I was an auditor. With one of the Big Four audit firms in Nairobi, KE. Assurance Line of Service, I prided in those words. Straight from the Nairobi University’s Chiromo Campus, with a wardrobe leaner than my bank balance, fresh-faced and eager to grind in this great machinery that was the corporate world. Life was good. No, scrap that. Life was splendid! I loved living, I loved life. I loved living this life. Up until its novelty started to wear out. The same life that had me routine my days to start at 5.30am and end way after dark, decided to roughen me up, and test my resolve. My prince had turned into a dead frog. And I wanted it different, I wished it different. I yearned to revert to what I knew life-work/work-life to be before it died on me. But we don’t go back, we can never go back. Days dragged on, and the grind of this machinery was rusty and noisy and balky.
The ennui was evident.
I sought for solace. My memoirs describe in great detail what seeking this solace looked like in my mind’s eyes. It was like standing at a cliff and holding a conversation with God. Me, barefoot in a white linen frock that billowed in the sun and wind. Him, somewhere up there in the sky. My emotions on this cliff were erratic and my reactions sometimes dramatic: I went from sitting cross-legged with the sun warm on my back; to surly and wagging a finger at the Heavens giving God threats and ultimatums. Then, I moved to kicking and punching the air in triumph, Kung Fu panda style. Then, to lying in the foetal position stewing in my own tears. Sometimes when I spoke to God, He would say nothing back. Other times, I saw Him smile. I worked myself up into a juvenile tantrum when He took too long to give me things I had asked of Him. On the worst days, I would threaten to canon-ball myself over the cliff. On the best days, I would frolic and tell Him how great He is. Through it all, He was constant; He never gave in to my mood swings or to my livid threats or to my fits. Me and God, we inhabited that cliff for twenty-seven months.
In January 2013, I told God I needed to go. He asked me where to, I said where You shall lead me. He nodded. So for the first three months of 2013, He prepared me to leave. He gave me friends who provided the support mechanism that goaded me towards my goal. He gave me strength to carry the burden of my unyielding Spirit. He gave me wisdom to sift through the wayward and momentary emotions, and separate the fleeting desires from the deep-seated ones. He drove me in the right direction.
3 April 2013, I stood at the edge of the cliff and balanced by the tips of my toes. My back was to the abyss beneath me, I faced the familiarity of the cliff I had sought refuge for so many weeks. I spread out my hands, shut my eyes, and tilted my head towards the sky. Then I waited. I looked like Christ the Redeemer stature from Rio de Janeiro. And when God said go, I shifted my weight and surrendered to the gravity and the uncertainty of the abyss beneath me.
Goodbye emails, or any goodbye, spell gratitude, pleasure in the interactions and let’s-(not)-keep-in-touch; a template with undertones of self-made importance. No templates for me, please. Not when I want to be a writer. Not when I want to be a writer who has this one chance to say goodbye like a writer should.
What follows is the farewell note I sent my colleagues on my last day of work. I have changed the names to protect identity.
TO: ALL KE STAFF
DATE: 3 APRIL 2013, 1637HRS
SUBJECT: Last working day :: Of battered bottles, Frilly farewells and Everything else in between
Of battered bottles
October 2008 and I carry with me a bottle of water to work. We had just completed a month of learning the trade from the practitioners and poring through manuals of audit methodology, and whatnot. The brand was Keringet, blue plastic bottle, one liter of sparkling mineral water; the label hang loose from one side. It had nothing memorable about it, this bottle or the content within it. I stashed it in my locker and forgot all about it. Over the years, it remained untouched; steadfast and certain in these changing times. Sometimes when I opened my locker, I would find it staring back at me indignantly; I would mutter a uneasy ‘hey’ just to calm it down. Its response, you may have guessed, was silence.
Four years and seven months later, and the contents of that bottle remain intact. The bottle itself has plenty of character with its tattered label and bruised edges; it is now memorable. Dust has settled around it but the water it holds seems as pure and as spirited as when I first brought it to work in late October, 2008.
Today, I have poured the contents of that bottle over the edge of this Tower. Libation, if you may, to the vote of thanks that follows.
And now, a speech. The Speech.
To the friends that I made: At the start, we became friends because there was no option about it; I saw you for seven hours a day, five days a week for four years, give or take.
And then, the dynamics of this acquaintance were redefined when life happened.
We became friends because we shared in your joy when your little ones were born. Because I let you wet my shoulder from the tears that found you on the day that the weight of your loss crashed your soul. Because on day that you wedded, we danced with you in the hot Nairobi sun; when our foreheads burned as we shook our shoulders and gyrated our waists to the sounds of Kayamba Africa and that Nyatiti, late into the evening. We became friends because you invited me into your home and dined with me at your table, as if I was an honored guest. Because, when deadlines and crunching numbers got the better of us, we found solace in the tipple at the local bar.
Those moments – when you turned from colleague to friend – remain vivid.
To the entire Assurance team: A team of brilliant minds and strong backs; diligent and optimistic to a fault. These are people who are relentless in their pursuit for excellence in client service, and all else that pertains to it. And year in and year out, they continue to burn the candle at both ends. May God bless always the work of your hands.
I make special mention to Kunde Sitati, Stanley ‘Stano’ Oduor and Kendall ‘KenG’ Gacharu. To Christopher Mokaya, Serah Wa’Nduku and Edward Odhiambo.
To the Firm: May you grow in strides. The future can only get bigger from here on.
And everything else in between
Simple things are the most powerful. It is I who complicates matters when I wonder whether my Universe shall slow down to a halt as soon as I hit ‘Send’ on this email. Or if, as I strut across the carpeted floors and obey the door’s commands to ‘Pull’ to open, I shall get a flashback of all the memories of the past fifty-two months. Or if traffic shall part open, like the waters of the Red Sea, to give me elbow room to laud my vote of thanks as I drive off into the sunset.
It is simple. In an instant, I shall be on the other side of the door; a stranger on the outside looking in. The sun shall set and tomorrow it shall rise again; the days shall go on. Simple.
Proverbs 14:9 says that A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.
Reflect on that.
Skype me, or reach me on Gmail.
F. C. Bett