Flipping idly through the paper was part of Isaiah’s morning ritual. This, preceded by a cup of coffee and a sneaked cigarette on the small balcony off his office gave him the motivation to start his day. He was a troubled man, Isaiah was. His marriage was going all to shit and the kids, who were currently living with his mother in law, hated him courtesy of that bitch’s brainwashing. That bitch being his wife, not her mother. Her mother was a saint. He had gotten to the classifieds when he spied the ad. In the ‘Personal’ section, where dozens of brothels masquerading as massage parlours advertised their services, there was this:
Itch it, scratch it, we have it.
Enquire at email@example.com
He didn’t think much of it at first, but as the day wore on he figured that it wouldn’t hurt he sent the email.
The board meeting wore on. One of the directors droned on about margins and graphs at one end of the room while everyone else tried to listen and stay awake. Kevin was leafing through the paper, having switched off from the meeting half an hour earlier. He had been looking to buy a car and he turned to the classifieds to see what was on offer. It was then he saw the ad. He sometimes enjoyed such excursions and he figured why not. After all, it was only an e-mail address; it wasn’t like they’d have his phone number or anything. He was careful not to send his query from his work address.
Embarrassed from the overly loud clatter of her heels on the linoleum floor, Kate rushed along the dimly lit corridor to the Ladies’. The last cup of coffee had been a bad idea but the client had insisted. She banged a stall door open, shut it and sat down. The relief was grand. Then she heard the main door swing open and two pairs of footsteps approached. There was a hushed feminine giggle and a quiet, deep laugh. A man! What the hell was…wait, wasn’t it too early in the day? The door to the stall right next to hers banged open, much in the same way hers had a few moments ago, and she could almost see the two bodies pressed up against each other inside. Kate froze on the cold seat, her skirt hiked up and her hand on the tissue roll. Were they going to – there was a swish of fabric from next door and a zipper definitely going down – yes they were. It wasn’t fair, she thought as she sat there, trying hard not to listen as the rumpus threatened to tear down the thin walls. She had no time for a man in her life but here was this colleague who could get it on during work hours, in the office, without a care in the world.
Then they were done.
Kate waited until they left before she stood up, flushed and left the loo quickly. She remembered something she had seen in the classifieds earlier in the morning. Maybe she’d send an enquiry after all. What the hell? Today was clearly the day caution and the wind met and ran away together. She crept back to her desk and surreptitiously sent an email from her smart phone. If some office skank could get some in the bathroom, so could she.
It was exactly a week and three days later when Kevin arrived at work to find a neat white envelope lying on his desk. There was a label on it, with his name printed on there. There was no sender’s address. He buzzed his secretary and asked about it. She said the envelope had been delivered in the morning but she didn’t know who by. Kevin eyed the white oblong on his desk suspiciously. He lifted it, heavy, and there was a solid object in it He couldn’t remember ordering anything by mail. Still pondering, he sat down behind his desk and grabbed his silver letter opener.
Kate was in the office early. She was trying to finish up three reports for the meetings she had that day. The office was mostly empty and so the sudden appearance of the security guard at her door startled her a bit. He smiled and bid her a polite good morning and after she asked him to come in, handed her a stiff white envelope.
“Who’s this from?” Kate asked, fingering the envelope. It was too heavy to contain paper. Her name was printed on a label. The guard said that a bike messenger had just dropped it off. She thanked him and set the envelope on her desk. After five minutes, when she couldn’t stand the distraction anymore, she grabbed it and tore it open.
Isaiah had just finished his cigarette on the small balcony and was stepping back into his office when he caught sight of a long female leg in the process of disappearing out his door. It belonged to his secretary, the leg, and she had just placed something on his desk. The white envelope hadn’t been there before. He sat down and picked it up. His name on a label, no indication of the sender whatsoever. Smiling at the thought of a letter bomb, he slit the thing open with his long thumbnail. Maybe it’s from the wife, or the kids – or from his secretary. Of late he had been having these…ideas about her and her long legs. He tipped the envelope over and a CD jewel case tumbled onto his desk. It was unlabelled and unmarked, just a disc in a plastic case. What was this? He slid the disc, a DVD, into his MacBook.
Kate’s face was surprised at its ability to contort into a grotesque grimace. The disk was vile! She could taste copper in her mouth, precursor to the nausea she knew was coming. She slammed down the lid on her pretty little Acer net-book and leaned back in her seat, staring up at the ceiling and taking deep breaths. They did not help her calm down so she stopped and just stared. Things like these you read about, she thought. You see in movies. Shit, they DO NOT happen in real life! She reached into her bag for the large plastic bottle of mineral water. A few swigs helped and she felt slightly calmer. Somewhere in the deep centre of her brain, a little indicator light blinked on. The label beneath it said ‘Cigarette’. With some effort, she turned the light off. She had quit smoking four years ago. But this, oh man. She leaned forward once more and lifted the lid on the little pink computer. The video was still there, frozen in the frame where she had paused it, horrified. She played it again.
Kevin’s mind was feverishly trying to balance shock and fascination at images that filled his screen. There he was, naked as the day he was born, which must have been a prettier sight than the adult version he was looking at, being jerked off by the pretty young Arabic looking woman from Aphrodite. Then there he was, putting on a condom and doing that thing that his wife’s reaction to his suggesting it had been a profound ‘Hell no!’ He pressed the space bar and the video paused. He looked at his freeze-frame self, mouth curled in a rictus of ecstasy. He had had fun over there, true. But what was this about? He closed the video player on his machine and opened the disc’s root folder. There was a document attached.
Isaiah’s lips moved soundlessly as he read the note. Small beads of perspiration clamoured for space on his brow as he squinted at the screen, too moved by recent events to remember putting on his glasses. It read:
As you may have noticed, you have been recorded enjoying our most delectable services. We would like to take this moment to assure you that only you have a copy of this footage.
The concept here is simple. Every Tuesday, beginning today, you will find a classified ad in the Daily Chronicle. The ad will be in the ‘Lost and Found’ section and will be addressed to A.A. Aaron, so that even you can find it. You will dial the number there and receive instructions on how to deposit Ksh. 50,000 (fifty thousand) to an M-PESA account that you will be given at that time. This process will continue for no more than 3 (three) weeks after which time we will NEVER contact you again.
We do not consider it necessary to mention what will happen if you do not comply (i.e. keep your mouth shut; do not go the Police, things like that). We know and we will show everyone.
Kate swallowed hard. A hundred and fifty thousand? She had the money but she would be would be dipped and rolled in breadcrumbs before she just gave it to some…some amateur blackmail artist who thought they could just come from nowhere to – She realised that her arms were raised and she was pulling at her hair. If anyone had walked in they’d have thought her mad. She stood up and walked to the window and gazed down into the parking lot below that was filling up now as people arrived at work. She thought of calling her cousin who was a detective and asking for his help but how would she explain the circumstances. This was private, her mistake and now she literally had to pay for it. She sat back down and placed her elbows on the desk and sunk her face into the cup of her hands and sobbed.
Kevin was a man with thorns in his flesh. Hot, sharp and poisonous ones. He was pacing the length of his office for the umpteenth time as he tried to understand what was happening to him. There was no way, no way he swore – that he was going to shell out that kind of money to these people, whoever they were. On top of that, that kind of money was in the joint savings account he still held with that cunt he’d married. She had to co-sign for any withdrawal. What a conversation that would be then. The video would be circulated, he thought. What were the implications? He was an upstanding member of society. That was the implication. The church group, the boys at the golf club, his boss and most of all, his wife, would all disown him and his life as he knew it would be over. So, shit, he’d pay the money. His brother would lend it to him. He went buzzed his secretary and requested the day’s Chronicle. She informed him that today’s hadn’t been delivered that morning. It was five minutes later that he realised he owed her an apology, based on the language he’d used telling her to get the bloody thing to him regardless.
The supermarket attendant thought the man at the newspaper rack looked particularly frustrated as he sifted through the few remaining newspapers. He rifled through them and, having not found what he was looking for, left in a huff. The attendant thought nothing of it; maybe the man had missed his morning paper. It happened all the time. But twenty minutes later, when he’s back was turned, a sharply dressed woman came over to the depleted rack and did the same thing.
The newspaper vendor was closing up when the man in the suit hurried up to him and asked for the day’s Chronicle. There was an unsettling urgency to his voice. “No, I don’t,” said the vendor. “They usually sell out by ten.”
“Do you know where I can get one?” the man asked. He was hopping from foot to foot, so agitated he was. “Today’s that is? It is very important.” The vendor was concentrating on locking up his large trunk, not really listening. He shook his head. “Sorry, can’t help you there. You could try their offices if it means that much to you.” When he looked up the man had gone.
©Mwangi Ichungwa 2010
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