SHORT STORY: Throwing caution to the wind

Thursday June 4 2020

She lay down on the mattress she’d dragged to the driest corner of the little one-room bedsitter.

She lay down on the mattress she’d dragged to the driest corner of the little one-room bedsitter. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA 

NADYA SOMOEI
By NADYA SOMOEI
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The incessant drumming of raindrops on the thin, corrugated iron roof was keeping Keli awake. Although annoying, it was good too, because that meant she could keep on top of the countless leaks that were threatening to leave all her meagre belongings damp.

Keli busied herself, tired of being irritated and miserable, moving small pots and containers here and there, trying to catch the dripping water and console herself that that meant she didn’t have to pay for a litre of water to wash with the following day.

Laying down on the mattress she’d dragged to the driest corner of the little one-room bedsitter, she waited for the containers to fill as she wondered how she’d make ends meet that week. She, along with countless others, had been laid off with the promise of their last two month’s pay, but that was yet to materialise three months later.

They had been laid off from a large manufacturing company with the excuse of downsizing, but everyone knew that was just so the people at the top could maximise on profits. They had retained a skeleton workforce, who were now required to do three times the amount of work for the same amount of pay.

“Ahh, what the heck,” Keli muttered to herself, she’d risk the last of her phone battery to check her bank balance for the umpteenth time that day.

The sharp sound of a notification on her phone was accompanied by an overwhelming feeling of hope that was crushed just as quickly by the contents of the message, "Account Balance 596.00 Ksh." Keli slumped back on the mattress, fighting the rising panic in her chest, her mind groping for a solution to survive another couple of days. Searching for a distraction, she threw caution to the wind with her flashing battery life and went on to browse the Internet aimlessly.

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People posted memes, photos of restaurants they’d been to, news items about the growing, prosperous economy…And wait, was that? Keli sat up like she had been electrocuted. There, on the bottom of a page she had been scrolling through, was an article detailing a lavish party that was to be given by the chief executive of the manufacturing plant.

The details were dazzling, obscene to be truthful, with high-end catering, entertainment and a guest list of the who’s who in society. Keli was mad. She was so angry her hands shook as she got up to empty a container full of rainwater into her small water tank, mumbling curse words under her breath. Then she stopped. What was the name of the catering company she had just read? Diving back onto the mattress, she quickly dialled her cousin up, praying her battery would last long enough.

PLAN EXECUTION

It was a beautifully sunny day; clouds moved lazily as a gentle, cooling breeze ruffled the stately trees surrounding the imposing gate. Keli smoothed her uniform nervously as she approached the gate, expecting the worst but hopeful.

The guards took a bored glance at her uniform, didn’t even bother to ask her name, and waived her off with a curt, "Catering’s in the back." Keli squared her shoulders as she approached the service entrance, mingled smoothly with the masses who were rushing this way and that, and bided her time. It wasn’t long before her opportunity arose and the head cateress called out above the din, “I need someone to serve the early guests in the front sitting room!”

Keli was there in seconds, and found herself balancing a large tray of drinks on her way into the main part of the house.

“Put them there.” Keli almost blanched as she came face to face with the CEO, then quickly recovered. Of course he wouldn’t recognise her, she was only a lowly IT associate, albeit one with a penchant for all things digital. Placing the tray carefully on a table, Keli curtsied and exited, but she didn’t go back to the kitchen. Glancing about her to make sure no one was around, she ducked into a closet adjacent to the sitting room and pulled out her phone. She literally couldn’t believe her luck. She needed proximity to the CEO to pull off her plan, and hadn’t expected that she would get this close.

Breathing evenly despite her pounding heart, she began running a software programme on her phone.

“Come on,” she whispered, “Just a little more… Yes!” She shivered jubilantly as she gained access to the CEO’s phone and by default, the company’s finances too. Now it was as simple as accessing the list of recently redundant employees, which thankfully showed up with their pending pay checks adjacent to each name.

“Where’s the lady who served us drinks?” a voice called from right outside the closet Keli was hiding in.

“I don’t know sir,” came a second, timid voice, “Did you need anything?”

“No, when you see her, send her in to collect the tray. We like how she serves...” the last part of the sentence was an outright leer and was drowned out by the muffled sounds of the gentlemen in the room laughing.

Keli bristled, almost exacting real time revenge by adding a bonus to each of the payments she was sending out, but decided against it. She was here only for what they were owed. After a few minutes, she peeped out through a crack in the closet, ascertained the corridor was empty and climbed quietly out. Then, lowering her face, walked briskly through the kitchen, out into the garden and made a bee-line for the gate.

***

“What’s that sir? What do you mean? Have you been robbed?” said the brusque detective over the phone.

“Yes! I mean no… Argh!” the CEO was frothing at the mouth, “I was hacked, don’t you understand?”

“So, you were hacked…and your employees were somehow paid their rightful salaries…nothing more?” came the detective again.

“Argh, to hell with you!” the CEO screamed as he disconnected the call.