The Rock

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He waited until after supper when his wife was sipping her dreadful green tea to tell her that he was getting another wife. Of everything else that he remembers of that evening, she remembers the light on her face. She was sitting by the floral lamp at the corner, feet tucked under her, holding her cup on her lap with two hands. The light didn’t seem to come from the lamp but from her face. Her face was lighting up the lamp. Her face was the lamp. This was how she spent her evenings lately, after the children had all gone to bed; sitting by the lamp, drinking her tea, eyes far away like wives do when they sense turbulence in the home before their plane of marriage experiences that incongruence. 

He also remembers that he was sitting with his legs stretched under the small wobbly wooden coffee table with one short leg. He remembers being nervous but also thinking at the same time that he had nothing to be worried about. That she wasn’t going to kill him for getting a new wife. Why wouldn’t he? He had money and he was celebrated. He was beating girls off him with a broom. 

She didn’t seem to have heard him, or she was just ignoring him like she seemed to do lately. The night was still and warm. Their dogs barked outside occasionally. She sat for a long time staring at a spot on the floor. She didn’t seem to be breathing, a statue of sorts. She had great natural hair that had come to a boil on top of her head like a massive crown reaching for the roof. She was wide at the hips like a boat’s hull. She was young, dutiful, and attractive. Mostly, she was organised and sturdy. She made great ugali. His mother loved her. 

He waited. 

She said nothing. 

Finally, she stood up. “I’m going to bed,” she said. 

He could hear her rinsing her cup in the kitchen. She took a long time rinsing that one cup. Perhaps it wasn’t just the cup she was rinsing, maybe she was rinsing her bad thoughts of him. He could picture her standing straight at the sink rinsing the cup while not looking at the cup, just performing one action over and over again, her mind escaped. He lit his pipe and smoked it. The sweet smell of tobacco filled the small living room. His lungs swelled with the pleasure of the tobacco. He needed it. He accepted, begrudgingly, that he was anxious. And he shouldn’t. 

He sat there smoking, thinking. 

After an hour, he checked the doors and the windows, not that he had to because nobody would dare try breaking into his home. When he entered their bedroom it felt like stepping into a freezer. The atmosphere, he could feel, was below freezing point. He shivered as he removed his clothes in darkness, for he slept buck-naked as any reasonable, self-respecting man should. The sheets were cool and tight against his skin. He lay on his back and listened to the night but all he could listen to were his stampeding thoughts of this situation. 

Naturally, his wife was facing the wall in a show of great defiance. She was curled away, the curve of her back a solid wall, a statement. She did that frequently when she wanted to say without saying that she found him repelling, like someone’s spittle. He could feel her radiate this very aggressive energy. He understood aggression very well. He could tell she wasn’t asleep. She seemed to be holding her breath as if she didn’t want to breathe the same air as him. 

When he woke up in the morning she was gone. He could hear the children playing outside. He got up, stretched, and did 200 push-ups. Then he stood before the mirror and admired his body. He twisted his torso and admired his obliques. It was important for what he did for a living that he looked the part; dominant, threatening, unbowed. In the verandah he found his hot dawa waiting in a Thermos flask. He ignored it and lit his pipe. His children gathered around him, all talking at once. Children can truly be a nuisance, he thought to himself. Can a man not have a moment to himself in the morning? 

“Where is your mother?” he asked his middle child. He said she had gone to the market. 

“At this hour?” He asked, irritably. It was only 8 am. What the hell was she going to buy in the market this early? His children were generally kept away from him. He wasn’t the kind of father who entertained children. It was un-African. He didn’t like the small talk of children with their unending questions; where do children come from? Why is the sky blue? What causes thunder? Why is a dog’s nose wet? Funny how making children was fun but engaging them was a task. He never knew his father. He died at war. His mother died during childbirth. He didn’t know how to express emotion or receive it. He grew up a bit angry, a bit obstinate and he was always fighting and winning those fights. All he was good at was fighting. He wrestled boys older than him. And beat them. When he was of age, he would go to war, leading men, he was indestructible and courageous. 

He saw his wife walking in through the small side gate carrying a shopping bag. She didn’t look at him or acknowledge his presence. After thirty minutes, his eldest daughter brought him cassava and porridge. Normally his wife would be the one to serve him but there was nothing normal about that day. “What’s your mother doing?” He growled. 

“Nothing.” 

He drank the porridge and ignored the cassava because…too many carbs.  Why do 200 pushups and ruin it all with carbs? He smoked and listened to the chatter on the radio. The telephone started ringing from inside the house. He never answered the phone unless he was alone in the house. Someone else always did. He heard his wife’s footsteps in the living room, then her terse voice; “ hello?” A brief silence. Then she was standing at the doorway, “it’s your whore,” she told him and walked away before he could tell her, “I can’t believe you kiss my children with that mouth.”

He grabbed the receiver from where it was lying on its side. 

“Hello?”

“Luanda, it’s me.” It was Jepkorir. 

“Of course it’s you!” he hissed. “Why are you calling me at home!?” 

“I’m dying to know how it went.” She said in a small voice. “Did you tell her?”

“Goodness gracious, Jep. Are you calling the house to ask me that? Is it an emergency?”

“I’m sorry, but you said you’d tell her last night and call me first thing in the morning and I haven’t heard from you. It’s going to ten. I was worried.”

“Worried? You thought she killed me in my sleep?”

“I didn’t think she would answer the phone.”

“You didn’t th-….she lives here! Who the hell do you think would answer the phone?” 

Although he was whispering he was sure his wife was listening to this conversation. There was just a way the house was silent in a suspicious way. Like she’d commanded all the furniture in the living room to eavesdrop. The wall unit especially looked quite suspicious. He pictured her standing very still in the middle of the kitchen, like a stripper’s pole, listening with her whole body; lungs, kidney, ears…all hands on deck. Women had that talent; to listen through walls. That’s why they will be in the house and they will say, “That’s my child crying,” and sure enough when she runs outside, all the way to the playground 100 Metres away it will be her child crying. Sorcery. 

So, she was listening. He was certain of that. 

“So? Did you tell her?” Jep cried.

“I did.”

“And?”

“And I will call you later.”

He hung up and stood there. He hated that his hands were trembling a bit. Embarrassed by that show of weakness, he quickly pocketed them away.

That night everybody ate in silence around the dinner table. The children could sense that something was afoot. The tension was thicker than her eldest son’s head. Later at night, when everybody had gone to bed and he had smoked his pipe and the house had descended into its usual noiselessness, he went to the bedroom to find the wife propped up in bed. Waiting. 

“Does your mother know?” She asked him. 

“Yes.”

She winced at the sharp incision that betrayal made in her heart. 

“But this was beyond her,” he said. “This was decided by the elders. We have been fighting for so long and our enemies want peace. The Nandi elders and our elders feel that this is good for our two communities. It’s reconciliatory. More like…like an olive branch.”

“So she is a peace offering.” She said sarcastically. “You are doing this for the clan, I guess. Taking one for the team. Literally.”

He got into bed and lay on his back. 

“How old is she?” She asked. 

“16.” 

She snorted. 

She remained silent. 

“I don’t know. It feels all too…convenient.” She said.  

“Convenient?”

“Yeah. I don’t trust those Kalenjins.”

He kept quiet. He knew this was just the ranting of a jealous woman. He allowed it. She said nothing else after that. She turned and slept facing the rivers and hills of her birth. He marveled at how she could sleep on one side, never turning, for the whole night, just to avoid facing him. Another talent women have. 

And so Jepkorir entered the household of Luanda Magere amidst a deep silent treatment from the wife that in a hundred years to come would be known as “Nil-By-Mouth.” Jepkorir (of course that’s not her real name. We don’t know the names of these women from these mythologies) settled into the Luanda Magere household. Luanda Magere’s wife found her to be self-centred, manipulative, and obsessed with her looks. She spent a lot of time on her hair and face. She cooked her vegetables with too much milk. She drank tea all the time. She couldn’t eat the fish’s head and left it on the plate, a great insult to the Luo nation. She also looked insincere. Each time she told Luanda about her he brushed her off as being petty and jealous. “Something about her isn’t right!” She told him. He ignored her. 

Of course, one day he falls sick. He had pneumonia. He stayed in bed day in and day out and she was by his side, nursing him as a first wife should. On the third day when she stepped out briefly to go to the market, he started convulsing and he got green around the gills and he was going to die because he started speaking all weirdly. So he held Jepkorir’s hand tightly and she thought, Oh shit he is going to die, the great Luanda Magere wants to tell me his final words. So she leaned close and he whispered in her ear “Make a little cut on my shadow.”

“A swallow? What have you swallowed?”

“No, my shadow,” he croaked, struggling to speak, “make.. a.. little cut on my shadow….my shadow.”

“A cat got your shadow?” She asked. 

“Jesus, woman!” He winced in pain. “You have rocks in your ear?”

He was getting more agitated. He grabbed her arm more tightly and repeated in a much desperate voice. “Make a bloody cut on my shadow and rub the medicine in it.”

She was certain he was hallucinating but he kept insisting so she took the knife and cut his shadow and she yelped and jumped back in fright. He was bleeding. Rather his shadow was bleeding. What kind of Luo sorcery was this? She was freaked out. She rubbed medicine in the cut all the same. 

When they woke up the following day Jepkorir was gone.

Vamoosed. 

Two months later he was dead. A Nandi warrior speared his shadow in war. This might not be true, but rumour has it that when he stumbled and fell he screamed, ‘THAT RAGGEDY-ASS BITCH!”

***

How come some of you are surprised that I have a book out? And when I tell them that I have three books out they say, WHAT? So to the What-Club, find my books HERE.

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46 Comments
  1. (With the immaturity of a little child) first, atleast I get to be number one in something. Now we read, haha

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  2. What a read! Biko, you have a way of narrating stories that we already know which makes them sound surreal and more vivid. (And I watched the film No Sudden Move (2021) the other day and there is a scene where a wom confronts a man in the same way Jep calls and asks Luanda if he has told her. Talk of happenstance!

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  3. This is betrayal chocolate man, hurts more than flying a private jet while we have the pride of Africa

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  4. the mother loved her cooking , Ugali. the same mother died during his child birth..make up your mind biko

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    1. Kwani you’ve never heard of stepmothers? And aunties who morph into your mother? Which Africa do you hail from? He heee!

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  5. Wueh Biko :). That was such a great read. Now we nominate you to write for us short stories as your next book, like this one. Consider, I beg.

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  6. I read in anticipation of how the 2 wives would meet and their reactions,
    Only for the folk tale to be said in such an alluring way, aky Biko

  7. I was almost sending the story to a friend whose husband married a second wife, then boom! Luanda Maggie on the phone with Jep and a first wife who takes green tea, looks like the beginning of that story you were forbidden to write

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  8. Thankfully, after half a dozen days that felt like eons, seems like she, “The Ones Who Make It” somewhat defied all odds and chose to live. A line I particularly identified with was how and I quote “He didn’t like the small talk of children with their unending questions; where do children come from? Why is the sky blue? What causes thunder? Why is a dog’s nose wet? Funny how making children was fun but engaging them was a task. ..”. Thumbs up Biko for such a gem. The kind that,just like true friends, is well worth the proverbial weight in gold.

  9. Hahaha. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined that this story would be about Luanda Magere. Awuoro sana.

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  10. A Luo tale with Samson and Delilah written all over it. I find the word vamoosed very funny.

    More like i was sitting with a plate of fried tilapia before me, I blinked this way and that way and it vamoosed. It’s even funnier when a lady vamooses never to be seen again and yet thr signs of her betrayal are evident. That vamooser!

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  11. Only Biko can make a mythology sound this Interesting. Why don’t you write short stories for JSS kids am sure you’d do a great ass job.

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  12. Am I the only one crying? made me feel all sorts of emotions. Happiness, joy, sadness, etc

    Thank you for sharing your perspective. Your commitment to fatherhood is refreshing:)