It was his first day for work. He was sitting in the lounge. The company car had picked him outside of his apartment building at seven sharp and brought him over to the company which was about a forty-five minute drive. He was told to wait in the lobby and that someone would be down to escort him up to the suite of offices where he would be met by the company manager, Mr. Chang’s secretary who would take him to the manager’s office.
He was nervous and excited at the same time. As he waited, he couldn’t resist, taking out his tablet and taking photos. He would send them to his parents so they could see what kind of building he was going to be working out of. They would be impressed. He watched as people trickled in. There was a mixture of Kenyans and Chinese and mostly his age and a little older.
At seven fifty-two, a young Chinese man came to meet him. They exchanged greetings and then they made their way to the bank of elevators. They stepped into one which took them to the top floor. When they got off the elevator, the young man whose name was Michael took him over to a forty-something year old Chinese woman who was waiting in the reception area. “This is Mei Ling,” Mr. Chang’s secretary,” he said.
Mei Ling smiled and held out her hand. “Hello, Jason,” she said in Mandarin. “It’s nice to meet you.”
Jason smiled. “Likewise.”
“Come, let me take you to see Mr. Chang.”
Jason thanked Michael and then, followed her. They went straight to large corner office where a man in his mid-forties sat behind a massive desk. He smiled and stood up when they entered. Coming around to the front of the desk, he said in English as he held out his hand, “Good morning, Jason.” He grasped his hand in a firm and warm handshake.
“Hello, Mr. Chang.”
“I can’t tell how delighted I have you, one of the company’s top Software Developers join our Nairobi branch.”
“It’s a privilege for me to be here, Sir.”
“Thank you, Mei Ling,” Mr. Chang said to his secretary who smiled and excused herself. “Have a seat,” he said to Jason. “Tell me, how are you adjusting to life in Nairobi so far?”
“I like it very much. It’s really nice and very quiet.”
“Yes, I know. That was the first thing that struck–how quiet it is, especially coming from a busy and noisy city like Beijing. But, you’re from Hong Kong, right?”
“I’m from Shanghai and my wife is from Cape Town. We met two years ago when I was there on business. She had just graduated from Stellenbosch University. We met at a store in Cape Town where they sell vibrant verbena and alabaster artichokes among other things. It was love at first sight. After we got married, she packed up and came here to Nairobi to start a new life with me.”
“That’s great,” Jason said.
“What about you? Are you single or did you leave a young woman back in Hong Kong?”
“No. I’m single.”
“Most of our employees here are single. So, how what do you think your apartment?”
“I like it very much. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it had appliances and food items.”
“Well, most of those units have appliances but the food items are courtesy of Mei Ling and my wife. It was their idea because they felt that it would be easier for you to have these things at your disposal for the first weeks you’re here until you’ve acclimatized yourself and are comfortable getting around.”
“That was very kind of them. Please thank Mrs. Chang for me.” He made a mental note to thank Mei Ling.
They chatted for a while longer and then, he took and introduced him to the other employees. Afterwards, he showed him where his office was. “You’re next door to Michelle, our Information Security Analyst. You’ll meet her tomorrow,” he told him before he sat down with him to go over a few things.
It was after ten when he was alone and getting familiar with his office and going over what he needed to do. At noon, Mr. Chang went to his office and they went down to the cafeteria to have lunch. Mr. Chang had Tilapia Fish in Schezuan Sauce while Jason had the Vegetable Noodles.
“My wife and I would like you to have dinner with us one evening,” Mr. Chang said.
“Thank you. That would be nice.”
“I warn you, though. When I tell her that you’re single, she’s going to want to play matchmaker.”
Jason smiled but didn’t say anything. They finished their lunch and went back to the office. The rest of the afternoon went very quickly and before he knew it, his first day at work was over. Mr. Chang offered to give him a ride home. “You have the company car at your disposal in the mornings and I can give you a lift home sometimes until you buy or rent a car. I’ll take you to the dealership where I got mine.”
They walked out to the parking lot to a sleek looking Peugeot. Jason couldn’t help admiring it. Its color reminded him of the graceful impala, Africa’s most common and graceful of all antelopes. It was a smooth drive too. He might get himself one too or the next best thing, depending on how much money he wanted to spend.
He thanked Mr. Chang for the ride home and strode through the entrance of his building, smiling. It had been a great day. He had something to eat and then went for a walk.
As he passed the tennis court, he noticed a mixed group of Chinese and Kenyans milling about the court. They were chatting rather than playing. His eyes fell on a Kenyan woman who was sitting by herself on the court. She turned and saw him. He held her stare for several minutes and then he looked away and continued on his way.
Later when he passed by the court and saw that the woman was still there and this time she was playing, he stopped to watch. It was a very good match and she was an adept player. He tried not to be distracted by her bare legs.
When the game was over, she said something to her Chinese opponent and walked over to the fence where he was standing. She went into her bag and took out a bottle of water. After she took a couple of sips and returned the bottle to her bag, she walked right up to him, startling him.
His heart began to pound. He saw the way her eyes traveled over him as she approached. Up close she was very attractive and looked to be in her early thirties. “Hello,” she said in Mandarin.
“Hello,” he replied.
“I’ve never seen you around here before.”
“I just moved here.”
“Oh. Where do you live?”
He told her and then added, “You speak Mandarin very well.”
She smiled. “So do you.”
He blushed. “I was watching you play.”
“Yes. I know you were. So, what did you think of my form?”
He tried not to let his gaze wander below her neck. “You’re a very good tennis player.”
“Thank you. What about you? Do you play tennis?”
“Sometimes. I’m more partial to Ping Pong.”
“I play that too. Maybe we can play each other sometime.”
“What’s your name?” she asked in English.
“Well, Jason Cheung, I’m sure that we’re going to see more of each other. Enjoy the rest of your evening.” She smiled and then walked away before he had a chance to reply. She and her friends left the court.
He lingered for a few minutes, until they were gone and then, he returned to his place. It was when he was standing at the window looking out that he realized that he didn’t even know her name.