Moving is a nightmare. The thought of lifting countless boxes up an endless flight of stairs, over and over, is sickening. But what do you do when your four – year old son starts demanding his own room? You upgrade from your bedsitter and get yourself a cosy two – bedroomed flat in a middle – class neighbourhood like Ruaka. It’s also about time Brandon goes to school and Ruaka is full of some great kindergartens. A two bedroomed house in Ruaka is not very pocket – friendly but this move is necessary. Brandon will get the extra bedroom he has always wanted and you will console yourself that you now have more space in the living room. You can skip your rope there in your quest to shed off the extra fat around your waist. It’s also a perfect spot for your early morning squats.
So you call Cube Movers and all your belongings are neatly boxed and headed to Two Rivers View Apartments. Your new crib is on the right wing of the sixth floor. The movers do a good job and before long, you are all settled in. Brandon cannot stop admiring the wall paintings you got him of his favourite football players. His bedsheets and duvet are also plastered with the Manchester United logo. Your room has pink walls and has a bathroom within it. Brandon can have the other bathroom. The kitchen is as big as the living room. There is a wide balcony overlooking Two Rivers Mall. The apartments actually live up to their name. Nice place, this one. You might actually enjoy staying here. Or not.
Knock Knock. No response. Knock Knock. Silence. Maybe they are not home. You are just about to leave when the door opens lazily. A young lady steps out, rubbing her eyes continously.
‘Oh, did I wake you?’ you ask, a little guilty.
‘Oh, no. Yeah. It’s okay,’ she responds, smiling shyly.
‘I’m Keith. I live next door. This crib has been vacant for months…I passed by and saw the light. Thought of saying hello to our new neighbour’
‘Oh. Okay. I’m Rose. I moved in two days ago,’
‘Very pleased to meet you, Rose. Welcome to our hood. How do you like the place so far?’
‘Well, it’s everything I had looked forward to. Just a few more things I need to fix and I will be perfectly settled in,’
‘Uh huh. What’s that? Maybe I can help,’
‘Oh, no. It’s just the DSTV Satellite and the internet cable. They don’t work weekends so they will be here Monday morning,’
‘Okay. You are welcome right next door if you need to watch some TV. Monday is quite far,’
‘Thank you for the offer, but I will be fine,’
‘Well, see you around,’
She seems nice. A little mousy, but nice. She’s beautiful too. Her dark chocolate face is spotless. She definitely is one of those who apply guacamole on their faces. Her pouty lips are dissected into half by the gap between her front teeth and towered over by her small round dimples. Her voice is smooth, easing softly over her lips with a cheeky but fresh urban accent. She is short, or at least, shorter than you. A little plump, or maybe it’s the oversized hoodie she was wearing. Who could it belong to? Her boyfriend, maybe? I guess we’ll find out.
It’s been a week and no one has visited. Well, no one but Keith. The excitement of the house’s novelty has since died down. The crib now feels old, like you have been here all your life. You are craving for some disruption. Someone to share with the marvel of your new life. Someone to brag to. Someone to talk to. Someone that is not your son. But you have no friends. What you have is a long list of people you know, or rather, people who know you. Your work does not help. When you sit in the house all day and write academic papers for foreign students who pay you per page, you may not get to have a very robust social life.
Brandon is easy. As soon as you bathe him, feed him and help him with his homework, he will either fall asleep or spend half the night on his PlayStation. You can then concentrate on your academic papers or you can pretend to watch a movie and then doze off. Video games all day is not the healthiest lifestyle for a four-year-old. They need sunlight and soil. They need some fresh air going in through their lungs and uncontrollable laughter coming out. They need to fight and lose then cry and laugh it off later. They need friends who they will play naughty games with. They need a father figure who they will report to when their friends offend them. But what does a young single – mother like you know about motherhood? Not much. In fact, not even a little. That’s why you spent a fortune buying him the PlayStation. Play on, son.
It’s Match Day. The Manchester Derby. You are on your way to catch the game at your local with the boys when this little guy creeps up on you and grabs your shirt. You lift him up and he grins at the sight of the Manchester United logo tattoed on your left arm and on the cotton Adidas jersey.
‘Brandon! Where did you go to?’ A sharp female voice shouts. It’s the new neighbour. She comes out dressed in a see-through dera. She seems surprised to see you.
‘Oh, hello there,’ she says.
‘Hey,’ you respond, cooly.
‘Don’t mind him,’ she says, nodding at her son, ‘Brandon. Come down,’. He does not.
‘Is he your…son?’ you are curious.
‘Yes. He turns five in three months time,’ she responds proudly.
‘Wow. That’s cool. Congratulations,’ you are amazed.
‘Thank you,’ she says, shyly.
‘Brandon, down, now!’ she gives Brandon a stern look. He remains put.
You don’t want to be caught up in the mother-son fight so you lower him down and this spells out disaster. Brandon starts screaming and throwing his tiny arms in the air. Clearly, he has no intention of being separated from you. His mother tries to pick him up and he tightly holds on to you. Well, this is awkward. You don’t remember being this defiant to your mother growing up. After much wooing to no success, Brandon’s mother gives up.
‘It seems he is not coming down,’ she hopelessly admits.
‘No worries, I can stay with him for a while,’ you offer.
‘But you seem to be on your way out,’ she wonders.
‘It’s just the game. I can watch it from here,’ you say. The audacity! The Manchester Derby is just the game.
‘Well, let me make you two some popcorns then,’ she says.
‘Make enough for three,’ you joke.
She disappears into her kitchen and you show Brandon into your crib. You put the game on. He happens to be an ardent fan. Not the tattoo pasting type, (yet) but he can identify all the players by their names. Manchester United are losing (of course) but he is so thrilled to be watching the game with you. He is shouting and jumping up and down. When his mother brings the popcorns, she finds him calmly sleeping on your lap.
‘Aaaaaaw. This is so cute!’ she exclaims.
‘Him or me?’ you joke. She laughs. You’re funny.
‘Let me take a picture,’ she does, ‘I’ll take him to his bed,’ she says.
‘What about the popcorns?’ you ask.
‘I will be back to have Brandon’s share,’ she responds.
She sure comes back and you two have a heart – to – heart couch moment. She tells you about Brandon’s father. She describes how they met in campus, fell in love, how the pregnancy appeared and the father disappeared. How he accused her of trying to nab him for his family’s wealth. How she has raised Brandon all by herself for close to five years. She tells you about her academic writing. How it pays her bills and now educates her son, all at the comfort of her home. She tells you about her parents. How they died in a road accident and how her uncles shortchanged her and grabbed all her parents’ wealth for themselves. She tells you of her younger brother and how the loss of their parents affected him. How he got swallowed into drug addiction and is now on rehab down at the coast.
It’s your turn now. You tell her about your ex-girlfriend. How she left you after you got laid – off at your previous job. How she wants you back now that you are back on your feet, working as a Public Relations Executive at a leading international agency. You tell her that your dream destination is Jamaica and you confess your love for R n B music. You tell her how you love to cook but are miserable at it. You scroll down your Facebook timeline and show her pictures of your younger self. She laughs at you hysterically. You tell her about your single – mother, who raised you as an only child. You almost tear down as you talk about your stepbrothers and sisters and how they want nothing to do with you. You show her your library of books and she loves them. She asks to borrow some. You don’t usually lend out your books but for some reason, you dish out three copies without flinching.
The night is still young. She invites you over for dinner. She is a great cook. A great cook who puts a tad too much hot pepper in her soup. You are not the hot pepper kind of guy. The kind that sprinkles chilli sauce on their mayai gonga as if they are eating the chilli sauce then sprinkling the mayai. But you struggle with the pepper-like the man you are. Brandon gets up and sits right on your lap. He gobbles down the pepper – saturated chicken like a man. You help him wipe off his face. He drags you to his room and shows you his PlayStation. You have not played one of these since campus. He thrashes the hell out of you as his mother watches. You are a little embarrased. Rose insists that it’s time for Brandon to retire to bed. He does. So do the two of you. That night, Rose does not feel alone, because she is not.
Six months have passed. Keith and Brandon have formed an inseparable bond. So have you. I mean, what’s not to like? Keith is adorable! He helps Brandon with his spellings and alphabets. He offers to drop him at school. He buys him whatever he asks for. On his fifth birthday, he got him a bike and spent a week teaching him how to ride it. Brandon spends more time with Keith than he does with you. He brags to his friends back at the kindergarten about how his ‘daddy’ is cool. How he takes him to places. How smart he is and how he knows everything. It’s almost as if Keith has adopted Brandon as his own son. But you two are a package. So you have to come along.
You try to hold back but you can’t help yourself. He takes you out for dinner sometimes. He invites you to his work functions. He has introduced you to his friends who come to visit. He comes through for you financially when your foreign student clients delay in paying you. He listens to you whine and actually gives you ideas. He brings a bottle of wine every weekend or takes you out clubbing and viciously guards you from other men. Oh, and he is considerably great in bed. You are beginning to settle in. You have occasionally found yourself doing his laundry as you pick up Brandon’s clothes from his house. Matter of fact, some of your clothes are there too. You get jealous whenever another woman talks to him, even if it’s all work. He eats more at your place than he does at his. Your son enjoys staying at his place more than he does yours.
Before you know it, you and Keith are a couple. Keith asks you to move in with him. You agree. You instigate a complete makeover in your new home. The couch now matches the carpet. You buy new matching curtains as well. You have the walls repainted and add some lights. You throw out Keith’s old clothes. Decluttering, you call it. The first few months are great. You become a perfect family. Keith’s friend works at the Attorney General’s office and he organises for you to have a simple civil wedding. Keith’s few friends and some of yours attend. The certificate is framed and hung above the Television.
One evening, Keith comes home with great news. The agency he works for has landed a new global client and Keith will be the account manager. They manufacture butter and they are looking to venture into the East African market. They will be doing a series of campaigns and will require young models aged between four and six to feature in their campaign. The campaign is titled Bread and Butter. Yes, you guessed right. Brandon! The campaign will see him earn millions of shillings in royalties. Since he is a minor, the money will go to a custodian who will then hand it over to him once he turns eighteen years old. This custodian can be a relative or a trusted adult of the minor’s choice.
A week later, you accompany Keith to his office with Brandon in tow. Auditions have already been conducted and Brandon emerged the best male model. Not a surprise considering the fact that Keith’s work friends were part of the judging panel. Alex, Keith’s friend from the Attorney General’s office, is in the boardroom. He produces a bulky document from his briefcase and hands it over to you to sign. It’s the Royalties contract. You skim through it and put pen to paper. Keith had already briefed you.
Due to conflict of interest, the agency cannot allow its employee or its employee’s family members to be part of the deal. Remember we are legally married? Therefore, Alex will sign off as the custodian of the royalties and will then channel the money to your account after deducting a 5% consultancy fee.
Not a bad deal, you thought. 95% of Ksh100 Million is Ksh 95 Million. You will not have to do your academic writing anymore. Your brother can finally go to a decent rehabilitation centre. You can finally take Brandon to that school that is always being advertised on TV. You can finally buy that white Jeep Wrangler you have always craved for. You can wear designer dresses and carry designer handbags. What about Keith? How will you ever pay him back? He got you this deal after all.
A little devil whispers in your ear, ‘Keith can go to hell! He is not Brandon’s real father,’
‘But what about Brandon’s real father?’ another voice questions.
The little devil again: ‘He can go to hell too! Men are trash’
A soft voice of reason begs to differ: ‘But Keith has been by your side the last one year. He has practically raised Brandon as his own son,’
Devil: ‘I agree, but that does not entitle him to receive free money. I mean, you were the only one who was in that labour room delivering your son. Remember?’
You have never been this indistinct; guilt-ridden but exuberant, all at the same time.
It has been a week since the campaigns featured on television. Your son is famous. Kids at school stare at him as if he is from another planet. The company gave you tonnes of butter as a sign of good faith. His biological deadbeat father has called a dozen times saying he just wants to talk. Old friends whom you have not been in touch with for ages are suddenly inboxing you on Facebook. Your uncles who snatched all your parents’ wealth are now sorry. They claim the devil led them to do it. Everyone wants a piece of the cake. If only they knew. If only they knew that there was no cake. No bread either. Just tonnes of butter. If only they knew that as soon as the royalties cheque appeared, Keith and Alex both disappeared.