Short Stories You're Still You

Adrift
June 10, 2021
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Photo by Rui Silvestre on Unsplash

Previously on You’re Still You

*As told by Waita

I stir awake on the couch and remain still for a full hour like roadkill on a hot tarmac road. My arms feel like elephant tusks so I just lie there blinking until sunlight starts streaming in through a parting in the curtains. Now that I’ve written my notice of resignation, I feel adrift. Last week I could sleep in and wake up feeling fantastic about robbing my employer of his time. Today I have joined the 5 AM club involuntarily. Running a business venture full-time already feels punishing.

It was easier doing gigs on the side. The extra income and sense of accomplishment were rewarding. But for me, it served the even greater purpose of alleviating the fear that I wasn’t doing enough. It made me comfortable until Jill come along and upended all that. She was adamant that I was not reaching my potential, which played right into my fear. Had it been any other person, I’d have thought they were cawing at me just for the pleasure of making me feel inadequate.

Hell, when I first heard it from her I was incensed. Here she was shining a floodlight in my eyes just when I’d nested myself in a sweet slumber. Who does she think she is and how dare she? Of course, it soon occurred to me that she wasn’t the one I was mad at. I was angry with myself for allowing one hiccup in my plan to derail my entire life. One hitch and I took a detour down a narrow, dead-end street. Then instead of turning back, I started digging and kept digging until she shook me awake. That’s Jill. She has been rooting for me since I first met her in the crowded aisle of a supermarket with a squiggling toddler in my arms.

Jordan was being especially fussy that day and wouldn’t sit on the cart for all the candy in the store. He wanted to be held but squirmed throughout. He kept hurling his squishy at the floor and then threw a fit if I didn’t collect it or if I did, but kept it from him. To make things worse he kept trying to put it in his mouth when I wasn’t looking. It was one of my first Saturdays alone with him and I was kind of mad at Nora for making it look so easy.

“All right. Handover the baby,” Jill said with arms outstretched and a voice so authoritative it might as well have my mother’s. I instinctively spied the basket at her feet because looks can be deceiving but shopping picks don’t lie. She had two bottles of wine and a pack of Pringles in it. She was going for a box of cereal next but I was in her way.

“It’s hot, loud and stuffy in here. You need to take off one of these shirts,” she said. “The heat is bothering me. It must be bothering him too.”

I hadn’t noticed, being in shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt myself. It made sense so I wrestled the shirt off Jordan. He looked miffed but the squirming stopped. Huh. I started to thank her but she said, “Don’t thank me yet. It was not purely selfless. I need two boxes of that,” she pointed to a brand of cereal on the top shelf.

“Here I thought I was in your way,” I said handing her the baby. “And you’re just using me for my height.” She smiled. I made her smile. “You’re not like going to dash off as soon as I turn my back, will you?” I narrowed my eyes at her.

“Wow! I am appalled,” she laughed. “I was just so kind to you!”

“His mom would be so pissed off if I lost him,” I said. “More so to a hot mami at the supermarket. She would not let me live it down.”

“Oh, is that your Achilles’ heel? ‘Hot mamis’?”

“Hot and sly,” I said dropping the boxes into her basket. “Like what you just did there. I see you.”

She laughed again and I remember feeling surprised at what a turn the afternoon was taking. We roamed the aisles; her carrying Jordan while I picked up and ticked off the items on our shopping lists. When we were done I offered to pay for her shopping to which she succinctly said no.

“It’s the least I can do,” I insisted.

“If you really must, I could use a coffee. Buy me that instead.”

“Actually, I have to take lil’ dude home,” I said straight-faced.

“Oh. I didn’t mean –”

“I’m kidding! Of course I’ll buy you coffee. What do I look like? Some kind of – Ow!” That little joke earned me a punch on the arm. She hated being embarrassed. I’d learned something about her already. At the coffee shop, she told me that we’d been at the same university and even had some friends in common. Now she was a consular official at the Danish Embassy and I had just been made advertising producer in the production unit of a multinational ad agency.

“Do you like it there?” She asked.

“Sure, I like the work,” I said. “The politics, not so much. But it’s money, what are you going to do.”

“Branch out.”

It caught me off-guard. “Just like that?” I chuckled.

“Why not? The work I do requires skills – interpersonal, decision-making, the likes. But it’s not a skill in and of itself. It’s not a craft. I can’t leave my job in two years and start freelance visa processing,” she said. “From what you’ve told me, you have the skill. You produce ads within a budget, which means you know the business side of it. You manage multiple teams and you interact one on one with clients, nitpicky as they are. That means you can branch out. Start building a client list and launch that production company.”

 “You make it sound so easy,” I protested. “I can’t go branching out now. First of all, studio equipment is a massive capital investment on its own.”

“And what else?”

“I’d have to rent office space as if home rent is not running me rugged already.”

“And what else?”

“And I’m a first-time dad. I don’t think I want any more big changes in my life right now.”

“How about in three years?”

“Are you sure you’re not a bank loan salesperson?” I chuckled. “Was this all just a ruse to sell me on a loan?”

“Ah. I see your problem now,” she said balancing Jordan on her thighs. “Money makes you anxious. You have an insecure relationship with money. You cling to it no matter how poorly it’s serving you just as long as it doesn’t leave you.”

“First of all, I am offended. Outraged. How dare you, and what do you mean?” I joked. I knew men who talked about money like that at the pub and had always thought of them as rich, pretentious (*word that autocorrects to) ducks. I was unpleasantly surprised to hear it coming from her, more so because the truth of it finally seeped through the gabions of my prejudice and reached me.

“Am I wrong?” she asked. Despite having made light of it, I was peeved. Watching her doing so well with Jordan knocked my guard down though.

“I don’t like who I am when I’m struggling. I prefer …financial security, as you so aptly put it.”

“And what does that look like for you?”

 “Ooof. You’re coming in hot and heavy with them questions,” I fidgeted in my seat.

She shrugged, pulled back from the table and took a sip of her coffee. “You don’t have to answer.”

I felt an instant stab of guilt for making her feel bad just because I couldn’t handle my discomfort. “You know I’m a father.” I motioned to Jordan. “I want to be able to provide for my family without giving up my own life. I want the level of comfort that doesn’t require me to deprive myself of so much that I end up resenting the people who need me.”

It was the first thing off the top of my head. Later, my friends told me that I overshared and I kicked myself for it for days.

“The way I see it, you have to set your intention for how you’re going to achieve that. Client list, capital, home life. Work on those and branch out in three years. Tell me how it goes.” She didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

“You thought of all that just now?” I asked.

She chuckled. “There was a career fair at our office. They brought financial advisors to train us on money management and help us create vision boards for career progression. It was just to distract us from the fact that they weren’t moving us up the salary scale for the second year in a row but I picked up a few things. Are you less impressed?”

“Were you trying to impress me?”

 “Oh, chess moves is it?”

“You walked right into it.” 

*

Speaking of walking right into it, last night was a mudslide. I should probably say something. It’s 5:57 AM. Work doesn’t start till nine o’clock so she probably has her alarm set for seven. It’s too early but now that I’ve thought of her, I feel motivated to sit up and plan my day. First I have to go get the client list from Yvonne in marketing. Nah, that prickly bitch doesn’t like me. I’m better off going to the Accounts Department. If I lay the charm on thick, Mary will give me an up-to-date list of debtors. That way I can see which clients are good with paying off invoices and hit those first. Mmh. That should do.

***

The quills need ink and the writer thrives on coffee. I’m accepting support on M-Pesa Buy Goods Till number 5476019. All amounts are welcome and appreciated. Go on then, make a girl smile.

My books Njambi and Kagwe’s World and Taste of Mel are still available for purchase on Amazon.com.

Read next: The Money Tree

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About author

Wanjiru Ndung'u

Wanjiru Ndung'u writes fiction. She is an irretrievable night owl. Loves tea and cats. Devours stories and knits cozy scarves

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  • Bett Kinyatti

    Such a pleasant read!