(Continued from The Mirage III)
Andrew and Florence leave early in the morning. Florence arrives at Andrew’s home compound at 5 am. She finds him with his parents. Andrew has three sisters, but they are all married. He has already packed all this clothes into the same suitcase that he used to ferry his clothes from the University of Nairobi many years ago. They are all in his parents’ house, which is just a short distance away from his house. He has already locked his own house and given his mother the key.
“Please come in my daughter,” Mary, Andrew’s mother, tells Florence.
“Thanks mum. Is Andrew ready?”
“Yes he is. But I want you people to take something before you leave. It is not good to travel on empty stomachs.”
Florence knows she cannot refuse; you don’t turn down food in an African household. Her own mother wanted to stuff her with food, but she had pointed out that Andrew’s mother would want to feed her as well, and it would be impolite to decline. She may be living in the city now, but she was brought up in this community and she understands her culture. She enters the small sitting room where she finds Andrew and his father sitting. In the table there is a large flask of tea, a loaf of bread, a tin of margarine and a dish full of sweet potatoes and arrowroots. Mary has gone all the way. She pours Florence a cup of tea and spreads margarine on three slices of bread then hands them over to Florence. As they eat, Andrew talks to his father, receiving sagely wisdom, while Mary and Florence do their own small talk. When they are done with breakfast, Mary packs the remaining sweet potatoes and arrow roots for them.
“I know in the city all you will be eating is bread, so carry these,” she quips.
Dawn is just breaking when Florence and Andrew finally leave the village. Florence is a careful driver, a fact that Andrew appreciates. Matatus always give him a heart attack with over speeding and dangerous overtaking. But like many other female drivers, Florence is careful on the road, so Andrew is at ease. He has always been a careful rider as well, a fact that made him popular among women and older folks. Andrew has observed that only young men, and a few young women, love speed when on motorcycles, although many men of all ages are often guilty of reckless driving.
Andrew is not unfamiliar with the city. He spent four years at the University of Nairobi and another year in the city looking for employment. In that one year, he was hosted by various friends in different places; he stayed in Kangemi, Upper Kabete, Zimmerman and Umoja before he finally decided to go back to the village. His friends were beginning to get tired of him, and he himself knew that without a job, life in the city would be unsustainable.
Now he is making his triumphant comeback.
He chats with Florence throughout the journey, but today she looks more subdued than usual. Andrew wonders whether she is having second thoughts about hosting him. He has not yet told her that he will not be staying with her. He doesn’t know how to bring up the subject without sounding ungrateful.
“Are you okay?” he asks her tentatively.
“Yes I am. Why do you ask?”
“You look…I don’t know how to put it. Off, or distracted.”
“Oh, its nothing. I am just stressed about work. I have not been in for three weeks so I am sure that there are mountains of paperwork waiting for me on that desk. I am going to have it rough for the next couple of weeks.”
“Oh I am sorry about that.”
“It’s okay Drew. It is not your fault.”
“I do not want to be a burden to you…”
“Come on. You are not a burden. I already told you that.”
“Still, by getting me this job, you have already done so much for me.”
“And I would do more if I had the chance and the ability. I love you Drew, and nothing gives me more pleasure than to help you succeed.”
“Thank you Flo. From the bottom of my heart, I appreciate.”
He wants to add “I love you too” but he does not have the courage. Besides, he has been thinking about what Nina told him, and he agrees with her. If he is going to date Flo, he will consciously and deliberately make a decision to do it. He will not be carried away by emotions of the moment. But he doesn’t tell Florence about moving out either, and he silently curses himself for being weak.
They arrive in the city around midmorning. Florence hits Kiambu Road, and drives all the way to Kiambu town. She purchases groceries and a few household items in the supermarket before driving to her apartment.
“You live in here in Kiambu?”
“Yes I do. Our company is situated along Kiambu Road, so Kiambu seemed like the perfect place to live. Plus, it is less congested here than in the city.”
“So we passed the company as we came?”
“Yes we did, but it is about a hundred meters off the road, so it is not visible from the highway.”
“Oh I see.”
Flo drives towards a massive black gate and honks once. A uniformed guard opens the door and Flo waves at him before driving to the parking lot. The building is not large; it only has three floors, and each floor seems to have only two houses. There is no ground floor. That space has been converted into a parking lot.
“There doesn’t seem to be many people in this building, so why does it have such an expansive parking lot?”
“There are sixteen parking slots to be precise. This building has six tenants, and each tenant is allocated two parking slots. Then there are four parking slots reserved for guests. As you can see, the parking slots are arranged in such a way that nobody has to knock a neighbor’s door when they need to leave. Cars are able to move in and out without blocking each other.”
“Wow. This is a very creative idea.”
“Our landlord is very thoughtful. We do not worry about the things that other people stress about such as water, electricity, security and parking. As you can see, we have those huge tanks up there that ensure that we have water even if there is a problem at the water company. There is also a backup generator in case of a black out. Those guards are well trained and don’t admit people they don’t know. If you had come here alone, the guard would have called me to come and pick you. Because of that, we don’t have thieves in the estate. That is why I was so comfortable in the village knowing my stuff here would be very safe.”
Flo leads him to her first floor apartment. The apartment is nicely furnished; not just expensively, but also tastefully. It is clear that Flo has an eye for beauty. She gives him a quick tour of the apartment and ends it by showing him the spare bedroom he will be staying at. Andrew starts wondering whether he should move out. If he is going to have his bedroom, then perhaps all those things that Nina feared might not happen.
Flo proves to be an excellent cook. For dinner, she prepares ugali with chicken stew. They sit down at her four seat dinner table to have the meal. She gives thanks for the meal and serves Andrew a generous serving of chicken and vegetables, and then slices the ugali into multiple pieces.
They eat in silence, as they watch a soap opera on television. When they are done, Flo serves two cups of tea. Tea is the dessert in the village they come from; it is served after every meal.
“Drew, I have something to tell you.”
“What is it?”
“You remember asking me why I was distracted and I told you that it was because of work?”
“I lied to you.”
“What then is the problem with you?”
Andrew can see tears in her eyes, and he becomes even more confused.
“I did not tell you the whole truth about this job.”
Andrew feels a bolt of electric current slash his stomach.
“Please Flo, I already told you not to get my hopes up. Why would you tell me that there is a job when you know there is none?”
“The job is there, Drew. Tomorrow you will be an employee of the company if you so wish. But there are things about the company that you should know.”
Florence tells him everything about The Mirage Herbal Limited.
“Please forgive me Drew. I was selfish. I should have told you everything while we were back in the village. But I wanted to save my own skin.”
“You are saying that if I don’t sign up they are going to kill you?”
“In that case I will join.”
“You don’t understand, Drew. I might delay my death, but eventually I will die at the hands of these people. There is no other way to leave the company. But you have not joined yet, so you can still save your skin. Both of us don’t have to give our souls and our lives to the company. I will give you money so that you can start a more profitable business. But please stay away from the Mirage okay?”
“Let me sleep over what you have told me and then we can talk over breakfast. Is that alright?”
“Sure, no problem.”
Andrew is awoken by the sound of a gunshot and Florence’s screams. He jumps out of bed and runs towards her bedroom. Didn’t she say that this place is secure? When he gets to the corridor, he becomes aware that there are several other men in the house. Flo is screaming hysterically now, so he hurries towards her bedroom. From a distance, he can see that she is bleeding, and there are three men with her. One of the men is lowering his trouser, and Andrew knows what that means.
“Leave her alone you monsters!” he yells.
Before he can reach where she is, someone hits him from behind and everything turns black.
(This is the end of the free part of the story. To find out what happened to Andrew and Florence, follow the instructions below to purchase the novella for only Kshs. 100).
Image by Osmij from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/blue-crystal-cube-deep-futuristic-5457731/
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