Rege was roused from sleep by the ringing of his phone. He groped about his bedding trying to locate it, while cursing whoever it was who had interrupted his dream.
“Get a hold of yourself, man!” He muttered to himself.
The phone was not on the bed. He swept his hand across the earthen floor and there it was. He picked it up, peered at the screen and sat up straight.
“Hallo? Am I speaking to Kazungu Rege?”
“This is Susan from Sunbird Consultancy.”
Rege’s mouth went dry.
“Well Kazungu, you have been shortlisted for the position of human resource officer. The interview is tomorrow morning at eight. Will you make it?”
Rege could barely find his voice but he managed to let out a faint “Yes”.
“The interview will be conducted at our head office on Mombasa Road. Please bring your original documents and national ID.”
“I will. Thank you.”
Rege sat on the edge of the bed long after the phone call ended. Silence punctuated by the occasional roar of motorcycles passing by filled the one-roomed house.
It had been three years since he graduated. No job had come his way. At least no job worthy of the degree he earned at the university. He sent applications via post and online... nothing. He resorted to knocking at office doors randomly. He never went beyond the receptionist.
Over time, he did odd jobs here and there. He went less to the post office and seldom stepped into the local cyber cafe. He mingled less with the friends he went to school with and more with the boys at the car wash and garage. At least the latter did not ask questions such as “Where are you these days?”
The sun was now setting. He needed to get ready for work. He got out his uniform from under the bed. He did not own a flat iron. And he was not fond of borrowing from his neighbour — the woman who resided in his dream every night. To straighten his clothes and give them a semblance of having been ironed, he folded and placed them between his mattress and the bed.
He poured water from the 20-litre jerrycan into a basin, taking care to leave enough to make tea with. He dashed to the common bathroom with his water.
Shortly thereafter, he was on his way to Classic Apartments, where he worked, opening the gate for well-to-do tenants returning home from work, with the small radio on full blast, occasionally stealing a snooze.
The next morning, he left for home early in order to prepare for the interview. However, he was not early enough. A long queue could be seen at the estate’s communal water tap even though it was only 4:30 am. He quickly joined the queue with a container of his own. It was chilly but Rege, in his white vest and towel, could not feel it. Several months spent as a watchman had hardened him.
The queue moved slowly. Rege hummed a tune to while away the time. A girl who was a few steps ahead joined in. She turned around just in time to catch his eye and winked. Rege’s blood rushed south. He smiled sheepishly, much to her amusement.
In a short while, the girl reached the tap. She filled her jerrycan just in time for at that very moment, the tap went dry. The people behind her cursed. The more emboldened pelted the landlord’s roof with stones. He never experienced water shortages. All the guttering in the estate fed water into a 10,000-litre tank at the back of his house.
Rege was devastated. He did not have a single drop of water in the house. The thought of asking, nay begging, for water from the girl saddened him. He knew her ways. Nothing from her was for free.
Nonetheless, she was the only neighbour who was friendly to him. She greeted him when he moved into the neighbourhood. She even helped him carry his meagre belongings into the house.
The rest did not lift a finger to assist him. They sat in front of their houses staring at him. There was pity in the eyes of a few but disgust in most. Perhaps they saw the girl’s next victim. Perhaps they saw the girl’s next abuser. Either way, they just stared at him. Rege felt he had no choice. As the tenants walked away, he made his way to the girl.
“Hi Stella. A moment please,” Rege started.
“For you I can give a lifetime,” she replied.
“I don’t have any water in my house and I need to be ready to go to town today. Could you give me a litre or two? I swear I’ll fetch you water tomorrow morning?” Rege begged.
Stella advanced towards him and gently laid her right hand on his left shoulder. She drew closer and whispered into his ear.
“I’ll give you more than two litres but you have to pass by my house before you go to work tonight. I want to cook for you.”
Rege felt the hair at the back of his head stand on end. For the first time that morning, he felt the cold. He tried to worm his way out of Stella’s schemes but she was the stronger one. In the end, he yielded. He promised he would pass by an hour before going to work.
“Better make it two. We might be inside for a while,” she riposted as her hand slid down his shoulder. She then poured more than enough water into Rege’s jerrycan and went into her house, all the while giggling with delight.
Rege was rooted to the spot for a while with a stupefied look on his face. Nonetheless, he shrugged off the whole incident and prepared for his trip to town.
He gingerly shared the water according to the morning preparations; bathing, brewing tea, wiping his shoes and brushing his teeth. He put on the only suit he owned. He did not own a mirror but he felt he looked good.
He stepped out with the confidence of a man who thought good things were in store for him. There was an extra spring in his walk. After all, he was going for a job interview. He cast a glance at the shacks around him. He unconsciously bade them goodbye.
He smiled at the bus conductor. Indeed, Rege was in his element. The charm that had been chipped away by years of toil and anguish was slowly being restored.
The almost permanent smile he had during campus was now making its way back to his lips. He looked around the bus. Several people were engrossed in some communication or other on their smartphones. Others were browsing the dailies. Soon he would also be typing and browsing. He would be important.