By Mike Muthaka
Freelancing is tough bana. Clients ‘forget’ to pay. You have to send reminder Emails, and call, and leave like six messages–signed off with airless phrases like ‘kind regards’. You have to sit with your legs crossed and ask for what is rightfully yours.
You made good on your promise. You wrote the stories. You beat the deadlines. You shipped.
Then end-month comes. No word from the client. A week flies by. Then two weeks.Then three. You’re broke as fuck. The bills keep piling. The client keeps stalling.
So you get up and go to HR, where the lady with a mole on her chin will pull a serious face and ask you to “please be patient”. The company has its hand in a different cookie jar. “But by next week everything will be back to normal.”
She doesn’t say whether your services will be needed around the office. And you don’t ask because you’re afraid of the answer. You love the gig. The hours are nice. Plus the money is good. You’re now making enough to buy shoes and hats and go on dates. And you have enough left over for some vodka. You don’t even sweat the word counts. Folks come to work in jeans. There are no stiffs. Theboss is left-thinking. She leaves the door open, because she wants everyone to feel comfortable. Someone plays reggae from a Beat Pill. It’s all very jolly.
Until one day everyone is called into the conference room. It’s a warm Wednesday in August. The birds sing. Good day to write some sentences.
Then a suit comes in and says the department needs a complete overhaul. The company is upping sticks and moving to Youtube, where they reckon they’ll be able to get more traffic.
No one acts surprised as you all shuffle out of the room. The cold truth is that people would rather watch a badly-scripted vlog than pick up a book.
“Hey guys, welcome to my channel. Today I’ll be telling you about avocadoes. Oh, avocadoes. Where to start…Avocadoes are just…life, you know? Like, avocadoes are a whole vibe. Like….”
Shish! I’m unable to can.
A few months ago I got the chance to write as a woman.
But the gig tanked. And I’m very sad.
It’s a real bummer because I was already getting into routine. Mornings I went to the gym. By the time I get back my youngest would be ready for school, looking like a bell in his little polished shoes.
I had learnt how to walk in heels. I knew the names of all my kids. I knew how my hubby likes his chapo. I could bake cakes that can knock your tastebuds into a cocked hat. I was a kick-ass mom, to tell you the truth.
But the platform just wasn’t picking up pace, opting, instead, to shift to Youtube.
The following week I simply didn’t know what to do with my hands. After writing my weekly column I had nothing else to do.Iwas only sort of blundering about, packing away my dresses and rummaging around my purse for the house key.
Freelancing is a corridor of uncertainty, really. You don’t know whether the client will hold his end of the stick. Your next employer might be the biggest asshole in the business. They might be someone who doesn’t use emojis. They might be someone who likesyellow ties, or chews with his mouth open. The chap could decide to edit out all your commas, for chrissake.
And sometimes -to your utter dismay- there’d be no client to speak of.
Now I’ll have to look for other ways to stay afloat, which is why yesterday, I was to be found staring at the ceiling, waiting for a business pitch to drop on my noggin.
I came up with Herbert instead.
The man in the pastry shop stood behind the glass window, tall and stoic and fiery-eyed. The neighborhood kids were at it again. They had kicked the ball into his garden for the third time today. He didn’t like interruptions during pastry-making.
No matter, it would only be a matter of time before they came knocking on his door.
He shuffled to the corner and fetched his stick. Everyone thought he had a bad leg. And the kids thought he was a nice old man, likening him to their grandfathers who smoked pipes and always had candy in their pockets.
His name was Herbert. He came by train.
No one knows how he came to own a pastry shop. The town seemed to be built around Herbert’s shop. He was always there. Herbert was as part of the neighborhood as the grave digger, or the carpenter, or the crafty woman down the road who owns a drug smuggling enterprise. He rarely went out of his shop.
In the evening he put a ‘Closed’ sign and turned off the lights. The shop would be open for business before everyone else had woken up.
His customers were mostly women in their 20s and 30s. The ladies would stand fixated at the window, eyes widened over the mouth watering pastries. Herbert sold croissants and fresh corn bread and Danish pastry. He even sold cakes. Strawberry cakes and vanilla cakes and all sorts of cakes. The ladies went bonkers for Herbert’s cakes.
They claimed to crave his pastries. They said it was an aphrodisiac.
It was oft-rumored that once a lady had eaten any of the pastries, she’d instantly fall in love with the first man to touch her wrist. On Valentine’s Day the townsmen flocked to Herbert’s shop. In fact men have been using Herbert’s pastry for ages. Even the chairman of Town Council is a client. Without those cakes the chairman couldn’t have kept a woman like her, not even if he put on a yellow tie and did the odi dance. She was far too intelligent to be with the chairman.
Small wonder Herbert is exempted from council tax.
No one had ever known Herbert’s recipes. If anyone asked he’d always say the same thing: “Simple. I pour my soul into making them.”
Business rivals said he laced them with some kind of chemical.
Meanwhile, word was getting round. Herbert’s pastries were the talk of town. In every barber shop and in every pub you heard the name Herbert, followed by a dewy-eyed account of his pastries.
One woman said she had the croissants for dinner, along with a glass of orange juice. That night, she said, she did the strangest thing. She woke up her husband, and straddled him, and they went at it all night. “Mrs. Buxom came to the door and asked us to keep it down, Leah. It was the strangest thing.”
Leah makes a mental note to pick up some pastries the next time she’s in town.
And all this time Herbert was the same. His face remained thin. He still used a walking stick. He was unmoved by the sudden wealth. He never squandered. He was never given to the ale. But seeing the kids’ ball land on his garden was cause for celebration.
He waited at the door.
“Oi, Mr. Herbert, can we get the ball back?”
The door swung open. The kids had gathered round, with muddy faces and toothy grins.
“Only one of you can come in,” he said, “The rest have to wait here.”
The tallest boy stepped forward. He was all bones and a patch of sweat. The door closed behind him. He didn’t hear Herbert lock the door. He was distracted by the pastries -honey glazed- glowing chrome yellow in the afternoon light. He didn’t see Herbert bring up the stick.
The boy was struck in the face. He landed on the cold floor, and Herbert went back into the bakery.
There were a lot of cakes to bake, and he couldn’t get any work done with those kids buzzing around. The pastry business needed a keen mind. You had to level out the additives. Too much sugar and the customer would never come back. Too little and it wouldn’t taste any different from the old woman’s heroin down the road.
Then it was time for the secret ingredient. He reached for the Lube Box and flipped it open. He took out a bottle of ointment and applied it all over his palm. Then he knelt beside the tray of cakes, and unzipped his trousers.