Brenda was confident of her beauty. Her mirror said so, everyone said so.
“When you were a baby, total strangers would stop to tell me how you would blossom into a stunning beauty,” her mother told her.
In primary school, Brenda was the girl teachers chose to present flowers to important visitors when they came calling.
And so she started to believe that beauty was all she needed to make it in life. There was no need to exert herself. With her looks, all she needed was to be in the right place at the right time and good things were bound to happen for her.
When she was a teenager, men, some old enough to be her father, came asking for her hand in marriage.
“Me? Waste my beauty on a half-literate villager? No way.” She took their gifts but left them with only a bitter taste in their mouths.
After her poor performance in her O-levels, Brenda left home to live with Auntie Violet in Nairobi.
“Come back home, my child,” her mother pleaded. She wanted Brenda to go back to school, study harder and proceed to the university. “You wanted to be a doctor once, remember?”
But Brenda had changed her mind.
Why toil away over voluminous books in musty libraries with all this beauty, she reasoned.
Her idols on social media had not darkened the doors of a university yet they probably had more sleek cars, designers shoes and outfits than the average doctor. With a little luck, she would be able to make lots of money in a short time just like they had.
“I will repeat my exams through adult literacy programmes in the evenings,” she lied to her mother.
Nairobi was fascinating. She was awestruck by the tall buildings, sleek vehicles, people dressed in smart, trendy outfits.
Auntie Violet quickly gave her a makeover. Brenda now sported long glossy, blonde hair, and her aunt bought her tight, skimpy clothes.
Her dark skin was considered a hindrance so Brenda bleached out the coffee colour, and learned how to apply make-up like a pro.
Admirers flocked to her. Many were fresh graduates from the university but all they could offer were dingy bedsits, starting salaries and lofty ambitions.
There were also greying family men, looking for young girls to frolic with.
“Don’t succumb to the charms of mediocre middle-class people, Brenda. Aim for the fattest fish,” Aunt Violet advised.
To snag a fabulously wealthy person, her aunt told her what to look for. “Wealthy people invest in gold watches, genuine leather items like belts, wallets and shoes.
“And another thing, a rich man’s hands are always perfectly manicured.”
Her 23rd birthday came and went, but there was no rich man in sight.
One morning on her way to the beauty salon where she worked, she pondered over her lack of fortune. She was beautiful, that went without saying, so why hadn’t she snared a wealthy prince charming?
“Excuse me,” a soft baritone cut into her thoughts. She turned and saw a man driving a sleek, black Range Rover, speaking to her from the car window.
“Is Blue Span Mall in this vicinity?” he asked.
The sleek vehicle, expensive looking wristwatch, and designer sunglasses caught her attention.
“No, it’s not. You have to turn around, drive back to the rough road…”
“Would you please get into the car and show me the way?”
His smile lit up the morning. Brenda needed no second bidding.
“My name is Jean-Claude. Yours?”
She settled herself on the plush leather seats and fastened her seat belt.
“I am looking for some exotic plants for my garden, and I’ve been told they can be found somewhere near Blue Span Mall.”
Brenda studied him through her lashes, noticing the subtle scent of an obviously expensive cologne, his genuine leather belt and shoes, mmh… potential.
“Thanks Brenda,” he said, when they arrived at the mall. “Allow me to call a taxi for you.”
The taxi came, and she got in.
“Would you like to have a drink with me some time?”
Brenda acquiesced with promptness. As he was giving her his phone number, she noticed that his hands were calloused, scarred, and his broken fingernails had dirt underneath.
A red light flickered in her gut.
“Unbelievable how my passion for gardening has absolutely ruined my hands,” he explained. “I’m actually an online businessman.”
“I have the perfect solution for you,” Brenda offered. “A manicure at the beauty salon.”
They laughed, and he promised to find time from his busy schedule to get one. Then he pressed a crisp one thousand shilling note in her hand and promised to call.
They went on a date the following week. It was soon followed by another and another.
Two weeks after their initial meeting, Jean-Claude picked her up from Auntie Violet’s saloon and drove her to his home.
It was two-storeys, painted pristine white, furnished with modern leather sofas, the latest electronic gadgets and appliances, and there were other cars, parked in the garage. Brenda could hardly contain her excitement.
“I live with my gardener, who is on leave at the moment,” he said.
He prepared a sumptuous meal that they ate on the balcony. Later, he showed her his well tended garden and she knew she had arrived.
It became routine for him to pick her from her workplace a few times a week and take her to his home. Brenda was sure that it was only a matter of time before a diamond ring graced her finger.
There were things about him that disturbed her though. The nature of his mysterious online business for instance, and his insistence that under no circumstances was she to come to his house on her own. And when she posted one of their selfies on Facebook, he was angry.
They were together one evening when his phone rang. A woman’s high pitched voice came from the other end.
“My mother,” he said with a nervous laugh. “Excuse me, I have to take this call privately.” He went out of the room.
“I have to visit to my mother in the village over the next three days,” he said when he got back. “Don’t bother to call, the network in our village is poor.”
He was unreachable for two weeks after that, and sensing that all was not well with her Prince Charming, Brenda decided to pay him a visit.
One morning, she wore her best clothes and rubbed her growing belly with a smile. The elusive ring was bound to appear once Jean-Claude heard her good news.
She took a taxi to the now familiar home. She rang the bell several times and finally an elderly man walked over and opened it.
His tattered, discoloured sweat shirt advertised a cough syrup, and his shorts were frayed at the edges. “How may I help you?”
So this was the gardener, back from his leave. He would be sacked once she formally became mistress of the house, and replaced by someone with better hearing.
“Why are you taking forever to open the gate?” She brushed past him in a huff, walked into the house, kicked off her shoes and sank gratefully into one of the leather seats.
“Get me a glass of cold apple juice,” she ordered the man. He had a perplexed expression but went to the kitchen and brought her the juice.
“And who, madam, may I ask, are you?”
“Jean-Claude hasn’t told you? I am the new madam of the house.”
“Jean-Claude? Who is that?”
“My fiancé,” she answered impatiently, “the owner of this house.” She whipped out her phone and showed him a picture of Jean-Claude.
“Oh,” said the man. “I see. And he told you he owns this house?”
He handed her the phone, sighed and said: “That’s my gardener. He had to travel upcountry because one of his five children is in hospital with pneumonia...”