Celebrating East African Writing!
First Lady, First Mistress by Clifford Oluoch
7.48 a.m. Maryanne looked at the guest list for the umpteenth time. She wanted to make sure that all the members of The Club were present for the workshop dubbed Assertiveness is not Aggression’. She did not want any apologies.
Maryanne’s phone rang. It was Sally, her legal advisor. “Are you coming for the ruling?” Sally asked casually, knowing full well that because of her position as The First Lady, Maryanne’s schedule water tight.
“No, Sally. This might be the last workshop I am presiding over as a First Lady,” Maryanne replied dryly.
Sally winced. Maryanne’s husband, the president of the country, had filed for a divorce on grounds of barrenness. Surprisingly the case was treated as a low-key affair amongst the press, mainly out of respect for The First Lady’s effort in community service. But it was an open secret amongst the ruling elite that things were not that rosy at The Palace.
“Do what you can,” Maryanne finally told Sally, her former schoolmate and a personal friend of many years. Sally had tried telling Maryanne to settle for half the estate but Maryanne had been adamant.
“If you can’t share the sky, why share the land?” had been her wise crack at Sally.
Maryanne looked at the list again. She was at the prestigious Sheraton Hotel, finalising all the details. ‘The First Wives Club’ was Maryanne’s brainchild. The group brought together all the top women in the country: wives of cabinet ministers and of the top military brass. No politicians were allowed. The group had become the conscience of the society, sometimes rubbing politicians the wrong way.
8.02 a.m. Maryanne looked out of the window of the V.I.P lounge. The phone rang again and this time the Chief of General Staff, Jairus Mango, broke the silence. “All security measures have been taken care of,” he formally informed the First Lady who did not want to gamble with the Club’s security.
“Thanks Jairo,” Maryanne replied using the Chief’s pet name. She smiled and knew that Jairo meant every word of it when he said that all was well taken care of. That was all she needed to run her meeting safely.
By 9 o’clock, all the ladies had arrived in pomp and splendour, a parade of sets of new clothes, jewellery, shoes, handbags, perfume. Huge suitcases were towed into the hotel. There was chattering as the ladies hugged and held hands, as if they had not seen each others for ages.
The group moved to the venue of the workshop: the bunker, a place where one got lost and forgot about the outside world.
Half an hour later, Maryanne summoned all the women to the Temptation Hall. “You all have ten minutes to make a phone call, after which no calls will be allowed,” she announced. They knew the rules of the bunker; no calls could be made as a jamming device had been installed.
The ladies made good use of the grace period, knowing that the next break would be well after 5pm. They all knew and accepted that as the coordinator and convener of the workshop, Maryanne was the only one allowed to visit the reception area to make or take calls.
Maryanne called Sally. “I am about to enter the court room. I will let you know what transpires,” Sally replied.
“Thanks, Sally.” Maryanne sighed and then switched off her phone. She wanted to concentrate on her workshop.
11:00 am. Maryanne took a stroll to the reception area. As she was about to talk to the receptionist, the Hotel phone rang and the lady answered in the monotone characterised by many telephone operators. Maryanne watched as the lady’s face darkened, prompting her to press the Fire Drill bell.
“Bomb alert in the hotel!” the lady shrieked at the First lady as she scrambled to get out of her seat. From there the hotel security team took over, shouting orders and ushering guests out of the internationally renowned hotel. It took close to twenty minutes to empty all the rooms and get the guest out of the looming danger. The alarm at the bunker did not sound, hence enabling The Club to continue with its workshop, completely unaware of the unravelling drama outside.
Maryanne moved to the V.I.P lounge, from where she watched the mayhem. People were running up and down, screaming at the top of their voices. Somehow, after the Twin Tower’s bombing, the world had become paranoid to bomb alerts. Maryanne called The Gossip giving them breaking news.
In less than ten minutes, the hotel had been completely surrounded by the dreaded crack unit code named Fiatua.
Maryanne’s attention was suddenly drawn to the local TV station that had ‘Breaking News’. The face of the Government spokesperson appeared on the screen. Maryanne sneered. Her apathy towards some of the people who flocked around her husband was well known. Leeches.
The footnote on the TV caught Maryanne’s attention and she knew that the news had nothing to do with the hotel. “The First Couple officially divorce,” said the spokesperson, as he went on to explain about the morning landmark court ruling. The clips showed Sally walking out of the court buildings and answering all questions with her trademark, “No comment.”
11:23 a.m. Maryanne made her way to the bunker. The discussion was on rudeness and arrogance. Maryanne joined one of the groups and made her contribution on the heated debate. “You must fight fire with fire,” an angry woman whose face was full of scars was trying to convince her group members that the only way of being assertive was by fighting back. The debate swayed to and from, the facilitator making sure that the ladies remained on task.
It was close to lunchtime when the group had their first major break, allowing the ladies to start their first informal interaction since morning. Most of the ladies itched to make phone calls, but they knew the rules.
Lunch was served in the adjacent room and the ladies had their hearty meal. Time flew and before they knew it, the half hour lunch break was over and the ladies had to go back for their afternoon session.
2pm. Maryanne made her way back to the VIP lounge. She had left the TV on and she got headline news flashing on the screen. “Bomb Scare at Hotel,” announced the anchorwoman, detailing how the guests at the hotel had been evacuated and taken to other destinations. The picture, clearly taken from a distance, showed the Fiatua squad.
The bomb-squad team was also shown going into the hotel to do their business, as they knew best. No mention was made of the women in the hotel. Maryanne made it back to the bunker, and this time the ladies had been separated into two major groups: wives of cabinets were sent to one room while the wives of the military were sent to an adjacent room. This was going to be the final session of the afternoon: assertiveness.
2:45 pm. Maryanne strolled out of the ‘Military Wing’ and went to the VIP lounge again. She flipped channels and opted for Channel 007. “The wives of cabinet ministers and top military brass are feared holed up at the Sheraton Hotel,” the young lady intoned in an annoying fake foreign accent.
Maryanne was about to leave the room when the announcer screeched, “Bomb blast in down town!” She turned and paid attention to all the details on how an abandoned building on Hawkers Street had been blasted, leaving five people injured. The announcer rambled on, clearly waiting for more details on the story. None came.
Maryanne, feeling tired, made her way to the bunker. She did not want to alarm The Club. Heated debate greeted Maryanne when she rejoined her friends. One of the ladies was talking about the meekness of her husband in the house, despite being one of the most arrogant rulers of the country. Maryanne smiled; it was evident that some of the ladies needed another session on humility against submission. Later.
3.25 pm. Maryanne moved to the next room, whispered something to the facilitator and then walked out to the VIP lounge. The same lady, the same fake accent, greeted Maryanne as she sat on the couch. She strained to read the footnote: “A group calling itself Okoa Nchi Yetu has kidnapped the wives of top Cabinet ministers and top military chiefs. The 40 women were last seen at Sheraton Hotel attending a workshop.”
The droning went on, the lady trying to explain some background information. Maryanne did not listen. She stayed a little bit longer and heard that the president had convened a full cabinet and military meeting to deliberate on the matter.
Maryanne wondered whether or not the president considered himself married to her. It would be interesting to talk to her former husband and pick his brains however little there was to pick.
Maryanne had seen them all: a bunch of thin greedy men and women scrambling for the country. She knew all of them, had been to school with some, and had worked with most. Brilliant at their jobs, until joining politics where their greed and ego often overtook their commitment to most of the causes they preached. She marvelled at how some had doubled their body weight in less than a year. Problem is that they ate everything in sight. Swines!
4:06 pm. The groups were in the process of winding up their discussion session, after which they would meet and present their proposals and findings to the bigger group. This would take another hour, punctuated with interruptions ranging from quality questioning to people who were more in love with their voices.
Maryanne moved to the VIP lounge. The latest news was that the president and the cabinet were holed up in a meeting with the military chiefs. The TV stations had nothing new; The First Club could still not be traced. The Sheraton Hotel was still out of bounds, the security personnel staying guard.
4:40 p.m. Speeches and appreciation time often made Maryanne sick. It was here that people lied through their noses, while others applauded. There were three speakers lined up. Maryanne was to pass the vote of thanks. The first speaker was the wife of the Internal Security minister, a lady who could talk for hours if not checked. Maryanne moved out.
“The president will address the country soon,” was the announcement made by the chief Government spokesperson. Maryanne wondered how much of it was true. She couldn’t wait for the twenty minutes, so she walked back to the bunker. The first speaker was still waffling and spewing forth emptiness. Maryanne shut her mind.
5.30 p.m. “The First Club has the pleasure of sponsoring its members for a week long holiday to Seychelles,” was the announcement being made by the last speaker. The ladies had earlier been told to pack their belongings since they would all be going straight to the airport after the workshop. They were thanked for being such a good audience.
6.00 p.m. Maryanne rose to give her final speech, the last time she would be doing so as a First Lady. No one in The Club was aware of the transition.
Maryanne inhaled deeply, and removed a stack of papers. The ladies looked impatient but out of courtesy to Maryanne, they sat up to listen.
“We have come to the end of our workshop and as you go home I would like you to ponder on the following. How many of you here would survive without your spouse’s cabinet minister’s jobs or military salaries and perks?” Maryanne posed. The question stunned all, and they sat up ready to listen.
Maryanne spoke. “Put up your hand if you will be able to bring up the family without your spouse and service all the loans you have taken.” No hands went up.
“Part of assertion demands that we are in total control of our financial situation as we all know that there is nothing as humiliating as financial blackmail. As we go on your trip to relax, let us all keep this in mind.”
With those words, Maryanne declared the workshop closed. There were murmurings as the women stood up to troop back to their lockers. Maryanne went back to the V.I.P lounge. “The president will address the nation at 7.00 p.m.”
6.45 p.m. The excited ladies trooped outside and found two huge ‘Cobra’ helicopters waiting for them outside the hotel. Some noticed the increased presence of security personnel but took it more as a case of importance rather than a crisis. After all, The Club was the dream of most women in the country. No one noticed the Maryanne’s absence.
The cabinet minister’s wives were separated from the military ladies and within minutes the two Cobras were airborne carrying a group of excited women.
7:00 p.m. Maryanne sat at the V.I.P lounge alone, opened her handbag and removed wad of papers. It was a speech. She looked at the T.V and within minutes the man she had called her husband for ten years appeared. He looked tired and haggard, but which politician ever looked fresh?
The president read, “My countrymen and women, I hereby resign as the president of the country with immediate effect. The cabinet, parliament and all civic bodies are hereby dissolved, effectively today.”
Maryanne smiled. So far, the two speeches were identical to the letter.
“I will hand over the reigns of the country to the Attorney General who will be the legal advisor to the incoming Council of Elders to be chaired by The Chief of General Staff, Jairus Mango. General Elections will be held 6 months from today. However, anyone who has ever vied for a seat in the last two General Elections will not be eligible.”
The rambling went on. Maryanne waited for the final nail. “You asked for your country back, and today I am glad to give you back your country. Vote wisely.”
Maryanne stood up and looked outside the hotel. It was close to 9 p.m. No people were on the streets as a dawn to dusk curfew had been imposed to make the transition smoother. Whoever had said that a week is a long time in politics was definitely poor at arithmetic. In less than six hours, the destiny of a country had moved from known to unknown.
The papers would have a field day for days on end. Maryanne thought of one half of The Club, the cabinet minister’s wives and the shock they had received at boarding the plane only to find their spouses seated on the same plane. And what about the military women who were taken back to the barracks to be told the news. She would miss them, honestly.
Maryanne thought of the crazy headlines the journalists would go for to outdo each other. “The First Revolution,” or “Divorcing the Country,” or “Give Us Back our Country!” But her favourite would be “From First Lady to First Mistress…….”
(c) 2003 Clifford Oluoch
The choice is yours
They are traveling on an unusually comfortable matatu, all passengers headed to Nakuru town, all with different views and plans. There 10 of them and 1 of me, 10 visible bodies in the moving metallic house in total and one secret eye, mine.
It is a good thing that they cannot see me and are oblivious of my presence, otherwise all of them would rethink their ways. Most of them would cringe of shame at the thought that their secret thoughts could be unmasked, made public. Of course I cannot do that, even I must play by the rules.
I care not about your secrets, I want only one thing; your ripe life. All living creatures must feed seen or unseen.
So as the cream-white MOLOLINE shuttle speeds on the wide, smooth, recently carpeted road down the escarpment into the Rift valley, we all adjust our seats and settle ourselves for the journey. We are all privately lost in our thoughts, plans, hopes and fears
Their thoughts are not so private though. They all have company, my company. I am watching, I am listening, I am there constantly. There is no escaping me.
Normally, I just pick randomly, whomever whose time is up. Today, though, I want you to experience how difficult this work is. I am going to let you make that decision, choose who dies. Yes, you dear reader, the choice is yours.
We have just passed Father J. Kaiser’s grave on the road side, the poor old priest was found dead on that spot, his bullet ridden body under a tree. After investigations, it turned out to be suicide. Mmmh, you should ask me, I was there I saw everything. Would you trust what you cannot see?
First things first. Be keen. Remember, the choice is yours today.
The vehicle has stopped. Facing Nakuru the grave is on your right hand side. The car is parked on the left. Somebody wants to pee. We all stream out, stretch our limbs, some of the chit chat. I sit at the door, I am not tired. I do not get tired.
Someone asks about the cross shaped pile of stones on the grave. Some one else suggests that they all go and stand by the grave, pay homage to a hero he says. He is the know-it-all type, I love those.