(Continued from The Mirage I)
As Florence approaches, Andrew is momentarily distracted. He has been looking forward to her evening visits. He knows that she is on leave and therefore she will leave soon, and for some reason, that is filling him with sadness. He does not want to admit that he is falling in love, but he is. Florence is so humble. She does not put on airs around him, or even allude to the fact that she is doing by far much better in life than he is. When she comes to his stand, she comes to eat roast maize and even helps him to serve the late night clients.
Andrew has had fleeting thoughts about dating her, but he is a practical man. He knows that it is an impossible love. For all her humility, Florence is now used to the finer things in life, things that he cannot afford to provide for her. Of course she can afford them all by herself, but he is the man. He is supposed to take care of her, not the other way round. Maybe she even has a boyfriend in the city: a fine young man with an office job and a car bigger than hers.
Andrew is not short of admirers. Many female shop attendants, waitresses at local restaurants, county council parking attendants, market women, secretaries, and other junior employees have him on their sights, and a few more brazen ones have been making passes at him. He is the perfect candidate for such people: he is good looking, well educated, hardworking, smartly dressed, yet within reach. Andrew knows that he will eventually marry one of them. If he is fortunate, he might find a teacher or a nurse who is willing to settle down with him; and that is a big ‘if’. Florence is another question altogether; she is way out of his league. Even though he is ambitious, imagining that he can date her is stretching the reality too far.
“Hi boss,” she says. She jokingly calls him “boss” as she helps him serve the late night customers.
“You are three minutes late Miss,” Andrew replies, carrying on the joke. “You need to show cause why I should not fire you.”
“Forgive me boss. I will extend my shift by three minutes tonight.”
She hugs him and then pecks him on the left cheek. She always does that, and it has gotten tongues wagging. Nina, the lady who gave him this spot, actually asked whether they are dating. He explained that no, they are not dating but that they were just good friends. He could see that she was not convinced, but to her credit, she never brought up the matter again.
“How was your day today?”
“Excellent, I cannot complain. I had more than enough people to ferry around, and as you can see, I have run out of stock here. Actually, I have been turning away people for the last fifteen minutes because I have nothing to offer them.”
Florence looks downcast.
“So that means I will not get maize today?”
“Of course not. Your cob is here, as usual.”
“You are so sweet, do you know that?”
“You have told me that every day for the last three weeks now. If you continue I might start believing it.”
“But it is true!”
“I will miss you so much when you are gone, Flo. My evenings will never be the same again.”
“Me too, Drew. I will miss you so much.”
“When are you leaving?”
“The day after tomorrow.”
“What? You are leaving so soon?”
“I also cannot believe it. But my twenty one days of leave are over. It is time for me to go back to the grind.”
They stay in silence for a while. Florence shucks the cob, carefully placing the husks in the trash can while Andrew adds charcoal to the roaster.
“Would you like an office job?” Florence asks as Andrew fans the fire.
“Of course I do. That is why I went to school, right? But after years of disappointment, I have taught myself not to get my hopes up. I love what I do, and it caters for my basic needs so…yeah.”
Florence’s heart starts beating faster. What is she doing, dragging this wonderful man into a death trap? But then again, what other options does she have? She reflects on her own recruitment to the company.
When she completed her secretarial course, a distant uncle of hers told her that he could get her a good job. With her parents’ blessings, he took her with him to his home in the city. Florence’s idea of a “good job” was any job that would pay her twenty thousand shillings or so per month.
But this uncle of hers took her to a friend of his, and she was offered a job with a starting salary of a hundred thousand Kenya Shillings. She was so shocked that she nearly declined the offer. But her uncle calmed her down and she took the offer. His wife helped her to shop for decent clothes to wear to work and even bought her beauty products.
Everything went well. Her work involved doing deliveries to clients in their homes and offices. It was not difficult work; the company paid taxis to take her wherever she needed to go on official duty. After a year, the company facilitated her to purchase a car, which it fuels for her official assignments. She delivered the herbal medicines in fancy, branded, leather bags. Most clients simply accepted the bag and wrote a cheque.
Florence probably would never have known the true nature of her job, but one client, a white man from Lithuania, insisted on inspecting the goods before making payment. He removed all the bottles of herbal medicine without looking at them. Then he tore the bottom of the bag and removed a string of white sachets and inspected them carefully. He tore one, poured its contents onto the back of his hand and sniffed the white powder. He smiled, picked the bottles of herbal medicine and threw them in the trash can, before writing the cheque.
“Tell your boss I am happy. This is the best cocaine I have had outside of Colombia.”
Florence had been shocked. That evening she confronted her uncle about it. She was even more shocked to find out that her uncle not only knew the nature of his friend’s business, but that he is also a shareholder in the business.
“I did not sign up for this uncle. I am not going back there. I had rather sell vegetables in the village than sell drugs. I don’t want to go to jail.”
They were speaking in his study, with the door shut.
“Listen, Florence. Once you join The Mirage, you cannot leave except in a casket. I would advise you to shut your mouth, do the work you were hired to do and make your money.”
“What if I don’t want to?”
“Then you die. The choice is yours.”
To emphasize his point, he removed a pistol from his drawer and massaged it.
“You are my own flesh and blood, Florence. Don’t make me use this piece of metal on you.”
Florence went back to work and has stayed to date. But she moved out of her uncle’s house the following day and rented her own space. She has not spoken to him since then.
Florence resents her uncle to date. That is why she knows that when Andrew finds out the nature of his job, including the fact that he can’t leave, he will resent her forever. And that hurts so much because she is deeply in love with him. But she doesn’t have an option.
“I talked to my boss about you Drew, and he is willing to give you a job.”
“Please Flo, don’t give me false hopes. If your boss interviews me and decides not to give me a job, I will be crushed.”
“There will be no interview, Drew. I already gave him your CV…”
“Where did you get my CV?”
“From my mum, who got it from your mum.”
Andrew smiles; his mother has never accepted the fact that his son might never get a white collar job.
“Anyway, as I was saying, my boss thinks you are the perfect fit for our company. The company manufactures herbal medicine, and that is in your field of biochemistry. All you need to do is to come with me to the city the day after tomorrow. That will be on Wednesday. On Thursday I will take you to the company so that you sign your employment contract. I can assure you that the company pays well.”
“But where will I stay before I get my first salary? I don’t even have clothes that can go to work…”
“Don’t worry about all that Drew. You can stay with me until you get financially stable enough to rent your own space. We will be going to work together so you will not need fare to work; you will ride with me. I will give you some money to purchase clothes and whatever else you need in the first month.”
“You are so kind.”
“I just want to see you succeed, Drew. So what do you say?”
“I will come with you. Thank you so much Flo.”
He is shedding tears of joy, and Florence feels like a traitor. Why is she doing this to him?
Image by Myriam Dreamer from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/woman-beauty-afro-american-5893922/
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