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That saying about life and curve balls can decide to strike you in the most unexpected manner.

It comes without a warning, this curve ball. Now I know you can never be ready for it. It will strike when you least expect it. When you think you have seen it all, it attempts to show you just how much you have not seen. With authority and so audaciously.

This past week has been hell at work. That week you feel like you empathize with the pressure cooked beans. Those weeks you feel baked and fork tender. Like if you landed on a plate, people would devour you without much effort. Because you are so tired its safe to call you weathered. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did. Proving once again that life has no superlative adjective. The scale goes way past worse and worst. This I learnt at wok just recently.

My boss has a new business venture located at what used to be our office verandah.

Its a café lounge that is going to be a huge thing once he gets it right and it starts attracting the right kind of customers. For now, it’s a rocky boat. Him feeling the pinch in injecting the initial capital (its plenty of money), the staff under pressure to hit targets instantly (wishful thinking) and general tension of possible failure. Its hard being an employee with wealth of experience at established hospitality institutions and having to start a small one from the ground up. Its tricky and if you are a family man or woman, it can take a toll on you.

On this particular day, one of the cooks failed to report to work. Since I’m standing in as the manager, he sent me a message to explain his absence. I shared this message with the “godfather” as we have come to call him. He wasn’t impressed and for 8 minutes I stood in front of him and watched his lips move. I didn’t want to hear what he was ranting about because it was a long day and my patience had run thin. He finished and said” is that ok?” to which I said yes not knowing if I had agreed that my hair be cut and planted on his severely bald head obliviously. Twenty four hours was suddenly too little to deal with work and process the events of this day.

Steven the cook was early to work the next day.

The “godfather” had words for him. I had to be in the meeting they were having, whatever reservations I had. Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty and no curse word was left out. My heart felt like paper thrown into a fire pit. It fizzled and finally just ashened. So I sat in a comfortable chair and endured far greater discomfort than a lethal injection sentence. I thought to myself if I feel so decrepant, what must the man whose manhood has been put out there in my presence be feeling. On dismissal, he hesitated and took such a deep breath the room was suddenly devoid of oxygen. He made for a turn and the fire in his eyes, the high cadence of his breath and the nuance of physical retaliation scared the crap out of me. I stood right behind him so there was no room to turn. I put my hand on the small of his back and led him outside.

I spent the rest of the day avoiding eye contact with him. There was nothing I could do to restore his mood. What’s worse is that as I sat in that room with him, I had witnessed him vulnerable. And that he could not erase. I felt helpless. I cannot think of a worse form of humiliation for a man. I later learnt that he took a moment outside and shed a tear. That bent my heart and altered the beat. We sailed through the day nonetheless. I wasn’t ready however for his story as we left work that evening.

As we sat side by side in a matatu to town, he reached in the left back pocket of his blue jeans. He took out almost a file of papers and perused through. He settled on the thickest folding and gave it to me. I asked “what is this?” He said to open and read. I did non-hesitantly. I don’t know why.

It was a letter. Official communication from a police station. It stated that the above mentioned person (Steven) was to have full custody of his 17 days old baby after being dropped off at his place of work in Kileleshwa by the mother (some Caroline). This happened exactly 6 months and a fortnight ago. He has been playing mother and father to an infant for seven moths now. He juggles providing for the child, raising the child and living life. Yet here he is, comes to work and performs his duties diligently and strives to beat his targets. While the rest of us tweet about KIM KARDASHIANS naked photos on women’s day and correcting spelling mistakes of the nonsense that is the films board in this country, he suffers in silence and covers it all with a smile and a mysterious demeanor.

On this day the baby had fallen ill. Throat infection and a serious cough. Usually his sister looks after the child, but on this day he needed admission to the hospital so he excused himself. He was being reprimanded for showing up for his kid. The one thing we preach to all fathers the world over. Can you imagine his pain? His anguish? How helpless he must have been? It’s unfathomable unless you have hoped in his shoes. Which are in horrid condition.

I wasn’t going to share this publicly. But every so often, we forget that every person we encounter is fighting a battle far different from ours. Whether it is worse or better than our own struggles is beside the point. In your interactions, be kind. You don’t know the reality of the people you meet. And you might not be their choice to share it with. Exercise compassion, reach out and embrace your peers. It might preserve a stranger’s sanity.

Be nice. Especially when its unexpected.

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