AWAY AND BACK

3개월 전

  CHAPTER 1 

He pored over the building plan on the screen of his laptop. His notes were spread over the desk, an assortment of sketches and scribbled notes. His office was small and sparsely furnished. For a young architect just starting his career, it was sufficient. His first few clients had been hard to come by and far in between. But he had managed to rent his own place and to acquire the basic furniture. The large wooden desk was ornate. It looked ancient and well-worn but it gave the aura of knowledge and wisdom. He sat in a large leather office chair. It was a gift to him by his father. The book case at the wall in front of the desk contained a selection of books in architecture and design of buildings. The adjacent wall had his pin up board. Brightly coloured pins held diagrams and project plans onto it. Beneath it was a small credenza on which a coffee machine and a water dispenser sat. Behind his chair the window looked out over the Nanyuki town park. Adjacent to his work space were three stylish armchairs and a round coffee table. They were arranged neatly on a square carpet. John loved his office. This is where he immersed himself in the quests to create the dream buildings of his clients and his own bespoke designs of buildings he wanted to build someday soon.  

  The time was three in the afternoon. He worked his mouse and looked at his work one more time. The appointment with his new client was at four at Naromoru, a small town about twenty two kilometers away. That would take him about twenty minutes to drive. He needed to grab a bite then head out. With a resolute abruptness, he sprung to his feet. He knew the more he gazed at his screen, the more he would stay immersed in the work. It was a beautiful multistory commercial building to be built in the capital city. He was extremely excited with the job because he was going to have his first landmark in Nairobi. Not bad for a thirty three year old architect. He had worked on several during his four years employment but this was going to bear his names. He put his gear into his ‘tool box’ as he loved to call his attaché case. It contained his laptop and its peripheral gadgets. He made sure his mini projector was not left out. He stepped out and locked the office. Good old Betty sat at the reception desk. The third floor held three more offices like his and they shared Betty as a receptionist. It worked well for him. His floor mates were an accountant, a lawyer a surveyor and a diminutive private investigator who kept odd hours. They were good neighbors and business flowed between them.  

“I’m off Betty, I might not get back till tomorrow”, he said as he strolled to her desk. She looked up to him with her signature bright smile.  

“Ok John. You have no appointments for the rest of the day”, she said, glancing at an appointment book on the desk. “I will call you in case someone comes to look for you”, she added.  

“Many thanks Betty, you are the best”. Betty was motherly. She reminded him of one of his aunties. He liked her very much.  

  He strolled briskly along the street to Shades restaurant, a quiet eatery where he patronized. They knew how he liked his meals done and the coffee was great. He nodded at several boda-boda riders who were friends of his. The restaurant was not packed with patrons as it would be at peak hours. His favorite table was not occupied. As he pulled the chair to sit down, the new waitress, Jane, made her way to his table. For the fortnight since she started work, she was always quick to serve him even when he sat at a table not assigned to her. John was six feet tall, had a soldier’s body build and the mien of a gentle bull. His black irises set against a milk white eye-white gave his eyes a penetrating gaze that seemed capable of melting ice. His facial features were hard but the lines of his mouth softened them with an easy smile that revealed slightly discolored teeth. Having grown up in Naivasha where fluoride tainted water was what they had at school, he and his siblings ended up with tainted teeth. He was handsome as young men were, not particularly standing out. But his aura of calm confidence and fearlessness made many girls who crossed his path always want to stick around. He was a gentleman. 

“Hi John”, she greeted him, proffering a slim hand which fit snugly in his big hand. 

“Hi Jane, how are you today?” They exchanged the usual pleasantries and John placed his order. He tried to keep the exchange short. Jane was curvy and beautiful but she was not his type. She was loud and flamboyant. There was plenty that was artificial on her; colored hair, painted eye brows and stick-on nails. She was beautiful for a trophy but that didn’t appeal to him. He settled down to the samosas and fries with a dash of vegetables.

  At 3.30pm, he left the restaurant and walked back briskly towards his office block. On the parking lot, his Toyota Hilux double cab stood where he had parked it in the morning. He loved the car. It suited his work. It complimented his headstrong nature by enabling him to get from point A to point B no matter what. It was also fast on the highway. Many a time when he was angry or excited, he would hit racing speeds to vent. He knew that that was not a good way to manage his ire and excitement. He was working on it. Ordinarily, he was a calm and courteous driver who crawled around town leisurely. He loved the off-road challenges. His favorite moments were driving his mother to places on muddy roads. She would always exclaim whenever the car drove into puddles of water or when he negotiated his way along treacherous muddy tracks. Later, she would narrate to his father the feat her son accomplished on the impassable roads. John had the differential locks on his car to thank, but he also had a way with the impassable obstacles. He settled down in his seat and reaching to the back seats, he stowed away the ‘tool box’.  

  He eased off the flush parking onto the street. The clock on the dashboard read 3.35pm. He had enough time to get to Mr Kinuthia’s home in Naromoru. He had been there once, when his former boss took him to introduce him to the billionaire some three weeks back. The billionaire, now his client, didn’t strike one as a man of wealth. Recalling their first meeting, he smiled and shook his head at the memory of the casually dressed bearded man. His home was a rambling farmhouse on a one hundred acre piece of land, two kilometers to the east of the small town. His manner was cheery and easy. He came across as an affable retired school teacher, who loved to talk about the politics and news events of the day. But that belied the shrewd businessman. His mien changed to a quiet intelligence when it came to business. John noted his keen attention to details. He had listened keenly to Mr Nzioka, John’s boss, as he described his protégé’s credentials. John was surprised to note that he knew each building that he had worked on in the capital, and he even discussed the various aesthetic features of every building. His depth of knowledge was phenomenal. He discussed elevator systems, plumbing and mechanical systems in great detail. For the next two hours, they were lost in the design brief that he put together. The client pulled out all the details that John needed from his filing cabinets. John asked all the questions that enabled him to understand what his client needed.  

  The bull bar of his Hilux brushed against the green leaves of the hedge that lines the entrance to the property. He stopped and got out to open the gate. It was a simple wood and metal fabrication that was unlocked and easy to open. But he knew there was more to the deceptive simplicity. Hidden among some boulders and in some trees at the entrance, closed circuit cameras saw everything. There was a motion detector that lit up two bright spotlights when one approached the entrance at night. The fence was made of the run-away Jerusalem thorn which was impenetrable to man and animals. It grew to a height of about two meters and was three meters wide, even more in some places. He jumped back into his car, aware that someone somewhere was aware of his arrival. After driving in and closing the gate, he drove about five hundred meters to the house.  

  He pulled up at the house at 3.55pm. He was careful about keeping time. It was a virtue that was common to most successful people. He noted a short wheel base Toyota Prado in the parking lot next to Mr Kinuthia’s vehicles. As an ardent off road adventurer, he always had an eye for all off road capable vehicles. With his focus on the upcoming meeting, he walked up to the door and pushed the doorbell. He heard the chime in the depths of the house, probably in the kitchen or hallway. A few seconds later, the door swung open. She smiled at him and held out her hand in greeting. He shook her hand. 

“Hi, I’m Sharon…welcome” Her voice was silky and lovely, unlike any woman’s voice he had ever heard. Her eyes were large and beautiful, like the eyes of an Egyptian goddess. Her forehead was high and neatly outlined by her head dress. She was light skinned, short and petite. Her dress was long and unrevealing but with a slight hint of a beautiful body hidden beneath. She reminded him of the buibui clad Muslim women he saw near the mosque. Were it not for her confident stance and steady eye contact, she would have passed for a humble house stewardess. Looking at her down to earth attractiveness, he knew there was much to her than met the eye. 

“Hi. My name is John…. Thanks”, he answered as he took her hand. It was small and delicate. “I’m here to see Mr Kinuthia”. 

“This way please”. 

He followed her across the lobby and down the passage towards the den. Her gait was graceful, queenly. She wore ordinary flat shoes. Her steps were short and sure. At five six, she was short but tall enough to stand out in a group. His mind floundered as he looked for some words to make small talk as they walked. But he was tongue tied. He was aware of the awkward silence as he followed along. The door to the den was open. As he stepped in, he noted some books on the coffee table and a cup of some steaming beverage next to them. She must have been seated there, he thought. The large ornate desk had no one at the chair behind it. 

“Mr Kinuthia will join us shortly”, she informed him. “Please take a seat”, she said waving towards the desk. He mumbled his thanks as he proceeded to take one of the comfortable arm chairs in front of the desk. He was right. She resumed her position at the settee. He sunk into the chair, grateful for the chance to muster his thoughts and clear his mind for the meeting.   

  The meeting went well. The client had stepped out to freshen up and when he got back, he was eager to get on with the business. They dived right into it. John set up his mini projector and for two hours, the architect and client discussed the preliminary design. At some point, Sharon joined them. “Yes Sharon, sorry we took off without you. John, meet Sharon, my daughter”, he introduced them. In his haste to delve into the design presentation, he had almost forgotten that she was in the room. For the rest of the meeting, John was aware of her genuine interest and rapt attention to his explanations as he took them through his work. Her father drove the meeting with queries and suggestions which he noted down. She had some questions of her own which he was delighted to answer. He was impressed. She was had easily caught up and assimilated the design. At the end of two hours, Mr Kinuthia stood up and rubbed his hands with glee. 

“You have nailed it my boy”, he enthused as he smiled brightly.  “Now go and make the changes. How long will it take?” 

“Two weeks sir” He knew he would take less time but he needed to cover himself in case he needed to do more than the changes that they had discussed. Mr Kinuthia agreed to the time line and asked Sharon to note the date in his diary.  

“Her mother used to keep the diary for me before she passed away. Now, Sharon keeps it even better. She even makes the phone remind me”, he said, looking fondly at her. She smiled back.  

“Don’t listen to him, I use base camp and he refused to let me show him how to work it. Give me your details and I’ll pull you in”, she answered with a soft laugh. It was clear that father and daughter worked closely. It was also apparent that the old man wasn’t too keen on new digital management tools and he preferred to have his daughter run them for him.

  He was requested to stay for dinner. It was dusk. He had some errands to run and he was the early-home type, he said and declined the invitation. In truth, he needed to get away from this girl whom he now felt greatly attracted to. He needed to regroup. When he finally extracted himself from the house, he strode quickly to his car, careful not to run with excitement. Besides meeting the beautiful girl, he carried a cheque, the first payment for the first solo project in the capital. It was a princely sum. He needed to celebrate. Gripping the wheel strongly, he drove off sedately down the winding driveway to the gate. This time, he didn’t have to get out to open it. A night guard held it open. He lowered his window, called a greeting and accelerated away. Two kilometers away, he swung off the dirt road and hit the tarmac. He sped off towards Nanyuki.     

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