Here is how this works. I meet the subject at a cafe and they start telling their story, right? I interject to ask questions, to get more details. Minute, seemingly useless details. If the story is wild or unbelievable I ask even more questions, but subtly because you also don’t want to make the person feel like they are lying, right? They might just slap the table and shout, THAT’S IT, NOBODY BELIEVES ME AT HOME AND NOW EVEN YOU?! YOU KNOW WHAT, FORGET ABOUT IT! And then they storm off, leaving me to shoulder the guilt. No, we don’t want that. Anyway, when I sit down to write the story – and this is the genre of creative non-fiction that I teach in my masterclass [which you can sign up for HERE because we only have two slots left then we close it this week] I write the story as is but I add creative details that are my own to create a beautiful narrative. Movies based on true stories do it all the time. Also, I create diversions to protect the identity of the subject, or in this case, the wife.
This story isn’t about giving an arm for something.
“There had been a party earlier that day but I was late because I was at my mistress’ place. Yes, I’m a terrible man, the kind that keeps a mistress. I could have overlooked this unpalatable part about the mistress only that it’s important to this story. It’s actually the fulcrum from which this story swings. My mistress used to live in an old building in Kileleshwa. The type that used to belong to the government and has a bathroom boiler for heating water. The type with massive rooms and massive windows and sometimes when you wake up there on a Sunday you can hear the founding president shouting, harambee! She is a good person, my mistress. You could call her a homewrecker but she isn’t. She actually saved my marriage.
See, three years ago my wife fell extremely sick; first she suffered a mild stroke that rendered her bedridden for a few months. I don’t want to be a hero or anything but I stayed by her side and nursed her to health. I would bathe her and feed her and drive her to physiotherapy and I would sit there when her moods were screwed and she turned into this terrible, wounded person who would scream at me or treat me with contemptuous silence. Meaning, I did everything I vowed to do on our wedding day six years before; to love and cherish through sickness and health and all that stuff. We had a nice wedding, by the way. Someone stole our wedding cake, but that’s not a story for today.
Anyway, she got better and she went back to work.
We were lucky we had found each other because we both didn’t want children. Do you know how hard it is to meet someone who doesn’t want children like you? My reasons for not wanting children are selfish. Her reason was that she had such a lousy childhood she couldn’t see how she could be a good mother to anyone. So yes, no children or pets. We had agreed we’d travel the world. We both loved mountains, so we’d see as many mountains as there were to be seen. The thing with not having children or relatives who depend on you is that all the money you make is yours. Fine, we belonged to the church and we’d donate money for the needy but that’s not an expense and you don’t get a note from anyone reminding you that you owe them. So we travelled quite a bit. We have been to three countries in Asia and we had driven through seven states in the US and twelve countries in Africa before she fell seriously ill.
She got healed enough to start going to work even though she walked with a limp that I found both sexy and funny. Months passed. We were as happy as we had always been. But then a year and a half later she started developing oral thrush. She saw a doctor who treated it. Then she started getting really tired, sleeping all the time, not wanting to go out or host or do anything that she used to do. She would get intense daytime sleepiness. We’d be seated on the sofa on Saturday talking and suddenly she’d be asleep. Just like that. Anyway, her mouth started getting so dry and one day she was coughing and I saw that the colour of her tongue was weird so I said, “sweetheart, did you eat mabuyu?” She said no. Our friend suggested that we see a doctor. “A tongue doctor?” I asked. She said no. We saw a doctor at Nairobi’s Doctors’ Plaza and saw another doctor at Aga Khan and saw many other doctors but my wife continued being listless and tired and she would get swollen in the glands and she would get so stiff that when she was standing up from the sofa it sounded like someone was breaking twigs to make a fire. And that someone wasn’t me. It’s frustrating seeing doctors who don’t have answers. I wish doctors would just say, “look, I don’t know, ask Doctor Mike next door.” Doctors want to fight fights that aren’t theirs to fight.
We had very good insurance, thank God, and because of that we decided to see a specialist in South Africa [Durban of all the bloody places), who diagnosed her as having Sjogren’s Syndrome. I bet you haven’t heard of this syndrome. It’s an autoimmune disease that dries all your tears and saliva . Can you imagine that? That was the bad news. The good news, we were told in the posh doctor’s office in the leafier parts of Durban, is that we had caught it very early and we were able to manage it very well. So we started on treatments but what that did was that it completely killed whatever was left of our sex life. She could not lubricate at all on the days she could muster courage to be intimate. Again I was the guy who had made vows on the pulpit. I stayed by her as our sex life dwindled to being almost non-existent. To make it worse, the doctor in Durban died when we were thinking of going to see him. He died in a fishing accident in the Caribbean, that’s what I heard. Or he just died on a boat at sea.
Anyway, we were informed by another doctor that her lack of libido wasn’t a result of anything rather than a purely emotional thing. “Romance your wife,” the doctor advised me. So I started dating her all over again but I was already tired before I even started. Nobody wants to say this but caring for someone, a spouse, who is very sick can get very tiring and boring. OK, maybe boring is a bit harsh, but it saps you. You can’t show tiredness or frustration or even think of your own needs. Remember there was the stroke and then the Syndrome. You are expected to be stoic. To suffer through love. But often you flounder and you want to run away. You want to get on a bus and never come back but you can’t because of love and because of God.
By the way, this wedding cake story is something that I will one day tell the world because, seriously, who steals someone’s wedding cake. Our cake had our names on it and we had only eaten a quarter of it. One day I shall name and shame, because I have a list of some suspects. Some sweet tooths.
I tried to romance my wife but she wasn’t in the space to be romanced. She was too tired of fighting strokes and autoimmune syndromes. Her career was also on its knees because she had been away from work for too long and people at work were now eating her lunch and taking her desk. The Corporate world is heartless. By this time, we hadn’t been intimate for close to two years and I was about to run mad. I would have extremely vivid dreams of being in a bathtub with many women, a frothing of limbs and searching hands. Hands searching for me. I would sometimes dream of being accidentally locked in a supermarket at the end of the day and then discover that also locked in with me were a number of very hot female shoppers without bras. I would aso drea-, oK you get the drift. All my dreams involved women. And me. Just me.
For whatever reason, maybe I would talk in my sleep, but one day when I was trying to make out with my wife and it wasn’t going anywhere, she suddenly said, “I give you permission to see another woman.” I was shocked. Pleasantly shocked. Of course, I didn’t show that I was pleasantly shocked, are you mad? I acted like I was revolted by the very idea. In fact, I acted like she had insulted the very foundation that we had built our marriage on. I sat up in bed and said in a very grave voice. “How could you even suggest something like this, Emma? How could you?!” She blinked and said, “Because I’m being realistic. Because I don’t want to pretend that you don’t have needs, needs that I can’t meet. I would love to, but I can’t. Not now.”
I stood up, pretending to be disappointed in her, and walked to the bathroom where I stood before the mirror, heart racing, thinking, “Oh my God, could this be happening to me? Am I the luckiest guy on earth now? Is this real, Lord?” But when I went back to bed, she was fast asleep and I recall thinking, Oh no no no no, don’t sleep now. Let’s finish talking about me getting someone to sleep with!”
Thankfully, in the morning she raised it again. This time round I wasn’t as self-righteous as I had been before. This wasn’t the time to be. I grudgingly accepted her offer. She set some ground rules: It wouldn’t be someone I could fall in love with, which normally would be anything from someone who doesn’t shave to someone who is above size 14. I don’t understand how some men say they have a ‘type’. It’s a farce. The person couldn’t be someone she knew, someone we both knew. That ruled out all her hot friends. Sadly. I wouldn’t spend time with that person, to mean no dinners or lunches or trips. I wouldn’t have any connection. That left Tinder. So we both signed up, put up a profile photo of my mouth [she thinks I have a luscious mouth] and off we went. The deal was when I found that person I would delete the account and stick to that one person.
Tinder is full of lame conversations. I hate lame conversations. I hate unconstructive conversation that chases its own tail. Anyway, soon enough we found a girl we thought was not hot enough for me to fall in love with and close to a size 14. She actually chose her. She was dark with big hair that I later discovered was a wig. She said she loved animals, to mean domestic animals. Cat fur gives me serious allergies. We had our initial meeting over drinks at Sierra. She was 27, no children, ran her own business. I didn’t ask what business because sometimes the less you know the better. I told her I wasn’t looking for anything serious. That my wife had been very sick for a long time and I needed affection. She laughed and asked what kind of affection. I said the type where our bodies touch, affection. She said she wasn’t looking for that kind of affection but three days later she contacted me and a week later we had the kind of affection where our bodies touched. My wife didn’t want to know whenever I was with this other lady. “Just be respectful,” is all she told me.
I saw her for another six months. It’s impossible to be intimate with someone frequently for six months without knowing about their lives. And when you gain access to certain aspects of someone’s life, it takes a great douchebag not to have an investment in their lives. The things that make them sad will make you sad. The things that bring them joy will make you happy, at least to see how those things bring them joy. That’s how I got attached to her so much that even when our sex life at home got back to normal I still saw this other lady. I saw her even after I had lied that I had stopped. It’s hard to stop just like that. It’s not an emergency brake lever you pull and the damn thing stops.
It went on for another year or so, until the day of the party. It was my wife’s best friend’s party. She was turning 40, a big deal. We were required to dress up in white or black or silver. I dislike themed parties. I was to wear a white suit because my wife was wearing a white dress and I had fitted one with a tailor. But you know how tailors are, they are storytellers. The day of the party I left to go sit at the tailors until he was done. Only I decided to see the mistress first, you know, kill two birds with one stone. It was a Saturday morning, around 11am but she opened a bottle of gin and we started drinking and talking. Twelve came and passed. One, two…at 3pm I sent a rider to pick the suit. At 3:45pm the suit arrived and I wore it. The mistress said, “stay for a bit, I want to enjoy you in the suit a bit.” So I poured more drink in my glass and sat back on her sofa in my screaming white suit. I felt like I had won a lottery, like I was royalty.
At 6:30pm I called my wife and told her I was on my way to pick her up. I was drunk in my white suit. And I was driving. It’s never a good idea to drive after drinking but it’s probably the worst idea to drive when you have been drinking since 11am. When the accident happened I wasn’t even fully conscious of it. Even when it was happening, when the car was careening towards a head-on collision with a matatu and I was avoiding it and headed straight for a tree, I was aware that it wasn’t the kind of accident that could kill me. In the final moments before I hit the tree, I twisted my body away and in the process twisted the wheel with me. The car scraped the tree, but because the tree was stronger than the car, I felt the car heave off the ground somehow in a feat of gymnastics and soon I was flipping and suddenly I was under a mash of metal, or rather my hand was. At this moment I thought rather foolishly that I could still make it to pick up my wife if my suit wasn’t too dirty. Never mind that somehow my arm was caught under the car. [Lesson two; seatbelt]. I wasn’t even feeling pain. Yet. It was the adrenaline or the shock. In fact, I was trying to look around the overturned vehicle, where my phone was to call my wife and tell her to hang on, I was on my way. I thought I could extricate myself from this mess of steel and then head home to her in an Uber and make it in time for the party.
A crowd quickly gathered, and not a very friendly crowd. It was a crowd that was keen on finding the answer to the question; how can this tragedy help me? They wanted to overturn the vehicle back to its wheels but someone smarter dissuaded them as it would have hurt me more. Hands reached for me just as the most excruciating pain washed over me. Then I blacked out.
When I came to, I was in a hospital bed and my wife was napping in the chair next to me. It took a moment for the events to rush back to me. It felt like a dream. The party, I remembered with a start. My wife wasn’t in her white dress. Had she not changed? I raised my left hand to check the time and realised I had no arm. They had amputated my arm. They said they couldn’t save it. It had been crushed by the body of the car. I felt robbed but I also felt lucky to be alive. My wife wasn’t even mad at me, that we had missed the party. You know how someone says ‘I’d give an arm to….” I think I gave my arm to leave my mistress. Of course my arm was taken by fate, but I feel like I gave it to break from that relationship.
I never recovered my phone, of course, and I decided to get a new number, which was metaphorical because it represented a new life. I buried old friends with old unhealthy relationships alongside the old sim-card. I also buried a big chunk of my former life with that amputation, including the mistress.”
In case you missed it, this is the last call to sign up for the creative writing masterclass at Enashipai Resort (two nights and three days) HERE.