Other People’s Money
Peninah sashayed into the large, dimly lit office, taking in the sumptuous furnishings, a mix of leather, mahogany, ebony and a lush dark red carpet. Behind the big desk, sat the big man she had labored to meet for four years.
She strode for what seemed to be an interminable minute. He rose, shook her hand and motioned her to visitor’s chair. Peninah smoothed her skirt before she sat, squeezing her knees together, as she steadied herself: it was really happening.
Big man was attentive and quickly summoned his personal assistant to take their beverage orders. He stared at her, recognizing her blank stare and semi-adoration. Slightly dismayed, he took his position of authority and guided their meeting to a quick conclusion.
Peninah chose the herbal tea he selected, trembling as the cup was handed to her, and she placed it on the stool in front of her. Eager, fresh faced and grappling with her fears, she attentively listened to Big Man, making hasty promises to deliver at every turn. Big Man hesitated and then quickly expressed his approval.
The meeting was over before Peninah could sip half her small cup of sweet herbal tea. Within a moment, the personal assistant was back, motioning her out of the room, lagging behind to brief Big Man on the next meeting.
The door closed behind her and a young secretary thanked her, as they walked to the main door. Peninah left dismayed that she missed her chance to convey her real intentions at their meeting. The lift opened and she finally had to leave. Downstairs, the security guards took her badge in exchange for her identity card. She stepped out into the rain, ready to face the challenge of tight deadlines and tall orders.
Peninah whipped her young inexperienced team of pretty girls into motion and three days later, prepared to receive the Big Man at the lovely evening garden soiree she had planned – if only she could pronounce the word “soiree”! Elated at the chance to host leading business persons and politicians, Peninah whizzed round the venue, paying cash for the various services.
An hour before the guests arrived, a soft drizzle turned into a downpour and her team desperately sought other accommodation at the venue. All the rooms were taken! Peninah and her young crew dizzied themselves with finishing touches on the tents. Tables ready, linen gleaming, they dashed to the garden gazebo, to await the forty guests. It turned out to be a long wait, with Friday traffic at its worst in years. The first guests and host streamed in an hour late. Other guests trotted in two-hours later. As they strode in, some of the guests noticed the muddy, slopping ground underfoot and chose to brave the day, with smiles and grace.
Guests were presented the trendy cocktails, as ordered – an air of slight confusion with fluttering waiters and event crew shifting into action they had ill-prepared for. Peninah kept to Big Man’s side, reassuring him and his inner clique that all was well.
Other guests tut-tutted; some left before the delayed speeches. Big Man was making an announcement – launching his philanthropic dreams into a reality, with a charity funded by large and international corporations. But the business leaders began to leave, as their assistants arrived with shorter speeches and smaller commitments in hand. As some guests left and others arrived, the grass and mud turned to mush, ruining many smart new shoes and fashionable clothes.
Big Man entertained his clique, as Peninah fussed over them, relieved that they had not left their seats. The drizzle continued outside, but inside the tents and little streams gathered and mingled in the soft green grass. The buffet dinner was eventually served à la carte by unsteady waiters battling the muddy mess. Peninah kept many patrons busy with free alcoholic wines and spirits.
Muddy mess forgiven, Peninah arrived at Big Man’s penthouse office, beaming with pride and certain of her path to success. She was ushered-in, and presented with a steaming cup of herbal tea. Fear and respect clouding her presence of mind. Big Man made demands and she accepted, avoiding any hint of hesitation. She put aside all memory of her recent fights with her husband about her official boundaries for these influential business characters. Peninah defended herself with indignant responses; then her husband declared he would leave her and their children, if she ignored his warning.
Peninah’s new flat was very quiet, very small, very new and uncomfortable. Her husband had kindly paid her first month’s rent plus deposit. In addition, he had sent a friend’s pick-up to move her few belongings that same weekend. Her children had been cold and distant, as any frustrated and confused teens should be. Peninah strode down the stairs of the apartment block, into her awaiting transport, comforting herself with thoughts of how cruel and intolerant her husband’s reaction had been. She had spent sleepless nights building a silent case against their early marriage. Peninah would finally be free of husband, home and in-laws, but just for a short while. In her fitful sleepless state, she dreamed of a new life with Big Man.
At their next meeting, Peninah waited patiently, as Big Man took a call on his mobile phone. He spoke tenderly, without any terms of endearment and by the time he ended the call, Peninah had to face her assumptions – Big Man was actually very happily married man and for over 32 years! She struggled to maintain her composure, as Big Man turned to her. He handed her a business card of a high-ranking politician – a business referral and no personal plans. Shattered, Peninah rose and he asked if all was well. Peninah smiled and assured him all was well, then quickly left the room.
On the street corner, Peninah’s husband walked into her, practically knocking her over. She started and stared at him, then prepared to turn and walk away. Her dear husband held her shoulders ever so gently and asked whether she was alright. She shrugged and shook, seeking her chance to turn and run. But this was Husband and he read into her confused state, in a flash. Peninah’s husband offered her a quick cup of tea and a chance for her to gather her thoughts. She crumbled, and walked unsteadily and reluctantly on his arm, into the café.
The smell of fresh coffee and bakery brought her comfort, as she relished the security of her husband’s company. Peninah burst into tears and told Ted about what had happened to her in the past two months. He listened and then asked whose life she wanted to live. Peninah stopped her tears with a mound of tissue, shocked at her total disillusioned-self and thoroughly embarrassed at her poor choices. Living a dream life with a Big Man she barely knew would never work!
Ted spent another two hours talking with his wife, forgiving her self-exploration and the weird chance to change her life. Ted cried too, deeply hurt but resolved to bring closure to this uncomfortable episode. They prayed together, resolving to honour God from that moment forward. An invisible weight lifted off her shoulders; Peninah smiled through her tears and made profuse apologies, asking after their children. Ted took her straight home and made plans to have her things sent home. Peninah cried and talked through the rest of the day with Ted. Both had cancelled their appointments and settled down to talking over all their differences in one day. A new beginning and an end to the false identity of shadowing all Big Men. Only God could fill that void!