The first time you saw her, she reminded you of your mother. Dark silky hair, a flushed olive complexion accessorised with a bold supercilious smile. She wore a pair of burgundy cat – eyed glasses which made her appear stern and friendly at the same time. She donned a white chiffon top and a pin-striped grey pants suit. A pair of black red – bottom heels and a matching Susen leather bag completed her executive look. She stepped into the elevator and found you gazing blankly at your dusty shoes. You looked up and your eyes met. She nodded and smiled. You smiled back. She turned to the mirror and eyed herself admiringly, before getting off on the same floor as you, leaving behind a strong familiar fragrance. Just like your mother’s.
You had heard and read about her. Natasha Baraza. The no-nonsense Head of Marketing who also happens to be the wife of some political bigwig. Being at the helm of the Marketing Department at the leading PR Agency in the country was not a mean fete. You had to have earned it. You had to have been painstakingly excellent at what you do and you had to have surrounded yourself with sublime people in your team. That is why she insisted on interviewing every member of her team by herself. Today was one of those days. And you are standing across her. Yes, she conducts her interviews while standing. It saves time, she says. Everyone wants to get it over with and go rest their legs.
‘Name?’ She asks without looking up from her computer.
‘Samuel. Samuel Kibe.’ you respond.
‘Samuel with a U or with a W?’ she continues typing.
‘U. Samuel with a U. But you can just call me Sam.’
‘Why would I do that?’ she raises her head and stares directly at you.
‘Well, it’s the short form of my name,’ you defend yourself.
‘So you think I like shortcuts, huh?’
‘Not at all. It’s just that…’ you stutter.
‘The same way I’d call you Tasha instead of Natasha,’
‘Oh. You know my name. Have you been stalking me?’
‘No. Not at all. I just did my research,’
‘What else did you find out from your research, Sam?’
‘You graduated from the University of Nairobi with a Masters in Communications. You have won the PRSK Practitioner of the year award three years in a row. You are also a lecturer at the Kenya Institute of Marketing. Oh, and you are the author of The Communicator: A Kenyan Story,’
‘What do you think of the book?’
‘Uh, I haven’t read it.’
‘You don’t read?’
‘I do. I just haven’t read it, yet. But I plan to,’
‘What are you reading currently?’
‘One More Day by Mitch Albom. I am more of a fiction person,’
‘How does that fiction impact your career, Sam?’
‘Well. I learn new vocabularies that I can use in my conversations,’
‘Uh – huh. Like which one?’
‘Mazel – tov. It means…’
‘Everyone knows what mazel – tov means, Sam.’
‘What are you currently watching?’ she asks.
‘Like a movie…or?’
She stares at you.
‘Uhm. I’m on Season 2 of Banshee’
‘What do you think of it?’
‘I think that the main character constantly living a lie makes his life exciting,’
‘Would you want to live such a life?’
‘I am a firm believer that honesty is the best policy,’
‘Smart answer. Are you married?’
‘No, not yet. But I am seeing someone.’
‘If a very high – end client you have been chasing for months asked you to be intimate with them in order to secure a contract, would you do it?’
‘Well..I wouldn’t do it,’
‘Because I respect my relationship,’
‘So you would do it if you were single, huh?’
‘Uhhm. I still wouldn’t do it.’
‘Because I..Is this a trap?’
The interview went on for another fifteen minutes. She tore you apart with her tricky situational analysis questions and the best you did was stammer your ignorance and uncertainty away. You left confused and agitated. Who conducts interviews like that? How dare she set you up like that? How dare she make a fool out of you like that? Who does she think she is? That evening, you were dumbstruck when you received an email with the subject: Appointment as an Account Manager for Symbiotic PR Limited.
You are eight of you. A bunch of clueless new recruits. Five ladies and three gentlemen. Around here, everyone calls your type MT. Management Trainee. The word trainee sucks. But hey, they are giving you a fat cheque at the end of every month so you can live with it. You get a comfortable desk too near the window. The view is prodigious. You can see the CBD just by lifting your head. They show you MTs around. Staff Parking area (you nod your head as if you actually own a car), cafeteria (the waitress is hot), the gym (you are horribly skinny so maybe it’s time you gained some muscle), the smoking zone, the washrooms, staff briefing rooms, the breastfeeding zone, the gaming room and everyone else’s offices. Damn. This will take a lot of getting used to.
There is no time to settle in. Out of the eight MTs, four are in Marketing while the other four are distributed across other departments. Natasha Baraza asks to meet the four of you in the boardroom. She congratulates you all for making it to what she called her haute monde. She apologises for her seemingly rude and personal questions during the interview. It does not sound genuine, the apology. It’s as if she would not mind tearing each one of you apart again. She sells her vision of the department and of the firm and emphasizes the team’s role in meeting that vision. Lastly, she hands everyone a file containing facts and figures. Daily, weekly and monthly work plans. Quarterly, semi-annual and annual sales targets. List of existing and prospective clients. A profile of all vendors and a small footnote of who the firm’s competitors are.
‘I am looking forward to working with all of you,’ she concludes her monologue, ‘Any questions?’ she adds.
‘Go ahead. Lilian, right?’
‘Yes. Lilian Njambi. What do you enjoy most about working here?’
‘Well, the fact that I impact the lives of billions of people who use our clients’ products every single day is a big inspiration for me,’ she responds.
Silas: What is your biggest achievement as the head of marketing?
Angie: With all your responsibilities outside work, how are you able to multi-task?
Lilian: Have you ever thought of starting your own PR firm?
Angie: When was your lowest moment during your career?
Silas: How often does one get promoted?
Natasha answers all the questions joyfully and in detail. She seems to enjoy this. Then she turns to you.
‘Samuel, you have been rather quiet,’ she says.
You have not spoken a word since the orientation began.
‘Uhm. My colleagues seemed to read my mind and asked almost everything I wanted to know,’ you explain.
‘This is for everybody,’ her face became flinty, ‘ We are in the Communications industry. We have to be able to communicate with each other before we communicate to the world on behalf of our clients. That means not waiting for others to speak on your behalf,’ she adds, then stares right at you, ‘Next time, be the one to read their minds.’
Over the next three months, you and Natasha rub shoulders quite occasionally. You have studied her and you now have an idea of what works for her and what does not. You know that she does not like to be questioned about her husband because people assume he is the reason she is at her current position. You know that she reports to work at 10.00 am because she has to drop her daughter to school every morning (Rumours are flying around that she is not Natasha’s biological daughter). Therefore, you have to work around her tight schedule if you need her assistance. You know that she does not come to the office every Friday. Apparently, it’s her meditation day. She does these yoga things or something like that. You almost even know when it’s her time of the month and her hormones have kicked in. Apparently, she has painful cramps. How painful? Painful enough to make her fly off the handle at everyone, including the executive director.
Ironically, she appears to have developed a soft spot for you. Sure enough, you are also often caught on the receiving end of her dreaded tongue – lashes whenever you miss a deadline or when your work is mediocre. But there is something about how she voices it. It’s different. It’s bittersweet. It’s draconian but full of wit and approbation. How she sandwiches the criticism between layers of reverence and adulation. How her words express her disenchantment but her eyes contrast it with encomium. It’s almost as if she’s saying, ‘I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t have to. Now behave, so that I don’t have to do this again. Will you?’
Well, it is not any surprise since you have shown tremendous diligence and rigour in your work over the past twelve weeks. On your first week, you introduced a new simpler and faster way of drafting press releases by using online web – app templates. You introduced them to a CRM App you had come across on the internet and everyone loved it. You came up with a new way of sharing feedback and having virtual meetings. You even proposed and implemented changes to the website and social handles for Symbiotic PR and all her clients. Brainstorming sessions are never completed without your contribution. You are a great asset in the organisation and Natasha has inexorably noticed it. Occasionally, she runs a project or idea through you first before she presents it to the rest of the staff. She might not have said it, but she has implied that she cares a lot about your opinion. She trusts you. She believes in you.
The annual Public Relations Society of Kenya Summit takes place around November of every year. They like to hold it next to the sandy beaches of Diani. Three days of pretending to talk about Public Relations then spending the evenings in bikinis and beach shorts. This year was not any different. Symbiotic PR Limited has twelve reserved slots. A return flight and full board accommodation at Diani Sea Resort. Maybe you can finally sneak into Lilian’s room and tear her nightdress into half and devour her. You know she would let you. She likes you back. In fact, you would have done it already, but she lives with her parents. And your bedsitter is not all that cosy for a lady her type. Now you have a suite at Diani Sea Resort. For three days. Owe unto Lilian’s nightdress.
The flight to Mombasa is fast. You have not been on a plane before. You enjoy the champagne and take lots of photos for your Instagram. You get to your suite and change into their white cashmere robes. They are soft, these robes. Lilian’s suite is on the 2nd floor. You don’t waste any time. You sneak into her Suite immediately after dinner. Her nightdress gives in. As you open the door to leave, you come face to face with your boss. She leers at you before opening the door to her suite and getting in, without saying a word. You go back to your suite asking yourself questions and answering them yourself. Did she recognise me? Of course she recognised you. Are you stupid? Would she know what I was up to in there? What else would a man be doing at his female colleague’s room at eleven o’clock in the night? Am I in trouble? You definitely are, son!
The three days speed by. Natasha does not bring up the issue until you almost believe she does not see well at night. Maybe that is what the cat-eyed sunglasses are for. On the last day, she asks you to hang behind as she would like you to help her out with something. However, she hooks up with her peers from other PR companies and takes so much time saying her goodbyes and does not realise how time flies. Before you know it, the two of you are too late to catch the flight back to Nairobi. She says to spend the night and catch the first flight the following morning. You oblige. That night, you two enjoy shrimp and salmon at the beach restaurant, courtesy of the general manager.
‘So, Sam. Where are you from?’ she asks.
‘Thika. Born and raised,’ you respond.
‘Interesting. What part of Thika?’ she digs into her shrimp.
‘My husband is also from there,’
‘Yes. I know him,’
‘Yes. He is running for office, right? He spoke at our church once,’
‘It’s a small world,’ she laughs.
‘What about you? Where are you from?’ you ask.
‘I’m a coastal girl. My folks are just here in Kwale. I can be home in an hour,’
‘Great. Why did you not pass by?’
‘Oh. Nobody’s home. My folks are visiting my elder brother. He is in the US,’
Your phone rings. You excuse yourself and answer it. You come back three minutes later, grinning like a Cheshire cat.
‘Your girlfriend?’ she pries.
‘Uhm, yes. How did you figure?’
‘That beam on your face,’
‘Does she know about you and Lily?’ she asks.
This question catches you flat-footed. Wait, you know? You were supposed to be blind at night!
‘You saw me last night, didn’t you?’ you drop your head, embarrassed.
‘I did. But I have known for quite a while now. Almost since a month ago,’
‘Is it that obvious?’ you wonder.
‘We are in the communications business, Sam. Our job is to listen to what is not said. I thought I trained you on this,’ she laughs.
A waitress makes her way to their table.
‘Can I interest you in some drinks?’ she asks politely.
‘I’ll have a glass of wine. White dry,’ Natasha says, ‘Sam?’
You are still in a whammy. You take a while before you clench your jaw and say, ”I’ll have a beer. Do you have a Turborg?’
‘Are you sure? You look like you need something stronger than a beer,’ Natasha intervenes. The waitress laughs cockily.
‘You are right. Get me a whisky on the rocks,’ you decide.
The waitress brings the drinks and walks away.
‘You do not have to be ashamed, Sam. This is perfectly normal for people your age,’ Natasha consoles you. She has noticed how abashed you have become.
‘You think? Did you experience the same?’ you probe.
‘Actually, that was how I met my husband. We worked together as interns at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,’ she confesses.
‘It is perfectly normal, as long as it does not compromise your productivity at work,’
This makes you relax. She understands you. The drinks keep coming. And she keeps talking. She tells you about her marriage; how she hates politics despite being smack in the middle of it through her husband; how he spends all his time campaigning and has no time for her; how they have waited for a child for the seven years they have been married but none has been forthcoming. She tells you of her religion. She is Muslim. How she remained a virgin until she got married; how her husband struggled to pay Mahr and how she plans to go to Mecca soon. She tells you about her friends; how they low – key hate her because of her successful career and how one of them tried to snatch her husband away from her. She tells you about her elder brother; how he got a scholarship to study in the US and has since never returned home. She tells you of her dreams and aspirations. She tells you of her desires and aspirations. She tells you everything.
At the drop of a hat, it is 2 o’clock in the morning.
You retire to bed.
Your suite is on the bottom floor but for some strange reason, you follow her up the stairs. She lets you in. She plays some music and asks you to dance with her. You hold her closely. You can feel her heart beating. You can smell the grapes from her wine. You can feel the dampness from her sweat. The music intensifies. You draw her closer. She is an inch taller than you. She bends slightly, angling her head to one side. She flips her hair. It rubs against your face. She licks her lower lip and arches herself forward. You hold the back of her head and softly brush your lips against hers. She moans faintly. You hold her firmly by her back and draw her in towards you. Your bodies touch. She sticks out her tongue inside your mouth. You roll yours around it. You grab her and lift her by your arms. You stagger to the bed and dump her right in the middle. You undress and climb to the bed. And you give her a night she has never had before. The music plays on.