We got married so that my father would shut up. I could not understand what his problem was exactly, because everyone else was fine with George and I being together. Whilst we had never really spoken until the night of my parents’ wedding, he was someone whose family was almost like family. Our parents had been friends for so long, at some point I had even thought we were related. When we still lived in Kangemi, my mother had a shop next to akina George’s house, from where she would knit sweaters. They lived on the other side of Kangemi with the rich folk and big houses. But she could not carry that sewing machine up the hill back home every day, so she kept it at akina George’s house every evening. And you know how these things usually go. The moment mothers becomes friends, the two households become family friends. Which is why when I was born, it was Mama George who carried me from the hospital to our house. Which is why Mama George gave us her children’s old uniforms to use. Not that we went to the same schools. Please. No. George’s sisters went to White Cottage Kindergarten (Google it), where they happened to wear uniforms similar to Loresho Primary. But they were big bodied, those girls, so the uniforms they wore in nursery school were the ones we were given to wear in Class 2.
And which is why Mama George and Baba George stood for my parents at the wedding in 2007.
Given a history like this, one would expect that when the time came for us to graduate from family friends to just family, everyone would be delighted, right? Not quite. It’s not that I couldn’t see what my father’s problem with George was, it’s just that growing up in Kangemi, we had seen worse. Yes, George was rough around the edges in his teenage years. Yes, he was a bit thorny, but aren’t all roses the same? While my mother and I looked at George and saw petals, my father’s gaze was fixed on the stem.
“What are you doing? What is your problem, Gathoni? You’re supposed to be going back to school, to uni to get a degree,” I had cleared high school by then and got the kind of grades that would get me into a film school in tao. “This boy you are playing around with has no direction.”
“Don’t say that,” my mother would shoot back in defense. Sometimes I wonder whether it was in George’s defense or in defense of my choices. Yet it was from her that we used to hear the stories that now bothered my father. How they could not get him to stay in one school before something went wrong.
First, for whatever reason, he was moved from Loresho Primary to St. Patrick’s in Nakuru. But he did not last long there because the devil worshipping scandals became too much. The kids said there was a woman, an undead, who walked around their dorms in high heels, sometimes stopping by someone’s bed to do God-knows-what. When Mama George heard these stories, she wasted no time bringing him back home. He was taken to Makini.
But these people had money. It dripped even as they walked. They owned Royal Driving School, headquartered at Afya Center, which bragged a fleet of almost 30 cars. There were times you’d go there and find their cars lined up, one after another, like safari ants, from the top of Mfangano Street hadi huko chini. His old man’s personals were my favourites; a Mercedes Benz E350 and an Alfa Romeo. Elegant machines for a man who knew elegance. Those ones, George would not touch. On days he was not going to school, he would take any one from their fleet and drive to floodies, but not those two.
His first high school was Consolata, but this boy decided one day to go to a Catholic school with a mobile phone. We are talking late nineties here. Nobody had phones. Those sisters sent him away immediately.
Ruiru High was a not a school though. They could have afforded to get him into wherever their hearts wished. But they settled on Ruiru High. That camp where kids who had enoughed their parents were taken so that the parents could have a 3 month break free of trouble.
It was while he was in Ruiru that George’s mother came to my mother with papers. On them were drawings of dragons. Some of them were of sexy naked women with perky breasts and snakes wrapped around them. Her son had drawn those and she feared that maybe that devil from St. Patrick’s must have entered and sat in his head. They did what every other Kikuyu woman would do in this situation. They went to the Lord in prayer and fasting for almost a week.
Then another habit crept in. George would leave school, come home, slaughter one of his mother’s chickens, fry it, then take it back to school. Poor mother woke up one day to find she had no hotpots in her cupboard and no chicken left in her coop. That was the final straw. You can do what you want, even draw naked women with scales, but what you do not do is mess around with a Kikuyu woman’s utensils or livestock. George messed with both. There was no way he was staying in Ruiru.
Because his father knew people in high places (not just God, human beings too), he managed to get his son into a decent school. Njiiri Secondary School. That is where he finished high school, thankfully, with little drama. But getting George to finish high school was the easy part. The struggle now came with what to do with him thereafter. He wanted to do nails. Yeah, manicures and shit. He was really good at it. There were times when he would look at my nails and scoff at how hideous they looked. He would sit me down and start working on my hands, and by the time he was done with them I wanted to take them to dinner.
Of course his father would hear none of that. He did not go through hell to educate his first born son for him to become a salonist! To sit around all day, gossiping, decorating the wives of better men? No way. And just like he had dropped out of all those high schools, he started dropping out of colleges like rain. By the time we were dating in December of 2007, he had been on the campaign trail for the late George Thuo. They won. Kibaki won the presidency. Well, according to the Electoral Commission, that is. And by the time the year was going to sleep, Kenya was burning.
My father wanted me home during those times, but akina George had moved to Kahawa Sukari. If you have never loved someone so much that you would risk post-election violence, then you have never loved at all. Somehow, in between the chaos, I would find myself at Kahawa Sukari. Then while there, we would hear of how bad it was in Kawangware. And my dad’s anger would boil and spill over when I got back. But he could not understand that home had changed for me; from being a place where my relatives stayed, to a person I would rather be with.
I was 22 when George said he wanted to marry me. If not for anything else, he said, to finally stop the old man from throwing sand into our eyes. He was not the most handsome man I had ever met. I knew he was not perfect but that did not matter because if it was perfection I was looking for, I would have married my ass. I loved this man with everything a woman can love a man with. And since my ass had not asked for my hand in marriage, how was I to say no to George?
Even now in 2018, a hundred thao is a lot of money for a birthday party, right? Now imagine what it felt like in 2008. My suggestion was that we don’t use all of it. I knew the kind of crowd that Lilly and I pulled. They were not ati rich fancy folk. So why bother them with luxury? Someone whose kidney is used to drinking Kenya Cane, what is the point of confusing his body with alcohol that has been aged until it is old enough to vote? We could still have a humble, yet kickass time cheaply, and keep the rest of the money. So I told Lilly, “Listen, these guys tuwabuyie tu makali, tuget madhe wa kupika akam atutengenezee food, halafu na ngoma. Basss!!!”
We were sitting inside Savanna. You may not know it now because time has not been kind to it, but it is along Loita Street. Right now it is shit, but back then it was the shit. It was not a kasmall space. And we were there because we were talking serious business, my friend. I had even called my husband and told him I would be out late because there was some money here to be made.
You see, Lilly and I were in film school together. And for her final year project, she did a documentary about a children’s home in Kibera that was owned by a white man. And you know how mzungus are with dark chocolates, eh? He was drunk with the idea of Lilly. It did not matter that the age difference between them was enough to take us back past Apartheid, the cold war and almost to the edge of colonization. Love is love. And this love came with a boatful of money that only a stupid girl would resist. Lilly was not stupid. As soon as her mzungu came into her life, it changed drastically. She now had an apartment in Akila along Mbagathi Way. And when I say she had, I mean she owned it. Not rented. We were only here discussing a hundred grand as budget for her birthday because the mzungu was out of town and so he left her that money to spend. Never had I seen someone being spoiled like this simply for being born.
Lakini Lilly was having none of my nonsense. She wanted to spend as much of that money as possible. She wanted sijui outside catering and drinks that I couldn’t even pronounce properly. She wanted fanfare and pizzazz so that anyone who attended knew that she had indeed arrived. We did the Mathematics and it came to about 89k. The rest of the money would be mine as chief organizer. Somewhere in between, the husband called again to ask where I was and I told him we were still in Savanna.
Sometimes I wonder where time is in a hurry to go to. Small small, it was already 10pm and my phone rang again.
“What makes you think you can be out at this hour?”
“But George, si I told you I was with my friends?”
“Did you get married to your friends?”
“I have not done anything wrong, I am just with akina Lillian.”
“How will you be getting home na magari za huku zimeisha?”
I told him that Lilly was the one paying since she’d kept me out late.
“You’re now hanging out with women dating mzungus so that they can remind you of how I do not have money, and then they sell you to other white men? You better watch out!”
Yeah, I had the same reaction as you. What the actual fuck was that? I had never done anything to show him madharau for no longer being employed. The campaigns had ended. The post-election violence and life thereafter had cleared the campaign money he had kept, and I was the one working as an underwriter at Prime Mover Brokers. It was a job my dad had helped me get when nothing fruitful came from film college. But never had I brought my head for my husband because of money. So long as we were together and alive, nothing else mattered.
I left immediately. I told akina Lilly that my George was getting riled up about me staying out late, got into a taxi and bounced. All the way home, it was a fight. It felt like I had gotten married to my father. I had dealt with this staying out late nonsense in my father’s house and now here I was with a curfew in my own house. “Come pick your shit and leave!” he had said, and for sure as soon as I got home, he had thrown my things outside the door. I told the cab guy to wait as I gathered them even though I had no idea where I would go. But as soon as I had collected my things, he ordered me to get into the house and told the cab guy to leave.
“So you want me to come home earlier than you, cook for you, wait for you, because you are the one who married me, eh?” he started at the door as he walked back in.
“But surely. I told you I was organizing Lilly’s party.”
Though it would be nice to have a meal waiting for me for a change.
“Who told you ati you will be attending any parties?”
“Oh come on, that is my best friend!”
And I am getting paid for this shit!
“If you leave this house, do not come back!”
“WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU!?”
Maybe it was because I shouted. Maybe it was going to happen anyway. Either way, as soon as I raised my voice, he raised his fist. And it was not a small fist. God had not spared clay when creating George. One look at his arms and you would agree that gun control was not entirely an American problem. Until that night, his broad shoulders, stony chest and thick arms were things I had found sexy. In them I had felt safe and wanted. That night, however, tides changed and I helplessly tried to get far away from them. The first blow struck my face and after that I could not keep up with the sequence. You know the way when it begins to rain you can feel the first drop, then when the torrents come, you can’t tell which drop lands where? Yeah, just like that.
My husband beat me up like we were in a bar fight. Not that I was putting up a fight anyway. I was a kasmall thing then. When I tried to run, he grabbed me back. When I curled myself into a ball, he opened me up. When I begged him to stop, he did not listen. There is no place on my body that his fury did not visit.
I woke up the next day with pain grabbing me everywhere, complete with a swollen black eye that could not open however much I tried. I called in sick and stayed out of the office for two days. I spent those days off trying to convince myself this had not happened, but every time I looked in the mirror I was reminded I had not dreamed it up.
It was my fault that this happened, I told myself as the scars began to disappear into my skin. I should not have stayed out late, or spoken to him that way.
ERIC WITH THE GOOD TIPS
For someone who watched me grow up and married me, George seemed to know nothing about the kind of girl I was, and still am. I am not impressed by excess. It is exciting to look at and wonder about, but it will never make me love or hate a person any more or less. If I ever end up having a lot of money, then so be it, and if I do not, then pia ni sawa tu. I grew up in City Cotton where for the longest time we were taught that nothing could be enough. So this insecurity that George had about me and money and other men was one of the most difficult things I had to deal with. Richer men seeking my attention freaked him out. And when he was scared, he fought.
There will always be someone with more money. Someone better looking. Someone from a wealthier family. If I was to start chasing after the man with the most money, I would die of fatigue. I was not with George because he came from a family with more than us. If that’s what he thought of me, then we probably had no business being together in the first place. Or was he possessive of me because he thought he’d taken me out of poverty, and so he owned me?
If that was the case, if a person could be owned simply because he or she is less financially privileged, then I was the one supposed to be the boss, and he my bitch. I was the one bringing in the money. Yes, we stayed in his house, but even that was built by his parents. Same with the car we used. We stayed in the same compound with his folks, though separate houses because George was a man now and needed his own space.
Thankfully, though, the insecurities only came up once in a while like hiccups. When things were OK between us, life was a party. It did not matter whether we had money. Being together made us forget our fears and tears and everything that could go wrong. Those were the days he would do my nails, and we’d rock up at Black Diamond and Red Tape, and force Nairobi to remember us by name. Once we woke up on a Thursday and saw Lamu Festival happening on KBC. At that time we were so broke that if someone had tried robbing us, he would only be practicing. Then this guy said, “Babe, si tuende Lamu?”
“Haiya, wacha nipige simu job.”
We scraped together whatever money we could find, hopped into a Coast Bus and went to Mombasa. We did not go any further because the money was not enough. Instead, we lodged inside a 500 bob a night guest house, somehow stayed there the whole weekend. Broke, but still in love.
Then there are times when his demons would awaken. Mostly because some other jamaa decided to hit on me. That was not shit I could control. What was I supposed to do? Walk around with a poster saying, DO NOT APPROACH. RESTRICTED ACCESS ONLY? There was a time he decided he would be dropping me off at work and picking me up later with the car. Ideally that was supposed to be a sweet romantic thing. But this gesture was not from that corner of the heart.
Then Eric happened.
See, my job was cash based. A client calls and says he needs an insurance cover (usually a matatu owner). I call the insurance firm and tell them to have the sticker ready, then send a bodaboda to go pick it up. By the time the client arrives at the office, I have everything ready. He just drops the money, picks his documents and leaves. By and by, everyone wanted to be served by Gathoni because there was never a time when a client of mine would come to my desk and miss his insurance. Work piled, but so did the tips, which I did not mind.
This time, Eric had kept me in the office past five. George was already there waiting for me to finish up and leave. He was seated in one of the chairs in front of my desk. Then Eric turned up, finally, said hello to George (he had no idea that was my husband), then proceeded to ply me with useless sweet nothings like he was accustomed to doing. “Eish, Noni, you look nice today. Mtu anawezadhani umeingia job saa hii.”
As I accepted his compliments with thanks, I knew there was only one way this was going to end. Badly. Eric counted the money for his cover, added an extra 5k and told me to get myself something nice now that he had inconvenienced me.
“Oh, so that is what you do here, eh? Selling yourself as you also sell insurance?” Of course he had waited until Eric had left. I do not know what offended me more. That he thought I would whore myself out for money, or that I would whore myself out for five thousand shillings. I opened the drawer and asked him, “Kwani where do you think the money we survive on comes from? This money,” I continued, pointing at the stack in my drawer, “is from clients who tip me because I bust my ass every day for them.”
Of course I got a thrashing for my insolence. Make no mistake though. It is not as if he resisted eating food bought with my immoral money. Or quit charging his phone with electricity paid for by that dirty money. I still went back to work. I still took those tips.
I had seen what poverty looks like, and I was in no hurry to go back there.
Not if I could help it.
The night we George and I did things in his car that my parents were supposed to do after the wedding reception, we did not use protection. That is why I woke up to eight missed calls. He wanted to know if I was OK. OK here meaning if I was on my safe days or whether he needed to be scared about getting a baby.
I was OK.
There was a Premier League game that evening, and as we both supported the same team, it came to pass that our first ever date was a Man United soccer game. Since then football was our meeting point. We would discuss possible lineups of any impending matches and as sure as death and taxes, our first eleven guesses would end up as Alex Ferguson’s too. Then after winning the 2008 UEFA Champions League, rumours of Christiano Ronaldo leaving Man United started flying around.
We all knew Ronaldo would leave. It was just ridiculous that he would decide to leave just when we were the best team in the world. So Fergie convinced him to stay and we breathed a little. But by the middle of the following season, those stories came back. Ronaldo’s dream was always to play for Real Madrid. That, and the fact that being in Spain would bring him closer to his family in Portugal, and away from the terrible weather in England, made this the center of football banter everywhere.
So when I saw Aceton – a mutual friend of George and mine – posting on Facebook about that shit, I immediately went to his comment section.
No way he is leaving mid-season. Fergie needs someone to pair with Rooney, and Tevez is not enough. Ronnie will have to wait till end of season.
That evening a silent George came to pick me up from the office. He did not say a word when I asked him what he wanted to eat. He kept silent as we walked down to Globe to pick our mat. When I got liver and spinach and made ugali, he did not say anything. Only when the food was on the table did he speak to me.
“Gathoni let me ask you….” There was no good conversation that began with Gathoni let me ask you. Usually, when he needed to ask something, he would just ask.
“Why were you talking to Acie on Facebook?”
I knew exactly who he was talking about and where this was going. I was just buying time so that I could at least eat first.
“How do you think it looks?”
“It looks like we were talking football.”
Ama these days you chat with someone in the comment section and you get pregnant with his twins?
“So now you are talking to me with an attitude?”
This is ridiculous.
“Hivyo ndio utazoeana na mabeshte zangu and then before I know it, you’re sleeping with them.”
Dude, they are not your friends if they want to fuck your wife.
“I talk to guys about football all the time, please. It is just football, George. Nothing else.”
“Oh, so now you are telling me about how you talk to other men?”
There was no time to respond after that. Where words failed, his fists spoke. And they spoke rather eloquently. But his beatings did not hurt as much as watching Ronaldo leave Old Trafford at the end of the season did.
When hope runs out, that’s when people start hoping for a miracle. For George, he thought he had found that miracle in a friend who used to drive a matatu that chased our route. He did not want to hear any more garbage about me frolicking with other men, so he decided he would assign me a matatu. Brown’s matatu. Every morning, Brown would pick me up from my stage, and every evening at around 5pm, he would call to say he has arrived at Ngara. I would always find my seat reserved at the front. Brown was supposed to keep an eye on me. A terrible idea, really. He ended up having an eye for me only.
Here was a man who showed me nothing but the worst, so much that I can barely remember the nice things he may have done. Then he pairs me up with a guy who knew how to treat a lady. George must have fed Brown bad lines about me, because only after spending most of our mornings and evenings together, did he realize I was not the loose bitch that needed tethering. I was a caged bird that needed freeing.
And you know what? I said fuck it. Even if I was to be loyal to George, I would forever be a slut in his eyes. So when Brown started flirting, I flirted back. When he said, “Waaaaah, Noni, hiyo dress umeikill!” I said, “Nilikuvalia tu wewe.” If the hem of said dress rode up my thighs a little, it was not by mistake. Coming from company as suffocating as George’s, was I so indelicate?
Our routine then shifted from his matatu and after a while, we kind of started dating. Kind of. He would get to town, leave his matatu, take me to breakfast, then walk me to work. In the evening, we would drop everyone else at Kenyatta University, then I would be chauffeured all the way to Kahawa Sukari. Or when he could not help himself, he’d stop at Kahawa Sukari, walk me halfway to my gate, then go back to his finish his rounds.
For the first time in a long time I was being treated as a priority, not an option. For the first time in a long time, I had something to look forward to. Someone to wake up in the morning for. Dress up for. Someone who listened. Someone who waited for me and gave me peace.
But nice things were never built to last. It was not long before Brown’s girlfriend, Wangari (who was also George’s friend) found out about us. It was the messages. From there, the sequence of events is everyone’s guess.
Wangari told George. George did what George does best. Like clockwork.
That was not the end of Brown and I though. The end came the day we were to visit his sister in high school at Kasarani. Since it was Saturday and I was only working half-day, I called up Brown, and asked would he help me get to the school as I didn’t know that area too well. He said sawa. We planned the way this would go via text. We would pick up people from tao, head to Kahawa Sukari, then come back to Kasarani.
“Na kwani umefika haraka aje?” George asked when I joined him and his mother at the school.
“There was no traffic.” Naturally, I had been forbidden from using Brown’s matatu, so I could not tell the truth. The truth never worked for me in this marriage. It did not set me free. Mostly, it set me on fire.
As we sat, eating and vibing he said, “Nisaidie with your phone I need to make an urgent call.” I gave it to him. I watched him as he pulled away from us, as he spoke to whoever he spoke to, as he finished and kept scrolling through my phone, and as rage trickled in and started filling him up. He had found what he went looking for. It was the messages of me planning with Brown how to get to Kasarani. It is always the messages.
“Me na Gathoni itabidi tumewawacha,” he said to his mother and sister when he came back, “there is something we need to work on.” There was nothing we needed to work on. There was someone he needed to work on. When he was done with me, he asked me to delete Brown’s number as he supervised. Which was stupid because that was a number I had crammed in my head. 07X2 6XX XX2. He could remove it from my phone, but unfortunately for him, he had no access to my memory. This was a vault he could not just hammer down with his fists. Management reserved the right to admission. And that must have burned him inside.
“Yaani I have asked you to stop using this guy’s matatu and you refuse to listen?” How he thought that human interaction and relationships can just be switched on and off like a bulb was beyond me. “You mean…nkt…na hata ukitaka unaweza wacha hiyo job yako ya insurance uende ukue makanga wake.”
Nobody likes to be drummed for sport. After that evening, I cut Brown off. I stopped talking to him or riding in his matatu. He tried. He called. I was gone. But my rejection of Brown was not enough for George. So one time, weeks later, when Brown got drunk and called me at around 3am, I was beaten. At around 3am. I had not even answered the call. I don’t know what I was supposed to do? Why couldn’t he go to Brown and ask him to delete my number himself while he supervised? If anything, Brown’s infatuation with me was his own creation. The beast he had fed had come to bite.
“He called you at this time because he knows he can call you at this time,” George said.
In his head, that made perfect sense.
If I had not met her, I don’t think I would have quit my insurance job. She came to the house one afternoon and found George and I sitting outside the gate. She said she was scouting for a new location of a TV series that she was involved with, and that George’s parents’ house looked like the kind of place she had in mind. As we spoke, she could tell that I had a background in film and so she asked, “Have you ever written for TV before?”
“No, not really. Just plays for high school.”
“That is not the same thing, but I am starting a kids’ show as well. If you want, I can teach you a few things.”
The day Naomi Kamau talked to me about TV production marked the beginning of the end of my underwriting job. Quitting was a terrible idea. By then, I was two months pregnant with George’s child. Leaving meant I would no longer have access to a salary, tips, advance or medical cover. But none of that mattered. Film was what I wanted to do. Selling insurance was just a placeholder, and now my true calling was here. Whilst I was excited about finally getting the chance to chase my dreams, nobody was more delighted about me quitting the insurance business than George. At last, he would not need to worry about other men sneaking up on his wife.
Later, Mother in Law aired on Citizen TV with akina Mama George’s house as the set. At first, it was weird watching our compound become famous, but then after a while it became normal. While that went on, Naomi and I began story lining for Machachari.
Anyone who knew Dr. Kiragu with a clinic at Old Mutual knew what kind of hive he had there. If a woman wanted to see Dr. Kiragu at 9am, she had to be there by 6am. That place came alive with women. Tall women. Short women. Light skinned women. Women the colour of strong tea. Sick women. Women carrying babies whose wails chopped the air. Women with empty, hopeful hands and bellies. Married women. Single women. Just, women. But the most frequent of them all were pregnant women. You met them milling in and around the building as if attending a convention for expectant females, their tummies leading the way like massive torches fighting the to be the center of attention.
Dr. Kiragu was the only other man who saw me naked aside from George, and it so happened that one morning on our way to tao to see my gynae, we ran into trouble dressed as a good looking stranger from a long time ago. Eric. Remember him? The one with the good tips? Well, he found George and I on the road and offered us a lift to tao in his Noah.
I wanted to tell him he was looking nice, but given the kind of history we shared, I knew there was no way George would take kindly to me complimenting another man. So I texted him.
Maisha inakupeleka fiti, I see.
He did not respond until we almost got into tao, then my phone vibrated. Hata wewe you are glowing! Pregnancy looks good on you. I deleted those messages before they could get me into trouble again. When I got in to see the doctor, I gave George my phone, did my prenatal checkup things, then left. Not for home, but for Naomi’s house. We still had to go over story lines for Machachari. But as soon as we left her house, two or so gates away, George pulled me aside and slapped me.
“What the hell did you do that for?” I was livid. I wanted to grab the first thing I could get my hands on and just smash it on his stupid mango-shaped head.
“Oh, so you want to say you were not flirting with Eric today morning? You are pregnant with my child and you are still flirting with other men?”
I knew I had deleted those messages with Eric, so what was this idiot talking about? Here is the thing though. The phone I was using was a Nokia C3 that I had just got. I don’t know who even came up with the million dollar idea of having a DELETED MESSAGES folder in a phone. If I deleted something, it is because I do not want that shit on my phone! So now you can imagine all the messages I had been exchanging with guys and deleted because, in as much as they were harmless banter, I knew they would threaten George’s fragile masculinity.
You can imagine how that looked, yes?
“If you knew you had done nothing wrong, then mbona ulizidelete?”
“Because I knew you’d react like this!!!”
He started shouting, pointing his phone at me, but I was just about done with this guy. I grabbed that phone of his and threw it into a nearby thicket, then walked away, leaving him searching for it.
And yes, when he followed me into the house, he did his worst, while I did my best. His beatings had now become so routine I did not care anymore. That is how he tucked me to sleep at night.
The following morning, the day still broke.
I was this big with child when we decided to set up the carwash. My feet looked like balls of mandazi dough dipped in hot oil. And it is because of this child coming that I figured we probably needed extra sources of regular income. I had money from writing for Machachari, and him from being the locations manager for both shows. Both of us pumped 60k each into the idea, and we were off to a good start.
As soon as Milan checked in in 2010, George began to disappear. He would leave, his phone off the whole day, and come back usiku smelling of meat. In the morning, he rinsed himself with cologne and left again. Repeat. I was tired. New to motherhood and being a parent by myself. I had lost weight from 80kgs during pregnancy to 45kgs. I wanted to start the baby on formula early, but his mother would hear none of it. She wanted me to breastfeed, but with what? I could not breastfeed because there was no milk. There was no milk because I was not eating. I was not eating because George would not bring me food, or leave money for any.
I did not care if he did not care for me. I was used to it. It had been, what, two years now? I could take his lack of affection. What bothered me was Baby Milan. What had she done? Had I infected her with some kind original sin? I remember the day I asked him to bring formula for his daughter. He came back home without the formula, but he had bought himself a pair of Masai sandals and two Tshirts. When I asked him what happened to the baby’s food, he said, “pesa ziliisha.”
With all this stress, how was I supposed to work? And even if I wanted to do anything, childbirth had taken ideas away from my fingers. I could not create shit. So I was broke. I remember there was even a time my hair began to lose colour at the tips, and you know how we women are always recommending things, yes? “What do you use to highlight your hair?” They would ask.
“It’s a mix really. Of poverty, neglect, bad health, lack of creativity and a dash of domestic violence,” I wanted so badly to tell them.
The day he came back home unusually overjoyed, talking too much and carrying pizza and soda, I knew he was compensating for something. His absence had become so common that even a little bit of attention felt strange. We ate, drank and even fucked, and after one round of sex, he was a goner, snoring loudly like he was trying to awaken a deaf bat in China. His phone was off, facing down, as usual, so I while I wrapped a towel around my torso and headed to the shower, I switched it on. I had not anticipated that stupid Nokia ringtone with greeting hands. It went off like an alarm, and for a moment there I knew George would wake up and find me snooping in his phone. He did not. As soon as it came alive, a message came in.
Thanks for today. The sex was amazing.
I forwarded the text to myself, stepped into the shower, put my back against the wall and let myself slide to the ground. The feelings came in an orderly fashion. First was betrayal. Then disgust. Then hurt. And for the next twenty minutes or so, I could not tell what exactly was washing my face; the water from the shower, or my tears. He was still sleeping when I got out. I woke him up, and threw his phone on the bed. “Read the last text on your phone.”
He picked it up, checked, then gave it back to me, “What text?” He had deleted it. So I read it out to him from my phone. “I am sorry. It happened just once.”
Wow. So let’s refresh our memories a bit. This was a man who had beaten me within an inch of heaven for staying out till 10pm organizing my friend’s birthday party. He beat me up when someone offered me a tip at work. He beat me up for supporting a football team we both cheered for. Then beat me up, while I was still heavy with child, for telling a former client that he looked nice in a suit. Thrice, he beat me for texting with the driver he assigned to me, and one of those was for my phone ringing at 3am. And that is just the beatings. The insults and threats to kick me out of my matrimonial home are also somewhere in there. All this time, I had been with no other man, even when I had chance.
Then he goes out, abandons me and his baby, treats another woman, fucks her, and with scent of her vagina still clinging to his penis, comes back home to fuck me. And all he had to say was I am sorry. It happened just once?
Even then I did not leave. When people ask me why I stayed, I go back to those days. I was 25. What did I know about marriage? So now I was to be divorced by 25? Then I leave and go back where? To my father’s house? And the way he had tried to warn me about George? When I got married to George, my mother told me “ndoa ni ya kuvumilia” because she had persevered a drunk in hers.
But the betrayal that cut the deepest came from Mama George. The first time I told her about his rage and the beatings, I knew I was not only seeking help from my mother in law, I was seeking help from the woman who had carried me home from the hospital when I was born. The woman who had donated her daughters’ uniforms to me. My mother’s decades-long friend who had accompanied her to Benny Hinn crusades, and stood as a best maid at her wedding. The woman who watched me grow from a girl and into love with her son. I thought she would understand. Instead she said that was not the George she raised. ”You are the one who made him like that.”
When the heat became too much and I wanted to leave the kitchen, she called her friends to come and talk to me. To convince me to stay. Because it was my responsibility to make my marriage work. “So he is cheating?” they asked. I did not answer. “This is the time, Gathoni, to make other women know who you are and that you aren’t going anywhere.” She said, her voice dropping to a small pleading purr.
So yeah, I stayed. I remembered my duty. I remembered my training. I tried to make my marriage work. Even though it was a broken clock that only told the correct time twice a day, I tried. I tried ‘as a women should’.
As told by Gathoni Kimuyu to Magunga Williams