The Client Meant for Me

Her biggest challenge in life, was not running a business, she was managing that. No, her challenge was getting a decent access road, one that didn’t flood, or get muddy with each flash of rain. She needed money to fix the access road to their home. Her business could not afford it as an expense, yet. She couldn’t get a loan, so it was not a quick fix.

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Nouta Ahito stood at her door, her gaze intent, as she stared at the fat drops falling on the steps outside her house.  Rain, the blessed waters from the skies, the tears wept by the earth, her most feared enemy, taunted her.  The faster it fell, the more it mocked her, and she could do nothing.  She wished for super powers.  How wonderful it would be if she could wave her hand and stop this rain.  She groaned long and hard, and closed the door, escaping the upsetting scene.

Nouta walked to her chair at the dining table and stared at her cup of tea, now cold.

“What are we going to do?” her sister asked.

She looked up to see her sister watching her.  Everyone in the house knew that when it rained, she worried.  At some point, in the past two years, rain had become her nemesis.  She loved the hot months, and never complained even when it got too hot in January.  Everyone complained then, but not her.  No, hot months were her favorite days.

Why?

Well, during the warm months, she did not have to worry about a muddy access road.

Nouta was a business woman.  She ran a baking skills training workshop at her family home.  She was proud of her training workshop: a neat green building, constructed with mabati she had painted green.  She had furnished it with all the baking equipment she could find, and more to come.  She liked calling it a workshop because it was not an institution.

Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

She enjoyed focusing on her work: on the process of imparting knowledge to a new baking student.  It was hands on, practical, and personal.  Her workshop would never be an institution.  She was proud of that.  However, banks consistently and with precise prejudice categorized her as a small business, without the enterprise in the SME acronym.  They did not look at her or favor her business.  Not even when she had all the necessary city and government permits.  Banks would not touch her with a ten-foot pole.

Sometimes, Nouta imagined, they probably smelled her coming into the bank to seek a loan for her small business and locked the vaults.

Don’t let her know we have the money, the officers would say to each other, and then chortle when she walked out.

She was too young, the loan officer would say.  As if, twenty-eight was just right, she thought.  Her faults were that she was single, with no rich husband in sight.  Her business was a passing fancy: because doing business in her family home was a temporary thing, a passing thing, it won’t last, they said.

Ah, her personal favorite was when once, a loan officer told her not to worry because her parents would get her a job soon.  In this day and age, jobs were about as available as unicorns in the sky.  Nouta rolled her eyes at that memory.  She doubted that loan officer had seen a unicorn in the sky.  How did he know her parents would help her find a job?  Her mother did not have that kind of motivation.

The rain amped up its rhythm as though demanding Nouta’s attention, she sighed.  Her biggest challenge in life, was not running a business, she was managing that.  No, her challenge was getting a decent access road, one that didn’t flood, or get muddy with each flash of rain.  She needed money to fix the access road to their home.  Her business could not afford it as an expense, yet.  She couldn’t get a loan, so it was not a quick fix.

Customers hated muddy roads, especially when they came from neat tarmac roads.  No one wanted to trudge through the mud and ruin good shoes.  She could understand that even respect it.  However, her business had to move forward.  She needed her customers to reach her, so that she could keep saving to fix the muddy access road.  And so, the love of sunny months and the hate and stress of rainy days started, and turned into her daily struggle.

Nouta got up from her seat and went to heat up her tea and sweet potatoes.  She needed a good breakfast.  She needed to be at full energy to convince the two women visiting her workshop today to sign up for a class.

What was a little rain, she thought.  What was a little mud?

She was strong enough to face down barbarians if they ever appeared in her corner in Nairobi.  Nouta chuckled at that stupid idea and set the microwave to heat her tea.

“We will manage,” she said to her sister, when she got back to the dining table.

“Well, if the two ladies don’t sign up, we’ll look for others,” Lita echoed, nodding her head.  “I’ll offer to get them from the road with gumboots, if they need it.”

“Or, we could pay someone to carry them on the back to the gate,” Nouta suggested, making her sister laugh so hard she almost spilled her tea.  “God help him if they are chubby.”

“As if that will happen,” Lita scoffed.  “We could try Mutheu’s mkokoteni.”

“I’m not pushing it in the mud,” Nouta said, thinking of the wooden cart with car tires Mutheu drove.  “Besides, he’ll just walk away if you suggest it.  He hates stupidity.”

Lita sighed and sipped her tea.

“It will work out, Nouta,” she said, her sure tone brought comfort to Nouta.

Lita always made it seem as though they could manage any kind of situation, and they did.  They always managed.

The first call of the day came right after breakfast.  Nouta answered her phone with a sense of calm.  Her first client was already on the way to visit the workshop.  She sounded levelheaded, and friendly.  Nouta took the opportunity to warn her of the rain.

“It’s a bit muddy,” Nouta said.  “Do you have sturdy shoes?”

“It was raining at my place too.  I’m prepared.”

“Okay,” Nouta said, hopeful.

She ended the call, giving her sister a small smile, though the nerves didn’t disappear.  They already had two students in place, and needed two more to fill the current class.  Two more to make a profit, otherwise they might need to cancel the class or do it at a loss.  This was their constant struggle.

It was nine in the morning.  The rain kept up for another thirty minutes, and then it stopped.  The sun stayed hidden behind clouds.  Their dirt road would take a while before it dried.  There would be mud; there was no escaping that reality.  Nouta finished her third cup of tea.

At ten, her first client called her.  She was at the end of the access road.  She sounded unsure about her destination.  Nouta came out of the house and went to stand at the gate.

“You’re on the right track,” Nouta assured her.  “I can come to you with gumboots.  Or meet you at the road—”

“Ah, I see you.  It’s not that far after all.  I’m on the way,” the lady said, and ended the call.

Nouta stood at the gate watching the woman who entered the access road.  Her steps were steady as she navigated the muddy road, jumping over puddles, and going around rough patches.  It took her five minutes to reach Nouta.

When she did, Nouta realized why the lady had been so confident.  She wore gumboots on her feet.  Black gumboots with a silver bow on the side, they were so handsome, Nouta could not help but smile wide.

Karibu,” she said, holding out her hand to her first client of the day.  “Welcome to Nolita’s Baking Workshop.”

“Hi, I’m Halima.  I’m so honored to meet you, Nouta,” Halima said, taking her hand in greeting.  “I have heard you’re the best in the city.  I’ve wanted to take classes with you, and always missed intake.  I couldn’t pass up the chance to sign up with you this time, so here I am.”

Charmed, Nouta launched into a conversation about the workshop and the upcoming classes, forgetting about the mud.

They entered the compound and went straight to the green workshop.  They talked for thirty minutes, and by the time Halima was ready to leave, she had paid a deposit.  Halima booked her spot for the class.  Nouta walked her to the gate, and once again remembered the state of the road.

“I’m so sorry about the road,” Nouta felt compelled to say.  “It’s not usually so muddy.”

“Oh, you don’t have to worry about that,” Halima said, showing off her gumboots.  “Your road is just like ours at home.  I don’t mind it, Nouta.  I’ll see you on Monday next week.  I look forward to learning from you.”

Nouta smiled wide and waved Halima off.  The first client of the day had set her mind at ease.  She rushed back to the house in a pleased mood to share the news with her sister.

Flush with a win of the day, Nouta waited for the next call with less anxiety.  It came at around twelve o’clock.  The sun was peeking out, the ground less wet from the morning rain.  Nouta felt confident that their muddy road was easier to pass now, than earlier.  When she answered the call, she was pleasantly surprised to discover that her next client had a car.

Great, she thought.  This will be even easier.

Nouta gave her precise directions to their access road, and the lady promised to call when she reached.  It took another thirty minutes.  Nouta was surprised when she answered the call and the lady on the other end sounded less than cheerful.

“You didn’t tell me the road was so muddy.  Why would you keep that from me?”

“I’m sorry, I told you it rained,” Nouta said.  “Our access road is a dirt road.  I was very clear about that from the beginning.”

“No, no, no,” the lady said, as though saying it in threes made it more negative than it already was.

Nouta felt a flush of annoyance race through her.  She sat at the dining table working on her laptop.  Opening her email, she double-checked the message she had sent to the lady.  In the directions, she clearly stated the access road was a dirt road.  It was necessary, especially in Nairobi.  She had dealt with all kinds of people.  It was always easiest to describe the destination without rose-colored glasses.  Her home area was not upscale Lavington, but it also was not slummy, but a homey kind of area.  Farms and family homes dominated the street.

“I’m not sure I can make it for this class,” the lady on the other end said to her.  “First, it’s so far and now this muddy road…”

“Where are you coming from?” Nouta asked, curious.

“South C,” the lady said, indignation clear in her tone.  “It took me almost an hour to get here.”

Nouta wanted to point out that it took her just as long to get to Eastlands.  This was Nairobi, no place was close, and no place was far.  Two, last month, she had a student who had come all the way from Muranga every morning.  That was four to five hours away.  She was still awed at that boy’s dedication to his baking dreams.  He never missed a day, and was never late.

What was South C?  Ndwaru Road was not in Ukambani, but in Dagoretti.  Less than an hour away if you took the newly minted bypass.  She rolled her eyes, but did not voice her opinion.  She kept her tone calm when she spoke.

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” Nouta said.  “Since you’ve come all this way, wouldn’t you like to see the place?  We can talk—”

“What about my car?” the lady asked.  “I can’t drive in to this mud.  Who can I ask to watch it?  I don’t even have gumboots to walk in the mud.”

Nouta fought the urge to talk back and pushed her chair back

“We have clean gumboots I can bring to you,” Nouta said.  “I’ll be at the road in five minutes.  Please wait for me.”

She ended the call and let out a frustrated groan.

Why had she attracted this lady again?  If she was from South C, why didn’t she then get a baking teacher from there?  Why come all the way here?  Why the frustration when the woman had a car?

Nouta found the clean gumboots.  She slipped her feet into her own used ones and gripped her phone tight as she left the house.  She headed to the road with an annoyed sigh.  Why did she need the money so bad?

Nouta breathed in and out on the five-minute walk to the main road.  She was right about the access road.  It was much easier to navigate, with only a single rough patch in the middle.  A car could manage it with no trouble.  When she reached the road, she bit back a curse word when she saw the white jeep waiting on the curb.  The driver rolled down the window and she met her second would be-client.

“Hi, I’m Rose.  You must be Nouta,” Rose said, smiling at her from the safety of her car.  “How come you don’t have a branch in town?”

Nouta slipped her phone into her jeans pocket.  She worried she might crash it with anger and frustration.  She hated this question most.  Did Rose even understand the logistics of opening a second branch in Nairobi town?  The capital that would involve, the amount of money she would need to sink into marketing to make both places work.  Why ask such a question?

Nouta smiled.

“Oh, we’re working hard to get one,” Nouta said in her most cordial voice.

“Oh well, I don’t think my car can make it through that mud,” Rose said, shaking her head, looking at the access road, disdain clear in her eyes.  “Is it always like this?”

Nouta bit her bottom lip, and breathed in and out.

“No.  It rained this morning.  If you give it a few hours, it will be good as new.”

“Why can’t you get it fixed?” Rose asked.

Nouta smiled, because the alternative was to shout, maybe shed a few tears of frustration.

“We’re working on it,” Nouta said.  “You know how it is.”

Actually, Rose’s expression said, she had no idea how it was to mobilize neighbors in such areas.  To get them to work with you, or otherwise, you work alone and find the money to fix the access road.  Nouta sighed and lifted the gumboots.

“You can wear these,” Nouta said.

She then pointed at the small parking lot in front of the small shopping center to her immediate right.  She was friends with all the shop owners in the center.

“If you park here no one will touch your car.”

“It doesn’t look safe,” Rose said, giving the shopping center a skeptical glance.

“It is,” Nouta said, her tone strong, leaving no doubt.

Rose looked at her for a minute, and then started the car.  When she backed up, Nouta took a moment to study the Jeep.  It looked too clean and the tires were new.  Rose had stopped the car at the entrance into the parking lot, and wasn’t moving.

Nouta closed her eyes, a tirade forming in her head.

‘Let me ask you a question,’ she wanted to say to Rose.  ‘Let me really ask you a question.  Do you want to tell me that you have never traveled upcountry?  Do you not visit your grandmother in your fancy car?  Are you telling me your big car does not and cannot drive on muddy roads?  What is a small stretch to the green gate?  Three minutes, probably less, those tires look new.  Are you telling me you can’t drive to that gate, to my place of business, because the road is muddy and not tarmacked?’

Nouta let frustration ride her for a full minute, and then she opened her eyes to find Rose still paused at the parking lot.

In life, there was one lesson she had learned.  She could not force someone into joining her class.  There was nothing like teaching a mind that was skeptical.  It felt like adding milk into an already full gourd bottle.

Rose looked like a full gourd bottle

Nouta hugged her clean gumboots and walked up to Rose’s car.

Rose’s window was open, so she smiled as Rose turned to look at her.

“I’m sorry, Rose.  I don’t think we’re meant to be.  I’m afraid it will rain all next week, and our road will be very muddy.  Thank you for coming all this way,” Nouta said.  “I will send you a free recipe e-book for the trouble.”

Rose studied her for a moment, and then smiled, as though relieved.

“It was nice to meet you, Nouta.”

“You too, Rose.”

Nouta smiled at her as courteous as could be.

In the next minute, Rose pulled out and was on her way back to South C.

Nouta worried she would need to monitor her social media pages, in case Rose wrote a bad review about her location, or even her experience.  She worried about this encounter until she was at her gate again, only to receive a call from her sister.

“Where are you?” Lita asked.

“At the gate,” Nouta said, heaving a sigh as she entered the compound.

“Oh great, we have a client who just paid for the class.  She wanted to meet you.”

“What?” Nouta grinned.  “How?”

“She walked in like three minutes after you went to deal with the one at the road.”

Nouta hurried to the green workshop her worries disappearing.  They had won the day.  Their class was full.  They had managed this round.  She would worry about the rest as it came, she decided.

For all the women in Small Medium Enterprises (SME). You are super women.

Picture Perfect 1

Chapter One

AloneDinner for one, Victoria thought with a sigh as she stared at the clean plate across her.

This wasn’t the first time her boyfriend had canceled on her.  She chewed the spicy piece of chicken she’d spent hours marinating and swallowed it along with the lump in her throat.  She’d made dinner thinking her boyfriend, Ronald, would show up.  Instead, he’d called her an hour ago to call off their date.

She placed her fork on her plate and reached for her large glass of red wine.  Sipping a healthy gulp, she pushed away the loneliness creeping on her and decided it was for the best.  She had a report to finish tonight, and sleeping early was better.

She worked for the Savon Hotel Nairobi as a Senior Sales Manager and spent most of her time creating ways to increase revenue and keep the hotel’s largest accounts happy.  This week was especially busy.  She had a meeting tomorrow with a couple who worked for their largest account; Taylor Kamau of Kifaru Industries, a leading stationery company in the country was wedding his fiancee this weekend.  The Savon Hotel would host their wedding reception, and after-party.  She was meeting Taylor and his bride-to-be in the morning at seven-thirty.

Finishing her wine, Victoria Waina stood and decided to bury her thoughts in work instead of her mediocre relationship.  Taking the wine bottle with her, she walked away from the small intimate table she’d set up by the windows in her living room. She’d clean up later, she decided, or tomorrow morning.  She entered her bedroom and crawled into her bed taking her laptop with her.

****

Victoria woke up to chaos the next morning.  She’d drunk too much wine and her head felt heavy.  When her brain finally computed the numbers on her alarm clock, she stumbled out of bed and ran to the bathroom.  A hurried shower later, she pulled on a black fitting dress that stopped just above her knee and tugged on a red jacket over it.  She ran a brush through her black weave, bumped her toe on her desk as she gathered her laptop, phone and keys.  Ignoring her throbbing toe, she hurried out of her bedroom and went into the living room.

The dishes she’d left on the table by the window called to her, but she fought the urge to clean up.  It was six-ten in the morning.  She wanted to reach her office by six-forty five.  Taking black flats from a closet in the hallway where she kept her shoes, she slipped them on and tried to shake off the lingering sleep cobwebs.

Taking her handbag from the couch where she’d dumped it last evening, she gave the table by the window one last glance before she left her apartment.  She locked the door, and took in a deep breath of the morning fresh air.

Trees surrounded her apartment building keeping the temperatures cool and fresh.  The mornings were best, she thought as she made her way down the veranda to the stairs.  She lived on the fourth floor of her building.  Her brother had helped her find the apartment when she’d gotten the job at Savon Hotel.

Those days she’d lived with her parents in Kinoo and the commute from the hotel to their house had been a nightmare.  Whenever it rained, she’d needed to wake up at four o’clock just to get to the city at six in the morning.  Clifford, who was older than she was by five years and was a doctor at the Nairobi hospital, had used his connections to get her the apartment closer to town.

When she got downstairs, she hurried to the navy blue Jeep she’d bought a year ago.  Opening the passenger door,car start she dumped her handbag, laptop and phone on the passenger seat.  She slammed the door closed and hurried around to the driver’s side.  Once inside, she fit the key into the ignition.  Glancing at her watch, six-fifteen, she smiled, the roads would be clear of traffic and it would only take her ten minutes to get to town.  She turned the ignition and her smile disappeared when the engine clicked.  Closing her eyes, she sat back in her seat and tried not to panic.  This time she turned the key slowly.  When the engine clicked again, she punched the steering wheel and glared at the lights on the dashboard.  Her oil was fine, she had gas, and the battery was obviously working since the lights were on.  She shook her head, turned the key again, and got the same annoying clicking sound.

She let out a string of expletives that would have her mother smacking her with a cooking stick and sat back in her seat.  What now?  She dared not try to look at the engine; her mood would only get worse once she realized she had no idea what she was looking at.

Rubbing her forehead, she picked up her phone, slipped it into her handbag, and did the same to her laptop.  Taking her keys out of the ignition, she got out of the car and locked it.  Swinging her bag over her shoulder, she gave the Jeep one last irritated glance and started toward the black gate.

citi hoppaTen minutes later, found her seated in a fourteen-sitter city-bus headed into town.  She took in a deep breath of relief.  Her joy was short-lived because an older gentlemen reeking of booze sat beside her at the next stop.  She held her breath and tried not to gag.  It didn’t help that she’d chosen the two seats side and the window wouldn’t open.

Closing her eyes, she hugged her handbag and decided to concentrate on the end of this ride.  When the bus lurched into motion, the man beside her bumped against her and she resisted the urge to push him off.  She turned to see what he was doing and found him staring at her with a gaze that made her skin crawl.

Why today? She wondered in exasperation.

She pressed closer to the window and cursed the fates that ruined her car this morning and vowed to learn more about engines.  The bus turned on to Valley Road and she counted the minutes to her freedom.  She sneaked a glance at her watch.  It was already six-thirty.  Panic butterflies attacked and she took tried to fight them away.  Her meeting wasn’t starting until Seven-thirty but she hated not being ready.

The man beside her shifted and she scowled when he coughed, the stench of stale alcohol filling the small space between them.  Jeez, the first time taking a bus in a few weeks and she had to be saddled with this guy.

“You’re so smart, madam,” he growled at her and she gagged.

“Where do you work?” he asked.

She bit her lip hard and fought not to engage.  If she did, she was going to curse him out, and that would just make a scene.  Thankfully the bus approached the G.P.O. Bus stop and she stood.

“Excuse me,” she said eager to escape him.

When he didn’t move, she signaled the conductor.  The drunk man moved then and she hurriedly squeezed past him on to the aisle.  Giving the offending man an irritated glance, she stumbled to the exit.

Pole, Madam,” the conductor said when she reached him.  “Don’t look so angry, it’s too early.”

She smiled because his apology was unexpected.

“That guy is unbelievable.  How can he be drunk this early?” she asked with a sigh.

“There are people like that,” the conductor said as the bus came to a stop.

He jumped on the tarmac and waited for her to alight.  She wished him a good day as he boarded the bus and she got on the sidewalk.

Adjusting her red jacket and handbag, she started the trek to the Savon Hotel which was located along Loita Street.  She sometimes got sentimental pangs when she looked across Uhuru Highway at the national park.  She’d spent her primary school years racing through that park to get to school, or strolling to the bus stop with her friends when it was time to go home.  In some ways, she missed those simple years.

She reached the hotel in minutes and walked through the elegant glass doors with a relieved sigh.  The concierge at the front desk, a young woman named Anita, waved at her and she returned the greeting.  She crossed the lobby to a hallway that led to the back of the hotel and made a note to seek out Anita later.  The young woman was a new addition to the front office staff.  It paid to make friends with the concierges, otherwise important guests would come and go without an alert.

Her office was located at the back of the hotel in the business section of the hotel.  It wasn’t a corner office, but big enough to have become her second home in the past year.  She unlocked the door, turned the lights on and entered the large office.  Dropping her hand bag on the couch by the wall, she hurried to the little closet set in the corner.  She removed her black flats, stowed them away in the closet and retrieved black stilettos.  She closed the closet and went to the windows behind her desk.  She opened the blinds and dropped the heels right by her desk.

A knock came on her door and she glanced up to find her best friend and the hotel’s wedding sales manager at the door.  Grace Musata waved at her and entered the office.

“Glad to see you, I panicked when I didn’t see your car in the parking lot,” Grace said.

“It wouldn’t start,” Victoria said with a sigh.  She removed her brush from her handbag and started brushing her weave.  “I have to call Cliff later.  He’ll have it checked for me.  I had to take the city-bus into town.”

“You’re so lucky you live in Hurlingham,” Grace said, glancing at her phone.  “Otherwise, you’d be stuck in traffic.  We have thirty minutes before the Kamau couple shows up.  I met with Chef Nick yesterday after the disastrous food tasting with Beth, Taylor’s fiancee.  Nick says he won’t do the job if Beth’s family meddles.”

“He has to,” Victoria said firmly.  “Nick is the best.  If he prepares the food as they want it, there shouldn’t be a problem.”

“He says if they want him to cook, they have to stay out of his kitchen,” Grace said.  “Why don’t we just ask Chef Allan from the second floor restaurant.”

“Allan does better with small gatherings.  I don’t want this wedding party to source a chef outside this hotel.  Talk to the bride and find out what’s wrong.”  Victoria put back her brush, and slipped on her shoes.  She rummaged through her handbag for her perfume.  She was afraid the stench from the man in the  bus still lingered.  She spritzed perfume into the air and walked through it, inhaling the fresh, minty scent with a smile.

“We need coffee before this meeting,” Grace said.  “You look fabulous. I’m jealous of your dress.”

Victoria took her phone from her bag and followed Grace out of her office.  “I grabbed it blindly this morning.  Ronald never showed up for our date last night and I ended up drinking half the bottle of wine alone.”

Grace gave her a skeptical look and she sighed.

“Okay, I drank the whole bottle.  Goodness, you know me so well.  I was so lonely.”

“What happened?” Grace asked.  “Did he call you?”

“He was here trying to sort out a night shift crisis.  I think I love my job too much.  Every time he says he has to work, I feel guilty about complaining that he’s not showing up.”

“Are you sure?” Grace asked her with a frown.

“Sure about what?” Vicky asked as they entered the busy kitchen.  They navigated around the room service station to a staff lounge tucked into the corner of the huge kitchen.

CoffeeThe scent of coffee hit Victoria so hard, her mouth watered.  Her stomach growled and she laughed when Grace looked at her.

“I didn’t eat dinner, or breakfast.  This morning has been quite the adventure,” she said heading straight to the coffee pot in one corner.  She took a mug from a tray on the table and made herself a coffee.  “Imagine starting my car and having a clicking sound greet my ears.  So, I trek to the bus stop and just when I’m settling in, this drunk guy sits beside me.  He stunk so bad, I wanted to gag.”

“Oh honey, that’s nothing.  Last week, I took a matatu to Uthiru, and ended up squeezed next to a screaming child.  I would take drunk guy any day over a screaming child stuck in a traffic jam.  My head wanted to explode by the time I got out.”

Victoria chuckled and sipped her coffee.  The sweet dark liquid healed most of her frustrations this morning.  Three sips later and she was ready to face solid food.  She left her coffee at a table set by the windows and went to survey the buffet.

Grace took a bowl of fruit salad and stood deliberating over assorted pastries arranged on a tray.  Victoria walked around her to get some scrambled eggs.

“About Ronald,” Grace started.

“I know you don’t like him,” Victoria said with a sigh.  “But he’s a nice guy outside this hotel, Grace.”

“Yeah, he roars and spits as the hotel manager, and turns into an angel out there.  I’ve heard that before,” Grace said shaking her head.  “His bipolar attitude is not the reason why I don’t like him.”

Victoria surveyed the buffet table and wondered if it was unladylike to binge.  She was starving and the scent of sausages, bacon, fruit salad, the scrambled eggs and assorted pastries was going to her head.  Taking a plate, she served herself two sausages, a helping of scrambled eggs and two slices of toasted bread.

“Vicky,” Grace said and she turned to find her friend staring at her.

“What? I’m starving,” Victoria said taking her plate to the table where she’d left her coffee.

She was partial to the outdoors.  If it was possible, she’d spend all day sleeping under a tree, watching the clouds dance across the sky while she pretended to read a novel.  Sadly, her life wasn’t that lucky.  She instead spent her work days trying to get a glimpse of the sun through windows.  She was lucky the Savon Hotel had so many, each one with unexpected views.  The staff lounge overlooked a grassy patch that led to the Uhuru highway and beyond that, was the Serena Park.

Grace brought her coffee and as she settled into her seat, Victoria frowned at the single piece of toast and small bowl of fruit before her friend.

“Seriously?” she asked.

Grace groaned.  “I’m trying to lose weight.  Hubby mentioned my chubby stomach a week ago.  I’ve been getting lazy lately.”

“Lose what weight?” Victoria gaped at her best friend.

Grace was tall, dark-skinned and beautiful.  Her long mink black hair was held back in a slick ponytail.   Her figure was model perfect, she looked gorgeous in a navy blue long-sleeved dress.  There was barely any fat to speak of, if Grace needed to lose weight, then the world was truly ending.

“Does he want you to flatten into a stick?” Victoria asked taking a bite of her scrambled eggs.

Grace laughed.  “Only you would say that.  There are billions of women outside this door working out as we speak to lose weight.  Please note that they are thinner than me.”

“Not me,” Victoria said.  “I couldn’t live without food, certainly not for a guy.  I love my curves.”

“That’s because your weight goes to your hips, never your waist.  You have a soft hourglass shape, no matter how much you eat.  The rest of us have to work to keep in shape.”

Victoria shook her head.  “Your stomach is fine, Grace.  Your hubby is just giving you stress.  He should be happy you’re so beautiful.”

“Gal, it takes a lot to keep a marriage going.  Besides, he only mentioned my tummy.  I’ll go two months on diet, and the gym after work.  That should shut him up for a few months.”

“Enough,” Victoria said sipping her coffee.

Listening to Grace discuss her happy marriage, she couldn’t help thinking about her relationship with Ronald.  She didn’t want to feel depressed so early in the morning.

Ronald Mutoko was her boyfriend of two years.  Their relationship had started out fast and fiery, and then it had turned into a routine.  Now that they were a long term couple, she could count the number of times they’d actually had a date.  He took her to formal occasions when he needed to show her off.  She dragged him to her own events when she needed a guy to show off.  They were getting boring, and she was afraid that they’d get stuck that way.

Maybe that was all she could manage.  A lukewarm union with a man who admired her work.  Her job took so much of her time, she barely had a chance to meet other men.  Maybe she was just being selfish wanting a guy like Grace’s husband.  Despite the weight issues, the guy truly loved Grace, and they had built a very comfortable life together.

“Vicky,” Grace cut into her thoughts.  “I was here yesterday evening.  Remember I told you I met Chef Nick?  We sat at the front lounge having drinks.  We saw Ronald leave the hotel at around six o’clock in the evening.  I thought he was coming to see you.”

“What?” Victoria stared at her best friend in surprise.

“He wasn’t here for the night shift,” Grace said quietly.

“Maybe he came back,” Victoria insisted only to have Grace shake her head.

“Nick and I left at nine o’clock and he still hadn’t come back.  There was no night-shift crisis, ask the front office department.”

Victoria studied Grace for a second.  “What are you trying to tell me?”

Grace pushed her bowl of fruit away and sat back in her seat.  “You and I have been friends for three years.  You know I’ve got your back, Vicky.”

Her heart hammered in her chest and she tried to shake off the sick feeling creeping into her stomach.  She met Vicky’s gaze and read pity in the kind dark-brown orbs and she just couldn’t handle whatever Grace was going to tell her.

“No,” she shook her head.  Her chest felt tight.  She shouldn’t feel hurt, she and Ronald didn’t have a very close relationship.  But still-,

“There are rumors going around,” Grace said anyway her tone light.

“What kind of rumors?”

Grace winced.  “Rumors that Ronald has been seen at the Seasons Hotel with some of the girls from front office.”

Victoria took the stab of pain in her heart silently.  “What girls?”

“Vicky,” Grace said shaking her head.

“If you’re going to tell me it’s better you say it all,” Victoria insisted.

Grace sighed.  “Yesterday, it was the new concierge.  That girl called Anita.  Before that, it was Beatrice.”

Victoria closed her eyes and shook her head.  “There is no way.”

“Nick told me yesterday when he saw Ronald leaving.”

“Why didn’t he come tell me?” Victoria demanded losing her appetite.  How dare Ronald turn her into an idiot.  Last night when she’d been cooking for him, he’d been out with Anita.  Did everyone know about him?

“Nick figured it would be easier to let you discover it on your own.”  Grace sipped her coffee.  “Maybe he told me because he knew I’d tell you.  All our friends know I don’t like Ronald.”

Victoria stared at her coffee and wondered how she could have been so blind.  She should have known.   There had been signs, no one called off that many dates.

“We should go,” she said abruptly.

“Vicky,” Grace said reaching to touch her arm.  “Are you alright?  Maybe I should have waited until later.”

“No,” Victoria said quickly.  “You did right to tell me now.  Thanks, Grace.  We should go, the meeting is in ten minutes.”

Grace gave her a concerned glance as she stood up.  They left their cups and plates on the table.  Grace slipped an arm around her waist and squeezed, offering much needed comfort.

“Ronald is not worth it,” Grace said firmly.  “Don’t meet him anymore, Vicky.”

“I know,” Victoria agreed as they left the lounge.

She listened to Grace expound on the benefits of being single.  The words were meant to sooth her, heal  her wounded heart.  She tried to listen, but her thoughts strayed back to the last two years.  How many times had Ronald cheated on her?  When had it started?  Had he ever cared about her?

tears
Tears of a Brokenheart

All those times they’d been together, she stopped in the middle of the hallway.  Jesus, a knot of panic formed in her stomach.  She needed to make an appointment with her doctor!  She and Ronald hadn’t been careful the last few times they’d been together.  Ronald hadn’t used a condom and she’d foolishly let it go because he was her longtime boyfriend.  What a fool she was!  Romance in this city could turn into a deadly game with one stupid decision like that.  What if she had AIDS?

“Vicky,” Grace said and she looked at her friend.

“Just a second,” she managed.  “I need to go to the ladies room.  I’ll meet you at the conference room.”

Grace nodded, still giving her a concerned glance.  Victoria ignored it and instead changed direction.  She blindly ran to the public bathroom around the corner.  Fear filled her as the idea that she could have  an STD took root.  She bumped hard into someone and fell to the floor with a soft sob.  Tears she hadn’t realized she was holding back streamed down her cheeks.

When had she turned into such a foolish woman?

****

To be continued…