tailor. Mama Blessing assigned him to her, and after a few months of making his clothes, they fell in love.
Robert enrolled her at a teachers training college even before they got married. They got married after she graduated, and soon thereafter she found a job at the primary school neighboring the secondary school where Robert teaches. She loved teaching, but she found that she did not enjoy it as much as she had enjoyed stitching clothes. The problem was that rural tailors such as Mama Blessing were not earning much, and it was much safer to keep a formal, regular job. But Mercy kept designing clothes as a hobby. Seeing her interest, Robert bought her a sewing machine, and they converted one of the three bedrooms in their house into a sewing room.
She started by sewing her own dresses and her husband’s shirts. Soon, fellow teachers in her school and her husband’s school wanted similar clothes. Because she wanted to be more than a tailor, she started taking online fashion designing courses, and following the world’s leading fashion designers online. She decided to focus purely on the Ankara fabric.
It did not take long for her clothes to become popular. To keep up with the rising demand, Mercy moved her budding business from her house and opened a shop. She also hired a full time tailor who she took time to mentor whenever she was not in school. From the word go, she knew that her business would be different from Mama Blessing’s. She wasn’t going to be an ordinary tailor. She was going to be a fashion designer, catering for the needs of those people with a particular taste, and who could afford to pay for them. She wasn’t particularly expensive, but she refused to fight over peanuts with customers like Mama Blessing. Her prices are fixed.
It did not take long for her to realize that she would have to make a choice: her job or her business. She chose the latter. Although she loved teaching, her love for fashion won over. With the blessing of her husband, she quit her teaching job to concentrate full time on her fashion business. Robert has been very supportive. Besides buying her first sewing machine and fabric, he is also the one who rented the shop for her. When she decided to quit employment and focus on her business, he is the one who took a loan to help her move her workshop to bigger premises, hire two more tailors and get two more sewing machines.
Mercy opened a fashion blog, and Instagram and Facebook pages. She and her tailors do the modelling for the blog and social media. That is where she primarily advertises her work. These days she barely has time for social media, but she has a full time assistant who deals with that. But her assistant now knows what responses to give to the followers, and brings to her attention whatever issues come up on social media that touch on the business.
Ruth hesitates as she prepares Mercy’s tea. She has promised her mother that she will do this today, but she does not think she has the heart to go through with the plan. Mercy has been very kind to her. Not only does Mercy pay her double what other house managers in the area earn, but she also treats her like her own daughter. But she has also run out of excuses to give her mother. Besides, she has a massive crush on Robert, and being his wife would be a dream come true.
Ruth’s mother, Agnes, is a formidable woman. She has raised a brood of six children, all of whom don’t know their father. It is not surprising, given Agnes’ profession; Agnes was, ans still is, a commercial sex worker. She is not a high end prostitute in a high end brothel, but a struggling woman who was willing to offer her body in exchange for cash.
In her prime, she did have regular clients, and she knows who the fathers of three of her children are, given the physical resemblance. But she cannot say it aloud because she was not involved in her love affair, but rather got pregnant in the course of business. The men are not even aware that they made her pregnant because theirs was to have sex, pay and leave. But she has no clue who the fathers of the other three are, given that on good days she could sleep with multiple men in a twenty-four hour cycle. All her six children-four boys and two girls-did not advance in education. Two of the sons work as watu wa mkono in construction sites.
One of the other sons is a drunkard, and hangs around the matatu stage pretending to be a tout. One of the daughters is a commercial sex worker, just like her. Only two of her children seem to be having prospects of a better life. One of her sons was employed as a houseboy for an elderly couple. He conspired with the old woman and killed the old man. Now he and the old woman are lovers. They are set to get married, and when they do, the old woman will die mysteriously and her wealth will be his.
Agnes wants her second daughter Ruth to do the same. She has already given Ruth the chemical that will kill her boss without arousing suspicion. If Ruth kills that woman and manages to get herself married by that wealthy man Robert, then she (Agnes) will no longer have to sleep with filthy old men to feed herself.
Ruth wipes a tear from her eyes as she stirs the chemical her mother gave her into Mercy’s tea alongside sugar. She serves the tea with a smile, and watches as Mercy takes a grateful gulp before retreating to the kitchen to wait for the inevitable death of the woman who has been so sweet to her.
Image by Stocksnap from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/people-girl-woman-sleep-dark-2565169/
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