Meeting him, you wouldn’t have been able to tell that he was a monster. That is the thing about predators. They are uncanny in their camouflage. Henry was all smiles and common courtesy. He was of average height, well-kempt, easy to like, and the one thing that had me sitting across from him; was that he was the Head of the Department in the company where I was looking for a job.
Something else about Henry. He had a fruity demeanor about him. It was the way he walked with a bounce in his step, like some model on a runaway, or the way he used his hands a little too much when talking.
What another man did in private was none of my business, I decided. Besides, we would be meeting in the office corridors, far removed from carnal needs and naked sexual charge. I was wrong about this and about a lot more.
I sat across from him and surveyed him. He twirled his straw in his glass of orange juice and puckered his lips around the tip to suck it in. With a stroke of his pen, he could change my luck. I knew it and he did too.
“Like I was saying, I am very passionate about telling brand stories,” I repeated myself.
“Drew,” he shortened my name with a twang as if giving it a long kiss with his puckered lips. “Work is for the office, this is a bar and lounge. Where we eat, drink, and make merry,” he added while picking up a chicken lollipop from his plate. It disappeared into his mouth and only a clean bone emerged. Which he later shredded before dropping it onto a separate plate that was full of shredded bones. “Gawd! The marrow is everything,” he remarked.
I was fresh out of campus; green and naive so his antics fascinated me more than anything else. I nibbled on a chicken lollipop and took a sip of my passion juice. I was passionate about telling brand stories after all.
“Look at the hips on that one,” he pointed at a waitress across the bar and lounge in a low-cut black dress who was all legs. It was an attempt at guy talk which only served to make me more uncomfortable. “You know what the problem with you is?” he asked after shredding another chicken bone, “You’re too sober,” he answered his own question. “Bring us two Screwdriver cocktails he added after calling a waitress.
I had drunk before. Cheap lagers that only gave me a buzz. The Screwdriver made me tipsy after the third sip. And it was a tall glass. “I don’t think I can finish this,” I said.
“Five thousand bob if you can make it halfway,” he teased while placing the money on the table.
All this sounded very strange to me but money, is money and when the evening was dying down I had ten thousand bob in my pocket. And there we were in the basement parking lot and his Audi A4 was making the noise cars make after the doors are activated to open.
“Let’s sit at the back for a while, so the booze in my head can clear,” Henry said. I could barely walk and I had only taken one Screwdriver. But he seemed sober even though he had taken three.
“We should probably get an Uber,” I said.
“Forget Ubers. I drive an Audi, yet you want to jump into a cramped Passo? Gawd, Andrew have some class,” he said while opening the back left door for me. “After you boss,” he remarked before going around and sitting on my right side.
He got two bottles of water and handed me one and started going on about how there were great opportunities in the company he worked for and that the future was bright for people who were smart and who knew how to do what they were told. During his glib, he seemed to be leaning closer and closer to me. I thought he was blacking out, so I was getting ready to catch him from falling on my lap, only, we came face to face and his lips grabbed mine.
I pulled back immediately, “Don’t be like that Drew,” he slurred. “Do you want the job or not?” he asked while squeezing my arm.
I opened the door and staggered out of the basement parking lot. I walked for quite a while, my mind blank before realizing I had ten thousand bob in my pocket and called an Uber. Surprisingly, it was a Passo that showed up.
As I was driven to my bedsitter in Roysambu my mind was awash with thoughts. I was a hot-blooded male who was attracted to women and only women. What made Henry think he could come onto me like that? Was it the booze? Or was this what he did? In my mind, things could not be any more clear. I would rather stay in my situation a hundred lifetimes and then some, than crawl into bed with him for all the riches in the world.
All the same, I landed an internship at the company. No, not through the back door. That was out of the question. You see, just like there are terrible people in this world who want to take advantage of others. There are also good people who want others to progress based on merit and not by how loose their moral compass is.
So there I was working under Henry. We never talked about that evening, it never came up, not once. Though I did make it a point to M-Pesa him back the ten thousand bob he had given me after my first salary was credited to my account.
We were cordial for the first six months. However, I would be remiss to go straight to the dynamics of our working relationship without touching on the company’s culture. It seemed that new hires were the latest sex toys for upper management. If you looked around and saw a beautiful girl or a handsome man you could almost bet with certainty that they were sleeping with one of the heads.
I had understood this on a Friday evening. We usually found ourselves in a nearby bar, chatting while having one or two drinks before we called it a weekend. When Norah, one of my colleagues approached me. She was slender. In a short black skirt, platform heels, purple stockings, and braids. Which gave her a Harley Quinn, night nurse vibe. On her hand was a pink drink, it bubbled just like her personality.
“Soooo, who is your blesser?” she asked while eyeing the honchos in the room. There was Henry, the CEO, the Creative Director, Operational and Financial Officer.
“What do you mean?” I asked clueless.
“I mean, who is calling your tuuune…. You know from the saying, he who pays the piper calls the tuuune,” she added and giggled after seeing the confusion on my face.
“I applied and got an internship through merit,” I said finally.
“Oh, you are actually telling the truth,” she sobered up for a split second and looked at me with shock as if I was from another planet.
“He used to call the tuuunes,” she glanced at the Creative Director. “Until he found a tighter cuuunt, I suppose,” Norah added with bitterness in her tone while pointing a finger at a newly minted girl who had just been confirmed as an Account Manager.
For the rest of that night, Norah went on to tell me what I didn’t really need to hear. Glancing at almost everyone in the room and showing me their blessers. I was astonished by some of the men Henry was sleeping with—simultaneously for that matter. Macho men who had girlfriends and wives and who often set the pace for masculinity in their male friend groups.
I wanted to cry and laugh at the same time but I suppose when it came down to it, what most people truly worshiped was money. Money meant that you could change neighborhoods, drive a good car, and wear trendy clothes. Money meant the latest iPhone and adoration from the congregation of everyone else who worshipped on the same altar.
I would keep my dignity, even though it seemed the hardest thing to do in a place that was rotting from the inside out.
As the night progressed, Norah went from being bitter to crying, asking me how she would get him back and regretting telling me everything she had. “Don’t tell anyone else what I told you, prooomise?” she whimpered. As far as I could tell, there was no one to tell because there was no secret that everyone was in on.
At the six-month mark, the temperature between Henry and I started rising. He would come to the office, say hello to everyone, and skip me. Sometimes, he would come with treats and give everyone except me. He always criticized my work even when everyone in the department only had nice things to say about it.
I found it childish. It’s strange this life. When someone takes a certain position you take the opposite one with ease. It’s as if that is what is required for this blue marble we inhabit to continue rotating on its axis. So I found myself taking the high road every time he took the dirt road.
“You will have to redo this report. It stinks of amateur hour,” Henry barked one fine morning like he often did.
“No problem,” I said while going back to my desk.
It was quite amusing how he criticized me instead of the work. The report itself had been approved by the client in a recent status meeting that he didn’t attend and I knew he hadn’t as much as looked at it. I sat down and changed the theme and sat on it until he asked for it again.
“It’s no good,” he said. “Try to pick up the pace slightly higher than a tortoise this time round,” he added.
The grapevine around the office was that he was trying to get me fired on grounds of incompetency but really, he didn’t need any grounds, after he was bored with one of his subordinates, he simply whispered to his circle of cutthroats and had you dismissed on whatever grounds they thought of during their board meetings, often held in bars.
I decided to get ahead of it by having a word with him because in my mind of minds, I believed that he would listen to reason. I found myself in the bar and lounge we had met at the beginning of all these on a Friday evening, seated across from him. A lager in my hand and a Screwdriver in his.
“You know I have nothing against you and you don’t have to feel threatened by me,” I began.
“I have nothing against you,” he said and I raised a brow. “Believe it or not Drew,” he continued with a twang before his lips puckered and went back to his straw. “I want you to thrive in this company,” he added.
“And what about…”
“Water under the bridge,” he interrupted me. “I will get you a drink as a sign of our truce,” he raised from his chair and dissolved to the counter. He came back with a shot-glass, in it was what looked like the Screwdriver he was drinking. “See, I know you are a lightweight so I got your size.”
“Thank you,” I said raising my glass, a bit mad with myself for making something out of nothing, as we made a toast to new beginnings.
I did not know when the lights were switched off and everything went dark but I knew it had something to do with the drink Henry had given me.
Part Of The Circle
I woke up in an Airbnb in Kilimani. At first, I didn’t know where I was. My throat was parched and there was discomfort in my anus. I saw the lube, then I saw the note on the bedside table. ‘Everything has been paid for, you can take an off day today.’ It read and I immediately knew what Henry had done.
I had a scalding hot shower. Every part of my body felt filthy. I was in too much shock to process what had just happened to me. While I was scrubbing myself, I realized that Henry had multiple partners and he probably didn’t use protection with any of them. After the shower, I dressed up, got an Uber, and rushed to AAR.
“You know, if you’re really concerned about your sexual health, you should come with your girlfriend. It helps build trust,” The doctor who was attending to me said, oblivious of my situation before she went ahead to prescribe PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) that I was to take for 28 days.
The emotions hit me like a ton of bricks when I went back to the office the following day. I was wearing a hoodie covering my head and dark sunglasses. I did not want the world to see my shame. I sat at my desk and opened up my laptop and every so often I felt like I would vomit the breakfast of the samosa and tea I had earlier.
“Is everything okay?” Norah asked. She looked beat up herself. With large eyebags that not even makeup could cover up. As if she had been looking for something at the bottom of a wine bottle the previous night. Going from bottle to bottle and after the sun came up it was still nowhere to be found.
“A bit of nausea but I will be fine,” I said and she gave me that look, that she had now gotten in the habit of giving me. A look that said, remember not to tell anyone my dirty little secret.
I went back to my laptop and found an email that I was being summoned by HR. I thought Henry had finally pulled the trigger and I was about to be dismissed but instead, Carolina the Head of HR who had similar appetites to those of Henry was promoting me to the Head of Client Service. With a package that was four times what I earned. Say what you will about money but it has a way of taking the sting away, albeit momentarily.
In hindsight, I should have rejected the offer and ran as far away from the company as my legs could carry me but a part of me felt it was the least Henry could do and the package was a small price to pay for the abuse I had suffered.
I remember the end of the month was just around the corner and my promotion was to start effective immediately. I had never seen so many zeros in my bank account statement. I could take a mortgage, I could put a downpayment on a car, I could take a vacation, no, vacations.
Now, I have never been a flashy guy but the comfort and ease that money brought with it opened up a Pandora’s box that I never knew existed within me. The second-hand clothes fell off, replaced by Woolworths, LC Waikiki, and Mr. Price. I moved from Ruiru to South B and put a down payment on a brand new Mazda Axela which I would finish paying with bank financing within a year. It sounded like a short time but it ended up being some of the longest days of my life.
After I was properly tethered to the yoke of earthly things, Henry came knocking for his pound of flesh. And I properly understood the saying that there was no such thing as a free lunch. The first time I had sex with him sober, I cried. You don’t want to see a grown man crying. His tears mixing with mucus while he wipes them off with the back of his hand and the downpour won’t stop and the hiccups keep coming to confirm to you that you are truly at rock bottom.
After that, I had to take three shots of vodka before the foreplay. Yes, there was foreplay. Henry was paying premium fees and he would settle for nothing less than the premium package. I had to take another three to undress and three more to do the act. I was on a constant prescription of PEP to the point where I had become immune to its side effects.
Introductions to the circle of cutthroats, who were basically the entire upper management, except for two or three people, who still had to play the game of appearances followed swiftly. I was one of them now, I thought, just as filthy as they were.
We sat in high-end bars, restaurants, and hotels around the city and I watched them drink, do drugs, and gossip. On and on they went about their conquest; who was a good lay, who they were promoting, and who needed to get laid off because they had gotten too fat, too lazy, or too… whatever their drug-induced paranoia came up with. “Cheer up Andrew,” the Creative Director was telling me. “It’s only a matter of time and you will also be robbing the cradle.”
It’s unbelievable that it’s the vodka that saved me. I had become an alcoholic and my work began to suffer and not even Henry could cover for me. I arrived in the office one fine morning, okay, mid-morning, bordering on afternoon, and not very fine. I was operating on autopilot. unthinking, unfeeling, inhuman. I opened my work email and there it was, a dismissal letter from Carolina on the grounds of gross misconduct.
I got up from my desk laughing and walked all the way to the reception and lifts while still laughing. I found it amusing that I was being fired for being drunk. A coping mechanism I had acquired from the true misconduct that was happening in the organization and for the first time in a long while I felt human again.
For someone who was being paid a hefty sum—to the tune of half a million a month, my account was empty. You will be astonished at how quickly the high life gobbles up money: It’s a gym and country club membership that you barely go to. It’s a purchase of a motorbike that you never ride, it’s sleeping in a five-star hotel because you saw a gecko in your house and the list of wastefulness goes on and on.
The easy part was selling the car, the motorbike, and any other frivolous thing I had bought and moving from South B to Ngong. The hard part was accepting that I had an alcohol problem and I needed help.
In a year or so, I drank through most of my money. I remember bumping into Henry in downtown CBD where I had resorted to hanging out because of the availability of cheap liquors and he almost couldn’t recognize me. He had a young man in the passenger’s seat of his Audi. They were there for a brand campaign and I felt the sting that Norah had felt of being replaced.
“I will see you around,” he said in the way people do to dismiss you. I knew I would be the topic of discussion for months to come in their circle of cutthroats. I knew it would also be a relief to them. Their biggest worry was getting sued and their gravy train coming to an abrupt stop. In my state, I wouldn’t harm a fly, let alone get to him. It was then that I decided to rise from the bottom. You must rise from the floor alone or fall back alone, Bukowski’s words, not mine.
I signed up for Alcoholics Anonymous and started attending the meetings religiously. I occupied my time with delivery services on a hired electric bicycle around the city, as I looked for work. Those were dark days, I questioned my choices and my sanity as I cycled throughout the city, delivering pizzas, burgers, and parcels to people who were oblivious to my situation.
However, there were not always dark, there were moments of calm, where I knew I just had to believe and push forward and what I wanted would come and it finally did, a middle management job at another company that I had been eyeing.
The culture was collaborative and hiring and promotions were done on merit. For the first six months, I was anxious; never trusting the tea and coffee that was provided by the company and drinking water from supermarket bottles, afraid someone would spike my drinks or tap me on the shoulder out of the blue because the piper had been paying and the time to sing the tune had arrived. But that day never came and I slowly relaxed.
I heard the news one fine morning. It was a fine morning indeed. I had just moved to Mountain View and completed the payment on my Toyota Prius. I was at my desk with a mug of porridge and nduma and my skin glistened with good health. “That head from that company is being sued for sexual misconduct,” One of my colleagues said.
I immediately looked up Henry on the web. The news was awash with stories of him drugging an ambassador’s son at a concert which had stirred a hornet’s nest and his victims were now coming off the woodwork in the dozens to record their statements. “Looks like the judge is really going to throw the book at him,” the colleague added.
At lunchtime, I silently got into my Prius, drove to Milimani Law Courts, and put down my statement. As I was getting back to the office; I saw someone who looked familiar staggering around the bars dotting Westlands around Mpaka Rd. “Norah,” I called and she looked at me. She hesitated before walking towards me.
She was all bones and missing teeth. “Andrew, is that you?” she said happy to see me. “Give me fifty bob for a drink,” she added.
“Get in the car, let’s talk,” I said. Turns out, she got the same letter I did and she had just been recently kicked out of her house. “I need a drink,” she insisted and I stopped at a Wines and Spirits and bought her a bottle of wine and she hummed back to life. Like me, her family was upcountry and she had no way of getting help besides the streets. The streets would help her all the way to the grave, I knew.
I called my job and told them I had gotten an emergency and I wouldn’t be able to come in the afternoon, which my reporting manager easily consented to. After all the good work I had been doing, it was the least he could have done.
“You’re going to stay with me,” I told Norah. “But on one condition. You will go to Alcoholics Anonymous without fail and you will be the supervisor of the supermarket I am setting up.” She nodded skeptically and I was content with that, I would draw it out until it became a solid yes and soon, a-hell-yeah and after she was well she would get a job and we would part our ways but we plan and God laughs, don’t we?
I watched her move from drinking a bottle of wine a day to half a bottle, to a glass, to drinking only on weekends. We visited the hospital for a thorough checkup and we were happy with our negative results. Her teeth were fixed, she began eating regularly and the meat returned to her bones and there she was, the bubbly Norah I always knew in her colorful skirts, stockings, and dresses which I suspect she spent most of the salary I paid her on.
She stopped drinking altogether, and we started keeping each other accountable. We needed to be even more careful now that we were expecting a child. We needed to make sure they never felt trapped enough to make the unfortunate choices we had made.
Oh, you’re wondering what happened to Henry? The judge really did throw the book at him. 98 years. Harsh! Don’t drop the soap, sir. Haha. I also heard the company he worked for got new management and the circle of cutthroats is being uprooted one by one, root and stem. Yeah, karma is slow but it always arrives.
If you enjoyed this, take a minute to like, comment, and share. I will be grateful and new readers will be too. Adieu!
I appreciate that not everyone can afford to pay for good writing right now. That is why I choose to keep the blog open for everyone. If this is you please keep reading for free.
But if you can, go ahead and buy ink for my pen with a small sum or a large one through Buy Goods Till 727506. Here are three reasons to support me.
Your money directly powers this blog by paying for hosting, subscriptions, WiFi, editing, and research.
I am independent, with no big man (or woman) controlling me, so you can be sure the writing is unbiased.
You will be directly supporting something you enjoy and playing a role in its sustenance and improvement.