‘Miss?’ the receptionist called, unconsciously smitten by the obvious beauty showered on the smooth skin of the new applicant.
‘Yes, Madam,’ Lynette said.
‘I will need you to fill in this form.’
Lyn received the simple form.
The reception area was crammed with expectant faces. Lyn knew she had the same familiar look on her face as she smiled at the lady behind the desk, who seemed to be in her late 20s.
Taking the pinned papers and scanning for an empty space, Lyn thought about the many unpleasant encounters she had had with mean receptionists who wanted anything but to deal with people. Well, this was nothing new in her job-seeking world. As she looked around she realized that each of the women appeared young, determined, and very attractive, which struck her as the intention of the job advert clause: “Only females of the ages 24-29 should apply for the job.”
‘Don’t forget to fill in the age slot,’ the receptionist reminded her.
‘And your work experience.’
Lyn replied, ‘Thank you.’
She was leaving the job she now held because of her boss.
‘It’s normal my dear,’ he’d said, eyeing her with his half-shut eyes, running his hand over her leg in the passenger’s seat of his car. ‘Nothing bad will happen.’
‘But you’re a married man…’ she would protest, shifting uncomfortably.
She hated it when he touched her. She dreaded the days she would be forced to sit next to him as he drove. Because he took every chance to look over at her and reach out to rub her leg. It took so much energy not to look at him and insult him.
‘Does my wedding ring upset you?’ he would ask, grinning sheepishly.
‘I can take it off if you want. If you let me have one night with you.’
He had the nerve. If there was any respect left for him then she had lost it. She loathed him because he seemed to think that his wedding ring was the only thing that was getting in his way and not even the fact that he had a family somewhere and a wife to whom he had made vows.
She was glad when he got tired of the cold shoulder she had constantly given him. It would have ended much worse than just losing her job. Not that she could not quit, but she still needed the money he paid her for the work she did and also because no other opportunity had presented itself. She had also thought that keeping him on a tight leash and denying him the one thing he wanted, would give her enough time to save up as much as she could before she quit.
Nelson, her older brother, had mockingly laughed at her bold attempts to find a decent job through the right procedures. Lyn could still remember the previous night’s conversation:
‘I hope it goes well,’ she said to her mother who was quiet for a while.
Nelson called, ‘Lyn?’
‘Exactly how many interviews have you been to?’
‘Meaning you’re going for the tenth the day after tomorrow?’
Lyn replied, ‘Of course.’
‘Do you know the manager or anyone there?’ Nelson asked again.
‘No, I saw the advert and applied, then got shortlisted…’
‘Save yourself the trouble, it will probably just end up like all the others,’ he cut her short.
Nelson gave a short laugh and staggered to his room, occasionally leaning on the walls to help him not fall flat on his face.
‘Let’s see what comes out of it’ was the only thing their mother said as she left for her bedroom.
Banking on hard work and justice to be able to get opportunities and even jobs had been the main bone of contention between Nelson and Lyn. Her brother believed in doing just enough and knowing all the right people. He believed in giving up something to get to where you wanted. But Lyn knew exactly what her brother meant when he reminded her that girls her age were way smarter than she was. She did not blame him; that was probably why he took to being drunken most days of the week.
Someone meeting him for the first time would have thought he was just one of those drunkards who knew nothing more than to be found sleeping in filthy ditches. Up until he spoke, Lyn found comfort in the fact that her brother’s poor life choices were driven by reasons only he understood on Campus. He was a smart boy. She looked up to him. Every day she grew up watching him work so hard to make a life for himself and her, his only sister.
They had only met their mother when Lyn was fourteen. Their mother had left them years before, when their father had threatened to marry a second wife because of their constant marital fights. Lyn was only five years then. Nelson was ten.
He had told her a comforting story about their mother going to Kampala to buy them Christmas clothes and then returning home. The night before, there had been shouting and noises of objects breaking in their parents’ room.
‘She will not come here…!’ they had heard their mother shout amid sobs.
Their father had said back, ‘She will!’
‘Not when I’m here!’
‘I am the head of this family and I make the decisions, Sarah. If anyone does not agree with what I decide, they can leave!’
Their father’s voice was not as calm as it had always been.
‘You cannot bring her here. You don’t have any respect for me, for our marriage? What about our children?’
‘You can leave, Sarah!’
The bedroom door had banged shut.
The morning came with peace and quiet. Lyn thought that their mother was probably happy. That’s why she was leaving to go and buy them clothes in Kampala. So the two siblings had waited…
But their mother never returned. Lyn stopped sitting and waiting for their mother outside the big house their father had built.
The next moment, their father came home with a dark beautiful lady who carried a drooling baby.
‘This is Salome,’ their father had said by way of introducing the new woman. ‘She will be my wife and your mother. The baby on her lap is your small sister Leah.’
Then Lyn knew that her mother had not gone to Kampala. She would not be returning with their Christmas clothes.
Lyn knew her mother did not remarry after she left her father. She was always uptight and quarrelsome. Lyn had never asked her why. Though from the short conversations they had after Sarah returned, Lyn could tell that her mother had been through hell.
It was difficult for Lyn to ask her mother why she had left them behind. When she finally gathered the courage to ask when Nelson was around, their mother casually dismissed them with ‘you will understand when you have your own spouses and families.’
They had gone looking for Sarah months after the death of their father. Lyn’s brother had hardly talked, but during their father’s illness, Nelson had said more words to Lyn than he had in the nine years they had been without a mother. He had a close relationship with their father than even she could explain. His father loved him as well, probably because he’d been his first-born child and only son.
Their father valued education. He sent them to some of the best private schools in the County. Though Nelson and Lyn were equally good performers in their classes, Lyn felt Nelson’s excellence meant much more to their father.
The first time Lyn heard Nelson cry was when her sibling went to speak with their father for what neither of them knew would be the last time. Lyn had heard a loud wail and series of frustrated thunderous shouts come from their father’s room.
The big man had gone after his long struggle with ‘pneumonia.’ Lyn was thirteen then.
That was the last.
A few months after their father had been put to rest and his belongings shared out, Nelson suggested they look for their real mother even though Salome was still good to them. They had even grown fond of Salome. Sarah was genuinely happy to see her two children. She did not quarrel with Salome.
Lyn got to know her mother. ‘Uncle’ Morris, Sarah’s lover, came visiting. He did so on weekends and most weekdays. Lyn knew her mother’s lover used to look at her queerly. His stare would leave wounds on Lyn’s face. Her mother became suspicious.
Before Morris’ arrival, Lyn had never seen her mother smile much. Then the visits became fewer, before they completely stopped. Lyn did not see Morris again, because Morris left and Lyn heard her mother cry herself to sleep that night. Sarah refused to eat anything that day.
Her mother used to stock tablets in a drawer that she kept locked. Lyn had seen them one day while cleaning when her mother forgot to lock it up. Something about the tablets seemed familiar to Lyn. They looked similar to the ones her father had religiously taken before he was diagnosed with ‘pneumonia.’
A few months later when Nelson was back from Campus, their mother explained to them that she was sick. Though the two siblings were shocked, Lyn understood a lot of things once she was told the truth. She also understood why Uncle Morris never came back once her mother told him about her condition.
Lyn learnt that sometimes hard work was not enough in a society where exchanges determined where you would be. She had men her age try to make advances – which was totally normal – but when looks made you a prey for older men and potential employers, then that was not exactly a stronghold.
Nelson introduced her to one of his drinking buddies who was seemingly loaded and needed a temporary assistant researcher in his consultancy firm. Waigwa was flashy. Well, that did not go so well since the only reason he seemed to want her to work for him was just so that she could warm his bed.
‘Idiot!’ Nelson had yelled at Lyn. ‘Why fear a simple deed? Integrity doesn’t pay the bills! Many beautiful girls your age keep older men company and drive Range Rovers while you are still fishing for meagre jobs that fetch you peanuts.’
Lyn knew that was true. Her friends at school no longer lived in girls’ hostels. Nor did they board buses to attend lectures.
Waigwa still went around a lot and Lyn’s mother always complained about how badly Lyn was treating Waigwa. Lyn could not exactly tell her mother why that was the case. Lyn thought her own mother didn’t understand her. She never confided in her mother even with her persistent attempts to talk her up. Lyn knew she could not blame her. Maybe they had nothing in common. The only person Lyn had known all her life was Nelson, now a senseless drunkard.
Sarah kept talking about how her daughter should settle for someone who had money, which would have meant her future was catered for. Even if she did not love him, she would learn to. That was part of the reason Lyn had never talked to her mother about what she went through. A day would not go by without Lyn feeling that either Nelson or her mother would marry her off, first chance they got.
Lyn could not help but wonder if the labyrinth the three of them found themselves in would not have been if their mother had stayed. If their father was still alive, would Nelson have become a better person? Done something with his life? Would he still be caring and loving? And her mother, would she still laugh just as she had when they played around their old compound? Would she still be swaying her hips to the Lingala tune of her husband’s radio after he’d pulled her up to join him for a dance? Would Sarah still be as young, graceful, and happy as before? And would Lyn know the value of having the people she loved around her? Would she want a family of her own? Would she be willing to trust a man with her heart not to do what her father had done to her mother, or how Uncle Morris left her mother? (For if Uncle did really love Lyn’s mother, then he would not have abandoned her). Or the employers she had worked for, who did not care how good her work was, but when she would give in to their offers?
She quickly signed at the bottom of the sheet and looked up at the receptionist who squinted at her in confusion.
‘I said you can go in for your interview.’
‘What did you say?’ Lyn asked.
‘A lot of people are waiting!’ the receptionist cursed.
Lyn timidly handed her the papers mouthing a short apology and rushed to the open door. She walked in and there was only one man in the office. She took in a deep breath since she had prepared for a panel interview.
The man looked up from his file and smiled.
‘Yes, Sir,’ she responded.
‘Please close the door behind you.’
‘Have a seat, please.’
He feared to take another look at her face and be confronted by her radiant skin, dark, big eyeballs, and the tiny mouth.
Making her way to the seat, Lyn stiffened once she noticed his lips curl into a familiar smile.
‘You seem nervous.’
‘Maybe just a little,’ she admitted, shifting in her seat.
‘Is this your first job interview?’
‘Well, then,’ he said and stood up. ‘Tell me what you hide.’
His voice trembled at the hands of Lyn’s obvious beauty.
‘What did you say, Sir?’
He prepared his voice: ‘Tell me why you think you deserve this job more than all the other beautiful girls who want the same position.’
Image: Joshua Fuller via Unsplash