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Duck, Duck, Go!

The door to Ben’s office is ajar when I get there. I tap lightly and walk in to find Awiti – our elderly tea lady – serving the afternoon snacks. The hot rays of the February sun have turned the office into a sweltering box. The facade that gleams wonderfully on the outside, colours the ambience in the room a soft green. Ben takes off his coat and hangs it on a coat stand by the door – a luxury only afforded the heads of department. I place my coat on the visitor’s chair next to the one he beckons me to sit on.

Awiti engages him with news from home in their western mother tongue. By his measured responses, I can tell that he is growing impatient. Her prattling is slowing down her work. There is talk of a funeral and other details that Ben is reluctant to disclose when she leaves the room. As they have locked me out of the conversation, I fixate instead on a clock hanging over Ben’s desk. It is another perk only afforded the higher-ups, albeit a plain and unimpressive one.

When I was little, my mom had this retro alarm clock sitting on her nightstand. It was a fascinating timepiece with a smooth, silver back and a brilliant white face. I’m sure it once worked before either one of my siblings or I broke it. I have memories of holding it up to my ears and shaking it. It was heavier than it looked but I never tired of it. It must have had a loose washer or gear because in place of its ticking, came this clacking noise. Click! Clack! Click! Clack! The sound of something not sitting right. If a curious child with dirt under her nails were to hold my marriage up to their ear and shake it, they would hear the same clicking sound. Things are not as they should be. It is a stone in my chest. 

This morning as I dressed for work, I watched Kagwe sleeping. His brow was a little furrowed and he had his fingers curled up on his chest. He was snoring like a truck, sure, but it thawed me a little to see him so unguarded. He used to be that way with me in his waking life. Now shuts me out of the places inside him that I hanker for.

“Tea or coffee?” Ben asks.

I draw my eyes away from the clock. “Tea please, one sugar.”

I take a tentative sip, twiddle with my thumbs and just as I begin to speak, Ben starts to say something too. We both stop mid-sentence. I struggle to rein in my nervous giggling.

“You go first,” he says.

“No, let me go first,” I say.

He cocks his head to the side. “Yes, that’s what I said.”

“Oh, right.”

I press my fingers to my temple, willing the gods of time to obliterate this moment. I gulp down the tea and swallow loudly. What does one say when their boss catches them absent-minded at a morning briefing? Do I accept the premise of guilt or pretend that I was mulling something over and needed time to think? He sets his coffee mug aside and circles his desk to where I am sitting.

“You’ve been off your game lately. It’s not a good look. I assume this has something to do with why you were distracted at the meeting,” he says leaning on his desk.

He holds his phone up to me. My cup clangs against the saucer as I place it back with shaky hands. In our thread of messages, a text from me reads; I wish you were coming home to me. I was writing drafts of the text I thought Kagwe got just to see where the word ‘home’ sat. Our phones are identical and I thought that if I could just see it…sigh. I was so distracted that I opened the last thread without thinking; Ben’s thread from when he texted me about the meeting this morning. That’s the only thing that makes sense.

The thought of what he could do with a screenshot of that message turns my stomach into a pit. My heart pounds in my ears so loudly I can barely hear myself speak. He takes the cuff links off his dress shirt and folds his sleeves up to his elbows.

“I know we’re not supposed to take care of personal stuff on company time. It was a lapse in judgment on my part –”

“Yes, it was. You know, as the head of the department I am responsible for the wellbeing of my team,” he says taking my hand by the wrist. “Why don’t we talk this over after work in a more… comfortable setting?”

“Oh, there’s really no need –” I begin to protest.

“That wasn’t a suggestion.” He presses the cuff links into my palm, binding me to a silent obligation to give them back at the place and time of his choosing. “I know a place near here. I’ll swing by your office at five. Oh and Njambi,” he says, when he has sat back at his computer, “leave your car. I’ll drive you back to pick it up.”

Great. In the privacy of my office, I exhale. I try to take deep breaths but the air feels thin and my lungs too shallow. Should I tell Kagwe? No. He wouldn’t understand. What would I even tell him? I’m usually vigilant about things like this. The only way to protect myself from exploitation at work is to make sure that no one has any leverage over me. I have to be perfect, but thanks to Kagwe’s latest shenanigans, I haven’t been sleeping well. I’ve been tired and distracted, and now that I’ve slipped up, my underbelly is exposed.

I should go back and tell him I don’t think having drinks with my boss is professional. I should tell him that I am married, that my husband is expecting me at home. My husband is expecting me at home. I break out in fits of laughter. Oh, that’s a good one. I start to laugh even more hysterically and I have to lean against the door lest someone walks in on me. If Kagwe’s trend is anything to go by, he won’t be home until three in the morning. Besides, it’s Friday. I don’t want this hanging over my head all weekend. The sooner I put it to bed, the better. Si it’s just a few hours? I’ll be home by nine, ten at the latest.


Ben takes me to a rooftop bar in an office block down the street. The kind of place you’d find shifty characters who borrow your lighter and then pocket it. The office crowd is here for happy hour, but at eight o’clock they’ll start filing out. Most of them will hop to a livelier strip of clubs uptown, away from the shadows of closed-down offices. By nine o’clock, the mood on this street will have taken on a seedier vibe – one of the girls-in-glitzy-dresses-standing-in-corners and men-calling-to-them-from-behind-tinted-windows variety.

He doesn’t mention that he’s invited a friend over – a prop; the guy he says he’s with should his wife call. He neglects to make proper introductions and quickly ushers me into the inner seat of the booth ensuring that he will have the monopoly over me all night. When he leans over to ask for my drink order, his breath tells me he’s had a head start. So that’s how he is going to play it.

He plans to soften me up with drinks on an empty stomach. Somewhere between eight and nine o’clock, he’s going to say that he’s hungry and suggest that we get dinner. He’ll likely choose a hotel with a bar not too far from here because time is of the essence. After dinner, he’ll ply me with drinks, book a room and be done with me by midnight. He’ll be home by one in the morning, half past one at the latest – a totally reasonable hour to get home to the wife on a Friday night.

It would be a good plan if I was a twenty-year-old intern, but I’ve been in this business long enough to know all the tricks. I order wine by the bottle and prepare not to leave the table until I’ve drained every last drop of it. I cannot trust Ben with my drink. He proceeds to talk my ear off about things I am only half-listening to while I bide my time. I have an inkling that at some point in the night when he has drunk more than he should with a co-worker, he will do something repugnant that will hand me the advantage over him.

He does not disappoint.

His friend is a brooder by the looks of it. He remains quiet for most of the evening, nursing his drink and smoking his cigarettes. He watches this plump bird with red dreadlocks dancing with her friend for a while, but even that fails to retain his attention. Occasionally he turns in my direction and finds me either yawning or swatting Ben’s hand away from my knee. He looks a bit concerned but opts to mind his own business. Meanwhile, I begin executing my exit plan. Ben leaves the table to go to the bathroom for the third time in two hours because he popped the cork too early. That amateur. 

I turn to his friend and ask, “Where have I seen you before?”

“I’m Waita. I’m the new ad producer for Picod,” he says over the music. It’s still early in the evening so they’re playing 80s Jack swing. Picod is an advertising agency to which we occasionally outsource the production of our video ads.

“Right. I’m Njambi. And Ben is a friend?”

“A business associate, more like,” he says. He hesitated. That’s good. “It’s a relationship I’m cultivating. You’re in the industry too, you know how it is.”

I smile. Ben is even craftier than I thought. If I’m right and if I’m lucky, he’ll put tonight’s expenses on the company credit card and try to pass them off as business expenses. That’s the real reason he brought Waita along, to knock two birds off with one stone.

“This is not your scene though, I can tell.”

He laughs. “The things we do for work.”

“Don’t I know it,” I say. He doesn’t tell me where he’d rather be, which is what I was hoping for. “I liked the citrus vodka ad. That was your work, right?”

“It was, thank you.”

“The popsicles were a nice touch. We made them for the launch party and sales went through the roof. The client was very happy.”

“Glad to be of service.”

“I was the lead on that project and it made my job a lot easier.”

“You were? Not Ben?”

“Nah. Ben has oversight over the department but I’m the one with an eye for design.” That’s right, sit up. “On matters outsourcing, he defers to me.”

Ben returns to the table, cutting short our conversation. “What are you two talking about?” He slides his palm on my knee again. I swat him away.

“I was just saying how hungry I am. Should we go find somewhere to eat?”

It’s barely eight o’clock but the disdain I now feel for Ben is enough to seep out through my pores. I’m not sure the seed I planted with Waita has taken root so I have to hurry this along.    

“Let’s have one more,” Ben says eyeing my empty bottle of sweet, white wine.

“Actually, I’m hungry too,” Waita interjects. “I know a place near here. I’ll drive.”

It’s not what he had in mind but Ben acquiesces. His plan hasn’t exactly gone off the rails so he figures he can still salvage it. Good. He won’t know what hit him.


We take a short drive to a posh whiskey bar uptown. We are greeted by the scent of burning incense at the door. A steward leads us through a lobby lit by a chandelier so massive it looks like an art installation. Its shiny, waxed floors make walking on my heels feel like roller-skating. There are no open tables in the dining room so the staff set up a table for us on the terrace, along with an outdoor heater and an electric bug trap. We each pick a spot on the round table which is too low to cover my knees. Ben will not be brazen enough to touch me out in the open. Even better, the leather armchairs they set up prevent him from sidling up too close to me.

It’s a world apart from the sticky floors and high bar stools we left in the office district. Waita has outdone himself. Since there are only three of us, one on either side of the other, Waita now strikes up a conversation with me. He deftly holds my attention for the next two hours with surprising witticisms, much to Ben’s annoyance.

Ben starts to get surly and suggests that we shake Waita loose when he’s out of earshot. I tell him it’s late; that I need to get home. Only then does he realize that the night is shot. He has been upstaged and outmanoeuvred. He closes the tab at the bar and leaves in a huff, capping the night with one final misdeed. The last piece of ammunition I needed to keep him off my back for good. I couldn’t have planned it better. As I am too drunk to drive, Waita steps up and Ubers me home.


It’s a little past midnight when I walk through the gate to find Kagwe’s car parked in the driveway. I run my hand over the Land Cruiser’s hood. It is cold; he must’ve gotten home hours ago. The lights are on downstairs and I can hear familiar voices inside. I check to see if there are any missed calls on my phone. There are none. Could it be? No. The front door swings open before I manage to fish my house keys out of my purse.

“Oh, it’s you. I didn’t hear your car,” Kagwe says. He is dressed in red trackies and a t-shirt; he’s been home for a while.

“I left it at the office,” I say. “It smells like you cooked. What’s for dinner?”

The edges of his mouth curl up in a sly smile. “Chicken,” he says.

I take off my shoes and walk into the living room, leaving him to lock the door behind me. I am asking him why he is home early when the other voice I heard stops me dead in my tracks. “Welcome home, Njambi,” my mother-in-law says. “It’s nice of you to finally join us.”

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