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Excerpt for Businesswoman's Fault by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Copyright © Okang'a Ooko, 2017

First published in 2015

The right of Okang’a Ooko to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988




This book is a work of fiction. All names and characters are either invented or used fictitiously. Because some of the stories play against the historical backdrop of the last two decades, the reader may recognize certain actual figures that played their parts in the 1970s and 1980s. It is my hope that none of these figures has been misrepresented. The historical events and accounts based on real occurrences are merely used to enrich the plot. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you may have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this ebook on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, or in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express permission of Oba Kunta Octopus ebooks.

Typeset in Nairobi by Mikozaba (Mikono Za Baraka – Gifted Hands)

Cover design by

Mercy Massikkinni © Oba Kunta Octopus

Graphic design and illustrations by

Nsillu wa Ba Nsillu Manitcho Jnr.

Print version

ISBN 978-9966-093-51-6

Kindle eBook ISBN

978-9966-09351-6

In the memory of my father

S.F. Okang’a Oremo 1935 - 1993

And my mother

Esther Adhiambo Nyar Ogango 1948 - 2015

Contents

Businesswoman's Fault

Moni Afinda

Kichorochoro

Happy 9th Birthday

Sheer Madness Here In Nairobi

Kiss Ya Bangongi

First and Second Rhythm Guitars in an Old Benga Song

About the Author

Other Books by Okang’a Ooko

Businesswoman's Fault

Atieno Mary Mary Advertising, AMMA, had created concept around racy images of bare-chested young men and scantily clad women, shot in stimulating poses.

The agency’s brand manager, Angela Mukami, was more eager about it than a marketer in a top-prime mortgage bank and she was building it into a campaign. She had coined a name for it: Ji-Clad Poa. The client was Nguo Plus, a major Nairobi clothier, and the strategy behind the campaign was basically to emphasize and evince fifteen to twenty year olds’ imagination in fashion and trends. She had designed the campaign in a way that subscribers to their email were more likely to experience well-toned bodies in place of product shots. This was perceived as a better way to make people interact with the Ji-Clad Poa 3D product shots in their emails, allowing them to embark on exciting safaris.

But CEO Atieno Mary was rankled by this Dazzle-and-Fuddle approach. She felt it was as common as shopping at Nakumatt and lacked creativity. Other people in the know felt exactly the same. For instance, in a post at the SokoKoso marketing blog, marketing guru Ochieng Konyano (whose posts were usually longer than the Nile and candid like a K63 news broadcast) was as fleeting as a Tweet and briefer than a poor man’s eulogy when he pointed out  that four of AMMA’s messages—sent over a two-month period—had the same stuff common to Kenyan youth: adroit photocopy of American fashion. The story told in different variations was of the same well-clothed urban Kenyan man-boy and a shapely girl showing a lot of skin, nothing new. The brand manager had designed the campaign to target the four different subject lines: life of the Kenyan party and club boys and girls, casual inclination to American lifestyle (why not), the highest quality and just cool classic looks of the times. The selling point? Ji-Clad Poa campaign carried a brand promise that was personalized and talked straight to the consumer. It said: Have you met Nguo Plus? That was the selling point. But SokoKoso blog had some hard questions: how does the campaign encourage parents to bring their children’s dream to life? Such questions made CEO Atieno Mary twitchy.

It was the morning of the campaign’s third month and things were moving at a snail’s pace, slower than a Kenyan commission of inquiry. Angela Mukami (who had enough faith and passion in Ji-Clad Poa campaign to bend rules on the principles of branding and advertising like soda straws) was doing research on her favourite blog, B&AM Magazine, when Atieno walked into her office with the confusion and indecisiveness of a centipede with ninety-eight missing legs. Here she was, the CEO, the confident, the cock-sure, the unbwogable bootstrap capitalistic business woman in an expensive matching brown knit suit and a red Maasai scarf who could dance a mean rumba, scream her head off for Gor Mahia, front a harambee fundraiser and drive herself home to Karen at midnight after hard swallows at Tribeka. Yet somehow she couldn’t decide on a life-affirming task that lay ahead of her and her head couldn’t think straight. She had mixed feeling regarding the design elements of the campaign. When she checked into the meeting with Nguo Plus executives yesterday they didn’t have a badge and lanyard for her. But for her embroidered AMMA shirt and the way she schmoozed and shook hands like a man, she could have been a franchisee eager to learn about the next great designer apparel permutation rather than a marketer here to think with others, think aloud, think about thoughts, and advance thought. Now she looked ahead with hesitant anticipation to her tie-breaking meeting with those Nguo Plus executives tomorrow afternoon, and she didn’t like the way they were pushing.

She was still undecided. She wanted to ask one thing before okaying the campaign: how was email marketing going to work here? The design approach used the same old photo hook with each concept having the same monochrome image of a man and a woman in passionate embrace. What was new?

What was missing?

“Na ukumbuke this is the fourth time AMMA has sent those twenty thousand weekly emails this month,” she said.

Angela looked up six feet six inches at the volley-ball-player-size CEO with a gauzy half-smile as she gathered her thoughts which were as clear as Kenya’s economic models after Anglo Leasing. She explained, “Najua we have a lot of images and najua we have used them again and again and they appear in everything even in the e-shot. But now I have fresh images. Previously I was trading on perfect consistency, now I am working on variety. Variety as in diversification, unaona?”

Atieno was bumfuzzled. Getting this woman to see things your way was like trying to outsmart a Flamingo Casino slot machine. “Sawa. I know you want a parochial feel. Lakini it doesn’t feel right or even powerful enough: it’s black and white. It’s as common as a house for sale. We are doing this as a way to maintain continuity in a message announcing, aren’t we?”

Angela was vexed. Atieno could be impertinent at times. As impertinent as a Kenyan hip-hop ring tone. Like now she was not getting the point. “It doesn’t feel right for you and I know why. Using the same images in secondary slots again and again may not be creative, I know, but I prefer it as a way to maintain continuity in a message announcing; say, repeating over and over to close a sale. I know the practice does, in most cases, cause nothing but confusion but…”

“It does cause confusion because it gives subscribers the impression that you’re sending the same message over and over to thousands and thousands of other recipients. And why would I bother to open your emails if they’re probably the same?”

Angela shrugged. “Yes.”

“Do you get my point?”

“Sawa. I get your point but do you get my point too?”

“It’s not a single idea, Mukami, ni nini?” Atieno almost blurted.

Angela lowered her gaze. Whenever lady boss Atieno Mary got to use that tone, you got quiet. Arguing with her at such times was like dueling with hand grenades. The other boss-thing about her, apart from her magnificent height, was her voice. High, metallic, and without inflection; it fell on your ear with a hard monotony, irritating to the nerves like the pitiless clamour of the pneumatic drill.

Atieno heaved a heavy sigh and said, “Hm, well, it’s too late to literally go back to the drawing board again. I need to see your strategy report before I make any decision. Oh, and I have the Lolando board meeting tomorrow, and I have this sick feeling in my stomach.”

“Ati what?” Angela asked with keenness. “Sick feeling? Si uniambie.”

“Imagine. Oh, I was thinking aloud, dear. That’s bad for a director. Your strategy report? Before I forget.”

Angela looked nonchalant. “Hakuna shida. I will email it. Also you can download a brand activation manual I published in our website. Or I will attach it to the email. You wanted to suggest to me a big idea? Why are you not saying it?”

Atieno smiled. “S’kiza, don’t work too hard, my dear, sawa? Nimekubali. Imagine you baffle me to the point of confusion. Haki just imagine. I must say your approach to things is admirable. Your branding approach is always so different. That’s why this agency creates a team of brand ambassadors who are completely aware about the product and its benefits.”

Angela smiled stiffly. “Are you flattering me here, boss?”

Atieno frowned and took a breather. “Kwa nini?” Then she switched to a different subject. “Mukami, dear, can I brainstorm here?”

“Kabisa. Sure, go ahead. Niambie.”

“The 3G sampling, it’s the third week. I’m looking for some creative idea for the activation. I need out-of-the-box ideas pretty quick.”

Angela made an about-face-sure face. There was a slight quivering smile on her lips as head began to whirl with glare in her eyes. Her brain switched to its creative gear. It got to be like that in this business. One was always wracking their brains for creative solutions and was always ready to part with ideas. Things were done so fast and efficiently with brick-and-mortar brutality. Ideas tumbled in her head making and breaking alliances like thundering typhoons in Mfang’ano Island waters. She said, “The best place to sample your drink is the sports places where people need thirst breakers, like soccer. Like bar room halls where guys cluster together to watch soccer. Like rugby or cricket grounds where different teams play different games like hockey, cricket, basketball at different times.”

Atieno nodded. “I thought so too. Any interesting or even interactive suggestions about a way I can carry out a four to five day road show or outdoor activation where my product’s spark plug objective is to raise brand awareness and fight cheap alternative target in; say, car owners bazaars, shoppers in a mall or supermarket, taxi drivers, commodity stalls, workshop people etc, etc. Not just young people and sportsmen but even jua kalis. You know… even the SMEs.”

No, I would suggest some in-store promotion activities which will attract sec A and B+ for a product relating to TV. Besides the sports places and jua kalis, that is the obvious. You need to define your target consumers. Is it everybody?”

Atieno stood up and picked her bag. “It’s everybody. This is a soft drink. Anyway, thanks for your suggestions. I am meeting the client in two weeks, steam that smart brain and see what clever ideas you come up with, sawa?” At the door, she turned around and asked, “What’s the other activation?”

“I’m working on activation strategy for ChocoFun—a chocolate project that came in on Tuesday, unakumbuka? The essence of this brand is “Cheza-na-Ule” and the activation must be related to this brand essence. Target market is youth between eight to sixteen years. It’s progressing well, I’m happy.”

“Happy?”

Angela smiled. “That’s the word, I daresay.”

Atieno mulled it and wondered. She didn’t believe there was any happiness in this advertising racket, only pressure and pain to meet constant deadlines. She glanced at her watch. She will make it for her next pitch meeting in good time. Then she remembered that the head honcho must always represent the entire company, and that was a lot of pressure for a married girl. CEO by day, wife by night! As a director, you must always stay on top and be seen that way. In this case, some parting words were necessary. “Mukami, I know Ji-Clad Poa campaign means everything to you right now. Is it worth everything?”                                             

Angela nodded. She said a little more earnestly, “Two million a month…that’s worth everything, don’t you agree?”

“Ah.”

Angela searched the woman’s face. “That means what?”

“I don’t know why I am reluctant to take this account. Maybe it’s that crippled thief who worries me.”

“Thoth? You mean Thoth? Listen, Ji-Clad Poa marketing strategies are hinged on email. We don’t have that capacity in-house. B&AM Magazine have the expertise. Besides, let’s be clear: Thoth is not a thief…technically he is not. I know you’re referring the housing mortgage scam.”

“He stole public funds and used it to build his business empire, how naïve are you?”

“Look, Mary, he didn’t steal. The idea he proposed to some technocrats in the housing ministry on how to stop the impending mortgages strike was good. He offered solutions that helped and the high-risk loans were easily bundled into anonymous investment cabs.”

“Which newspapers do you read?”

“His ideas were used by the technocrats to influence the minister of housing to concede to launch the worst of the schemes. They benefited from the scam. The meltdown must have been triggered by something else, I don’t know.”

“So he was responsible for the housing mortgages scam, right? It was an absolute grab-bag of financial madness.”

“You can say so.”

“Listen, Mukami, as conscientious as I am with my work, I am indecisive about this. Tread with caution. Thoth is a twisted man with few scruples or none. I don’t want anyone sapping with the devil in my company. Let me get a second opinion on this Ji-Clad Poa thing before we can proceed, are we crystal?” 

Angela beheld that lost look in her face, torn between siding with her boss or her own convictions. She floundered in her shackled restraints. “Crystal.”

“Good. I am not saying you stop, do your research, go ahead with your engagements but let me have the final word on this. In other words cancel my tomorrow’s meeting with Nguo Plus, okay?”

Angela nodded stiffly.

Then Atieno left.

Angela was left with a haughty expression on her acne-covered face. Smart bitch, she swore. Suddenly and quite strangely, she thought about her downsides. It just came to her at that moment. Things were not working well on her personal life. Teddy Otodo had not returned her texts, was not picking her calls. Ditch that jerk! She had discovered how philanthropic he was; he had fathered two children with his previous girlfriends. But he could explain that to her instead of hiding. She didn’t care about his past. He had been angry with her when she told him that she knew about his dirty past and yelled at her to drop the crazy nagging behaviour. He had asserted that micro-managing was done by control freaks and made her burst into tears. Now she doubted if there was any love left and the discovery depressed her. She was first depressed by the thought that she was the one who had made the first move when they had met at Atieno Mary’s wedding. But did he have a problem with that? Wasn’t it bold? To be hit on by a woman once in a while. Men loved it. How could he even say no? Only a male chauvinist would have a problem with that in this day and age! She was thirty-eight and a professional, besides being a single mother. As a matter of fact, she had long accepted that her looks were nothing to go by and always counted on her brain to do the trick for her in her relationships, but it never worked out. She was a short middle-aged woman, plump and in a coarse fashion, far from pretty with plain dressing.

She wasn’t a woman you could ogle at: her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the center. She had a snotty nose and her face was littered with pimples. You would take no notice of her until she opened her mouth to talk. As a professional, she was intelligent, focused, self-respecting and self-disciplined. Teddy had respected these qualities about her. Her work was her life.  Her career in advertising was her passion. And to cap it all, she had a reputation: she was known to switch sides before you could blink.

Her computer beeped. New Ji-Clad Poa email or just another admini-spam? She opened it instinctively. It was Pato, her ex-boyfriend. Fixing the glasses on her nose, she looked at the email with a ruthless stare. It read:

 

Hi baby,

Had a dream that in a few days from now I shall

assume responsibility as designer in a new company

where you will also be made a director. You know

dreams come true. Keep that in mind.

Love you.

Pato

 

What a slam-bang piece of crap! Nauseating shit! Her first impression was that the low-brow geek wanted her back. Over my dead body, she swore to herself. What about the KShs. 280,000 he took from her and never paid back? And what nerve did he have to call her baby! Can you imagine that? The wimp had the nerve to call her baby! Did he know that to her he was the same worthless Luthuli Avenue graphic designer? In a second Pato and the email was out of her mind. Deleted. What was she thinking about? Oh, yes. She flipped back to B&AM blog and resumed her reading “…it’s OK to sing a little. By adding testimonials or positive stats to your sign-up page, you could boost your opt-in rates.”

She sat back to ponder. Excellent write-ups… food for thought. B&AM was so reliable and did offer useful caveats. It pointed to a major weakness existing at AMMA. Here they had positioned themselves as a white-shoe advertising club. Even their email marketing approach lacked essential tools like social media and was not working for Ji-Clad Poa which was targeting the youth between ages fifteen and twenty-eight.

Another email informed her that a new subscriber had signed up to their mailing list and newsletter. That meant they now had 6,300 subscribers. Good, so far. Pretty good. An inspiring thought came to her when she remembered one doohickey she had learned at the British Council business counseling seminar: test every new addition. Seek expert advice.

Seek expert advice! Yah!

She picked up her phone and called Thoth, the B&AM Magazine blogger.

 


2. 

Branding & Advertising Monthly Magazine was a beloved partner. While reading through, Angela noted she had yet to do A/B testing on Ji-Clad Poa. She was convinced it was a good consideration to increase her subscription list. Today’s blog post had a tantalizing line that lightened her world: “Over 3,000 marketers, agencies and businesses have already benefit from their email subscription…join them.” This was going make her work easier with increase in sign-ups and her mailing list was going to swell.

B&AM Magazine was an email marketing reports blog. It was every advertiser’s and every marketer’s must-read. Ideas and many tips on best way to maximize response to email marketing, social media, blogging and advertising was what B&AM offered. It was a very well-acknowledged fact and it worked for many marketing professionals. Every agency wanted to be there, so it was a firmly held belief that if you weren’t featuring an ad in the blog, you were groping in the dark. And as Thoth, the blog writer put it candidly: “…until you realize you are not in advertising and branding and you are not in East Africa and you are not interested in charts and graphs and increased ROI, the best place to start and push any email marketing and branding is to be in B&AM Magazine.”

Angela had been trying for weeks to get a slot for Ji-Clad Poa to no avail. The blog mightn’t precisely have been seen to be quaking in its snake-skin African Savannah look, but with the latest Safaricom ad on its home page, and a spectacular Maasai Mara story as a side-kick, the artsy blog was off and booming as an indispensable home-grown Kenyan product, relatively speaking. So in terms of graphics and smart GUI, the blog was artsy and African. It even hoped to revive interest in African abstract art by featuring the religious works of some Nairobi-based artists and sculptors. “We’ve just reached a point where people want to go back in history a bit,” editor and writer Thoth believed. Apart from the archaic portraits and silhouettes, vintage black-and-white colonial style pictures were today featured in the graphic design section of the blog. One caption read: “These smart pics capture romance and fantasy and; of course, as one can see, they can be quite avant-garde, which the camera is not apt to be.” Thoth apparently revered photography the traditional way. Pushed to near-oblivion by Polaroid and Kodak, and scorned by collectors. He was an odd egg who reveled in oddities.  

Thoth, looking smaller than a Congolese soukous party dwarf, reclined his twisted frame in his black wheelchair behind his fancy desk in the tiny office flanked with computers and many odd objects—books, sculptures, tablets, spreadsheets and reports, paintings. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame. The only power thing in him was the brain inside his massive head, which worked like a large Government. He gazed across at Angela and ran on with free words of knowledge in form of business tips. He had done so much for a mere invalid in a wheelchair. He had hosted a TV show that argued that physically handicapped people were more un-handicapped than people thought.

Then he went abroad and worked professionally in London where he wrote a whole series for BBC. He had remained in London and wrote a book about African men in England who fathered children with British women then deserted their families to follow their own lives. The book angered not only the blacks but the British establishment as well, so they brought him back to Nairobi and his family forced him to marry a village girl. He divorced her some seven months later. Then he went underground for two years and emerged with Branding & Advertising Monthly. People thought he was crazy, but he knew better. Skeptics never worried him. He weaved an idea nobody had thought of in this region: an email marketing and monitoring reports blog. Now he headed a vast team of top-notch writers, email advertisers, and marketing consultants and produced an engaging blog without fear. His secret? He was intense and he was self-involved. He never talked business, he talked art.

Like every writer, he loved to talk. And he took not into account the value of his words and what he was giving away so generously.

He was speaking: “A small investment in B&AM can result in astronomical growth in loyalty, sales and branding, and increased ROI.” He had a thin, light croaking voice that flip-flapped in range like a short wave radio frequency in bad weather, sometimes breaking into a whisper. Sometimes he was so faint you never heard him at all.

Angela nodded. An opportunity for a meeting with this handicapped genius was as rare as a job interview. She said nothing.

So the writer continued talking. “Madam Angela, in this business, your survival depends on your ability to entertain, provoke, engage and enlighten. As a blog and also as an effective email marketing website, we know this.”

Angela asked a simple question, to him drift along, to gather more. “How can you heighten the chances that recipients will open your email, click through and; most importantly, close the sale?”

“With good old engagement, my dear. Start here then go into direct marketing. If your emails are engaging enough, your customers will look forward to them and even pass them along to their friends. You know these things, don’t you read my blog?”

“I came here for your advice. You’re giving it to me. But right now, AMMA, is engaging you for email marketing. I gave you highlights of it on the phone.”

The cripple nodded his massive head. “I am in love with your ideas for Ji-Clad Poa. I want you to gaze into the future.”

Angela was gleeful.” So is it a yes? Do we have a slot?”

“You’re a lucky girl today. Moja Brand cancelled with us; I am giving you their slot.”

Angela heaved a heavy sigh. “You’ve just made my day, sir. Asante. Thank you very much, my boss will be pleased.”

“Okay. Now, Madam Angela. Let’s talk money, shall we? You well know who I am, don’t you? I am a poor man with lifeless polio legs doomed for life in a wheelchair. But I also eat.”

Angela smiled at him affectionately. He always loved to cap his words with deadly jokes and it made him sound sweet. But you were careful not to treat him like an invalid… not to sympathize with him. He could act mean and nasty for no reason when provoked.

“How much?” Angela asked.

“Three hundred and eighty a month is good enough for a crippled forty-two years old bachelor. For this B&AM will design, build, test and deploy the email campaigns for Ji-Clad Poa. It will also report the progress of the campaign in real-time to provide you and your customers maximum flexibility. At the end of the campaign, we will analyze its success in order to improve your future campaigns.”

Angela thought he was adorable. Three hundred and eighty! She expected more. Then it occurred to her that the crippled genius was undercharging her.

“Are you being generous to me?”

Thoth beamed at her. “Look, Madam Angela, I want you to start thinking like a business woman, not as a technical person.”

Angela stared at him. “Mr. Thoth, with all due respect, please let’s not go there. Please. I know what you suggested last week and even the offer you made. But I’m sorry the answer is still no, and a firm NO. I cannot betray my boss.”

“My offer still stands. I make Ji-Clad Poa project succeed and you bag all the credits. But today I will stretch my offer and make you a director in AMMA.”

Angela reared. She shot to her feet. “What part of the No don’t you understand? The “N” or the “O”?”

And in the heat of that moment Thoth realized this could get tricky and sticky. He lifted the phone on his desktop. ”I need you here now,” he said.

At that moment, Pato, Angela’s ex-boyfriend, entered the room.

“Pato!”

“Angie, sema.”

“I don’t believe this.”

“Did you get my email?”

“Son of a …”

A fraction of insight made Angela stop.

“Do we have her confirmation?” Pato asked.

Thoth snorted derisively, “We have a situation. Can you handle this woman?”

Pato nodded with a twinkle in his eyes.

“Good. Let me call Evans Otieno.”

Angela fumed, she slunk down in her seat, eyeing Pato with searing disdain “Why are you doing this?” she asked.

“I have my reasons.”

Angela frantically freaked out. She turned to Thoth and said. ”Don’t ever think you can plot anything against Atieno Mary, she is not as dumb as those corrupt civil servants you influenced at the housing ministry to buy your cockeyed mortgage scam. Just drop this.”

“Don’t worry, mrembo,” Thoth said in Kiswahili. “Guess what? You are here to help us. I have to do what I have to do.”

“Did you just call me mrembo? Seriously?”

“Shut up.”

Angela shut up. Her face clouded, eyes glued to Thoth, her mouth twitched and she was very stunned. 

“Can you handle this woman?” Thoth asked again. “We need her full cooperation.”

“Yes, sir,” returned Pato.

Angela made some earnest faces but nothing more. But by her tone and pose, Thoth knew she was “cool” and wouldn’t freak out. 

Not that he cared.

 


3.

The following day, in the fast-warming aftermath of an early morning rainfall, it appeared like the fortunes of Atieno Mary and AMMA were hit by a tsunami. Suddenly, just suddenly. Evans Otieno, the general manager of Lolando Products called her. He had bad news. Lolando was a South African franchise that was entrenching brands into the East African market in partnership with AMMA. It was AMMA’s largest account and out of it the agency was making thirty million Kenya shillings every year. It was the small agency’s lifeline.

Atieno Mary rushed to Lolando’s Upperhill office with heightened anxiety. Evans welcomed her into his office and asked if she’d like some tea. Evans always looked a little too well dressed and dapper in expensive business suits. Today he was in black pinstriped trousers with suspenders, a blue shirt with cuffs folded back.

“I’ll get right to the point, Miss Atieno…,” he said after gulping half a mug of tangawizi-flavoured tea.

“Mrs, not miss.” Atieno corrected him as usual.

“Sorry. Mrs, actually. Well, I represent Lolando which is the agent of a community of South African brands that have the means to entrench themselves into our market here in East Africa.”

Evans made an undecided pause. He looked out of the window of his tastefully furnished office and smiled at the sight of a few suggestive clouds—one that looked like a zebra in full gallop, and the other a decaying eagle—remnants of the brief downpour that had soaked him during his early morning jog.

He continued. “I take it then that since your agency, AMMA, have benefited from this partnership as much as we have, you won’t disapprove of whatever direction I believe it’s headed now?”

Atieno frowned. “What do you mean by that?”

Evans chuckled. “Are you hoping for a smooth ride in this business?” A snooping question. “This is no longer a ride on my donkey back. We are in a position to renew your contract.”

Then it hit Atieno. She lowered her glass. “Evans, I don’t understand.”

“You came to the board meeting yesterday and proposed a particular way of experiencing our brands, one that serves what I assumed to serve your own ends, or at least those of AMMA, the agency you represent.”

Atieno gulped. “My own ends?”

Evans didn’t answer straight away. Instead, he waited until his visitor regained control of her twitching wedding-ring finger, and until the incessant rattle of gold against wood subsided.

“You have never met any of the five new brands you spoke of. I know these brands and how they are perceived in South Africa, plus I know how their owners feel about the East African market. Then you stood up and poured dirty water on me when you claimed to represent them, and I don’t have any reason to doubt what you said about them.”

Atieno hard-knuckled her mug against the table and spilled her tea. It was crystal clear, the man’s problem was—conflict of interest, even damaged ego. “So you think I spoke about what I don’t know? I know these brands. I have access to numerous information resources including web sites and brand manuals. I was talking from a point of information as a marketer and an advertiser with over eighteen years of good experience in the business. You feel I cut you lose?”

“You left me dangling in the wind.”

“But how, for the love of me?” Atieno cried almost to tears. “I was doing my job.”

Evans was amused— Atieno was missing it! He said, “I have no reason to doubt your credibility as an agency. In the two years since Lolando moved here, you’ve proven yourself to be a branding agent of honour on many occasions. Several members of the South African brands community have spoken to me about the way they are impressed with your work. They are, on the whole, happy about the rural activation programs.”

She was amused. Not pissed off, amused. She hung her head, the tips of her lips failed to hide her sneer. What was this man’s problem? Why couldn’t he come clean instead of beating about the bush? “Then what is it?” she almost scoffed.

“It’s not your credibility that we’re talking about here but character.”

“Character?”

“A girl died in your rural activation in Kisumu.”

Atieno shot up, pushed her chair into a bookcase where it knocked into an advertising and marketing reference.

“It was an accident!”

“Well, investigations are not through, but some grotty whispers got to me. That girl was hit by a firecracker during the Popo drink road show at night. She died instantly but you covered it up, made it look like she died in a hospital. Hm, talk of credibility. Lolando cannot afford bad publicity.”

Atieno was silent for a long time. “Of course not. And I don’t understand what you’re getting so upset about. It was an accident. It’s better we leave it like that for the sake of business.”

Evans stood up and walked to the window. He stared out the window for a moment, his lips twitching lightly in reflection of whatever was going on in his mind. Finally, he drew a noisy breath, grabbed the chair and returned to the table.

“It was an ugly incident. I am acting under instructions, Mary.”

At that very moment Atieno knew then she’d lost it. She started calculating. “Now if you don’t mind, please explain what I should do. I can take the blame.”

“If you do that you will be admitting liability to a crime. Cops will be in on it, and this is bad for business. You and I know we cannot afford this.”

“Mr. Otieno, can’t you just have a civil discussion and leave it at that?”

Evans shook his head in confusion. “Miss Atieno, I can. As a person. I’m doing nothing of the sort. I am acting on a directive here. I just have no direct knowledge of the people you work for and what other dirty business you do, but what I know is I didn’t resign my Reuters job to come here and cook fake chapatis. If I make the mistakes you make, I am toast.”

Atieno’s eyes bulged, her cheeks twitched from the stress of clamping her mouth shut. Her voice was tight and husky. “Is this personal?”

Evans had issues. “A young girl died, Miss Atieno. Does mean anything to you?”

Atieno was at first appalled. The she was shocked. Then dismayed. She thought fast. Then she drew a bad card. She switched to DhoLuo and asked “Ok waum auma gini, yawa. Koso? (Why don’t we find a way to cover this?).”

Evans bolted. His face was brittle with anger. “Are you kidding me? That’s a bribe, you know. How do you conduct yourself before a partner? First you insubordinate me at the board meeting and then you want to bribe me to cover for your dirty work?”

Atieno’s face pruned. “So this is personal, I see.”

“You can call it that. I have the power to spare your ass but I’m doing nothing of the sort.”

She was on the verge of tears. She couldn’t answer, there were too many answers and she couldn’t pick just one. She sputtered wordlessly. Then she found some words. “Please understand. An exchange of words will not help us. Lolando is our biggest account. I have huge bank loans. I cannot lose this account; I put my best two years in this partnership.”

Evans looked levelly at her.” Madam, this is business, nothing personal.”

“You can say that again.”

“You want to talk about compromise.”

Atieno stared.

Evans continued. “At the board meeting, you wanted to talk about the good things your agency is doing and the high profits, and you kept using the word my agency. Then you asked me to confirm that your agency had qualified to have your contract renewed for another five years.”

Atieno wondered. The man’s words were now unsettling. She didn’t understand, didn’t get it. Oh, she understood what her presentation speech did to his ego, but not exactly how, or why. But that wasn’t her issue. “Well, I suppose you took it badly,” she stated.

“Perhaps, I suppose,” Evans replied with an arched brow. It was an odd hash of supposes.

Atieno recanted her earlier statement, “It just seems that I hurt you, stepped on your toes without knowing. Sorry.”

“So? I suppose you don’t want to ask for forgiveness, you could do better.”

Her eyes wandered, there was confusion inner-mixed with the fantastic tale he had spun her.

“Exactly what did I do wrong?”

“Their business and your agency, for sure, you white-capped. And the high sales your agency is generating and more. But nothing about Evans Otieno or Lolando.”

Atieno tried to blink back the emotion; she was not an angel, far from it. She felt something drop on her scarf. It was her tear. Mucous filled her nose. Sniffing, she gathered her strength, turned, and faced him. She said, “Please don’t let’s get personal. Fits or blackmail or threats don’t work here. Let’s be civil, I insist.”

Evans laughed. “Lolando exists to preserve the integrity of the South African brands and to look after the social networks and create relationships. We value relationships more than mere transactions. Transactions are expensive and right now you are as good to us as a bad transaction.”

Evans rocked back in his chair and stared levelly at the crying woman. He scanned her face with absurd keenness. He had a dramatic eagerness to see that his missile had achieved the desired effect. Then, without another word, he got up and left the room.

A moment later, Major walked in and handed Atieno an envelope. Major was Evans’ chef-d’Ochestre. As much as it was difficult to distinguish who was the actual boss between them, given the fact that Major was only the operations manager, he wielded some power. He was a big guy with a brash rugby player physique and demeanour.

Atieno got on her feet and blew her nose. Her lips were pursed as she was clearly straining to remain silent. The look on her face was so grotesquely beautiful; with tears rolling down her cheeks. It was arousing in the same way her face was when she was laughing. Major wanted her to have that anticipatory look on her face forever. However, he couldn’t help but be amused by the situation they were in, and he accidentally let slip a stifled snicker.

Atieno at him with a glimmer of hope. Major beamed. “Miss Atieno, Evans was so firmly focused on his need to stress his mission to protect the business of our South African masters that he forgot to explain that the whole point of the calling you here today was to terminate your contract with us. So I’ll get to be the bearer of the bad news.”

Atieno arose and got on her feet. She sniffed ferociously, pushed mucous to the back of her throat. “You didn’t terminate it; you just didn’t renew it after it expired last month. My only and only worry is the ongoing projects. Any suggestions?”

“Talk to your lawyer.”

Atieno nodded, sobbing piteously, her mind in a daze. Then she braced herself and in an instant her worrisome thoughts were expunged and she held her pose for a moment, still reflecting on her predicament. She was highly intrigued, not even aware of Major. She left the room. In the parking, she sat in her car and called Steve, her husband, and informed him of the bad news. Steve was a struggling writer and was on a literary seminar in South Africa. He was trying to get a nomination for his latest book. She heard Steve groan over the air. Steve’s writing was not bringing in much; he was counting on her to buy their new five bedroom house before they could have kids.

She felt this is the time she needed Steve most.

Then her phone rang. It was Angela. “Guess what, we have a slot in B&AM and we are paying only three hundred thao a month. I’m so excited.”

Atieno looked at herself in the car mirror and wiped her nose with the back of her hand. “Mukami darling,” she said, “Trouble in paradise.”



4.

Atieno had gone over it in her head over and over and over. Much as the current situation brought the doom of a dreaded financial crisis, she had faith that this was a storm that was soon passing. She was a bitch. In her kind of world; in her kind of business she had to be. She was a woman who had always used men to stand on her own. She was hardworking and ambitious, yes… but then this was a man’s world. Women made their wealth through men.

Steve’s inability to provide enough reminded her of the future she could have shared with her rich married boyfriend, Joe—only work when she wanted to: following Joe around and letting him track her as she went off on a date with other men. She was an artist, that’s why she left Joe and fell for the poor sod, Steve, who could write her heart rending poems. Joe used his money on her, Steve used his art instead. In the end art won. With Joe they would spend months in Egypt going down the Nile, living in Cairo and getting her first experience of the magnificent Pyramid of Giza, exploring the tombs and staring at mummies of great men. She’d no longer have to make commercials in order to live. She’d be free… so free she’d read, eat, drink, love and relax; whatever.

She was a strong-willed self-made girl with grasp and grit who had turned her world from futureless darkness to the glinty colourful zigs of neons and she was still pressing hard. Ten years ago she had graduated from the Kenya Polytechnic with a diploma in graphic design and communication and, like every brilliant designer from Poly in the early ‘90s, she felt she was too smart to be employed. She was always above everybody else. In college she had always been the best. At the end of her three years’ diploma and before graduation, three major agencies had called her, invited her to join their creative teams. She had turned down their offers, reasoning to herself that she was too much of an artist and a free spirit to be tied down from eight to five working for someone.

She had moved in with her college boyfriend, Eric, in his one bedroom apartment in Parklands. They’d had a pretty funky college romance to unfeignedly realize that they were both temperamental and had lots of differences and things looked bad as they were facing opposite ways towards the end of the beginning. Difficult times crept in impolitely. Eric soon lost his job, didn’t believe he’d ever find anything again. She wanted him to support while she freelanced, so she’d pushed him to take his second job as a junior designer with a River Road printing company. She needed him to provide her with shelter and a little stability as well as emotional comfort while she laboured to get a grip of things. At her peak, her freelancing earnings had been worth about twenty thousand a month. She had managed to buy an iMac, an Epson inkjet printer and a HP flatbed scanner, and set up a work station in their tiny bedroom. She had installed a telephone. After two years of freelancing, she was advised by a client to register her company. It was necessary because she was starting to work for companies that wanted to write cheques to companies, not individuals. She got a lawyer who helped her register Atieno Mary Mary Advertising, her own firm. She loved to call it AMMA, and ultimately branded it that way. From day one, she knew what she wanted for AMMA. She designed her own logo and corporate identity, and printed out her business forms, her business cards and her letterheads. She started working. She started writing letters. She embarked on a direct mail campaign. She started building her company.

She’d hired a marketer, a young under-grad called Sophie. Sophie had glittered into AMMA, fresh from doing BCom at University of Nairobi; she thought she’d struck a gold mine. They’d imagined such wonderful figures and battled with business. They worked together through the web of financial constrains and other difficulties related to scarce resources and working on tight budgets. Being acutely understaffed, they found themselves not able to achieve much and Sophie did too much administration while Atieno spent too much time chasing payments and doing creative work on the iMac. They ended up taking one job at a time and waiting for payment before doing the next. They had difficulties with getting finance for LPOs and ended up not taking up some good contracts, lost some good accounts too.

What an elusive dream creative business life was! It was going to take more than six of her best years to get a firm footing. During year two, the company collapsed and Sophie quit, left to seek a stable employment somewhere else.

And Eric kicked her out of the apartment.

She moved in with her sister in Kaloleni and took a year off to study business management and marketing, and got her second diploma. As a marketer, she began to understand business realities in the consumer products market. She now understood the inward turnings in the creative, corporate branding and advertising industry. She began to strategise. She started doing pitches and proposals. Just then the fortunes of AMMA began to rise from the ashes. Two of her proposals were bought and she found herself doing her first commercial. With this she was poised to earn her first one million in profits!

At once, she was working on a three week shoot. Her first commercial was a baby’s diaper advert. She’d been building up to it for months. She’d been on the phone a lot, and had hired industry insiders and sat in meetings with the client presenting the proposal and explaining about value, advantages and benefits. She was passionate about it and in the end they bought the idea and hired her, paid seventy per cent upfront. But the shooting was going awfully; there were endless clashes with the director and crew. She fired the entire team and hired a new one, and earned her first bad reputation in the business as the iron lady of advertising. The commercial was a success, though it chewed twice what she had budgeted. She made a name there, and moved on to the second commercial.

When AMMA went down again, there was nothing left. The three workers had not been paid their three months salaries. She had to contend with lawsuits and frustrations and tried to lift her head high in the murk of it all. It had not lasted for long. She was angry and impatient most of the time. She wanted a man to support her before she went nuts. But good men were nowhere to be found.

She linked herself to a jerk she had known for some time, a bank teller called Willy who was from Eastlands. She used her body to lure him into the relationship, used her body to try and keep him so he was fulfilled and didn’t stray. But Willy was an Eastlander and a dog and too ghetto-wise to be nailed down in a relationship. In the end she was using her body to get rid of him. They were arguing non-stop; split up. But he helped her secure an unsecured loan of three hundred thousand shillings which she used to raise AMMA from the ruins. She was smarter now and operated as a one-woman-show.

She moved into a drab one bedroom extension in Buru Buru. Willy called up for the nth time; he’d tracked her down through mutual acquaintances, the pushy bastard. She didn’t shoe him off. He was starting a micro finance firm called Carticulate, and he wanted her to be his manager, to develop new marketing strategies for the new outfit and its clients. There was nothing else on offer in her life. She was too busy dreaming about AMMA and not getting anywhere.

Willy thought she was building herself up again, and he was jealous. Mary wasn’t so sure; she wasn’t going to let him use her again. They’d started meeting up again, and things were moving somewhat. He did 99.9% of the talking and the buying and the courting. Then she met Joe, the married man who changed her life. She met Joe in Willy’s office; he was one of Carticulate’s financiers.

Joe had many bad habits. For one, he was a great talker. “Ah, when I think of what I had to go through; I was a pilot for ten years before anything! And then, political ambitions came and now I want to be an MP than the industrialist I have always wanted to be. As an MP here in Kenya, you make millions without really trying. Now—well, you just go to Mombasa or Zanzibar and you holiday like that, then I can take you wherever you want. Lady, you got it easy if you stick with me. Get it!”

He wasn’t handsome, far from it. To begin with, he was short and irritable. But he was generous. That made him cute and sweet enough.

Atieno linked up with him every few days. Sometimes she had Tusker or a couple of pints with him. He wasn’t sure if she liked him, he wasn’t even trying to impress her. He was too busy doing his thing in grand unpretentious “old guy“ style that left her wide-eyed. But he had insisted at least that he liked her company and it felt like he was getting her away from her work when he took her along with him as if she was his pet. She didn’t like it when he talked about women or when he called his wife. She had been moaning about work; Joe was getting her floating aimlessly after him like a kite in the wind. He didn’t seem to understand what he could do for her. So she used her charm to get him into bed so she could get his attention. The sex was trade-off, really. It worked: she got the money she needed to clear all her debts and get her business on track for a time. She put enough in the bank and got the peace of mind she needed as a creative person to focus on her dreams. Mostly she fretted about where this relationship that now tied her was taking her; what good was it doing AMMA?

As for Joe, being married and all, she had gotten used to his ugliness and his fewer genetic benefits because he had more resource benefits that he was ready to make available. He wasn’t going to run away and dump her like Willy, he was married. Joe stuck around and she put up with his snoring, boring talks, harsh lopsided tribalistic comments on politicians, bad kisses, bad breath and his horrible legs! He claimed he was in love with her and wanted to ground her but in reality he was what all men were: lovers of themselves and power. She didn’t like him one little bit. The sex was for emotional and material reasons; she needed his company to boost her self-esteem. Joe wanted to feel good and paid back the love thing with money. She went the extra mile to make Joe feel pretty good in exchange of long-term insurance and commitment, guaranteed favours and benefits (a credit card, jewelry, good shoes, outings most evenings, getting her hair done every weekend, nice new handbags, designer perfumes, occasional rides in his Mercedes) because he was married and a girl like her didn’t come cheap. Of course he was a married man. That gave her a good excuse to use him.

Yes.

And cheat on him.

As it turned out, it was through Joe that she met Steve, the writer whom she got married to. At that time Steve (he was actually called Stephen) was working on a biography of one of Joe’s associates and was collecting information from Joe. Steve was so handsome; too much. She still remembered the first time she set her eyes on him: he was wearing a white shirt and tie and looked like a rugby player. He filled his shirt pretty good. Her instant love for this man was partly a primer for decoding personal ads. She had been looking for a Luo to settle with. This guy was man enough, she knew that if her life was a movie this guy would be buried in the credits as something like “Second Tall Man“. She had to have him and she had to keep him to herself. It was more: he had typical Luo complexion, attitude, stature and intellect. The kind of man every woman wanted to breed with.



5.

She got home in light traffic, hardly knowing what her car was doing. She sat down at the kitchen table, lay her head on her arms and cried her heart sore. After a long while she reached for some tissue to dry her face and wipe the pool of tears and mucous off the table. She was still sobbing deeply. Suddenly she giggled then she burst into hysterical laughter, imagining herself disparaging Evans at the Lolando board meeting without knowing it. How much did she hurt his ego? She calmed down and felt totally exhausted. She lay down on her bed in all her clothes, curled up into a ball and fell into a deep sleep. Sometime during the night she woke up, took off her clothes and climbed between the sheets. She cried some more, from relief rather than concern about the loss and slept till morning. Looking into the mirror she saw a total red-eyed, disheveled wreck. After a very long shower and attention to her body and face she felt and looked better.

On the morning of the next day, around eight, Angela called her on her cell phone.

“Where are you?”

“In bed.”

“Why did they do this?

How did she know so soon? “Who? Nani?” she asked.

“Si the media. Imagine they were here asking their funny questions.”

Obviously Lolando let them on it. Atieno replayed the dramatic with Evans to Angela, gave her the whole yarn while holding the phone against her chest. Angela groaned “Oh no!” and sounded as if she would weep.” I think Badmos Branding will replace us.”

“Hebu, hebu hold on a minute, what did you say?” Atieno stopped the phone again. “Ati Badmos?”

“I said I think. They called to book for an appointment with you and asked about the on-going  projects we have for Lolando. I gauged them on this and that and now arrive at the conclusion that they are the chosen ones. They know so much.”

Atieno floundered helplessly. “Shauri ya nani? I don’t know what to say. To think that we had a chance to get into the big time. God knows I tried. Lolando was our lifeline.”

“Imagine.”

“Why choose Badmos, did they think we are so small time?”

“Si ndiyo. Obviously.”

“Weeh, hapana. This thing is a vendetta. Otieno feels I rubbed his ego the bad way at the board meeting three days ago. Lakini usijali, sawa? Don’t worry; nitamgota. I will get even with him. Right now I need ideas, I need to salvage AMMA.”

“You need to act fast because when the bank gets wind of this, you can only imagine what will happen. I have to go; I am preparing the Ji-Clad Poa advert for publishing in the B&AM blog.”

 

 

6.

In the afternoon of the third day, her phone rang and Atieno thought it might be Angela on a late lunch wanting to console her further. She picked up the phone and to her daze and dismay it was Sarah Mwangi, her bank manager. Atieno Mary could hardly speak. Evans Otieno had clearly laid the ground for AMMA’s destruction.

“Mary, I hope you’re fine. I have to bring you a letter from the debt recovery department and your statement. Could I just come around for a moment after work?”

Atieno grunted. “Okay Sarah, whenever.”

She tried to prepare herself but she was shaking with fear when she thought of Sarah Mwangi and bank loan. It was nearly seven when the bell rang. She opened the door and stared at Sarah. She did not speak for fear she would burst into tears.

As it happened there was no need. Sarah did not try to come in. After hesitating for a moment, she blurted out, “Mary, I’m sorry, my dear, I really am. Here is the letter from debt recovery. They have given you ninety days to settle the loan. The balance is twenty-eight million.”

Atieno took the envelope with a shaking hand. “Why do you have to do this so fast? We are still in business.”

“Well, word is going around that your company, AMMA, is experiencing the cockroach theory and may well face insolvency after losing your major client. To you this is not a mountain to climb over… maybe it is a small tough moment you can recover from. To us, as a bank in this shaky economy, we leave nothing to chance. See you, I have to run.”

“Sarah, is there a way you can help? You know, push the deadline to give us time to recover.”

“What? I beg your pardon?”

“You know our history. You know we can get over this. Did you consider that?”

“I did my best, Mary. Isn’t three months enough?”

Atieno shook her head.

“Can you come to the office tomorrow?”



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