Perhaps – if you are anything like her – you are one of those people who say that they could never shag or date a guy they work with. Who does that? Why would anyone do that when the internet and the streets are full of men? Not all are dateable material, granted, but pickings from the office? A tad too low. Plus, office guys are lame. Low-hanging fruit. Take that lovely guy from accounts for instance; problem is he speaks with food in his mouth. You wouldn’t date a man with such bad table manners. Plus, everything he says has to have the phrase “fiscal year” in it. Now look over at the chaps in the marketing department, with their stiff shirts, carrying two phones and a power bank because they get so many calls! Then there are client service guys – okay it’s only three guys but all of them are married. So that’s a no.
Then there was the guy in procurement, the most annoying of them all; a lad. A big boy. Frat boy. If you ever got stuck on a desert island with him, you would think to yourself you’d rather die from gangrene than copulate with him. He was too in your face with his phony bravado. A serial flirt -he’d flirt with every girl on the floor, making them giggle. He’s the kind of guy you’d meet in the lift and ask, “Is it going up?” and he’d tell you with a sinister smile, “That’s what she said.” Disgusting. Just disgusting. Not your bag, for sure.
Plus, all he would constantly talk about was alcohol and his escapades over the weekend: where they were drinking, who got drunk and did what, how much what they drank cost. He imagined the war stories from the night on the tiles made him debonair, bonhomie even. Acting badass all the time. Talking about the girls in the bar. You liked little about this kind of a guy, and you thought even less of his dressing, which you found unimaginative at the very least and uninspiring on a good day. He – an adult – walked around in shoes that looked like Toughees, as if he was a high school dining hall captain. You tolerated him and his urban folklore. You never looked at him beyond a colleague, someone you ask to help you with a jammed printer. Soon, because you always listened to his stories from the bar, and perhaps even chuckled at some against your better judgment, you found yourself as his wingman, telling him what would work and not work with broads.
But over time, you learnt that this badass attitude was not because he attended the National Youth Service in the 80s, but because he was engaged once and his fiancée pulled the plug a month before the wedding. On top of this, he found out that she was ringing someone’s bell the whole time they were engaged. And that crushed him, cut him wide open like a linefish. One night when he was out running the streets with his gang of drinkers, in a moment of odd revelation or liquid courage, he texted you and confessed that he was just “an old damaged dog.”(He was 35). The veneer started to slip off. Slowly you began to realise that this gung-ho, macho, drinking-all-weekend-and-chasing-tail, Toughee-wearing and chest thumping persona was all to hide the hurt and pain and the ghosts of his wrecked romantic past. Inside he was just a procurement guy who could fix a jammed printer.
Anyway, she still wasn’t keen to date anyway, and not a damaged dog for sure. Not that he asked her to. But they spoke a lot. Mostly on text. Often late into the night, while the world slept. And because now he had nothing to hide from her, because he needn’t posture or thump his chest anymore, he allowed himself to be vulnerable with her. His true self slowly unfurled. He was actually sort of nice, when you looked beyond his drinking tales and his Toughees. Even when he strutted around the office like a plantation owner, she could now see through this charade for what it was. She was now privy to his high-act shtick. She knew his heart now and his heart was not the robust one he was selling on the floor of the office, his heart was thin and fragile, covered with a small layer of hurt. He was like a beautiful, wounded animal that refused to be nursed.
One day he learnt that she was leaving for Nanyuki on an Overland truck with some sandal-wearing hippie tourists and locals. He said, “Oh, that sounds like fun, can I come?” And she shrugged, “Sure, if you will pay the 6K, why not?” So they went. And the organisers assumed they were dating and booked them in the same room. She protested, “Oh, no! Gosh, no, I’m not dating him. We are not dating. I’m single.” The guys said they had no more rooms left, would it be so bad if they shared?
Would it? she wondered.
So they shared a room.
Now they are married.
What happened between the sharing the room and getting married isn’t so important. Trust me. I don’t want to belabour it. What is important is her giving birth – not so long ago – and then a doctor diagnosing her with appendicitis after she fell ill with serious abdominal pains and nausea. She got admitted and then went under the knife. But then she got worse. Then doctors found that her colon was infected. “I thought I was going to die.”
But she didn’t die, she just got worse. She felt like she was at death’s door. She thought of her infant and of her new husband. She thought about what would happen to her baby if she died. Would she be raised by her parents or would he remarry before the grass grows on her grave? What if the woman was a dreadful stepmom to her daughter, denying her food, whipping her with a belt, making her do all house chores? The more she thought about that the sicker she got. He would come visit her in the months she was in hospital and he was always very casual about her sickness. She thought, “Why is he so relaxed while I’m here on death’s bed?” But that’s who he was, a chilled guy.
Funny thing, her father had not foreseen her marrying a man like him. He invested so much in her and he thought she’d marry someone who was successful and with great wealth. Instead she married a man who wears Toughees. Even I would be secretly disappointed even though you can’t judge a man by his shoes, otherwise we would not respect Jesus and those things He would wear. But he was a good man. Generally. During the time she was sick, he would run between the hospital and her parents’ house to deliver baby things then run to his job. His father-in-law saw beyond his Toughees. He saw a decent enough chap for his daughter.
She got better, enough to be discharged, but they sent her home with a colostomy bag. Do you know what that is? It’s a small waterproof pouch used to collect waste from the body. It’s the kind of thing when your boss screams at you – TAKE CARE OF YOUR SHIT!- you’d show him and say, “I am.” It’s strapped against you. You walk around with it because your colon is healing. “Imagine how sexy it was for someone like me, a newly-wed to have a bag with my shit in it.” Thankfully, she opted to stay with her parents upon discharge, because you know how parents are- they will take you with your shit. Literally, in this case.
Two months later her colon was fine and she moved back to her matrimonial home. “I used to be 60kgs, curvy and gorgeous. Now I was 40kgs, skinny and gaunt. I looked like a boy.” None of her clothes fit. When she wore them she looked deflated and defeated. He never touched her. They slept like people sharing a bed at a funeral in my shags. “He would find a way to be away from the house. To drink with his friends while I stayed with the baby. He started coming home as late as 5am, just before the sun slit through the curtains. It was like he was deliberately avoiding being around me.”
The biggest challenge then was the lack of sex. And this went on for a whole year, which is a lifetime for newly-weds, who are supposed to be kicking the cat out of the room constantly. He wasn’t interested. He didn’t look at her like you would look at someone you want to unclothe. He looked at her like you would look at washing a cup. Or planting a tree. With dull disinterest. “It didn’t help that he wasn’t touching me. I felt unwanted, damaged, unattractive.”
She had scars on her body, from the surgeries. They cut across her like a network of dry riverbeds. Some ran against her ribs. Her ribs showed when she stretched. “My body made me so insecure. I was skinny and I knew he didn’t like skinny girls. I also had these unsightly scars,” she says. “We started a routine which made sure that at any given time none of us was naked in the bedroom at the same time; while one showered, the other dressed, and while the other dressed the one who had showered would be gone from the bedroom.” They were like ships in the dark. He delayed coming to bed, preferring instead to watch movies until late, or sometimes even blacking out on the couch. Conversations trickled to domestic conversations; about the baby, what to buy, what is due, there is a problem with the socket, where is my blue shirt, going to see Mom this weekend.
“I started nagging him about him being an absentee husband, always prioritising his friends over his family.” Because she felt unwanted and unsexy, they started having constant fights over mundane things when really it was about the lack of intimacy.
You know those fights, gentlemen. You think you are fighting about one thing kumbe she is fighting you about something totally different! For example; you come home at midnight and switch on the small lamp on the dresser. The one with the dull orange glow. She wakes up – okay, technically you can’t wake up when you have been awake all along waiting to cause mayhem – and says, “You are so insensitive!” You look at her and say, “Hey, I didn’t know you were awake!”
She says, “I was asleep! You woke me up with this light!”
You look at the light and look at her. You have switched on this light for five years when you get back home late in the night while she is asleep but it has never bothered her once. “Did I switch it on too loudly?” you ask sarcastically because you have had a few and you are feeling invincible. And just like that a fight ensues. And she’s coming at you like a hurricane, saying you just think of yourself, putting on lights (with an ‘s’) in the house when you get home. (“It’s one light, one weak light!”)
She sits up. (Oh, oh). Her old lace nightie, now stretched at the neck area, shows her bare breasts. Her breasts look fantastic in that orange light y’all are fighting about – or you think you are fighting about. Her skin looks like a beach in that orange dawn sunrise, smooth and consistent. But she won’t shut it. She’s just saying, “This kind of selfish behaviour is what I can’t stand, to be honest, just you thinking about what you want and what you need, putting on these lights because you don’t care what everybody else feels, you don’t care the kind of week I have had, because you are in this perfect world of yours where you put on lights whenever you fuckin’ feel like -”
You walk over and switch off the lamp. Now you are undressing in darkness and she’s still talking. Ha-ha. You’d think darkness would stop a woman. Nyet. Words of a woman cut through the blackest of spaces, and the hardest of surfaces. “….you just don’t care about this anymore. In fact my sister said I should not bring it up but I told her I will. Because I mean if it was your own sibling you would have done more -” You stop undressing. You are standing there, one leg of your trousers off, the other still on the other leg. You are shirtless. You are thinking, what? What is she talking about? Then she stops talking and the duvet rustles and there are small sobs. The hell? So you put on the lights and stupidly with one leg out of your trousers, hop like a kangaroo, to her side and sit on the bed and say, “Maureen. What the hell is going on? Is this about the light?” She is sobbing under the duvet. Nobody at pre-marital counselling told you something like this would happen. You touch her shoulder. “You know what, I’m sorry, I will never touch that lamp again. Okay?” Then she tosses off the duvet and says, “This is not about the stupid light, you didn’t go to see my sister in hospital when she was sick!”
You are tongue-tied. Her sister was in the hospital for 8 eight hours, for a day surgery. That was three months ago! You remember that day, it was a hellish day at work and when you were ready to visit she was already discharged. You sit there with your silly leg in one trouser leg and get an earful. Sometimes you just take it, it won’t break your bones.
So, yeah. It’s never about the damn lamp sometimes. It’s layered.
Anyway, they start having these fights that are really about the lack of intimacy, his activities that take him away from her and their baby and her feeling of being unwanted.
One day she bought black lingerie. “Black against my skin is sexy.” [She’s a light skin). She wore it on a day that the baby was away and he wasn’t planning to leave the house. He was lying on the bed reading an old book when she sashayed out of the bathroom in this grand, black lingerie. He put down the book he was reading and stared at her. But it wasn’t the look of goddamn! It was a different look. The look of, “Oh, no, do I have to?” She got on top of him, straddling him. They kissed for a bit, but she could feel the reluctance in his kiss. He was behaving like he was kissing a pawpaw. He eventually pushed her off. She was hurt. She asked, “What’s wrong?” “Nothing. I just don’t want to hurt you.”
“He kept saying that he didn’t want to hurt me. That he felt like my body had not healed after the surgery and I kept telling him that I had healed. That it’s my body, I know it has healed. But everytime sex came up that’s what he would say, that he doesn’t want to hurt me. I felt like it was an excuse, like he didn’t find me desirable anymore. And that hurt me!”
The next day they called her surgeon, a Dr Odede. She asked the doctor if she was fine enough to have sex and the doctor said, “Of course. Go gaga.” (Okay, he didn’t use the word gaga, but that sounds like a word an Odede would use.) She told Dr Odede, “Do you mind telling my husband that it’s fine for us to have sex? He’s right here eating an apple. Hang on.” She hands him the phone and he says, “Hello?” and walks away.
In my head, the conversation must have gone something like.
Doc: Why are you not having sex with your wife?
Him: I’m afraid.
Doc: Does she bite?
Him: Yes, but that I like. I’m afraid she has not healed.
Doc: She has healed.
Him: How can you be so sure?
Doc: Because I have a “Dr” before my name and I’ve done hundreds of such surgeries.
Him: I feel like she hasn’t.
Doc: How so?
Him: I don’t know. I just do.
Doc: Just do it. She’s fine.
Him: I’m not comfortable. I might hurt her.
Doc: You must think highly of yourself.
Doc: Listen, she has healed. Go for it.
Him: Sawa. I will try.
Doc: Don’t try. It’s been a year. You go hard or you go home.
Him: I’m home. It’s the hard I’m working on.
Things didn’t change. “It didn’t help that my hair had started falling off because of all the medication I had been taking, so I shaved it all off. My dad thought I looked like a boy. He said I looked ‘fine.’ Fine is not a description he would have used on me before. I was beautiful before, now I was fine.” She would go about in baggy clothes to conceal her small frame. She started eating and gaining weight and filling out her clothes. He was mostly out, drinking. One day he came home in the morning and found her leaving, with her bags. “I’m going to my parents,” she told him. Before he could say, “Taita” she was reversing the car. Mediations happened. Then she came back.
“The first thing I did that began to make a difference was to realise that I was more than my body. That you can get sick, your hormones can act up and your body will change, and it’s dangerous for your esteem to peg everything on your body. So I got to a point where I made peace with my scars. These are the scars that remind me of motherhood and motherhood is a special gift I was given. So accepting my scars helped me even gain weight.”
Whereas before she couldn’t look at her full body in the mirror, one day she stripped and stood before the mirror and really looked at her body. That was who she was now, she recognised.
“With acceptance came confidence and my confidence might have helped kick-start our sex life.”
“What would you do differently, looking back?” I ask her.
“I think we should both have gone for counselling soon after my surgeries. I went for counselling to handle the new me but my husband didn’t. I think he didn’t know how to deal with how my body changed. It was assumed that he would just handle the change automatically.”
She then adds, “People say that marriage is hard, but they never really talk about what comes after the hard part. I think that pushing through the hard parts is what is sometimes necessary for the good parts to come.”
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