If she were an actual person she would look like a Natasha, chocolate complexion coating her skin that glows like radiant rays on a Wednesday morning. She’d live in Kileleshwa, the third floor of some spiffy apartments that have a wooden sign at the entrance. They always have a wooden sign. Without the wooden sign, you’re living in a flat, not apartments. Apartments are these airy buildings that have an attitude from having too much fresh air and being high maintenance. On the third floor, door 17, the lady that looks like Natasha but is actually called Doreen lives. Doreen has a frizzy mane on her head that coils at the ends like they are afraid to touch the air. A small round face with large eyes, a chiseled chin and thin lips dabbed with a glossy balm. Today she will have on gray sweat pants and a black Nike t-shirt (the kind that’s elastic) with white stripes on the side and a pair of pink and white size 5 Air Max.
Tucked inside her ears would be a shade of white seeping a cascade of blues into her ears from the dangling wires that lazily fall over her fingers and snake their way into a device she’s holding in her hands like she doesn’t really need it. It could be air in her fingers for all she cares. It would probably have had a network of cracks on the screen, but thanks to plush carpeting it has survived, not that she would care anyway. Apart from her lithe frame and stoic graceful walk, her thin lips never smile. For anyone that you would care to ask, her humor has been dead longer than the dodo. Neighbors don’t even try anymore, they just say hi, they don’t send a funny meme on what’s app, or crack a joke on a lonely night when they meet on the stairs, or even a bad pun at mercury on a Thursday evening over apple martinis.
She’d be in HR, I don’t think people in HR smile, not with having to deal with John’s lateness after having been on leave for three weeks and condoning Carol’s lack of respect to subordinates with crude jokes that border on sexual harassment. Not even how when you tell her “What if they report you for harassment?” that she looks you in the eye and asks you why you’re talking about her ass. Or Hillary who keeps taking staples home and litters his desk with punched paper – he calls it snow – and always talks about strip clubs, brings it up every chance he gets, over lunch, coffee, on a skype call with the team in LA; you’ve given him warnings but he is a guru at what he does so the company tolerates his behavior – well until the day he brings one to work. Maybe it is Lydia who has a Ribena bottle that reeks of red wine; or how that did not matter until one day she spilled it all over Maureen’s desk and the office smelt like a vineyard somewhere in France. Or maybe it’s that you’d have to file your own leave application with yourself and even then maybe have to reject it – what’s there to smile about if a lady can’t get two days off for her manicure to set in?
So on a Friday as she’s leaving the office, sneak actually, as she’s sneaking away from the office to avoid bumping into the usuals, car key in hand, scowl set on her face like dried foundation, she will bump into an older lady, one who sits on the board, late fifties looking thirty, jet black hair (dyed of course), blood lips and a thin golden necklace around a fat neck. Her face is smooth but her fingers are wrinkling, with those she will stretch out her hand and introduce herself.
“Doreen right? We’ve met before.”
Her voice is like a Sunset at the Mara; rich with wisdom and peppered with age.
“Madam” Doreen will say with a respectful nod and a firm handshake.
“Have fun, live a little, life is too short.” Madam will say with a smile as she walks away.
As Doreen leaves the building with those words hanging over her head like a torn umbrella on a rainy day she will catch a reflection of herself on the sliding glass doors. Resigned, chiseled chin, and a shy wrinkle on the crease of her brow and she will think to herself she needs to take it easy. At the doors she will bump into a gentleman; him hurriedly carrying documents probably or a briefcase, suit coat unbuttoned rushing somewhere. Her, absent minded lost in her own reflection. Her keys will fall and his documents will fly about in the air before making the polished floor their home. She will expect a recoil, a shout here an insult there, smacked lips and clicking tongues, flared tempers but will look up into his calm eyes and soft smile.
“Hard day?” he’ll ask
She’ll nod and help him pick up the documents and as they’re both going for one stray leaf of paper they will bump their heads together and he will laugh. She will look up and smile and hand him the document because she got to it first. He will walk away not knowing that he just probably saw the rarest smile on the planet. It would be just as if lady luck smiled at him.
At least that’s what I thought might have happened when I spoke to one Hassan Saku. His is a name you’ve probably not heard about up until now, he is one of those people that fade into obscurity and blend with the Nairobi crowd such that it swallows them up. A lawyer by profession, as if the charcoal gray suit does not already betray him. Everything about him, his demeanor, blue tie with white stripes, and his voice that carries a lawyer’s polished eloquence (lawyers tend to have silver tongues). At first glance he fits into the profile of a young-ish corporate on the go. Sleek smartphone in one hand, crisp beard and an intent stare that give him a persona like an expensive fragrant.
We’re at PZ Cussons for an award ceremony, these are the guys behind Imperial Leather a brand that brought you that ivory white soap that came in a red pack, a soap that now probably smells like all your childhood memories. They have a promotion they are running where they will give away one million bob every month for three months and on the last month give two million bob. All you have to do is just take a shower (of course with their products), if you ask me it’s the cleanest deal around.
There’s not so much excitement, not like you’d expect, or maybe it is me; maybe a million bob is just one of those things now. Something you mention in passing without a second thought. Like adding that extra teaspoon of sugar to your porridge. You just do it and walk away like nothing happened stirring it into sweetly perfection. So we act cool too, like giving a million bob is something we do in our sleep, like if gun to our heads we had to come clean, we’d say we gave some the previous day because it was lying around and we did not want it to bother us.
“You know nowadays a million bob has become a hazard, kids can trip on it, and so we gave it away.”
So we look around, a colleague and I, and try to picture who the winner could be. It is time to profile guys; I’m looking for a lady in a plaited long skirt, tucked in blouse that’s been faded by firewood smoke over the years and head gear – they always have headgear. That would be my guess, someone from a place like Rumuruti, who ate sweet potatoes and cabbage stew for breakfast every day before milking Thoni their dairy cow. Someone who slept dreaming of thousands or hundreds of thousands never a million because that was unreal; and as we know dreams should be realistic, especially if you’re going to be having a conversation with your cow on why it’s now doing 8 liters instead of 15. You can’t expect it to keep it real with you if you can’t keep it real with yourself.
I don’t see anyone that fits the profile. So I have to ask; I pull someone to the side and ask them where the winner is. She smiles and points directly at Hassan. I don’t believe it at first. You know how you look at someone and think that they don’t need a million bob? Hassan fits that description. He’d probably put it next to his other million bob to keep it company. A million bob for his million bob. But that’s how it is with these things, you never know who wins; it’s a surprise to you as much as it is a surprise to them.
After the whole award ceremony was over I had a quick chat with Hassan. Pretty amicable guy and jovial, like who would not be after winning a million bob right? For him it had not sank in that he had won the money, not even the handshakes with the dummy cheque in hand brought the point home.
“Most people come with their families. Where’s yours?”
“My wife doesn’t even know, at least not yet. I did not want to raise her hopes up only to find out it was a con.”
“That happens a lot doesn’t it?”
“Yeah people hide a lot of stuff from their wives.” (hehe okay he did not really say that) “Yeah these guys from Kamiti are getting better.”
“So what’s the worst thing about this being true?” I asked
He took a minute to answer, like he was trying to find one bad thing about winning a million bob. I would’ve gone with “nothing” as an answer but I wasn’t also going to stop him from giving me a good one so I waited.
“They asked for my KRA pin so I think I will be taxed.”
This guy is already thinking taxes, it might be the lawyer in him.