At exactly nine minutes to Seven o’clock Ray stands his small frame on a make shift dais; a wooden pallet. Clutched with his hairy hands is an attendance list from which he reads our names dramatically. He soaks our baptism names in his weird accent, and they come from his mouth sounding dirty. He struggles with our second names, those he can’t convert to his mother tongue and pronounce he swallows; mumbles or skips all together.
For three weeks Ray has read our names, you would think he would at least try and master them; no that is beneath Sir Ray. In his eyes we are lesser humans, humans at his beck and call which according to him sanitizes his inability to identify us correctly, the one decent thing we hold onto.
Though it does not absolve Ray of his mistake, in some way we look like lesser humans. We are in washed out pieces of clothing. Under our feet are either rubber shoes or those cheap multi colored shoes sold by voices of men trapped in compact disks; shoes that wear out on contact with water or scalding hot soil. The men are in brightly colored shirts and have earphones buried deep into their ear canals. Males in the group appear docile like the females; hardship has a way of emasculating even the most robust of men.
I wouldn’t call it all hardship, rather a cocktail of boot licking and hardship. We all aim to please the man on the wooden pallet because he’s the chief of staff. One of the rules of power states: do not try to outshine the master. We can roar in our homes but at work we let Ray roar.
When I started working at Ray’s company three weeks ago I thought Ray was a short for something but then turns out it’s a nickname; apparently he’s our ray of hope. Am beginning to think this was a concealed joke.
We hurdle close to the make shift dais and hand Ray our full attention. In baited breath we wait for him to call out our names and then shout present! after him. By so doing we ensure an entry into the day’s payroll.
I detest this form of identification but am left little choice, either spend my day hoping and praying for a job or simply shout ‘present’ and have bread on my table. It’s the lesser evil given that am a casual laborer.
The guard at the entrance then takes a log of our body weights as we walk into the waiting area. The same guard will repeat this exercise in the evening as we go home. Being the variance guru that Ray has made him to be he calculates the difference.
A significant variance spells trouble because it is assumed you are hiding one of Ray’s merchandise in one of your body folds. The alleged thief is then taken into a dimly lit room and frisked by the same guard.
If this wasn’t wrong and demeaning in so many ways we would laugh at our employer’s effort at keeping our weight in check.
After the parade I walk alongside my friend Leah into the production area. She began working at Ray’s company two weeks ago, one week after I began. We sort of formed ‘the new girls club’. Also we both are new mothers and we spend lots of time chatting about our babies. Her son is three and half months old, my little princess two months. We talk about the joys of motherhood and the struggles. For instance though our babies are less than six months of age we cannot dare express milk for them at Ray’s, also even if we did where would we store the milk?
While the rest of the staff are swapping songs on Bluetooth or WhatsApp over lunch break Leah and i swap stories about our families.
Leah’s husband runs his older brother’s hardware shop. Before she began work at Ray’s place she would help him in the shop but they quarrelled all the time. Leah’s fault ranged from overpricing/under pricing goods or not being able to remember all the products specifications off head.
He felt it was best for her to work elsewhere.
Leah knew that her husband detested having her see him get shouted at by his elder brother. Secretly Leah also wanted to leave because she couldn’t protect his husband from his gloomy brother try as she might have. It’s weird that one would work so hard, make lots of money and still scowl at the slightest provocation, or mistake.
Unlike Leah I had to work to support our small family. My husband Tim is part of the work force that’s constructing the standard gauge rail way. He’s on contract which means his last payday is soon approaching. Tim never wanted for me to leave the baby but I knew better.
Yes, I would stay home all day play with our girl, bathe her, and lay down with her, then in the night Tim and i would have a fight.The fights always oscillates around money. The last fight erupted when I asked for money to replenish our charcoal stock.
He cursed and then walked out in the night angry and frustrated at my inability to help him in the preservation of the elusive coin. Angry that our girl will soon wake up to the realization that we are a struggling household, one in which she will have to live in. A household where she has to lie she’s full after having one Andazi for breakfast.
God knows I tried stretching the two kilos of charcoal to last a week; I poured cold water on the red coals when I was done cooking, I broke the pieces into almost fine powder so they would cook longer, but it didn’t stretch as I thought.
Each time he walked out I was worried that he would encounter men who would rough him up and God forbid take his life. I was afraid that he would encounter girls who giggle him out of his mystery and then take hold of his paycheck leaving my little girl and I without one on whom to depend upon.
I was afraid I was slowly being the disappointment he was afraid of before we got married. Tim and I met on Facebook, I was this rebel on Facebook posting whatever I pleased and it all pleased him. He called my posts ‘hilarious rants’. He was and still is my biggest fan. I ignored him but he kept coming to my page to read. He sent me messages on messenger and one occasion he asked for my email address so he would share with me his e- books, instead I gave him my number and told him to send them on WhatsApp.
We brewed the rest of our romance on WhatsApp with pics, books, emoji and the alphabet. We shared our dreams as well as our greatest fears, his was getting stuck in a non-functioning union, this haunted me each time he walked out. With each fight and every episode of silent treatment we were easing into this non functioning union.
When most couples fight they have make up coitus and move on, when we fought I wrote him a long post and left it on the table where I knew he would find it. He would read it; laugh at it, love it and our default friendship would be restored.
And on the days I took long breaks from writing, he always pulled out my earlier posts and read them to me just to remind me of my ability to write.
Prose birthed us, it is only reasonable to use it as glue to patch us back together when we came apart.
Any writer will tell you there is such a thing as a writer’s block; a time some unknown force pushes the pause button on your creativity so you are not able to write. Thus, instead of having a fight and not having a way to resolve it, I got a job and I help foot the bills.
In addition I encounter Ray and my other colleagues from whom I collect stories and keep them in a log. On some days I read them to my little princess and on other days I leave them on the table for Tim to find and bring us back to where we were.