The Mheshimiwa’s office was relatively empty today; not to say that no one sat waiting for him; the man was always on demand but less than the usual number sat patiently in those dingy metal seats awaiting his counsel. Jabari stared at the clock then at the door… then at the clock again. He twitched nervously. Boss was later than usual. Even though Jabari had only been working for Mheshimiwa Hajji for a few months, he could certainly say he knew all there was to know about the man, when it came to his professional life at least. He actually prided himself in the fact that he knew the boss enough that he would always be able to provide what the man needed before he knew to ask for it. Regarding the boss’ personal life, he wasn’t quite sure if he knew the man well enough. Or if there was really anything to know.
Jabari had a painful childhood. He didn’t realize it till much later in life when he was afforded the luxury of seeing children grow up loved, cared for and spoilt unconditionally. Jabari never had close family, not normal family anyway. He had vague recollections of people so selfish that they abandoned him. He was born in the exotic ‘coast’ of the country where the weather was hot and humid and everything else including the people were cool and easy going. His parents made a mistake. He wasn’t even sure they were fit enough to be afforded the title of parents, to him they were just two random human beings who happened to reproduce. They were two young ignoramuses who cared a notch too little for anything or anyone, especially themselves. They had that going for them the day they met, so they went ahead and made offspring like all ignoramuses do when they’re idle too long. They were both drug addicts; Jabari’s grandma always said that’s what ‘kept’ them together and away from their son, Jabari. They sent Jabari to live with his grandmother and his cousins instead. His maternal grandmother was lovely and old, too old to care for 11 children; they barely scathed by.
For about 8 years, Jabari lived in the utopia where he had 10 brothers and sisters and grandma was actually mama. Then, his mother came back to the village. People like her only did that for two things grandma said; for money or to die. Grandma didn’t have any money. ‘The life’ had finally caught up with her in a viral way. She was seriously unwell, Grandma explained. Jabari had gone back and forth hating her then loving her then pitying her and finally cursing her. When Jabari was 12 after finally forgiving her, he became the sole caretaker for his mother. His mother finally passed away from complications stemming from HIV/AIDS, something they only referred to then as “Mdudu”. That was the first time Jabari heard of it. It was the most painful he ever had to experience to the day. He had slowly begun to forgive her as any child would, only to watch her writhe in pain and lose her brutally soon after. He had never met his father. But that was a bridge he had burned immediately after her death; a bridge he could not, would not rebuild. To Jabari, his father had died with his mother and family was who you made it.
Jabari liked to think that Mheshimiwa Hajji was a good father, if not the best. That the man did his best considering his circumstances to ensure that his family was loved and cared for. Jabari liked to think he knew his family too on account of all the thoughtful gifts and cards he bought for them, silently, on behalf of the boss. He would finally get to meet Mheshimiwa Hajji’s family today. They would be arriving in less than ten minutes in the car service he hired for them; a separate car for each. That meant Mheshimiwa Hajji was late. He was never late. Something felt strange to Jabari. He shifted uneasily, glancing at the clock again. Through the door came, Hajji’s son, Paul. Paul dragged his feet lazily and slouched making himself look a lot shorter than he was. His eyes gave away his dread to be there. He walked straight past Jabari into his father’s office and immediately walked back out. “He’s late. Everyone’s late. But I’m supposed to be the ‘bad’ one. I should have stood him up.” He began to whine and rant to himself in the middle of the room as if no one else was there. Jabari was staring at him so hard that he almost didn’t notice Hon. Hajji’s older daughter, Roselyne walk in. She screeched when she saw her brother, taking him into his arm kissing on the cheek and forehead cheekily, and Jabari’s attention, as well as that of everyone else in the room, was diverted to her.
“Where is he?” She began, drawing away from her brother who was cringing from the public displays of affection he had just received from his sister.
“You know he yapped for thirty minutes when I told him I wasn’t coming. Now, where is he?”
“That’s your misdoing. You know charity events aren’t optional for the Hajji’s” He imitated his father as his sister burst out laughing. They laughed for a little over a whole minute before they noticed the half-full room staring at them. They kept quiet and stood in the middle of the room awkwardly, aware that the eyes of the constituents were on them. Jabari did not miss his cue. He was by their side in seconds to direct them to a room where they would be more comfortable. He showed them to the meeting room down the hall then dutifully went back to his post.
“Mr Hajji, Miss Hajji…. Follow me! We have a room set up for you. Can I get you anything? Tea? Water? Juice? Soda? We even have porridge!” Jabari offered vehemently but they only murmured their refusals and walked past him into the meeting room across the hallway. The room was a grand boardroom with large elegant mahogany table standing in the middle of it. The room smelt of leather and polish.
The youngest daughter came into the waiting room next. Minnie walked straight into her father’s office too then came back out exclaiming, “I’m not late!” She was ecstatic for a few seconds before also realizing that the masses were staring at her. She then walked to Jabari and introduced herself in a rather professional manner before he showed her to the meeting room. She was the more humble and cultured of the three, Jabari could tell immediately. She was received far much less enthusiastically by her siblings than by the bystanders in the waiting room. It didn’t seem to bother her that her presence came with an air of tension with a hint of discomfort. The Hajji children gave each other a few awkward stares before Oldest Roselyne cracked the silence,
“So why are you here?” She said. Her voice was cross, almost mean.
“What do you mean?” Younger asked in reply with no animosity in her voice.
“Well, you said you didn’t need us! You remember, Paul?” Paul turned away, not wanting to get involved in what was about to turn into a full-on sister fight.
“I said I didn’t need you, Roselyne. Me and Paul are just fine, yes Paul? How’s aviation school?” Minnie deflected heavily while trying to bring her brother over to her side.
“Then leave! Leave us Hajji’s!” Roselyne began to raise her voice from the edge of her seat. She would have gotten up and backed up her words but Mrs. Hajji strutted violently into the room.
“Where is your father?” Silence
“Hmm. Roselyne! Apologize to Minysteria. Now!!”
“Muuuuuummmmm!” The girls whined in unison. Roselyne in protest of the apology, Minnie in protest of the use of her full name. Mrs. Hajji ignored them and walked over to her son.
“How’s Aviation school, Paul? Dropping out yet?”
“Actually, mum,” Paul stood to give her his seat, “Yes! I want to do theatre arts now.”
“Theatre Arts? Sounds familiar. Roselyne didn’t drop out of the same class a few years ago. What are you doing now?”
“I’m on the circuit now. Getting more gigs now. My agent says I’ll be vogue famous soon” Roselyne twirled gracefully as she stood.
“Circuit? You know I knew you’d be a call girl, Rose. I just wish your father hadn’t wasted so much on those three incomplete degrees to realize it. He could have just listened to me.”
“I’m a model, mum!” Roselyne sat back down. She had been struck down.
“Model? Hmmm” Mrs. Hajji poked. “And you Minysteria! I hear you are now a manager at 24. Impressive! Your goal was by 22, wasn’t it?” Minnie was the only one who didn’t take her mother too much to heart. They were the same; they could take it and dish it ten times over.
“Yes but, I lost those two years in that Catholic Disciplinary Programme you made me go to cause I called you chubby.” Roselyne and Paul giggled shyly behind their mother while Minnie and her mother locked into a death stare.
“And to think! I didn’t let them cane the delinquency out of you.” Mrs. Hajji said while pulling out a small mirror and her make-up purse out of her bag. Her children watched her quietly; all reflecting and regretting.
The meeting room door creaked open. Hon. Hajji’s presence drew the attention of the whole room. Everyone in his family shifted; He was here, it was now time to behave. He was in a better mood than usual. Maybe it was the annual charity; it always made him giddy to gun up good press.
“How’s the Hajji clan! Excited for our annual charity ball? Roselyne? Paul? Minn?”
“Yes, dad!” They faked enthusiasm in unison.
“And you my love? How are you? Excited?”
“Like you don’t already spy on me enough to know my feelings.” Mrs. Hajji didn’t look up from her mirror. She just continued to elegantly color her face with a brush.
“How are you, kids! Paul, School?” Hon Hajji ignored his wife’s callousness.
“We can talk about it after.”
“Now” Hon. Hajji insisted with a gruesome grin on his face.
“I’m thinking of dropping out of Aviation School. It’s just not for me. I want to try my hand at Theatre Arts!” Hon. Hajji’s mind must have replaced what his son said with white noise cause he ignored his son’s absurd request and went on to his oldest daughter,
“Rose! How is that job of yours? Any luck?” He must have also forgotten what Roselyne did with her life because he would never and had never approved.
“I’ve been trying,” Seeing the good mood her father was in, she moved closer. “I’m gonna be on a magazine cover. Soon” Hon. Hajji didn’t crack but usually, the thought of his daughter on print and not to the aid of his campaign repulsed him.
“Minnie! My Minnie Mouse! How’s the old desk job?” Minnie hopped with excitement. She had been waiting at least two months to tell her dad about her promotion. She imagined he’d be over the moon about it.
“I got promoted, Daddy. You are now looking at SetiNel’s newest youngest freshest manager.” Hon. Hajji turned to Minnie
“That’s wonderful, honey. But what is happening with your siblings?” He now turned and walked up to his son. Looking him directly in his eyes, their faces about to touch, he bellowed, “Theatre Arts? You? A man? Want to spend the rest of your life acting like a woman in plays? Putting oranges where your chest hair is? Is that what men do?” Paul was silent. “Is that what men do?”
“No.” He murmured under his breath.
“I will be paying tuition next week. You will redo that semester you spent thinking about theatre arts.” He turned to Rose whose face gave away that she was obviously thrown off by the sudden change in attitude her father was having.
“So you’re a prostitute now?”
“Mmmmh-hmmm” Mrs. Hajji affirmed.
“No daughter of mine will have her nakedness spread all over the magazines. You think I didn’t know about those nude campaigns you’ve been doing. I have personally had each and every one of them taken down.” He moved closer to her, she cowered. “Who taught you to be a harlot? Your mother is such a graceful lady. Then look at you! Naked! An MP’s daughter posing naked? On camera? Not this MP. Not my children. Over my dead body.” Hon. Hajji breathed heavily, angrily while his children stared at him in fear; all except Minnie of course. She sat feeling mighty and unscathed. However, the truth is that she felt ignored. Her father only noticed her when she did something wrong. In which case, he would scold her and give her the silent treatment for a few weeks. He brushed off the achievements like they were nothing and he expected much better. She wanted to follow his footprints into politics but he had simply retorted, “You’re too loud even for a woman to ever make it as a politician. You say what you feel and think because you think everyone cares. But the men of this country, they like it when their women know their place. Quiet. In the kitchen or with the children. Your best bet is to birth a politician.”
Hon. Hajji’s nostrils had widened and his eyes reddened now. He got angrier and angrier just looking at the bad investments that called themselves his children. Minnie had just opened her mouth to speak out when a soft yet authoritative knock was heard at the door to the meeting room.
“Yes?” Hon. Hajji called out loudly. Jabari opened the door softly, immediately noticing the tension that ensued. He walked over to the MP, leaned in and murmured,
“The car to take you to the event is ready. If you don’t leave now, you’ll be late.”
“Thank you. “ Hon. Hajji politely to Jabari. He then turned to his children; his wife was now conveniently done with her makeup.
“I was not a spoilt child. Your mother, though a little spoilt now, was never over privileged or lazy.” Mrs. Hajji sneered. “I don’t know why you all act like nincompoops. You wouldn’t last a day in the world without me. You are all old enough to fend for yourselves yet you still live in MY MANSION! The Hajji Money train is now out of service. You all have an education, yes? Good luck.” He walked away dramatically. Mrs. Hajji made a patronizing noise before following him out of the room.
It was Minnie who broke the silence. “I guess we need new last names.”