The deal was done when I put my signature on the lines on the paper. I was now a full status employee. A telephone, a calendar and a computer were meticulously arranged on a desk that would henceforth be mine. Then a black chair was put behind the desk. When everything was done my new boss gave a brief tour of the premises and introduced me to the people who were now my colleagues. Everything was fine. This was my first day at work, well… half -day considering I had arrived at 11pm.
When I sat down, the Human Resources officer came to my desk and informed me she would allow me to go home for the rest of the day to prepare for the following day. A part of me wanted to politely refuse in a somewhat innate effort to show that I was hardworking and ready to hop on the job. But that part was quickly beaten by the other part that was a bit lazy and just wanted a few hours of a movie and may be sleep. With calculated politeness that would not sell me as a lazy bone, I accepted the offer and hissed several thank yous’ for manners sake.
Change whether good or bad petrifies me. I know one sure way to remain afloat in this world is to adapt to change. If you don’t your story will end with a loud defeatist thud like that of ‘Kodak’; an end inevitably louder than the beginning! In one of my physics classes we were taught about ‘inertia’- that a body in motion when suddenly stopped lurches forward and one at rest continues to do so even after the element of rest is withdrawn. (I know my knowledge here is rusty!! mind you I scored a B+in that thing so even though am not an engineer today, at least I can drop few quotes here and there…oh! My physics teacher would be so proud of me right now.) But the point is the urge to continue leaving in a given state is tempting especially if change takes a lot of effort.
Just like the law of inertia (…wait! is it even a law?), my mind was inadvertently resistant to change. I was a little worried of the unknown, of doing what I was not used to- and questions streamed in my mind- how would I fit writing in my now tight schedule? What time would I have to wake up to be at work on time? How would my life change? But you know what; the best thing to do with such thoughts is to talk back at them. So my friends when walking home that afternoon I was a mad woman. I kept taking to myself, assuring myself that I could handle the new responsibilities. After all what other choice did I have?
That night I went to bed a little earlier. I had read several articles on- how to be a successful employee? And ‘a good timekeeper’ has always top in the list and I needed to be the successful kind. But there was something else, that disturbed me more than the thorn of change. One that I somehow did not want to address because I felt I didn’t have the solution and if there was one it would take a lot of sacrifice. The thing was money! Have you ever heard the story of elephant and hare? You have? Good. Now my financial needs were the size of an elephant and the financial resources, the darned hare. The hare in my scenario was meant to carry the elephant! With the job came new financial responsibilities; I now had to pay fare on a daily basis and buy food while at work.
My solution lay in intently reducing the size of the elephant, chopping chopping off a few unnecessary expenditures here and there. But how does one reduce something that has been reduced hundreds of other times and can nearly no longer be reduced? I will tell you how- more forfeiting! The first to be scrapped off the list was 10 O’clock tea, at that point I defined it as an ‘unnecessary luxury’. (You still don’t believe that necessity is the mother of invention?) But you can imagine my exhilaration when I later learned that the company management paid for every employee’s 10 O’clock snack. The trick however is what we eat at that time is solely their decision and to establish consistency and perhaps avoid surprise demands from the employees they have prepared a ka-timetable.
Tuesday Thursady and Saturday- Three slices of bread; Wednesday- one chapatti and Monday and Friday- one chapatti. Anyone who feels philanthropy can’t fill their stomach is free to dig into their pockets. Me…I’m more than contended!
The good thing is their chapos are not serviettes, they are respectful chapos, not the kind that you can just fold, lurch into the mouth and finish in a single bite. They are honorable, perhaps more honorable than our honorable members. They are not like the ones we ate in Maseno hotels that could so easily be folded and fit into a three year old’s fist. A disturbing but interesting thing about Maseno chapos was that some were sold at 15/ and others at 20/ and the funniest part was; there was no visible difference in their size and thickness. It was just a clever way of robbing students from Kileleshwa and Milimani who didn’t care about running out of money because more was at home and could be transacted via M-pesa. Between you and me- I always went for the 15/ bob ones. I have always loved getting the value for my darn money.
And I can state without fear that Mondays and Fridays are my favorite days at work- you can guess why.
My most vexatious quagmire though was ‘lunch’. Even folks with king kong hearts, when left in the office while everybody has gone out for lunch can sting a little; especially when it’s not by choice but circumstance. In my survival guidebook while on student attachment, I would read a book over lunch to distract hunger pangs and display a cool rather than a broke character which ironically scored me free lunch coupla times. But now I’m a quarter a century old so creating false impressions is officially out of the book. Not even plausible for consideration.
The cheapest meal in the cafeteria menu was valued at 100/. Only? You ask. Lemme explain the meaning of 100 shillings in my life; it’s my fare to and from home, it can also be 7-day 140MB from Airtel, it can my offering in church and it’s 25 minutes talk time with my mother on Safaricom. So when I squeal at lunch worth 100/ don’t raise your eyebrows or pucker your lips because this would translate to 500/ per week on food (btw have you crammed Daddy Owen’s song- Vanity, no?; you should! You will squeal with me at this maths).
Crossing fare out of the list was out of question,… well unless I wanted to hatch ambitions of participating in marathons and decide running from work to home and back would be my piece of exercise. But am quite lazy when it comes to physical exercise, in fact my exercise regime entails; thinking about creative stories, typing, false punching the wall with my tummy tucked and not more than five squats. So running to and from work was not an option for this and a variety of other reasons relating to hygiene.
Mindful of all the options I had; only those that would match the strength of my financial muscle I resolved to have heavy breakfast and carry a snack from home to munch over lunch hour. And with that I was ready for day two at work.
When other disciplined taxpaying Kenyans were delicately biting slices of bread the following morning, I was digging into ugali, cabbage and a few pieces of meat, readying my stomach for a tough day ahead. Soon afterwards while riding in the matatu to work I begun to feel uneasy. Quick sharp pains would shoot from all the corners of my stomach and die away during which am pretty sure I made faces that left any passenger who might have been looking at me perplexed, trying to figure out what drug was running through my veins. When the weight of discomfort weighs heavily on your shoulders, a minute feels like eternity; and my ride which was about 45minutes long felt like it had taken ages. Am even surprised I remembered to disembark at the right place.
I knew my boss and many other people would be watching me that day in an attempt to guess the kind of person I was or even gauge my competence. It’s normal when you are new, everybody watches you and attempts to write a story about you. So I had thoroughly comprehended the need to put my best foot forward and put up a show of a lifetime. A lot of things in the future could be determined by the words written about me that very day. As I sat behind my desk, the storm stirring up in my stomach was nearly tangible, I felt my intestines tie themselves up in notes and tighten up overtime. I attempted to distract myself with paperwork and aimless typing, but every single nerve in my body was responding to the excruciating pain from my stomach. I made a short prayer and asked God to take away the cup of suffering from me, couldn’t even get to ‘Amen’… At some point I looked around the office to find out whether there was anyone watching me. There wasn’t, everyone was busy clicking their keyboards while others walked from office to office for consultations. Everything in the office was normal. I sighed with relief that nobody seemed to notice my rather dark episode that was unraveling; which by the way was a very stupid response from my ego.
I needed to weather the storm. I was the new girl in the office and I had vowed to conduct myself with royal manners. Being new in a place is much like going out on a first date, there is always some weird pressure to be the best version of you. You hold back all your ridiculous behaviors and present the best cover page. When someone near you sneezes you tell them ‘bless you’, when you sneeze you hiss two ‘excuse mes’ and when you cough you pull out your handkerchief and carefully cover your mouth as if you had rehearsed for the darn cough. The problem is as time unfolds you can’t keep the other pages about you closed and they are inevitably flipped open for reading in the relationship stage known as ‘kuzoeana’. It was the same for me. All my etiquette antennas that day were up. I was suffering deeply but I had to do it with dignity. But I would later discover the hard way that a running stomach knows no dignity. It doesn’t give a darn about etiquette; it doesn’t even know that you need to be decent in the presence of your boss or the cute guy in the office. It’s like that piece of beans or sukumawiki that sticks on the tooth after lunch; so outlandish and carefree without a thought of the impact it has.
So I put on a brave face. If you look up the meaning of a ‘brave face’ in the dictionary you will see that it means-to behave as if a problem is not important or does not worry you. It’s exactly that, behaving as if there is no problem. The weight of a brave face is pretty heavy and requires more of everything even from the most brazen human beings. When the demon facing you grows in strength; that face can only be up for some time. As it faces the test of the moment it eventually begins to thaw at the unthinkable heat of the reality at hand
In that moment of unthinkable desperation, of fighting a battle I was not winning my dignity was rudely ripped from me. When my boss came to my desk to inquire of my progress my stomach or the shit that was cooking in there decided to get my attention and my boss’s too, growling fiercely as if it wanted to leave me and live an independent life of its own. And could I have done? My boss excused himself and I was left there drenched in sheer embarrassment.
A few minutes to tea time; I knew that if I didn’t visit the washroom things were likely to take an ugly turn. I thought I would weather the storm. I thought I would ride the storm like freaking Tarzan…, that was the plan. Hey! Am sure even Abduba Dida had plans to become president. Plans are just plans they are not definite outcomes! The storm was killing me. I was gasping for air that was fast running out while facing the imminent danger of drowning. As people walked out for tea break one nice lady was generous enough to walk to my desk and invite me to join her for tea.
All I really wanted was just to rush to the ladies!
No no no!!, am a heavy breakfast person”, I replied with an intense sense of urgency and clarity to ensure she did not persist with her offer.
When most people were out of the office, at lightning speed I dashed to the ladies, which thank fully were not too far from the office. By this time I had already stripped off all illusory nobility, dignity and pride. I was just a mortal human being in need of the glorious service of a toilet! In that instant, only two things existed; my need and me; there was no crush to impress, no boss to hold in high regard and no colleagues to gossip about my unprecedented predicament. At the ladies section there were only two doors-two toilets. I knocked on the first one with a sense of deep desperation. Honestly I did it out of normal courtesy and I never imagine there would be someone on the other end. The moment became so perilous when I heard a faded response and a knock to show the room was otherwise occupied. I can’t remember lucidly, but am sure when I learnt there was an occupant I let out faded guttural sounds of defeat. The few seconds that followed were, a melting pot of feelings and emotions that I absolutely have no words to articulate with precision.
My legs and my mind functioned with incredible synergy as I scrambled to open the second door after a quick knock. I opened that door as though I had vendetta against it. The door’s hinges squeaked in protest of the vigor I applied, then I banged it behind me closing it instantly.
In the split of a second I loosened my trouser and luckily the occupant in the other room flushed and left. I didn’t want to sit on the toilet so I balanced in the air but it didn’t matter what position I was in, things left my alimentary canal violently, voluntarily and loudly; if you ask me I would say they were eager to leave my system more than I was ready to let them go. The smell was obviously awful but I couldn’t care less. I continued to balance in the air and soaked in the reprieve. The trick though was I really needed to leave fast before another person entered the other toilet. I didn’t want anybody to link me with the odor that thanks to diffusion had spread in the toilet area. But before I could leave, I heard some footsteps outside the door. I froze for a second, worried about the pace I would set for myself as the new girl and the description drivers of the office gossip mill would label me with.
“Mmmmh…huku kuna nuka aje leo?”, a voice exclaimed in total disgust.
My eyes twitched with shame and embarrassment. And a few minutes after she left I walked out. I noticed that as I walked into the office some ladies at the reception threw me weird glances. May be I was just paranoid or there was indeed something behind their glances.