She preferred to write an email with her story because – in her own words – she has an “image” of me and she doesn’t want to “spoil the romance” she has with me in her head. She says she is afraid if she meets me I may turn out to be a “stumpy, dishevelled writer in an old t-shirt.” (Because what else can a writer be other than stumpy dishevelled and in an old t-shirt?).
So I sexied up her emails into a story and, in revenge, intruded in her story with my own voice.
My first husband left me. I was a dutiful wife. Dutiful and foolish and in love. I should have known it was doomed from the start. But what did I know, I was young and dutiful and foolish. I was only 20-years old. He was 11 years older than me. I loved that he knew things I didn’t. Bouncers knew him. That was a big thing back in the day, for a bouncer to know you. I came to Nairobi a very docile girl from Eastern Kenya. I was in the big city, in university, bewildered by the city’s bright lights. I had only five dresses, three pairs of shoes and a few terrible pairs of jeans. Whereas I was the village beauty who was also intelligent, I found myself ugly and shady in the city. The girls in university, UoN, were so gorgeous, so sophisticated. They wore lipstick. The very first time I saw anyone in high heels was in the university, it was a girl called Dorty. We all wanted to be Dorty. But Dorty was also shagging a married man who worked for a car dealership in town that sold Peugeot cars. This was back in the day, pre-mobile phones, pre-internet, when shagging a married man was an extreme sport and heavily frowned upon. You were a whore for it.
Whereas boys would fight for me in the village, nobody looked at me here in the city. I was disillusioned. I met him in my second year, after I was convinced that I was not beautiful. He seemed to like me. He said it was love at first sight, but men will say anything to get in your pants. I had been warned about Nairobi guys. I was a virgin because back then you kept your virginity for the most deserving man. Only the most deserving man would often turn out to be the least deserving. But he had a car. A car! He came with it to the university to visit me. I felt so special, like a girl in a fairy tale. Suddenly girls who never used to speak to me now wanted to be my friends. I had some money and together with a friend we would go to Gikomba to shop for clothes. My wardrobe filled with more dresses and better jeans. My heart filled with love. My life filled with hope.
I loved how, when driving, he would take turns into streets and effortlessly navigate neighbourhoods. He was like a dog who knew his way home. Whereas I was bewildered and intimidated by the maze of Nairobi – these streets, these estates, these roads – he seemed to have an internal map in his body that just found the way. I can smell the car now if I close my eyes and remain still; heated leather. It smelled aspirational. I liked how he would drive with one hand on the steering wheel, the other holding the back of my chair, sometimes his thumb brushing against the back of my neck. That would get me so hot. I had a man. With a car. In Nairobi.
I was always afraid that my girlfriends would take him away from me because some were prettier and some of them grew up in the city. I was afraid he would find them his type, finding things in common with them. So, I would never leave him unattended with them. I treated him like a purse. But you know how men are, he still somehow shagged one of my friends, a slutty girl called Hellen who went about with short skirts over her thunder thighs. I didn’t let go of him when I discovered, but I let go of Hellen.
I was taller than my first husband. You don’t think that would be a problem but it became a problem later. Because I came from the village and I was fascinated by high-heels, I wanted to buy 2,000 pairs of high-heels and walk everywhere with them and even sleep in them. I would wear high-heels to the village at the end of my semester. I look at my pictures from university and my heart breaks for myself. I can’t have those pictures in the public domain. That wasn’t me. I was shady. But I had a man. A man with a car. So when I moved in with him in my final year of uni and he told me he didn’t like me in high heels I stopped wearing them when I was with him. I was still slightly taller than him even without heels and I was surprised he didn’t ask me to stop wearing my legs.
When I moved in with him I discovered two things about my first husband; one, the car wasn’t his. Two; his mother was the devil. By this time, it was already too late; I was hopelessly in love. I believed in marriage. I believed in soulmates. Who needed a car, we would walk together. His mother thought I didn’t deserve her son. Me; tall and beautiful and dutiful with an important degree, didn’t deserve her son! I think mothers think too highly of their sons. Especially mothers of useless sons. I was that girl who believed in turning the other cheek, so I kept turning the other cheek for her to whack. I kept turning my cheek and she kept slapping me harder, hoping I’d leave. One day she stopped. I stayed. She became nicer to me. Nicer here is remembering my name and actually not treating me like a curtain rod. We had a baby when I was 24. Then I miscarried at 26, because God was making me lighter for the hard times to come. Then one day, my husband left and moved in with a girl who he had initially introduced as his cousin. He left with all his clothes and his suitcase.
Of course I was devastated. This was the love of my life. I was dutiful and foolish and in love. I begged him to come back. I camped outside the gate of my mother-in-law and she treated me like I was those madhes who look for day-work. Eventually she talked to me through the gate, me, who had her grandson. She said that she couldn’t interfere with whatever was happening in my marriage. What a laugh. This devil. Now she couldn’t interfere in my marriage.
I had a decent job, but I couldn’t afford the rent and food and all that, so I moved out of our house when I realised my first husband wasn’t coming back. I couldn’t afford it. Some mornings I’d be at the bus-stage waiting for a matatu to take me to work and I’d see him and his new wife going to work in her silver car. It would ruin my whole day. I still loved him. I wanted him back. I would ask his friends if he talks about me. They’d lie to me, that he was making a mistake, that the other woman was a floozie and he’d get bored, realise his folly and come running into my arms. Men will tell you anything. I bet they would tell me these things and go and have drinks with him in his new wife’s house and compliment him on his choice. When we got mobile phones two years later, I got his number and I would call his number at night with my number withheld and hear his sleepy voice. Imagine how desperate that is; two year hang-ups. I had become a stalker.
Then I started dating a man who worked at the airport. He’s the one who got me in my first plane. To Kisumu. It’s the first time I ever heard the word “turbulent.” It’s the only word I remember from that flight. He kept saying it. He was luo. He was loud. He was colourful. He was funny. He loved football – the type who diligently went to the stadium. He was tall with a small potbelly because he loved his beer. He was a joyous man and he made me forget my first husband. He was the bridge that I walked over from heartbreak. It was also really nice being with someone I wasn’t taller than for a change. I bought more high heels. I towered over people again. I rose. He called me sweet useless names like, “yadh chunya.” to mean, “the medicine of my heart.” I was medicine now. It got into my heart that I had the power to heal hearts. A Luo man will turn you into anything; medicine, a tree, a boat, a spoon and you will still feel beautiful. You will feel like the most beautiful spoon in the world of spoons. He will make you believe you are everything when he wants to. He told me he would marry me but he didn’t, obviously, (he’s still not married to date, at 51) which was a tragedy because my son adored him. Instead, I married a man from the coast, who was the complete opposite of the Luo and, to a great extent, my first husband.
My second husband was quiet and mild-mannered and honest. He worked with Barclays. He wore ties to work and polished his own shoes. I liked how his face contorted in rapt concentration whenever he’d polish his shoes while wearing his white vest. His mother was very kind to me. I bullied him into giving me a big wedding partly because I think I deserve a wedding, I’m a catch; I’m beautiful and smart and hardworking. I also think every woman who wants a wedding deserves a wedding. The other reason was because I wanted to make the Luo and my first husband jealous. I know, childish and idle. I had gotten over my first husband, obviously, but I kinda still liked the Luo, or the idea of him. I still liked the idea of being someone’s heart medicine. Do you know how powerful that is? Did I also mention that he was funny? I missed the laugh. My first husband was as funny as a can of expired beans. My second, no better. I love to laugh. People say that they can hear me laugh from the gate. I laugh while watching movies, so much so that I have to pause it. You don’t want to take me to a funny movie in the theater.
The wedding was amazing. It didn’t rain. The grass was a shade of green I have never seen again. Everybody from Makueni came. My mother danced with my new husband’s pimp-ish looking uncle and my father sulked, refusing to eat his dessert.
My second husband was really nice. I was the bad one. I was bad because I was bored. The marriage felt like sitting in a waiting room without any paintings or windows or magazines. And your phone is dead. So you just sit there and wait and wait for something exciting to happen. I tried reading books on how to spice up your marriage: Seven Principles On How To Make Your Marriage Work by Gottman; Spice Up, 28 Day Adventure by Lord someone. Nothing happened. Well, something happened, I got another son. Then I became fat. My arms jiggled like jelly. My ass felt like a trampoline. My stomach was hideous. Stretch marks ran around my thighs like internet cables. But my second husband didn’t seem to mind. You know who else never seemed to mind? The luo guy.
Through that fatness, through the leaking milk in my blouse, I wanted to feel sexy. I tried running. Fail. I tried gym. Fail. I tried to diet. Fail. I could put on weight by reading the ingredients of the contents of tins. I was desperate and unhappy and maybe depressed post second baby and somehow I started talking to the Luo guy because he had a way of making me laugh and telling me all these things about medicine and spoons and come on, a girl needed to hear these things. But I didn’t shag him. Not immediately. I shagged him when my son was two years old, after 7,000 litres of coffee, and 579 plates of lunches and one trip to Nakuru and back where he drove the whole way back with his hand on my thigh. I had lost weight by this time. I was sexy as hell. Okay, I wasn’t, but I was not fat anymore. He told me I had “grown into my womanhood.” Wouldn’t you believe anybody who told you that, especially someone who calls you “yadh chunya.”
My second husband was away when I shagged him. He was working in a different town and he would only come back twice a month. Sometimes once. I didn’t shag him because I was sexually starved. I didn’t shag him because my second husband was bad in bed (quite to the contrary). I didn’t shag him because I was unhappy. The reason why I shagged him was because I was sitting in the waiting room with no magazines, waiting for something exciting to happen. And nothing was happening.
Then my second husband found out, in the silliest of ways. The car tracker. My car was down and I was using his car which he had left behind. He drove a big car, a Prado, which was prone to theft, so he had put a tracker and didn’t tell me. He didn’t need to tell me because he didn’t think his wife was going to this one particular house in this one particular estate during office hours. These quiet men. They can know something like this and not say a word. He is a patient man, my second husband, because when he discovered he did his homework for two months and finally caught me. It was ugly. Very ugly. He hit me. The quiet men – those are the most volatile ones. He hit me so hard I felt my jaw shift to the back of my head like your would twist your bra around. He hit me so hard I blacked out. When I came to, I was divorced. I don’t have many regrets in life, but losing my second husband is a big contender because it was so unnecessary, I should have just been content with being the medicine of the Luo man’s heart and not feed him medicine. Unbeknownst to me, he had truly introduced me to turbulence those years back.
So now there I was having worked my way through two husbands; one from central, another from coast. You’d imagine that now I was free to be the Luo’s medicine. To go over at his “villa mi casa” as he’d call his rented house. (He was extra that man). I didn’t. I was resentful towards him. He was sorry. He would call and say, “Yaye, yadh chunya, come we speak over this over coffee. Come, jaber.” All these sweet things. I wanted to run to him, but I resented him and my heart was ruined. I was damaged by my second husband leaving. He was such a great man.
You would think that I’d focus on my sons now. You’d think think I would be one of those women who say, “I’m not getting into anything until my sons get to university.” No. I figured when my sons got to university, my boobs would have dropped and my ass sagged and no man would want to look at me. To my credit I waited for two years for my second husband to take me back. I pleaded almost daily. I wrote letters. I sent emissaries. I called until he blocked me. Then he unblocked me because he loves his sons (yes, he took my first as his own), and he would talk to them on the phone often.
I waited until I learnt from his sister who only told me this because she now hated me, that he was getting married. I cried that day. And I cried even more the day of his wedding. I know this will make me sound unstable, but I crashed the wedding. I wore red high-heels like a psychopath and I showed up without an invitation card just to see for myself that he was indeed gone, and to see this woman who he had married. Unfortunately, she was stunning. She was also tall. I think he was looking for me in her, I consoled myself. I ate their cake. That’s how masochistic I was. I was tempted to join the dance but that would have drawn attention to myself. But I commandeered a whole bottle of wine while seated at the back of the room, looking like a fugitive. I got zonked.
Then I went back home and cried some more. My cries woke up my son who came to my room at 11pm and asked me why I was crying. I was tipsy, so I told him that I was crying because Dad had gotten married to someone else. He was now a young man, almost a teen, and so he stood there and said nothing. He was embarrassed for me. He said, “Don’t cry,” and he left, closing my bedroom door.
In the morning I was so embarrassed I wanted to move out and never come back. But when I woke up he had made sausages for me and covered them on a plate in the dining room. I cried again. I laugh a lot and I cry a lot.
Two years ago I met my third husband. We moved in a year after dating. He’s divorced. He’s someone’s castaway as I am two people’s castaway. We are all someone’s castaway. He had lost his business and I met him when he was broke. He had also had a tough marriage. It’s tough for men who are broke in marriages. They bring their ego into it. They imagine that we look at them and think of them in terms of money. Money helps, but money comes and money goes but people remain.
When I met him his self-esteem was wrecked. He was like a stray dog. His broken bits resonated with me, this inadequacy. It was something I had gone through. He held up his mirror of pain and I saw myself in it. It didn’t matter to me that he was younger than me by three years, it didn’t matter that he had three of his own kids. I warmed up on the fire his sadness emitted. I saw through it and discovered that he was a sweet man who was dealt a bad card. So he moved in with me a year ago. I don’t want to formalise it because I’m afraid it will jinx it. But technically isn’t that husband number three?
I married all these men because I love being married. I’m that woman who is always defending marriage at a table of marriage cynics, those who claim marriage is dead. I love being asked to be someone’s wife. I love belonging to a man. I love knowing that my husband refers to me as his wife at work or in the bar or whenever he’s talking to an insurance guy selling him a medical cover. I love being Mrs someone. I don’t mind dropping one of my names and using a man’s name. I don’t do hyphens. I do your name. I own it.
I love knowing that I woke up next to a man in the morning, my man. I love the smell of my man in our bed. I want to be the one who knows where your socks are. I want to be the one who reminds you that your dentist appointment is due. I want to be the one who throws away your old trousers that you insist on hanging on to. I like to know what a man will eat for dinner. To plan for holidays. To fight about money or some useless thing. I like when we all sit in the car to go to church and you are driving with one hand on the steering wheel and another behind my headrest. It seems to say, ‘This is my woman, and those little people at the back are my tribespeople.” I want to be the medicine of a man’s heart. The spoon in his soup. The boat in his water.
If this marriage fails [touch wood], I will try again. I will keep trying until I’m 80 because I’m a woman who loves to be married.
*Edited: Registration is still open for the Creative Writing Masterclass. It will be on the 4th to 6th December, few slots remaining. To register please email firstname.lastname@example.org