THE END BEGINS HERE.
The beating of March 2010 was a special one because of three main reasons; it was the last one, the worst one and the one that happened on (and because of) our one month old daughter’s baptism day. I would have called it the beating to end all beatings had it not been for the fact that he did not stop because he’d decided to plunder all his remaining strength on me that day. Uh-uh. He stopped because his mother caught him at it. That is the day she actually believed me. You know, seeing is believing, and all that jazz. It all began a few weeks before when I reminded George about Milan’s baptism.
You see, as token of appreciation, the church required that we give KES. 2000 before blessing our baby in the way that Jesus let John the Baptist do those many years ago on the shores of River Jordan. It is a funny concept, looking back at it now; ati a token of appreciation that is expected. I mean, if you require money for something to be done, you cannot really call that a token of appreciation, can you? That is payment. But God works in mysterious ways, and perhaps so does His language.
I knew George was most likely going to flake on this 2000 bob. So as a backup plan, I found a way to get it myself. It was the last that in my account, and I withdrew it from a pesapoint at a sore cost of 200 bob. When I asked him about it the day before the baptism if he had the money, he said he would bring it the following day at church. Of course he didn’t. Actually, he showed up late for his daughter’s baptism then left immediately after the ceremony was over to wherever he had grown fond of going that needed him to switch off his phone all day. As I also said my goodbyes to the godparents who had stood for Milan, Mama George pulled me aside and asked, “Kwani you guys were not even at least cooking some lunch for the godparents?”
“There is no food in the house to cook for them,” I told her, “huko ndani there is only rice and salt.”
She did not say much after that and we parted ways, her to her house and me to her other house. That afternoon I turned everything upside down looking for any money that could be lingering about, found a few coins and bought a packet of milk. We had our little bash for Milan’s big day. Warmed up the milk for her (now that my breasts were drying up), then boiled the rice for myself. It was an exclusive party for just us two. Invite only. Then she slept and I sat waiting for darkness to bring whatever it had to bring this time. It brought my husband, raging like a sore headed bull because, “What is that shit you have been telling mom? You are telling her hakuna food so that?”
The truth is a dangerous thing, especially when there is no other choice left to do other than say it. What could I possibly have told Mama George to excuse not making lunch for them as, well, a token of appreciation for standing for our daughter? Even if there had been food, what would it have looked like, having a meal with them by myself when this guy had disappeared? Sometimes you tell the truth thinking it is harmless, only to end up the next day in the clinic at the Kahawa Sukari gate, with a P3 form staring back at you.
When the doctor asked what happened to me, I told him “I was beaten by my husband, and no, I am not signing a P3 form.” I just wanted something for the pain.
I was beaten by my husband is not quite the truth of what happened that night. That night I had answered him saying, “You are never here and you only come back jioni. If I had asked my parents for money for food, you would have been angry that it makes you look bad…and really, you look really bad right now.”
So he decided to make me look bad as well. Literally. I had been beaten before, and after a while I had kind of gotten used to it, but this night he did not just beat me. He dragged me to my grave and put one foot in then left me there. The only thing that saved me was his little brother, who was visiting us at the time (he would come from time to time to play with Milan). When the hell descended into the living room, he was there. When his brother kicked me, threw me against the wall, stuffed me under the small table and kept raining punches on me, he was there. Confused. Poor kid had clearly never imagined that the Devil could visit a man’s heart the way He did his brother. He did not know whether to stop George or to run for help. He just stood by the door wondering what the hell just happened until I shouted to him amidst cries, “Go call your mother!” Then he disappeared into the blackness behind the door.
George did not stop until his mother came to the house, kid brother on her heels.
“What is wrong with you! This girl just gave birth, you are starving her and then now you do to this to her?” it was the first time someone else other than me had stood up to him. When everyone else began to breathe again and the red that George was seeing had faded before his eyes, she ordered him to go get me food. She did not care that it was late at night.
I do not know why her solution to me being wrung out like a sponge was food, though. After being beaten like that the last thing I would feel is hungry. In pain, yes. Betrayed, yes. Tired even, yes. Not hunger. But I understood that there was little consolation she could offer me at that time other than the absence of her son, away from me, albeit for those twenty minutes. When the only sound that could be heard echoing against the walls was that of me whimpering. She sat there silent. Perhaps afraid to say something. Perhaps guilty of the horrors that she had witnessed. Or perhaps speechless. I reckon seeing your son turn into a beast has a way of tying your tongue into a knot.
She did not leave until George came back with spaghetti and mincemeat and I had eaten. My stomach was full, but my back had been done in a good one. Bending over to clean or wash the house would, for months, be something I could not do for long without pain. Even now, eight years later, I have to mind myself at the gym because of how tender my lower back is.
This pounding was also special because it marked the day I knew there was no way I was letting my daughter grow up around this kind of toxicity. In any case, it was already clear that I was never going to shrink myself into the kind of small person his imagination had told him I was. But this seed would be watered days later when he said, “I am sorry. You know sometimes you push me too hard.”
In his head, I was still the problem.
THE FLOWER BY THE CAR WASH
Your know your husband the way an Arsenal fan knows defeat. All too well. When walking around Eastleigh you see a green and yellow striped polo t-shirt and you not only know that he will like it – because his favourite colour his green- but you also know that it will fit him. So you buy it for him knowing how he will wear it; with those dark blue jeans of his and white sneakers. But that was so many mistakes ago when you used to buy him shit, before he turned you into a punching bag. Yet he keeps wearing it and you keep washing it.
Then one day you realize that this t-shirt is missing. You cannot see it in the pile of dirty clothes, and you imagine that he no longer has use for it so he dumped it somewhere.
A couple of weeks later, you are going to cyber near the carwash that you and your husband run. It is located at the foot of an apartment building. The ground floor of that building has shops, then three floors of rentals rise up to steal a portion of the sky. As you approach, your eyes find a line of clothes hung on the balcony of the house on the first floor. Next to it is the same pair of jeans that he wears this polo shirtwith, and next to the jeans is another tee he loves but went missing too.
Nguo zi hufanana ndio, but there is no way this is too fantastic to be a coincidence.
The only problem is that that apartment is not your husband’s. Neither is it his friend’s nor any of his family’s. You know the girl who lives in there. Everyone knows the girl who lives in there. A plump, short girl with skin the colour of blindness and a surname you hear in the news a lot. One of those rich Kenyatta University kids who cannot live in the hostels so they take up apartments in Kahawa Sukari. She wears designer everything. Even her blood must be purple.
Your husband left in the morning like usually does, only to be seen in the evening. You know his phone is off during this time, but you decide to try it anyway. The call goes through; and whether that is a good or bad thing depends on how you look at it. You have always known he is eating outside, but you have never known who it is exactly.
“Uko wapi?” you ask him, standing outside the cyber.
“Niko tu around. Unatakaje?” that titanic voice of his bellows from the concrete above you.
While clothes tend to be similar, what are the chances that there was another man there who sound exactly like your husband?
PEPSI AND THE MAN IN A NOAH
I have never seen a guardian angel, but I have read about them in books and watched them in films. They are usually winged creatures, mostly dressed in white, whispering things to people who cannot see them. What I have never heard of, however, is an angel driving around in a Noah. Now that was new, even to me. He found me sitting outside the gate to our house, yellow hoodie on, like I had grown fond of doing every day at around 10.30am. That was usually the time when Milan went to back to sleep after breakfast. Sometimes she would wake up crying and disrupt the shooting of show, so the cast or crew members of Mother in Law would call me to go get her. When she did not, I let the sun burn me outside the gate, playing with Pepsi, Knox and their puppies.
Pepsi and Knox are house dogs that George came home with some day. Pepsi, a dachshund, was a brown bitch that looked like a sausage that had being brought to life. Knox, on the hand, was a Japanese Spitz; a white bundle of cotton reincarnated into a male dog that barked all the time. These two had unprotected sex and the result were four puppies that were still too young to be named. But they would keep me company when I was alone.
Pepsi and I shared as special a bond as can be managed between a human being and a pet. She was pregnant at the same time I was pregnant. Before that, she would never let any other man next to me other than George. If anyone got too close, she would go off like a siren, and if that person took one step closer, he would either lose his trousers or skin depending on his sense of fashion. When George got violent, she would bark endlessly but would never attack him. She was too confused about what to do. She loved George too. He was the one who brought her home. But me and her were tight buddies. So you can imagine the dilemma those moments put her in, yes? When I was sick, she would come to where I lay and just lay there listening helplessly to my pain.
The Noah drove past me, stopped a few meters down, and then the tail lights came on as it reversed to where I was sitting. He rolled down the window and asked, “Are those dogs for sale?”
“Yes, they are.”
No, they weren’t.
“Yes, but in thousands.”
I do not know how I arrived at that number. It is just the first figure that occurred to me.
“Sawa. Then I will pitia tomorrow. Have one ready.” I knew he was never coming back. If he did, sawa, if he did not, well, that was not money I was expecting anyway.
He came back the next day almost around the same time.
“Lakini sina carton ya kukuwekea,” I said as I went to fetch one of the puppies. There was no way I was selling Pepsi or Knox. He had his own box, punctured on the sides for air. If Pepsi knew what I had just done, she probably understood why I had to sell one of her babies, because she did not protest.
The man then handed me an envelope and a business card and then got into his car to leave.
“Ngoja I count the money!” I said as his engine came alive.
“No. You have my business card, if the money is not enough, call me I will sort it out.” And then he was gone, rising dust trying to catch up with him and failing terribly while at it.
The problem was not that the money was not enough. The problem was that it was a lot. We had agreed on 16 Gs but he had given me 20. I called him.
“Go make your hair and buy something nice with the extra money.” He said.
“I do not need your money.”
Actually, I did need his money. I just did not want it.
“You are a beautiful girl,” he went on, “but you are ever so sad. You do not even comb your hair. Just take the money and make yourself up.”
Kumbe he had been seeing me for a while now, noticing how I had let myself decompose into waste. That same afternoon, I took myself to the salon and got myself a new perm, came back home, showered, wore something nice and stood in front of the mirror. The person smiling back looked like someone I once knew. Like an old classmate I had not seen in a minute.
When George asked what happened to one of the pups, I said I did not know.
I’d be lying if I said I was not hopeful that the man in a Noah would come by the next day. What I had not planned for was his offer to take me out sometime after he asked me how my day was going.
“No. I cannot go out with you sometime,” I was taken aback. Kwani this guy thought he could get in with just 4k? “I have a husband and a baby and so I can’t be seen with another man.”
“Good. Because I am not trying to marry you. I just want to buy you kahawa. You can come with your child if you want,” he paused, “or leave him with your househelp.”
“It is a girl. My baby is a girl.”
“OK, you can leave her with your househelp.”
“What househelp? I cannot afford a housegirl.”
“Kwani how much is a househelp?”
“I do not know, I will have to find out.”
Just like that, he reached into his jacket and took out 10k and gave it to me. Days later, I had a jang’o househelp from Kahawa. The day she arrived, George saw her and then turned to me saying, “You’ve decided you cannot take care of this child, si ndio? Umemleta utamlipa na nini?”
“Me ndio nitamlipa.”
“With what money? Are you asking for money from your dad?”
“No, I will find money.”
History had taught me about George’s insecurities with men who gave me money. If he had waged war over a man giving me a tip at work, now imagine the kind of shitshow he would unleash if he found out that it was a stranger who had employed for us a househelp?
The man in a Noah kept calling and I kept answering. We would talk for hours. No, I would talk for hours, telling him about how my husband treats me like a rag, and he would just listen. He was just like Brown from before, only that he did not want anything else from me other than my time. He never once asked me for sex, or confessed that he loved me with the fires of a first passion. He simply asked, “So he leaves at what time?”
“And comes back at?”
“So I can call you and see you for all those hours he is away?”
Yes he could, so long as I was home by 5. All he wanted was to see me daily. He would pull up his Noah at out gate, let us (the baby, househelp and I) in and then take us to Village Market for lunch. If there was one thing he did was to remind me how I deserved to be treated. He did not treat me like I owed him something. He was a gentleman, from sole to crown.
Then the phone call came one morning, one the other side of the line, a woman asking me to leave her husband alone.
“Yes. My husband got a dog from you and has been spending time with you. I have been seeing your messages.”
This is the problem with coming to other women woman-to-woman. Most of the time people have their facts wrong. I did not know what this one thought I was doing with her husband. First of all, I had no idea this man was married. There was no metal on his fingers, I had checked, or even a mark. “ I am not sleeping with him,” I said to her, “We are just friends.”
“Listen young lady, I just gave birth and he has neglected me…” I did not hear anything past that. I could not bring myself to. Fuuuuuuuuck!!! Yaani, I had become the other woman? I had become the girl with an apartment above the cyber café? After all I had been through with George and his affairs, I could not bring myself to accept that I had been the source of someone else’s agony.
He did not call me the next day and I did not bother either. When he reached out about a day or so later ati We need to talk, I did not reply to that message. When he called, I let the phone ring. Finally he stopped trying. But I got close to his wife instead. I told her about my George and she said, “Do not worry about those other girls. You just need to keep strong.”
“If there is anything your husband has taught me, it is that I have been selling myself short for far too long,” I told her. “I am not fighting, or keeping strong, for this marriage anymore. I am leaving.”
I was done with this meaninglessness. Calling what I was in a marriage did not change what it really was; an endless morass of oppression. I did not have a husband anymore, just a man I shared bedsheets with. And the thing about hurt people is that they hurt people. Sometimes – many times– without meaning to.
It would take another three months after deciding to leave, before I actually stepped out of that relationship.
When you go looking for an excuse to do something, you will never miss it. Depending on how badly you want it, you might not even need a good one. Anything will do, really. The day I told George that I was leaving, it was not triggered by something extraordinary he had done. It was in August 2010 when we were shooting the final episode of Machachari. August was the perfect time to shoot as many episodes as possible because the kid actors were out of school on holiday and had lots of free time. That day, we had just finished with the season finale when a lady came up to me asking, “Kwani you’re going back to school?”
“Aaaaai. Hapana. Why?” At first, I thought she was joking so I laughed, not knowing that if indeed she was, then I was the punchline.
“Just heard your hubby on the phone wishing someone all the best,” she explained, “and then akamuambia anampenda sana.”
I don’t remember responding to her after that. I walked up to George and asked him about it. “Hizo ni finyo tu, do not listen to everything you are told.” He denied it, but I could see the lies leaking through his teeth.
That evening, at the wrap party, I got so drunk someone would have thought it was my birthday. I found him in the crowd and told him, “Tomorrow I am leaving.”
“Leaving to where?”
“I am going back home.”
“No, George. I am leaving you. I do not want to be with you anymore.”
I had threatened leaving before, but I had not meant it enough. So when I said this to him that night, he dismissed me, thinking it was the vodka speaking. I said sawa, but then texted my taxi guy to come fetch me the next midmorning. And you know what? You see, when the time comes for you to leave, when you finally realize that the celling seemed far away because you have been lying on the floor for all along, you do not need any kind of encouragement. You do not need somebody to tell you to go. It comes to you like a revelation, and the next thing you know, you are texting your mother early the next day asking, “Do you mind having visitors?”
“No,” she says, “visitors are always welcome in my house.”
When I was at the door of his house, George said, “Gathoni let me tell you something for free. You will never find someone who loves you like I love you.”
Two things. One, when he said he was going to tell me something for free, I thought that it was something that I would otherwise pay for. Kumbe it was just another regurgitated cliché of a goodbye said by every other weak ass man who had been left. Second, I said amen to that prayer. If I was looking for the kind of love he had been giving me for the past two years, would I be leaving? Someone who would love me like George had loved me was exactly the kind of person I was not interested in.
When I left that Kahawa Sukari house and went back to my mother’s house, I did not realize that that was the easy part. The difficult part of leaving is staying gone. Just like any other addiction. There is always the temptation to relapse. He kept goading me to go back and work things out, talking about “Gathoni I need my baby in my life.” He kept promising to be better, and for a period the folly and vicissitudes of love almost made me go back. I would be lying if I said I did not want to. But every time we almost got back together, something came up. If it was not a woman turning up with a baby the photocopy of George, it was his squeeze from the cyber cafe calling to say, “Leave George alone. I hear you guys are moving to a new house? I paid for that house.”
His demons followed me for another two years – pretty much as long as our marriage had lasted. As culture demanded, when a woman leaves her husband’s house and goes back home, the families are expected to meet and talk about why she left and possibly fix the problem. I bet that had worked for many families before, but only because they had problems that could be fixed. This one was irreparable.
The last time George’s people called my parents, my old man asked me, “Do you wish to go back?”
I remembered the first time he saw me after leaving George. He had arrived late in the night after Milan and I had fallen asleep the day I came back, so he saw me the following morning. The moment our eyes met, he stood there in shock, considering me. I was a shell of what he remembered. I looked like a hanger in my own clothes. 42kgs. The size of my baby sister in Form 2 then. I had ever only seen my father cry twice in my entire lifetime, and that was at his own parent’s funerals. He was not a man who gave away his pain. And if he did, not to us. In our eyes, my father did not feel pain. So you can imagine what it felt seeing him shed a tear that morning. He wished I had told him what I was going through. God knows if my father knew that my husband had raised a finger against me, he would have lost that finger.
As we stood in our living room, scenes from years ago started playing in my mind, as if on cue. I remembered how angry he had been when I spent a night out in City Cotton and how worried he had been. I remembered how he had tried to warn me about George. I remembered how I refused to listen. And so when he asked me if I wished to go back to my (now ex) husband’s house, there was no way I could break his heart again. Lessons learnt in blood are never forgotten. Plus, I was home. Home is where you are wanted. Kawangware is where I had always been wanted.
He called them back and said, “The person you want to see has said she is not ready. When she is, I will let you know.”
He has never let them know shit.
As told by Gathoni Kimuyu to Magunga Williams.