10:25 a.m. Corporate Paradise Restaurant, Upperhill. The plain-jane usher at the counter flashed a bright smile that contrasted with her dull-coloured, ill-fitting kikoi uniform. Her plastic heart-shaped name tag had the name Shiko engraved on it. The contrast of woman and attire only heightened the upsetting sense of unreality broadcast by the glowing ball-and-chain sign outside, corrugated iron roof and cottage-like bay windows, and the sunny yellow and green vitenge table covers.
“Karibuni,” Shiko said. “We have our special nyama choma today. You’re right on time. Early lunch?”
“No, we’ll have your special house cocoa,” Atieno said.
Bosibori followed Atieno to a table that was already being cleaned by a male server wearing the same abominable kikoi as Shiko. Was this the third or the fourth time Atieno had ended her day here this week? She wasn’t sure. It had all been a blur since the nightmare with Thoth began. It was a welcome taste of freedom after the blackmail rollercoaster. After two weeks in the bed, she had been excited to get a chance to revive AMBA in earnest finally.
Atieno pulled her chair and sat. She eyed her companion inquisitively. “What did you do?”
Bosibori shrugged and opened her menu. “Exercising my blogging right,” she smirked. “It’s amazing. People got bent out of shape over a series of blog entries Thoth used to write about why he believed his revolutionary business tactics were going to change branding and advertising forever in this country. People believed him; people were waiting for him to unveil his plans. But when they saw his dead body in his own blog yesterday, boom! Bang, crash, wallop! The end of an empire. People are miffed, I know. But I don’t care.”
Atieno smiled, and looked away for a second, then fixed her friend with a stern look of disapproval. “The end of an empire? You post images of a dead man in his blog and bring down his business empire and you say you don’t care?”
“Frankly speaking, he deserved it, you know that.”
“To die, you mean?”
Bosibori nodded. “More than that: to burn in hell.” She crossed her arms and straightened in her seat. “Seems the truth’s as hideous as can never be imagined. Look, he forced me… blackmailed me. You know how he is. Teddy cannot trust me anymore, you know. Thoth used Pato to scare him. Pato had some of my filthy pics.”
Her grim narrative was interrupted momentarily by Shiko’s appearance. She poured hot cocoa, dropped in a pair of cherry-filled chocolates, added some mint liqueur, and then topped them both with whipped cream.
“Karibuni,” Shiko said and went away.
Atieno flashed a humourless smile. She picked up the thread. “How tasteless. That crippled thief could’ve become the first man to drive me into adultery.”
“Maybe he did.”
“Can you imagine, Bosi?” She paused, made a face. Then she added, “I went there to kill him to save AMBA. But I swear to you, I found him dead.”
Bosibori nodded. She sniffed at her mug, smiled and took a sip, getting some whipped cream on her light brown nose. “I believe you. I had called him an hour before you were to meet him and he was not picking his phone. The autopsy report showed he died at six-thirty.”
Atieno heaved a heavy sigh. “To tell you the truth, I too don’t care. With all those corrupt technocrats like Thoth out of the scene, ordinary Kenyans like me are now getting their due. The country might be in chaos right now with the politicians running amok all over the place, but it’s a far better sight, as far as I’m concerned, than it was before the Government’s public funds committee scandal and the mortgages scam that nearly brought our economy to its knees. Thoth was plagued incessantly by his dirty deeds and was planning the worst. He needed a break, for sure. For my money—and I earned it by knowing a thing or two about the value and power of a woman’s private parts yesterday—I think it was worth the cost.”
Bosibori frowned. What was she hearing? “What money?”
Atieno smiled sheepishly. “The twenty-eight million. He touched me then he gave it to me. And don’t forget he; in reality, wanted to bring me down. He took Lolando away from AMBA. He was poised to take AMBA away from me, and he was succeeding.”
Bosibori fed her colleague with a curious grin. “He couldn’t take no for an answer. What trick did you use.”
“I won’t tell you. It’s your bloody fault he died, you know.”
“No way,” said Bosibori.
Atieno leaned frontward, leered, licked her spoon clean, “Under the circumstances, his death is your mea culpa and it sounds silly and unfortunate. I don’t care a hoot if you did it.”
Bosibori knew it sounded misleading. For; surely, that was not the way to reflect her sentiments on an important subject like this. But they were both in good spirits. Both were nursing deadly thoughts. They were both wired to be nasty business women, it was clear.
“They should have buried him?” Atieno said. “Cremation, ah-ah.”
“It was what he wanted.”
“To be burned up?”
“He said he was a bad man. He didn’t want the world to remember him.”
“Ashes to ashes. Dirt to dirt. Well, how brave! He set a new record. 35K for a funeral?”
“Yes. Coffin, 15K; crematory, 10K; the rest, outfit and stuff. How sensible. It took no less than two hours to cremate him.”
“Are you angry with him?”
“For getting himself killed? No big deal, it’s good he died. He rattled so many people up, it was only a matter of time and he knew it. I know that I’m at least partially to blame.”
“So…” Atieno paused, stirred the whipped cream into her drink, and took a long, thoughtful sip. “If it weren’t for you acceding to Thoth’s screwy idea to take AMBA away from me and make you a director, it wouldn’t have been necessary to ignite what happened. And that makes his death your fault. The businesswoman’s fault. Maybe this makes it our mea maxima culpa? The businesswoman in you, that is.”
Bosibori sipped her cocoa and conjured to her mind the answer to the question. She gazed beyond her boss for a long moment before saying anything. When she did, her voice was low and laced with emotion, like she was on the verge of tears. “Businesswoman’s fault? My mea culpa? I don’t think so. I was only stemming the tide. I was windmill-tilting myself to launch 2-Help Walemavu when he knocked me down and blackmailed me with his cranky proposal to betrayal you. But after what you just said, I’m beginning to wonder if maybe I’m looking at my fault. My fault? Our fault? You and me? Really?”
“You sound like you’re guilty.”
Bosibori took a breather. “I was just using AMBA as a target practice to launch my dream, it failed big time. Nothing to worry you. I apologise if.”
“If? You failed to launch Thoth’s big theft scam over my company because I stopped it. There’s nothing else good going for you like losing your job or something, and you apologise? I repeat, and you apologise? Does that make this thing go away? You are guilty, my dear, and you have sins to confess.”
That was the moment Bosibori snapped. Finally, she had enough. She thought for a moment, not about what she was going to say, but how she was going to phrase it to make it as forceful as possible. “I don’t feel any guilt, my dear, so you and your tongue-lashings about why I was making deals with the bad boy in a wheel chair is a cop-out. The guilty person is you. I know where you were while you were whizzing on the phone trying to locate Thoth; you were right beside him in his bed doing the naughty naughty oh-baby, harder-baby thing with him. You think I don’t know? You think I am a fool, huh?”
Atieno’s eyes were ablaze and her mouth was drawn tight. She was about to jump out of her seat. She was clearly ready for a good fight, prepared to argue all day if necessary.
Bosibori continued. “And don’t you dare say I have no proof because all I have to do is call Pato. He told me everything. I about bust a gut trying not to laugh at my puppy dog telling me how you got the cripple on top of you and nearly broke his bones trying to ram him inside the big you like cassava, and here you are saying you just touched and he gave you 28 million! Isn’t it ridiculous? Yeah, you can rant and rave and make stories and lay it out all and slap me in my face but I have to tell that you fucked him and robbed him and got him killed.”
Atieno set down the cup of cocoa she was holding in her hand, shaking so violently that she spilled the viscous dregs of cocoa and sugar at the bottom of the cup. “I didn’t kill him.”
“I didn’t say you did. But you had sex with him, you can’t deny it. There’s no way he could have given you the money. You set him up. For me, I had sex with him to sacrifice for AMBA. Just like you did. We are guilty together—and I say, hey lady, you aren’t clean like I’m a dirty lady and hell yes, we had a great time working the night shift with a cripple to save our company. I had been screwing him over and over to have him support 2-Help Walemavu and he’s a smart schemer and he taught me to be a schemer and a smart businesswoman, and so I did what I had to do. But you are a married woman who..., who... Adultery is the word and I know you hate to hear it.”
Atieno’s nostrils were wider than her eyes. She expelled air in heavy breaths. “Think I underestimated you,” she said with exasperation. “Okay, I did it. You think I’m losing my mind just because?”
“Yeah. Adultery is a bad thing.”
“That pains you... stinks bad to you?”
“Yes, it does, baby.”
Atieno plopped herself on the table and took a deep breathe. “Look, I did it once and that was the all of that date. I spiked his drink and turned his iPhone off knowing he would be pressing my chimes one million times or more and calling you. So I psyched up myself in my sexual bliss and spread myself out and let him do what he wanted while I just counted all the great 28 millions that were mine for rescuing my AMBA. And I promised myself that I would go to church and repent more than the countless times I had done it; each time I had taken my panties off and spread my legs and bent over and given a piece of Steve’s goods to men with influence to get tenders and loans and overdrafts and contracts to survive in business. Private stuff. I am a beautiful woman and I am a royalty for men but I am a queen for Steve. For him, it’s a matter of heart, not body. With words of poetry, his ticket is in my heart. With tough bargaining, men’s money gets into my accounts through my thatched ATM. Now I’m looking pretty and young and soft and nice and faithful for my Steve for the rest of my life, not that we ride on a rain bubble of superficial or nothing. I soaked good in the tub with steaming water with bubbles of scented soaps and washed off that crazy cripple touching me and whining about his love for me and giving me millions and promising to give me more.”
“Say you are a slay queen. Who killed him?”
“His enemies in the Government, I guess. The scam he was launching could have gone down with many politicians.”
“Yeah, I know the Government paid you to execute him. Who killed him?”
Tears rolled down Atieno’s face. “He made me link up with a jerk from Jericho. His name is Ojuku, he is a bad guy from many years ago who was always playing me like I was playing him even before we both knew it, and he introduced me to porno videos and bangi and chang’aa and all bad things of the ghetto, and I enjoyed all that and had the best time of my life before I turned eighteen, and I got V.D. And pregnancies and abortions happened after I turned eighteen. Once or twice, and... twice, really. And I got the scars I still carry with me to this day, both on my physical body and in my soul and it makes me the animal I am sometimes. Then there he was on his way to prison for knifing that polite dude from Buru who got me in bed and loved me and taught me how to love gently and was schooling me into the ways of the polite society. Ojuku bust up while we were in bed in the heat of good loving and nearly killed him. I hated Ojuku for that and always wanted to set him up. Well, now he’s going to prison again, this time for a long time. Murder, my sweet.”
And Ojuku couldn’t out figure out that he was one of Atieno’s tools in his stoned, coked, drunken brain of sickness. O, what a crafty shenanigan. Bosibori couldn’t help marvel at how the Eastlands boys used to wet their appetites, make their pledges, going out of their way and crafting plans to get past Atieno’s bossy attitude and tough brain onto the dyn-o-mite body. She didn’t have much sympathy for this confession or any other kind of hysterical melodrama her boss was acting out.
“How does it make you feel?” Bosibori asked.
Atieno sighed. “I feel good. Happy. Relieved. I have my wineries restored after I trampled a thief in my vineyard. And I’m not a whore, and I’m never going to be a whore again, ever! I am Steve’s queen and any man who plunders Steve’s goods goes to the cemetery or prison. Bosi, look, I am at a point where it feels good and if someone sidles up to me on the street and bangs words like I’m some low life hustler from Bahati, I will just hit him with the tire iron of my tongue. Bosi, don’t ask me more questions? Is his death my fault? Yes, it is.”
“It’s not your fault and neither is it my fault either,” Bosibori said. “It’s businesswoman’s fault. Thoth sold us similar outfits.”
Atieno smiled big, her nostrils flared. She whispered, “Businesswoman’s fault? Yeah. Bosi, uhm, just say as Americans say: it’s nothing personal, just business. Don’t look at me that way, it’s cynical. Hey, now that it’s all over, do I say we’re even?”
Bosibori nodded. “If you say so and if you mean it.”
“Then forgive yourself and let’s keep everything under wraps, can we?”
Bosibori sighed tiredly. “You win and I’m happy for you.”
The fire hadn’t gone out of Atieno’s eyes. Not quite. “Uh-huh? This is for us, girl. Hey, cheer up.”
“Back in business,” Bosibori said tightly, her face set.
“Back in business. Say it again.”
That didn’t help; Bosibori felt bad. She couldn’t continue working in AMBA as is. Vanquished and defeated, full of remorse. As for her complicity in Thoth’s death, well, that was her bargaining chip. Working for AMBA? Maybe she would…
“Yes. Is that what you want to hear?”
“That’s what I want to hear. It’s a win/win for us and for AMBA. Now, can we discuss your 2-Help Walemavu?”
Bosibori shook her head. “The donors lost money. Surprise, surprise... Thoth died and the donors lost money. Your 28 million was part of it. Hakuna pesa.”
Atieno whistled. “That’s just so sweet... Well, I think those donors got what they deserved! Whatever they lost, they deserved to lose! They thought they were so smart, trying to work with thieves, and guess what? They got their asses beat! Yeah, Mr. Thoth stole their dirty money, and that’s what they deserved! This is Kenya, baby! Let’s go for lunch.”
“No, I’m still a bit queasy from the thundering slap. Look, I’m having a really hard time trying to accept this.”
“Wewe wacha. I just survived the smart cripple’s wringer too. Let’s go for lunch and celebrate, come on, no buts.”
But Bosibori knew she had another think coming. Could her mea culpa lead to her downfall? Her thoughts were in lockdown, her mind nearly void and empty.
Atieno, though, reflected on what had happened with relish. She had issues, with herself than with Bosibori. She read somewhere that it is very easy to kill a person, just convince them their work is useless and unimportant. You can add to that, it is equally as easy to kill a person by convincing him/her his/her life is useless and unimportant, which is what she had done to Bosibori. She had never supported her 2-Help Walemavu dream from the word go. Therefore, there was nothing like betrayal on Bosibori’s part. She essentially did what she had to do. That was why she turned to Thoth, who backed her idea and easily won her over. And used her. Atieno supposed, though she hoped not, that Bosibori would either blackmail her or kill herself. For Nairobi City is a snake eating its tail, though it never devours itself completely, for then there would be nothing of it to eat itself. And Bosibori was smart; she tried to play act and work her dream, tried to think she was at ease in her boss’ world, when both of them knew she wasn’t. And Atieno tried the reverse as well, which was equally ridiculous. But snake cities make even a lady tough like bitumen, because Bosibori was going to remain with that toughness in her. She was not going to be a loyal worker again. And when she shed tears with regrets, she was going to do so in a toilet. But she wasn’t so sad and so confused she looked like a hopeless someone on the ledge of a huge city building, twenty floors up, trying to remember how all the way down there, she would summon up enough reserve to pretend to be committing suicide or dying tragically like a troubled city person doing the right thing killing stress.
But Atieno had the last laugh. She had resoundingly floored Thoth and stopped Bosibori. She didn’t particularly care for how she had been forced to deal with this, but all in all, her choices were limited. She did what she had to do as a businesswoman.
Bosibori added more fire. “Something remains.”
Atieno knew. “I know. Your price. Say it. Bossy Bori.”
“I want 40% of AMBA or else... That’s my price.”
Atieno had no idea how old and ugly she looked in her wordless astonishment as she sat there in dazed silence digesting Bosibori’s sudden aggression, coming face to face with her bold and almost chocking demand. She bit down on the inside of her cheek because she couldn’t let her tongue do what it really wants—to lash itself outward. She swallowed down the tightness in her throat. “Enough, Bosi,” she used her warning voice. “I’m so fucking tired of you.”
Bosibori clenched her teeth with anger. One part of her recoiled; another looked with relish at the clarity of her future life. It wasn’t just Atieno’s arrogance that distressfully drew out loathing in her; there was something much more. Fear. Dread. Atieno was unpredictable.
The ghetto scars never wear out.