It wasn’t in the 8-4-4 curriculum, but any man knows this, primately; a man should always sleep on the side of the bed closest to the door. Doesn’t matter what type of a man you are; you could have one eye, or one leg, two left feet, or have a problematic hairline that hangs too close over your eyebrows…you always take the side of the bed closest to the door whether in a hotel room, in a simba, in a tent, your house…. Our fathers did it. So did our forefathers in the caves they dwelt in. The reason, if you are asking, is so that when thieves and undesirables break in, or over-enthusiastic shylocks kick in the door, it’s the man they meet first, not the woman. It’s the natural order of things. In fact, it’s written somewhere in the Bible, in the Song of Solomon because Solomon was the kind of guy who knew these things. If it’s not in the Bible then that’s a crying shame, because it should be; men, sleep closest to the door and protect your women. Women, don’t wear old branded t-shirts to bed. It causes nightmares.
The man in this week’s story is the kind of guy who sleeps on the side of the bed closest to the door. And because of that, because of this chivalrous act, he has paid for it and his right hip is wrecked as a result. He walks with a slight limp—as if a surgeon forgot a ball of gauze in his rectum after a particularly unprofessional surgery. He might find a hard time believing this, but it’s a nice walk as far as walks go. A swagger that isn’t matured yet. A halfway swagger. When he walks he sways slightly, like an old dhow lost in a storm. “I saw very many hip doctors and physiotherapists. This particular physiotherapist told me five years ago, ‘the problem with your hip is caused by your wife,’” he says. “My wife is a plus-size woman.”
How he explains it is that because he sleeps on the side of their bed closest to the door, his wife, a cuddler, likes to place her leg on him as they sleep and her leg weighs “half my weight.” He’s a small petite guy with quick light footsteps, like a deer’s. He weighs around 61 kilograms before lunch. His wife weighs around 98kgs after lunch. “You could say I have a hip problem because I like plus-size women.” He laughs.
“What’s the size of her leg?” I inquire. I’m idle. And petty. To be fair I’m also fascinated by how nature makes such small men go for big women. Marriage causes many things, but whoever heard that his marriage caused a bad hip?
“It’s like this size,” he illustrates exaggeratedly.
“Big,” I say.
“Yeah, and heavy, bro.”
“Why don’t you then just tell her that she is hurting you?”
“And sound like a sissy?”
“Better a sissy than lose one leg,” I’m warming up to this and it’s his fault, “if your leg is amputated because she cut off all the blood supply at night what will happen?”
He laughs. “It’s impossible,”
“Yeah, you think? Then you will have to sleep on the other side of the bed and then she will place her other leg on your only remaining leg then that too will be amputated. Eventually. Then she will have no use for you when she has nowhere to place her leg at night.”
We are cackling.
“Yeah, she will say, ‘this marriage is not working for me anymore, my leg needs are not being met.’”
“You will protest and say, but you caused both my legs to be amputated…what’s her name?”
“Linda*” He laughs.
“But you caused both of my legs to be amputated, Linda!”
“Then the therapist will say, now now let’s take a moment, guys, -”
“You are in the therapist’s room?”
“Yeah, we are. Keep up, Biko. He will say, calm down guys, it’s obvious this marriage needs a leg up.”
“Ha-ha. To which you will say, ‘I just feel like this is an unfair situation for me because I don’t have a leg to stand on.”
He laughs. “Oh boy. Maybe we should write a TV comedy script about this.”
“Yeah? You think the idea has legs?” I ask. “Seriously, though. Your hip hurts because she puts her leg on you?”
Yes, he said. For long stretches of time as they sleep.
He sent me a picture of an X-ray or MRI of his hip. It looked like the leg of a lamb. He insisted it had been displaced from the sockets. He also showed me a picture of his wife taken next to a nice car which I assumed was hers. She had on a bright sundress. She looked very big and very confident. She looked like those people who laugh very loudly. She also looked like those people who you can’t tell ‘don’t look now but there is a guy on the next table who was once jailed for cattle rustling,” because they will look. She also has happy eyes. Those people who take ages to get mad at you but when they do the police have to be called.
“I’ve never seen my wife stand on weighing scales in the 13 years I’ve known her. We don’t own one. We don’t need one. She doesn’t do the whole intermittent fasting thing. Or ignores carbs,” he says, “She’s a big woman who is proud of being a big woman. A size 22 now because she was unwell two months ago but we are working to gain the weight back. I have always loved plus-sized women. I have never been attracted to small women or average sized-women. And my wife knows that, so we are happy the way we are.”
His first wife was also a big-boned woman. That marriage lasted two years, he says, but doesn’t quite tell me why because he says it’s a “sensitive issue.” They have a child. He doesn’t see his child because they moved continents when the marriage ended. “Last time I saw my daughter was when she was a year old. A mutual friend sent me a picture of her, she’s all grown now.” He says. “Either she thinks her current father is her real father or she was told that I died. One day I will sit before her at a table and introduce myself.”
He has seven children with his current wife.
“Like days of the week?” I ask incredulously.
Chuckle. “Yeah. Seven.” He sighs. “And she wants more.”
“With your bad hip?” I laugh. “How!?”
Unlike her, he grew up in a normal-sized family in a small agricultural town with one street and one city clock. His father was a civil servant in the dairy sector; drove around in a pickup and always seemed to be in gumboots. He was good with cows and goats and sheep, which they kept in their compound. His mother was a housewife who took care of the four of them and the grade cows, goats and sheep. He describes his childhood as “very calm and uneventful.” His wife, on the other hand, grew up as an only child. She was raised in the city by a single mother who worked in a bank. “She had a pretty decent childhood from what she tells me,” he shrugs. “They didn’t lack for anything. She went to decent schools. Her father died when she was very young and her mother never remarried. She was loved. Her mother is very loving. Very Godly.”
When they got their twins a few years ago, they decided that surely, five children were more than enough. “I honestly didn’t want many children,” he says. “I wanted three at most but when we got our twins I thought, whoa. Whoa. Hang on. No more children. At all. No more.” She went and saw her gynae who put her on contraceptives. And then all was quiet for a while until she announced again that she was pregnant, a year later.”
“I was pissed off, to be honest. Very ticked off. I thought, what are we having all these children for? Where are we going to keep all of them? Certainly not on shelves, like books!” He shakes his head solemnly but his eyes are laughing. “Children change your life, they say, but mine really changed my life. Oh they did. Because we had to move out of a decent apartment I liked, to the outskirts of the city, into a house I hated because we needed space for the children. Also my second born daughter suddenly developed a love for dogs and you can’t keep four children and a dog in an apartment. It’s the perfect recipe for disaster.”
They sat down and had a long talk about this children’s business. “We can’t afford any more kids,” I told her. She agreed. It’s not like her job brings in millions. We are middle-income earners. I have a job and a struggling business. She has a job but I feel like she could retire today and raise the children and she would be okay. Anyway, things were okay again. We made sure that her contraceptive was okay. Then I think she removed it because how else would she get pregnant again? Why else would God give me twins again? Why would God choose us for a miracle? I don’t even go to church!”
The past few years have been hard, he says. His business came off the hinges and rolled into the bush where it is now growing rust, home to broken dreams and some rodents. They moved again, even farther from their old bungalow in the outskirts of the city to a much bigger house.
“I don’t mean to sound ungrateful,” he says, “ but I feel suffocated.”
His house is like a shipyard. It’s noisy and crowded. Things are always breaking. Someone is always screaming. Or falling. Or crying. They are always buying food. Always. He has bought two fridges in the past three years. “I have to get a bigger fridge because of demand and supply,” he says deadpan. “Now I’ve bought a massive fridge, the type they have in butcheries. They are like ants, my children. Always eating.” They are chubby children. They type people call “cute” and touch their cheeks in malls and in elevators. “Because they are always eating, they outgrow their clothes so fast so I am always in Toy Market with a big bag because if you buy one shoe you have to buy everybody a shoe or there will be mayhem and anarchy in the house. Let’s talk about school fees…[pause]…actually let’s not talk about school fees. Let’s also not talk about planning for a simple thing like going to visit one of my siblings, let alone a holiday. Let’s not talk about ordering in. It’s like feeding a delegation.”
The kids have robbed them of their romance. “There is always someone who is running a fever or who hurt their toe who wants to sleep with us in our bed,” he says. “I’m lucky to have quiet time in bed with just the wife just once a week. Our sex is infrequent and when we are at it I always feel like she’s wondering if there is enough milk in the fridge.”
Ha-ha. I laugh. “Or if there is a kid sitting outside the bedroom door in their pajamas, sulking because you wouldn’t open the door.”
“I appreciate my children and I love them but it’s become so alien, my house…my life, so small.” He says sadly. “I read a story in your blog about that lady who said she wanted to pack her bags and abandon her children and husband. I thought, that is me! I don’t want to abandon them per se, because my daughters – I have five – would not stop crying and I couldn’t live with that but I want to go somewhere every month for a week just to get away from them. It’s so loud there, strewn with toys and plates and noise.”
“Paraphernalia of domesticity,” I say.
“Paraphernalia of domesticity, I love that,” he says. “Do you know I used to write a long time ago?”
Here we go, I thought. Everybody tells me that; do you know I used to write in high school?; Do you know I’m a good writer only I never find time to write?; I want to write a poetry book, I’m good at poetry, I used to write it in high school. Everybody has a writer in them, that’s what I have learnt in life. Even accountants.
So anyway, he tells me about his writing ambition for five more minutes before we go back to his domestic woes. Does he resent his children? I ask him. He pauses. Then he says he doesn’t resent them, but he feels that they have driven his needs further and further away. It’s like a tide that stole his dreams. “I’m afraid to say that I don’t enjoy being home as much as I should. I feel suffocated.”
“Because when at home I just feel like a pinata.”
Oh that makes me laugh. A pinata. I picture his children walking around with baseball bats or sticks, occasionally stopping to whack him for candy and sweets.
“I feel like I’m giving and giving and giving and the moment I walk into the house nobody wants to know how I’m feeling, if I’m okay, they just start taking from me; someone wants their toy fixed, someone wants to be carried on my back, someone is showing me homework that I can’t figure out, someone’s tablet is not coming on – because they fuckin don’t know that it uses electricty and not good intentions,” I’m laughing, “it’s dad this, dad that, I have no time to take a deep breath. Then now we have two dogs because one dog is NOT enough and dogs…Biko do you have dogs?”
“Only in my head.”
“They leave fur on you,” he says, “So when I get to work my colleagues think I live in a kennel.” Hohoho, I’m howling. “And on top of feeding my children, I have to feed these two damn dogs.”
“Are they those small sinister looking and entitled house dogs that nap on your chair and refuse to move?”
“Those ones!” he says.
“I like big dogs, though,” I add, “the type that can eat your leg.”
“Ha-ha. Me too…if I lived on a ranch!”
“I’m sorry, I brought that up.” Haha.
Increasingly, he says, he’s becoming more angsty, tetchy. Because he can’t snap at his kids, he snaps at people. He’s in essential services so he normally has to deal with people and people are starting to avoid him. Because he’s grumpy and sleepy, half the time. He feels like his life has developed new wheels and has taken a new direction that he can’t control. He feels like his life has shrunk and when he looks up he doesn’t see a horizon, just a bag of diapers. “My youngest still has something like 20 years before they can be completely independent,” he tells me, “Which means I will find the freedom to do the things I want to do when I’m 66 years old. Can you imagine that, 66 years old? What can you do at 66 years of age?”
“And with a bad hip,” I say helpfully. “Maybe two bad hips.”
“Or perhaps they would have amputated both legs, so my wife will be taking me out in the sun to bask every morning.”
“Ha-ha. And the damned children will not be calling you because they will be busy with their lives and when you call them they will keep saying, ‘Dad, let me call you back, I’m in a meeting.’” I say.
“Then they will not call back and when I complain they will say I’m being needy.”
“And that will hurt your feelings and deep resentment will find a home in your heart and resentment comes with the devil.”
“But I will find church,” he says.
“Or you will start a church.”
“A church where nobody shaves…” he says.
“And everybody is lactose intolerant.”
“Ha-ha. And nobody comes with children to church.”
“Halleluyah.” He laughs.
“Amen, brother Amos.”
We really should write a bad comedy and make fun of children, I tell him. Just poke fun at them. Make them cry. Get our revenge before we die.
“But seriously, how is your wife doing?” I ask him after we have stopped the silliness. “ How is she coping?”
“She loves it!” he says incredulously. “She absolutely loves the mayhem. Many times when we are in the room talking and we hear the sound of one of our children falling down and start wailing and she tries to get up to go and check on them, I hold her hand and say, ‘don’t go, let them cry,” but then she sits there and tries to ignore the baby crying and I can see from her face that she is no longer in the room with me and she wants to cry too, so I let her go. We can’t even be a team on something like letting our child cry. She is incapable of cruelty. But yes, she loves being a mother, she says it. She is a busybody in the house. She never really goes anywhere, all she wants to do is cook and take care of the children.”
“Is she from coasto?”
“Yes?” Then he adds suspiciously, “How do you know? Do you know her?”
“She looks like she’s from coasto,” I say laughing. She looks like she likes wearing a leso and making mandazis on Sunday morning.
So what gives? I ask.
“I don’t know,” he sighs.
“Have you discussed it with the wife? This feeling?”
“Hell no, she will think I don’t love her. She will hear that I’m tired of her and the kids. Women have a way of making things be about themselves. She will think I don’t appreciate what God has given us. But I also wish God would give me more money and a big house with a space at the back where I can disappear to often and not open the door if any of the kids knock on it.”
I tell him that I think he should find a hobby. Something that doesn’t involve trying to figure out why the tablet isn’t coming on. I tell him that maybe he’s too close to the elephant and he’s only seeing the nuts, and that if he steps away he might appreciate the tusks and other things. He doesn’t read or like reading so that is out. He thinks camping is for white psychopaths on the run from the law. They only have one TV set and it’s been taken over by cartoons. He can’t boil an egg to save his life. He doesn’t like gardening. Or farming. “Get that constellation app and every night look at the sky and identify constellations.” [He looked at me like I was mad]. He loves cars and driving.
“Then take drives.”
“It costs fuel.” He says. “Remember I have seven children?”
“But long drives would be nice,” he says.
“Yeah, face the car south on the bypass and move and keep driving, not stopping. You will find yourself in coasto, where you will think, do I have to go back?”
“I will say, nope, toss my phone in the ocean and get a new burner phone.” He continues.
“That can no longer play Burna Boy.”
“Who needs to listen to Burna Boy when they can listen to the waves of the ocean?” he says. “I will be at peace. Start a new life.”
“Then one day you will meet a girl in the market,” I say, “A plus-size Swahili girl with bedroom eyes.”
“No, no, no, “ he laughs, “No more plus-size girls.”
“You will resist her but you will keep going back to her stall at the market, to feed off the beauty of her eyes.”
“Finding excuses to buy more muhogo and achari.”
“True love.” I say.
“Yes, and I will forget the mayhem of my old life.”
“Until she starts placing her leg on your hip, ruining it completely because now you will be old and ageing and possibly arthritic.”
He laughs. “Then I will call you and say, Biko, do you want to do my story about how I ruined my other hip?”
“Ha-ha. How will I say no to another bad hip story?”
Last call for the online writing Masterclass slated for next week. Drop an email on [email protected]
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