Short Stories You're Still You

The Money Tree
July 1, 2021
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Photo by Howard Chin on Unsplash

Previously on You’re Still You…

Monday: As told by Waita

At the office, I circle Mary’s desk and drape my arm over her chair. With any luck, she’ll like the smell of a freshly pressed shirt and the splashes of Hugo Boss on my neck. I stroke my beard and make light eye contact as I ask for the Debtors list. She swallows and refuses to look up at me while she pulls up the spreadsheet with trembling fingers. Yeah, I’ve still got it.

As I study it, I notice that the clients I have the best relationships with have the biggest budgets, but they also have unpaid invoices going back two years. I don’t have a lot of working capital. I need clients that won’t choke my cash flow. The best-paying clients come with paltry budgets and even paltrier profit margins. If Jill were here she would say that’s not a problem.

“You’re a lean outfit. Make it work for you.”

I swing by HR on my way out of the office and hand in my notice. Then I call Jill, giddy with adrenaline. I’m doing it. I’m wading out into the waters with my fishing line and my bucket hat and going for the big catch.

*

It doesn’t long for someone to bite. A client from a digital marketing agency reaches out the next day with a potential project. She says she likes my portfolio but has some concerns.

“Why should I go with you and not your former employer?”

“Because they just lost their best producer,” I say. I have to reel her in.  

“How can I be sure I’ll be getting the same quality of work?”

“You’ve seen my work product before. You know it’s unrivalled.”

“Yes but you don’t have the backing of a big studio anymore.”

“I have a new studio so I’m working with the latest equipment,” I say. Then because salesmanship is nothing without bluffing, I add, “Don’t take my word for it. Come see for yourself.”

We set up a meeting for later that week and I immediately start freaking out. I invested all my money in equipment and completely neglected the office aesthetic. I’ll have to buy furniture and have it delivered before Friday. I call my buddy, Mundia, who runs an auction house in Parklands and ask to see his collection.

“What are you looking for exactly?”

“I need something slightly worn, but not old. Something snazzy but that also says, ‘Many paying clients have sat here before you.’ You know?”

Ati snazzy,” Mundia laughs. “I see you hit the furniture catalogues first eh. Snazzy? You know this is an auction house –”

“Do you have what I want or not?”

“Relax. I have tons of snazzy things for you.” He shows me a set of almond brown leather seats that are exactly what I’m looking for. “Bidding starts at 65,000.”

“Huh. That is surprisingly affordable.”

“It’s 65,000 for each,” he says.

I choke on my water. “Then again leather feels a bit obnoxious,” I say amid sputtering and coughing. “You don’t want to look like you’re trying too hard. What else do you have?”

We look at a few more options but eventually land on two chesterfield singles and a white center table that came with them. They’re still pricier than I’d hoped, but Mundia would get more if they actually went to bidding. I can’t ask for a price cut.

“So? What’s it going to be?” He asks.  

I can’t decide on my own so I call Jill and send her pictures. “What do you think? Do they work?”

She says, “Sure. They’ll make you look good.”

Well then. That’s that.  

***

Wednesday: As told by Jill

“So this is the place?” I ask looking around. Waita nods. I’ve just arrived at his studio on Ngong road. I left the office at three o’clock sharp hoping to beat traffic on Waiyaki Way and stop by a tree nursery on James Gichuru road.

“Is that for me?” He beckons to the potted plant in my hands.

“Yes. It’s a money tree,” I say handing it to him. “I was going to get a succulent, like some we have in our office, but the woman at the nursery sold me on this one. Supposedly, it attracts good fortune.”

He looks pleased, which in turn pleases me. “You just need to water it now and then, and keep it out of direct sunlight.”

“Let me give you the tour,” he says. “It’s not much as you can see. This is the vocal booth where we do voiceovers. That over there is the photography set. We mostly do videos on location, but I set up a green screen as well for budget productions. And of course, this is where all the magic happens – the producer’s desk.”

 “The equipment all needs to go in here because it’s pretty expensive and this is the only room with a burglar-proof steel door. The rest of this area is more of a reception area. The delivery guys should be here in a few. I’m thinking the chairs and table go there and the money tree goes in the corner. What do you think?”

He’s still studying the space, making mental calculations. I steal a few seconds to regard him. His shoulders are tense. He looks clenched, like someone on their last gasp of air. He frets too much. I feel exhausted for him.

“Breathe,” I say rubbing his shoulder. “It’s perfect.”

“I sprung for the chesterfield singles.”

“The green ones?”

“The blue ones.”  

“They’re actually teal. Teal is a shade of green.” He laughs. “What? What’s funny?”

“Nothing,” he says. “I – It’s – It’s nothing. Thanks for the money tree. And for being here.”

“The meeting is on Friday, you said?” He nods. “I have some magazines at home that we could toss on the table. Time, Forbes, the likes. That wall over there could use a painting. Just one, nothing flashy. And if the plant goes there, we can have a floor lamp on this other side for symmetry.”

“Right. Right.”

“I have them all in the house, I can take them to work with me and then swing by tomorrow evening.”

“You’re too kind.”

“I really am.”

“And humble too,” he nudges me with his elbow.

I shrug. “You should get glasses and bottled water too. Oh and one of those bowls of candy.”

“Oh there’s more?” he chuckles. “If you get too excited you’ll make me nervous.”

“There’s no need to be. You’ll land this job and recoup your investment. And your clients will be so impressed that they’ll tell all their money-bag friends about you. And pretty soon you’ll be a Mr Money bags yourself, and I won’t be able to see you without an appointment.”

“Why is unavailability even a measure of success?” He says. “Take that back. I’ll always have time to see you.”

“Good. I’ll hold you to that.”

He takes a deep breath. “Do you really think it’ll work?”

“Sure. Your work is legit and no one can deny.”

“For a second I thought you were starting a rap verse.”

“I was,” we both laugh. “I changed my mind midway.”

“No one can deny?” he asks.

“No one can deny.”

*

The next morning I run into Amaya at the office parking lot. Amaya is my work-bestie turned life-bestie. I’m changing out of my driving shoes into my heels when she spots the painting in the back seat.

“What’s all this stuff? Are you moving house?” she asks. When I tell her all about it she scolds me. “So he just called you to talk about office furniture?”  

“He’s trying to set up a business. I doubt he has time for anything else right now.”

“What’s that got to do with you? Are you trying to be his financial advisor or life coach?”

“I should at least be supportive, right?” She gives me the side-eye. “I just want to see him thriving. Is that so bad?”

“You always do this.”

 “Do what?”   

“You weren’t just being supportive. You went too far out of your way for this guy. Again. You’re a people pleaser, Jill. You can’t help yourself. Will you even get that stuff back?”

“I already said I’d give it to him.”

“Give? As in there is no expectation of return?”

“It was implied…I think.” I’m starting to feel a bit miffed. I didn’t think it mattered at the time I offered. I was just trying to do a good thing. Why is she making me feel like smoking in the morning?

“You should make it clear that you expect it back,” she presses.

“I can’t do that now!”

“Why the hell not?”

“It’s too late. If I flake on him he’ll feel like it was charity and he’s already so raw, as it is.”

“Raw?” she scoffs. “I’m telling you. The last time you talked he didn’t even know what he wants from you. Now here you are literally moving furniture into his place? It’s a lot. You’re setting yourself up to resent him.” 

I hate it when she says things like that. Is she right? Did I overextend myself? Was it too much?

“Either way, I can’t take it back now,” I say feeling deflated.

Maybe she is right. Why am I doing all of that for him? What? Am I his surrogate spouse or something? Ugh! My day is ruined. 

***

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.

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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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