Five years back, when people asked if I, Eddy Ashioya, was a writer or knew Bikozulu, my answers were straight: “No” to the first and “Who?” to the second, because it’s always good to defy expectations. But life comes at you fast. And now Biko is not only my mentor (see mom, I told you I’ll make it in Nairobi?), but finally the “grown-up” (which will forever have air quotes) in my room.
And with the grownup now gone to a secluded place, to pluck ideas floating in the air, and a black raven as his only companion in case he needs bailing out, we get to run the orchestra. Or in Kenyan parlance, it’s our time to ‘eat’.
Speaking of, today’s guest blog is by Anonymous (not the hackers), who pulls words into strings like a playful marionette. Please be kind to her (and to me), because I’ll be running the show for two weeks. And we’ll start by changing the curtains.
Gang meet Anonymous. Anonymous, gang.
I wasn’t the girl who grew up coveting marriage. I did not dream of the perfect engagement, or imagine the type of dress I’d be married in. If you’d asked me, I would have had a hard time pointing out the girls who’d be in my wedding line-up. This wasn’t anything out of the ordinary because getting married is not a requirement in the 21st century. However, my aversion to the institution of marriage stemmed from a childhood ordeal.
You see, I was sexually abused by a man my entire family trusted. He did it for a long time and he was rarely gentle. He had been entrusted with babysitting me whenever my mother was away at work. But instead of inspecting my homework and letting me watch TV like you would a normal preteen, he preferred other activities. Whenever I saw him, or any man who looked at me like he did, I’d feel a part of me die. I once asked him, while he was at it, amid tears and pain, why he was doing what he was doing, and he said it was because I was beautiful and any man would do the same thing if they were in his position.
Years later, when crushes and puppy love made sense, my friends would constantly talk about how they’d marry this guy and that guy and blissfully raise their ten children together in a mansion. We were young and foolish, and so when an older girl who claimed to be knowledgeable about these matters informed the rest of us that to get married and have those ten children, we had to have sex, we squirmed uncomfortably. We barely knew what it was other than that it was strictly forbidden and that it was rumored to be painful. I already knew it to be painful and not an act I dreamed of repeating ever again.
So when I learned that to be a married adult meant having to willingly participate in it, it made a married future less desirable. Granted, I was too young to understand how life works and that that is not usually the case but I could not imagine willingly signing up for an arrangement requiring that I have sex with my husband to get him to stay with me forever! If that was the case, I thought, I might as well glue my legs together to deter any suitors.
In fact, I tried. Well, I should say, I tried my version of it. Even though I gingerly dipped my toes into the dating pool, I managed to avoid it. If I liked a guy, and believe me, there were those that I did, I made it abundantly clear that I was not interested in it and that I was ok with them getting it elsewhere. I once approached a boy, terms and conditions of our relationship in hand, outlining that he could have someone else for that, but do everything else with me. When he asked why I didn’t want to, I didn’t know how to explain it. I barely understood it myself. All I knew was that dating led to marriage which would lead to being doomed to be sexual for the rest of my life.
Rejecting the idea of marriage was not easy because even though I did not want to be sexual, I craved all other aspects of dating and being in a relationship. I liked the idea of being half of a couple. I wanted to have someone who would not only hold me accountable, make me a better person, share meals with me, go on fun trips with me, but someone who would also be my shoulder to lean on through life’s woes and take good care of me as I would him. I wanted to be with someone I could call ‘babe’ and share intimate moments with. Though these moments would not necessarily be sexual, they would be intimate because I wouldn’t share them with any Tom, Dick, and Harry on the street.
Could I have gotten this companionship from my girlfriends, sure, but I specifically wanted a man for that role. I wanted a boyfriend. My companion. Though I didn’t know what kind of man would have wanted to be a pseudo-boyfriend, forgoing the pleasures of lust, or making do with having sex once in a while.
Until one day I met him.
It was 2008, I had just graduated from Uni and was broke as hell. According to advice from my peers, the job guaranteed to make you quick money was selling insurance. So I relentlessly pursued a career in insurance and I was lucky enough to get a job, even though I knew nothing about the industry.
I met him on the first day of my new job. It was a Monday morning and I had already spent at least two hours in his office running through the job description.
Him: Do you understand your targets?
Me: I think so…
Him: Tell me what you understand?
Me (hesitantly): Aaaah, I understand that to meet my targets, I must sign up at least 10 new clients a month, each paying a premium of at least fifty thousand annually.
I was enthused. But his face was blank, unmoved.
Me: Does that mean I’ll have met my target if I bring in one client paying an annual premium of five hundred thousand?
My attempt at lightening the mood was met with his icy stare, what people like to refer to as sura ya kazi. I was very nervous.
He rolled his chair closer to his desk, took a blank piece of paper from the printer and spent the next thirty minutes breaking down the pros and cons of an insurance agent having one vs many clients. He did it methodically, in a manner that felt condescending to me. I hated him instantly.
I wasn’t sure if he was so self-assured and arrogant because he had been promoted to head the sales department; or if he was just wired that way. Either way, his demeanor both unnerved and irritated me. The saving grace was that he had some manners, and was kind enough to escort me to my desk and introduce me to my new colleagues before leaving me to seethe in solitude.
His lingering scent floated over the awkwardness I felt staring at my blank desktop computer, patiently waiting for IT to come set me up so I could start selling insurance. While I waited, I scoped the room, noticing my soon to be frenemies carrying on as if I didn’t exist.
Two hours in, and still no IT staff in sight, I couldn’t wait anymore. So I stood as unobtrusively as I could, an impossible feat, as my colleagues sat right next to me. Also, I was new and I had no clue what to do next. I Didn’t even know where the bathrooms were. My presence was as loud as a screaming banshee. I left my office area and traced my steps back to his office. I had questions and I needed to know who I should direct them to.
His door was open, but I knocked to announce and explain my presence. He stared at me for an uncomfortably long moment, and I wondered if he’d forgotten about me already. But he gestured for me to sit, offered me tea and cookies, and then picked up his phone and tersely instructed IT to set me up. He did this while I nervously sipped my tea and munched on a cookie, barely looking at him. The man had moved mount IT for me, and it didn’t go unnoticed.
He was intense. His stare made me feel like I was under a microscope. His eyes followed my every move. I felt the pressure to sit upright and wipe the corners of my mouth after every bite. I was careful not to talk out of my ass the few times he asked me questions. Or make sudden movements lest I break the delicate figurines that dotted his desk.
He watched me eat in silence. I would have done anything to lighten the mood. Looking back I realize that that was how I ended up saying yes to a breakfast date three weeks later.
It wasn’t planned. We happened like an impulse purchase. The kind you make while queuing in a supermarket, swelling with impatience because the cashier’s machine has stalled. A stick of chocolate, strategically placed near matchboxes, seductively calls out your name. You’ve been on a diet but this a new flavor of your favourite brand, plus it has nuts and a hint of rum. You drool.
You’ve been good for months, so perhaps just this once won’t hurt. Besides, you’ve been standing in line long enough to burn all the calories you ate that day, you tell yourself.
“Eat me,” the chocolate whispers in a language only you can understand.
You quickly grab it and toss it in together with the rest of your things before you change your mind, or anyone notices, or both. The long-awaited manager appears and unlocks the cashier’s stalled machine, and you promptly pay for your purchases, a sure sign that the universe wanted you to have that chocolate.
He was at ease and less of an asshole during our meetups. We would talk, debate, and share ideas about anything and everything. He would ask me questions about life and he was genuinely interested in my thoughts and opinions. We’d pore through books and movies and discuss them at length. I found it endearing and I relished those moments.
Later when I asked him why he wasn’t this person in the office, he said it was because he couldn’t be seen cavorting with the staff. It was the first time I’d heard him infer that our relationship was more than platonic. Call it naïveté but I hadn’t thought of him like that. So when he said it, it took me aback, but I gave him a second look. Yes, I liked his company, we had been meeting up to talk and debate for months. He was taller than I was in heels. His skin was dark and even. He clearly had a gym membership but didn’t die by the rules because his belly had begun showing signs of status quo. He was much older and he had a presence. A man’s man. I like my men manly. My kind of handsome.
“Is that what we are doing? Cavorting?”
“Haven’t you thought about it?”
“Aren’t you married?”
“For how long?”
“Are you happy?”
“What about it?”
“Won’t it be a problem?”
“Will it for you?”
I hadn’t thought about it until then. I weighed the pros and cons in my mind. I would have a man for great conversations and fun outings but share him with someone else. A man, who at the time, hadn’t made me feel like sex was the alpha. I wondered about his marriage, about his wife, and what would happen if she found out about us, but he didn’t seem to mind it.
“Can I think about it?”
“Sure, take your time.”
I didn’t need to though. My young and foolish mind did not object. He fit the bill.
We started to spend more time together. We would occasionally have lunch and meet up for evening drinks. He’d drop me off at my house in Nairobi West, trying our best to shield our relationship from the pressures of work and loud-mouthed colleagues. It was a violation of the code of conduct to do what we were doing, plus the stigma of being with a married man was one I did not want to handle.
There was also the question of the wife. All I knew of their marriage was that she existed. I couldn’t obviously ignore the big fat wedding ring he proudly wore. Or the screensaver family selfie they took at the Mara. Or the calls he never answered in my presence. Twelve years together and not once did he feed me the usual lies of a strained marriage, the weight of unhappiness, limitations, unfulfilled desires, the horrors of living with a stranger, or the likelihood that he might leave her. I heard none of it. He kept that part of his life secret with as much fervor as he kept me a secret. She belonged on the other side of the wall, and I respected that. It was not my intention to break them up. Having him to myself in all the ways he needed was not a desire I harbored. In fact, odd as it may sound, her presence in his life was one I was grateful for. So I was more interested in keeping them together than apart.
We had an undeniable connection that blossomed into a relationship with all the markers of one. We bonded on similar likes and dislikes. He made time for me and asked me out on dates. We courted for an appropriate amount of time before becoming intimate. He eventually asked me to be his girlfriend, because I had made it clear that I wasn’t a stopover. You came to stay or did not bother at all. And I was not one to be messed with. I raised hell for misdemeanors. I asked questions and expected answers.
As time went by, his friends became accustomed to my presence and they welcomed me into their crew. He met mine as well, though they were a harder crew to win over. My best friend then, even though she understood why I was doing it, advised against it. She had a good head on her shoulders and meant well. But I was stubborn, and I carried my past like a crucifix. So I didn’t listen.
I was determined to be with him and so I offered everything that came with the job. Time and space, and because I was not with him for money or status, it made sense to chip in for our expenses whenever I could. I was careful not to deplete his resources selfishly because even though we were friends and lovers, I was aware that I was not entitled to any of it. So instead, we invested together, and enjoyed the spoils together too.
There was love between us. Or what I interpreted as such. I was fond of him and I was content with the short but frequent bursts of time we spent together. I was getting the kind of relationship I wanted, one with the aspects I loved but without the pressure to give too much. In me, he had a friend and a loyal girlfriend. In him, I had a man I thought I needed.
At first, it was perfect. But like all couples do, we fell into the routine of things. We had long stopped meeting up for talks and debates and adopted a lackluster life. It was apparent how much working together worked for us. Up until then, I knew all his whereabouts, his meetings, his colleagues, and travels. It was easy. But things changed after I changed jobs. It was obvious that there wasn’t much holding us together, and the stresses of life weighed down on the illusion of us. Clouds of unspoken recriminations hovered above us.
We went through the wringers of relationships. Sometimes I wanted to leave him because I wasn’t sure if he loved me or if he was just fond of me like you would be of a pet. But I’d put in so much time into that relationship that leaving on account of feeling unloved felt petty.
Being out with him and his friends sliced my heart into pieces, he tried too hard to sit anywhere but next to me. I mostly ended up sitting next to his friends, with him on the far side of the table. When I asked, he’d say that it would be difficult to explain who I was to those who were curious. Which apparently, was anyone else not at that table. I’d slowly sip my wine pretending that I did not feel dejected and disgusted, because after a few glasses of whisky he’d be feeling me up ravenously, but only in the car. Away from prying eyes.
Conflicts were never fair. It always felt like I was in a boxing ring with my hands tied behind my back. I couldn’t ask questions or demand explanations especially when he blamed his lack of responses on his main home. Ultimately, I got the sense that he’d only make time for us when he had an itch to be scratched, and the rest of his time would be spent at work or with his family. I guess that’s how it should have been from the start.
Life with him was lonely. The kind of loneliness that felt like a black hole that devoured all the sounds of the night, save for that of my troubled thoughts, which screamed at me. We were together less and less both in and out of bed even though this is what I wanted initially. It felt empty and devoid of any fulfillment. I had spent more than a decade with a man and I had nothing to show for it but tears on my pillow and barely a sliver of wisdom.
I couldn’t shake the fact that I had made a stupid decision. A decision I now no longer believed in because I had a better grasp of life and how it worked. Unfortunately, this has been a deeply personal battle. I could not bring myself to admit it to anyone. Declare the fact that I was wrong. I imagined anyone’s answer would have been directed to all of it being my fault. Like I should have known better. That had I waited; I may have found someone worthwhile. But life’s lessons are thorny, and you have no option but to crawl and bleed to learn and hopefully emerge a better human being.
I’m still not keen on marriage but it is now for different reasons. I still want a companion. Someone to share life with and have good conversations, and yes, to have amazing sex with because, though my introduction to it was unpleasant, it’s a beautiful thing to have with the right person. I’m far from perfect, so I don’t expect perfection, just an adult who understands consent as much as he understands lust.
Reminder: The creative writing masterclass for November is open. Proudly sponsored by Safaricom, register by sending an email of interest to [email protected]