Things fall apart Part 1: House of cards

In Summary

• Zack was ambitious, he really wanted to be ‘someone’ in society. He often fantasised about when he would buy his new car.

• He would definitely have to take a trip to his old neighbourhood. They would have to see how far he had made it.

House of cards.
House of cards.
Image: STAR ILLUSTRATED

Zack was a hard-working man. Whatever he was given to do, he did very well. That is how he made it in life. He worked hard in school and passed all his exams. The way the education system was set, there was no room for thinking. One question, one answer. No possibilities. So Zack crammed the answers.

When he got into the job market, he made the perfect employee. He was told what had to be done, and he did it. He never undermined his bosses. In turn, the bosses liked him and he climbed the ladder. Zack was the Chief Financial Officer of a multinational firm. He had all the added perks and life was good for him.

He had married Meena when they were barely out of their twenties. Meena was from a good home. Her father had a ‘name’. He, on the other hand, had no name or backing. No old family money. Just hardworking parents who made an almost comfortable living. They lacked nothing but did not have the best of anything either. Meena came from a family that did not really struggle for anything. They went to the best schools travelled extensively and were members of the coveted who is who club.

 

They fell hopelessly in love. Not necessarily with each other. Zack liked the idea that his wife was from an influential family. He knew he could name drop and get a few doors opened at the very least. Meena found the thought of ‘struggle love’ romantic. They would start off with nothing and ask Daddy for nothing, but make it in the end.

Zack was ambitious, he really wanted to be ‘someone’ in society. He often fantasised about when he would buy his new car. He would definitely have to take a trip to his old neighbourhood. They would have to see how far he had made it.

Meena was headstrong. She wanted to make her own name. Being her father’s daughter was not going to be her call to fame. Her father was so against her marriage but that made her all the more determined. She would chart her own path.

So they married and started off humbly. They had a small house in some Nairobi Estate. Zack starting off as a clerk in his firm and Meena a stay at home mum as their children came to them quickly. Life was hard and not nearly as romantic as Meena had expected. It was hard making ends meet on Zack’s salary. They were often late to pay the rent and food was not always enough. Zack was not able to buy the things he thought he deserved because of all the responsibility. Meena would not ask her father for help nor would she ask for a better job for Zack at his firm or at any of his friends. Zack resented her for this. Meena was too proud and besides she was not ready for the ‘I told you’ lecture from her father.

Meena also resented Zack. She felt he was not smart. He would not ask for a raise nor would he do anything extra for more money. He was happy with his stupid job and showed up bright and early and did exactly what was expected of him. Meena had never really worked, and Zack never let her forget it anytime she tried making a suggestion on how Zack might get ahead at work. She also realised Zack rarely made decisions in their family’s interest. Once Zack got a side job and made the equivalent of their one month’s rent. They were so happy. Zack decided with the extra money, he would buy a mobile phone. The next month they were almost kicked out because they were not able to pay their rent in full.

As time went by, Zack was able to buy the nice things he wanted. Often at the expense of his family but he had a goal. To be somebody in Nairobi. Nothing would stop him, not even his family’s needs. As luck would have it, he got promotion after promotion and so things got easier for Meena and her children.

Things got so easy that Meena easily forgot her own ambitions and dreams. They now lived in an affluent neighbourhood. Apartment living. Swimming pools and gyms. Zack bought her her own car. He took the kids to a good school and paid exorbitant rent for their apartment. They shopped at the malls. For everything. Zack did not want to hear that she got anything from the market. The maid wore a uniform and slept in the servants quarters. Zack wanted everyone to see how he was living and his family was part of the show and tell. Chief Financial Officer of the big financial company. He was a big man, in standing and stature. He was a member of a prestigious members-only club he drove a german machine, he wore expensive cologne, his suits were tailor-made abroad and he had weekly manicures and pedicures while getting a shave. Life was good.

 

Of course, you know the good life attracts those who come to steal and destroy. This was no different when it came to Zack. The women started noticing him. The nice-looking women, with the big behinds and the weaves. With skin fairer than that of Meena”s who sat around in his house all day. They knew all the latest clubs and most expensive drinks. They could sing to the latest songs word for word and gyrate their hips to the beats of the songs. Their nails were long and their eyelashes longer. When he cracked a joke they laughed hard unlike the clueless mother of his children. When he went to their houses, they had no screaming kids. The houses were neat and smelled really nice. They had all the time for him. The best was when he removed their clothes, they did not have on those big granny panties like the blue ones Meena always wore, they had lacy stringy underwear. They made loud noises in bed and fountains flowed regularly. It was all so exciting. They made him feel like a man. He walked around with an ego so pumped he almost roared on occasion.

Out of all the girls, Sheila stood out. She was almost ten years younger than Zack. Such fun Sheila was. She took Zack dancing and the danced all night long. She danced so well, her young body, firm, her breasts upright and shaped like apple mangoes. Her buttocks were taut but when she danced they melted to the beat of the music. They jingled seductively. When she laughed, she threw her head back and let out a loud bray. Her face was ordinary, her hair was not short neither was it long. It had been forced straight. She had so much hair she almost had no forehead and it went all the way to the back of her neck, almost to her back. Her eyebrows were very thick. Each hair on her brow looked like it faced whatever direction it wanted to. She wore a strange pink colour of lipstick on her thin lips. If you looked at her closely, she looked like she had a moustache.

Sheila was such good company. Zack felt so alive whenever he was with her. He felt so drawn to her that when she called, he just had to go to her. Once after he had got home, when his wife and children had gone to bed, Sheila called. He was in the living room watching the television. He stood up, opened the front door quietly and went off into the night to meet Sheila. He did not even bother to lock the door behind him.

His affair with Sheila was bringing up so many problems in his marriage. He was constantly arguing with Meena. He was coming home late or not at all. He had become so arrogant. He did not need Meena’s family name now, he was his own person. He did not care if Meena stayed or went. He did not fear her father anymore, after all, he was yesterday’s news now. Zack was the new money on the block.

Six months after they started seeing each other, Sheila announced she was expecting a baby. Zack was over the moon as if he was a first-time father. He spared no expense when it came to Sheila and their unborn child. To show his love, he took out a mortgage in her name and bought her a fancy new car. The small cute ones in a nail polish colour. He took Sheila to every doctor’s appointment. They went shopping for everything pink when they found out it was a girl.

Sheila did not want to be alone, she was nervous about the pregnancy. Zack moved in with her. He did not tell Meena about it. He just stopped going home. He did not pick her calls nor did he answer her texts. He would not even pick up calls from his children. He just wanted a fresh start. No reminders of his past.

Their baby was born. She was a beautiful baby. Like most babies. Her hair was long, black and curly. She had dark luminous skin. Zack was not that dark-skinned, neither was Sheila, but Zacks paternal grandmother was as dark as night. The baby must have got her colour from her.

Meena filed for divorce, Zack did not contest. He wanted a life with Sheila. He deserved it.

He became more active on social media. He posted photos of his new family. He and Sheila looked good together. They went on holidays. He finished paying the mortgage. His friends loved them. They had lavish parties at their home and at the club. They had made it. Life had never been so good. Meena had been holding him back all these years.

By the end of 2019, the baby was now a toddler. Meena and his children were a distant memory. Work was looking very good and he was in line for another promotion. A big one. This would see him relocate to South Africa with his new family. He was looking forward to the new year.

2020 did not start as expected. The multinational firm was struggling in the West. Economies were basically shutting down because of the coronavirus. Zack and his colleagues were feeling the pinch but they were optimistic. By March, Kenya was also shutting down. The multinational ordered their employees to work from home. Zack took it positively. He would have more time to spend with his family anyway.

Things did not turn out as fun as Zack thought it would be. They had to let their domestic staff go to be with their families as talks of a total lockdown in the county loomed. Sheila was not anywhere near a domestic goddess so Zack took over the cooking and she almost cleaned. The baby was hard to handle. She would not eat or sleep when she was supposed to.

By April, Zack and his colleagues were asked to take pay cuts if they wanted to keep their jobs. Things started getting a bit tight because Zack had some facilities at his bank that he still needed to service. It was also increasingly difficult to work from home because apart from the baby being unmanageable and the unkempt house, he really did not know what to work on at home. They were not making any sales, clients had almost all closed shop and those who were still operating were frugal with their spending.

May came in no time, bearing horrible news. Government restrictions were extended. Zack got a letter from his boss. They were closing the Nairobi office. It just made no sense to keep the office. Paying rent for an empty space and paying employees who were at home. Only the expatriates would be absorbed in the Capetown office. Just like that, for the first time in his life at over forty years old, Zack was unemployed.

Their happy home quickly became a living nightmare. Sheila started sleeping out. She would claim she was stuck somewhere and since there was a countrywide curfew, she would spend the night at a girlfriend’s. This soon became a habit. Zack would be left at home with the baby. He could not believe that in the space of a few short months, everything had crumbled. His job, his family, his life.

By June, Sheila was staying out two or three days at a time. On this particular day, she had been away for four days. She never answered her phone on her days away. Zack was really struggling with managing the baby and the house. His cash flow was really low. He was surprised at how much the baby needed. His bank had started calling him about his delayed payments for his facilities. It was beginning to feel like the walls were closing in. He kept trying to call Sheila but for the first time, her phone was off.

By day number six he was worried. None of her friends seemed to know where she was. He was considering going to make a report at the police station when the front door opened. Sheila walked in. Behind her was a tall dark man. He wore a black suit, a white shirt that had the top two buttons opened. He stood at the door, bent as if he was trying to avoid hitting his head. He had tribal markings on his face that made him look like a warrior. His body looked athletic.

Sheila walked straight to him and picked the sleeping toddler from his arms.

"Where are you from? Who is this?"

Sheila walked towards the man at the door and placed the baby in his arms. The baby woke up and started wailing. Zack moved toward the man to get his baby, Sheila stopped him.

"A child should be raised by their real parents," she said softly.

Zack looked at her. His ears were ringing.

"What?!"

Sheila picked a diaper bag from the baby's playpen and they walked out.

Zack sat on the sofa. He could still hear the baby crying for him. He tried to make sense of what had happened. He sat there for so long he fell asleep.

When he woke up, he looked at the playpen and remembered what had happened. He looked at his watch, he had been asleep for almost twelve hours.

He licked up his phone and dialled the number.

"Hello? Meena, it's me, Zack."