Having a phone interview is weird. You hear things in the background; doors opening, whispers, someone asking if you have seen their socks, a cat yawning, the sound of a saw, water running, a cough, silence, tears, pauses filled with questions….
This is her story.[Trigger Warning; violence.]
It’s weird when someone you have shared a bed with, and shared all the intimacy that comes with that, someone who has constantly told you that he loves you, stabs you in the leg with a sword. You don’t register the stab at first because you don’t imagine that your lover would stab you, let alone in the leg. It’s painful as hell, of course, but the realisation that he would dare harm you in a way that cuts your skin and draws your blood with the intention of inflicting grave bodily harm, hurts even more. Because that’s what he intends to do. That’s what he has been saying he’d do for the past hour or so. And now, as you slowly slide to the floor of the kitchen, in shock and pain, clutching the bleeding wound on your leg, you realise that perhaps today is the day you die in the hands of your lover, in your kitchen, this very kitchen in which you have cooked many loving meals for him. It dawns on you that you might not leave this kitchen alive, that you will bleed to death on the tiled floor as he scorns, taunts and threatens you, as the scones you are baking slowly turn brown in the oven.
But let’s start with how I got here, on my own kitchen floor, bleeding from a sword wound, my baking interrupted.
We met at work, at the parking lot in 2015. A colleague introduced us. He was different, not like the men I was accustomed to meeting. I was accustomed to men who drove Toyota Premios. He was different, he looked at things differently. I liked how his hair would sit after he combed it. I was 30 years old, idealistic, driven and a lover at heart. He was 36, a doctor. Very smart. I started dating him because the child in him brought out the child in me. We were like kittens; goofy, we laughed a lot. Because we had dated for so long, it seemed proper to move in together this year, unbeknownst to me, 2020 had plans of her own.
I came with a child from a previous relationship. A boy. When you bring a male child into a relationship, the dynamics are trickier. These are two men, and men – like all animals – like to make things about domination. Thankfully my son was nine years old when they met, so they had lots of time to adapt to each other, to create their own space. They had a budding bromance. I’m the type of mother who is easy going, I let kids be kids. He’s the authoritative one. That often presented problems in their relationship, especially when my son became a teenager, but it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.
He drunk. My boyfriend, not my son. I didn’t notice his drinking worsen, but it did. COVID didn’t help. He was drinking at the house; whiskies, beers, whatever, legs stretched on top of the coffee table. We were in a small town not too far from Nairobi. I’m not a small town girl, and I was new there, so I didn’t know how to blend in. I didn’t have friends. Most times he’d be off drinking with his mates. Cop friends. They called him ‘daktari.’ Because he was drinking with law enforcement, he was exempted from curfew time. He’d rock up after curfew time, a bit out of his head but not enough to stagger. Then he would pick fights. Useless fights. Things from before, from the dark ages. So I started sleeping earlier, before his arrival to avoid him and his bickering. Or I’d hear his car reversing into the parking space, and I’d pretend to be asleep. On some days he’d stand there shouting my name, and I’d pretend to be asleep and he’d sigh and let me be, stumbling to remove his clothes. On other days he’d wake me up and go at me with words. He was often inventive with his grouses, lashing out at me, trying to sting me. He became angrier by the day. I thought it was just COVID, staying in the house for too long. I was reading about such things happening to couples during COVID.
In the mornings he’d be a different person, hat in hand, apologising for being an ass the previous night. While stirring his tea, he’d be hunched over, feeling ashamed for the dastardly things he had uttered the previous night, promising not to do it again, to be a better human being. At other times he wouldn’t apologise, he’d be a man about it, looking straight ahead, brushing my complaints aside like flies off his sleeves.
One Friday in March, I came out of the shower and he told me that Y had called me and he had spoken to him and that the conversation had gone south quickly. Y was our mutual friend. They hated each other, an enmity that stemmed from their time in the US where they studied. I don’t know what happened in the US. “Why is this guy calling you?” He demanded, pacing about the bedroom, furious. I told him I didn’t know. I was not having a thing with him, matter of fact, he liked my cousin. To this day, I still don’t know why he called me that night, I never bothered to call him back.
The silent treatment started the next day, a Saturday. He woke up mute, saying so much with his body, but nil by mouth. We didn’t speak the whole day, and that’s not easy during Covid when you are at home together. We ate in silence, our cutlery filling the silence. When we spoke, it was to my son or on the phone. The only human voices came from the TV. On Sunday he went drinking until after curfew when he rocked back, a bit shitfaced. He started having a go at my son who was watching TV. He was being a bit rough with him. I told him to leave the boy alone. He turned and told me gruffly, ‘I’m not talking to you.’ My son seemed agitated, close to tears so I told him to go to his room and cool off. When my son left I told him to go easy on my son, that he’s a good kid. There was some back and forth; words spat at each other. He was seated, still in his socks, talking through the booze. It’s hard to talk to someone who has alcohol in him.
This was not going anywhere. I got up and went to check in on my son who was in his room. He followed me, stalked me, suddenly pinning me up against the wall by my neck. He’s a big man; 100kgs, tall and drunk. His hands on my neck caught me completely by surprise. It felt like an out of body experience, like it was happening to someone else, someone in a newspaper. Things that only happened to others. I couldn’t fight him off. I’m a small woman. I was shocked. Shock gave way to fear. I struggled to pry his hands free from my neck, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t scream because I didn’t want my son to hear; we choose death over disturbing our children’s innocence. When he finally let me go, I flopped on the floor like a ragdoll, clutching my neck, struggling to breath. I was coughing.
In a daze, I walked back to the kitchen. I had been baking earlier. I love cooking and I’m very good at it. I had scones in the oven. I figured I’d go check up on them, that’s how confused I was, here I was, getting strangled by a man, yet all I was concerned about were my scones. I was in a deera, a blue and black deera. He was in shorts because that’s all he wore during Covid. I opened the oven and peered inside at my scones. They looked so safe and warm in there, unlike me. Nobody could harm them there. No big and tall drunkard was trying to strangle them to death.
In the kitchen he kept hissing at me, talking at me, grabbing my arm, shaking me like those Grand Prix drivers shake champagne after a win. His eyes were red. I was silent, because I was scared. I didn’t want to say the wrong thing – my silence seemed to agitate him further. At some point he locked the kitchen door with a key. I saw it happen as if in a trance, in disbelief. He then headbutted me. I have never been headbutted in my life. I don’t know any of my friends who have been headbutted. At this point I thought of my baby daddy, the father of my son, and it dawned on me that perhaps I attracted this kind of man; brutes and savages, men who would headbutt a woman.
I met my baby daddy when I was 18-years old. I had my son at 20. I left him at 26 when he hit me. ‘Maybe I’m attracted to broken birds,’ I thought to myself as I staggered backwards, reeling from the headbutt. I felt my face puff up like the scones in my oven. When we were starting out, we would be in bed on a lazy afternoon, talking like lovers do, limbs intertwined, hearts entangled, and I would tell him about the baby daddy and how he slapped me once and how that made me feel so fearful and dehumanised. He knew my fear and now he was using it against me.
As if on cue, as the loud sound of the oven timer went ‘tiing”, he asked me to make a choice. He said he was going to either cut off my finger or my toe, whichever I could live without. ‘Make a choice,” he said. He was brandishing a Somali sword that men keep under the seats of their cars but never get to use. I don’t know of any man who has ever claimed to use those weapons they keep under their seats. Because of Covid and because he was not using his car frequently he had removed stuff from his car. I was terrified of him, this man who I had shared the last five years of my life with, who was now making me choose, which digit I should live without. He was frantic, interrogating me about things I had forgotten about and I was saying, ‘I’m sorry,’ to every accusation to placate him, to stop him from harming me further.
I thought of my dad as I leaned against the kitchen wall, trying to make myself as small as I could so that he might see me as small and unthreatening. My father worked for Kenya Railways as an accountant and lived in Upperhill. Every school holiday we would leave Kisumu, where we lived, and board the train to visit him. It was the highlight of my childhood, that train ride. We travelled first class. We’d sit in the cabin, in our new clothes, and I’d stare outside at the running and changing landscape – trees and houses and hills and clouds. We’d drink warm sodas and eat cake and we’d be treated like royalty because dad was an accountant with them. Upon arriving in Nairobi, we’d find him waiting at the platform with a smile, a dad smile, happy to see us. I remember the bashes he held, him walking in and out of the house ferrying drinks locked away in the bedroom. Our relatives seated on chairs in the big civil servant gardens. I was a bright student but one day I failed a math question and he came and sat me down and started dressing me down. How could I get this simple sum wrong? What was I thinking? This sum is so simple, he scolded, sitting down with a pen and paper and starting to do the math, all the while scolding me for being lazy and distracted and not serious with education. When he arrived at the answer, it was the same answer I had arrived at and he suddenly changed and started speaking poorly of the teachers, about how wrong they were. Then he stood up and left. I wanted to laugh. I felt so vindicated. Did this guy who wanted to cut my finger off know that I had a father who thought the world of me, who loved everything about me, including all my fingers and toes? Did he not know that I was the apple of someone’s eye?
My son suddenly tried opening the kitchen door. I panicked. I was afraid he would harm my son if he walked in. I couldn’t live with myself if something happened to my son. He could hurt me, after all, I chose him but my son didn’t, this was not his bed to lie on. He looked at the door and then we looked at each other. I quickly told my son to go to his room, I’d see him in a few. I heard his shuffling feet reluctantly recede. Would I see him again? Would I see him if this man decided to kill me in this kitchen tonight? The taunting continued and it would continue until 2am in the night. Basically he had held me hostage.
When he stabbed me, I didn’t even comprehend it. The somali sword went through my deera and into my thigh. It wasn’t deep, but it was a wide gush. Whilst I was on the floor, in excruciating pain, I prayed to God. I was telling Him not to let me die in this kitchen. I had a son in the next room. I had just completed my PhD. Of what use was education if I was making choices like these, getting killed by a man in my own kitchen? Who would take care of my son? How heartbroken would my parents be? People would hear that I died, but then they’d think I died of COVID only to be told that no, I was stabbed by my boyfriend.
I started begging him. Pleading with him. I will never forget the expression on his face. He was enjoying it. That’s what disturbed me the most. He was enjoying torturing me. This whole scene felt like I was in those spy movies where someone is locked in a room and a mean guy is torturing them for information. I prayed for my son not to come to the door because then he would be in danger because my boyfriend had crossed a line from which there was no retreat. My son would want to save me and this man would surely kill him. Then he’d have to kill me too.
He leaned against the counter, sword in hand, as if contemplating his next action, hopefully not where to hide my body. My pleas seemed to be working because he suddenly said, ‘let’s go to bed.’ He said it in the tone a man would use to tell his woman that it was bedtime after they had been sitting on the sofa watching a late-night movie together. My blood had dried. My wound throbbed. I felt faint. He stripped and got into bed and fell asleep almost immediately. I went into the bathroom and cleaned my wound, whimpering silently like the wounded animal I was. I then pressed ice cubes on my face to reduce the swelling. I didn’t want my son to see me looking like that; harmed, broken and defeated. And then I went to sleep.
In the morning he looked shocked to see my face but he didn’t say anything. I made breakfast; mandazis. My son came out of his room to have breakfast. I couldn’t look him in the eye. He never said anything but he knew what had transpired because it had been loud and also, who locks the kitchen door? Questions sat heavily between us like a tumor. The next few days he locked me in the house. I couldn’t leave. I was making plans to escape to Nairobi. He stayed in the house the whole time. I thought of calling the cops but what if his drinking friends picked the call? I didn’t even know if my car could move anymore, it had not been driven since COVID started.
My friends eventually called the OCS. I texted him the directions to my house. Twenty minutes later a platoon of cops showed up at my door; the OCS, the OCPD, a senior sergeant and two other cops. I had never seen so many men at my door. They crowded it. Big men in coats and squeaking radios. I was shaking with relief. They knocked once and when I opened they simply walked in. Cops just walk in, man. Suddenly there were all these men standing in my sitting room, men who were there to save me. My boyfriend was drinking in the room while watching TV, his life going on as usual. When he came out, he looked frightened to see all those cops, one who was his friend. This cop friend of his said, ‘we know each other but I’m here in a private capacity over domestic complaints.” My boyfriend said there was no problem here, just usual domestic squabbles. The OCS turned to me and asked me if I had a problem and I said yes, I did. I don’t feel safe in this house. They asked me to leave with them. I packed a bag and they took me away. We slept in a hotel that night.
You’d imagine that pressing charges after an ordeal like this is easy. Many people tell me that he has to pay. I think he has to pay. But I don’t have the energy for it. For statements. For court, seeing him there. For interrogations by strangers. I’m tired. I got many calls from his friends, his parents begging me not to ruin his life. Nobody thinks about how this has ruined my life, how it has unmoored me from my home, how it has set me back emotionally and financially. All my plans have been scattered. I was hoping that by now I’d be thinking about self actualization, travelling, doing things for myself. Instead I’m battling with self esteem issues, with pain on my body and in my heart. I’m exhausted. I’m homeless, staying with people. It’s hard being housed when you are used to your own space.
I’m struggling to reconcile with myself. I’m wondering if the problem is me. Why do I end up dating people like him? Is it a deficiency deep inside me? Do these men see something in me, something fractured, weak, that attracts them to me? I’m trying to investigate this thing, trying to look at myself differently and not through the prism of how these men looked at me, someone you can headbutt, punch, slap and stab with a sword.
How has been your 2020 COVID story? Anything happened that you want to share? Ping me [email protected]
Last call for the creative writing masterclass registration, sponsored by safaricom. [email protected]