Molly stared at her phone. She read and reread the message she had received from her bank. Insufficient balance, it said. Insufficient balance. She was sitting up in her bed, her back against the hard headboard – part of her back anyway – she was hunched over the phone, one hand holding it, the other tracing the spider web of cracks on the screen.
She wondered what she was going to do now that her money had run out. How was she to pay the rent? What was she to eat? Her food reserves were running terribly low and she wasn’t even sure if she could survive on instant noodles. She thought of her family. Her mother was living a good life in the country. She had land, she had food, she didn’t have to worry about rent or water. But her mother lived in the country. Molly thought about going back home and quickly dismissed it. She knew that if she ever went back, she would never leave. She’d end up looking after her mother and her affairs. She’d end up with a local man from the area who knew nothing of the city life, whose only thoughts of success would be buying land and a few cows. Molly did not want that kind of life.
No. She would make something work. Maybe she could sell something. Her laptop probably. Laptops were always hot commodities, surely someone would buy hers. Or maybe not. She didn’t really want to sell it anyway.
The TV probably. She could live without a TV. She had lived without one for years before buying one anyway. The sale would provide her with a little money she could pay the rent with. Maybe even two month’s worth. Then she’d subsist on noodles.
She placed a quick ad on her laptop and she prayed that someone somewhere was aching to buy a TV. While she was online, she also looked up job vacancies. Her TV money wouldn’t last forever, she needed something to generate income. The pandemic made it almost impossible to find anything but she did find some things.
She noted down some addresses and prepared her documents. She was going job hunting.
“We’ll let you know when we get a spot for you.”
“You’ll get an email if you will be shortlisted.”
“You’re underqualified for the position.”
“Expect a phone call from us any time from Friday.”
“Sorry. The vacancy was filled. The ad was supposed to have been taken down.”
“Apologies for the inconvenience. No interviews are being conducted today.”
By 5 pm that day, Molly was exhausted. She had presented herself to at least 14 business premises – all of which had advertised vacancies – but all of them had turned her down. She wasn’t stupid. All that talk of being shortlisted was just a front. Of course, no one would be hiring during a pandemic. Most of them had laid off several of their employees already. It was disheartening but still, Molly was hopeful. Didn’t the Bible say that God takes care of His children? She wasn’t overly spiritual but she was sure there was such a statement in there.
As she made her way to her apartment building, she stopped by a food kiosk. A plump lady everyone referred to as Mama Pau sat on a rickety wooden bench that always looked minutes away from depositing Mama Pau on the ground. She was starting a fire on her charcoal jiko, a pot full to the brim with red beans sat next to it, waiting for the eventual heat. There were flies hovering around the brim.
“Sasa Mama Pau,” Molly said.
“Ah, my child. How are you, Molly? It’s been long!” Mama Pau said. Her voice was loud and sing-songy.
“But we saw each other two days ago,” Molly said.
Mama Pau laughed and said, “When you see as many people as I do in a day, two days is a lifetime.” She swatted the air near her face. Her face mask dropped to her chin. Mama Pau left it there. Covid wasn’t a thing to her. She had survived pneumonia twice and typhoid three times. She knew pain and she knew the struggle of not being able to breathe and yet, she still lived. Covid would come and go. Everything would get back to normal.
“I understand,” Molly said. She was staring at a bunch of bananas. They were unnaturally yellow. Definitely enhanced.
“You look tired, my dear,” Mama Pau said. “Are you okay? Do you have Covid?” At the last bit, she made as if to lift her mask but stopped when Molly replied that she didn’t have Covid.
“I’ve been out looking for a job today,” Molly said. “I haven’t had much success, I’m afraid.”
Mama Pau hummed a response and stared at the full pot of beans as if it held the answers to Molly’s predicament. “Don’t worry, dear. You’ll get a job eventually.”
“No one is hiring during a pandemic, Mama Pau,” Molly said.
“Nonsense. People are always looking for skilled workers,” Mama Pau said. “Are you looking for something in particular?”
“Well, I studied finance and accounting in school,” Molly said.
“Yes,” Molly said.
“Well isn’t that a coincidence? Do you know Frank Simiyu?” Who the hell is Frank Simiyu? Molly thought. “He’s the man who owns that hotel,” Mama Pau snapped her fingers twice, “the one with the name,” she snapped again, “Label?”
“La Bel?” Molly asked. “The restaurant?”
“Yes, that one. The one next to Kenya Power. He was looking for a sales clerk. The one he had was fired. Or left for ushago. Either way, there’s a vacancy.”
Molly smiled. “And how do you know this, Mama Pau?”
The charcoal was a dull red color now. The heat and smoke had chased most of the flies away. Mama Pau hefted the pot of beans on the jiko and wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. A slight dusting of soot made a smear there. “People tell me things, my dear. If I can offer you any advice I would tell you to go there early tomorrow. Ask for Mrs. Simiyu. Tell her Eunice sent you.”
Molly chuckled. “Just like that? How many Eunices does this Mrs. Simiyu know?”
Mama Pau smiled. “She’ll know.”
When Molly got back to her apartment, she kicked off her heels and stripped down to just her panties. She desperately wanted, no, needed a shower. She took a cold one, not trusting that she wouldn’t run out of power. Under the cold stream of water, she reflected on her conversation with Mama Pau. She made the decision to go to La Bel in the morning. If nothing else, it would at least give her something to do.
After, when she sat down to watch the news, a notification chimed on her phone. Someone was interested in buying her TV.
She smiled and thought, things are starting to look up.
She was wrong.