Chapter 1: The Unbroken Spirit

Cover-1

PHILLIP WAS DEEP IN THOUGHT, so completely wrapped up in whatever was occupying his mind that he paid scant attention to his surroundings let alone the red Hilux Surf which came from behind him and overtook at high speed.

The same vehicle started to overtake the lorry in front of him and in so doing misjudged the distance between it and an oncoming vehicle.

When the gap became too narrow for the Hilux to overtake, the driver turned abruptly into the lane right in front of him. Phillip noticed it too late and cursed as he desperately applied his brakes then swerved to the road shoulder to avoid a collision. It had been raining and the road was wet and slippery.

The white Toyota Corolla went into a skid as the front wheels came into contact with wet mud on the side of the road. Phillip fought to control the car but it plowed into a large boulder then rolled several times before it finally came to rest on its roof in a ditch.

The impact of the crash must have jarred every bone in his body but mercifully Phillip didn’t feel it. The initial impact with the boulder had knocked him unconscious after his head hit the steering wheel.

When he came to he was vaguely aware of shouts coming from somewhere above him. He tried to move but his body would not obey the commands of his brain. He tried harder and watched as his right hand moved slowly towards what he knew to be his face though when he touched it, he felt nothing, almost as if the face belonged to someone else.

A sound of breaking glass made him look to his left where a face framed by long hair looked back at him. Her lips moved as she spoke but her words were drowned by the sound of a passing vehicle.

There was a tingling sensation in his head, which rapidly increased to a throb. He raised his right hand to his temple and felt something wet and sticky on his fingers. Bringing his fingers close to his face, he saw that the substance was dark red, his blood.

Images of the crash began to replay in his mind rapidly, one after the other. A sharp pain pierced his right temple bringing a cry of agony to his lips. The pain seemed to go on for several minutes though in reality it was just a few seconds.

Just when he thought he couldn’t bear it any longer, the pain began to subside. He felt himself floating into something soft, dark, and warm and then just as suddenly, there was nothing.

When he next became aware of anything, it was a rocking sensation. He opened his eyes and tried to focus on his surroundings. The slight rocking movement turned out to be that of a moving car. He watched the opposite window from a reclining position on the back seat, as headlights from oncoming vehicles grew larger and larger before flashing past. The brightness hurt his eyes and he closed them.

He heard voices and opened his eyes to find a pair of dark eyes anxiously focused on his own dazed ones. The same face as before. Up close he realized her long hair was actually shoulder length braids. How much time had passed since the crash?

‘Where am I?’ he groaned but no sound came from his lips.

Warm hands framed his cheeks as his face contorted with the effort of trying to speak. His tongue felt heavy, stuck to the roof of his mouth and though he tried with all his strength to talk he was unable to form the words.

The car hit a pothole on the road and the rough impact sent a sharp pain through his head. He cried out in silent agony and felt like his brain had been sawn in half. He bit his bottom lip and squeezed his eyes tightly shut as a tremor ran through him.

Oh God I am going to die.

Sadness filled him and he thought of David, his older brother and best friend. The one who would have to pick up the pieces. David, always so dependable and the one they all turned to when there was trouble.  He thought of his mother in Nakuru with a pang. She would be devastated and Anne too his only sister.

I should have gone to the farm last weekend. Why did I put it off for work? Sharp regret pierced his heart like a physical pain. I’m sorry mum, Anne…so sorry…

Another face intruded into his consciousness…Rosemary, his girlfriend of three years. He grasped the memory of her face as it flashed before him.

Five foot one, big smiling eyes with long luxurious lashes, sleek long hair always styled in the latest fashion, a short pert nose, small mouth and high cheekbones, everything about her was small and delicate but oh so exquisitely fashioned. And as he had discovered very early into the relationship underneath the delicate exterior was a very strong willed woman.

He had just taken her to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. She was going to the United States to attend her sister’s graduation ceremony at UTA (University of Texas at Arlington). He remembered how excited she had been for weeks looking forward to the trip, her first to the States.

I’m sorry Rosemary, leaving you like this…just hope David has the good sense to wait until after graduation to tell you the bad news.

A feathery touch, warm and gentle grazed his cheeks. “Hang on…please hang on…”  The words were spoken in anguish.

He opened his eyes once more and gazed into eyes filled with tears. Deep pools of emotion that drew him into their depths inexorably until he felt like he could drown but at the same time filled him with her strength. His eyes clung to hers; hers filled with worry and dread.

He wanted desperately to reassure her to let her know he could hear her but his tongue still didn’t work. Then the connection was broken and he felt a sudden gust of cold air as the car door was opened and hands gently lifted him out of the car.

“You’re going to be alright.”
They were the last words he heard.

TESSA WALKED HURRIEDLY HOME through the light evening drizzle in a bid to avoid the impending heavy April downpour. Two hundred metres from her gate the rain began in earnest forcing her to sprint wishing she had remembered to carry her umbrella that morning.

Home was a well kept bungalow in Nairobi’s Kapiti Estate in South ‘B’, a ten minute drive from the city centre. The leafy suburb was adjacent to Highway Secondary School. Unlike most other estates in South ‘B’ this one boasted mature trees and well trimmed hedges in almost every compound.

The main entrance to the school was in the estate which comprised of twenty four houses set on opposite sides of the only road in the estate which ended in a cul de sac. Tessa shared the bungalow farthest from the main gate on the left with her friend Regina.

She opened the gate leading to the three bedroom home with faded brown tiles on the roof and outer walls painted white like all the others in the court. There was a tiny garden in front of the house dotted with a few shrubs and a larger lawn at the back reaching the fence they shared with Highway Secondary School.

A large acacia tree on the lawn and several blue gum trees on their neighbor’s property ensured that the lawn at the back was pleasantly shaded and regular watering of the grass kept it green. Regina’s car wasn’t in the driveway so Tessa figured she hadn’t come home yet.

She entered the house through the kitchen door next to the self-contained two room servants’ quarters and stopped dead in her tracks in the middle of the kitchen. Not again.

The pleasant airy well lit room was a mess. Dirty dishes overflowed from the sink and containers of sugar, flour and tea leaves had been left lying all over the counter. The open blender was covered in ants, so was the sugar dish. It was a scene Tessa had found before but today she wasn’t in the mood to clean up the mess and her already cranky mood got worse. Honestly how did her housemate manage to get the kitchen into such a mess all the time?

She went into her bedroom and divested of her black trouser and light blue shirt then wore jeans with a black t-shirt, her usual outfit when at home. She put the clothes she had been wearing in the laundry basket and her handbag and low black pumps into the closet.

Unlike the rest of the house not much thought had gone into decorating this room.  The curtains were checked blue and white, bedspread green with pink and white flowers and the rug on the floor was red with a black border.

Regina hated it, completely lacking in character she often said but Tessa had refused to let her furnish this room as she had the rest of the house. The large living room was elegantly furnished and could have come straight out of a Barnetts’ or Hutchings Biemer catalogue.

The full grain light brown leather seven-seater sofa set was arranged around a wrought iron and glass top coffee table, the cream colored carpet with a brown and gold border covered the ceramic tiled floor and matched the full length luxurious gold curtains complete with pelmet and tassels. Four glass top stools with frames finished in gold were placed in between the seats.

It was a room she found difficult to completely relax in as it was too formal and she found the colors to be too bland for her taste as she preferred more vibrant colors. But she loved the coffee table because of the base made in the shape of a crouching lion.

The house was Regina’s left to her and her brother when their parents died. Her brother had gone to study in South Africa the year before and finding herself lonely she asked Tessa to come and live with her. The house was near the city center, transport was no problem as there were plenty of matatus, there was good security and the rent was affordable so it was a good deal even if she didn’t think much of the décor.

She went into the untidy kitchen and poured some mango juice from the fridge then put on a new Air Supply CD she had got the day before and tried to relax. Regina walked in ten minutes later.

“Ohh that’s great you got it finally,” she exclaimed when she heard the music.
Tessa nodded.
“Where?”
“Sent Sally, she went to Dubai last weekend.”

Regina dumped her bag on the carpet and began dancing as Tessa watched with amusement.  They both shared a passion for old music, soul and R & B mostly 60s to 80s music.

As usual her housemate was dressed to the nines. Her black pinstriped trouser suit was tailored to hug her pear shaped figure and emphasized her slim waist and small bust whilst showing off her wide hips to best advantage.

She wore it with a white silk blouse, silver hoops in her ears, black suede slingbacks and matching leather bag. Her hair had been cut very short in front to form a fringe over her forehead and longer in the middle and back which she had combed straight back with flipped ends.

Her make-up was as perfect as it was this morning. How it survived the entire day amazed Tessa who had tried experimenting with make-up while in college and decided it was not worth the bother. These days the most she wore was lipstick occasionally when going for a formal evening function. Regina wouldn’t be caught dead without make-up.

“What happened to the kitchen this morning?”
Regina kicked off her shoes and flopped into an armchair. “I’ll clean up.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to just do it after breakfast before the ants invade?”
“Had no time.” She went into her room to change leaving her discarded shoes on the living room carpet.
“Can’t make supper in such a mess.”
“Give me two minutes will clean up.”

Tessa sighed. It wasn’t the first time they were having this conversation. The price of having a slob for a housemate even if she did have exquisite taste in clothes. The phone rang.

“It’s for you,” Regina shouted from her room. Tessa took it in the living room. When Regina came back into the room she found her still clutching the phone looking dazed. “Bad news?”

“I got it.”  Her tone was breathless with excitement.
“What?”
“The job…Research Exec at MSRC.”
“The one you applied two months ago?” Tessa nodded. “Congrats.” Regina crossed the room and hugged her friend.

“I can’t believe it they want me to start immediately.”
“Is the pay good?”
“Oh yeah, double what I’m getting now.”
“We need to celebrate, how about…?”
“Drinks and dinner, my treat,” interrupted Tessa preempting her.
Regina laughed. “My thoughts, exactly. Let me get a jacket.”

“I’ll call Toni see if she can join us.” Toni was a childhood friend of hers and it was she who had introduced her to Regina whom she got to know at the University of Nairobi where they both did their undergraduate studies. She was saying goodbye to Toni when her housemate came back into the room. “Toni will meet us at ‘Three Wheels’ in an hour.”

“Is she still at the café?” Toni owned and managed a restaurant situated at the Nairobi National Park Safari Walk along Langata road.

Tessa nodded. “She sounded like she was going to remain there for quite a while.”

They looked at each other knowingly as they left the house. “Why Three Wheels?” Regina asked as she unlocked her silver metallic Mitsubishi Lancer. “I feel like Pizza.”

“And I would like chicken, so since I’m buying, I get to choose dah.” Tessa rolled her eyes expressively.

Regina held up her hands in surrender.  “After you captain.”

TESSA WAS THREE MONTHS into her new job when she was informed about a visitor waiting for her at the reception downstairs.

“Hi Toni good to see you.”  She came forward arms outstretched in greeting and pecked her friend on both cheeks.

“Surprise!”
“You look fantastic what’s the occasion?” she asked admiring Toni’s green and red two piece kitenge outfit complete with head dress.
“Wanted to impress a potential client. Think I succeeded?”
“Definitely.”
“Love your offices very posh.”
“Thanks.”

The offices of MSRC (Marketing and Social Research Center) were located in Westlands along Muthithi Rd. in the premises of an old brown brick residential two storey mansion that had been converted to offices.

From outside the building didn’t rate a second look but the inside had been extensively renovated and re-decorated. The reception area was large with a built in mahogany island that served as the reception counter.

The receptionist was one of those young thin women who seemed to have been plucked straight out of an ad for a beauty cream. Flawless complexion and make-up, not a single hair out of place, clad in the latest fashion, perfectly manicured hands and toes, and wearing ridiculously high strappy shoes that look good but made you feel sorry for her knees.

Low sky blue lounge chairs were interspersed with wooden coffee tables laden with magazines. A large bay window overlooked the paved parking area outside. The walls on three sides were white and the fourth was a light shade of burgundy. The carpet was blue flecked with gray to match the seats. Landscapes on the walls vied for attention with framed marketing philosophies.

“How’s work?”
“Hectic. And the restaurant?”
“Busy but what else is new?” They both laughed. “Can I buy you lunch?”
“Great. Let me give some papers to my assistant then we can leave.”

Toni sat down in one of the lounge chairs and picked up a magazine from the adjacent coffee table.

Tessa was halfway out the door when she suddenly stopped and turned back.  “Over lunch remind me to ask you something.”

“Sounds serious.”
“Might be.” Tessa shrugged then disappeared into the corridor leading to the offices.

Toni frowned in puzzlement. Something in her friend’s voice made her wonder but she would know more at lunch. They took Toni’s white double cabin Toyota pick-up. Lunch was at Steers located at the junction where Muthithi Rd met Mpaka Rd.

As far as Steers went this branch was like an orphan. Most of the seating was outside and the décor was very plain just the usual purple, black and orange colors to tell you this was Steers.

After getting their order of chicken nuggets and fries they elected to sit outside.  The sun had made a rare appearance, a nice break from the usual cold July weather and it was pleasantly warm. The place was empty except for an elderly Asian couple who barely exchanged two words while eating and hardly looked at each other or looked up from their food for that matter.

“So what did you want to ask me?” Toni asked when it looked like her friend was reluctant to bring up the subject.

Her companion toyed with the salad remaining on her tray and took her time before answering which was totally unlike her. Toni knew her to be forthright and she rarely hesitated to speak her mind. Five foot three and of slight build, dark complexion, she was vivacious and easygoing. She was also very principled and once she believed in something became an ardent and passionate crusader.

“It’s work. I think my boss is coming on to me.”
“You’re not sure?”
Tessa took a sip of her coke and leaned forward with clasped hands. “He hasn’t come right out and said anything, just the way he behaves around me it’s very subtle.”

“Explain.”
“The way he looks at me and comments he makes when we’re alone, it makes me uncomfortable.”

Toni raised her brows.

“I’m not sure it’s something I can define.”
“So how do you know he wants to bone you?”

Tessa thought for a few moments. She rubbed her index finger absent mindedly over her eyebrow, something she did when worried or upset. “The other day in his office he told me I was beautiful.”

“You are. Sounds like a compliment.”
“Toni please!”
“You are.”
“No. Reggie is beautiful so are you I’m not.”

Toni sighed in exasperation. They had been having this recurring argument since Tessa discovered her slim boyish figure wouldn’t fill out no matter how much she ate. She had spent most of her early twenties desperately wishing for bigger hips. Living with Regina who was naturally well-endowed in that area didn’t help.

“Anyway that’s not the point.”
“Agreed. It wasn’t so much what he said but the way he was looking at me like he was undressing me mentally. It made me uncomfortable,” Tessa struggled to explain.
“What else?  Has he touched you?”
“He’s put his arm around my shoulder but he does that to everyone.”
“Hmm.” Toni murmured thinking.

Tessa suddenly remembered something. “The other day Kibuchi met Jack as he was leaving my office. Afterwards he asked if Jack was my boyfriend and when I said yes, he said Jack was lucky and he wished he were in his shoes.”

“You sure it wasn’t a joke?”
“It wasn’t funny and the way he was looking at me…”
“Are you absolutely sure?”

Silence.      

Then Tessa sighed. “No. Maybe that’s just the way the man is.
“Is Kibuchi your immediate boss?”
“No, it’s Mucheru Associate Director who then reports to Kibuchi.”
“So ignore him. You don’t work directly under him.”
“Sometimes I do if the project or client is very important to the agency.”
“So what will you do?”
“Do you think I’m being paranoid?”

“No. As long as you feel uncomfortable something is not right.”
“I’ll ignore it for now till I’m certain something is going on.”

“That’s wise. Watch the situation see what he does. Try to avoid him and see if he seeks you out then you’ll be in a better position to decide.”

“Thanks.”
“What is Jack’s take on this?”
“Haven’t told him.”
“Why?”
“Why start a row when I’m not even sure there’s a problem?”

Toni stared at her in surprise.

“You know Jack he’ll freak out.”
“Maybe not and a male perspective might help.”

“I’ll tell him if it gets out of hand but I’m sure I can handle it. Please don’t mention any of this to him,” Tessa pleaded. Toni held her gaze for a long moment then shrugged and nodded.

Click here to read chapter 2

The book is available at Magunga online bookstore, Text Book Centre, Savanis, Prestige Booksellers.

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