Short Story: The expat’s soggy mess

Friday May 15 2015

From the back seat of the luxury car, Andre Dubois stared at the Kenyan countryside balefully. Though a small man, he was intimidating. Next to him, Mark sat looking even gloomier.  ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH |

From the back seat of the luxury car, Andre Dubois stared at the Kenyan countryside balefully. Though a small man, he was intimidating. Next to him, Mark sat looking even gloomier. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

By NGUMI KIBERA

Mark O’Brien Riensen took a pink serviette, wiped the remains of lobster from his mouth and leaned back, a glass of wine in his hand. His companion also finished eating and leaned back.

“So what do you think of Kenya, Mark?” asked Bill.

“Great, so far. Lots of sunshine and amazing wildlife. Frankly, I also never expected they would have some of the best hotels in the world here. Paula can tell you she was also surprised.”

Paula nodded. “I especially enjoy the Coast. Have you been there, Loreen?”

Loreen glanced at her husband uneasily. “Er, not really. Bill has been too busy at work.”

Mark turned to Bill. “What do you do?

“I work for Global Aid International. Right now I am overseeing operations at the refugee camps in the north.”

“It must be rewarding,” Mark said.

Bill nodded, trying, unsuccessfully, to mask his troubled thoughts. His recent report to GAI headquarters had recommended the repatriation of refugees, citing the improved situation in Somalia.

GAI had reacted sharply, terming the report ill-conceived and a threat to donor funding. They had reminded him that his own high-paying job and other expatriate perks depended on it. They had even reduced his budget by 30 per cent, saying his salary now depended on how he well he advocated GAI’s interests.

“What do you do?”

“I’m with O’Deal International,” Mark said. “O’Deal plans to enter the Kenyan market and I’m here to assess the competition, the main one being Meriweather Beauty Care Ltd. Shall we have a nightcap before we go?” he asked as the waiter cleared the table. “It’s still early.”

“No, I think we better be going. I have an early start tomorrow,” Bill said, as he and his wife glanced at the bill worriedly. “Should we go Dutch?” they said.

“It’s on me,” Mark said, secretly enjoying his ability to host. “You two have a good night.”

******

From the back seat of the luxury car, Andre Dubois stared at the Kenyan countryside balefully. Though a small man, he was intimidating. Next to him, Mark sat looking even gloomier. After the club, he had gone drinking, getting home past one in the morning only to be woken up by a call. His boss was arriving a day earlier than planned because of flight changes.

Mark had woken up at five to get to the airport early enough.

“Pick me up from here at 10 sharp,” the CEO had said gruffly as they reached Hotel Intercontinental. Mark had stared after him in disbelief. He had expected him to take at least a day’s rest before thinking about business.

******

“I thought your report said Meriweather’s distribution is poor,” the CEO growled finally. “We’ve been to 16 supermarkets, and so far, their products are everywhere!”
Mark Riensen’s weariness faded.

He had come to Kenya six months earlier to do a market appraisal. He had estimated that only about 50 per cent of the supermarkets stocked Meriweather products, and they did not carry the entire range. Now Meriweather was suddenly everywhere. Even the blasted radio stations were full of the company’s adverts.
“They must have caught wind of my strategy,” he said lamely.

“If you ever had one!” the CEO flared. “You took your time, which gave them the opportunity to make a fool out of us. And what the hell does tuji-enge n-nchi ye-etu mean?” he demanded, struggling with the strange Kiswahili. He had been to all corners of the world, but he had never imagined such a language existed.

“What?” Mark Riensen asked, his mind too panicked to register the CEO’s question.

“Tuji-enge n-nchi ye-etu!” the CEO snapped. “It’s on all the signs and banners. What does it mean?”

“Oh, tujenge nchi yetu. It means let’s build our country.”

“Let’s build our country,” the CEO repeated furiously. “That is what I suspected. This bloody Meriweather is trying to make us look like foreigners out to mess up Kenya’s economy.”

“I’ll sort them out,” Mark swore. “I will enter the market in such a big way they’ll never know what hit them.”

“No you won’t,” the CEO said. “Not with my money, you won’t.”

Mark stared at his stony profile stunned. Had his boss, the little slavedriver, discovered he had been spending company time and money on entertainment?

The CEO spun around angrily. “Do you know how much it would cost for me to enter the Kenyan market right now? You saw how Meriweather products are everywhere, and all the money they must be spending on advertising.”

He jabbed a bony finger towards Mark’s face. “You promised to make mincemeat out of Meriweather but instead, they beat you into a soggy mess. I see you’ve even put on weight when you should have been losing it!”

Mark swallowed.

“You know what we have to do now?”

“Yes, sir,” Mark said. “I guess we should forget the Kenyan market and try the neighbouring countries.”

“You are wrong, Mr Mark O’Brien Riensen,” the CEO said, while pointing a finger at him. “You are better off forgetting the Kenyan market.”

Mark gulped. He thought of his wife and their two-year old son and nine-month old baby girl. He thought of his company house, the nanny, the cook, and the gardener.

He thought of his brand new Range Rover and his company driver. He thought of his Muthaiga Club membership and the dinners at all those glitzy restaurants. He thought of the holidays at the Coast… They would be no more. Then what would he do? Return to his two-bedroom flat in Sweden where his wife was the cook, nanny, and cleaner?

“You’re firing me?” he asked nervously.

“No, Mister Riensen,” the CEO smiled smugly. “I would have loved to fire you immediately but I need to see you suffering first.”

Mark stared at his clasped hands. “I’m sorry things didn’t turn out the way I had hoped, sir.”

“Don’t worry, Mark. Your laziness has turned out to be a blessing, it will save me a lot of money.” The CEO slapped the seat delightedly. “Your laziness gave Meriweather all the time to prepare against us. They have created a wonderful distribution system for us, and from what I saw, their sales team is doing one hell of a job. Why spend my money when I can use them? They will only be too happy to be the appointed agents of O’Deal International.”

“That’s a brilliant idea sir,” Mark said, truly impressed. “I will start drawing up a favourable agreement.”

The CEO stared at him with seething anger.

“No, you won’t,” he said firmly, savouring the words. “I’m dispatching you to the Democratic Republic of Congo to prepare for a possible entry there, and if there is no beauty care market, then you will create one. Who knows,” the little man said distractedly, “You might bungle again and create a similar miracle for us.”

DR Congo! Mark rubbed his forehead. He would be lucky to survive jungle fever, and even if he did, that murderer, Kony could come for him.