Three days ago at 3:15 pm I walked to the shopping center all ghetto-fabulous in past-their-prime pants and mussed-up hair and nothing to lose. I had KSh 50 in coins of different denominations (the majority of them being 1s) and I was going to buy enough tomatoes and onions to make my meal of beans taste most unbeanlike. I was insanely happy because I had realized that I was flat broke, and I couldn’t possibly get any broker, and nobody could take that away from me. I had also realized that at least I have dignity, and nobody could take that away from me either.
This realization had been brought about by one Marie-Thérèse. My friend and I have been interning for her, and in the tradition of interns everywhere, we’ve been hoping for eventual employment. Marie talks a big game. She uses her words to craft an infinite universe of possibilities, we can listen to her forever. After her speeches, we build suspension bridges to the moon when she asks us to. Her words are so magical and sparkly we almost forget to notice that we’ve been left toiling in the office over lunch hour, while she and her posse have left to buy something organically free-range and naturally healthful from McSubway Fried Doughnut Cream. Sometimes we get so hungry we can barely concentrate on work, but we try our best to subsist on her words about the bright future.
My friend and I are fresh out of school and we’re at that phase where we’ll walk to wherever just to save 20 shillings. My friend lives so far it takes 3 hours and 250 shillings to reach the office using public means. Marie doesn’t care. She calls, we appear. There is no payment, by the way, so we’ve been depending on the philanthropy of our parents to enable us to do her bidding. We’ve been thinking it’s kind of an investment, because, you know, we’ll get employed eventually and we’ll become the philanthropists then.
Last week Marie gave us a lot of online work to do. The sort that requires caffeine and unlimited internet. We ask her to at least give us a bit of cash to buy mobile data so we can do it, because there’s no internet at work. She says, why don’t you go to Café au Lait and eat brioche there? You’ll get free wireless. Even if we walk there we won’t have saved enough to buy half a cup of water, so we ask her for some money to purchase the brioche. She tells us to just go; at least we’ll get the wireless for free. We’re shocked, but the shock is almost instantaneously absorbed by the cushy verbal future-picture she’d painted immediately preceding this conversation. So we empty our coin containers and buy some data to do the work, and we forego non-essentials like food in order to be able to do so. Monday morning, the same thing happens. She sends more work which we are supposed to complete at our expense.
But this time, it’s different. A whole entire weekend of broke has taken it upon itself to help us untangle ourselves from Marie’s beautiful, sticky, verbal web.
It came to us like a man with very large hands had backhanded our souls; we’ve been incredibly stupid. Then the man with very large hands cupped them and whispered into our souls; we were worth so much more.
What followed was an animated conversation between ourselves about how we’ve been helping Marie achieve her dreams as if we have none of our own. My friend has thumbs as green as envy and is not scared of animal poop and eventually intends to make a business out of growing and selling every edible living thing under the sun. I want to play music and write words, and one day profit from the products of my right brain. So here was a radical, heretofore unheard of idea: we could each just do what we like to do! If we’re going to sink our time and resources into something and stay hungry, we could at least make sure we’re investing in something that will have long term benefits for us. Sure, we’ll probably eventually get paying jobs and do whatever work we have to do to survive, but we won’t be fooled again. We each have our dreams, and everything we do after this will be employed as a strategic stepping-stone toward the achievement of these. We’ll work smart at the things that we love and perhaps eventually these things will sustain us. And one day, when we break even, we’ll go to Café au Lait and have brioche.
So at 3:15 pm on Monday I got 50 shillings from my fast drying well of coins and strutted to the shop, broke and dignified and proud of the bean stew of Ramseyan proportions that I was going to cook with just onions and tomatoes. Marie couldn’t take anything else away from me. Also, I should start a blog.