I couldn’t go to his house because he didn’t want his wife to know he was giving me an interview. Sometimes the less the wife knows the better for the general peace of the home. My brother likes to say that sometimes unsolicited information to the wife, in a moment of heady enthusiasm, is like a boomerang – one day it might come back to hit you in the face. That’s the thing; everybody has a piece of marriage advice to give. You don’t even have to go looking for it, people just walk with marriage advice in their pockets, ready to hand it over like alms. When you stand at a security check where you surrender your phone and car keys and laptop before you walk through the metal detector, watch people also place marriage advice on the tray. Some advice is so harmful nobody should be allowed to go into buildings with them, because what if you forget and someone takes it home?
Anyway, he suggested that we meet in the parking lot of a small mall ten minutes’ drive from his house because, well, the unabating viral winds have shut the doors of restaurants.
I got there ten minutes early and parked against a wall fence with crawlers. A nearby tree cast a shadow over my bonnet. To kill time, I got on YouTube and watched an old episode of “Patanisho” on Radio Jambo, my latest addiction. That segment is wild and hilarious. If for nothing else the show illustrates that any story has two sides. Gidi, the main presenter, is calm, sober and pragmatic and he steers the show’s delicate emotional intelligence. Ghost Mulee’s laughter is the icing. It’s insane. It’s the kind of laughter that you can use as collateral for a bank loan. Ghost doesn’t seem to do anything in that segment but laugh and when he starts laughing it’s so infectious you have to join him.
I looked up as a silver VW Polo with dark tints parked. The guy I was waiting for didn’t sound like he drove a Polo. He sounded like a guy who would have called a Polo, a ‘lady’s car.’ Sure enough, the driver’s door opened and a lady’s right leg in Maasai sandals stepped out. I went back to Patanisho until 12pm when I WhatsApped him; “The eagle has landed.”
“I’m also here,” he texted back.
“Are you the chic in a silver Polo?” I asked.
He sent a laughing emoji. There are two laughing emojis on WhatsApp for the uninitiated. There is the normal laughing emoji and the other laughing emoji with his head bent, eyes shut tightly, laughing harder. That’s the one he sent.
“No, I’m in the white car, the one next to the old shape Prado” he wrote. [It wasn’t white. We are just throwing the wife off.] I couldn’t see any Prado. I figured (all on my own) he was parked on the other side of the parking lot.
“You came alone?” I asked, unclipping my seatbelt.
“Are you sure you weren’t followed?” I was taking this very seriously.
Another laughing emoji.
The inside of his car smelled of leather because his car seats were full leather. It felt like it was the early 80s and I was getting into John Shaft’s car. [Surely, you’ve watched Shaft, right?] I don’t understand people who have full leather seats in their car. Or, far worse, leather sofas in their house. Leather seats and sofas feel irresponsible, like you long crossed the line where you cared. Do you want to turn your living room into a Government VIP Airport lounge or a home where children grow up? How can children grow up as well-rounded citizens in an environment full of leather sofas? I think leather sofas ruin children or any pets that live in those homes. How can you be around such kitsch and still function normally?
Inside, I turned around in my seat to inspect the backseat of this leatherdom. The back seat was scrupulously clean except for a box of serviettes in case someone started crying after being shouted at for spilling a drink on this precious leather. Because his car was tinted, I made a mental note to wipe my fingerprints off anything I touched while in there.
“Have you always wanted to have leather seats since you were a baby?” I asked him. Somehow he thought that was a joke because he laughed. He was in his late 30s, prematurely balding and with a beard any man would have been proud of. He had hair on his thick forearms. I wondered if he had ever had handcuffs slapped on his wrists by a cop. He was in shorts and a trendy polo shirt that had seen better days.
“You don’t look like you,” he said, “how do I know you are bikozulu?”
“You don’t. We just have to learn to live by faith.” I said. “You know, I’ve never met a man in his car like this.”
“It’s exactly the same as sitting in a car with a chic, only there is no touching.”
We cackled at that.
“It still feels clandestine, no?” I told him, “like we are drug dealers.”
“You are selling or buying?”
“No, I’m here to tell you not to encroach on my territory, or there will be consequences. People will die painful deaths.” I said. “Did you ever read The Godfather?”
“No. I watched the movie.”
“Of course, why read when you can watch. Anyway, when two mafia families disagreed and they were going to fight it out with guns and shit, they’d call it ‘going to the mattresses,” know why?”
“Because the soldiers would all leave their homes and families and sleep in secret safe houses all over the city from where they would launch attacks on the enemy. Those houses had no furniture or beds. They slept on mattresses on the floor. That’s where the name came from, ‘going to the mattresses’ to mean, ‘going to war.’ So I’m here to tell you if you don’t stop selling drugs on my turf, we will go to the mattresses.”
“Then the mattresses it shall be,” he said.
How I ended up in his car is that he had emailed me months ago, we set up an interview but then he got cold feet. He then resurfaced weeks later saying he was ready to sing. From his email he said he was married to a woman who had two sons from a previous marriage and that it was so complicated, this blended family thing. His wife’s ex-husband, he wrote, was “a supreme dick.” [His words, not mine]. Also, they couldn’t get babies of their own and it was beginning to gnaw at his heels.
Our car windows were down and the crispiness of the slightly overcast day wafted in. His radio was on Homeboyz Radio. They met online in 2015, he told me. He sent her a message on Instagram which she turned to ‘read’ after two months. She didn’t post much and when she did post pictures of herself the captions that went with them had absolutely nothing to do with the pictures. A picture of her in a long flowy dress with a flash of leg would be captioned; “don’t let yesterday take too much of today.” A picture of her seated coquettishly holding a glass of wine would attract a caption, “we generate fears while we sit, we overcome them by action.”
Anyway, he liked her because she didn’t know what a MILF was, yes, but also she was the kind that he liked; full lips, natural hair and full hips. She seemed discreet but also complicated, something you always felt you would never quite figure out in your lifetime. They met up. She said she had just gotten divorced not too long ago and she wasn’t looking for anything serious and in any case she had two young sons she was focusing on. “I didn’t think it would get serious to be honest,” he said. “She had two boys. Come on, one boy is tricky enough, but two! I didn’t feel like it would go this far to be honest because it just felt like I was going to be taking on a lot. Fine, she said the ex-husband was paying fees for the boys but emotionally I felt like I was biting into a lot. But what is love?” He shrugged resignedly. They got married three years later at the AG’s office.
“The first time I met her ex-husband face to face was at her son’s school event,” he said, “I instantly disliked him. He was trying to show me madha, you know. Kwanza how he hugged my wife. It was like he wasn’t an ex anymore. Initially I thought that maybe I was too sensitive, so I chilled.”
“Kwani, how did he hug her?”
“He held her tight and for longer than necessary. I mean, you don’t hug someone’s wife like that when the husband is standing right there, even if you share kids. What are you trying to show him?”
He didn’t want to cause a ruckus over it and acknowledge his issues. He didn’t want to paint himself as the jealous type who sulks when a baboon hugs his wife. It felt petty and petulant. So he looked the other way. Until it happened again at the end of another term function. “That guy was simply saying he didn’t acknowledge me,” he said. He brought it up with her that evening and she defended him. “She said he was a touchy guy, that it meant nothing. The f***k!? ” He told her that he had a problem with such hugs. That he should go hug a cactus if touch was his language of love. They had one of those fights that don’t seem like fights but they are fights. You know them. Like pseudo-fights. He eventually put his foot down and said if she didn’t stop that huggy business he wouldn’t attend any school function. She said he was being a big baby. He shrugged and said fine. So he stopped attending the school functions.
The ex-husband also has the habit of just showing up at their house without calling first. Rather, he calls her but she forgets to inform him that he’s coming to pick the kids. He just shows up at their door with his hairy back and says he was “in the neighbourhood” as if their house is a drive-thru. “Sure, his kids live with me, but that’s my house, I’m the man there!” he said.
“Your spear is outside the door!” I said.
He feels like his wife refuses to define boundaries and so this primate just runs amok, hanging from his windows and doors. “He calls at night when they are in bed asking about the boys or discussing something about school,” he moans. “So can you imagine she excuses herself from the bed and goes to the sitting room to talk and she stays there for like five, ten minutes talking to this guy. It really pisses me off! Am I being unreasonable?”
“F**k this guy, man!” I said and he laughed. “I’d go to the mattresses with you on this one.”
Anyway, he told his wife that the next time he showed up at their door he would not be as hospitable as he had been so far. He might even make him an offer he can’t refuse. So he stopped coming unannounced, and whenever he came he would wait downstairs in his car. “He’s one of those guys with family money,” he said, “running daddy’s business.” I groaned dramatically like it was the worst job on earth. Worse than hunting porcupines. Hating people with family money is not only easy, it’s fun.
He says he’s in a tricky position as the father of the boys. He is a father but he’s not a father because they have their own father who is active in their lives. The boundaries keep shifting under his feet as the boys grow older. “I can’t make any decisions where it concerns the boys,” he continued. “If we are planning a small holiday, she has to run it by him first for his consent to go with the boys. I can’t even buy them books ovyo ovyo, because apparently some content is not good for kids so he has to approve those purchases. He basically uses the kids to make me feel powerless, you know, to remind me of his influence and the fact that they aren’t mine. And the wife just stands aside, watching this happen. I feel like I’m married to her but she still gives him control over things in my own house.”
The kids haven’t helped either. Because they are now aware of the power dynamics, they have become a handful. “I find it very hard to discipline them…actually, I can’t. How do you discipline kids – they are under 10 – who aren’t yours and whose own mother, your wife, has shown through silence that there is a line?” He posed. “If I did, and often I want to be harder on them, you know a belt, a pinch on the cheek because they are boys and boys need a bit more aggressive parenting than girls, I think. But I can’t. My hands are tied. I’m sure he might sue me for abuse or some shit.” He’s a figurehead, an emperor without pants or powers. And he’s had it up to here. [Insert teeth].
He also suspects that his wife has never gotten off her contraceptives. She says she did, but he thinks otherwise. He suspects this because no matter how hard he tries they can’t seem to get pregnant. He has done tests to see if his swimmers are fine and they are. Her own tests are also fine. But no baby. He continues to put his back into it, literally- but he comes up short, not literally. “For the most part I feel like an outsider in the marriage. I feel outnumbered, they are four against me, one,” he said, “But what pisses me off the most is that she never seems to want to go against him or upset him for some reason and it really pisses me off.”
“How did they break up anyway,” I asked, “they seem to be a match made in heaven.”
“She said that they were a wrong fit. That it just couldn’t work out.” To mean he wasn’t a sociopath.
A watchman who had been keeping an eye on us suddenly came to his window. He had a rungu hanging from his belt, or what Americans call a nightstick. He looked like he planned to knock our heads with it if we dared run our mouths. We were scared. Two drug dealers shaking in their boots. He leaned in the window and asked politely if everything was okay. Our guy told him everything was peachy, we were just shooting the shit. He said sitting in cars for long stretches of time was not allowed and we had been seated there for over an hour. “What if we are waiting for someone?” my guy posed, obviously irritated from talking about the ex-husband. He was spoiling for it, I could tell. He was ready to unsheathe his sword and duel this man to his death. The security guy said that he was just following orders; rules are rules. He said ‘mkubwa’ had sent him after seeing us on CCTV from the office. Silver lining, we were famous; we were on CCTV. He wanted us to move along. Kindly. My guy said ‘but we are paying for parking!” A moot point, if you asked me. I said boo from the passenger seat.
Yes, the security guy said, but you could also be a security threat. I don’t know. “Tunakaa kama jambazi?” My guy asked because thugs announce themselves by their dressing and mannerisms. The watchman was Luhya from the tag hanging from his lanyard, but you didn’t have to read the tag to know he was Luhya. He sounded Luhya. He was probably from Butere and he didn’t like being challenged, not at his workstation. He had come too far and worked too hard to take shit from anyone. I suspected that if they continued exchanging words, they might draw their weapons; rungu and ego and then they might end up in the mattresses.
I told the watchie that we won’t be long. I called him mkubwa. He thawed. That’s all he needed, to be acknowledged that he ran shit there. That he was the law. He hated our type in personal vehicles, entitled little pricks who make a stink if you bang their boots too hard. He mumbled something and wandered off, I suspect he said, “Mimi hamtanileteako bangi hapa. Mimi ni Wafula pwana, ndugu ya Nekesa.”
“Who pays the rent in your house, you or her?” I asked our guy.
He said the house was part of the divorce settlement.
“Ahh.” I said, in a Eureka voice.
“You think that’s a problem?”
“I don’t know. But you are technically living in that man’s house.”
He sat there, looking outside, thinking. A woman hauled a shopping bag in her boot while her child of about 6, a mask pulled down under her chin, looked on. He didn’t want to look bothered, but he was. Eventually he said, “My biggest issue now is this baby thing. I have no leverage. I mean, if I had my own child with her I wouldn’t care what he does with his sons to be honest. As it is now, I don’t really have a role that you can say I do as a parent. A few months ago,” he adjusted his car seat, reclined it slightly, “Remember that time I emailed you? I think it was after that. I sort of ran into some small tablets that she was taking in her drawer. I Googled them; they turned out to be contraceptives but when I asked her why she was taking them she said she wasn’t, that she used to take them kitambo but she stopped but she has never thrown them away. I didn’t believe her. I suspect that perhaps she doesn’t want to have babies anymore.”
“How old is she?”
The lady with the kid reversed out of the parking.
“What will you do now?” I asked.
“I don’t know. She has two kids. I want a baby of my own, I’m already headed to my 40s. I love those boys but you know it’s different, right? They are not mine. They are not my blood, I’m connected less to them because I feel like I have not been allowed to participate in their lives, you know?”
“If the truth was reversed, would you still have the urge to have your own baby with her?” I ask.
He paused. “Yeah, I think so. I mean, who wouldn’t want their own child? I would.”
“What if she says that she isn’t ready to have a child anymore. She wanted to when she met you but now it feels like it’s not on her to-do.”
He licked his lips and shifted in his chair. “ I don’t know.”
I also didn’t know. But I knew we needed to get the hell out of there before Wafula from Butere came back. So we left and later, when I was in the bathroom taking a shower, I realised that I hadn’t wiped my fingerprints from the door handles and things. You might just see me in the news; writer held for questioning in an ongoing investigation of illegal importation of leather.
Haven’t got a copy of my book? Buy it here.