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Businesswoman's Fault

Businesswoman's Fault

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Businesswoman's Fault

494 pages
8 hours
Jul 12, 2018


Set against the restless background of Nairobi's corporate world, Businesswoman's Fault is a dense collection of seven new stories that are deeply thoughtful, and endlessly entertaining flights of imagination. These stories deal with a diversity of issues and show emerging challenges facing Africans today especially in their struggle to survive. The first four stories feature strong woman-led characters. Set against the restless background of Nairobi's corporate world, they capture the shifting boundaries of professional women's struggles in a male-dominated world. In Businesswoman's Fault a designer-turned-marketer must save her company from the schemes of a shrewd competitor. In Moni Afinda, a middle-aged designer manager carries the memories of her father's failures into her business. She must win a contract at all costs and succeed because she cannot repeat her father's mistakes. In Kichorochoro, a tumult of personal tragedies push a young social worker into the frontier of doom without a back-up plan. She throws herself into her work of reshaping the lives of ragamuffin homeless boys in a dangerous Nairobi slum. The haunting cinema-esque Happy 9th Birthday is about a nine-year-old girl who is sexually abused by her father and its horrific aftermath. She throws the spanner into the works and into a nightmare of suspense and stark terror. The two last stories are about elderly musicians in a changing world. Kiss Ya Bangongi demonstrates that chasing greatness spurs doubt, self-hatred, failure, and pain especially when the conditions for greatness are deemed by the sort of egotistical man the protagonist is. In First and Second Rhythm Guitars In an Old Benga Song, an old benga guitarist must drop his personal principles and give benga music a facelift to save it from extinction. The two stories are linked inextricably to innovation in the guitar music, to chord changes, and voiced heartaches.

Jul 12, 2018

About the author

Okang’a Ooko is the author of Businesswoman’s Fault, (stories), and three mainstream novels, including Bengaman, When You Sing To The Fishes and the latest, Hunter & Gatherer mostly vivid accounts of scandalous vices, human folly, power games, and peopled by men and women struggling to succeed in the new African renaissance. He writes thrilling and intriguing character-driven fiction based on African characters and situations. His work presents a compelling narrative voice and a new way of seeing the world.Ooko is a very ambitious and hardworking writer for this generation. His three Must-Read cavalier bestselling novels are in categories that matter to him: history, politics, pop culture (especially music), love-and-danger, business, corruption, true crime, and self-development. Known as “Kenya’s new master storyteller”, Ooko epitomizes a new shift in African fiction and his books are mostly set in Kenya. He loves to dispel the myth that Africans don’t read, and incredible readers who have stumbled upon his books have liked them tremendously. He has been writing since childhood when his mother took him to the local library in his hometown of Kisumu to keep him out of the company of bad boys. As a serial daydreamer, it was nice to finally get the stories on paper when he started writing full time in retirement in 2017. He has not looked back since. He believes current African issues (pop culture, politics, business, corruption) make dramatic stories with or without a literary bent, and he knows there is a huge potential to create intriguing stories around these themes. No writer is doing it. With his new book, Hunter & Gatherer, he currently aims to shepherd his vocation as a writer of commercial African fiction.In addition to being a prolific writer, he is an artist, an acclaimed graphic designer and musician. He lives the life of an artist. He worked in the publishing industry as a designer and typesetter, community manager at a content development company, and book cover designer for fiction and non-fiction.When he isn’t reading or writing engaging stories, he’s probably singing, watching edgy black comedy on Netflix. He was born and raised in Kisumu, in Kenya. He lives in Nairobi with his wife and four children.In his spare time, he gives writing lectures, creates graphic arts, plays the guitar and draws things. You can connect with Ooko on Facebook at facebook.com/rd.ooko/.You can also visit his website, okangaoo.com, to sign up for emails about new releases.

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Businesswoman's Fault - Okang'a Ooko

This first fruit is for you

Nyar Seme. Min Oganda. Min wa.

Esta Adhiambo nyar Ogango

1948 -  2015

A Pillar of struggle and Strength. Mama.

When you went, you took away my strength and left me groping.

You ever told me true things.

Truest of all in your Luo tongue, Gima ichako nyaka itieki

Meaning Finish whatever you start.

You said many true things. Then you departed.

I keep your words.

And to you Thuon. Ratego The Strong One.

The people of Wanyama, Rusinga called you

Okang’a son of Oremo kaJagero

We called you Baba. SF.

1935 - 1993

You two were victors.

And all my siblings, all alive.

Jura, Onyango, Asa, Tom, Rosey, Linet, Awino and Omondi.

Family. Together forever. Kwe kende, joka Ma.


Businesswoman's Fault

Moni Afinda


Happy 9th Birthday

Rude Awakening

Kiss Ya Bangongi

First and Second Rhythm Guitars in an Old Benga Song

About the Author

Thanks and acknowledgements

Other Books by Okang’a Ooko

Copyright page

It’s not my co-wife’s fault;

It’s the businesswoman’s fault...

she sold us similar dresses.

— Le Poète Simaro Massiya,

Faute Ya Commerçant, 1983

AMBA, Atieno Mary Bella Advertising, had created an outrageous concept around sharp images of physically handicapped children shot in horrifying poses. It was the rankest of sneak horrors.

Atieno shook with shock and shook more. She said it was gloriously ghastly. Which forecasted the brand manager’s face and yanked her around. The brand manager Akombe Malkiya Bosibori—Hi, I’m Bosi—said it was the only chance she had to slake her thirst, push the distance and meet her deadlines. This wasn’t another bean bag; it was the grove bag, she said. It made the golden shimmer in her brain. Like momentary flare-ups of tiny sun lights. This could bring money, with social responsibility tag attached. Bottom line? New business. And in the frantic chase of her set of deadlines, she was now building it into a campaign. She was overly certain it looked like a good prospect, so she pushed the buttons.

She felt directions. In Nairobi City, sometimes directionless, she had directions. And she knew south and north in her head and she deftly walked with fortitude on Kenyatta Avenue feeling good about her grand new title (as brand manager) and the good salary that now kept her more targeted with the new client account. She had coined a name for it in patchwork-and-kitenge Kiswahili flavoured with Sheng like nyama, ugali and sukuma wiki made by a bad cook, with too much salt and spices. 2-Help Walemavu. Meaning let’s help the disabled.

All the colours of AMBA’s kaleidoscope were on it. All the swirly patterns and bright shiny glass shards were it. The client was Kick Polio From Kenya, a new NGO, and the strategy behind the campaign was to challenge the thinking of parents and teachers and health care workers and health policy makers who thought polio had been eradicated. She had designed the campaign in a way that subscribers to their emails were more likely to see polio-ravaged bodies in place of product shots. This was a way to grief-stain the peoples’ brains making them interact with the 2-Help Walemavu 3D disease shots in their emails and embark on grief-striking educational safaris.

But a major case of the heebie-jeebies had come. Atieno Mary Bella was the CEO. She ruled the AMBA roost. And she wasn’t so reassured. Her stomach shuddered. She had been hoping to avoid this. She brought up her last text, sent to Bosi four hours ago: Can this even work? Bosi still hadn’t responded. She typed out another: Let’s meet and discuss this pliz Quick-quick. As a boss, she needed to be more assertive.

Bosibori had seen the text when her phone buzzed against the glass table top and she stumbled across from the toilet for it, pulling down her skirt. She read and smiled her slightly lopsided smile. Her hands trembled while she sent a smiley face and a thumbs-up emoji, as though she was scared to type out sounds good. And the smiley-face emoji was meant to remind Atieno that she was the king-queen and she was progressing forward. This progression and this progressing was not what Atieno was looking for in 2-Help Walemavu. It felt like a set up. She suddenly started flinging her head like she was having a convulsion fit. 2-Help Walemavu. In Kiswahili. Or stupid Sheng. It was like a bad taste in her mouth—but it was actually a bad taste in her mind. She was even irritated by this campaign’s scare-them-and-make-them-fell-guilty approach. She normally didn’t pay much attention to new concepts unless they were decidedly juicy and about something new.

And even social media pundits mutatis mutandis scowled. Digital marketing guru Ochieng Konyano didn’t make the matter any better; he was as fleeting as a Tweet and briefer than a poor man’s eulogy in a post at the SokoKoso marketing blog where he pointed out that AMBA’s messages—sent over 3 months—had no story typical to Kenya’s inability to deal with its physically disabled citizens and it showed nothing related to polio. This was like watching a Twilight Zone movie, wearing the infrared viewers. The images were ugly and disappointing. Who could design such things? Which insane artist could create these zombie-like graphics? The story told in different variations was of the same pathetic or embarrassingly emaciated disabled twerp showing a lot of bony legs in crutches limping in the dirt; nothing happy.

The brand manager had designed the campaign to target the reaction of the Kenyan men and women, point at their casual inclination to ignoring the physically handicapped (typical), and to get them to be moved to tears with the stark images. People must not ignore the disabled; they must be forcibly reminded that the polio story was not an absurd fiction. It was still tapping kids with disabilities. Added to the fact that normal people could not understand the bodily distress of walking with crutches or pushing oneself around in a wheelchair or asking to be done things for.

The selling point? 2-Help Walemavu campaign presented three things: Problem. Reaction Solution. It carried a brand promise that was personalised and talked straight to the consumer. It said: Are We Culling The Undesirables? That was the selling point. But SokoKoso blog had some hard questions: why does the campaign makes one think polio is some Government bio-weapon they purposely release to cull the Undesirables? Who are these Undesirables? Such questions made Atieno Mary twitchy. So, she schemed. She had to satiate her dream even if.

It was the morning of the campaign’s third month. Bosibori was doing research on her favourite blog, B&AM Magazine. Atieno had walked into her office with the confusion and indecisiveness of a centipede with ninety-eight missing legs. Here she was, the CEO, the confident, the cock-sure, the bootstrap capitalistic businesswoman in an expensive matching brown knit suit and a red Maasai scarf who could dance a mean rumba, scream her head off for Gor Mahia, front a harambee fundraiser and drive herself home to Karen at midnight after hard swallows at Tribeka. Yet, somehow, she couldn’t decide on a life-affirming task that lay ahead of her and her head couldn’t think straight. She had mixed feelings regarding the design elements of the campaign. When she checked into the meeting with the Kick Polio executives yesterday, they didn’t have a badge and lanyard for her. But for her embroidered AMBA shirt and the way she schmoozed and shook hands like a man, she could have been a franchisee eager to learn about the next great designer apparel permutation rather than a marketer here to think with others, think aloud, think about thoughts, and advance view. Now she looked ahead with hesitant anticipation to her tie-breaking meeting with those Kick Polio executives tomorrow afternoon.

Anything wrong? asked a curious Bosibori on seeing her boss’ adverse reaction. You think it can’t work?

Atieno seethed. She made a face. It was clear that she didn’t like the idea one bit. Anything right? she minded to her colleague. Bosi, the thing is... you went to the Net. You found some horrifying stuff and you fell in love. Now what?

Bosibori tried to sound logical. It’s a novel idea.

That was a statement of non-committal. Atieno needed something a little more solid and reliable. She was dejected. True, she wanted to unravel the skein of days and especially these days when the business world in the city of Nairobi was a black cyclone of dry winds revolving next to her company, solving nothing, bringing in no revenue, putting no pattern of even the most febrile of lights in her mind. But not this.

Novel idea? This gory stuff? These horror films?

They speak loudly. Look closer.

It’s absurd.

It’s meant to horrify.

"2-Help Walemavu? I’m not sure that’s what those horrifying images want to say. They are ugly and scary. I start to think you have a twisted mind. This is not you. Who put this in you?"

Dumb query of the day.  A knife of fire sailed into Bosibori’s heart. She knew she was on the right track. She had no words for her boss; she didn’t want to be shocked/electrocuted, especially at this time. AMBA was lucky, with her buds for cash, that she brought them business in these tough economic times, ‘cause she was limitlessly a hardworking girl, and if they knew her, they had  found a Garden of  Eden in Nairobi, and that was just her kahawa-na-chai buds, not meant to awaken her real buds, as the real of her buds was her zest for work, for that was the life of her all the way round and she did not really need to gulp coffee like a crazy American snorting the sling lines of cocaine, it was just the blood of her and made her the task master and the skullduggerer of them all gigglemeisters of this city in the sun. Which had Atieno’s eyes getting bigger on her. Her big brown eyes stared into her boss—there was a feeling of hopelessness along with hopefulness. Right this minute 2-Help Walemavu was everything that counted. To her. For her. This new business was a world of itself to her more than AMBA was for Atieno a world of herself, and it felt soothing for Bosibori, with her eyes tired and the mind sighing, that the whiff of money, like garlic with lemons and onions, now killed her stresses.

Atieno blew out her breath. She had never felt so negatively against a new deal like this. Never-ever. Then, she was glad she had a solid reason to turn this one down! She got her famous smile on and though in the back of her mind she thought that maybe it was still a set up or something—like she would get a good reason to put a stop to it before Bosibori pulled a fast one on her and pushed ahead and presented her with handsome figures—along with realistic charts and projections and so on and so forth till she saw money and salivated. Like any Nairobi businesswoman, Atieno was a sucker for money. Right now, for her brand manager’s convictions, Atieno could make a guess. Desperation? Striving? It was wishy-washy and pathetic.

It wasn’t like Bosibori’s grade point average couldn’t net her a bigger salary elsewhere in the private sector. She had worked hard through the years and gotten nothing but a one-bedroom pad and a tiny bed and lived a sweat-soaked life of a single lady; a life like breathing through a T-shirt of grime and years, working like an elephant and eating like an ant. The fact that she was stalled at junior marketer year in year out had bothered her, and that was why for her it was necessary to use this new account to get a take-off point. She was a smart girl who assisted the other employees with research. She had talent! She had experience! She played the part of the hippie marketer and was great fun around the agency, but no one really thought of her as a great prospect. She was not a failure with the sunlight heavy on her head, the sunlight like a tangible weight that pushed her down and made her sick inside and made her move closer and closer inside to her back bone because everyone and every force she had ever known had taken up space in the private sector and competition was stiff for marketers and there was no room for her. Until 2-Help Walemavu came knocking. Now she could define who she was. The initials AMB in AMBA for Atieno Mary Bella had a unique connection with her own AMB. It was no coincidence that she shared the AMB initials with her boss, she believed. This was her destiny.

Atieno turned and walked out without a word. Bosibori’s heart kicked up a new notch.

At ten o’clock she was still sitting—still brooding.


Time was tick-tick-ticking away.

It seemed like things were moving at a snail’s pace. With all the dramatic build-up to this assignment, the reality was almost a let-down. More painstaking minutes were absorbed before Lady Boss Atieno Mary reentered the office with still mounting indecision. She wanted to ask one thing before okaying the campaign: how was email marketing going to work here? The design approach used the same old photo hook with each concept having the same monochrome image of crippled children. What was new apart from horror and ugliness which the world was? Interactivity and social media, she was told.

Bull! Something was wrong with the new approach.

Eight hundred thousand emails every week of the same thing over and over, she cried. "It’s like watching seven episodes of the new season of Zombie Returns!"

Bosibori remained steadfast in her tracks—with raging emotions. She looked up six feet six inches at the volley-ball-player-size CEO with a gauzy half-smile as she gathered her thoughts which were as clear as Kenya’s economic models after Anglo Leasing. She patiently explained her proposal to the boss on wavering lips. "We’re making money, aren’t we? I know we have used the images again and again and they appear in everything even in the e-shot, but the client is happy. Now I have fresh images. Previously I was trading on a perfect consistency, now I am working on variety. Variety as in diversification, unaona?"

Atieno tsked. She was bumfuzzled. Getting this woman to see things your way was like trying to outsmart a Flamingo Casino slot machine. "Hapana, Bosi, I don’t agree. Look at the route of the design. I know you want a vintage feel. Lakini it doesn’t feel right or even powerful enough: it’s black and white. It’s as common as a house for sale. We are doing this as a way to maintain continuity in a message announcing, aren’t we?"

Bosibori was vexed. Atieno Mary could be sassy at times. As sassy as a Kenyan hip-hop ring tone. It doesn’t feel right for you and I know why. Using the same images in secondary slots, again and again, may not be creative, I know, but I prefer it as a way to maintain continuity in a message announcing; say, repeating over and over to close a sale. I know the practice does, in most cases, cause nothing but confusion but...

Atieno almost blurted. It does cause confusion because it gives subscribers the impression that you’re sending the same message over and over to thousands and thousands of other recipients. And why would I bother to open your emails if they’re probably the same?

Bosibori closed her eyes in despair. "Yes, sawa."

"Do you get my point? Unaget point yangu?"

"Naelewa. I get your point but do you get my point too?"

"It’s not a single idea, Bosi, ni nini?" Atieno almost blurted again with the measured tone. Bosibori felt like she was talking to a psychiatrist or something. Being probed. Analyzed. Atieno’s tone of voice made her lower her gaze. She knew she shouldn’t be enjoying the humiliation of the situation. Whenever lady boss Atieno Mary used that tone, you snapped your mouth shut. Arguing with her at such times was like duelling with hand grenades. Apart from her magnificent height, the other boss-thing about the kick-ass boss was her voice. High, metallic, and without inflection; it fell on your ear with a hard monotony, irritating the nerves like the relentless clamour of the pneumatic drill. Bosibori knew the woman’s reputation. She was ruthless. She was meticulous. Her focus was undivided. She would have no sympathy for screw-ups, no matter how minor.

Bosibori managed to hold her composure; she wouldn’t concede any point, however small, right now—not while she still had the upper hand. How, pray, tell, are we going to make 2 million per month? she asked icily.

There it was. 2 million every thirty days?

Wow! It was awesome!

Atieno breathed. Now she was interested. Hooked.

Two million per month? Even the bank would love you.

But still... Atieno yawned in the weariness of it. "Bosi, s’kiza vipoa, I have no problem with the idea but the method of execution. Sitaki tujimix. Some of the activities you’ve planned haven’t been tested here in Kenya... not by AMBA, not by any other agency."

Bosibori paused with a sort of shock look. "Ni ideas mpya lakini ziko poa. New thinking is required in advertising. The world has moved."

New thinking? Such as yours? Atieno said in a scoffing tone. I don’t think so.

They’re novel, but they have worked for many agencies in South Africa. Plus they are cost effective. We are saving money by using social media. It’s powerful and it works well with our target group. We’re doing great. 424 shares and 1.8k likes the last time I checked Facebook.

Atieno heaved a heavy sigh. Facebook. I saw the post.

Bosibori nodded. I’m getting ready to post a public status update.

Hm, seems you’re up and running.

Yup. Up, up, up.

Bossy Bori. Well, it’s too late to go back to the drawing board again. I need to see your strategy report before I make any decision. Oh, and I have the Lolando board meeting tomorrow, and I have a sick feeling.

"Ati what? Sick feeling? Si uniambie."

Imagine. Oh, I was thinking aloud, dear. That’s bad for a director. Your strategy report? Before I forget.

Bosibori looked nonchalant. "Hakuna shida. I will email it. Also, you can download a brand activation manual I published on our website. Or I will attach it to the email. Did you want to suggest to me a big idea? Why are you not saying it?"

Atieno smiled pleasantly, leaned forward. "S’kiza poa, babe, don’t work too hard, sawa? Imagine you baffle me to the point of confusion. Haki imagine. I must say your approach to things is admirable. Your branding approach is always so different. That’s why this agency creates a team of brand ambassadors who are completely aware of the product and its benefits."

Bosibori smiled stiffly. Are you flattering me here, boss?

Atieno frowned and took a breather. Kwa nini? Then she switched to a different subject. Bosi, would you mind terribly if I brainstormed here?

"Hapana, sita mind. Sure, go ahead. Niambie."

"The 3G sampling, it’s the third week. I’m looking for some creative ideas for the activation. I need out-of-the-box ideas pretty quick. Nipe ideas freshi, dada yangu."

Bosibori made an about-face-sure face. There was a slight quivering smile on her lips as her head began to whirl with a glare in her eyes. Her brain switched to its creative gear. It got to be like that in advertising. One was always wracking their brains for creative solutions and was ever ready to part with ideas. Things were done so fast and efficiently with brick-and-mortar brutality. Thoughts tumbled in her head, making and breaking alliances like thundering typhoons in Mfang’ano Island waters. She said, The best place to sample your drink is the sports places where people need thirst breakers, like football. Like bar room halls where guys cluster together to watch football. Like rugby or cricket grounds where different teams play different games like hockey, cricket, and basketball at different times.

Atieno nodded. "I thought so too. Any interesting or even interactive suggestions about a way I can carry out a four to five day road-show or outdoor activation where my product’s spark plug objective is to raise brand awareness and fight cheap alternative target in; say, car owners’ bazaars, shoppers in a mall or supermarket, taxi drivers, commodity stalls, workshop people or whoever the hell, or the businessmen, or politicians, or the two-bit hustlers... even the industrial-strength hustlers, or the gigglers, or the gum chewers, or the smokeaholics, et cetera, et cetera. Not just young people and sportsmen but even jua kalis. You know... even the SMEs."

Bosibori pressed her lips together, searching for the right words. "I would suggest some in-store promotion activities which will attract sec A and B+ for a product relating to TV. Besides the sports places and jua kalis, that is obvious. You need to define your target consumers. Is it everybody?"

Atieno stood up and picked her bag. "It’s everybody. This is a soft drink. Anyway, thanks for your suggestions. Keep steaming that smart brain and see what clever ideas you come up with, sawa? I am meeting the client in two weeks. At the door, she turned around and asked, What’s the other activation?"

"The activation strategy for BigEat—a maize flour project that came in on Tuesday, the power ugali ad from Unga Mix, unakumbuka? The copy for this brand is "Eat Like A Man" and the activation must be related to the brand essence. The target market age is from ten. It’s progressing well, I’m happy."


Bosibori smiled. That’s the word, I dare say.

Atieno mulled it and wondered. She didn’t believe there was any happiness in this advertising racket, only pressure and pain to meet constant deadlines. She glanced at her watch. She will make it for her next pitch meeting in good time. Then she remembered that the head honcho must always represent the entire company, and that was a lot of pressure for a married girl. CEO by day, wife by night! As a director, you must always stay on top and be seen that way. In this case, some parting words were necessary. "Bosi, I know 2-Help Walemavu campaign means everything to you right now. Is it worth everything?"   

Bosibori nodded. 2 million a month, she said a little more earnestly. That’s worth everything, don’t you agree?


Bosibori searched the woman’s face. That means what?

I don’t know why I am reluctant to take this account. Maybe it’s because that crippled thief worries me.

"Thoth? You mean Thoth?

When I was a little girl, my mama told me never to have anything to do with crippled people. They have baggage and they are nasty. I can’t have any dealings with them, I am only supposed to either sympathise with them or help them.

"Listen, 2-Help Walemavu marketing strategies are hinged on email. We don’t have that capability in-house. B&AM has expertise. Besides, let’s be clear: Thoth is not a thief... technically he is not. I know you’re referring the housing mortgage scam."

He stole public funds and used them to build his business empire, how naïve are you?

"Look, Mary, he didn’t steal. The idea he proposed to some technocrats in the housing ministry on how to stop the impending mortgages strike was good. He offered solutions that helped, and the high-risk loans were easily bundled into anonymous investment cabs."

Which newspapers do you read?

His ideas were used by shady technocrats to influence the minister of housing to concede to launch the scandalous  scheme. They benefited from the scam. The meltdown must have been triggered by something else, I don’t know.

"So he was responsible for the housing mortgages scam, right? It was an absolute grab-bag of financial madness."

Bosibori drew a blank. She bit her lower lip, and lowered her eyes, knowing that the woman had won. She tried her best innocent voice, but her grin said it all. You can say so.

"Listen, Bosi, as conscientious as I am with my work, I am indecisive about this. Tread with caution. Thoth is a twisted man with no scruples. I don’t want anyone sapping with the devil in my company. Let me get a second opinion on this 2-Help Walemavu thing before we can proceed, are we crystal?" 

Bosibori beheld that lost look in her face, torn between siding with her boss or her own convictions. She was more than a little surprised by the way this was turning around on her. She floundered in her shackled restraints. Mary... that’s my whole month of testing thrown out of whack. 2 million a month, is good dough, right? Doesn’t that make your mouth water? You know I can’t deliver on my monthly targets and deadlines if...

Atieno arrested her protests by raising a lone finger. I am not saying you stop, do your research, go ahead with your engagements but let me have the final word on this. In other words, cancel tomorrow’s meeting with Kick Polio, okay?

Bosibori’s eyebrows rose sharply, twin arches disappearing in the mass of honey-brown skin as she nodded stiffly.  

Atieno observed the woman’s reaction. There was a real difference, she knew, between the single flush of anger that came naturally from a confrontation and the near panic that came upon an ill-prepared employee when hit with an ambush. Of course, the whole point of putting down an employee was about asserting authority. She chirped on her way out, "2 million a month does more than make my mouth water; it turns me on. Sexually."

Bosibori hissed under her breath. She was left with a haughty expression on her acne-covered face. Smart bitch, she swore. She’d grown to expect her boss’ snaps of irreverence in the two years she had worked at AMBA, never failing to communicate her annoyance of it through grumbles or heavy sighs, but there wasn’t the slightest hint of reproach in her voice as she spoke. Suddenly and quite strangely, she thought about her downsides. It just came to her at that moment. Things were not working well in her personal life. Teddy Otodo had not returned her texts, was not picking her calls. Ditch that jerk! She had discovered how philanthropic he was; he had fathered two children with his previous girlfriends. But he could explain that to her instead of hiding. She didn’t care about his past. He had been angry with her when she told him that she knew about his dirty past and yelled at her to drop the crazy nagging behaviour. He had asserted that micro-managing was done by control freaks and made her burst into tears. Now she doubted if there was any love left and the discovery depressed her. When they first met at Atieno Mary’s wedding, she believed he would love her. She had made the first move, something he boasted about. She was drawn to him because she imagined him a good man and she was lonely. But did he have a problem with that? Wasn’t it bold? To be hit on by a woman and asked? Men loved it. How could he say she was cheap? He was a male chauvinist but she never said it! Now they held each other apart, one over the border, the other the other direction. Loving him should have been simple even if she was as ugly as she was. She was thirty-eight, and a single mother. She had long accepted that her looks were nothing to go by and always counted on her brain to do the trick for her in this life. She had a very high IQ; more than simple college/university diplomas, awards, certificates of achievement, honors, and degrees. She was a short middle-aged woman, plump and in the coarse fashion of mama mbogas, far from pretty with everyday dressing. She wasn’t a woman you could ogle at: her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the centre, and her brown face was littered with black spots. You would take no notice of her until she opened her mouth to talk. As a professional, she was intelligent, focused, self-respecting, and self-disciplined. She was acerbic, salty, too intense. Her work was her life. Her marketing career was her passion. And to cap it all, she had a reputation: she was known to switch sides before you could blink.

Her computer beeped. New 2-Help Walemavu email or just another admini-spam? She opened it instinctively. It was Pato, her ex-boyfriend. Her puppy dog. Fixing the glasses on her nose, she looked at the email with a hard stare. It read:

To: ambosibori@gmail.com

From: patrick.odhiambo@b&am.co.ke

Subject: (No subject)

Hi baby,

Had a dream that in a few days from now I shall

assume responsibility as a designer in a new company

where you will also be made a director. You know

dreams come true. Keep that in mind.

Love you, Pato

What a slam-bang piece of crap! Nauseating shit! Her first impression was that the low-brow geek wanted her back. She quickly wrote a reply: Over my dead body, puppy dog. She cursed. What about the KShs. 280,000 he conned her? And what nerve did he have to call her baby! Can you imagine that? The wimp had the nerve to call her baby! Did he know that to her he was always the worthless Luthuli Avenue graphic designer? In a second Pato and the email was out of her mind. Deleted. What was she thinking about? Oh, yes. She flipped back to B&AM blog and resumed her reading ...it’s OK to sing a little. By adding testimonials or positive stats to your sign-up page, you could boost your opt-in rates.

She sat back to ponder. Excellent write-ups... food for thought. B&AM was so reliable and did offer useful caveats. It pointed to a significant weakness existing at AMBA. Here they had positioned themselves as a white-shoe advertising club. Even their email marketing approach lacked essential tools like social media and was not working for 2-Help Walemavu, which was targeting the youth.

Another email informed her that a new subscriber had signed up to their mailing list and newsletter. That meant they now had 6,300 subscribers. Good so far. Pretty good. She minimized Chrome and brought and up Facebook. The numbers on her recent post climbed and the comments multiplied.

You’re doing a good job.

This is what we need... to help our society

The images are scary but good. I’m touched.

So far, 800 shares, 5.9k likes. Even as she read with awe, three dots flashed—someone was typing a comment right that second. She posted a public status update:


An inspiring thought came to her when she remembered one doohickey she had learned at the British Council business counselling seminar: test every new addition. Seek expert advice.

She straightened herself up to call Thoth when her phone began to vibrate: INCOMING CALL: PUPPY DOG PATO.


Branding & Advertising Monthly Magazine was a beloved partner. While reading through, Bosibori noted she had yet to do A/B testing on2-Help Walemavu She was convinced it was an excellent consideration to increase her subscription list. Today’s blog post had a tantalizing line that lightened her world: Over 3,000 marketers, agencies and businesses have already benefited from their email subscriptions... join them. This was going to make her work more manageable with an increase in sign-ups, and her mailing list was going to swell.

B&AM Magazine was an email marketing reports blog. It was every advertiser’s and every marketer’s must-read. Ideas and tips on the best way to maximise response to email marketing, social media, blogging, and advertising were what it offered. It worked for many marketing professionals. Every agency wanted to be in it, so it was a firmly held belief that if you weren’t featuring an ad in the blog, you were groping in the dark. And as Thoth, the blog writer put it candidly: ...until you realise you are not in advertising and branding and you are not in East Africa, and you are not interested in charts and graphs and increased ROI, the best place to start and push any email marketing and branding is to be in B&AM Magazine.

Bosibori had been trying for weeks to get a slot for 2-Help Walemavu to no avail. The blog mightn’t precisely have been seen to be quaking in its snake-skin African Savannah look, but with the latest Safaricom ad on its home page, and a spectacular Maasai Mara story as a side-kick, the artsy blog was off and booming as an indispensable home-grown Kenyan product, relatively speaking. So, in terms of graphics and smart GUI, the blog was an African art item. It even hoped to revive interest in African abstract art by featuring the religious works of some Nairobi-based artists and sculptors. We’ve just reached a point where people want to go back in history a bit, editor and writer Thoth believed. Apart from the archaic portraits and silhouettes, vintage black-and-white colonial style pictures were today featured in the graphic design section of the blog. One caption read: These smart pics capture romance and fantasy and; of course, as one can see, they can be quite avant-garde, which the camera is not apt to be. Thoth apparently revered photography the traditional way... pushed to near-oblivion by Polaroid and Kodak, and scorned by collectors. He was an odd egg who reveled in oddities. 

Thoth, looking smaller than a Congolese soukous party dwarf, reclined his twisted frame in his black wheelchair behind his fancy desk in the small office flanked with computers and various office adornment objects—books, sculptures, paintings, spreadsheets, and reports. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame. The only power thing in him was the brain inside his massive head, which worked like a large government. He gazed across at Bosibori and ran on with free words of knowledge in the form of business tips.

Today he was a highly-paid blogger and a businessman with the Armani suit and the club tie, but ten years ago he was a Mr. Professional IT Man over there, and ten years before that he was just another cripple on the streets of Nairobi. And people thought he had such a hard knock life due to his disability. Not that he was insecure in his own physical handicap. As a Nairobi kid, he was normal. In his mind. As he moved over to stand on the sides and gave way and made fun with the others, things about his funny legs came up, and he was marshaled and ridiculed and weakened by all the real fun he missed, the girls he couldn’t date and the cliché music in the disco halls he couldn’t dance to, and he acted the fool here and the funny-looking kid there. And he would dance in his crazy head pretending he was somebody else. The balance was difficult to gain here in the city when you were disabled. He was the odd one and would not stand a chance with other kids anyway, and his friends called him kiguru and laughed at him.

Yeah, he tried to be one of the boys, but it was tough being a cripple. He was confronted with it every minute. And time would tell never on him for he ever aimed to get past the run of the life ladder that said he was a cripple with serious limitations. His futures looked at him the same way—pathetic, odd, funny. Doomed. And it occurred to him as he grew up that he had to be tough and walk on his legs without hobbling around on his stick like a cripple. In his mind. The boys and girls wouldn’t continue intimidating him. He could move to the bar and order a beer and take a girl home like a normal man. In his mind. Yeah. But how? He had no legs. In the end, he quit trying to win the approval of his so-so friends, stopped listening to their crude jokes and shut the world the hell out. Being a cripple was a curse and as he finished high school, he was trying to break that very intimidating curse. He’d limped to the apex of it, and it was getting worse. He turned himself over to the thing he loved least, or more, to prove he was not totally unworthy, as his analysts had assayed (and that was he would suppose as good a guess as any other). Books. Reading. He read and read. The library became his place. Then computers came and he had brains and he threw his life in them... IT, programming, DBase, C++... all. For the life of him. He trained. He exercised his spirit. He dwelled in a world totally and precariously all his own. For the future. For his time.

Today he ran his world. People crowded round him close. He relished seeing them rising and getting on their feet whenever smart men wheeled him into a boardroom to chair a meeting and they were just gradually moving in closer to him and hanging on his words and laughing at his stale jokes and calling him sir—like people did to men of power—dog-eager to please him and win his favour. Yet they made life hard for him as a dusty crippled kid and kicked him in the gut like they do to all cripples, and remembering this and sadder things he would never forget, he reeled. He hit back. He hunched over to talk mean and tough and flex his muscles to the men who now called him sir and showed them he had power in his brain and he had the money they were scrapping for. He broke into fire walls and looted companies off their money using his skills and made them bleed. Yeah, he had done much more than men could do, for a mere invalid in a wheelchair.

And he seemed to believe his purpose in life was to bring physically handicapped people together and throw it in their faces as often as possible that there was nothing wrong with them as long as they had working brains. Never letting them forget he was the one who was chosen by God to bring them together, as he had done many times before, sponsoring many programmes and supporting many organisations. Five years ago, he had hosted a TV show that argued that physically handicapped people were more un-handicapped than people thought. Two years before that, he took advantage of scholarships for the physically handicapped and went abroad and they gave him his Ph.D in IT. He worked professionally in London where he wrote a whole series for BBC. He was ever so desperately sickly secretly in love with books. They had made him. He loved writing and London gave him smart ideas.

He came back to Nairobi and convinced the Government to finance his programmes for the disabled. But many disabled folks weren’t so sickly conscious about it and did not want him around them with every one of his new programmes, which they thought was to constantly be the bladder of sympathy and reminded them that they were lesser human beings, and in truth they had indeed done the impossible for disabled men and women still in their conditions. They had families and were running their business. So they didn’t need wheelchair donations and white people crying for them and giving them money and other goodies that imprisoned them in their condition. There was a new word: they were merely physically challenged.

Thoth was challenged. He begun to hate these limping kinds, for they grated on his nerves so grindingly. He was disturbed. Deflated by this dismal hole in the wall of his programme to give some rays of sunlight in their miserably drab little worlds. There was another way to succeed in this kingdom of idiots and eat the money the gullible higher givers were dishing at crippled morons. He went underground for two years and emerged with Branding & Advertising Monthly. People thought he was crazy, but he knew better. Sceptics never worried him. He weaved an idea nobody had thought of in this region: a monitoring reports blog that supported the physically handicapped. The ideas was simple: support the disabled Kenyans through buying advertising space. Now he headed a large team of top-notch writers, email advertisers, and marketing consultants and produced an engaging blog without fear. He was making millions two ways: one; the blog was funded by World Society For People With Disabilities. Two; he sold advertising space. Deep down he knew the cripples were puppets and it was necessary to make himself the puppet master. And if anyone suspected anything, he was justified: he was a cripple.

Like every writer, he loved to talk. And he took not

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