Elections found me working for an aspiring governor. A big man with a big smile for the crowds and deep pockets, deeper than the boreholes he dug for the locals to aid in their water problems. He knew what to say and when to say and the exact ways to mould it when saying it. And when he said it, even when it was gibberish, the red flags went up high, and the locals pledged their loyalty. He had made his fortune from his family wealth, but when he spoke about himself, which was quite often, he said of how his intellect had made him a successful business person. He gave us tales of his big cup of excellence, and like the dummies we were, we sat by his feet sipping slowly in coveted admiration.
The March long rains came and fell with both hands, the water gouged out deep channels and swept away twigs, leaves and the top fertile soil. With it, we marched into the rural areas and dived into the locals’ conscience and asked for their votes in the primaries. We met them tilling their gardens, feeding their babies, taking out urine drenched mattresses from last night’s atrocities by the young boys, basking, and drinking. Sometimes we met their dangerous unwelcoming dogs or abandoned houses, but we never relented. The Jacaranda beautiful purple flowers collected into small groups on the murram roads beneath the intrepid trees and with it, the beauty of Central Kenya shone like the morning star.
I got a job as a Data Entry Clerk for the big man’s gubernatorial campaign. I cannot correctly recall how it happened because it took place while I was under the magnificent alcoholic haze. It was in the club back in 2016; our Governor-to-be was having expensive drinks with his friends on a table close to ours. My friends and I had just completed our final examinations in campus, which was the reason we were draining red wine like we had won the Nobel Peace Prize. Our neighbours were getting louder with each bucket of ice they ordered the waiter to bring.
It started out as a dare. The big man thought he could make his way to Parliament and his friends sneered in disbelief. A little later, he said bluntly and insistently, ‘I will even run for governor to prove you idiots wrong.’ That is how his campaign started. He bought drinks for every lady in the club that night and when he approached our table, and we told him our reason for celebration, he instructed us to be at his house 8 am on Monday, he would be the first to hire us. Our salary would be Ksh 30,000. That is how my two friends and I got our first job, on the same day we cleared the last paper in campus.
His gubernatorial bid was a dare. But then, a wise man once said, it is not how a race starts, but how it ends that matters. The next day, after the hangover had subsided, I called home and broke the good news that I had completed my four years in school of nursing and at the same time got a temporary job. My parents were elated, mostly because they never had to pay my rent again.
We worked from his mansion. He had three, so it did not matter that he used one of the houses as the campaign headquarters. The living room was the size of a basketball court and the bathrooms the size of my apartment. The carpenters came on Monday and converted the living room into an open office, and right there we began working. I would receive massive amounts of money and distribute it to the campaign ground workers to distribute to the voters. Every voter we asked for a vote was entitled to a Ksh 200 note. Most of my days would be spent chasing Ksh 1000 loose change in 200s. In a day, around Ksh 500 000 crossed my hands.
My other two friends did other things in the office daily, and as usual, there can never be a group of women without gossip. It started three weeks after we started working. The big man walked in rage and flew upstairs, we all stood stunned in awe wondering what the devil had done. A little later we heard struggling and screaming from upstairs from a lady. What surprised me most is that within those three weeks, someone was living upstairs and we had never seen her. A little gossip later we learned that it was the big man’s wife. It was against the rules for the wife to leave the house. She stayed locked up as the big man made plans and money for the family. I was infuriated and just like that my admiration slowly started turning to abhorrence.
It was the mansion’s custom to burst open a bottle of whisky at the end of a successful week. The big man’s whisky cabinet was bigger than his bathroom which was bigger than my apartment, so I hope that can draw you a vivid picture of its size. In those parties, I discovered Hennessy, Platinum Label, and Jack Daniels. Beautiful drinks that cost more than my salary. It was in one of those parties that things started to get incredibly wrong. I was standing by the printer when the big man approached me and asked why I was working on Saturday while I should have been enjoying the river of whisky courtesy of the big man almighty. I was dumbfounded that he cared. Then it happened, he put his hand on my bum and made to grab it like I was his. Part of me was immobile, astonished with despair like those rats that lose hope in laboratory experiments and lie down in the maze to starve.
His wife attended that party in particular. She was the one going around serving the drinks. I was even more scared about her feelings about my ass in her husband’s hand than the actual big hand that tried again to grope my unlucky ass. I did not speak, I was frozen but moving away from him. I took a seat and waited for my shock to subside before I took my things and left the ‘office.’
When I left I was so sure I was never to come back again. As if the night was not yet done with me, as I waited for a matatu to take me home, which was extremely unlikely considering the neighbourhood it was, the big man’s driver pulled over and told me to get into the car, that he had been ordered to take me home. I was one part resistance, two parts grateful so I got in, and he ferried me back to my place.
I could not help thinking about my situation. I was certain that this would never have a chance of a good ending. I drifted back to that moment when he placed his hand on my bum and then tried to do it again. I was so sure that other people in the office had noticed. Even his wife. When I called home the following Sunday afternoon, it was to say that I would be going home. Mother picked the call and could not stop ranting about how happy she was I had not asked for rent. That I was a big girl now, taking care of my problems like a grownup. I ended the call exceedingly sure that there was no going back. I had to make a living for myself.
Monday morning found me debating whether it was all worth it. At 10.00 am when it was two hours past the time I was supposed to get to the office, I got a text message. It was from the big man according to Truecaller. It was short and extreme in brevity. It was like it was typed in a speedy, careless, go-to-hell sprawl, like something I would write fast before going out to the grocery market. It said, ‘report to work.’ The big man was calling; it would be rude not to answer. So at midday, I walked into the office like a loose girl doing a walk of shame on a Monday morning.
The primaries came, and we lost. With it, we became an independent party and even pressed harder for votes. The campaign speeches grew longer, and the Ksh 200 notes increased to Ksh 500 notes. We used land cruisers to get to places young boys had never seen automobiles. We promised electricity to people with no roofs and fertilisers to individuals with no land. We even hired bloggers, and I sent them Ksh 1027 to post nasty, made up rumours about our primary opponent. Still, after all that, the poles still said we were 2% behind.
It was a battle to the bone. One that had started out as a simple dare now had become a serious life or death situation. Secretly, I hoped he would not win. He was arrogant, disrespectful and beat his wife. That was enough to make sure he would never get my vote. By the time we got to the final polls on 8th August, he had already bedded my two friends and increased their salary to Ksh 40 000. All but me.
The final poles threw him off the gubernatorial seat by a 9000 votes’ margin. A very close shave. He had lost but had made a huge impact on the county. He did not seem bothered by the loss. In fact, even before the announcement, he had me allocate funds to a big party of all his campaign staff.
I decided to bring my boyfriend to the big man’s party. Partly because the big man smashed my two friends, they seemed to have grown distant, so I had no friends and also partly because I felt I needed security. At the party, the big man insisted that I was to dance with him and when my boyfriend gave me an okay look I let him take my arm to the middle of the room. It was the longest ten minutes dance I ever had. When I came back, I found my boyfriend already ordered a cab to take us back home. He was furious. These young men and their possession pride (rolls eyes).
A week after the election, after we had cleared out and our contract terminated, I got a call from the big man. I was curious, so after some few relaxation stunts, I answered the call casually. It turns out, they needed to keep five employees for permanent employment and I had been shortlisted, so he was calling me to let me know that I was being called in for an interview.
Before I could make a response, he told me to carry my documents, and he would have the driver pick me up within the hour. This smelt like a distasteful disaster but I had to keep paying my rent, so I got ready in my skirt suit, made my hair look professional and put all my documents in a folder. The driver in a Range Rover was waiting as I left my apartment.
I got into the car, and the car sped towards town, then past town towards God knows where. I got unsettled and asked the driver where we were headed, and he briefly announced that we would get there when we got there. Without further options, I accepted my fate and drifted back into a fretful doze.
The car came to a halt about 200 kilometres from my apartment. It was a colourful modern hotel. A place where green dominated and nature displayed all its beauty. I now wish I had more time to let the beauty sink in, but my legs trembled and my mouth felt dry. I felt like an anchorless red balloon was floating on my stomach. Quickly I got my phone and shared my location on WhatsApp with my boyfriend and my sister. If I died, I wanted them to know where exactly to start looking for the body.
I found him relaxed under a gazebo sipping some expensive German Whiskey. He was in a Bahamas coloured short and a baggy checked shirt. A nasty combination of prints but that was barely within my range of fucks to give. He smiled and stood up to make a handshake with me. I was determined to make this an official interview, so before he even ordered me a bottle of 1800 Italian Wine, I handed him my CV. He pretended to read then threw it aside. In a statement that seemed too calm to be a threat, he assured me that I would get or not get the job depending on what I had to offer him.
There are points in life when a woman must accept that she is prey yet besides it, be determined enough to be fierce to level up the predators in the ecosystem. For certain, I knew I would never have sex with him, yet it did not matter, I was in the middle of nowhere, and the choice before me was not even a moral one, more than it was a survival one.
I was too engrossed in my thoughts that when he enquired whether I had a boyfriend, I just shook my head distractedly. In plain simple bare and definite words, I opened up my thoughts to him. I let him know that I would not sleep with him in any circumstance even when I needed the job this much. I looked directly at him and told him that I had a boyfriend waiting for me at home. That I love him so much to cheat on him (*rolls eyes, we had only been dating three months). I told him of the family I would want to have with him, a family of three or four kids. All girls. I told him of my accomplishments and what they meant to me. Of my rent and my parents. My fears and my aspirations.
I was talking consistently for more than twenty minutes that when I was done, I just stood up and made my way to leave. I did not even know a way out. I just walked. I could feel my heart pounding in my arms. I was certain that in the middle of my pressured outburst I may or may not have called the big man a sexual predator. One part fierce, two parts stupid. The elephant in the room would be how to get home.
As I type this story, I am home waiting for a call to know whether I aced that interview or not. Otherwise, I am just among the 40% unemployed Kenyans out here.
***Based on a true story***