I once struggled to resist the urge to punch with all my might the face of a soft drinks manager.
Normally, Tshipa was good company. True, his favourite activity was praising his products but he could listen when you poured out your problems. After that he would give sound advice. So one day when he paid my shop his fortnightly visit I confided my personal problem.
‘My wife wants me to go back to formal employment.’ I knew this would alarm him. I was, after all one of his best customers.
Tshipa sighed, pulled a chair and sat down. Looking at me in the eyes he pleaded, ‘why?’
‘Well, she says the hours are too long and unsocial, I’m now hardly with the family and she thinks this job has no security. I point out that I’m paying all our insurances but she won’t listen. How do I convince her to continue with my shop?’
‘My friend, I think you and I should swap wives,’ Tshipa whispered. My fingers tightened into fists and I edged towards him.
‘Listen,’ he said quickly, ‘my wife is threatening to leave me unless I quit my job and we start our own business.’
‘Why?’ It was my turn to ask.
‘She says nobody ever got rich by working for someone. The thing is I love my job. I enjoy calling on customers and advising them on how to increase sales. A year back, the company sent me up north to sort out customer problems. I was there for a month. Although I’m saying it myself, I sorted out all their problems. As we speak, I’ve just been given a big raise. But still she wants me to leave my job.’
‘When she leaves you I’ll marry her,’ I said.
For once Tshipa left my shop without giving any advice.
My wife’s prayers were answered. Shortly after that I got a good job and went back to formal employment. Like Tshipa, salary increments became my staple diet. Several years later, I ran into the sales manager in town. We shook hands and hugged like old comrades in arms.
‘Still in that old company of yours?’ I asked Tshipa.
‘My friend, let’s go into that cafe.’ Over soft drinks, he narrated his experiences. ‘I long left that company. My wife and I opened a supermarket. In the early days, turnover was about four times what you used to make at your shop. Then came hyperinflation. It hit hardest those of us who were running businesses the textbook way. All our money was in the banks. Suddenly, our life savings were worthless.’
‘At least your shelves and store rooms were full,’ I said.
‘Indeed they were. As required, we sold the stock at controlled prices. There was a stampede at my supermarket. In a couple hours my entire stock was gone. We could not restock on the new sky high prices. Just like that,’ he snapped his finders, ‘a mighty roaring river was reduced to a dry stream. This world my brother!’ He sighed and shook his head.
‘Not all is lost though,’ Tshipa continued. ‘My old company wants me back. So at fifty-five I will start all over. Enough about me, what about you? I heard you went back to formal work. You must be a big boss now.’
I shook my head. ‘Hyperinflation was not kind to me either. Like your monies at the bank, my insurance policies were rendered worthless in the time it takes to shoot a penalty. No one outside the country recognised our currency and so the company could not order raw materials and ingredients for the factory. We suspended operations.
During the time some enterprising workers engaged in wheeling and dealing and survived – even prospered. As a respectable man, I had neither the knowhow nor the guts to do that. When things came back to normal, we discovered that our major machines had clogged. We had not shut them down properly. We called in overseas experts to declogg the machines. After just an hour, the experts gave up. You remember the Colgate advert that says even the best toothpaste cannot bring back rotten teeth? The experts said we left it too late. The machines could not be saved.’
‘That must have been a knockout blow to you guys,’ Tshipa said.
‘We staggered back but remained standing. The experts want to buy some of our old machines for their museum. They are willing to pay in hard currency.’
‘But still, that will not give you a job.’
I shrugged my shoulders. ‘It will give those of us who stuck with the company reasonable terminal benefits. Further, a mega church wants to rent our premises. I’m told those guys make good tenants.
The other day I was approached by the chairman of the residents association of the township my shop was located. He tells me the chap who took over the shop did not survive hyperinflation. The shop is closed and the association wants me back.’
‘Don’t tell me you are considering it?’
‘Well, my wife is no longer against the shop. She is even willing to run it herself.’
Tshipa looked doubtful. ‘Do you have any capital for this?’
‘My terminal benefits will be in foreign currency. Where will I keep it? I no longer trust banks. We will see. What does your wife think about you going back to formal employment?’
‘She is okay with it. Actually, she is now working abroad. After our supermarket collapsed we almost withdrew our kids from private schools. She would have none of it. She joined her sister in UK and the pounds have kept us going.’
My cell phone rang and I checked who the caller was. It was the pastor of the mega church. ‘Well comrade,’ I said standing up, ‘Aluta Continua! We’ll meet at my shop when you do your rounds and we update each other.’