A good black dress for a widow costs 37,000 shillings. That is if you import it. For another 3,000 shillings you get a black veil. But she didn’t want a veil because she didn’t want to cover her face. She wanted his parents to see, not her pain, for she didn’t feel any pain for the bastard, but her stoicism, her final triumph. She hoped for them to see that she had out-survived the tyrant.
So, instead of another 3,000, she opted for a black beret which made her look not like a widow, but a member of the civil rights group, the Black Panthers. She wanted to go for the strong and resolute look, not the bereaved and bewildered look commonly seen on widows.
Her teenage son wore a black suit. His uncle bought him the Mage Male suit off Amazon for another 10,000 shillings. It didn’t fit right, so someone took it to a lady with a sewing machine who pinched it at the shoulders and hips so that when he wore it, he looked defeated. Her daughter wore a simple black dress with laced shoulders for 6000 bob and because she’s 14 and she was at the stage where they wore whatever they wanted, she wore her black vans with red soles, which her grandmother growled at disapprovingly.
They all wore sunglasses because Kakamega was bright and sunny on the day of the burial. She didn’t pay a single cent for this funeral couture. A funeral committee had been set up, even though insurance had taken care of most of the big bills but culture is culture. It gave old men a reason to sit around under a tree and make decrees over the dead for the living. They kept referring to him as ‘our son’ even though “he must have stepped in the village a total of ten times in the 15 years we were married.” They spoke about him like they knew him and that they understood his final wishes, an irony, seeing as they disregarded his wish for cremation. “Nobody is going to burn my son.” His mother – a well-to-do woman who claimed to have worked at KLM in the 60s ‘before black people were allowed to work at an airline, let alone fly in one’ – said with finality. “I didn’t care what they did to his body, to be honest,” she said. “They could have strapped it on a tree and left it there and I wouldn’t have minded.”
“The night before the burial, my son and I went and stood by the freshly dug grave. It looked like a hole. It looked like somewhere you could have buried a dog that had been run over by a car. Or a cat. And it made me really reflect on life,” she said. “Here was a man who had lived a very flamboyant life and left behind a sizable fortune, but in the end he was being laid on his back in a hole with ragged edges. People say it doesn’t matter, you are dead, but I think the dead must know how they are treated in death. I think my husband wanted cremation because it felt like an easier way out. A more sophisticated way out. Not being left in a small rectangular hole to rot. And if he indeed knows and disapproves of the hole he was buried in then he isn’t resting easily. And maybe he shouldn’t.”
Their romance started in the office. She was an intern and he was a partner at the firm he had started with two other gentlemen. He had studied in the UK so he spoke English through his nose. “He had a presence with his wide shoulders and deep voice,” she recalled. “When he walked into a room, you would immediately be drawn to him. He wasn’t tall but he acted tall. He acted like he was 6’6.” He was also charming and intelligent and on top of this all, he had dimples. Devastating dimples.
“Like Sakaja’s?” I asked because apparently his dimples drive women into an asylum.
“Oh Sakaja doesn’t have dimples.” She rolled her eyes. “He had dimples. Deep dimples.”
“You could hide a coin there.”
While he was a city boy, she had grown up at a place called Manyani, which sounds like a place with a lot of monkeys or where lots of monkey business happens. She was mesmerised by him. Taken by him. “He wore very expensive looking suits and left a trail of cologne in his wake. Office girls swooned over him.”
She admired him from afar, like a painting you knew you wouldn’t afford. She said, “I didn’t even think he noticed me, seeing as I was just a village girl and there were girls in the office who were worthy of his admiration, Nairobi girls, you know.”
“How did he notice you?”
“I’m pretty, excuse me!” She cried.
“Of course, of course,” I said quickly, stepping out of the path of the oncoming train, “I meant, how did he eventually notice you.”[Note; she’s a bit feisty, a bit intimidating. The type that tells someone, ‘ebu hold my beer’ and then starts a fight.]
“He didn’t notice me immediately. First he ignored me. This thing men do where they completely make you invisible and then one day they say something that completely disorients you like, ‘Hi, how come you never wear that blue dress of yours anymore?’ and you are like, wait, what? Is he talking to me? He can’t possibly be talking to me? I’m a piece of furniture before him. But wait, he is actually addressing me! My God. Is he addressing me? Like a human being? Oh no, this is not right. And he knows my dresses? Those old things that I bought in Gikomba like any university student. So when he talks to you like that, it disorients you completely and you end up sleeping with him.”
I roared with laughter. I could have ended that interview right there. Why continue while we are ahead?
They got married in a small intimate wedding at a private beach with a handful of people seated on white seats. The breeze carried their vows. They were barefoot. Trouble started immediately after the wedding because, “the very same day when we landed back from our honeymoon in Dubai, he flew out again to the coast for what he said was work but what I later learnt was to meet his girlfriend who later became the mother of his other children who I have nothing against because you don’t choose your father.”
“Or your mother,” I said.
“Yeah.” I could tell she wanted to punch me in the mouth because I was talking too much. Ha-ha.
After their son was born he asked her not to work, at least until their son went to school. “He offered to pay me a stipend each month to be a mother. I was serious about motherhood and I wanted to bond with my son so I quit where I was working. But I quit at a time when I was supposed to have been getting my career off the ground, you know a crucial time in anybody’s career journey. What that meant was that after six years, I had lost so much ground I couldn’t go back to do what I studied. I had literally thrown my career away to be a mother and stay-at-home wife. I don’t even regret marrying him. I regret giving up my career.”
When his daughter was born he became a completely different father. It’s almost like the daughter evoked a new spirit in him. He was more present, more sensitive. He showered her with gifts. He talked about her a lot. She could never do wrong in his eyes. “If my son wanted his dad to do something, he knew to ask his sister to engage with the dad because he was more likely to honour requests from her than him,” she said. “His own son hated him.”
People use the word ‘hate’ carelessly: I hate rush-hour traffic; I hate matatu drivers, but what they mean is that they are frustrated. Hate is a very strong dislike for something. Like you can hate the smell that plumbers, internet technicians, handymen, leave in your house, on your furniture and curtains when they remove their shoes. And sometimes because you don’t want hate in your heart, you tell them, it’s fine, don’t remove your shoes.
“How does a son hate his father?” She posed that question to herself. “Well, most people think that it’s the mothers who incite their sons to hate their fathers and yes, of course there are women who feed their sons stuff about their fathers but that only works up to a certain point when the sons are children but children grow up and turn into men and we all know how men root for other men. They will start challenging the things you told them about their dad and if their dad is innocent they will make their own decision about their father. It happens. In my case my husband didn’t need help in that department.”
On his ninth birthday he told his son that he would take him to the motocross that afternoon. The boy loved cars and he especially loved cars going round and round. He left home at 11am to run an errand. “The boy was excited. Extremely. So by 12 he was all dressed up. He couldn’t even eat. He said, ‘we will eat with dad’. At 2pm he hadn’t come back. He told me, ‘call dad’. So I called him and he didn’t pick. At 3pm, I told him, Luke, have something to eat at least. He said, ‘No, I will eat with dad’.”
So he sat in the living room in his shoes waiting for his father. Each time he heard a car pull up he’d run to the window and look out. “At 4pm he called and said he was on his way. I didn’t give the boy the message because I’m a mother, I can tell a disaster about to happen, instead I told him that perhaps dad had run into an important meeting. By 6pm the boy was still in his shoes and he was now weeping silently in his bedroom. At 8pm he had stopped crying but he was completely crushed by disappointment. You haven’t seen a child crushed by his parents. You haven’t. It’s ugly to watch. By the time he went to bed my husband had not come back and had not called. What really killed me was that even with this disappointment, my son was still hopeful about his dad coming through. He said, maybe dad fell sick. Maybe dad will take me next Sunday. Him not showing up was cruel to the child, but how my son reacted to this was even gut wrenching for me. This undying hope in his father. And my son gave him so many chances, a million chances and he kept dashing them and this stuff builds and builds and it finally becomes hate.”
The abuse, when it came, started like a reluctant rain. There were signs, the dark hanging clouds. His moodiness. His snappiness. His irritation. Then came the distant rumbling thunder. The shouting. The banging of doors. The intimidation; how during fights he would come very close to her and stand inches from her face and bark at her. How one time he slapped the wall next to her face and for days her ears rang.
Then came the rain.
“We had come from his mom’s place for her birthday,” she said, “He felt like I had gone against him before his mom when I said I wanted to go back to work. He felt that his authority had been challenged before his mother. He started sulking even before we left his mother’s and when we got in the car we started arguing until we got home. We were still arguing as we prepared to go to bed and at some point he walked into the bathroom where I was brushing my teeth and slapped me hard across my face. I almost swallowed the toothbrush.” She flinched at the memory.
“The first time, you can’t believe it. You are stunned.” She continued, “you can’t even cry. In fact, in the morning it doesn’t even feel like it happened until you bring your hands to your face. Your body blocks it. I couldn’t leave the house for days because I thought people could tell. I felt humiliated, belittled. Unlike many women who are abused I told my mom immediately, okay, maybe the second time it happened and she couldn’t believe he could do anything like that because everybody loved him, he was generous and funny and charming. She asked, “Is there anything you did to provoke him?”
The marriage took a different course altogether.
“I shrunk,” she said, “I literally shrunk. I shrunk so that I could not offer a big target for his abuse, which were mostly emotional.” She slowly started staying away from friends, from family, she developed migraines that wouldn’t go away, she filled rivers with her tears until she finally hit rock bottom and idealised suicide or killing him. She started praying for his death. “Like really kneeling and telling God, ‘please God, kill this man for me. Let him not wake up. Do me this favour’.”
On the night before he was buried, her mother in law sat her down in her bedroom and said. “My daughter, listen here. I’m sure you know that my son has another woman with two children. Well, they will be coming tomorrow for the burial. I understand how you must feel about that, but I want you to act mature because this is an important occasion and we don’t want to scandalise it.”
“Scandalise is the word she used,” she says. “Her son’s whole life was a scandal! I don’t know what she thought I’d do, beat up his baby momma? I don’t think his mom understood how little to nothing I was invested in the funeral. I only attended because I was expected to attend. I didn’t care if a harem of his women showed up with their children. On the day of the funeral I remember my daughter looking at the woman in a widow’s dress and her two children and whispering, ‘Mom, who are those?’ I told her I would tell her later. Kids know these things and later when I told them, my daughter seemed hurt and confused but my son asked, ‘do you think there are more?’ And I really laughed.”
She skipped the eulogy. “ Why say things I didn’t mean? The man lying there was a monster. He was cruel. He was mean. His people, these people who called him, ‘my son,’ didn’t know him like that, so why spoil it for them? He was a monster who was buried in a great elegant golden coffin.” His daughter cried a lot when he died and when he was lowered to the ground but she never saw the son shed a tear. “I asked him, how do you feel, Luke? And he said, ‘I don’t know but I don’t feel sad. Is that normal ?’ I think I told him, ‘nothing is normal today. Nothing has been normal for a while’.”
After he was buried, they sat on the verandah and had tea. “I felt relief seeing him buried under soil. I felt like I had buried a very sad and wasteful chapter of my life. I was free as a person, but I realised that my children would not be free of this man. Fathers really fuck up their children. I didn’t know what damage he had done to my son, what kind of a man he would be. How would he relate with women? He carried great hurt with him and I knew that I needed to send him to therapy before he went and hurt other women, like his father.”
“What’s your memory of him when you close your eyes and picture him?”
He had come back home late from drinking. They hadn’t been intimate in two or so months. He shook her up and said, “why are you not behaving like a wife?” She, sleepy, confused, asked, “what, how am I behaving?” He said she wasn’t giving him his conjugal rights. By this time, his girlfriend was an open secret. She knew that they had a child together, a boy. He’d frequently disappear over some weekends. That night he demanded sex and when she said she was on her period, he accused her of lying and he demanded to check. She said, that’s ridiculous. He pried open her legs and discovered she wasn’t on her period. He was furious. He called her a whore and all manner of names that were a derivative of a whore. Then he forced himself on her. She lay there numb. “I couldn’t even cry because by this point nothing he did to me shocked me.”
“What I remember of him when I close my eyes is him looking between my legs discovering I wasn’t on my period and seeing rage rise in his face like, his face just filling up with anger like a tube filling with dark liquid.[Pause] That’s what I will always remember of him.”
One warm evening her husband left his office and took the elevator to the basement parking lot. He had on a dark blue suit and a blue tie. A guard patrolling the basement parking lot stumbled on his body. He saw his leg first and thought, what is that guy doing under the car? He was found dead between two cars. His car keys were in one hand and the other seemed to have been reaching for his phone in his trouser pocket. The coroner ruled it as heart failure.
“Yeah, that’s what the autopsy revealed, but sometimes I wonder if I killed him.” She said, “Because many days I really prayed that he dies in his sleep.”
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