The next morning, Ryan arrived at the office to find Vincent, chin in his hands, asleep at his desk. A cigarette dangled from his pink scorched lips. Ryan checked his watch. Six o’clock. Why was
Vincent so early?
He stopped at the door, torn between waking him or proceeding to his desk—he needed to prepare for the six-thirty mass. Then he noticed how close the cigarette’s glowing tip was to his lips.
The big man jerked. “Huh? Whoa?”
Ryan pointed. “Your cigarette. It’s—”
Vincent snuffed it in the ashtray. “Thanks, man, I hardly slept last night.” He then hung his head between his hands. “Did you manage to report the matter to the police?”
“Yes I did.” He rummaged through his pockets. “Here’s the OB number.”
“No, just keep it. HR might need it when we meet her at eight-thirty.”
The corners of Ryan’s mouth twitched. “Whatever happens, just know I had nothing to do with the cash.”
“Then you don’t have to worry.” Vincent punched on his laptop. “The investigation will clear you. Got some urgent things to do. I’ll call you when it’s time to go to HR.”
At his desk, Ryan hung his jacket off the back of his chair. The chair squeaked as he collapsed onto it. Was Vincent okay? He seemed sorry for Ryan, and it’s like he was restraining tears. If only
Ryan had been paying attention, he’d have long noticed Vincent’s weird behavior. One moment he’d bash Ryan or Anthony and later on as if regretting, he’d call either of them aside, not necessarily
to apologize, but he’d act in such a way that clearly showed he was making up for his cruelty—just like he did yesterday when he took Ryan to the café after the cheque incident.
He leaned back, tapping on the chair's armrest. A story Vincent had once told him came to mind—that when Vincent joined the department more than ten years ago, his boss made sure he was so busy to
the extent he used to miss classes. The situation got worse so he dropped out of the course. Years later when he resumed classes, one of his classmates in the same course had become a lecturer and
Vincent had to attend her classes. How mortifying! This must have wounded his pride and perhaps scarred his heart. Could it be he was bitter seeing how quickly Ryan and Anthony had completed the
same course? They’d even acquired a bachelor’s degree ahead of him. Why didn’t Vincent quit the frustrating job back then, instead of dropping out of class? God, and why wasn’t Ryan himself
He looked out the window, still wracking his brains trying to figure out the cause of Vincent’s extreme mood swings. He whispered a prayer.
Lord, see us through.
With that prayer came his own awakening. The Gregorian chant he’d been enjoying in the background was actually the exit hymn coming from the university chapel. He scooted his chair back a few
inches and looked at his watch. Ten past seven! Oh shit! The mass would end in five minutes. He’d have to go for the evening one. Well, better start the day, then. He switched on his laptop.
His gaze followed a bird pecking on the windowpane, then into the branches of a nearby tree, where it joined the rest of the flock. Unlike yesterday when their songs put him in high spirits, today,
each of their high notes served as a set reminder of the upcoming meeting with the HR. The sunrise came as if it had missed the sky and wanted nothing more than to warm those blues to a radiant
Susan walked in and put her handbag on her desk. “Morning, Ryan.”
“Where’s Anthony? I’m usually the last to come in.”
He couldn’t tell her Anthony had taken the morning off to drop Mark to a doctor’s appointment. “He said he’ll be running late.”
Little by little, the murmurs rose in the other wing of the accounts office; once in a while, a telephone rung, papers shuffled, someone peeped through or swung the door open and enquired something
either from Susan or himself. Across the window, a hive of activity littered the compound: students, lecturers, and staff crisscrossed each other. The dawn had ushered in a new day.
At exactly eight, Vincent stuck his head in the door. “Let’s go. Philippa’s waiting.”
Ryan’s heart sunk as he stood. “Okay.”
Philippa, the HR rep, invited them into her office. "Please, sit." They took the chairs in front of her desk as she rounded it to settle in the big chair behind it.
Jeez, he felt like a condemned criminal whose neck was about to be snapped in the gallows. He slouched in the chair and crossed his arms.
Vincent leaned over. “Relax, man.”
“I-I-I’m g-o-o-d,” said Ryan, looking up at Philippa.
She lowered her gaze, and wrote something in her notebook. “Well, I’m assuming you guys have discussed what’s this all about.”
“Not really, but we all know what happened yesterday,” said Vincent.
"Okay." She set her pen atop the notebook, switched on the recorder and faced Ryan. “Just to be on the same page, two hundred thousand shillings went missing while in your possession and you
couldn’t account for it. Is that correct?”
“Okay, tell me what happened.”
Encouraged by Philippa’s tone, and her constant nodding as he spoke, Ryan narrated to the smallest detail the events of yesterday. He regained his composure and felt the HR understood him better.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. Thank God that crook didn’t hurt you. It’d have been worse. Suppose he confronted you in the car at gunpoint?” she said.
Ryan rested his chin on his fist. “Whoa, I’d not even thought about that.”
“The guy must’ve been monitoring your movements for some time.” She brushed a strain of hair behind her ear. “I highly suspect it happened at the bank. Sometimes these fraudsters work with security
“Now that you mention it, there’s a guard who followed me to the parking lot, but the bank was closing so I ran and left him loitering around the car.”
“I hope the CCTV footage captured everything.”
Ryan nodded, encouraged. “Exactly, that’ll show who stole the cash.”
Vincent pressed each finger together, thumb to thumb, index to index, pinkie to pinkie, and narrowed his eyes. “That’s assuming there’s a third party involved. Anyway, I’m sure the investigation
will consider all this.”
Not aware of it, Ryan sneered and clicked. “Umm, what d’you mean?” He swallowed hard. “That I stole the cash?”
Philippa pursed her lips, springing her dimples to life. A brief silence ensued until she grabbed the pen and scratched on the notebook. “This is unacceptable. I cannot condone such behavior in my
Vincent gave a sudden jerk of his head. “It’s actually insubordination. But I’ll let that pass.”
Ryan squirmed in his seat, shocked at what he’d done. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to.”
“Umm, just to ensure we’re following the right process.” She glided her finger across several booklets lining the bookshelf behind her and pulled out one of them. “Let’s refer to the HR manual.
Vincent nodded. “Sure.”
“Well, according to the company policy, you’re required to step aside to pave way for the investigation,” she said, looking at Ryan.
“What? I didn’t steal anything.”
“Nobody’s accusing you of anything at this moment. It’s just procedural for you to allow the internal audit to conduct their work without interference.”
Ryan turned. "Vincent. You know I'm innocent, right?"
“How would I?”
Philippa pulled out a letter from under the paperweight and offered it to Ryan. “Go through and let me know if you have any questions before you sign.”
After reading, Ryan held out his hand. “May I borrow your pen?”
“Any questions?” asked Philippa, passing the pen.
What did it matter in such a predetermined process!
“No.” He signed, and handed the letter back. “Thank you.”
“I guess that’s it from me.”
She handed him a copy and stashed the other under the paperweight.
Vincent rose to his feet. “I guess all that’s left is for him to clear his desk and vacate the premises. Right?”
Philippa lowered her eyes. “Err, not really, let him take his time. He can just take his personal items and leave everything else intact.”
On their way back, Ryan tried to walk faster so he wouldn’t have to talk to Vincent. But the big man quickened his steps and was always abreast of him. He seemed to enjoy every moment of Ryan’s
He put a hand on Ryan’s shoulder. “Just so you know, you don’t have to go through the entire process.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You may opt to voluntarily resign, and I’ll talk to the HR to stop the investigation and pay you a severance package instead.”
“Honestly, Vincent, what’s this all about? You very well know I’m innocent.”
“No, I don’t.”
Ryan sucked in a quick breath. “Really, Vincent?”
“Trust me, it’s the best thing for you to do to avoid causing any scandal. Imagine if word went round that a member of the society stole cash. How can we convince other people to live a good
“Isn’t it already worse that this is how a member of the society is treating the other?”
“On the contrary, at least now everyone knows we treat each other professionally. No favoritism.”
“I had almost believed it, that we were true spiritual brothers.”
Vincent opened his door. “Yes, we are. But that doesn’t exempt us from our professional responsibilities.”
“Oh, my gosh.”
Ryan wanted to move on to his desk, but Vincent stopped him. “You’re my small bro, lemme give you free advice. Go for the severance package instead of gambling with the investigation. The outcome
could go either way.”
Ryan shook his head and without answering, left Vincent at his door.
Back at his desk, he put a shoe brush and a novel in the laptop bag—his only personal items. After a moment’s reflection, he removed the items and put them in an envelope—the bag was company
He then shut the laptop and pushed it aside. “Sorry, excuse me, Susan.”
Susan looked up. “Yes, Ryan.”
“I’ve been sent on suspension, I dunno how things will turn out, but I guess I’ll see you later.”
Susan came over. “I’m so sorry. But don’t worry, it’ll be fine; I know you’re innocent and time will vindicate you.”
“Thanks, Susan.” Head low, shoulders hunched, he left, not wanting to be pitied.
He stopped at the university chapel, and after a quick prayer, came out. Eric, one of his spiritual brothers, was waiting for him at the lounge outside the chapel.
Eric squeezed his shoulder. “I’ve heard what happened. Do you have a minute?”
Eric sat and tapped on the space next to himself. “I know you must be feeling awful, but this is just protocol. After the investigation, you’ll be back.”
“I wish that was the case.”
Eric narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean?”
“Vincent wants me fired.”
“Oh no, don’t entertain such thoughts. I know it must feel horrible seeing your brother being tough on you. He’s just being professional.”
Does professionalism mean being unfair, unkind, brutal?
Ryan dropped his elbows on his lap. “Trust me, Eric, I know what I’m talking about.”
His brother smiled. “Not to belittle your feelings, but I’m sure you’re mistaken.”
“What if you’re the one who’s mistaken, just like I was?” asked Ryan, crossing his fingers.
“No, I know what I’m talking about. At the end of the day, don’t forget. Vincent’s our big brother.”
“The more reason I was shocked to discover his dishonesty.”
“Um, umm…” Eric scratched his head. “Well, Vincent has his weaknesses, as all of us do, but he doesn’t mean bad.”
There was no point in arguing further. “Okay.”
“Should we go talk to him?”
“Nope, let the investigation take its course.”
Ryan left the chapel. At the gate, Anthony called to him. He turned.
“Hey, what’s this I’m hearing?” asked Anthony.
“I’m on a two weeks’ suspension to pave the way for the investigation.”
“I knew Vincent was up to no good. He’s a monster.” Anthony looked around just in case his words fell on the wrong ears. “And he gets away with anything, just because he’s bipolar?”
“What! He’s bipolar?”
“I’m not sure, I heard Susan say yesterday after you’d left.”
“Doesn’t matter. I just don’t know why he’s been allowed to torment people. You go back to work, let’s catch up later in the evening.”
“Man, I’m so sorry, anything I can do, just lemme know.” Anthony adjusted his necktie. “I can take a day off.”
“No, I’m fine, but thanks.”
When he came out of the gate, the first person Ryan thought of was Annie. She was the only one who understood better the purity of his soul. He took out his cell phone and called her.
She didn’t receive his calls.
He texted her.
I need to urgently talk to you. Sorry about everything.
A minute passed, two, three, five, half an hour, still no response. He called again, and the call went to voicemail.
Damn! Perhaps she was having a splendid time with Fred. An eerie sensation, mixed with a wave of jealousy, crept down his heart and back up again. In his mind’s eye, he saw her in Fred’s arms,
happy. Goosebumps sprouted at the back of his neck. He’d go directly to her place and find out for himself. But not until in the evening after work. Meanwhile, he decided to go to the club for some
booze to unwind. How he wished Annie would ask him to stay for the night. He’d let loose all the passion he’d been suppressing towards her and make it a night to remember for the ages to come.
But in the evening, after he’d spent the whole day drinking and was on his way to Annie’s house, a small voice within urged him not to go. He remembered that day he’d attempted suicide but the
chords wouldn’t hold his weight--way before he’d joined the society and was living in the slums with his late uncle. He’d later on drunk himself silly before meeting Annie. They’d made love. No!
There was no love. Only sex. How barbaric. Not again. He returned home to his spiritual brothers.
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