• Caleb Atemi

Our eyes met briefly and I could see the terror in his soul

December 22nd The day I met my tormentor,

He staggered as he hurriedly stood up to shake my hand. His lips trembled and his throat tightened as my hand squeezed his. Our eyes met briefly and I could see the terror in his soul. It was as if he was reliving his worst nightmare.

Oooh welcome Mr Atemi. I didn’t know you also come here”, he said as he invited me to sit at his table.

I intensified my gaze on him. His feet buckled and he literally collapsed onto his seat.

Bwana Atemi karibu. Should I serve you your special herbal tea?” a waiter interjected our eye to eye combat.

Thank you ndugu. Today let me have some fresh orange juice” I responded as I took my seat opposite him. Alex Kazongo had every reason to be terrified by my sudden appearance at the Nairobi Serena Hotel. Today, Wednesday, December 22nd 2010, marked the first anniversary since I lost my job at the National Social Security Fund (NSSF). On this day in 2009, I received a letter of summary dismissal signed by Mr. Alex Kazongo, the then Managing Trustee of the Fund.

Several moments passed by. A terrifying silence was engulfing our table. I toyed with my glass as I fixed my eyes on him.

Please forgive me for your dismissal. It was not my intention. I was under a lot of pressure from different forces.” He suddenly stammered.

Mr. Kazongo, I forgave you a long time ago. I hold no grudges

Thank you,” he gasped, “But how come you did not sue us yet you had such a strong case?” said my former boss appearing to be more relaxed now.

I wanted to sue you but my lawyer advised me otherwise

Who is your lawyer?” he asked as he sipped his juice. His hands were still trembling.

I have two lawyers, Stephen Mwenesi and the Almighty God. God asked me to place my case at his feet” my response seemed to inject more fear and confusion in him. Just then an Aid to Vice President Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka walked to our table and asked me to follow him. It is then that I realised that a few paces away, the garden outside the Aksum Bar, sat the Vice President and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

I joined the two leaders briefly at their table. I had covered both of them for years during my life as a journalist and I considered both as my friends. Kalonzo was also my client. I was his biographer.

The VP was inquiring after me. He wanted to know how I was fairing on one year later. They listened keenly as I told them how fate had brought me face to face with the man who had signed my summary dismissal letter only two days to Christmas. They listened keenly. Our conversation veered off into other topics.

After close to half an hour and friendly handshakes, I went back to my table. I placed a fresh order of ginger tea and vegetable samosas.

I have been sitting here hoping to have some audience with the Prime Minister and the VP” Mr Kazongo confessed.

Well Sir if I was still your Public Relations Manager, I could have organised for a dinner date at their homes or a lunchtime meeting” I said with a tinge of sarcasm. I had during my tenure as Public Relations Manager, organised meetings for him with some of the country’s top leaders.

The waiter brought my bill. Mr. Kazongo took it and paid for it. He then went into his briefcase and pulled out a wad of notes and handed it me: “Please accept this as my Christmas gift from me to you and your family” he said.

Thank you for the gift” I said while placing the notes into my gym bag.

He hesitated on his feet. Turned as if to leave then dipped his hands again into his briefcase and pulled out more notes: ”Kindly pay the bill” before I could remind him that he had already settled the bill, he hurriedly left. I watched him as he rapidly wobbled towards the main entrance into his official Land rover Discovery. He was literally fleeing from terror.

I smiled and shook my head as I sat down to internalise what had just transpired.

The night before

The night before this encounter, I told my family that since God had provided for all our needs and taken care of us for a whole year since I lost my job, we needed to hold a small thanksgiving event to celebrate His goodness.However, I did not have money to buy anything that would have made the event memorable. One of my former journalism students however volunteered to bake a cake for me to mark the anniversary.

I had picked the cake in town that day and met with my wife at the Serena to deliver it to her. I intended to sit at the Aksum Bar, my favourite meditation spot and visualise all the goodness life can offer then go home later when traffic had eased.

Here I was in the company of my tormentor. I called my wife to tell her that God was indeed humorous: “I did not have money but the man who fired me just sponsored the first anniversary celebration of my job loss. I will order for some goat meat and drinks. Kindly invite some neighbours and a few true friends for dinner and prayers

Wherever Mr. Kazongo may be, I would like to assure him that indeed I truly forgave him. If there is one great lesson I learned from my mother Ruth Nyangasi Okalo and my Spiritual Mother Mama Herina Akeyo, is the power of forgiveness. I cannot walk around with the burden of anger and un-forgiveness weighing on my shoulders especially now that ten years have elapsed since I was unceremoniously kicked out of NSSF.

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