Personal Finance

A pound of flesh, from near your heart!

A pound of flesh; money shark; shylock

Her mother gave her a feeble look and closed her eyes. The life support machine increased the beep tempo. “Don’t do this to me mama” she frantically shook her. Mama opened her eyes; they looked yellow like Kienyeji chicken egg yolks. “Mama, give me a few minutes, I will get the money and the doctors will attend to you”, she muttered as she got her phone to dial a friend. “I need money urgently, who can help”. The friend responded by sending her a number. It was a shylocks number.

The meeting was easy, only three questions asked, what is your name, where do you work and do you have the cheques? She responded in the affirmative, and three hundred thousand shillings, in a brown enveloped was slid across the table to her, and stuffing it in her bag, left the restaurant with a grin, for her mum.

At the hospital, a cashier received the money and issued a receipt which paved the way for a surgery. Two weeks later, mum had to be flown to India, the doctors advised. The shylock asked for the car logbook and advanced another two hundred thousand. Total half a million bob.

Four weeks later, Monica looked forlorn as she dropped her mum back home from her medical checkups, the trip to India having been successful. She had to make the first interest repayment of one hundred thousand. Her pay slip read fifty-three thousand after her employer had paid himself for the loan she had taken to take her mum to the hospital. The shylock called again. She picked up, lost for words, she said; “I will call you later we talk”. Later the interest at twenty percent per month was rolled over. Now she owed six hundred thousand accruing interest at twenty percent per month.

In William Shakespeare’s book, The Merchant of Venice, Shylock is a Jewish moneylender who lends money to his Christian rival, Antonio, setting the security at a pound of Antonio’s flesh from next to his heart. When a bankrupt Antonio defaults on the loan, Shylock demands the pound of flesh, from near Antonio’s heart.

A shylock is a monstrous creation of society that feeds on the blood of the small business class people and the employed working class; especially those in jobs that demand high financial integrity. You know those employment places where no one has financial difficulty, where everyone is expected to be ok, and rules have been penned down to ensure that even if you are in a financial quagmire, it should not be seen or smelled; else you are out of your job. Propelled by three engines, the gullibility of the borrowers, the rigidity of the mainstream financial system and the ruthlessness of employers, it is a financial manipulation that knows no bound.

Like fornication, these services are partaken in secrecy, with the employee doing all she can not be found out while the lender’s arm twists her into surrendering all her hard-earned wealth in form of interest. Just like in strict cultures where the lady must be married virgin, stories abound of the undertakings of those people who pretend to be holier than thou, those who believe that the front door ( the official bank account) should only be accessed by the righteous and that there is a backdoor (a second account) for the unrighteous; to pick cheques from shylocks.

Frantically, Monica searches for help. She cannot concentrate on her job anymore. She needs money and she needs it urgently. She cannot confess she is under the shylocks spell, the boyfriend could only help to a certain extent, he also doesn’t know about the shylock. It is taboo, how do you tell your man or colleague that you have borrowed from a shylock and that the interest is equivalent to a pound of your flesh, from near your heart.

As the months drag on, the interest compounds and soon the car is taken away. She announces that she has to sell the car to help offset the ongoing treatment of her mum. Soon it’s a year, she has paid interest amounting to Ksh1.5m and the principal stands at Ksh1m because there were several months where she defaulted. She now has borrowed from literally everywhere, friends, foes and even boss in the office. Food in her house is now a luxury and being “chips fungwaad” for cash or food is no longer shameful, but a need for her to keep her belly full.

Some shylocks will even work with some unprofessional elements of the HR departments in some companies for both referrals for sales and also assistance in collection.  Some other colleagues and directors will also run this service and even lend to their bosses effectively compromising the chain of command in the organization, leading to low productivity.

Soon Monica must default again, the shylock is constantly threatening, forcing her to contract the services of another money shark, and another and another, they abound. Now, there are four or five of them calling, and soon information leaks to HR and she now has to sort these people out or be kicked from her job. She chooses to sell anything of value that she has to settle them. She sells her mortgage house, clears the bank loan on the mortgage and distributes all the money to these guys and she walks away empty-handed, dejected, her fifteen years of toil, accumulating and saving for a dream home, gone in one sweep by the shylocks broom; a pound of flesh.

Monica is lucky; she had a house, an asset that could settle the insatiable creature’s hunger for her blood. Many other guys are not so lucky and at the end, the employer kicks them off, accusing them of living beyond their means. If it is a business person, the blood thirst mongrels will team up and auction his property, even without following due procedure. In Kenya, they have the poorly paid corrupt police in their pockets and work together to frustrate due process. The judiciary, whose judges hawk justice like prostitutes on the streets, will be forwarded a brown envelope and the complainant beaten into submission.

In Shakespeare’s story, Shylock is charged with attempted murder of a Christian, carrying a possible death penalty. He is then ordered to surrender half of his wealth to the state and the other half to Antonio (the borrower).

The financial landscape is like a sea full of sharks. Swimming in this sea requires caution. Immediately you start receiving money, at whatever age, it is good to remember that there will be a hard day financially, sometime in the future. A mother will fall sick, a flood as we recently experienced across the globe and even an accident that can consume entire family resources. Start by saving money, grow a network of friends who can lend you money at no interest, establish rapport with your bankers and pray that calamity is kept away from your life.

The government on the other side, which should work for the benefit of its people, should help by reforming the entire justice machinery to ensure that corruption does not feed these flesh-hungry sharks. Employers should have support systems for their staff in dire financial straits because research shows that good employees are sometimes lost because of financial stress that could have been arrested at the inception before it accumulated excessive interest.

As a self-employed or employed person, think of creative ways to avoid unnecessary borrowing by asking yourself, could I do without borrowed money or how else can I earn an extra buck?

The end.

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