“You wanted to see me?” Ojay’s voice was breathy. He’d come hurrying. Moni, who was tense herself, sat back in her leather chair drinking coffee made from raw beans and basking in its sweet aroma. She peered over the monitor at the backlit silhouette in her office doorway. She tended to leave it open when she wasn’t having a meeting, a practice that reflected her annoying willingness to be interrupted. This visitor, however, was not just welcome, she was eager to speak with him.
“Ojay,” she rapped gruffly, and tossed more coffee beans into her cup “Good to see you. Come in and close the door.”
Ojay had the queasy fear of being the first summoned to be lectured on the ethics of effective communication using graphics design after his design failed to pass the test. He had seen his colleagues getting fired that way: summoned, lectured and told to go. Reason? Incompetence. Moni Afinda was that kind of a boss; that unpredictable.
“Sorry I’m late, Madam. I got tied up with—.”
“All I want to hear right now is an explanation. Why are the graphics so horrible and why are you guys taking so long to impress me?”
“I can explain that, Madam,” he said as he made to pull the visitor chair beside her desk. “First of all, we don’t have a clear direction, Nya’Boss has given so many briefs that—.”
She sucked at a coffee bean and looked at him quizzically. “You don’t have a clear what?”
Ojay was lost for words. He licked his thick lips and looked away. He made a high whinny sound like a donkey. He looked as though he was going to have some sort of a fit. He stood there, his face puckered up like a squeezed India rubber mask, and his eyes dark with something like he was about to burst into tears.
Moni went a little cold at the sight of him. “Okay, Ojay, lets drop the formalities. Listen, I am not wrong to believe that we are stuck, that I am paying a bunch of designers who are unable to give me the creativity I need to move my company to the next level. After all, you and Fuka Fuka have given me a good reason to question your competence. So we need outside help. I need your help, Ojay?”
Ojay knew what it was. He was still for several seconds, his eyes focused on memories of Susan and her endless texts rather than the angry CEO or the nearly sparse bookcase behind her or the rattle of coffee beans inside a mug. He felt hugely relieved, though. At least his job was safe. “It’s not a problem, Madam. If it’s Susan you are referring to.”
“As in I know what your idea is.”
“It’s not repugnant, is it?”
“Good. Take her for dinner and spoil her. I will give you some money plus my car. Be good to her and try to love her, you might even be surprised to find yourself falling for her.”
The last remark made Ojay smile. He cleared his throat. “Well,” he said uncomfortably, “I will try.”
“Where do you want to take her?”
“As in a restaurant?”
“I don’t know.”
She considered him incredulously. I don’t know is an answer she detested. She hated not just the hopelessness of it but the thick-headedness of the one saying it. It never existed in her vocabulary and it amazed how, for crying out loud, some modern man in this Nairobi would say "I don’t know" in answer to a question and get away with it. She said, “Have you been to Kubadash Diner at Westgate? I mean of late.”
He shook his head.
“Try it, after all it’s my money you are spending. And consider this very important for this very good reason.”
The imperious coldness had returned into Moni’s voice. Ojay’s eyes widened, he looked jarred as he braced himself, waiting for the hammer to fall. The hammer did fall. Moni reached for a handful of coffee beans and readied herself to make another coffee. “I am getting rid of one designer and bringing in a new one at the end of the year. Edu stays since he is not a graphic designer: he’s an interactive media designer and he’s never failed me. That leaves you and Fuka Fuka, so between you and me and the coffee beans, your ass is safe as long as you do this job right. We all know Fuka Fuka is better than you, he is a good visualizer and he is gifted; he is more than just a designer, he is a communicator. So you might want to thank Susan for saving your ass.”
There followed an awkward silence as Moni played with coffee beans in her mug. “You can go,” she said in time.
Ojay got up and made for the door.
“One more thing, Ojay.”
Ojay stopped but did not turn.
“Senior designer. You want that don’t you?”
Moni sniffed at the coffee beans. “Do this right and there will be a reward. I don’t care if you make her drunk but treat her well and I mean treat her well.”
Ojay grunted. He didn’t know if she came away from these kinds of encounters with any more adrenalin. As the doors swung shut behind him and as he walked to his seat in the design studio, it occurred to him that the female managers that ran the world of professional men had no idea how terribly humiliated the men they ruled felt. He hated being manipulated. Still, at least her passive aggression thing wasn’t as bad as the overt browbeating he got from the inner fear of creating bad graphics and not keeping his job.
His phone beeped; a new message on his WhatsApp. It was Susan. What good timing, he thought as he thumbed through. The message was strangely uplifting:
“Ope u ok, I wish u al de best as u continue 2 b busy, nyc moments. Luv u, Sus.”
He thumbed a reply. ”Sawa basi.” Just that.
Almost instantaneously Susan called. “Sweerie, uko?”
“Job. Una-do nini Friday?”
“Friday? I have no plans, baibe.”
“Okay, give me a date, basi.”
“Haya. Aki the way you sumbuad me? Yaani the way u tesad me? Aki you better be serious this time, aki.”
“Poa, basi.” Ojay said. “Sawa.”
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