SHORT STORY: Dinner in Upper Bushel

Sunday September 22 2019

I splashed my face with cold water, wiped it dry and pinched my cheeks to get back a little colour in my face.

I splashed my face with cold water, wiped it dry and pinched my cheeks to get back a little colour in my face. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA 

IRENE WAINAINA
By IRENE WAINAINA
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This was my chance to impress my hard-to-please boss. She had invited our department for a formal dinner with all the partners. The invite said it was formal wear so I was wracking my brain about what to go with.

I wanted to stand out but only for the right reasons. What colour of dress said “you need to promote me immediately because I am the best thing to happen to this company?” I smiled at the absurdity of such a thought. If wishes were horses!

It was quarter past two in the afternoon and we had been given permission to leave early in order to get ready and be at the venue by 5pm. The dinner was being hosted by the managing partner at his residence in upper Bushel, one of — if not — the most expensive areas in the city. I would have to Uber there and it was going to cost me my pay-TV subscription for the month. But it would be worth it. I was determined to interact with at least two of the partners if only to get them to finally notice me.

I left the office at 3pm as this would give me enough time to rush home, spruce up and make my way across town to destiny. I still didn’t know what to wear but I decided it would be easier to choose when the dress options were in front of me.

The traffic was flowing so it took me almost an hour less than it usually does to get home. Town traffic was no joke. There were days, especially when it rained, when it could take almost three hours to get home. This is why I needed to impress tonight, so that I could finally get the promotion and afford to move closer to work to reduce my commute.

 

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I couldn’t believe my bad luck! Despite getting ready in record time and requesting the Uber taxi 15 minutes before I needed it, I was still standing outside the estate gate waiting on the driver to find his way to the apartment block. He claimed his map app wasn’t working so he was relying on the directions I was giving him, but I knew it was that he was slow. If my directions weren’t helping he should have asked around. Now I was going to get there just before the dinner starts. Not good.

I was also doubting my dress choice because purple just seemed dull and boring. But it was the only one that fit just right and was comfortable enough to eat in. There was no point dwelling on it now because there was no time for a dress change.

I slid into the taxi seat, barked my destination and offered a hefty tip if he got me there by 4:45pm. He smiled sheepishly. Dear God, please perform a miracle so that I am not late.

It seemed like all the cars were headed in the same direction as us and they were all being driven by incompetent people in no rush. What a stressful ride!

We got to the residence at 4:40pm.

The house was breathtaking. It had a grey and white theme that added to its elegance and modern look. It was everything I dreamt of owning. Everything seemed perfectly placed and I was consumed with fear of breaking something or moving things out of place. I was ushered into the living room where most of my workmates were gathered.

An impeccably dressed butler offered me a glass of champagne and I took one because it seemed rude not to. I took a sip and tried to hide my distaste. There was hushed chatter as we waited apprehensively to be shown to the dining room.

The more I sipped the champagne the more my dislike for it evaporated and I graduated to my second glass.

The atmosphere mellowed as more champagne flowed and the partners started mingling with some of us. I made my way slowly to where the managing partner was talking to some senior associates. I tried to be sleek and join the conversation, but then a chef walked in from nowhere and announced dinner.

The managing partner led us to the dining area and sat at the head of the long table. Name tags showed where everyone was to sit and I found myself at the end of the table, with the other junior associates.

 

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Waiters were ready with hot towels for wiping hands. Clinical. Methodical. Next, they served us leek and potato soup, which was warm, creamy and delicious. I could have downed three bowls. I espied and followed how everyone was using their cutlery because I was at a loss over the forest of gold-plated spoons, forks and knives.

Next, the chef came in and announced they were serving the managing partner’s favourite starter, steak Tartare. It sounded like meaty goodness. However, when it was placed in front of me, I almost gagged. There was a yellow, runny yolk on top of raw beef, with green bits scattered around the plate. What the hell!

I stole a look around but everyone seemed at home enjoying it.

I picked up a knife and fork and tried to talk myself into taking a bite. Trying to push the yolk out of the raw meat was a bad idea because it ended up spreading all over. I got a little meat on my fork and slowly pushed it into my mouth. I closed my eyes and swallowed without chewing. There was a savoury, bitter taste in my throat. How was I going to get through the rest of it?

Some of the seniors were mopping up theirs using bread and I figured this was the fastest way to finish the dish. I grabbed a slice of bread and pushed as much of the meat on it, then took a bite and swallowed as fast as I could. My stomach turned with each bite but I reminded myself that I needed this job, badly. There were beads of sweat forming on my forehead and my hands trembled. My stomach was also getting gassy. I sipped more champagne but that just made it worse.

The next dish was salmon and asparagus. I braced myself because even this didn’t look cooked. The salmon was still pink and there was more yellowy cream on the asparagus. I tried to wash down my fear with water, but I was only delaying the inevitable. Once again, I swallowed the food without chewing much because that just made the taste linger. Halfway through the meal I started feeling queasy.

I took in deep breaths and tried to stay calm. The last thing I needed was to make a show of myself by throwing up. That would be the end of my career, let alone the embarrassment. I decided it would be best to not finish the rest of the meal and excused myself to find a bathroom.

As if on cue, I heaved out all the food the minute I saw the toilet. I dripped sweat and shivered as the vomiting seemed out of control. Sophia, a fellow junior, who sat two seats away from me came to enquire if I was all right. I composed myself because I knew she was a gossip, so I lied about having a stomach bug. Phew! She bought it.

But when she said everyone was waiting for me to return so that dessert could be served, my heart sunk. I looked sallow but reminded myself how important this dinner was. I splashed my face with cold water, wiped it dry and pinched my cheeks to get back a little colour in my face.

Thankfully the dessert was lemon mousse that actually tasted good. The managing partner gave a small speech at the end of the dinner and then announced that we were all getting bonuses at the end of the year for a job well done. We toasted to that but the queasy feeling returned and I knew it was time to rush home and offload all that dinner.