This Love

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Sometimes Joyce would dress up in a nice dress and go meet a man who would turn out to be a wet blanket and then she would have to go back home and sit on the bed with her wrinkled heart and her daughter would come and lean on her and talk incessantly and she’d rub her baby’s hair absentmindedly while half listening and then she’d later get in the bathroom, step out of dress on the floor and stand in the shower and feel the bad date wash down her legs and into the drain.  

Then she’d try again the next time. 

She had rules; if you wanted to meet in the bar on the first date, she’d pass. Because then what do you talk about in the bar on the first date? And then men will want to place their paws on your knee when they are drinking and the more they drunk the more that paw would crawl up your leg. And who needs her freshly made hair smelling of chicken skewers? She preferred to meet in the full glare of a restaurant, to see the men blink in the harsh light of their inadequacies, with no cigarette smoke to hide behind, no liquid bravado to shore them. She ordered a cup of coffee and if you are interesting, she’d order a piece of cake or a pie after. If you were lackluster, weird, rude, selfish, nasty to wait staff, she’d finish her coffee, rummage in her purse looking for excuses, and then leave. Most of these men never saw her chew. They never lasted past a cup of coffee. 

Her Tinder profile was of her face turned slightly away from the camera. It was intentional; she’s in HR and she didn’t want someone from work identifying her. Imagine the scandalous gossip around the humming microwave in the kitchen!

“I saw Joyce on Tinder.”

“Joyce? Which Joyce?”

“Same Joyce.”

“No!”

“Imagine! The way she pretends to be better than everybody else.

Truth is, eight months after she had her baby and not seeing the baby daddy, who hurled himself at the bottle after his dad passed on, she moved back home and that’s when the coin finally dropped that she was a single mom. Hit her hard especially because she grew up in a loving stable home, her dad was in the military and a good man, her mother was present and loving. “So here I was finding myself as a single mother, something I didn’t imagine I would be. It was a pretty depressing episode marked by failure.”

Those who are mothers know that motherhood can bury you alive because she had hauled herself at motherhood until one day she saw her baby spread butter on her bread and she thought, I need to start dating, this child is living her life, she knows which side of her toast is buttered. So her motivation to go on Tinder dates “was to practise dating again.” You know, get the rust off. Stretch the dating muscle. 

Three months into Tinder she saw a man with a beard with his cap turned all the way up standing on a deejay deck like he was Deejay Jazzy Jeff. “He looked interesting.” She recalls. “He looked like he had interesting stories to tell.” So she swiped right. 

The man with a hat turned all the way back was not a deejay. He was working in an advertising agency as a creative, doing both art and copywriting. His name was Mburu. And he was depressed. He had always struggled with depression. “Imagine you’re walking through a mist and there’s a cloud hanging over your head that is just raining sadness on you.” He explains what depression feels like. “Every day, every waking moment feels like that. You wake up and you feel sad, you go to work sad, you come back home sad. It’s like a cloud of sadness that gets so bad it becomes your new normal. It got to a point where being happy felt strange, so I never wanted to be happy. I was happy being sad. And the sadder I got the happier I felt.” 

His father was an alcoholic, he died soon after he finished high school. He grew up around a strong church community which he escaped to. “I never really enjoyed being home so I was always finding ways to escape from the home environment.” He found a community in church, a community of friendship, he calls it. He got into music in church, ran away into the drums and guitars, hung from G-Clef, and laid on A flat. “The beauty was the community was not an uptight one so we were free to explore many genres.” They were free to experiment on the deejay deck and to turn their caps all the way back and look like the kind of fellows who could tell interesting stories even though they were battling great waves of depression. 

You wouldn’t tell Mburu was unhappy by looking at him. On the contrary. He hid all that sadness under a thick layer of humour and sarcasm and self-deprecation. People found him interesting. The kind of guy who you would enjoy having a conversation with if you walked out onto the balcony at a house party and found him standing there hiding from the hubbub inside. You’d be surprised at how you would not want to get back into the party. How your friend Sally, or Martha, would come and hold your elbow and say, “We need to leave, babe. Two Ubers have canceled for waiting too long.”

A few nights before Joyce swiped right on his Tinder profile he had had a meltdown at work. “We had been working for 18 hours for three days consecutively. I remember my breaking point was when we had been on a conference call since morning, a working call. It was not 2:30 am and I just snapped. I smashed my laptop and I was told I was shouting in the office, “I’m not okay! I’m not okay!” Two in the morning, in the office, burning the midnight oil. The next day HR sent him to a psychologist who then roped in a psychiatrist who prescribed medication for clinical depression. Then he was given time off. He spent days at home, feeling zonked out. “The antidepressants put me in a weird state of happiness. I remember thinking to myself, ‘What am I supposed to do with this happiness?” I don’t know what to do with it.” He said. “Then the antianxiety meds would make me very slow, so I’d find it very hard to do any work.” 

He had been on Tinder but had not used it that much; maybe on a few dates that never went anywhere. “One girl sent me a salacious photo of herself in a bikini after one date and I thought, man, this isn’t what I’m looking for. Tinder was very weird for me. It had only been an option to explore the possibility of meeting someone. I had prayed over it.” He was very selective with his swipes because he wasn’t looking for sex or frivolous engagement. He was looking for something that meant something. 

So when he saw Joyce with her face half-turned away and thought, that’s an interesting-looking girl with half a face, he swiped right, and right away Tinder announced that it was a match. 

“Now I was presented with another problem: my first opening line!” He remembers. For three hours he agonised over what to write. He wrote and rewrote his opening gambit numerous times. It had to be punchy and perfect, nothing too windy or geeky. Non-threatening, laid back. Something that said, Look, I dig you, you have a great half face but it’s not that serious, let’s have a coffee. One thing he was sure of; it had to contain many puns. Something that would make her sit up. Send a zinger up her spine. Curl her toes. Anyway, he eventually wrote his puny message which she read and grinned. They started texting on and off. “He seemed interesting, “ she says. 

One night he was back in the office working on his usual graveyard shift when his phone rang, it was her. “She sounded like she had been drinking.” He recalls. “Listen, there is something I need to tell you,” Joyce told him. “I have a child. I have a daughter. If you have a problem with that then we’d rather not even move any further with this, we rather not meet because there is – “

“I don’t mind,” he said quickly. “I don’t care if you have a child….I mean I do, it’s nice to have a child but it doesn’t matter to me, it’s not a deal breaker. I have always imagined having a daughter as my first child.”

Joyce had met a whole bunch of men who had grown through the Man Enough Program. These are men she she wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole because, “not to slander the program, but once men do that program they have a checklist of a woman that they want. And it’s very boxy and rigid. I feel like it is helpful to guys to do Man Enough but then they all come out with the same kind of narrative on who a good woman is. The things you should or should not do. They have a script in their head. And it’s impractical.” 

So as she slipped into her body-hugging dress the evening she was meeting Mburu, she hoped this chap wasn’t a graduate of Man Enough. Or weren’t the kind of men who didn’t drink alcohol or frowned on women who drank alcohol? Or didn’t like God. 

He and his beard were waiting when she arrived at the venue. 

“She looked amazing.” He remembers. “Her dress was falling on every curve of her body.”

“He looked like a child.” She remembers. “He had on these buggy jeans and buggy t-shirt and a hoodie draped on his chair. The first thing I thought was, ‘This is a kid. A boy in university. I have been catfished.” 

Mburu didn’t care much about dressing. He rarely bought clothes. The last time he had bought anything was ten years before. “I had three pairs of shoes of the same kind so you’d think I only had one shoe. I had very few clothes because I felt dressing up, and deciding what to wear, just takes up too much mental room, space I could be using to do other constructive things. The jeans I was wearing for the date had been bought by my mom when I was in high school.” 

But then she sat down and they started talking and shortly it occurred to her that the boy in baggy clothes and the one seated were two different people. “He was quite interesting!” And she liked how the light got trapped in his beard. Liked that his fingernails were cut short. Helped a great deal that he hadn’t gone through the grinder of Man Enough. Their initial conversation was about faith, she remembers. God eavesdropped – as is in God’s character – from the next table. The silent listener to every conversation? The unseen guest at every meal? Mburu was “considering atheism” at that point in his life. 

Joyce says, “I’ve seen God’s hand throughout my life. So I couldn’t understand how anyone could say that God isn’t there. I asked him, don’t you think that without him, you’re nothing? There’s nothing to live for?”

Mburu says, “I was on this date but I was going through clinical depression, a life moment, a long life moment. I didn’t know where this God was because everything in life felt like it was falling apart and there was no God to run to. I was like This God thing is not making sense to me. I remember saying this to her and she suddenly looked sad upon hearing that. I remember her telling me on a later date that she would not want to proceed with someone who didn’t believe in God.”

Before Joyce got into HR she was a psychologist but she didn’t see right away that Mburu was struggling. He wore his depression well, under his usual cloak of humour and wit. “There was never any clinical presentation,” she says. “Much later when I found out the kind of meds he was on it hit me that he wasn’t well actually. He had anxiety and depression.”

They didn’t go on many dates after that because Joyce got Covid. “But we’d stay on the phone for hours just talking.” They started dating soon after. Then they broke up. “My fault,” Mburu says. “I was the problem, and I’m not just saying this as a guy who chivalrously takes the blame to make the woman look good. All the fights were because of my instability. I was the problem.” 

On her birthday he took her down to the coast to celebrate. That evening they went to dinner at Yuls, the beach restaurant and bar. Music played and diners buried their feet under sand. They shared a platter of seafood. The shrimp with golden backs, cloves, prawns, and lobsters. Their fingers got oily. The ocean sounded like a humming kitchen in darkness. After dinner, around 10 pm, Mburu wanted to walk back to the hotel on the beach but there were beach police patrolling the beach and arresting anyone walking on the beach at that hour, it being the Covid season. 

“He kept insisting that he wanted us to go walk on the beach and I kept telling him, we can’t, we will be arrested. Do you want us to get arrested on my birthday and spend the night in the cell?” Joyce says. 

Mburu insisted. 

So she reluctantly agreed and they made their way along the darkened beachline, her sandals in her hands, the water running up to her feet in small crashing waves. “I was walking fast because I was afraid of the police and wanted to get over and done with it. I didn’t think that was the right moment for a romantic stroll on the beach.”

At some point, she realised that he had lagged behind. “When I turned to see why he was dragging behind I found him on his knees.” She remembers. “He had this little box in his hand. I walked back to him and he was saying something over the sound of the waves, ‘Will you marry me, Joyce?’”

The moon was out. She recalls the strong smell of salt in the air and the unmoving darkness of the ocean. “Of course, I wanted to marry him. But I also didn’t want to get arrested by the beach police.” She laughs. 

They wanted a small intimate wedding, about 150 people, a garden somewhere with flowers and soft grass. But then when their mothers met and hit it off the number of guests went to 400. “I remember waking up the day of the wedding feeling nervous. I was wondering if I was doing the right thing. I was nervous and curt with people the whole time my daughter’s make-up was being done, and when my make-up was being done and even in the car heading to church. But for some reason when the car pulled over outside the church, I saw Mburu standing on top of the staircase with his friend, waiting and they were laughing and that’s the moment I felt that this was the right decision, that I wanted to marry this man and spend my life with him.”

All these things happened in a year and a half. He proposed in December and married in June. It’s been two years since they tied the knot. They also got a baby boy to legitimise this love affair. He is seven months old while their daughter is eight years old. 

Their most difficult period in the marriage so far was when one day Joyce sat on the bed where he was lying and said, “Look, it hurts me that you are not doing enough to create a bond with our daughter. That you aren’t giving her enough attention. You say she isn’t accommodating you but she’s a child, you are the one who should accommodate her. I feel you are pulling back from having a relationship with her and, Mburu, I don’t want to get to a point where I have to choose between you and her.” 

Then she’d stood up and went to the bathroom to do whatever the hell women do in the bathroom after they know they have made a big important point. Maybe stand in the mirror and give themselves a thumbs up. 

“That saddened me deeply. I felt really bad because I love our daughter.” Mburu said. “ I think that has been the worst part of our marriage. We talked about it and then we started going on therapy and since then my relationship with our daughter has come full cycle.”

“Now she prefers him over me,” Joyce pouts. “The tables turned somehow.”

“Are you still on depression medication?” I asked him. They were both having a vanilla milkshake on their way to dinner. 

“I’m not on any medication anymore,” he said. “I realise the medication I needed was her.”

I said, “There is no more to be said, then. This is done.” Then I turned off my recorder. 

Happy Valentine’s to all of you who have found love in many weird places.

***

Before I go, I have to tell you how I met Mburu. Our meeting was mostly founded on jealousy. 

Fred Kithinzi was throwing a party for his Belva Digital clients over at Sky Lounge on the rooftop of GEMS Suite on Riverside Drive. About 60 clients were invited. Swish affair. He told me, “Biko, I want to buy my clients your books, come with a boxful of them and sign them for all of them.” I’m essentially a hawker, so I hauled a boxful of books and pitched camp at a table at the entrance, near the lifts. Someone put a drink in my hand and a pen in the other and I was instructed to autograph a book to anybody who required a copy. On the house!

So what happens in these book signing is you come and you tell me your name and what you do or whatever is interesting about you like; you can tie a cow’s hind legs and milk it blindfolded. Or you can unclasp a bra with your teeth in 3 seconds. Or you can play the Ukulele. Then, in my shaky, unintelligible handwriting, I autograph something that I imagine is different and unique. 

Now, not long ago there was a time I was trying to grow a beard before I realised that I wasn’t blessed with the beard genes because I was growing groin hair on my face instead. So I secretly hated men who could easily grow full beards, men who looked like Teddy Pendergrass. So when Mburu and his fabulous beard stood over my table and said, “My wife is a massive fan, I’d like a copy of your books,” I thought, oh look who’s here; fancy beard with a wife who reads. I kept it kosher, though. 

“How long have you all been married?” I asked him.

“Two years now.”

“New love, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“How’s that going?”

“Oh, it’s going better than well.”

“If your beard or marriage was burning, what is the one thing you would save; your beard or your marriage? 

OK, I didn’t ask that, but I wanted to. Instead, I asked him, “So where did you all meet?”

When he said Tinder, I looked up sharply like a bloodhound that caught a scent. 

“Really?!”

“Yeah.” He laughed.

I took his number immediately.

Anyway, grab my book HERE. Buy a loved one a book. Happy Valentines. Again. 

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72 Comments
  1. This is a good read Biko. Social Media is full of negativity and bad stories of how there’s no love.

    Please bring more of these. To give Hooe to the ladies and gents who have given up on love.

    Wishing the couple more love and light.

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    1. when he diaclosed the photo of her daughter during her birthday; I got certain that one day he will narrate how they met with her mum!

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  2. Mburu, Joyce and Biko…Are you guys trying to say that I can find love on tinder?
    Okay…I will try again.
    Let me restore it…Deleted it eons ago.

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  3. Depression is having a full time narcissist living in your brain and every chance it gets, it keeps whispering to you of how inadequate you are, point out your weaknesses through and through and, tell you how nobody in the damn world cares about you/tribulations. No one is coming to your rescue. You have to learn to silence it…and that’s the biggest battle that often leave you drained, tired etc. Creatives are prone to depression as their level of brain power is above the rest and they view things from a higher prism than the rest hence can’t understand why nobody else is seeing the world through their lense…..And the rest question why they can’t be normal like everyone else. It’s a tag of war which unfortunately ends with one over powering the other…#weshallovercome.

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  4. happy for Mburu and Joyce. Love always wins. and wherever you meet your soulmate, does not matter. social media or even on a matatu.

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  5. “I’m not on any medication anymore,” he said. “I realise the medication I needed was her.”
    Every time I (want to) give up on love, I read some corny sh*t like this sentence and I’m like, yeah, maybe I do want this after all.

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  6. I am happy it has worked out. I met two girls on tinder. They were friends and were looking for something to tick off their threesome fantasy. Long story short, 3 years now we all live under the same roof with a kid.

  7. I am happy it has worked out for them. I met two girls on tinder. They were friends and were looking for something to tick off their threesome fantasy. Long story short, 3 years now we all live under the same roof with a kid.

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  8. Honestly, I always wonder how people easily fall in love. People meet and realize they have a connection and it is happily ever after ( whatever that means). I couldn’t wait to finish high school and experience love, meet someone, fall in love, wed, and then our happily ever after. I told this to anyone who cared to listen.
    Thirteen years later, I’m still waiting and hoping. Life.

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  9. I remember buying Thursdays, for my wife then. It was delivered all the way to Kiambu.

    You autographed ” Keep shaking the trees”, becase she was looking for a job. I finished reading it before her.

    She didn’t even pack it when packing her bags to desert the marriage. She packed all our photos though.

    Nitajipenda peke yangu by buying the book for myself.

    Is that selfish?

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  10. Such a sweet love story.. Happy valentine to all, those experiencing love and even those not in intimate love but still enjoy every moment; it could be with their families!

    I would love to publish something too someday Biko.

  11. “…I realised that I wasn’t blessed with the beard genes because I was growing groin hair on my face instead…” I can’t explain why I laughed that loud at this statement. Great read as always.

  12. Beautiful story. Wishing J and M the very best.

    Meanwhile; Every Valentine’s day, i stay indoors and watch movies or read a book.

    I avoid going outside because i get tired of people calling my name (hahahaha).

    PS: I am assured of a special gift because my children will not allow their dad to forget to buy mom something on that special day. And that makes me feel very special…..

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  13. so much beauty in everyday words….I love love this piece… good for the mburus ♥️ I wish them nothing but love and joy in their marriage

  14. Except for slandering Man Enough (I know you can’t pick and choose what you represent of people’s stories), Biko this has to be the best article you’ve ever written! The words just felt to us like they slid off your tongue like butter…or hands. We loved it!

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  15. Such a beautiful read!.
    True Love do exist, may we be lucky enough to love and to be loved back by the people we love

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  16. And then men will want to place their paws on your knee when they are drinking and the more they drunk the more that paw would crawl up your leg. And who needs her freshly made hair smelling of chicken skewers?
    Reading this in context….you need to seriously atone for all your literary mischief and sins this Sabbath

  17. About halfway through I had this dread that this was about to turn into another harrowing sad story. I felt so relieved when we all arrived at the end safely and even better than how we started!
    My favourite read for the year; positive, inspiring and hope inducing!
    Erokamano ahinya.

  18. waoh..I love your writing.am encouraged too never giving up till I find my other half.
    I like the advices since am now mentoring youths and others,found this helpful on my journey of giving back.thank you.

  19. wasn’t that guilt tripping him to love the daughter? Could the new much love be based on the fear of guilt or not being seen to do enough?