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The Dilemma - A Short Story About Corruption in the Public Service
A short story
Simon took another deep breath and scratched his head. This was his first time ever to be in such a situation – such a dilemma. What should he say? What should he do? These questions pounded in his head like a preacher screaming, raising his voice for God to hear. The questions seemed to be amplified by the tight space of his small office.
His office was approximately a 3 by 3 meter box. It had a cheap L shaped desk that faced the doorway. On it was a new HP computer that the department had recently purchased from Daltron.
He mainly used it for typing his reports and emailing. Although most of his emails were not office related it was an important part of his routine. On the other side of his beloved desk was Mr. James Le, an expatriate businessman trying to buy some land in the city – and the cause of his dilemma.
Le pushed a plump brown envelope over to him, gave him a ‘let’s be friends’ smile and said, “I’m sure all the paper work is in order.”
He took another look at the papers and frowned. The land title that Le applied was already under some else’s name. How was he going to handle this? He thought of telling the man off that the land was not for sale but he decided against it. Subtlety was the way to handle clients. Rrr! Rrr! Rrr! His chain of thoughts was suddenly interrupted by the vibration of his mobile phone.
The caller ID showed his wife’s name. His wife never called unless it was an emergency. “Excuse me, sir. I have to take this. It will only be a moment,” he said as he held the phone to his left ear. “Hello.”
His wife sounded distraught. “Timmy has been suspended from school…,” she managed between sobs, “because of his school fees.”
His first born son Timothy, or as everyone called him, Timmy, was 9 years old and the apple of his eyes. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for his son like the time when Timmy was 4 and had developed a rather mild case of the flu. He rushed the boy to the emergency ward and began demanding ER doctors to take a look at his son. He even went to the extent of threatening them.
He took a deep sigh, pressure started to build up in his chest and he found it hard to breath. He loosened his tie and took a drink from a bottle of Nature’s Own he had bought that morning. “Don’t worry dear, I’ll take care of it”, he lied as he hung up.
The truth was he barely had enough money to buy food for the house. He had debts, bills, rent and so many other expenses that his government salary would not last a week let alone pay his son’s school fees. His family made it through each fortnight thanks to his wife selling buai beside the house gate. However, due to the tense political situation in the city, she opted to stop until things cleared out. Now, he was their only source of income.
“Are you alright?” Le asked, sounding concerned. He had been watching, studying Simon like a hawk, waiting for the opportune moment to strike. It had arrived.
“Listen, I can see you are troubled. Is it financial? Maybe I can help?” Le blurted without waiting for an answer. He knew he had to strike while the iron was hot.
“Inside this envelope is K10, 000,” he said pushing the brown package closer to Simon. “This will solve your financial worries,” he said as a matter of half-fact. “It’s a gift, a token of my appreciation for what you are going to do for me.”
Simon’s mind was in turmoil. He knew it was wrong. He could not take money the money, the implications, and the complications it would have on his job, his family, his life. He could even get fired if someone knew…but he could also accomplish a lot with that amount of money.
He could pay little Timmy’s school fees right up till college, he could even buy a car or make down payment for a house. His meager government salary was always stretched with bills, fees and other pressing concerns. This was his chance to get ahead of the game.
He peered around his small office as if someone was watching as he slowly placed his right hand on the envelope and moved it to the edge of his desk, right into the open drawer. His immediate needs had been taken care of – now to return the favor.
“No worries,” he said as he reached out his right hand to Le, “come tomorrow. I should have the paperwork sorted by then.”
Le smiled like an old friend as he firmly grasped Simon’s hand, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”