Jobless Man Strikes Gold During Pandemic

Kenyan Currency notes.
A photo of sample Kenyan currency notes.

Things seldom turn out the way you plan.

I had never pegged myself as a stay-at-home dad (or househusband if you like). But that is exactly what I had become over the last 8 months.

My lofty position as the manager of a 5-star hotel in the city succumbed to the virus.

So, here I was at a supermarket along Kiambu road, picking up diapers, some extra plates and glasses. 

Items on display at a supermarket.
Items on display at a supermarket.

Millie (my better half) was having her parents over for the weekend, and if there's one thing I had learned during our 8-year marriage… appearances matter… a lot.

As I was canvassing through the aisles,  I noticed a colourful set of bright orange tablemats.

They spoke to me. We definitely needed more tablemats… I thought to myself.

The ones we had were all mangled up and stained with baby food. I think I actually saw one on the driveway on my way out.

We had Joshua (our 4-year old son) to thank for converting our home into something that resembled an accident scene where toys, spoons, balls and mangled up placemats made up the debris.

My son was in the ‘Indiana Jones’ stage of his young, carefree life. 

Having recently discovered that the two strange things attached to his lower body could run, jump and perform somersaults, my days were filled with near-death experiences.

I remember this one time when I found him standing on the edge of our 8-foot refrigerator. He was getting ready to dive into a pile of pillows he had ingeniously placed all around the house. Boys will always be boys.

File image of a messy house
File image of a messy house

He had the energy of a raging bull and the organizational abilities of… let's just say he had none.

"Like father like son," Millie always said in reference to how we both couldn't seem to grasp the concept of organization.

I admit it, during our dating stage, she once found a sock behind the TV cabinet… In my defence, I said I must have been wiping something down and gotten distracted… plus I had come a long way… I even had my own sock drawer now, and which I used religiously.

Anyway, back to the bright orange placemats.

I needed 6 of them, but then they only had 4 sitting on the shelf. I asked one of the attendants, a lady, if  they had more of these 'voodoo' placemats in the store, somewhere.

The lady attendant laughed as she made her way to the back storage area.

I hurriedly cleared some space on the shelf, placed one of the mats, then went on to place one of the plates and a glass on it, and took a step back.

The set looked appealing, and my heart was doing cartwheels… (blame my years in the hospitality industry) Maybe I need to get some forks as well… I thought to myself.

My little joyous moment was cut short when my phone rang. It was Millie.

File image of a man using a phone
A photo of a man using a smartphone
Kenya Pics

“Hi hun,”

“Hello bae. How is your day going?” I asked. I could hear a buzzing sound in the background, a steady whirring sound, the one you get from a fruit blender.

“You know me, just busy busy busy,” she said.

“Anyway, enough about me. What are you upto?” she asked.

“Buying tablemats actually”


“Hapa tu at our local supermarket”

She laughed. “Are you the only guy in the tablemat aisle?” I looked around… “Nope,” I lied.

“Alas, that’s good I guess,” she said. 

I could tell something was bugging her.

“I was calling to let you know I’m going to have to work late again,” she said.

“Uh-huh…” The shop attendant came back with a full set of bright orange tablemats. Still holding the phone to my ear, I beckoned her over. I held up 4 fingers, and she placed 4 more mats on that conveyor belt-like thing at the till. 

Multi-tasking wasn’t my best trait, but I had turned into a guru over the last couple of months. I whipped out my Co-op Visa card and handed it to the cashier. 

Customers queueing at a supermarket in Kenya
Customers queueing at a supermarket in Kenya

I jumped back to Millie… “is everything ok?” I asked.

“I’m supposed to make a presentation to the CS on our progress so far in regards to the vaccine we’ve been working on, it's crazy over here,” she said.

“The earliest I can make is 10:30ish, can you feed Josh and tuck him in for me?”

“No problem,” and it wasn’t really… I had become used to it.

Ever since the pandemic broke, my wife Millie (a virologist) had been working long hours. Most nights, she didn’t get home until both Josh and I were sound asleep.

“Never bring ‘your work’ home with you” I always teased. As one of the frontline ‘combatants, she was always at risk… but she loved it… and I loved her.

She was hell bent on making a difference. Watching her best friend die from the virus only fueled her resolve to make a breakthrough.

However, the long nights had created a sort of distance, or rather a level of strange unfamiliarity between her and our son.

This was what was eating away at her… this was ‘something is wrong’ tone I had been picking up each time she called to say she wouldn’t make it for dinner.

“Don’t sweat it babe. I’ll handle it, we both miss you and stay safe,” I told her, after I noticed the cashier staring blankly at me while holding up the PDQ machine with my Co-op Visa card in it… I keyed in my password with an apologetic look on my face.

“Thanks hun, I miss you both too” Millie said, “Oh, and babe. The tablemats. Whatever you do, just don’t get orange ones, okay.” 

And she hung up.

I couldn’t help but laugh. 

The cashier handed me my card back. I apologised for any inconvenience and walked out into a rather chilly parking lot.

I had this feeling that I had forgotten something important… I paused… Nope… nothing.

I was soon knocking at my neighbour's doorstep. 

From the outside, whatever was going on inside mama Jayden's 3-bedroom apartment sounded like bulldozers tearing through an apartment block.

Mama Jayden (a single mum) was my go-to person whenever I needed to make a dash to the shops. 

Leaving Josh alone in the house wasn't an option. Not because he wasn't ok on his own for a half an hour. It was more a health and safety issue.

I once stepped out of the house for 4 and 3 quarter minutes, only to return and find a flooded kitchen sink, the TV on the floor and a cheeky-faced 4-year old looking at me with an 'it wasn't me' look on his face.

That's how I ended befriending my next door neighbour. The shriek I let out when I saw my 'beloved'  TV bent in ways it wasn't built to, sent her running over.

Who would have known that a broken TV would result in a friendship that soon turned into a business.

Jayden (who turns 4 in June) was just Josh, but on steroids.

We decided to come together to handle our adrenalin-pumped kids and soon started a home-schooling enterprise in our neighbourhood. She taught, I catered.

Business has been good. Co-op bank even recently called to inform us of the various funding facilities available to us if we were ever looking to expand.

My little trip down memory lane was cut short when Mama Jayden opened her front door. The little ones came at me like a freak train and almost had me on my back.

Remember me feeling like I'd forgotten something?

Turns out it was pampers. Millie always made sure I had a list when I went shopping, but for some reason I chose to 'freestyle' it that day.

Luckily, the pandemic had opened me up to the world of online shopping and cashless transactions.

A few clicks on Mama Jayden's laptop coupled with my Co-op Visa card was all it took to rectify my kiddish forgetfulness.

We chose to go through the numbers and plan out our school calendar as we waited on the delivery.

Like I said, things seldom work out the way you think they will. 

Here I was, I certified hotelier turned school owner and caterer.

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