Where were we?
Right. Dinner in Stellenbosch. And here is a big man sporting big guns with ropy veins curling around them and a smile as wide as a Smokie. And Beatrice, our protagonist, is feeding off the plate of his wide palms and breathing in his smile in long gulps. This man she describes as ‘a delicious man’ is on his knees, serving her and her mate with great gentility and intense eye contact, a gaze that perforates the heart’s armour. She’s bashful and a tad giggly because she’s been praying for a man, nay, for babies but babies don’t come from ponds and there, in charming Stellenbosch, watching this astonishingly delicious man serve them on his knees, she begs an important question, “is this the man you sent, Lord? This gladiator with an Adam’s Apple the size of my fist?”
That’s where we left this tall tale last week.
Are we together up to that point?
Sawa, let’s get into it then, Gang.
At some point I removed my shoes under the table because I was getting warm and fuzzy from the pinotage and from watching this man serve us on his knees. Of course he had big knees, a block of knees, and I wondered if his knees hurt from all that kneeling. If they did, he didn’t show it. There was a loud pop as he uncorked a second bottle of wine. We stayed there for hours, laughing and drinking until his shift ended, then we went out dancing until the foetal hours of the morning. He moved on the dance floor like a very flexible building.
This was Thursday, November 6th. Five days later he came over to my girlfriend’s house after work. She lived in Stellenbosch on an Expat assignment. He stopped and removed his big shoes. They looked like identical boats moored by the door. [OK, I need to stop exaggerating this guy’s size. I promise that’s the last imagery] His feet were blistered from standing on his feet for 12 hours, waiting and walking. They looked awful. I sat on the floor and I washed his feet gently with warm water and soap. He was Shona. Shona men are received and served by their women on their knees.
On Thursday, a day or two later, he came over after work and said, “would you please allow me to spend my life taking care of your life?” I said, “What?” He said, “I’d like to spend my life taking care of your life. I will give up South Africa and follow you anywhere.” I stammered, “Are you proposing?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “OK.” The following day we went to a small jewellery shop, right there in Stellenbosch, where we bought each other silver rings. We then wandered around holding hands. The air was thick with the smell of overripe grapes and wet flowers.
We didn’t get intimate and not from his lack of trying. Of course he was keen but I held back his horses. I was doing this the right way. I had been celibate for close to two years by that time because I figured that perhaps having sex was delaying my answers from God. So I had decided to remain a proper church girl, no sex. At the airport he swallowed me in a hug. I stared out the window the whole flight home. The shape of the clouds reminded me of his face. A few weeks later, he flew up and paid my dowry.
That evening, as we sat in my beautiful garden where I lived in Karen’s Miotoni Road, he told me, “look, I’m not going to wait for sex after some white wedding. I have paid the dowry. You are mine now.” Without waiting for my response he took me right there in our garden. He’s a proper Mandigo, a real solid Mandigo, as African as African gets; 130 kilos, those big men who hold together a rugby scrum, a delicious man. He didn’t care who was watching. Men like him don’t care about neighbours. Mandingos don’t. They take what’s theirs.
I read somewhere that if you want to conceive you raise your legs in the air during sex, so I raised them and he held them up and said, “don’t worry, you will conceive.”
Seven days later we have our wedding at Windsor over the water. It was New Year’s day. Pond venue cost 50k. We had four whole roast goat, each goat 25k. Mukimo, roast potatoes, kachumbari. We had 50 people. Cake was 6K. My husband’s suit was 6K on sale somewhere in tao. I drove myself to the wedding with my best maid Makena Njuki. We had breakfast at Java junction -1K- then popped into Nakumatt for sijui lipstick. Wedding started at 4pm and ended at 7pm, short and sweet. Our honeymoon was in our house in Miotoni road, a wood cottage, movies, long walks and braai.
I was quite happy, so in love. Remember this man was working as a waiter, but a real hard working spirit, a golfer, rugby player. Zimbabwe had knocked him to his knees so many times. He’d risen to manager, gone to start a business, but Zimbabwe threw it off, then went back to work as a waiter, starting from the ground up. I got his thinking. I got it. I got this never-say-die spirit. It didn’t matter to me that he earned nearly nothing and owned only one pair of shoes and had never been on a plane. It didn’t matter.
After the wedding he gets on a plane and leaves for South Africa and before he touches down at OR Tambo I’m sick. I get really sick. Turns out I’m pregnant. I’m in and out of the hospital because my pregnancy is difficult as hell. In fact my life and my baby’s life are in danger.
I was supposed to go and deliver in Australia because I had gotten residency but I was too sick and my husband was away and couldn’t come. I needed help so much. I would be in Nairobi hospital for four days and nobody could call me. It was a terrible time. But then my daughter came. I named her after a man I had sat next to on a plane four years earlier, he was Burundian and he told me the meaning of his name and I thought it was such a beautiful name so I wrote it down and I said when I get a child, boy or girl, I would call them.
On our first anniversary I go to the airport to pick up my husband who is coming from SA and he doesn’t come off the plane. I panic, certain that something horrible happened to him. He just didn’t show up. And nothing was wrong. I leave the airport and go home and I’m feeling like shit, I’m scared. My mom tells me, “Oh, he’s fine wherever he is.” She’s so casual and confident and calm while I’m losing my shit. I’m so sure something bad has happened to him. Two weeks later he writes to me and tells me he had been kidnapped by nuns.
The true story, though, was that he had been with his ex who he’d gotten pregnant with when I was maybe six months pregnant, and I didn’t know this at that time. Anyway, I read that nun message while at Artcaffe and I was done. But you know how men are, he comes back and he begs his way back into my life and I say, ‘sawa’ but I knew in my heart of hearts that the marriage was not going to go very far. First night he’s back, we had a long talk. Rather, I listened to his nun story and took a bathroom break.
I’m in the bathroom and I’m asking myself questions. I’m asking myself, Beatrice, you are in your late 30s, do you have time to find another man, fall in love, be cheated on, fight about it all over again? I don’t have that time. This is the one I have and I’m married to him, and the marriage is over. Do you want another child? Yes. So I went and told him, ‘I want another baby.’ He looked up from his phone and said, Are you serious? I said yes. So we went straight to the bedroom and got my feet up in the air again. Then I was pregnant. A few days later he got a call from Zimbabwe that his second son had just been born. Just so you know, the man has 11 children now. Oh, and he’s ten years younger than me. Like I said, mandingo men.
Anyway, my second daughter is born.
Listen, meanwhile I’m still at BAT and work is crazy. I’m working long hours and travelling out all the time. I had been promoted and was doing very well but my children were being raised by the nanny and the driver. The marriage wasn’t easy either, it had cracks. He was in a hard place, immigration wouldn’t issue him a dependent pass so he couldn’t work legally in Kenya. He couldn’t support his kids and women. It’s hard to be a mandingo man and be fended for by a woman. He took the frustrations out on me, he cheated on me, I stayed because- for better or worse, right? I wasn’t a saintly wife either. When he cheated and I chose to stay I became bitter and angry and mean. Angry with myself for staying. I became one vulnerable and vicious woman. To him. And I’m Sagittarius. He had it rough.
One time during a row he wanted to burn down the house. He refused for me to exit the house, locked the front door and pocketed the key. I casually walked upstairs, screaming on the inside. A panic button hang on the side of the bed, I strolled over and finyad it while looking him in the eye. He knew once I finyad that button that was it; it would be a cops story. They’d show up, maswali baadaye. They don’t call to ask if it was an accident blah blah, they show up. And they showed up, in minutes. They found him holding matches. He glared at me and went downstairs and calmly told the cops it was nothing, his wife was just overreacting to a small quarrel. I could hear the cops acquiescing- without speaking to me! I heard them say, ‘hizi ni bedroom matters za Karen.’ I headed out of the bedroom and begged the cops not to leave us behind with him, it was an out of body experience.
Before we got married I told him that men in our family were Meru, not to be trifled with. And that my father was Ncuuri Ncheke and his late father was a MauMau General. All true. And thus, violence on their women was a suicide mission. I told him all these and changed the topic calmly. Oh, during the Braai the week before the wedding my brother handed him a beer and told him, as cool as a cucumber on a hot Meru night – ‘any man who marries my sisters is a brave man because they are very strong women. But should you ever feel you don’t want her anymore, for whatever reason, bring her back to us. Do not harm her. Just bring her back. We love her very much.’ I didn’t hear this conversation. Mandingo told me later.
Thankfully, he was not a violent man, many things but not violent. I could never accuse him of that.
I was an absent mom. I was always away and the nanny and the driver would take my children to clinics and school and soon I discovered that something was happening between my nanny and my husband and when she got a baby, the baby looked so much like my daughters I went and did a DNA test which came out negative but I didn’t believe those results. The DNA I believed was inside me, a woman’s DNA doesn’t lie. I ignored all this because what good would it do if I fired her? Nothing. She was holding it down at home for me when I was traversing the continent; DRC or Uganda, or I’m in Eritrea passing Yemen….Oh, Yemenis. I once connected through Yemen and they came into the plane with guns hanging from their hips and stood over me in first class where I was the only woman, the only person. They were suspicious of me because of course I’m black, female and not Muslim and travelling first class. I must have been a drug queenpin. They confiscated my passport. Was I going to deal with Yemenis with guns or a nanny who took very good care of my children in my prolonged absence but who was shagging my husband? I chose to deal with Yemenis and keep my kids happy and safe. If you want my husband you can have him, please.
It was difficult, of course, and painful, because I loved him. I loved him through all that shit. I stayed with him because people had told me, you can’t keep a man, you can handle high-powered jobs but you can’t keep a man. I wanted to prove them wrong, I guess until I didn’t because I had life’s targets remember? I was focused and dedicated and I went hard at my dreams and this didn’t make me an easy boss to work for. I was no nonsense. If we were working, we were working, no excuses. I demanded over one hundred percent from you. People would tell me they used to stand outside my office and brace themselves before they came in. I was a slavedriver and that’s no good, in retrospect. Maybe there are other ways to do it. [Pause] I don’t know, I only know one way of going for what I want and that is consistently hard.
I had a resignation letter at the bottom drawer. That I dare imagine that this good money is guaranteed and is forever or that I dare forget the plan is to be out of here at 40. My letter stayed in my bottom drawer unsigned, undated, and written. But then BAT started handing me promotions nini nini but I’m 39 and I have a year left to flee. I’d offered myself for redundancy so many times and they were so irritated with me, like what do you mean because they had been trying to offer me promotions.
By December, my residency would expire if I didn’t go to Australia. My husband was behaving like a punk and my deadline – 40 – was a few months away. And I’m looking at those numbers and Nanyuki is calling me because I’m clear it has to be Nanyuki. I had been looking for land even when pregnant. When I couldn’t go because the pregnancy was too big I would send my dad, and his leg was not so good, to go look at land. He would call me and tell me, you can’t plant anything, it’s full of rocks, so I let go of the land. Later I’d be like, wait a minute, I don’t want to plant anything, that’s his thing, my thing is to build cottages and run them in my early retirement. I remember just before my daughter was born in 2010 I had bought windows and beautiful teak doors and mutharakwa and beautiful old heavy solid wood and grills in Spring Valley. I bought enough to build cottages but I didn’t have land so my brother had given me a ki mabati shack to keep them in his Karen shamba when I dropped them off in a big lorry. They were dusty and junky but solid material. Then I waited.
Meanwhile, around that time I went back to Pastor Esther’s church, who when I was there beat her chest and said, ‘I’ve been asking you people for the money to build this institution, this church, this space that is going to raise these daughters of ours and nobody is coming up with the money. But you people are not contributing to it so I’m going to build it myself.’ And I remembered the promise I had made for this church so I went to the bank and withdrew the money I had been saving for land for two years – all of it – and took it to church. I told my husband of this plan and he thought I was crazy but he knew when I decided on something it’s done. So I took all this money to this mabati church off Mbagathi Road, built on top of cemeteries and I gave it to Pastor Esther. My whole two-year savings for land. I told her, ‘I made my promise and here it is, build your church.’ I gave her because when I had nothing she’d pray for me and cry with me. She wasn’t shocked or surprised because she knew. She told me, ‘I knew you would come back.’
Then I found land in Nanyuki. Ha-ha. I went to see it with my husband. It was in an area I was longing for, and it was full of jacaranda trees. It was so big, more than the three acres I wanted. I’m talking 21 acres! The old man who owned it and some agents showed us around. I was the only woman. I remember I had Crocs on, the sun was low and hot and the air heavy with heat. Here was land I had dreamt of but I had no money in my account, having given everything to church.
So we are walking in the shamba and the men are talking and ignoring me because I’m just a woman escorting him. They are only addressing my husband so I trail behind and I remove my Crocs and I step on the hot ground barefoot to listen to what this land is saying, what am I hearing and I turn and look directly at the mountain but I don’t see her because of cloud cover but I hear what it says, everything says it’s mine. You want to buy land? Listen to your feet. Your feet will tell you all the truths of the earth you ever need to know. The land was seven times bigger than what I wanted and I had no money. So I put on my Crocs and catch up with the men and I tell the old man, I will take it and he asks, ‘OK, how many acres’ and I say, ‘everything’ and my husband’s head snaps to look at me like, what the…?
We drink tea with the mzee the next morning and we shake hands on the deal, no paperwork, just handshake and I tell him I will find his 10% deposit. I don’t know where and how because remember my money is all tied up in many pieces of land now. He says, sawa, and gives me a few weeks. Biko, many people came after that to offer this man money, more money, but he said no. He told them, I already shook hands with the Meru girl and unless she tells me she can’t pay, I will wait for her. And he waits as I try to sell off my many pieces of land. I fast for three days, I don’t drink water, I don’t taste food and I pray for buyers. Eventually an old man with an old coat with patches on his elbow driving an old rickety blue car shows up and he buys some pieces of land.
At some point I take the redundancy in December, three weeks after my Australian permit expires. I miss my deadline of retiring at 40 by six months. With my redundancy money I buy more land. So in total I have 50 acres in Nanyuki. I have a deal to sell a small portion of it at 5 times what I paid for it. So my plan was working; to sell some and have enough to build my dream cottage and raise kids. The buyer – a Tswana – who is to buy some acres pulls out. And so for the next 18 months I have no money because all my redundancy money I used to buy land. I have to move out of my Karen house. Which is the irony of land. I had land everywhere, but I had no liquidity.
My daughter gets admitted to the hospital, thankfully I had paid for top notch medical insurance. But when on discharge I go to pay for the NHIF it’s rejected because I hadn’t paid NHIF and so I can’t pay for the three nights NHIF. My platinum, Standard Chartered Card has 4,000 shillings in it but apparently the card holds back 1000 bob which means I couldn’t pay 3750 to discharge my daughter from the suite, top suite. I’m not liquid even though I have property all over. That’s the irony of land. I’m broke but wealthy. I move to a house I built in Matasia, put my kids in school for two terms without paying fees, I tell the head-teacher, I will pay, give me time, I’m good for it.
I get a message on LinkedIn from a lady called Maria. She says, ‘We see you are on sabbatical but we have some roles at Safaricom, would you like something?’ I say yes, please because I need cash asap to take care of things urgently as I try to dispose of the lands I own and get liquid. Then the weirdest thing started happening, we started negotiating salary. They are offering less, I say that’s less, I’ve earned that sijui how many years. But you’re jobless, take this, she says. It was a lot of money. It was beyond my magic number. But here I was saying no. The role was big. I say, no. She says, then just go for the interview. Anyway, I go to Safaricom for the interview with a guy who is in the UK. It’s in the boardroom, an 18-seater and I’m the only one in there with this man on the screen. It’s a very hard interview.
I remember doing the interview on my feet. I walked that boardroom and did the interview like my life depended on it. After the interview I get a call from the lady who I was negotiating the salary with and she says they are giving you a different role. It’s slightly bigger. Do you think you’re up for it?
The role was Business Partner, one step from director. Like HR for the regional operations. That’s way up there, Biko, up there. And the salary has changed, it’s three times more than what she had offered after my interview. Of course I negotiated for more. Always negotiate for more if you think you deserve more but you have to believe it, not here [touches head] but here, [touches heart]. I then met Bob Collymore and we hit it off. I talked to him about menstrual pads and periods and menstrual cups, because I was doing that because in my life, I must change women’s lives. I must raise my children well.
I had already written my obituary when I had turned 40 not long ago and there were things that were important to me; a deep spiritual relationship with God and service to others, to help. At 40 I decided on the 36-month rule, which I asked Bob when we first met: If you had 36 months to live would you continue living your life as you’re doing now? Would you still spend Christmas the same way? Would Thursday, tomorrow, next week, be the same? If you have more nos than yeses, your life needs to change and change significantly, and you don’t have much time to do it. And that is what I did. And I keep checking that obituary to see if I’m living by it.
I wasn’t at Safaricom for long. Bad corporate shit was happening and when they wanted to render people redundant and I whistle blew and they sent guys from the UK to investigate. The redundancy was stopped, but I had already blown the whistle and I was marked woman. I honestly was ready to leave but Bob begged me to stay and I stayed but things went haywire still because this is Bob and this is everybody else in between and things happened in this space. Weh! It got very nasty and finally I threw in the towel after two years, I think. The job was going to get bigger and better and juicier but I knew Safaricom was a bright shiny object that was distracting because I was heading to Nanyuki. Safaricom offered me a breather, space, and financial space. And it was fabulous. My boss let me just do my job. Oh Safaricom was the job you write for yourself and it was wonderful. And I met such amazing human beings there. But I quit and I went to Nanyuki.
I built a big beautiful country home facing Mt Kenya. I got my dogs, because I was going to have big dogs and gravel so that when you drive in, huge German shepherds chase your car on the gravel. I had bought Discovery Land Rovers because it was in my dream. Red ones with wood panelled upholstery. Then I started building the cabins. Years just went by, I built an electric fence around my shamba, started building my seven cottages and planted trees, making a home, no bank, just selling land here and there. My children of course were being home-schooled. And they grew up on that farm, connecting with it. My husband was no longer my husband, long severed but we still remain friends to date.
Then everything went wrong again.
First, the main house started sinking. Then the borehole collapsed. The cottages, they were built on stilts, they started rotting at the bottom because they hadn’t put a simple thing, a black paper around it. So the soil started chewing the posts. My God. Builders just would steal from me because I had never built before so I learned on the ground when I became my own contractor. So I lost quite a lot of money and time.
And then I almost died, about three years ago, half way into the retirement plan, when I went to India for surgery, and fell. And it felt like a restart. Like an engine restart. But I was so far out. So much money down and nothing to show for it from an income perspective. And I just got tired of going up against all odds, just going because I said I’m going to do it so I’m going to do it. And because I do things that I say I’m going to do. I just got tired, Biko.
I got really tired.
And now, seven years in, I packed and moved back to this place, this small house with no furniture in Kerarapon and I’m renting. I have just my children and a cat and some land across. I’m not sure if I’ve given up on Nanyuki, or even if my children will go build it. I’ve come back to Nairobi to hide. Maybe put up a beautiful A frame on my Kerarapon property for myself, as a 50th gift. Not because it makes any financial sense at all to do it. It doesn’t. But for me. Just because it will make me happy. Maybe sell some of my land in Nanyuki and go around the world with my daughters. And make new dreams.
I’ve been chasing dreams because I said I’m going to do them. I need to check if those are the things I still need to do and I need to give myself permission to walk away from some. I feel like a total failure. I know my daughters are watching me, and I feel like a failure to myself. Not even to them. To myself. And it’s really hard. So I’ve gotten this mabati house, with lots of trees, and my rent is 15,000 shillings a month, and we have nothing. And I’m going to Naivas to buy some mattresses and some food, and I will know. I don’t know when, but I will know.
This is Beatrice’s current abode. When I visited her two weeks ago, they had just moved in that morning. In the corner of the empty living room stood a lone bookshelf full of books, a rickety two-seater reed sofa, a round bed in one bedroom and another bed in the other bedroom. There was a shower over the loo, but they had to bring their own shower-head and cables. A friend offered her a fridge, another, curtains. She had carried her posh red cast iron pots and beddings, but nothing else. The kitchen counter had the paraphernalia of a newly moved-into house. The smell of burnt meat drenched the house. I told Beatrice, ‘I think your meat is burning.’
The house echoed with mystery, like a train about to embark into an unknown journey in the night. Then there was the cat, a black cat called Sparkle that couldn’t bear to leave in Nanyuki. I had described cats in my previous article as ‘sinister’ and as looking like “planning a mutiny.” She told her mum to tell me she took great exception to my characterization of cats and that I had lost the friendship and trust of a wonderful [she repeated this thrice] human being. I hate to lose the friendship of a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful human being and because of that I would like to offer a public apology for my words that wounded her and Sparkle who I didn’t have the respect to mention by name but referred to derogatorily as a “black cat.’ I can’t imagine how I offended the individuality of Sparkle. I want to say here that I didn’t say I thought Sparkle was capable of great acts of espionage, I merely expressed my suspicion of cats in general which was my fault because all cats aren’t the same cats. I will strive to be a better human being. I’m sorry my words offended your feline heart. Please also pass my apology to Sparkle. I will strive to be a better human entrusted with his pen and no mean words shall blot my page again about cats or their cousins. Cat Lives Matter.
Anyway, Beatrice is cooling her heels in their new mabati house. In the last few days we have spoken a lot about failure or what is perceived as failure. She swings from self-flagellation, despondency and great bravery and hope. Mostly, she feels the weight of this moment and it struck me how amazing we view ourselves vis-a-vis how others look at us. I told her I don’t see this moment as failure. That people like her don’t experience failure but small bumps in the road. That folk like her are blessed with the gift of rubber, to rise and fall and spring right back up. She’s the type that has no middle-ground, it’s all or it’s nothing. Big risks, big rewards and big crashes, but they get up and off they sore again and then they crash and sore. Over and over again. I told her the reason she is bearing all about the ugliness of this moment she is in is because she knows, subconsciously, that she has been here before and she possesses the muscle to wrestle out of it.
A few nights ago I asked her how her dogs are doing back in Nanyuki. She said she didn’t didn’t know and then she broke down and wept. “That question has struck me so hard,” she wrote to me. “Especially Mufasa, the GreatDane/Rhodesian Ridgeback you met when you came. I feel like I have failed Mufasa, and my other dogs and I have truly packed up and walked away from a lifelong dream that was finally coming together. Feels like everything just crumpled on my feet. Failing at the top of the mountain is so traumatic.” she said that her daughter told her, ‘you haven’t failed, mum. Your dreams have lungs, they will breathe again.”
The other day while sitting under her tree with the strange fruit she Whatsapped me and said she was thinking about a business idea; a Transitional Coach. Someone who works with people going through major transitions such as changing careers, starting a family, recovering from death or divorce or loss of business. It felt like a eureka moment. Of course she’d make an excellent Transitional Coach, because what has she not seen or done or lost or gained. How much lower has she gone and how much closer to the sun has she flown? Maybe that’s what’s brought her back to Nairobi, who knows, I said. Then she said, ‘I know. Do the ordinary, ask and expect God for your extraordinary.”
Maybe her first client is here reading this. Without her express permission [‘Oh, let me settle down first’] I will post her email and see what happens. Who knows? [email protected]
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