In my absolutely tattered state, I’d managed to drop my CV at a mental hospital in town. The scorching sun had managed to massage my now shiny and sweaty face like it almost always did. The first face that I’d met at the mental hospital, had been that of a female receptionist, who in my estimate, was around forty. Good. Forty was just about twice my age so I’d waste no energy in trying to romanticize any moment. ‘How can I help you?’ she’d asked with a straight face. Her tired face suggested that she wasn’t ready to take any jokes. Or maybe it was working at a mental hospital that had been mentally draining and tiring. Understandably though, because hers was a job of receiving patients who’d gone bonkers. Even with my joblessness, I wasn’t sure that was a job that I was willing to take. ‘Can you take me in?’ I’d decided to play games and not be candid with her. ‘Sorry?’ had been her response. From the look on her face, my response wasn’t something that she had expected. It must have been bizarre to find a mad man who, willingly, had offered himself to be admitted to a mental hospital. Most of the cracks in there I reckoned, had been admitted using brute force, or worse still, being drugged. ‘I asked if you could take me in,’ I’d reiterated. ‘A lot of protocol for that mister. You’d bypass it by proving to me that you are indeed mad,’ she’d retorted. ‘Okay ma’am, here’s my CV. That should be enough?’ I’d shot back. ‘If you’d punched my face instead, then I’d have considered you, sorry,’ she’d said. ‘I am smart enough to tell the difference between what can land me in a mental hospital and a police cell,’ I’d answered back, before leaving.
As I walked to take a matatu back home, my pocket stuffed with a fifty-shilling note, I pondered how torrid it must have been for people of my kind. People who’d wander the streets in town, from company to company, dropping their CVs and hoping that lady luck plays to their tune. Others had gone to the extent of making placards and lifting them aloft so that social media goes awash with the images of them and the dire state in which unemployment had put them in. Others like me who didn’t have the courage to lift placards had taken the less disgraceful route of dropping CVs at anything that looked like a company. Joblessness just like poverty is one of those things that’s capable of shredding even the most hopeful, to nothingness.
The radio station inside the matatu was humming those old but legendary Swahili zilizopendwa songs. Those songs that had a storyline to them. Apart from being great musicians, the old chaps had also been great storytellers. One of those songs was a story about how the musician had been left by his girlfriend who’d gone abroad. And then when she finally came back, she did not want to be associated with him. Listening to such songs was almost like listening to dirges. Ironically, it was those kinds of songs that, even while inside my poorly ventilated and ceiling-less single room, would appease my heart and drown my sorrows. That single room epitomized my daily struggles with life. The only belongings that I had in there were a king-sized bed, a few clothes and a small radio. King-sized because I had to leave space for the problems that I had.
Outside, cars were hooting as drivers tried to beat the traffic that was slowly developing. The radio seemed to have been muted as the tout started collecting money. ‘Forty bob gari,’ he was shouting as he collected. It was great that I’d have ten shillings left. With that, I’d only make coffee and use the ten shillings to buy two mandazis. That would’ve been enough to at least quell the rambles of an empty stomach. And then I’d switch on the radio and listen to how the government was misusing taxpayers’ money. The pilferage of funds was almost as if that money didn’t belong to anyone. An upsurge of malls almost in every corner of town made me believe that it was government money that the crooks were using to enrich themselves, at the expense of the common man like myself. Mwananchi had been left to wallow in self-pity and had their hearts broken into smithereens by the ever-increasing torrid job market in Kenya. The only people who were not feeling the heat of the bad economy were politicians with their ever-growing potbellies because they could afford fans to cool their bodies. For those of us who could not get access to the loot, or didn’t know people who mattered in any organization, the future didn’t look too good. It was even worse because universities continued to churn out graduates in their droves every year.
‘Hey madam, I’m Oche,’ I’d stretched out my arm towards the lady seated next to me. Immediately afterwards, she shook my palm before answering, ’I am Ruth.’ It was good that she had answered. It was even better that she had answered so fast and didn’t have earphones on. The many times that I’d boarded a matatu and ended up seating next to a lady, she’d always have earphones on, making it difficult to start a conversation. That day seemed to have been my lucky day. ‘You look exhausted. Had a bad day or something?’ I’d asked. ‘The nature of my job can’t allow me to have a good one,’ she’d answered back. ‘At least you have a job,’ I’d said. ‘You have no job?’ she’d quizzed, looking surprised. ‘I wish I did,’ I’d retorted. ‘Are you willing to work in a call centre? I have leads,’ she’d said with confidence. I was willing to work anywhere as long as I’d earn some money to fend for myself. ‘Yeah, sure. Why not?’ I’d answered her. ‘Here is my number. Call me at eight o’clock tomorrow morning.’ And then she alighted.
We met the next day at a restaurant in town, at exactly eight in the morning. I made sure that I was in town early enough. She’d offered me an opportunity that I wasn’t going to joke around with, especially not by showing up late. ‘Look, I have to rush to work. Go to L Holdings and ask for Mary. Tell her that I am the one who sent you,’ she said, then left immediately. I was excited that I was finally getting a job. I was willing to take whatever it was that L Holdings would offer me.
I got to L Holdings thirty minutes later. It was a modern building whose décor had the makings of expertise. It looked like a serious place where serious people worked. The environment frightened more than it excited me. It was evident that a lot of money had been spent on interior designing and furniture. That was how buildings belonging to politicians looked like. Politicians weren’t scared of spending and wasting away their money because it wasn’t even their money in the first place. Most of them had made a fortune out of people’s sweat. They’d drive around town with fuel-guzzlers, admonishing the same people who’d elected them into office. In their heads, I knew they’d have preferred people to continue being impoverished because only then, did they have power over them. ‘How can I help you sir?’ the woman at the reception had asked. I wondered why it seemed to be only women who did the receptionist job. Almost in all the companies that I had been to, the receptionist had been a woman. ‘I am looking for someone by the name Mary,’ I’d answered. ‘You had an appointment?’ she’d quizzed. ‘Just tell her someone wants to see her,’ I’d shot back. ‘Here’s a leaflet, have a look at it as you wait at the visitors’ lounge,’ she’d intimated.
‘L Holdings is a company that offers people loans at low-interest rates’ read the leaflet. Twenty percent interest rate was low according to them. And judging by how their building looked, they seemed to have been doing pretty well. The owner I’d figured, knew that the market for acquiring loans was as stuffed as you’d get. Almost every other person depended on loans to survive. ‘Hello Sir, you can go in. First floor, the first door on your right,’ the receptionist had shouted. I stood and went to meet Mary. Mary was a young lass who didn’t have a ring on her finger, so she was probably not married yet. Even while seated, I could tell that she had a fine and lean body. ‘Been told about you. Call centre job. Training immediately if you are not in hurry,’ she didn’t mince her words. It was a reprieve that I didn’t have to introduce myself. ‘I am ready,’ I’d answered back. ‘Second floor, room number seven. Go.’
Room number seven was a room full of computers and headphones. It was the room where calls were made and received. I was welcomed by a tall and lanky guy who was around my age. ‘Welcome,’ had been his opening remarks. I’d feigned a smile before responding with a, ’Thank you, I appreciate it.’ ‘New recruit. This is where we make and receive our calls. It’ll be your work-station from today,’ he’d added. ‘Have a seat and put headphones on so that you can listen to a few of our sample calls,’ he’d continued. I sat and put the headphones on as instructed.
My first sample call was a call that had been made to a defaulter. The call centre agent had been at pains to make this man who sounded old, to hear her. ‘This is Liz from L holdings, is this Robert that I’m talking to?’ had been the question that Robert had pretended not to have heard. Robert’s response had been, ‘mmmh-mmmh-mmmh-mmmh.’ The kind of sounds that people make when they’ve not heard something. I was sure that Robert was just faking not hearing any word that Liz had said. From the call, I’d figured that it was better not to mention L Holdings at the beginning of a call. The second sample call had been with a younger man who’d said that he’d pay as soon as he got his money. The third one had hung up immediately he’d heard the name L Holdings.
From the sample calls, I knew that it was just a matter of time before that job would work me over, but I didn’t have much of a choice because the sun didn’t rise from my nose.