I am seated in the corner seat of the marketing department, far from the entrance because despite my being early to work, getting to it is the farthest thing from my mind. I should be in the back pack house, readying for the stocktake that is to soon start. Instead, I sit here, in Sharon’s seat. It doesn’t help that her perfume still hangs heavy in the air, that her multi-coloured leaves of to-do lists are plastered all over the edges of this desktop, untouched, with no signs of loosening themselves to their fall.
I allow myself to reel back my mental wheels to the beginning. My first days at work; times when my face was but a canvas splurged with an array of emotions because I was in new environment. Times I cowered, times I couldn’t let my voice rise above those of my team because I thought myself inadequate, undeserving to lead a team of people old enough to be my parents.
Times I kept to myself, afraid of being found out, afraid of owning up to the beautiful, promising words used by management the first time I was introduced to the department. The time when Sharon, from the marketing department, chose to break ice in the strangest of ways, “The accounts boss, I see the way he looks at you.”
A statement. An understanding. And I allowed myself to cave, for the first time, because after the self torture, after the sleepless nights, it is what happens when you can no longer keep something you don’t want kept.
We had fallen into a routine, she and I. Of me leaving my cramped bedsitter in Zimmerman at 7.30 a.m. so I could meet her at Rounder along the Eastern bypass, and ride shotgun in her Toyota Rush to work. Of us taking turns bringing dishes of leftovers which we warmed in the cafeteria for our lunch. Of us giving each other reasons to hold on to our jobs whenever there was mounting pressure. Of her telling me of the beauty of life, of family.
So when I sit in Sharon’s space, I crave her comforting presence. I crave her reassuring words. I struggle to come to terms with her resignation.
I wonder about her. When you work a job that requires you be present for sixteen hours out of the twenty four that are in a day, it is draining. You question if it is worth the chasm that it wedges between you and yours. You almost wish the luxuries could earn back the lost trust, and mend the broken bonds. When you have bosses who seem eager to review your salary each time you threaten to quit, more than they are willing to let you off - it makes you wonder if you’re in any way of value.
The call came during tea break, when the air in the office was but a cacophony; the tinkling of spoons against ceramics, jolly voices excited over the break, with some heading outdoors for short spurts of office nattering.
No one noticed the receiver falling and landing unceremoniously on the desk. Neither did they notice when she pivoted around in her chair and rushed out of the door.
When I think of her, this is what springs to mind. The image of her after the call; in the washrooms, huddled underneath the hand dryer in the corner, face laced with tears, muttering, " I’m sorry, I’m sorry” with the fervour of a guilt-ridden puritan.
When I think of her, I think of the needle of the speedometer violently flying across her vehicle’s dashboard. The seemingly never ending drive to the hospital. I am hit by that distinct smell of a hospital: the antiseptic, the lingering smell of intangible things such as fear, the crippling sense of foreboding. I think of the reverberating silence that greets one along ICU hospital hallways, and the voices in my head that scream, “someone could die, someone is dying, someone just died!”
When I think of her, I think of time. The image of her mother, like a sprouting seed, springs to mind, and I marvel at the similarities between the two women, at the grace that comes with age. I am overwhelmed; with the kind of helplessness that comes with nursing a loved one. Where you see them wither away; bit by bit, where you feel their soul break, and the sound of it is loud enough that it leaves you defeated physically, and your will dies faster than they do, and you start to feel the onset of the deep, ugly thing that is grief.
On the night of her mother’s death, she had sat by her mother’s bedside. Patiently attending to her requests; “I am too cold”, and she would pull the blankets to her chin.” I am too hot”, and she would draw them down to just above the waist. Films of sweat were wiped off as soon as they appeared. And at 2.43 a.m., when she regained her tongue and muttered a bubble of incoherence as her eyes rolled back, Sharon clutched the frail hand left of her mother’s once pudgy arm, and wished her a painless transition.
Sometimes, grief has a way of opening our eyes to the most unbelievable things. Such as the human habit of feeding transient things at the expense of the most important ones.
So when I hear my name over the radio, I don’t press down the response button to my walkie-talkie. Because a part of me died the night he violated me. In my field of view, I can see the accounts manager go up the stairs to his office. This is my cue to rise and head to human resource.
About the writer:
Beverly Nasimiyu is a Kenyan writer passionate about non-fictional writing. She writes short stories on issues plaguing the African society on her blog, stumahway.com. She has previously contributed to Fuzu, an online business journal, and truebliss.co.ke. She writes under the name Giuliana Nasimiyu. Reach her through firstname.lastname@example.org.