You keep seeing this girl in the queue at the bus stop. Some days she’s wearing ankle boots, other days she’s in a hat. You say, “Tomorrow I will say hello.” Tomorrow comes and you don’t see her. You hang around looking out for her small shoulders and long neck. You say to yourself, “I should have said hello jana when she was here, now I will never see her again.” The following day she doesn’t come to the bus stop. Nor does she the following day. You give up. You’re 24-years old, you live in Githurai in a small digs with a small window that looks out to the neighbour’s wall.
The following week you get to the queue at the bus stage and who do you see? A man selling all manner of hats. He has these hats stacked on top of each other, running all the way up into a storeyed enterprise. You wonder to yourself, “How is he able to balance all those hats? They must be like 2,000.” But this is Nairobi and Nairobians make money or go home. But often home is so far – as far as Burnt Forest – so nobody is going back home. So they sell hats. As you stand there gawping at the man with hats you hear a peal of laughter. You turn and there she is. She’s standing with a gaggle of her girlfriends. Her laughter floats over the queue like a rainbow. A rainbow you want to eat. Your brain says urgently, “This is your moment!” but you can’t feel your legs. You are immobile. The queue (or what we Kenyans call line) moves and soon she and her small posse are swallowed into the belly of a matatu. Your brain says to you, “What. The. F**k. Man?!” You hang your head in shame. You are a lily-livered man. You don’t deserve second or third chances. She was there. And you blew it.
But they say the universe is a woman (actually, they don’t but work with me here) and so she – the universe – feels woishe for you because the following day you see her. She’s wearing some trendy-ass sweater with big wooden buttons. Your brain tells you, “I swear if you don’t ta-” but you are off before it finishes that sentence and you are at her elbow saying, “Hi.”
Every evening after that, you get to the stage first and “reserve” for her a space in the queue. (Can people from other countries relate to this, by the way?) You start talking. She works in her uncle’s phone shop in town. You find it fascinating how she knows about phones and electronics. When she tells you that she’s a mother you are like, “Wait, kwani how old are you?” She’s a few years shy of you, she got a baby when she was very young, in high school. The baby’s father- a boy himself – died before his son was born. You like that…not the fact that the baby daddy died, but that she’s a mother. You really like that. It says she’s responsible and family-oriented. You grew up in a solid, stable and happy home in Ngara; Dad (deceased from heartbreak months after your brother’s death) was that guy and Mom was that woman.
You start hanging out a lot. She is the aggressor, always initiating meetings, sometimes taking you out on dates etc. You start dating. It’s going well, so well that you move into a house in Kimathi estate; you, her and her son, a sweet, happy boy. There are no white picket fences in Kimathi, but you feel content, happy. Your expenses are low so your designer job can sustain this small, budding family. You enroll her in a college because you want an empowered wife, so she quits her uncle’s phone shop. One day your phone rings and a guy says, “Is this Timothy?”
“My name is Joshua.”
“Okay?” [Probably a guy who wants design work done.]
“We haven’t met, but I used to date Maggie, the lady you are currently dating.” [OK, so it isn’t a guy who wants design work. It’s a guy who had done designs on your woman.]
“Oh,” you say, but what you really wanted to say is something tough like, ‘Eh, where is this going? I have a goat to slaughter.’
“I wanted us to meet,” the guy says.
“Meet? About what?”
“Oh.” [You really need to stop saying, ‘Oh.’]
“Yeah, I know this sounds odd but I mean you no harm.”
So you agree to meet after work in a little spoon near Fairlane building in Ngumo, a stone’s throw from your workplace. You find him there. You remember him immediately. You recall his good looks and his fit frame. Your read sports in his movement when he stands up. One time when you were wooing Maggie a guy came and pulled her out of the queue and they had what looked like a brief but uncomfortable conversation. He tells you that Maggie will leave you without notice, the same way she left him. “Things were great and then suddenly she was seeing you. It will happen to you too. I just thought I would warn you.” ‘Right. Spooky guy,’ you think. ‘Sour grapes.’
“I don’t think so,” you tell him, “this is different.”
“Well, mark my words,” were his last words, Joshua’s words. [Now, there is a header].
You finished your tea and high-tailed it from the prophet of doom. You opened a side gig for mtumba for Maggie, which started doing really well. You got a baby in 2004. You moved from Umoja one (three rooms, plot-like setting) to a detached house in Umoja 2 with your own compound. A big-ass move. Things got even better. Money was coming from the mitumba business. She graduated from college, got a job with the judiciary and closed down the mitumba business. Then things got from great to a slow decline. She started acting sketchy. Phone calls that she would ignore. Texts that would come in when he was near her phone and he would pick words from it; words like “dearest,” which isn’t a salacious word until someone uses it when referring to your wife. Then one day he saw a message when she was in the bathroom, where she was not being addressed as “dearest” but “baby.”
Now I’m with this guy having lunch and he’s telling me how things started unspooling. How he would confront her about these messages and she would flip. “On many occasions we would sit down with my mom and her mom and she would either deny or make me feel like I was too possessive,” he says. “My mom would later tell me to just be easy and focus on the happiness of my family.”
A few months later, the same thing would happen. A different guy. A different message. This one calling her “sweetness.” Even a mango doesn’t get called that. It kept happening, these slivers of evidence bearing men, which also brought vehement denials even though he was sure she was out there sleeping with these men.
“I didn’t know what to do or who to talk to. Plus it’s not easy to tell your friends that your wife is shagging some guy,” he says. “You hope it will go away,” he says. Only it doesn’t. It gets bolder because now you are a doormat. Her behaviour changed, she was brash and bold. She knew he wouldn’t do anything. His self-esteem started eroding. What do you do, when you know your wife is playing dirty but you still love being a husband? Nothing. “Your self esteem gets a beating. Constant beating,” he says. Work got better, they moved to Nyayo Estate. Desperation makes men do wild shit.
“One day I created a fake Facebook page,” he says. “It was of a lady. I got a fake name, got fake pictures, invited her friends and then invited her as a friend. We then started chatting. I asked her about one of the guys I suspected she was having a thing with, pretended that he was interested in me. She told me that they had had a thing. That they had driven to Nakuru during the day, got it on and she was back in the house in the evening. Together with that and a couple of confessions about other guys, I called another meeting with our parents and when I tabled this hard evidence she was livid. She ended up walking out of that meeting.”
He went back home to her because his mother said that he should try to keep that family together. “Look at the kids first,” she said. He also didn’t want to fail. He didn’t want to fail at the image they had created out there of a loving, stable family. People would laugh at him. By this time, they had two children, in addition to her son.
One day he was on leave and was doing some general cleaning when he found a piece of paper with a yahoo email and password. He sat on the bed and even before he logged into the Facebook account, he knew that it belonged to his wife. He knew that what awaited him there would be damning. But what he found was worse. She was having a thing with one of his best friends. A guy he would have a drink with weekly. Someone he knew from childhood. The chats were there, like the entrails from a dead animal. He read them with a vein forming on his forehead, like Hulk’s when he gets pissed off. Only he didn’t punch a wall. He wasn’t even mad, he just felt a deep disappointment, a double-edged betrayal.
He took screenshots of all these conversations. Calmly. Like a stamp collector would, working on his album. Then he did something you and I would not do. He did nothing. Acted okay. For a week. He got into the same bed with her for a week, knowing that she was banging his friend. He asked her how her day was. He passed her the salt at the dinner table. He also continued meeting his boy for drinks and resisted the urge to push a beer bottle up his rectum. Two days after that discovery, as they lay in bed at night he asked her, “By the way, would you tell me if any of my friends made a pass at you?” She said, “Of course! Aii, lakini what thoughts are these? Why would your friends do that?” The next day, he watched them chat on Facebook. She was telling his friend how he had asked her a weird question the previous night. “Do you think he knows something?” his boy asked. “Naah. He doesn’t, be easy.” She was the aggressor from those chats, asking him when they will meet again etc.
One day they had coffee at a restaurant in town. They were four of them; him, his wife, his boy and another friend of theirs. He watched how playful they were, so playful that sometimes his boy would push her playfully. He sat there thinking, “How the f*ck did I not see this earlier?!”
So you know what he did right? You know the tragic way these kinds of stories end, right? He confronted them later that evening, in his boy’s office. He was armed with screenshots. They stood there, agape. He wasn’t even crushed, then, just deeply disappointed. He got up and told her, “I’m going home.” She said, “I will come pick up my stuff,” then she went and cried crocodile tears but he simply pointed at the door. He had had it. She was free to go shag every man she desired, she didn’t have to hide now. An 11-year old marriage had ended in a whimper. “When my father and bro died, I didn’t cry as much as I cried that night. I was sure the marriage had ended,” he says.
“Why did you stay in that marriage when you first discovered she was dodgy?” I ask him.
“Because I didn’t want to fail my children. I didn’t want to fail my mother. And my friends,” he says. “I wanted to have the kind of family my parents had. I thought people change. Also, I thought it was my fault. I thought perhaps I wasn’t doing enough as a man. Also she was such a great mother and homemaker, so perhaps I focused on that, you know, focus on the positive?”
Ideally, this story should end here. The villain is gone, after all. And Joshua’s words have come to pass, sort of. They broke up in 2015 when he was 36-years. Now he’s turning 41. Between finding out about his friend and his wife and now, four years later, he has since married again and has had a child. To mean he went back into a burning house and there, found a room that wasn’t smouldering. And he made tea.
I asked him about his state of mind soon after she packed her stuff and left. He said, “I suffered self-doubt. I wondered if I did everything I could to be a good husband. I flung myself at my children to find validation, that I could at least do something right; be a good father. And I found validation in that because my children looked happy.”
“And your manhood? What did that do?”
“Of course when you discover that your wife is out there shagging men it makes you question your manhood. Maybe I was lacking something. Maybe I wasn’t man enough,” he says. “I had those thoughts. I couldn’t confide in anyone, expect my mom who knew of all my marital problems from the start. I questioned what a man is to a woman because I had thought it was a provider, friend and lover, things I thought I was. Even when I started dating my current wife, she could see that it had shaken my confidence, my libido suffered. I’d be at it and suddenly a thought would come to my mind and I’d lose my erection.”
“What kind of thought?”
“It could be something very random, not anything specific, I don’t know…I guess I was distracted, my mind was not right,” he says. “It wasn’t easy.”
I ask him if it’s okay to call his wife later and find out how she rescued this sinking ship. He says, “Cool, go ahead.” So I spoke to his wife, asked her to go back to the first days she met him, a few months after his separation.
“When I met him, he was a shell of a man. He told me what had happened in his marriage and I could see how that had just crushed him,’ she says. All his confidence had drained down his pants. He was extremely insecure and suspicious. He was constantly worried and stressed. “Even his work was different,” she says. “There is a way you see some guys walk with their heads high and chests puffed out. He would walk with rounded shoulders, back hunched over. He had no purpose in his walk. He walked simply to get to where he was going, without enjoying the experience of the walk itself.”
“Why didn’t you run,” I ask her, “knowing the amount of emotional baggage he was coming into the new relationship with?”
“Well, I admired how committed he was to his children, even to his first son who had come with his ex-wife. His love for his kids never waned, if anything he was more committed to them. I loved that. It showed that he was a man you could depend on even in the worst of times. I saw that he wasn’t the guy who would ruka you. I had ended a ten-year relationship a year earlier and I admired that quality in him. Plus, come on, we are women, we want to fix broken things, so there was also a bit of saviour mentality there.” She laughs.
“How hard were the initial days?” I ask.
They fought all the time, she says. About everything. He was insecure. “I would let him go through the messages on my phone. If he wanted my phone it was there, unlocked. I did this even though it could get pretty exhausting, but I understood the demons he was fighting. He was dealing with major trust issues. I had lots of male friends and I had to let go of some of them to make him comfortable. I was building his confidence, reassuring him constantly that I loved him and that I wasn’t about to hurt him. It was slow and painful, but I knew he would be a great partner after all that. We started doing outdoor activities together in a funny way.” She laughs.
She had gone hiking with a male friend and when he learnt about it, he blew a gasket. He asked, “Are you having a thing with this guy? Why would you go hiking with him, just the two of you out on some hill?” She laughs. So next time they were going hiking she invited him and he met the guy.
“Did he punch him in the neck?”
“No!” She laughs. “He realised that there was nothing between us.”
“Oh, I wish he’d just have punched him in the neck, just for the fun of it.”
She laughs at that.
They have climbed Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro together.
She talks about the challenge of sex at the beginning and how difficult it was. “He was off sex when we met and it was frustrating me a big deal because I’m a hot-blooded woman and he just wasn’t keen to take me to bed. And when he did, he would lose it in the middle of it all…so that was tough. Very.”
“And now? Is he back. Is he a beast, ey?”
“He got back to it but currently we aren’t having sex as frequently because he’s going through some financial difficulties. His business isn’t doing so great and it’s stressing him a lot,” she says. “He’s that guy who pegs a lot on being a provider and when he can’t provide it really brings him down. But the good thing with him is that he communicates what he’s feeling. He won’t just be quiet. In fact, just yesterday we were talking about this. He was saying how business is so bad, making him feel like he’s letting me and the children down and it’s killing his mojo and all, and that’s why he’s off. I like that about him, he will say this is wrong and I feel this way and that’s why I’m behaving in this manner.”
“But we have been through so much. He’s such a great guy. Financial difficulty is something that we will also overcome,” she says.
“Tell me what you love most about him?” I say. “Maybe he doesn’t know it.”
“I admire his calmness. He is a very calm man. Very. And patient. I also greatly admire his kindness, he has got such a big heart. He is also a people person, people are always so easy around him. He’s a fantastic father, someone you can rely on. I always know that no matter what I can depend on him. I know he will come through.”
I called him later and told him that his wife had said he’s a solid guy.
“She’s my rock,” he says. “When I was in a very bad place, she chose me. She chose me everyday, with all my faults. And then she fixed me. She’s very tactful when she needs to confront me and when she does, I never feel like it’s in a negative way, or that she is attacking me. The most important thing I love about her is that she is selfless and patient. When I didn’t think I was worth any woman’s time, when my confidence was zero and I was stressing her, she could have left me to deal with my shit but she always told me, ‘I’m not going anywhere. I’m always going to be here,’ and she would keep saying it over and over again. That gave me great reassurance.”
“Words from a woman’s tongue are powerful.”
“Oh yeah, so much,” he says.
“What would you say is your level of confidence now?”
He thinks about it for a second. “ Maybe a 6?” he says.
“Oh, that’s low, no?” I say.
“Yeah, it’s because business is not doing well now. I’m really struggling and it’s spilled over to our bedroom.”
“You are not getting strong ones.”
He chuckles. “We have been off sex for two weeks now. It’s because I’m so distracted and worried about money because I have financial obligations from my family now and also for my ex-wife and it’s a lot.”
All said and done, he’s in a good place. A very good place. His confidence is almost back to what it was. He’s happy. His wife is happy. His children are happy. And hopefully, Joshua is also happy.