The van stopped at The Great Rift Valley Viewpoint along Nakuru-Nairobi highway. They bundled out to gape at the view and take selfies and update their social media feeds – planting the seeds of Likes and shares, cultivating this digital land of vanity. They were youthful and beautiful, they wore hot pants and sunglasses and they piped bohemian music through the dangling strings of their headphones and together – a dozen of them – they charged the air around them with vitality and sexuality and boundless possibilities not only for their lives but for the trip ahead of them. This was 2014.
He had seen her check him out in the bus. She was in blue jeans, flat shoes and a pink top. She’d look away piously as their eyes met, as if that very act of their eyes meeting was scalding her face. A melancholic, he stood away from the group, leaning on a wooden post, his body half turned towards the plunging view of the Rift Valley. He wasn’t the type that mingled or made friends easily. He liked to stay in the fringes of the party, prefering to be sought and not the other way round. Plus she was so gorgeous he didn’t think he really had the right language to approach her at that moment; after all, they still had a whole weekend ahead of them within which he could make his move.
But then the gods had other plans it seemed, because he looked up to see her walking towards him carrying some snacks. She was curvaceous, her hips like perfect half-moons. She swung them towards him and stopped near him with a smile that could start a forest fire. A highly flammable smile. He swallowed hard. She said, “Would you like something to bite?” How did he know that she was interested in him? Her eyes. They danced on him playfully. They touched him tenderly as if he was recovering from malaria. She looked at him like you would look at a newborn’s small fists.
In Naivasha they hung out with each other throughout the weekend. She was amusing and attentive and although there were other better-looking men, more charismatic men, funnier men, men who seemed to know how to pitch tents and cook, she chose him. And she sat next to him throughout that trip. And she smelled like a pawpaw that could be termed as overripe if left a day longer. At night they would sit on the verandah of the cottage he was sharing with another bloke and have titillating repertoire (his words) as they stared at the stars, the sides of their hands touching as they sat side by side, sending little spasms of electricity up his neck. When she laughed her laughter seemed to be a natural part of the night. (This I’ve made up; in my head she has that laugh. In my head this chic has those full eyebrows and eyelashes that look like blades of young grass.) For the three days they had lunches, dinners and breakfast together, with her sometimes handing him an empty plate at the buffet, sometimes actually serving him, watching him eat like a protective hen would watch its chicks, and giving him her eggs because she prefered hers hard. [Okay, made up the eggs part too.]
“By the end of the trip I felt like I had known her my whole life,” he tells me now, over lunch. There was an effortlessness to their connection, he says. He felt like they had easily plugged into each other and they fit very well and they belonged in that state. They settled into a friendship when they came back to Nairobi. She was fresh off the university, where she had studied nutrition. He was doing research, having two Masters degrees, and teaching part-time in UoN. Then he got an opportunity to teach at Laikipia University in Embu. He got a digs in Embu, an excessive two bedroom house with its own compound. “Her parents had just moved to Sagana and so while she looked for work she would spend a lot of time in Sagana,” he says.
Sagana and Embu aren’t too far off, and so often, mostly over the weekends, she would go for sleepovers. She changed his curtains, kitchen cabinets and even bought him a shower curtain because he is a man and we, men, can just take showers in a shower cubicle without curtains for years until someone points out that we actually need a shower curtain – to hide our nakedness from the lampshade.
“The talk of marriage came up, but always in passing,” he says. “We never really committed to it, but it was something that we both seemed keen to pursue at the right time.” In 2016 Matiang’i had other plans; he closed down the campus (and 10 others) and he was jobless. He came back to Nairobi and got himself a small bedsitter to plan his life. “I got a few consulting gigs here and there, you know, kept afloat,” he says. “Meanwhile our relationship was on course. Things were going okay.”
On her birthday, her friends lured her to a Nairobi hotel (that sounds so newspaper-ish, ‘the principals met in a Nairobi hotel’ because God forbid we should mention the hotel by name) where when she cut her birthday cake and in there she found an engagement ring. He dropped to his knees and said, “Will you marry me.” (Without the question mark because sometimes you just know the answer. As in, it would take sorcery for her to say no.)
“Every man has to go on his knees once in his lifetime,” he tells me. She covered her mouth and stared in disbelief as her friends shrieked and cooed and took pictures to feed the hungry captives on social media. A few months later he went for the introductions at their place huko past Kutus. Then came the ruracio, where they took lesos, sufurias, bananas, and hard cash. The wedding date was set and the wedding plans got rolling.
Then the first crack showed.
“Whereas she had six of her friends on the line-up, I had seven of my friends. She wanted me to have six, but I wouldn’t chuck one guy so we argued about that for what seemed like months.”
“And why couldn’t you chuck one guy?”
“Because I had known these guys all my life. I couldn’t just choose who would be left out of the line-up.”
“Yah, but it’s her wedding, technically,”
“Well, I didn’t see it that way. I saw it as loyalty to my friends. They deserved to be a part of my important day. Anyhow, we argued about that for a long time but I didn’t budge. I was adamant that all of my seven pals have to be in the line-up. After that, we seemed to argue about just about everything, man!”
“Yeah, it’s because women hate losing!” I tell him and we laugh.
He speaks of a session they had with a premarital counsellor. “We were asked to write ten things we like about each other and whereas I had more than ten things I liked about her, she was struggling to get to five of those things.”
They had a lovely wedding in Westlands attended by many people or what the radio would call ‘umati wa watu.” He and his seven boys in the lineup were in grey suits, orange ties and suspenders, looking like the cast in a black series The Untouchables. There was dancing and speeches and uncles claiming parenthood, aunts in elaborate headgear and ululation. It happened in an SDA church. It turns out that there are Kikuyu SDAs. That’s so odd. It’s like a mzungu mkorino.
At the end of the reception, the newly-weds jumped into the backseat of a Range Rover Sport that was owned by a politician who was friends with the groom’s mom. They had booked a room in “a Nairobi hotel” where they would spend their first night as husband and wife. Waiting was champagne, tropical fruits and freshly-cut flowers and white beddings that made you dream of only rainbows and lollipops and a long life of laughter and flavoured yoghurt.
They started making out in the car; hands on breasts, hands in hair, chest, hands pulling up the gown, searching,, suppressed moans, as the car meandered through the well-lit streets of Nairobi. The driver ignored them. Poor driver. He reached under her (the groom, not the driver) and pulled off her knickers and – “Stop right there,” I tell him, interrupting his blow-by-blow narrative. “Where did you put the panties after you removed them?”
Can you imagine how that story goes? Your wife one day comes into the sitting room as you are reading a newspaper and says, “Look what your son found under your car seat, Jeremy.” Even before you look up from your Sunday newspaper you know it can’t be anything good because she has called you by your full christian name. Not Jerry this time. Jerry is what she uses when she wants a “soft loan” from you. Jerry is what she uses when she wants you two to take a holiday to a nice place in Diani that she saw online. Jerry is when you are her favourite. Jeremy is when the devil has taken over you.
You look up and say, “The hell?”
“Yup!” she says. She’s holding the panty with a stick. Like it’s a dead snake.
“What…where did that come from?” you stammer.
“You tell me!” she says, trying to control her voice. “It’s your car!”
You try to explain that you don’t know where that “thing” (that’s what you are calling it now) came from, but nothing can explain a pair of panties in your car. You are baffled and genuinely confused because it has been six months since you gave out your car for the wedding and of course you can’t link that event to that “thing.” Poor you. Nothing you say convinces her. She says things like, “And this pantie size just happens to be the right size for the type of girls you would go for,” and you are like, “And what size is that? Come on, don’t be ridiculous, you are the size of girl I would go for. This is mad. I swear I don’t know where that thing came from. I will swear on a Bible.” She rolls her eyes. Things get bad. You two seek counselling and the counsellor tells you, “Jeremy, if this is going to work, if you two are going to move forward, you have to accept responsibility” and you want to scream and say, “I bloody don’t know how that thing ended up under my seat! Someone must have put it there! I swear to God!”
“Can you think of someone who might want to place their panties under your car seat, Jeremy?” the counsellor asks sarcastically (some counsellors are so annoying, they take sides) as your wife sits in the chair opposite you, hands folded, one leg over the other and turned away from you, disgusted at the very sight of you. The tragedy is nobody will ever believe you. You will go to your grave guilty.
Anyway, he kept the panties in his pocket.
“I noticed something during that making out session in the car; I wasn’t getting an erection,” he tells me. “I think she noticed it when she touched me but she didn’t say anything. I wasn’t too worried, though, because I figured it had been a stressful few months and a heady day so perhaps I just needed to relax. We hadn’t had sex throughout our dating period. I had decided that I was going to do this differently and treat her with a different respect and not have sex with her. So even when she would come visiting in Embu I’d sleep on the couch.”
What a gentleman, I think to myself.
Anyway, they get to the hotel and ride up in the elevator to their room with a view of the city’s lit skyline. He opens the curtains because, well, who draws the curtains to such a lovely view? He then does something 50 Cent would do; he grabs her, kisses her hungrily like one of those and then pushes her onto the bed as he yanks off his tie and tears off his shirt (okay he unbuttoned it gently) and then jumped on her. “We made out some more but I just wasn’t getting aroused,” he says. “I wasn’t rising to the occasion.”
There was that awkward moment where she was acting like things were okay but he could tell that things were far from okay because her body language had changed and she had that questioning look on her face like: “Okay, what the f**k is going on here?”
She asked him eventually. “Is everything okay?” He said everything was just dandy, he needed to take a quick shower and relax. “In the shower I told Johnny to please not disappoint me today of all days.”
“Who’s Johnny?” I ask sweetly, because I’m so pure I don’t know these things.
He laughs and says that’s his penis. How exciting is this so far, I think to myself, I’m having lunch with another man and talking about a penis called Johnny. And the song “Johnny” by Yemi Alade kept playing in my head.
He came out of the shower, towel around his waist. She had undressed and in the hotel gown. She mumbled that she was also going to take a shower. She’d gotten very cold by then, he could tell. She took her time in the shower, maybe washing away the bad feeling of the night. I ask him what he did all the while she was taking a shower. He says, “We had carried with us all the envelopes we got as gifts from the wedding, so I was opening the envelopes and counting the money on the bed.”
I really laugh at that. “You could count money on the bed after all that?”
“What else was I to do? I was trying to find something to keep my mind off what was happening.”
I can think of a million things I could have done in that situation; press-ups being one of them. Or staring at myself in the mirror and giving myself a pep-talk; You, yes, you, can do this. You can. You are a machine. You rise and rise and you don’t stop until the cock crows. Don’t look away, look at me. You are a mandingo. Say it like you mean it, you are a mandingo. Good! Now, when she comes out of that shower you are going to shatter all her fears, you are going to overwhelm her, you are going to be the man. Now, sing the National anthem, it will keep your mind away from things.
“Okay, had this problem been there before with other girls?” I ask instead.
“No, that’s the thing! I had been fine. In fact, although. In fact, during the time we were dating, I was having sex with other chicks.”
“And things were fine, I mean you didn’t have erectile malfunction?” I ask cynically.
“Nope! I was fine.”
Anyway, she comes out of the bathroom, this lovely new bride, beads of water on her delicate shoulder and she oils herself silently at the dresser. To break the ice, he tells her to come and help him sort out these envelopes. She finishes oiling herself and lies on her side of the bed, watching him sort the money. They had slightly over 200k in hard cash. But all the money in the world, it seems, can’t give you a hardon.
When he gets into bed, he tries again. “I’m very good at foreplay,” he tells me. I laugh and say, “are you?” he says he damn is. “Oh, I will take your word for it and not ask for referees.” He says, “No, really, I am.” I ask him how he knows for sure that he is good at it. He says because he always gets “called back.” I write on my notepad; Very good at foreplay, get’s called back” and underline the “very” in that sentence.
He tries. Nothing happens. He comes up short. (Oxymoron?) At this time he’s now totally panicked and he’s totally out of it. She turns her back on him and sleeps facing Gulu or Dodoma or wherever the hell women sleep facing when they have had you up to here. (Points at eyebrows).
He couldn’t sleep. He was worried and anxious. He tossed and turned and stared at her back, curled away from him. At 3am he kissed the back of her neck gently. Then touched her back. Then he held her. He realised that perhaps she also hadn’t slept. He started getting her in the mood and begrudgingly she obliged. Again, nothing happened. He just couldn’t get a damned erection. She was now visibly frustrated. She held the sheets tightly against her and turned away. In the wee hours of the morning, as Nairobi rose behind the window, he fell in an uncomfortable nap.
When he woke up he found her lying on her back and staring at the ceiling. “Morning?” he said. She didn’t say shit. Then she turned towards him and said, “Tell me the truth. Just tell me the truth, why can’t you perform?”
He sighed and said, “I don’t know. But I know I’m okay.”
“She was demanding to know why and I didn’t know why and I was also frustrated and scared and I felt useless and in the desperate need to appease her, to make things better I told her I was a virgin,” he says. “Her reaction was wild. She literally jumped out of the bed and shouted, whaat? She said she hated me. That she couldn’t stay married to me and that she wanted a divorce immediately and I begged her, I told her that I was going to seek help, she said no way, that the honeymoon was off.”
Three days later he managed to convince her and they went on their honeymoon out of the country (it wasn’t romantic; she was distracted throughout and he was worried) and although he got an erection it wasn’t a full erection. It was half-hearted erection. A disheartened erection. A luck-lustre erection. A faded erection. You get the point. One day during the trip she suggested to him that he should try and sleep with other women and practice because perhaps he wasn’t good at it.
“Si that’s madharau, you guy?” he asks me.
“Sana!” I say, always a team-player, always trying to be on the right side of history.
Back at home, they moved into an apartment. Life started as man and wife and it started off on a rocky path. He went to see a urologist, professor Mungai of Nairobi Hospital, about his problem of erection. “The first thing he told me was that I had to lose weight. I weighed 95kgs.” So he got on a diet and tried some exercises and the weight starting falling off. He was told that his problem was an anxiety disorder.
At home, the sex was down to nothing if at all. They fights came fast and furious, they argued a lot. “I think the arguments came because she felt I couldn’t satisfy her in bed and mostly they were about very silly things; pressing toothpaste from the middle, leaving my socks on the floor, leaving the toilet seat up, not washing the bathroom after showering…and after the fights she would not to talk to me for days. Sometimes I’d read her FB status updates, her asking questions about marriage that made me look really bad. When I brought that up she blocked me. What hurt me during this time was that she would confide in her bridesmaids about our intimate sex life and that really made me feel so betrayed because they never asked to meet us and sort out whatever problem were were having.”
One day she went underground; she didn’t come back home. He called her and she didn’t pick up his calls. He called everybody who might have known her whereabouts but nobody knew. He even called her parents, something he says is some sort of a desperate and embarrassing last act. Eventually she sent word through her bestmaid that he shouldn’t bother looking for her, that she will be back home when she is back. She was gone from Monday to Thursday night. When she came she gave some half-ass excuse and told him that where she was was none of his business. He demanded to see her phone and the stories didn’t add up. “Also in some of her SMSes she was telling lots of people about our intimate problems.”
One week later, on a Friday in March 2018, he came home at 8pm to find her packing her things. She said she was leaving. “I followed her around the house, pleading with her not to leave, as she picked things she wanted to leave with. I reminded her that she had sworn before God and man that she would stick in the marriage through health and sickness but she wasn’t having any of that. I even knelt down and asked her to stay.”
“So a man can get on his knees twice in his lifetime,” I said, recalling his earlier statement.
“She carried everything that had her identity, including her pillow. So now I had bedsheets with one pillow. I found that funny later,” he says. “The last thing she told me before she left in an Uber was that I was never to call her again.”
She left him.
There were the painful moments of dealing with failure and inadequacy and questions to self and questions about how others had failed him. Like the best man and maid. Three months later, he is seated in church and the pastor asks them to turn and say hello to the person seated next to them and he turns and next to him is this lady in an African dress with an orange bible and he smiles at her and she smiles at him and he gets her number after the service and takes her on dates and tells her about his past marriage and she’s sceptical and doesn’t talk to him for a month.
They start dating and this time he decides not to save it for marriage so they start having sex which isn’t a problem this time, it turns out. His treatment of erectile dysfunction was the medication he was given; Talgentis 5mg and Seroxat 20mg. (Don’t self medicate though, see a urologist). He also says that foreplay is important, that one shouldn’t jump into sex (no need to be do a 50 Cent move, in other words) because in his mind he thought he was the king of quickies. He adds that diet is key; avoid fatty and deep fried foods, eat healthy. Most importantly keep fit.
He marries her in a traditional affair, no wedding this time, no removed panties in black Range Rovers.
His problem now is that his wife doesn’t believe that his ex-wife left him because he had erectile dysfunction. “She finds it impossible because, well, now I’m a well-oiled machine.” He laughs. “She thinks it’s a story I fed her.” Oh, and they are expecting a baby in March.
“Did you ever hear from your ex-wife again?”
“No. But one day she sat behind me in church. I could feel her staring at the back of my head. But she never spoke to me. I have never had closure there,” he says. “I really want to know why she was so quick to leave me, why she couldn’t hang on, why she shared our story with many people and embarrassed me. One time someone in church actually asked me why I couldn’t keep a wife.”
“Is a wife a dog you can keep?” I ask.
“Now they – church guys – give me that look. That look that they know something about me, some secret about me. I bet they think I still can’t have an erection.”
I pay the bill. We chat some more. I have to make a move. I’m going to the dentist later, to fill a cavity. Poor doctor, he will find chicken curry and guacamole in there.
“You know the lesson for me here?” I ask him.
“What?” he asks.
“Don’t win an argument with your woman” I say. “If she wants only two of your friends in her wedding line-up, have two people in her line-up.”