At the same time Molly received a notification that she had a buyer for her TV, Frank Simiyu received a phone call. The call lasted all of three minutes and if you were in the same room as Frank during it, you would only hear him grunt a “Yes,” here and an “I see,” there. The last thing he said was, “If you say so.” Then he disconnected the call.
Frank sat at his desk in his home office – a glossy slab of oak that took up most of the space in the room. To his right, he had a small notebook open where he quickly wrote down the instructions he had received from the caller. In front of him, a laptop sat open. The screen showed a banking site, a transaction midway. He was transferring a huge amount of money to a private account, almost exorbitant if you asked him. But that was how Temple business was conducted these days. Everything was about money. But Frank didn’t mind. He had plenty of it.
Once the transaction was done, he sent a text to the recipient. He received the response almost immediately.
See you on the 18th.
He shut down the computer, said a prayer, and left the room. He thought about the call from Eunice. She was sending him some down-on-her-luck girl to work at the restaurant. Frank was cautious about hiring unbelievers. All his staff were picked from Temple – it just made things easier when everyone had the same belief system. Work ran smoother, schedules were easy to maintain. Hiring this girl might prove difficult but Eunice had insisted. She said she had a good feeling about this one. Frank had never been able to say no to Eunice. She had that grip over him ever since he was young. When his back was straight, his hair was long, and he had visible muscles. Now in his fifties, he sported a bald head with a halo of salt and pepper hair, his back hurt all the time – the sagging belly didn’t help – and he could barely see without his bifocals.
Eunice had said something else too. “She is a good fit for David.”
David. Frank’s son. His only child. His heir. And Frank agreed that indeed, David needed a wife. But an unbeliever?
“It will be fine,” Eunice said.
“If you say so,” Frank replied. And he really hoped she was right.
Molly walked into La Bel the next morning at 8 o’clock wearing a floral dress that sinched at the waist. She had heels on that gave her just enough height to make her 5,7”. Her braided hair was done up and tied in a tight bun that sat on the top of her head like a ball of yarn. It leaned slightly to the left, threatening to fall off.
Frank had to admit that she was a pretty girl. He watched her as she took in the restaurant. Her eyes widened ever so slightly as they swept the room. Who could blame her for her fascination? He had put a lot of work into the look and feel of the place. The glass double doors where she stood, the wood floor paneling that was polished every day using an electric buffer, the wood beams on the ceiling, and the light fixtures that hung precariously like monkeys hanging by their tails. Frank was proud of it all.
Molly weaved her way to the counter, her dress flowing after her a second after she had moved (either to the right or to the left). An echo of fabric. Step, swoosh; step, swoosh. She had a bag in her hand, what Frank’s wife would call a clutch but what Frank himself would label a handbag.
“Darling, we’ve had this conversation,” he heard his wife, Caroline’s voice in his head. “If it is held in hand, it’s called a clutch. Or a purse if you want.”
If it’s a bag and you hold it in your hand, it’s a handbag, Frank thought.
The walk from the door to the counter seemed to take Molly some time. She still looked around her as if trying to figure out what was missing from the space. Frank could have told her that for free. They had had to rearrange the restaurant. A few of the tables were missing and the ones that were available were ordered in a stiff arrangement. Tables for two, all of them were. Social distancing was a pain in Frank’s side. As Molly made her way to where Frank stood, observing her, heels clicking and clacking on the shiny floor, she changed her facial expression. Frank could see the awe fade from her eyes and the smile she put on didn’t quite reach those eyes.
“Hello, I’m Molly,” she said.
“You have to wear your mask in here,” Frank said. He turned his attention to the cash register. He and the register were behind a tall plexiglass wall so spotless you could swear it wasn’t there. Frank wasn’t doing anything at the register rather than simply opening it and closing it again. He did it thrice before lifting his face to look at the now masked Molly.
“Sorry,” she was saying. “I keep forgetting about the health protocols.”
“It’s alright. We are also adjusting, as you can see,” he touched the plexiglass. “What can I do for you, Molly, is it?”
She nodded. “Well, this is kind of crazy but I was told to come here to speak to a Mrs. Simiyu.” The last part of her statement had a higher intonation as if she wasn’t quite sure she was in the right place.
“Mrs. Simiyu isn’t around,” Frank said. Mrs. Simiyu hadn’t been around for a while. Three years before, Caroline had been very involved in the restaurant, especially in the kitchen. She supervised the chefs and had the final say on all the dishes. She was a beast as head chef and she kept everyone in line. Everyone except for one particular sous-chef. He was new, fresh out of culinary school – and in Frank’s experience with fresh graduates, they always had a sense of entitlement when they secured a job. This young man wanted to be head chef, which of course he couldn’t be. He was a sapling and the head chef had to be an established oak. Caroline despised him but he was good at his job.
One day though, he showed up to work tipsy. He wasn’t completely drunk but they could all smell the alcohol on his breath. Caroline wasn’t too pleased with this and gave him an earful about it. She sent him home at 11 in the morning. He came back at 9 pm. He was sorry, he said. It would never happen again, he said. Caroline, still angry, sent him home again. He responded by throwing a pot of boiling oil on her. It caught her in the right side of her face and ran down her neck to her shoulder and her upper back, melting skin as it flowed. Frank could still hear her screams when he saw her each evening.
Caroline’s face was fine now. The doctors did a good job restoring it but she still preferred to spend her days in the house, knitting of all things. All her zeal for food was gone and she hardly went into the kitchen anymore. She had lost some weight and was cold all the time. But she had her sweaters. Her knitting.
“But you can talk to her husband,” Frank said and he smiled.
“Oh. Okay. Where can I find him?”
“You’re looking at him,” Frank said. At this Molly blushed, looked down, and did that thing with her foot that shy girls do.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Simiyu,” she said.
“So, how can I help you, Molly?” Frank said. He opened the cash register again, looked inside, and closed it.
“I’m looking for work, sir,” Molly said. “I was referred here by Mam… by Eunice?” She turned her face up to make eye contact. The word Eunice was a question and she was looking for any recognition in Frank’s eyes.
“Ah, yes. You must be the girl she was telling me about.”
Molly sighed and smiled underneath her mask. This time Frank saw it in her eyes. “Yes, she said you needed a sales clerk, ” she said. I’m not quite sure what that is though, Molly wanted to add but didn’t.
“Let’s have a seat and talk,” Frank said.
They sat at a booth next to a large picture window. Outside, the street was only just starting to fill up with people. A little late today, Frank thought. He glanced at Molly across the table and motioned for her to speak. And speak she did. She was highly animated once she got going. Her hands went where her story went. High when she was feeling good, clasped together on the table when she wasn’t’. She told Frank about how she was an only child, the child of a teacher and a farmer – her mother was the teacher. She doted on her mother and barely spoke of her father except for saying that he disagreed with her going to study so far away from home. He also apparently had a problem with her major.
“And what was your major?” Frank interrupted.
“Music,” she said. She laughed at the thought. “I dropped it though,” she said. “Couldn’t hold a note to save my life.” She was lying though. Molly could sing very well but she thought she would insert a joke in there. Soften up the interviewer.
Frank laughed at this. A sound that drowned out the piped music (Usher was singing You Remind Me) and filled the room. And Molly did remind Frank of a girl he once knew. His wife, Caroline, before the knitting.
“When dad died, I changed my major to finance. I guess I thought a more sensible degree would honor his memory. And here we are,” Molly said.
Frank decided that he liked this girl. Eunice was right, it just might work out. He just had one question, “What are your religious beliefs, Molly?”
She stilled and stiffened. Did she have any religious beliefs? She guessed that she didn’t but knew that deep down this man needed an answer. And she needed to give one that would secure her a job.
“I don’t know,” she said, deciding to be honest. “I consider myself spiritual but I don’t go to church or anything if that’s what you’re asking?”
Frank hmphed. “I see,” he said.
“Is that a problem?”
“No. There is freedom of religion in this country. However, we do all go to Temple.” Frank said and met her eyes.
“You mean church?” Molly asked.
“No. Temple.” He kept his eyes on hers.
“Are you Jewish?”
“Something like that,” Frank said. “Listen, if you do not subscribe to any religious organization, may I extend an invitation to our next meeting?” Unbeliever.
Molly thought about this. It’s just a regular service like all the services she’s been to, right? It can’t be worse than all those years in high school being forced to attend mass every day.
“I’ll make it easy for you,” Frank said. “This isn’t a threat or a bribe, but I only hire people from Temple. If I do see you at the next meeting, the job is yours – pending a negative Covid test of course.”
That’s discrimination, Molly thought. She didn’t’ need the job that badly, did she? She was meeting up with the TV guy tomorrow, which will give her enough cash to survive on a little longer. Her stomach growled as she thought about it. Frank heard the sound and said, “Can I offer you breakfast, my dear?”
My dear? Did he go from calling her Molly to my dear? When did that happen? Her stomach ignored her head and growled again. The noodles she had for breakfast had vacated her system. Probably they’d been digested as instantly as they had cooked.
“Yes, please,” Molly smiled.
“Coming right up,” Frank said.
He came back to the booth with a platter of bacon, sausages, and a few slices of brown bread with butter. He set it down and got her a side of fresh tomato salsa. Molly’s eyes went wide. The smell of the bacon wafted into her nostrils and straight into her brain. She was going to that meeting, she decided. She took a bite of the meat and let out a sigh. More people were walking past the window now and she thought she was luckier than all of them. “This is really good,” Molly said. Frank smiled.
He left her to her meal and asked Kariuki, the barista, to prepare a cup of tea for the girl. Kariuki returned with a cupful. “Thank you, Kariuki,” Frank said. He took the cup and placed it on the counter, watching Molly all but inhale her food. That’s right, dear. Eat up, he thought. He placed his hand into his jacket pocket and pinched fine white dust from it. He dropped it into the hot liquid with some sugar and gave it a stir. Then he went and set it before Molly.
“Something to wash it all down,” he said.
Molly thanked him and took a sip of the beverage. Frank watched her consume every drop.