On Fridays, the party starts early at our office. Majority of our staff are graphics designers and marketing interns running social media. Mondays to Thursdays, everyone keeps to themselves. We listen to music on headphones and make calls out on the balcony. When we consult, we do so in low tones. Nobody insists on recapping the previous day’s nine o’clock news, talking politics, or whatever madness was on Classic FM that morning. Your office banter cred goes up if you talk about bitcoin trends, Trevor Noah or are the first one to break news of an ongoing tweef.
When Friday rolls around, the chicks leave their neon-colored water bottles and office satchels at home and switch to casual totes. It is not unwonted for a character, whose affluence precedes him by way of a button-popping belly, to swing by and pick up one of the interns for late lunch. Late lunch, we have come to know, is anything from a 4:00 PM – 2:00 AM rager, to a full-weekend out-of-towner. Today is one such day. The intern in question is Sharon; she has small teeth and one of those stuffy laughs that sound like she’s about to start coughing but doesn’t.
This morning a client dropped off a bottle of rosé for a job well done on his digital campaign. After lunch, we broke out the plastic cups and the imbibing began. We spent an obscene amount of time tittle-tattling at the balcony, which gives us the best view of the parking lot. The client whose account I assigned Sharon came to pick her up, and sharp-eyed Linda from Accounting said, “That guy is somebody’s husband.”
We all craned our necks over the glass railing and gave him the once over. One of the HR chicks, gullible as a schoolgirl, said, “Aih, how can you tell? He’s not wearing a wedding ring.”
A debate I eventually walked away from, ensued. There was nothing to debate over, per my thoughts. The guy was not only married; he was married with kids. I could tell right off the bat. Whenever I see him, he’s either wearing impressively pressed shirts with his jeans, or tucked-in polo shirts with his khakis. His go-to shoes are built for functionality as opposed to aesthetic – some variety of trainers, gladiator sandals or round-toe leather shoes, (probably extra round for his gout).
He tells dad jokes – funny ones to me, because I can access my inner Daddy’s girl. Then he does what all dads do. He unwittingly looks at me for approval after he delivers the punchline. A little experience with men has shown me how their faces fall when they tell a joke that lands flat on its ass. Since he is one of few clients who pay on time, I not only laugh, I also toss my head back.
I’m streaming Leon Bridges back at my desk when Ben pokes his head through the door.
“Njambi, I’m giving you the SealPro client,” he says without preamble.
“The guy from Monday, Duncan or something, you two seemed to know each other.” As if I would ever believe he doesn’t know a client’s name. I can tell that Duke already ruffled his delicate, little feathers.
“Duke Mugambi? I thought you reserved all the six-figure walk-ins for yourself,” I say, swiveling in my chair. “It’s an open secret.”
“I’m feeling generous,” he says.
When have you ever been generous with a big commission?
“Do you want him or not?”
He is thrown, shifts his weight on his feet.
“He requested me, didn’t he?”
“And he’s waiting for you in the conference room,” he says drumming his fingers on my door. “So…shake a leg.”
When I get to the conference room, Duke has sat at the head of the table. The energy of the room tells me that something’s cooking. Taken the seat of power, all right. I set the papers before him but refuse to sit. I offer him a cup of coffee to busy myself on my feet. If I don’t sit, we don’t have to go over why I took off yesterday.
After the pleasantries, I say, “Right, shall we go over the contract?”
“Forget the contract. Your boss already broke it down for me.”
“Oh, good, you just need to sign here,” I point to the dotted line.
His hand lingers over the page but he’s not looking at it. Instead, he takes my hand and begins toying with my wedding ring. I immediately know that he’s about to slip it off because he is not above pursuing such trifling triumphs. I pull away and step back, alarmed.
“You’re married?” He asks, even though he always played buddy-buddy with Magdalene, and I know that he checked up on me several times over the years.
I consider my response. If I answer in the affirmative, it will open the floor to more personal questions. I am sure he is doing this at the office, because I can’t walk away from a paying client here. At the same time, when I tell people about a male client crossing the line, they will usually ask, “Did you tell him that you are married?”
If that person is Kagwe, it is more like, “Did you even tell him that you are married?”
I say, “Yes, Duke. I’m married,” and to shut him down, I add, “Now this is my place of work. I’d like to stick to business while we’re here.”
“How married?” he ignores me.
“Married married.” I glare at him. He senses that I am squaring off so he quickly pulls out a chair next to him.
“You don’t have to stand the whole time. Sit, I won’t bite.”
I cross my arms.
“Come on, I know those heels are killing you.”
I sit. The head honchos will be unimpressed if I lose this account. It would also be a disservice to other working women, if I reinforced the stereotype of women who can’t separate business from their personal lives.
“You missed the best part of the show,” he says, “left me high and dry.”
“You know us married women; have to scuttle before the cows come home.”
“Is that what we’re calling husbands now?”
I chuckle. “Your words, not mine. Thanks though, it was nice to uh…Umh…it was nice. Thank you.”
“Whoa. You’ve really changed Njambi. When I was dating you, you were so meek. I thought you weren’t enticed by money, and then I heard you married a pilot.”
So you did know that I am married.
“I’m not the way I was when you left me,” he says.
After thirteen years, I should hope not.
“I have money now. I can take you anywhere; forget about that pilot’s salary. I can make millions with one phone call.”
Ah, so that’s what this is – a licking of old wounds. A last ditch effort to salvage his ego. Yet, it is not just a conquest. It is not even wanting what he can’t have. It is attempting to pluck what is in someone else’s possession for the sake of bragging rights. I know what is required of me here. Every woman knows. It is something we learn from girlhood, stroking men’s egos back to health. He wants me to soften myself, smile, go along with what he wants and tell him that he’s the man.
“You know what else I heard, that you don’t have children. Nitakupea mtoto Njambi.” He leans back on the chair and drums on his thighs. “Come out of town with me this weekend. I know your pilot will be away doing what pilots do.”
He curls his mouth and nods. The insinuation is not lost on me. It wasn’t a hell of a pitch to begin with, but the mention of children has rendered it dead in the water.
“Out of town where?”
“I have some business in Malindi. We’re supplying roofing materials for a hotel…” I don’t hear the rest of it. Now that he has shown me his hand, I am crafting my exit plan.
“And what will I tell my husband?”
“He doesn’t need to know anything,” he says without missing a beat. Then he drives the final nail in the coffin. “I won’t tell if you don’t.”
I want to tell him that I’d set my hair on fire before I went to Malindi with him, but then he might not sign the contract. Hell, he might not sign the contract anyway. My spidey senses are tingling, and they’re telling me that all this talk about money is hot air. He is probably just the front man for this company, and doesn’t actually have any say over the contract once it is signed. I have a better chance calling his bluff with my own bluff.
“You know, Duke, if you want to take me out of town, you should just ask. You don’t have to hold this contract over my head. Frankly, I’m insulted that you would do that.”
“After the way you treated me yesterday?”
“I’m not even the one who’ll be handling your account. My boss only sent me in here to sign you.”
He hesitates for a moment. I hold my breath. He doesn’t look convinced. Should I add that Ben would never give up the commission? No. Don’t oversell it. Come on, bite. Bite!
He leans over the table and appends his signature, and then he takes my hand again.
“Come with me then,” he says.
I pull away, stack the papers in the file and stand up. “For a working trip, on your company’s dime? I don’t think so.”
I march straight into Ben’s office and tell him that I need him to take SealPro out of my hands, no questions asked.
He says, “You’ll be losing half your commission.”
Yeah, big whoop. I’m a pilot’s wife. I shrug. “It’s a win for me.”19