You look at the wall. Photos of your wife. One with her parents, several on her graduation day, another two of the wedding day. It’s funny she doesn’t bother to pitch yours there. Not that it matters, but this is still Africa, and the king of the jungle must be made omnipresent in all subtle manifestations of life. It is called protocol and protocol is not subordinate.
There is something about having our worst fears come true that changes us. We become valiant; we take more chances, we listen to our instinct more and even venture to new things. Maybe it’s the realisation that nothing more can go wrong or that we haven’t began collecting new fears yet. This is what had pushed Alex to open up a vegetable stall in her neighborhood.
She was born Alexandria Aketch Oreo, a quarter a century ago. Her dad was a minister at the Migori Redeemed Gospel Church. Her mother was the Kisii’s level 5 hospital finest shrink. When she was named Alexandria, the women in her village noted that she would be a tomboy when she grew up. They did not care that the name was the feminine version of Alexander which means defender of men.
Alex would fill this role later in her life. Some of the older ladies in her neighborhood whispered amongst themselves that she would have trouble finding a suitor while she had that name.
Alex did not know of the whispers swirling around. In her little world she subconsciously subscribed to the mantra ‘mind over matter’; she did not mind the whispers because they did not matter to her. Her parents did not feel remorseful for choosing the name.
In the true biblical description Alex grew up in stature and in mind being loved by God and by men. Well, the women were gossiping about her. She wasn’t a top student but neither was she the bluntest tool in the shed.
Alex lived the cliché life of a pastor’s kid: she never went out, didn’t drink or smoke, and she never knew a man until it was the right time. Proverbial good girl.
When Alex went to college she chose to hitch rides in her dad’s Mitsubishi Lancer instead of taking the public transport. Part of the reason was that Alex’s dad let her drive them home while the other reason was that she loved sharing her music with him.
During the day she would spend time searching for new music and in the evening she would play it to her dad. On some days they sang along if the tune was catchy but on most days they would discuss the lyrics and beats at length. Daughter loved those moments with dad.
When one of the ministers in her dad’s church asked if he could date Alex, she confided in her dad. He then asked to check him out first before she gave Ben an answer. After going through his file and conversations with a few other pastors he gave the nod.
Alex did not change her routine with her dad though she was seeing Ben, who would insist on picking and taking her to school. She stood her ground. Ben let her. Her dad had told her that if a man changed her then he wasn’t one to keep. Alex agreed and made a mental note to take note when Ben changed, and leave. She hoped that day would not come.
Ben was what would be best described as a repented sinner (but aren’t we all?). Ben hadn’t had the privilege to grow in a loving home such as Alex’s. His past had been littered with failure and wrong turns. He had been christened warlord in his teenage years for picking fights with anyone who dared look him in the eye. His father had been an army general and it is possible he banked on this to create fear amongst his peers.
After high school he had impregnated a house-help and then framed her for theft. This had her fired.
Like all clouds have silver linings, Ben had found his lining in the church. This was the one place where people did not judge him. In church his errant ways were not questioned for he had encountered with the messiah – one who was able to turn around even the vilest of sinners like Saul to the reformed Paul. He took a role in mentoring the young men in church and soon he was bumped up to youth pastor.
The youth in his church loved him because he did not act holier than he actually was. He shared his past and cautioned the youth against falling in this self-destructive path. When some of the kids did not listen to his teachings and fell off the wagon, he visited them, prayed over and with them for restoration. Soon he became a darling to the church community.
Almost always the kids thought he exaggerated when he spoke of his rough past. The parents to the kids too thought it was a clever way of keeping the kids in check. They all had fallen head over heels with him and willed themselves to not find a fault. Alex’s dad couldn’t help himself too.
Ben however lived a different life story in his house. In his house his word was law, he never negotiated, nor consulted. If he woke up one day and decreed that breakfast would be served and taken at 4 am then that would be the Torah of the day. Alex would not have an option.
In the privacy of her thoughts, Alex knew without doubt that Ben was broken, but to the public she wanted to shield him, and protect him from the world in the hope that he would heal.
The strange thing with abuse is that we know and see it daily but we bury our heads in the sand and hope it will go away if we wished it away.
On days Alex defied Ben, she got beat up. Ben said a woman who wasn’t submissive to her own husband was like a ticking bomb to the world. And in an effort to bring world peace, it was up to him to pound her into submission. That’s the very least a man with such a highly functional moral compass as Ben could do for the world.
Despite the hurt, Alex knew she loved Ben, and as long as love was patient, she would wait for him to stop beating her up. As long as it was kind, she would show him kindness. In her skewed worldview she hoped that Ben would learn kindness by watching her. Apostle Paul wasn’t wrong when he admonished wives to be submissive to their husbands so that if they aren’t converted then they can be by watching their wives walk in faith.
So she waited for him to have a change of heart. What she did not realise was that one cannot give that which he lacked. Ben could not be kind to her because he didn’t know kindness. Yes, he did know of the word but didn’t know how to put it into practice.
The longer she waited for him to be patient, kind and loving, the worse he got. He raped her in the living room and ignored her in the bedroom.
Most of her beatings had occurred in the kitchen because that was the claimed source of conflict. Either the food was not enough, too cold, too hot or just not pleasant to the eye.
When she was battered she would lock herself in the guest bedroom with her son and cry her heart out. She never breathed a word of the battering to her parents because she did not want to burden them with her marital issues. Often when she had cried herself to sleep next to her heir, she would wake up to his little hands clasping her swollen face whilst patting it with his tiny hands.
One day she woke up to find his tiny lips closing in on her swollen cheek ready for a kiss. This broke her heart into tiny shameful pieces. The blur from her swollen eyes cleared when she saw his tiny frightened face. This was the last straw that broke her back.
She could take the battering and the insults but she couldn’t let her son grow up knowing it to be a norm, that mums were battered and left helpless. That one’s mum was condemned to a life where they could not stand up for themselves. That mum was forever wrong and in need of correction. And that it was ok to live a broken life exclusively by choice.
As she prepared to leave, Alex thought Apostle Paul turning in his grave because she did not stay with her husband. But then Ben would learn patience and kindness elsewhere. On that day she resolved her parents could share her burden of a broken marriage.
At midday when the sun was high she walked out of her home with not so much as a second thought. She took money from the offering basket and walked to the bus stop. She did not bother that people stared at her and her bruised body. She did not care if the touts at the bus park took her luggage. All she wanted was to get as far away from Ben as she could.
Alex finally found her voice after three years from the day she walked out on Ben. He hadn’t bothered running after her in her parent’s house. Some of her relatives said the reason he didn’t show up was that he had never loved her. Alex, like her younger self, did not mind the rumor but was eternally was grateful Ben never came back. In a weird way she knew she was over that phase in her life because one cannot give what they lacked, and Ben lacked a myriad of things.
Alex came back to the city so she could enroll her sole heir to school. Her parents had begged her to stay but she opted to go and be independent again. She also thought her parents had been a laughing stock long enough.
The very flock her father watched over had turned against him for the failure of his daughter’s marriage. They said that if she truly was a pastor’s kid then she would have forgiven Ben. It did not matter to them if she died while playing the role of the pastor’s kid, just like they did not understand her name.
She did not expect to get a job overnight and so with the money she had, she walked to Marikiti long before the cock crowed and brought in vegetables that she would sell at her grocery shop.
Today she remembered this incident when she saw two lovers walk by hand in hand.
Gacheri Gichunge is a creative artist who lives in scribbled words. Click here for more of her art.
Tomatoes, check. Sukuma, check. Cabbage, uncheck. Onions, check. Knife, check. Pepper, check. Recipe, innate. Cooker, check. Hunger, uncheck. Pause: A pseudo born-city young woman from Shamakhokho (/sh3mek’hauha:/) and Shiatsala (/shiets’e:la(r)/) is terribly concerned why there is no pizza flour (?) or Arabian garlic here. Otherwise this is a full health kit for any African bachelor doing miles above the helpless rest.
Today is those days. Your emotions are there too. You’ve been playing some Chirani Kuno (King’s Language) song repeatedly so that the neighbours can know that in your house lives a person, a human being, a man; all with the ability to live. You have been patient enough and now as you count the earthly possessions in your kitchen, you are very sure the bastards have all bolted back in their houses. You only need to spring to action before they start making babies….
So you wash your hands. You peel the onions, cry a bit, and continue peeling. And chop tomatoes. You do all the normal stuff. Pour some oil on the pan. It should worry you that the levels have gone down tremendously after your cousin visited last week but for now you are not picking quarrels with the world. Nature will punish him for you. Here, your stomach grumbles in agreement, and you nod yourself the wisest man alive.
Then you realise one spoiler: there is no salt.
You take the small packet and shake it near your ears. Then you tear it onto a plate. Three crystals come off and fall lazily. After serious negotiation with your ego you decide you can cook with those. Make the food saltless, eat it saltless, and when the climax is come, mix the crystals so that it is a grand climax that makes you forget the hardships of Misri. OK. Right.
But then, there is no water.
You open other sachets seeking crystals of water.
You check your shoe in case you could find a pint at least.
You bite your lips and clench your hands on the head. Slowly, you retreat to your bed that is two feet from your kitchen and a few inches more to the main door. You lie on your back. The bed even refuses to squeak from the little pressure you exert. This makes you worried. Even the bed you bought with your own money refuses to squeak when you lie on it! What kind of a bed is this?
You think of very sad things. But none of the things you think are as sad as your current situation. You wonder if this is not the saddest thing since the invention of humanity. You think through your childhood, your schooling, your tough lessons of morality and the foolish things the man of God used to say every week. Was this the target goal or there is still some life ahead?
As you lie there, you make one final observation: that you are in serious trouble.
And one lifetime solution: you need a wife.
Among many other things, a woman to just be there for you when such sad things come your way. One you can blame when there is no salt in the house or beat up when the landlord comes early. A woman whose beauty will be the consolation in times of hardships as this. A woman, for God’s sake, a woman.
There is this time I was a good classroom master. Used to tell the boys serious things that make life. Of course a lot of it was the normal bullshit to trick them into studying hard to get good grades and earn me a better pay and rank. But the one thing over which I never minced my words was marriage. And to date, I still tell the young folks around me to get themselves a nice woman for the house.
Please marry beautiful women, I’d say. Don’t go with that crap that a wife is chosen from her manners. Look, when you have a warthog for a wife and you go out for shopping, of course as members of the world we shall look and speak and tell ourselves how we sympathise with you. And why not? You will not stop by to explain to each of us that but she has good manners. That she is tender and crap. Those things are not written on her brows brother. We shall judge what we see. We shall all look and ask ourselves where your eyes were when you went to the market of women.
What did he do to deserve this?
Where did he pick her? A girl with small legs, a funny look, and a wig. A big green wig. Or red. Someday lightning will strike and her head will catch fire. It will happen so suddenly that the only thing you will see will be her two ears protruding in blades of heavenly fire. Before the fire brigade arrives, your curriculum document will be reading widower. And you shall prepare to have the loneliest funeral because where I come from people don’t attend funerals of girls with reg wigs.
But beautiful, they will come. Round head, round chest, round voice, round package of a wife. All round.
Marriage, done. Now maintaining it….
If your future wife brings issues after the wedding, chase her. Don’t even divorce The implicature of divorce is that you sit at a table and say this thing can’t work. Then you both walk away breathing freedom. Chase, on the other hand, is that she will be some distance ahead of you and you will be right behind with a weapon in hand. Both of you will be running for your lives. If she wins the race, bad for you. If you win, the world wins.
That is the chase.
There goes this story of our teacher, a distant uncle to the friend of my deskmate those days. By all standards and criticism, Mwalimu Kilibati was doing fine. He had a bicycle, clean shirts and had bought a plot of land next to our home. I should not forget that he was the only man in the village with a Panasonic radio cassette player and that the chief would seek his services, making him by default the only DJ at village functions and beyond. He was respected.
Then happened this rumour that he was marrying. By the time I saw the woman leaving his hut one fine weekend, word had made so many rounds that he was (imagine!) bedding a (one,) tall woman with thin legs who (two,) spoke English and whom they said was from Uganda. These two were, and still are, the biggest scandals that a woman seeking marriage can be pulled into in the kingdom.
You go to school and continue to become a teacher. Then you come back and marry an ugly girl with a lot of English! Who does that? You even paid dowry and promised to take her brother to college.
Mwalimu Kilibati had his defense. He said he would marry her anyway. Elders had sittings with him. Not once, not twice – I was there when the third sitting was done and wine and libation were also sent to Those Under and About. You know what Mwalimu said? He stood with the pride a successful elegant youngman can conjure and told the elders to mind their business.
That was unexpected. And so instead of caning him, they also did the unexpected. They left him to go back to his wife.
The divorce took place at the unlikeliest place. It was in Class Four of Musenda, where I was fighting ignorance. We were closing school. Our teacher’s young wife stormed the room shouting things we couldn’t understand because she was using English from Uganda. Then when a good crowd was beginning to gather and peep around, she rushed out and came back with a heap tied in the remains of a green polythene bag. Before anybody guessed what was happening, the mound smashed into the face of our teacher, ungracefully, and pacham, which was underwear of all colours and hygiene, scattered on the floor.
There are worse women in this world. There are those that will bully you every day of your life. You will get those that will be nagging. There will be those whose work is to get anything and everything from you. They will enslave you. They will kill you. But when all is said and done, cliche, you still need one such piece of punishment in the house. That is how society ticks.
I’m writing this story on a bus to work. I’m seated right behind the driver. The person next to me is an old man perhaps in his ripe sixties. Guess he is a night watchman coming back from work. He smells sleep. He even had to struggle to give the conductor his money.
I think he has seen a lot in life. A lot more than what is happening on the second side of the aisle.
The second side has a guy and, if judgment pardons me, the guy’s girlfriend. She’s been speaking so much English. Which is okay. But why does she struggle with that accent? Then she speaks loudly, and doesn’t give the man any airtime to respond. I think the guy is embarrassed. There are those cases when you must get embarrassed by your girl who insists on showing off loudly for something that is not there. But who am I to judge?
Then she sees another woman pass outside and she wants to jump from her seat. She almost rips off the shirt of her boyfriend just because she is saying that the passing woman was her deskmate from (there is a way she calls it – international) primary school.
Luckily for her, and sadly for our peace, the second woman turns and gets into the bus. And the greetings that follow almost bring down the entire city. Because the boy cannot move from his seat, the second woman sits right behind them, and their stories begin.
We pass DoD, their English is just as beginning as the old man next to me begins to snore. By the time we are in Hurlingham the first woman is explaining an old memory to her friend. She uses the whole stretch between Kilimani and Bangladesh to pronounce the vowel in PORT, and when her turn comes, the second one hijacks the stretch between Bangladesh and Kawangware to ask REALLY?.
When I disembark, I disembark with sympathy. Sympathy for the two women that won’t find a marriage. And sympathy for the men that might be appointed by fate into the bridal huts and heartbreaks.
And long spells of English.
There is a big problem for a man hitting thirty or thereabout. Especially if the one we are talking of is a graduate on his ninth job that isn’t what well-paying is defined at Oxford. No promising job invitations. No sustainable cash flow. At this age, you have already become what you wanted to become – a man. But again you are not so sure if that was the best thing, and you sometimes spend your evenings facing the ceiling and mulling over the years you have stashed in your knees with little to show because you have also become what you did not want to become – a loser. A shell. A semi-man.
So you spend your evenings studying your ceiling. You will find comfort in looking at the dots and lines left by the careless painter. If your house is like our houses then there will be a cobweb or a hill of dust near the lamp. An image will develop slowly. The scratches that once were artistic errors will now connect to create the sketch of an ogre. And like poverty, ogres are naturally ugly.
In those stories, ogres were African. Even had the tail. Sometimes you wonder if it is an ancestor forming up there to remind you your sins in the evolution history. As you lie there thinking weird things you will try picturing if your grandparent ogres are responsible for the hustle you go through today. You can’t afford anything, not even your own poor soul which you rented to the Indian long ago.
Today you arrived from work early. The first in four months and one of those moments. Now the door is locked and you are standing in the HQs of your Ministry of Food and you can even say your government isn’t doing so badly. You are at least better than Greece. Though your citizens are tired and famished and beaten by the winds of life, they will soon eat. In fact, once you are through with cutting these onions everything else will be just fine. A good evening.
Random thoughts have taken you to the grocery woman. How she keeps sympathising with you every time you buy her stock. Like today she was so full of sympathy she sat you down and offered a banana. Then she mentioned Stacy so very much more well. You learnt that Stacy is not her daughter but a niece. She is at the university and is not selling today because she has exams next week. Mama, for that is how you call the grocer, even gave you Stacy’s number so you could always book groceries when you delayed in the jam.
Stacy. Stacy is a good person; you are not. How she can deliver groceries at her aunt’s orders does not enter your curriculum well. You look at your past and you don’t want history to start repeating itself. But you decide to mind your own business anyway.
Now you are about minding your business when the phone bleeps. The sudden sound frightens you at first. It is a message. Since your hands are wet, you decide to check it later. It could even be that WhatsApp group where people send 2000 texts every evening discussing only sex and feminism without knowing Butler or the other woman. This is a good group to leave. But the guys are always online the entire night. And the way they discuss anyone who leaves has kept you scared.
The phone bleeps again. Then the call tone comes. It is a strange number. You wipe your hands in your hair and decide to pick it. Someone, mum, could be in trouble.
But the ninja was only beeping. Cuts the call just before you press the green thing.
You have no alternative. You call.
Halo Sadik. WHY aren’t you picking the call?
Sorry. I was in a meeting.
A meeting? At 10pm?
Umh, er, yes. (Eff lies.)
And which job is that? Don’t they release you at 4?
Then the guy starts giving you reasons why he can’t do such a job. All along you want to ask him who he is but you feel it too selfish. And so you are relieved when he brings it up himself.
Do you know whom you are talking to?
(Like you are the governor’s daughter?) How can I fail to recognise your voice bro?
How is Zanzibar?
Er…. I am okay here.
So what do you say?
I think we should visit Tanzania one of these days.
Not that. I mean what do you say about that text I’ve sent?
You sent me a text?
Some minutes ago. You didn’t see it?
No. But is it something we can discuss directly?
No. Read it first and give me your feedback.
HIGH CUZ. AM DOING A MINIFUNDRAISER 4 MY PRE-WEDDING NXT MONTH. AFTER THE FIRST MEETING, AUNT HAS SET 20K AS THE MINIMUM 4 FAMILY MEMBERS. WE ALSO NEED SOMEONE 2 HELP WTH TRAVEL ARRANGEMENT 2 N FROM MA GAL’S PLACE. CAN U MANAGE 2 FUEL THE BUSES?
THNKS LOVLY CUZ AND GOD BLAZE.
I put the knife down and lift myself onto the sink slab. I go through the text again and again until the words make an imprint at the back of my mind. Yet I still read it several more times my eyes become sore. I read over and over in anticipation that tears will be kind enough to come witness this covenant with fate.
Jealousy is like a cough and I can’t fool mine. I can’t veer it off of all the married people I know. I think of Eric and Edwin and Ahmed. Sam and Eunice. Donald and Melania Trump. All married and swimming in the ecstasy of love. Today they ate a good meal. Put on clean clothes. Had a hug. A kiss before and after work. For years they have had organised life. And look at me here! Spending lonely evenings peeling onions and sitting on sink slabs to read text messages with spelling errors. What a tragic story of an innocent African. A graduate, for everybody’s sake.
I wonder what I would be doing now had I been born white or red or yellow.
Perhaps I could be making love to a Saudi woman at a cabin in my oil well. Or coming from my rice fields and shouting to the Good-One in Maori. Or I would be lying in a shallow grave in Ghaza. Or I would be an aborted sperm in the drains of Florida and would by now have turned into a ghost sperm making noise in the pipes….
Isn’t the ghost idea a superb one? Though anything else would still be so good considering that the alternative is to spend a life with fake people.
But my cus’s girl must be a catch. I can see it in the upper case. The last bit, though. I think of the girls that I have had. What if I dwelt on reminding my cousins to send something for the proposals and marriage dreams that somehow met an ugly shocker afterwards? I hope theirs will not be the big thing that fails slightly before the first anniversary. I’m no pessimist. People should just learn to stop playing with us.
When you are a man and you identify a woman, the thrill that carries you should sum the pains you will suffer trying to maintain it. Think of the blue outings and golden rings and candle dinners. Think of the bills and how in return you will still have a disgruntled citizen who regards you the stingiest beast. Think of the fights and demands from that first greeting to the day death doeth you apart. If the summary is glamour, take home your bride in silence. If for some reason you see it tough but still think you should give it a try, get a witch by your side, not us mere mortals.
The case of a man marrying a woman through fundraisers should be a spiritual affair. It must be a matter handled by experienced intercessors who know how to pray well. Organise it at an open field in the heart of the night. Give it enough publicity on TV and then parade the two at a stadium so that after marriage, everyone can see the marriage certificate signed and sealed with a SPONSORED sticker done in red.
After all, we helped you when you couldn’t afford the nail on her small toe.
Men, telling us to fuel a bus to your wife’s place is a great disrespect to humanity. You will not lease her to come cut onions for me. She will not be my wife on contract till you refund my fuel contribution. You even quote the minimum amount we should bring, but during child making we shall not be invited to also induce children.
WE ALSO NEED SOMEONE 2 HELP WTH TRAVEL ARRANGEMENT 2 N FROM MA GAL’S PLACE.
My evening now smells fermented garlic. What do people gain by piling cow shit in their heads?
But maybe he is right. I should look for the most beautiful girl and take her to my uncle’s neighbour to deal with the expenses. Get some subsidised messaging service and text all my imaginary and real friends and specify the colour of suit they should wear at MY wedding.
Everything around me finally turns evil. I descend and walk to the bathroom. The man in the mirror is defeated. I need some water to mop my face. Then I remember the fools cut my water connection last week because of the bill. I check the man in the mirror again and he is sad. But can carry on.
You cannot simply decide to start life on the wrong foot and expect us to look and cheer on. And then when you die we shall be asked to buy a coffin for the coffer. And since you taught your model wife how to throw away wealth, we shall each be issued with papers inviting us by the gate to fundraise for the suit we shall bury you in. Then we shall be shocked that you even sold your land to pamper your wife, and like the good citizens we are, we shall all come together to buy you a place at the cemetery. At least your kids will go back to your mum who must then be responsible for raising an arsehole.
What happened to good manners and sense the chaplain used to tell us?
But we take our fate. We accept that the world is no longer a world of men and women who think beyond the warmth of their beds. We accept to live with mediocrity. We don’t even want things to change. We want our walk in this damnation to be so quick so that we can meet our deaths and run away from stupid men. The special caste that thrives on illusions and an imposed feeling of self-worth.
God blaze them for us.
He even called me Sadik. Sadik is my brother. And it is my sister who was staying in Zanzibar; she came back three years ago.
So how normal this pre-wedding fellow is I can’t tell. Does he walk with two legs and smile at people? Does he fart in a toilet and pee when taking a shower? Or maybe he is the Akond of Swat history has been seeking. For who, what, and why he is, I also don’t know.