Duke of Gatanga – Recap

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When you have a new book out, it comes with the great virtue of shamelessness. The ability to sell it anywhere and to anyone who can read their name. So there we were, with the Duke Of Gatanga at The Gastro Bar in Westlands. I had made him hold up my book to his face and I was taking a photo like in one of those ransom photos where the abductee is forced to hold up the day’s newspaper. We were seated at the well-lit bar, outside it was drizzling hesitantly on the sad-looking traffic building up slowly. 

Suddenly two younger ladies, probably in their early 30s from what I could tell from their chins, came over, one looking quite bashful, as if she had been dragged to us by the collar. She was blushing furiously, not sure what to do with her hands. The first lady, the leader, the confident one with a small tattoo at the base of her thumb, says, “Hi!” She does an introduction and asks if we are doing okay, having a good time and all. We say, ‘Yeah, it’s peachy, how about you, girls?’ We are thinking they will say, ‘Er, guys you two are actually seated at our spot,’ instead they stand there, leaning onto each other like a couple of trees in the forest that grew too close, making small talk and then finally say, well OK, then you gentlemen enjoy yourselves. Then they just walk away. It was a very brief, intense and odd interaction. 

“Maybe they wanted your book,” Duke of Gatanga explained piously. 

“No, they didn’t want my book.” I chuckled. 

Anyway, after a while one of the ladies comes back and says, “about that earlier, my friend thinks you gentlemen look great. She’s wondering if you guys are single.”

“Funny you should ask, we were just talking about that,” I tell her, “because he is single.”

“Oh yeah?” She says.  

“Yeah, but hang on,” I say, now the official spokesperson. “Why are you asking for your friend? Are you not interested yourself? Are you single?”

“I am,” she says, touching her neck coquettishly like she is in the pictures. “But I’m a lady, I prefer to be pursued.” Then she swings away sassily as we laugh.

“And you say you can’t find someone to date?” I told him incredulously. “Come on.”

You remember the Duke of Gatanga’s story. Nine years ago he married a girl called Betty, a petite girl, almost half his size. But then they couldn’t get a baby and so started a tiresome journey of Intrauterine Insemination which involved him sitting in a small cubicle with a magazine of girls with big dark nipples and a tub to fill with sperm which would then be physically inserted in her when her ovulation calendar is synchronized. It’s an expensive and draining exercise. 

Anyway, eventually they conceived and because the Lord of Abraham is the Lord of abundance he sent them not one, not two but three babies. Triplets! They were overcome with joy but also worried because, remember she was a petite girl. Would she be able to carry triplets in her small body? Was the Lord’s temple big enough to do His bidding?

Anyway, one night she wakes up and says she can’t breathe. She’s pacing up and down the living room, the lights burning brightly. It’s 2am, just before the hour of the devil. He calls a doctor friend, who says that it could be an embolism and that he should call an ambulance right away. However, before the ambulance gets there she’s dead. Things get even trickier; it takes about eight minutes to save unborn babies after the death of their mother. They took fifteen minutes to get to the Emergency doors at Mater Hospital. The babies died along the deserted Mombasa road. His wife, wearing a brown deera, was pushed away in a trolley, her feet shoeless. He was later to see things nobody ever wants to see; his dead babies lying in the cold morgue. He was alone in there with just his three babies who were placed side by side on lime green cover. Two girls and one boy. The boy lay between his sisters. Imani, Keith and Neema.  Each one of them weighed 1.8 kgs. They were all naked. The only time they would wear clothes they would be buried in them. Their fists were closed tight. They could have been asleep. He stood over them thinking, of course they would wake up and they would start crying because of the cold and he would wrap them up in something warm and he would take them home to their room that they had decorated in readiness of their arrival. You don’t know the horror of the expression ‘dead on arrival’ until you see your three newborn babies in a morgue.  

That night he went back home alone to an empty house, empty rooms and an empty bed with the shape of his dead wife still imprinted in it. He curled in her shape and hoped death would take him too. That he would sleep and journey on to his wife and children. 

He buried them in Gatanga, his village. They were all buried together – like they lived – in the same coffin. One baby was placed on his wife’s chest and the other two in the crook of each arm. She was setting off on another voyage with her babies. They covered the coffin with soil on a dark and ugly afternoon. The air seemed not to stir. It felt like death had descended on earth and had only chosen him. He stood over the grave and realised how much he hated God at that moment. He had prayed for children and waited for eight years for them and then He had given him three children and then changed His mind and taken all of them again. What brand of cruelty was He capable of? 

He was 37 and a widower. 

Now here we are, at a bar six years after we had last met and nine years since he buried his wife and children. The ten-year anniversary is fast bearing down on him. He has always done something on each anniversary. He has donated books or sanitary pads. Once, in Thailand, he sent a note to his dead wife during the Loi Krathong Festival. In Diani he wrote a love letter, and placed it in a bottle which he set out into the ocean. (Did it wash ashore somewhere and someone shirtless read the note and thought, what strange handwriting this bereaved man has?)

He belonged to a Whatsapp group for Widowers, eight chaps who have buried their wives. “Two of three of these guys have remarried. One remarried and got divorced. We still maintain the group. It’s not as busy because life is busier but it’s there for when someone needs to lean on someone.” He said. 

He still lives in the same house in Nyayo estate, where his wife died, where his dead children’s toys still remained, never touched. “I still live there because I own the house,” he said.  “Also, I never saw any reason to move out, to run away from what happened there.” The thing with not moving out is that each time you open the door you have to face the fear, the emptiness within and the horror that comes with a loss like that. “This here was her side of the bed, her drawer with her things, an earring, a hair clip.” He says. “You run into these things and they hurt you and you cry a lot the first couple of years.”

Over time, slowly, the tide of life washes away these things. He gave away her clothes. His own mother took her wedding ring. The babies’ room remains largely untouched; the walls are still painted purple, the decorations still there; the stars faded on the wall, stars that never shone on his babies. He gave his sister one of the babies’ beds when she was expecting. He gave a friend another. He sold the remaining one to a couple whose child would sleep in the cot of a dead baby. Sometimes when he walks into the babies’ room even now, he will stand there and stare at the walls momentarily, as if trying to remember an old nightmare. Her wedding dress still hangs in her wardrobe, a white exclamation mark accentuating a past littered with pain. He occasionally thinks of his babies, how old they would be, he wonders what kind of children they would have been, what kind of mischief they would get up to if they stayed alive to be teenagers. He wonders what colours they would be drawn towards. 

He has a daughter, five years old. Got her during the throes of grief. “She lives with her mother,” he said. “We are co-parenting.” What kind of a father is he? I ask him. He wonders if he is doing enough. If he is spending enough time with her. “Have I been available? Am I doing more? Does she feel it’s enough? What does enough look like?”

It’s been eight years. A lot has happened but amazingly nothing has happened. He has dated, yes, as short as a week and as long as a year plus. “When you lose someone like that you try to look for her in other people.” He said. So he dated petite girls, girls with a gap between their teeth, girls with robust laughter. “Then at some point you just stop looking for her in other women. You let her go.”

He finds himself single now and content. “I’m worried that I’m too comfortable with this arrangement, being single, living alone, doing my own thing.” His sisters (he is the only boy) are concerned. They want him to marry. He isn’t too keen, neither is he in a hurry. 

“What’s out there [girls] isn’t very satisfactory. What is sold is never what you get and that can increasingly wear you out.” He says. “Girls see you for what they can get from you, not what they can add to your life. And as I grow older, I find it harder to compromise. I want what I want and that someone has to somehow fit into my life.”

“What do you like?”

“I’m attracted to people who can write properly,” he says and I’m hoping he isn’t referring to me because he’s not my type by a whole gender. “I like a girl who doesn’t write shortened words, someone with good grammar. I like someone who loves to travel. Someone who keeps their nails neat. A sense of humour.”

I asked him if he ever wonders about why he lost his wife and babies. Why did it happen to you?

He sits there contemplating this question briefly. He was having some sort of a cake, which now looked damaged and crumbled. The fork lies on its back, satiated, its teeth stained with sugar and cream. “I don’t think of why it happened to me, otherwise those kinds of thoughts would just send me to a pit.” He says. “There are a couple of things I don’t believe in. First I don’t believe in thoughts like that. Number two, I don’t believe in karma. I don’t think when things happen to someone they are being punished for something they did. They are people who do horrible things but they live on forever. How old was Mobutu when he died? Look at Moi. All these guys did things that affected many people adversely yet they lived without punishment. So, no, I don’t believe in karma, things just happen to people.”

***

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70 Comments
  1. Still remember this story and how much anguish I felt on Duke’s behalf. I follow him on Instagram and my mouth waters each time he shares a nyama choma post.

    He is right about the dating pool. Murky waters kabisa. Soko ni pabaya.

    “I’m attracted to people who can write properly,” he says and I’m hoping he isn’t referring to me because he’s not my type by a whole gender.” hahaha Biko.

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  2. And as I grow older, I find it harder to compromise. I want what I want, and someone has to somehow fit into my life. This is so relatable! I wish him well as he finds what he wants.

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  3. Thank you Biko for this follow up on Duke of Gatanga especially since I was one of the people who wanted a part 2 of this story. I watch this guy on a show called Zari on maisha magic and recently got to know he goes by Duke of Gatanga on social media but I never realized he’s the same guy with such a moving story from on here. I saw his pic on today’s post and I was like no way it can’t be him. It’s amazing how someone like him has gone through such loss but still finds a reason to keep going taking it a day at a time. It’s true what they say that behind every face there’s a story. You’re one strong chap Duke I wish you nothing but all the best in this life.

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  4. I couldn’t agree more. There is no karma otherwise the wicked would not have so much confidence to do evil, which abounds now more than ever before.

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  5. I remember reading this tragic story while back in campus. Now I’ve been out of campus for five years. How time flies.

    P.S: There’s something about the darkness in font on this site. It’s barely legible.

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  6. The story of the Duke of Gatanga is one of those narratives that truly touched my soul, It left me emotionally shaken and I asked myself so many questions. . In the end, it becomes evident that it is the sustaining grace of God that sees us through. Wishing the Duke of Gatanga even more grace on his journey.

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  7. I have read and lived your stories for years my question is are the stories in the books coz I want to buy and read them again and again! they have taught me to appreciate humanity in all its angles the good,bad,in between…

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  8. Smart how you still managed to bring this out so lightheartedly. I smiled knowingly at the ladies antics, rooting for the shy one. Then I read the linked story . I’m in awe of the resilience that we humans carry… to experience such a loss and still afford a smile. To live your life bearing memories of such pain yet still have the courage to put yourself out there and hope for the best. I tip my hat to you Duke of Gatanga. I’m rooting for you. Hugs

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  9. Duke, does time heal the wounds? Grief is so private, only you can go through it. Wishing you love and light.
    If still donating sanitary towels, I am a begger for the girls in my village.

  10. Duke, does time heal the wounds? Grief is such a private affair, I wish you love and light.
    If still donating sanitary towels, I am a begger, for the girls in my village.

  11. You’ve hit the nail on the head! Why do people try to ‘save ink’ via text?
    Also discovered proper grammar is a millennial love language….the subsequent generations do not care about it at all!

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  12. What a painful story ,I can relate to being alone in hospital and looking at wrapped dead babies and mother …so painful ….but the suspenses in the story!…is there a part two to tell about the two ladies ?

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  13. ooh Duke, I follow him on IG, and boy he doesn’t forget Betty’s anniversary. I hope he finds love. The dude is super handsome. May love shine on him once more.

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  14. Mungu akujaze neema na wema wake, this is beyond all of us.

    Nikweli solo chafu, just live your life, it will happen when it does, you will find each other.

    Biko, how do you come up with sentences like: he’s not my type by a whole gender?

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  15. The anguish of losing a wife and kids is something very few can attest to, really sorry, David! But you sound like you still have some life in you, the humour, you are now a father to a 4th child (congratulations) and there’s some love in your heart that should not ignored. If you find someone you can plan a common future with, please try again for the umpteenth time. It will be good for you and your younger daughter.

  16. Biko likes this guy… but we all keep running away from reality… do we all live lies thinking they never add to our life… Let me be able to write in whole…

  17. Thank you Biko,for reaching out to him and honouring my request. I am among the people who requested a recap on his story.
    His story,many years ago got to me and never left my mind. Each passing day I thought about it.
    It now feels like I have had closure.

  18. Things just happen to people! Bad things to good people and good things to bad people; mostly perhaps, the latter!
    It just is life! It’s a messed up world!

  19. karma is a shady gospel… the people it affects are those with a conscience while stonehearts live long and prosper. look at Idi Amin. a monster whose door Karma missed by a mile

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  20. Mr Biko happy new year
    Is it just me who didn’t receive notifications for new posts this year. Last one was Brother Julius.

    My glass is 3 times full as I can see I have 3 unread posts. Happy new year to me.

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  21. This story reminds me of the movie Manchester by the Sea (2016) A movie every man should watch, it addresses grief, trauma, and loss, especially from a man’s POV.

  22. Yes, I also don’t believe in karma. The universe is deterministic and cares not about what we did or will do. I like the duke’s approach to life but I really feel sorry for him. I have been married for five years now and when I think about life without my person, it fills me with existential dread/angst. I can only try to relate with his pain. I wish him all the best.

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  23. “…he’s not my type by a whole gender…”

    Ok (stifling a chuckle) … what the heck.
    HEHEHEHEHE.

    Where do you even get things like these biko !?

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  24. I remember this story,it tagged at my heart,it still does. Why do somethings happen – still unfathomable.

    You write very well Biko.

  25. Grief is personal as only the one who wears the shoe can understand it.It never ends ,and everyone griefs in their own way.

    The duke of Gatanga is a strong man , who has kept pressing on and I believe he will find a suitable spouse or friend who will add value to his life.He had realized his flaws he is looking for his deceased wife in other women.

    I believe relationships should be for companionship not only adding value ,as value is biased.However,he knows what he is seeking.I believe a man who can be alone is the one who can love genuinely as he is not looking for one to fill the void and hole in his heart.

  26. Finally,we have the face of Duke of Gatanga.I believe death of his spouse and children is not about karma, but about the unending grief it brought to his life.Karma is about reaping the seeds he planted in the life of others by the universe repaying you kindly.

    Well,their are people who commit many atrocities yet they live a long ,healthy life.However, such people have no heart, to genuinely love or to empathize with others.As ,if they had a hear,some crimes would not be committed like killing others mercilessly or pursuing their own interests at the cost of the lives of others.

  27. I remember reading this story 6 years ago. I cried my heart out, really. I have constantly thought of what became of him over the years, so I am glad Biko gave us a recap.
    I pray the duke of Gatanga finds love again, and grows it into a family. He deserves it.
    Love and light❤️

  28. In the grand tapestry of words, Biko, you are a master weaver. Your storytelling prowess is unparalleled, sprinkled with a delightful sense of humor. All considered, you truly are an exceptional writer.

  29. A handsome silver fox with sadness in his eyes…..I’d read the story again a few weeks back and once again there was a lump in my throat….I hope and pray that he finds bliss….

  30. Well,i had hoped for a lengthier discussion but i am content with what i have read.

    Their are wicked people in the society,people who have no compassion.It might be that experiences or trauma made them hard hearted or they were fashioned to humanity constant forgiveness .They might live long lives,but its so that they might repent for their wickedness.

  31. Some stories change you. Human strength know no boundaries. Sending best wishes to the Duke of Gatanga. You are right at some stage in life you don’t compromise you go for what you want, you deserve it.

  32. The baby cot was given to me “friend ” for his daughter who is now 6½years old born July 4th 2017 and it happens to be the only thing she ever got from her dad.
    Duke of Gatanga, your daughter asks about you, and prays that one day she gets to know you.
    We brought her into this world and she deserves to be loved by both parents.
    You blocked us from all avenues.

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  33. Sadly,grief is a never ending process however the duke is a strong man.He has the zeal and desire to live,and he accepted the death if his wife and unborn kids .He believes its’ not karma,i too believe their death was barely due to karma.I believe death is random and unexplainable,it a tragic event that is unforeseen.

    I pray that he finds a high value woman whom he will love and cherish. As ,genuine affection and love are the epitome of a successful relationship.

  34. I dedicate the story of Job in the Bible to the Duke of Gatanga. I’m not sure if time will ever erase the dark past of this gentleman.

    Therefore draw courage and encouragement from the book of psalms. The book navigate through the cyclical phases of human emotions.

  35. What a story! I can’t imagine the trauma and pain. That’s such a huge loss. I pray God’s hand rests on Duke of Gatanga and uphold Him with peace always. I watch Him on the Telenovela called Zari He plays the character “Greg”. You never know what people have gone through. Kindness to everyone you meet. Love and light.

  36. Thank you Biko for the follow up of this story, & glad to hear Duke is healing, & that we are here cheering him on.
    Your writing somehow softens the blows of this tragic story, thank you for writing our stories.

  37. Biko!
    He loves to travel?
    Ask him to join me in Switzerland in this April! We can watch sunset together in the alps.

  38. My heart has bled……
    I love the part where he says ” I’m attracted to people who can write properly” I resonate with that. I can’t stand shortened words and abbreviations in text.. I never understand why?
    I wish him love and light..

  39. The loss of a child is an unimaginable and profound experience that can be overwhelmingly painful, leaving a lasting impact on a person’s life. The grief that accompanies such a loss is often described as one of the most intense and enduring forms of emotional anguish.

  40. To say this is a sad story, wouldn’t fit. I feel for this man,this human being.To say God knows why feels like a cheap statement people throw around. To me this man has lived a thousand life times of hurt.The man is strength.

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  41. Biko,
    I wish to buy your book one day, one day when I’m better, when I settle. I hope to settle mashambani in the near future. My life has been anything but what I wanted. But I’m still here. I also hope to meet you.