In this country, a boss should always be bald and have a big belly. My uncle isn’t bald, he hasn’t got a big belly, and you don’t realise, the first time you see him, that he’s the actual boss of a big office in the centre of town. It’s in Heshima House, a well-polished building flanked by the Ministry of Police and that banking complex with the huge playground that you can see from the highway. All the bosses that come out of those buildings definitely have big bellies and shiny heads. There’s a fancy café on the ground floor of Heshima House with green sun umbrellas on the terrace for them to have their boss-lunches and boss-drinks. Uncle Ben bought me a milkshake there once.
Other than the full head of hair and the flat, strong tummy — it’s so strong, I can stand on it with both feet and he will just laugh until I fall off — nobody suspected Uncle Ben of being a boss because everybody knows he is a university professor. Respectable, for sure, but not boss-level respectable, not in this economy. But he has a house by main campus, and his students swear up and down that he’s the coolest scientist they know. He only wears his glasses to drive, and when he does, I think Mama feels like maybe she married the wrong brother, because Pops the Popsicle is nice enough but sometimes he’s boring. Uncle Ben is never boring.
Anyway, so now Mama is pretending she knew something was off about Uncle Ben all along because Aunt Sheri is telling her what kind of office he owns, and they do not know I’m listening from under the kitchen window. Its signboard sits amongst many on the side of Heshima House, not at all out of place. Its clients are certainly of boss-stature. Its slogan promises high quality and absolute discretion, but Aunt Sheri knows how to know people who know people. That’s how she ended up with the catering contract at the Ministry in the first place, which is how she ended up wondering why civil servants working after hours still strolled over to Heshima House after her she upended the canteen menu with her delightful food, which is how she followed to find out and noticed they were heading straight for the elevator instead of turning right into the café, which is how she went looking for somebody who worked in the building and could answer her increasing questions, which just happened to be a young man coming out of the elevator. It took Aunt Sheri a few days of charm and free meals to coax a comprehensive response out of the man, but Aunt Sheri had arrived at our house this afternoon wearing victory on her face like it was new foundation, and announced to Mama that Professor Benson Shikuku, PhD., was also a most successful owner of Great Baobab Investments, the city’s biggest and most exclusive male brothel.
Wairimũ Mũrĩithi (@gathonii_ ) is a sometimes-writer, sometimes-editor, sometimes-student and full-time reader. She lives, loves and cycles across Johannesburg, and sends messages and memories home to Nairobi. She has a thing for green coats. When she is not doing all the things mentioned above, she is asleep. Buy her potatoes to keep her happy.
This story was published as the winner of the AFREADA x Africa Writes Competition. Writers had to produce a 500-word story from the first two sentences of Alain Mabanckou’s novel, Tomorrow I’ll Be Twenty. Read more competition entries here.
Related country: Kenya
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