SHIMMER OF HOPE………CHAPTER FOUR……….
……SEVEN YEARS BEFORE…….
There was a gentle tap at the door and Mr Muleya with lowered glasses raised his head from the computer monitor and warmly asked the one behind the door to come in. It was one of his clients and he beamed nonchalantly.
Mrs Catherine Mwiba”, he boomed taking off his reading glasses to clean them and put the back on whilst ushering her a seat, “Do come in”.
Catherine smiled lightly as she closed the door and from where she stood she could see the outdoor view from the balcony clearly visible from the parted window curtain slowly swaying side to side by the wind. She, had been clad in a smooth of the touch purple suit with scarlet wedged shoes. Her make up stylishly done and had her hair fairly done at the salon ever looking on point as always. In her hand was a brown envelope and sitting down on the office chair beside her employer she could clearly see the balcony view at his back.
“What’s this?” he asked staring at it with curiosity.
“A simple request”, she replied warmly.
“Oh, from whom?” he asked looking at her intently.
“From me,” she replied, and he nodded placing it on the table taking out some file that he seemed to be filling in details from the computer. Silence took over. Catherine bit her lip in the process of it.
“So, Mrs. Mwiba”, he began typing away, “How’s the family?”
“It’s alright sir”, she replied right away.
“Your children must be proud to have you as their mother”, the man said eyes on the computer screen before an awkward silence ensued and Catherine looked like she was about to leave, “How’s your husband?”
For a moment Catherine had been taken aback by the question and she looked at him confirming whether she’d heard him right or not, “Excuse me but are you asking about—”
“Yes”, Mr Muleya answered before she could finish, “How’s Mr Mwiba himself?” he said cupping his hands and smiled broadly.
Catherine’s words fell out in a whisper before her employer received a phone call. Ending the call, he gave her back his undivided attention, “Um sir, I really should be getting back to my office…”
“Oh, right but wait”, he said picking up the brown envelope as she got back to her seat, “Shouldn’t we be finding out what this is?”
“No, really you can do it without me. I wrote it,” she replied.
“Which all the more makes it necessary for you to seat down as I read it”, he said casually pulling off the seal and reluctantly Catherine sat back down as he asked. Mr Muleya read it quietly whilst Catherine tapped one of the leather chair arms with her nail, quietly. Taking off the reading glasses the man looked at her bluntly and noticing his firm gaze on her, she looked up from her bent position to meet eyes with him.
“So, you are asking for a raise,” Mr Muleya began leaning back in his seat, “Okay….” He said as if taken aback by the approach.
“Sir”, piped up Catherine inching closer to his desk, “Before you can say anything I would want to clarify that I did my research”, she said as the man nodded, “I looked up other companies offering the same job opportunities as the one I’m doing here, and I realised that I’m under-payed. I’m not saying that to sound bluntly rude, but I work harder than required of my services. I have found out that for a Bachelor Degree holder in business and marketing I seriously deserve a little bit more than what I receive as a monthly salary”, she was careful with her words upon seeing the man fold his arms still giving her time to speak, “I have two children at home to feed and take care of and I humbly ask that you comply per my request for a raise. I need nothing other than that for besides my concern on the monthly pay I believe I can receive much more than what comes into my possession”.
The man nodded, “Okay. I’ve heard”, he said putting her envelope away, “I will have to discuss it with my management board and only then will I get back to you”, he said, and Catherine understood rising to her feet.
“Thank you”, she replied about to walk out but the man was still taking, and she halted.
“When I asked of your husband….” Mr Muleya was saying but didn’t finish for she cut him off.
“I clearly stated on my application form that my marital issues were highly confidential, but rest assured single handed I was more than eligible to work for my family with or without my husband”.
“Where’s he? You are on separation?” Mr Muleya wondered eying her.
“It’s personal that’s all I can say. Good day sir”, Catherine said walking out and closing the door behind her. As she stood outside the office she noticed her fellow colleagues busy with their daily usual work hardly paying attention to her whilst some looked her way as the office secretary came her way smiling broadly.
“Morning Mrs Mwiba”, she greeted lightly, “How did the meeting go in there?”
“It went well”, Catherine said with high hopes. She hadn’t told anyone of her reason for going there, “I must be leaving”.
“Sure”, the employer’s secretary said hugging her files and went into Mr Muleya’s office upon being granted permission.
For the rest of the day Catherine worked her usual way harder than before trying to win favour from the firm concerning her request. If she showed that she was speaking out of mere truth of hard work and dedicated effort to what she did for a living, perhaps the management board oughtn’t to debate over her issue wondering why and how suddenly one of their employees would approach them for a raise in their monthly pay.
Heading home later that evening, tired, worn out and wishing to get into bed the sooner she had done her motherly duties Catherine drove to her house in Long Acres around past six pm. She arrived dragging her legs where everything seemed to be back to the way it was the moment she reached the threshold. Though weeks had past of hopeless nights and wondering what was really going on with her marriage Catherine was still hoping to find out about the whereabouts of her husband. Reaching the door, she was greeted by her nine-year old daughter who received the plastic bags of the groceries she’d gotten from Pick ’n Pay on her way home whilst her son was reading a storybook on the couch. Her house was ever in place despite the absence of a manly figure, but certain things had changed.
“Mum”, Anita came to her mother warmly with a notebook and pencil, “Homework…”
Tiredly looking at her innocent child Catherine feigned a smile and reached for the book patting the seat beside her and her daughter walked round the dining table, “Okay, let’s see”, she said flipping through the pages but when she reached a certain page her daughter tried to prevent her from flipping the pages, “No let me see Anita. What are you hiding, huh?” she said softly only to see grades that even for a child as smart as Anita was it was rather surprising. Flipping some more, Catherine noticed that Anita fairly got good grades on other days, but majority were zeros. It was disturbing.
“Anita what’s this?” Catherine asked looking at her child who tried to hide her face, “Look at me and tell me what this is?”
Anita was silent. Asking for the other books the girl didn’t budge till Catherine herself had to grab the bag from her child who fought hard to have it, “Give it to me!” snapped Catherine getting out of the girl’s grasp and opened the books roughly only to see more zeros. She wrinkled her face in displeasure, “Anita you are even failing Maths? Weren’t we doing these not so long ago?”
“That was short division and fractions. Long division is hard….”
“That’s no excuse to fail!” Catherine snapped going through other books, “Even English as well? That’s it!” she had had enough of it and rushing out she plucked a dry stick which made her daughter shudder the moment she caught sight of it, “You have started playing too much!” she blurted landing the first lash on Anita’s back that she yelped in pain, “Too much TV too!” Andrew who had been reading his storybook the time their mother had returned had stopped to witness the beating. He looked scared and from the corner of his eye partly hidden by the storybook covering his face, he saw his mother lock eyes with him.
“Switch off that TV now Andrew!” she commanded but the boy was reluctant, “Andrew! Switch the TV off this instant!” scared he was he obliged and stood by the corner watching his mother whip his elder sister.
“I work hard to feed you and your brother, and you are playing with school? Who will take care of you if you throw away such chances? TV will always be there, but you are playing too much. I hardly have time to take care of myself seeing that you and your brother are ever on my mind”, she said with the girl to the floor as she abandoned whipping and resorted to smacking instead, “I can’t even afford to pay most of the bills here but I’m trying to put things together so that you have a roof over you and when I come home you give me your zeros??”
“Mummy I’m sorry”, whined Anita in between her sobs as her mother literally pinched her cheeks, “Mummy, I’m sorry”. She cried.
“No, you are not!” pouted Catherine beating the girl more, “You are becoming way to playful. I shan’t tolerate this. Not in my house with my own effort to waste when your good for nothing father is nowhere to be seen….”
“Mummy….” Andrew cried bothered by the beating of his sister, “Stop, stop”.
“Not now Andrew Anita needs to learn a lesson”.
“Mummy”, the little boy whined rushing to hold his mother’s arms and sobbed hard, “Stop!”
“Andrew, behave!” snapped Catherine pushing the boy to the floor that he crushed on his back full in tears. The look of the two crying children made Catherine refrain and she walked to her room in tears too. However, the beating was to continue for some reason her daughter became naughty. Anita kept doing one silly thing from the other that scolding was hardly enough to correct the situation. As such resorting to beating only made the girl cry more than usual. So much was she seeming different from the way her mother thought she would be. Catherine had been ever so sweet a child at her age why was her own daughter behaving that way?
Not only was she misbehaving she would often run away after being let go from her mother after some good whipping and rush to her bedroom slamming the door in the process to hide in between the blankets and sheets; sometimes in the wardrobe where she cried for her father whose absence was painful. A man whom she missed terribly but had vanished from her life. Last, she’d heard from him was when he had mentioned his trip abroad concerning work and he had long since cut off ties. Not even making long calls as was the custom before on his usual trips out of the country. It was terrible and hurtful. Several times little Andrew would come to Anita’s room as the only confidant she had and together they would cuddle and weep in the blankets for their missing father.
Catherine had resorted to confiding in her past’s moments when Isaac was still around. She ever kept staring at the portrait of him and her hugging looking so jovial, merry and full of bliss. Whatever had happened to their undying love? Where was he now? Why didn’t he call? Was he alright or much more to think, alive? His sudden disappearance shook Catherine a great deal that she cried sleeplessly all night the coming days with nothing but a family portrait to keep her company.
Months had passed since her request for a raise and nothing was changing. She was still getting lower payment that she eventually resorted to doing some job hunting of her own in the hopes of getting a second better paying job. It was still in her search that she’d gotten one of the most shocking news of her life.
“Sir”, Catherine said entering her employer’s office, “You called for me?”
“Uh, yes”, replied Mr Muleya handing over a file to her as she sat, “Here”.
Catherine thinking it was her answered request received the papers merrily and hurriedly opened the files with a resonating face which only lost its shine the moment she had her eyes staring at what was heart shaking. Her employer’s face was straight up serious.
“You are firing me??” Catherine asked her voice choking with much emotion.
“No, more like letting you go”, he heaved a sigh, “I’m sorry to say this but I tried my best. We couldn’t do anything about it and seeing that you were asking for what we couldn’t give you also that you were amongst the few complaining, we only had to release you to let you get what you want elsewhere and not here…”
Catherine broke down almost immediately, “But sir how shall I live without a job? I had asked out of what I had at least thought I expected but not with the result of getting fired”.
“I’m sorry but there’s nothing that I can do,” he said calmly noticing her cry momently before saying, “I will need you to sign and make sure to clear your office by the end of the day. Have returned whatever belongs to this firm”, he went on as the woman cried even more, “Mrs Mwiba…”
“Sir I beg you please reconsider. Anything other than being jobless would do. Please.”
“I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do,” the man said looking at her, “You have much talent and I’m sure there several firms out there that would be looking forward to employ you especially with five years’ work experience you’ve acquired now. You have an upper hand advantage here so lighten up”.
Catherine still seated in the chair wiped her eyes dry with a tissue as Mr Muleya towered her. She had lost the little she had to fend for her family now.
“We shall miss you terribly dear. Good luck”, he said extending his hand to her hand and she weakly shook it trying as much to compose herself upon leaving the office not wanting to let the others know that she’d been crying. Redoing her makeup in the bathroom she proceeded to the office where after she had packed everything and officially said her goodbyes she was out of the building by late afternoon of the day.
She drove out of the parking lot with tears in her eyes. Having been fired from work affected her badly. She had no idea of where to go that she kept driving in circles. Her eyes were puffy and swollen and her makeup was getting all over her face. The stereo had been playing a sweet jazz song of fine orchestral music, but her mind was elsewhere. She kept sniffing and wiping her face with the back of her hand whilst checking her phone. She didn’t even know whom to call. None of the firms she had dropped her number for contact after her application and interview hadn’t gotten back to her and she was desperate for a miracle.
She had been driving with countless songs playing on the stereo practically going nowhere till she reached Cheers and decided to get some shopping and catch a breath of air. She had remembered that back home the fridge was almost empty and seeing that she had so much time on her hand that day, she figured that doing some shopping would do her good. She redid her makeup and walked to the store quietly. Not even the voices from the people nearby inside shook her from her thoughts, selecting all she needed, placing in a basket as she walked about the store. She was in her own world.
As the lady at the counter handed over her change, Catherine fought hard to maintain her composure pushing back fresh tears daring to pour out. She watched the shop assistant pack her things with a warm smile and looking at her she too had to feign a smile before heading back to her car where she stuffed everything in the backseat and drove away. Back on the road she drove in circles once more bypassing Mass Media and the stores more than usual till she noticed the fuel tank dial pointing towards ‘empty’ and she drove to a nearby filling station to refill.
“One hundred kwacha, please”, Catherine said leaning on her car door whilst the man in a Mount Meru uniform refilled her tank. Her eyes had been closed and reopening them she removed the lid of the pack of Pure Joy juice which she took most of it in one gulp startling the man filling her tank who also had been watching her closely.
“Are you okay?” he asked watching the fuel enter her tank.
“Yeah,” Catherine smiled, “I’m”.
“Are you sure?” he asked again once he was done with the filling.
“Yes, very,” she said getting the money from her purse and paid her bill.
“You are all good and set to go,” piped the man counting the money in his pocket.
“Thank you,” grinned Catherine as she opened the car door and drove off. Looking at the rear-view mirror, seeing how sullen her eyes looked even with makeup, she ended up breaking down again and cried her heart out. She was sobbing more than usual was she that eventually she decided to pull over on the road and parked her car. Vehicles swooped by and she held the steering wheel, resting her head on it before her phone rang.
“Hello?” she responded weakly.
“Is this Mrs Mwiba I’m speaking to?”
“Yes….” Catherine replied curtly.
“I’m calling to inform you that you have been selected to attend interviews for the job you applied for at our firm. Do come by the office tomorrow”.
“Okay….” She replied trying to sound composed.
“Will you make it before seven am?” the female voice boomed in the ear piece.
Catherine was lost in thought but replied, “Um, yes, seven am is fine”.
“Great. You will be attended to amongst the other applicants. See you tomorrow Mrs Mwiba”.
“Thank you. Good day”, Catherine said cutting the call and placed her head on the wheel again.
There was a slim chance for the job. With almost fifty applicants what hope was there that she could be the one? Fumbling in the car compartments she pulled out a newspaper in which she had seen a couple adverts of job interviews that she was qualified to do. Though a good number suited her application, some were underpaying but there were a few that either were in line with her qualification.
She scribbled down stuff and called the featuring advertisement numbers whilst making a U-turn to find out the locations of the job offers. Only the nearest in her reach did she visit. She spent the rest of the afternoon roaming the city job hunting but to no avail. The few advertised jobs pertaining her qualification, the firms had either already enrolled enough or were only requiring male applicants or workers with more experience in the field of interest or if they were willing to get back to her after getting to apply would take ages to respond to her; time which she didn’t have and couldn’t risk waiting that long.