She met him because she was assigned to his cell group. He was the Bible Study leader. The meetings took place in his house, a stand-alone masquerading as a townhouse. This is how it worked: the whole bunch of ten would meet in the Bible Study leader’s digs in Donholm and they’d talk about the Bible. For hours. And drink tea. And sit with their legs crossed. And not do anything that God wouldn’t do. See, they were born-again and that came with certain pious expectations and sensibilities, walking in His light and things. But she was 21 and he was 28 and, well…hormones.
It’s important to note that he had maroon leather seats in his house. Who has leather seats apart from exorcists and palm readers, much less maroon leather seats? She loved his seats before her heart was besotted with him. He was intriguing, and older, which meant that he looked wiser than all of them who were in their early twenties. They looked up to him for spiritual guidance but also for social guidance, because at 28 you must know a hell of a lot of things, especially if you are a Bible study leader with maroon leather seats.
She was an innocent girl, the only girl in a family of boys, Dad a non-nonsense military chap, Mom a homely lady who kept her Bible by her bedside. She grew up in church, had never had sex, never kissed a boy, never held a boy’s hand, never looked at a boy and imagined him naked in the shower, or naked in bed or naked under a tree. Fine, she had seen a penis before…in biology books, as diagrams. But that doesn’t count because a diagram of a penis has urethra and names like glans. That stuff doesn’t arouse desire, or stoke a vivid imagination. So, when she met him she was pure as a ball of cotton. He was the calm type. The very calm type. “He was dark with very beautiful deep set eyes and dark bushy eyebrows,” she says.
Problem was he never gave her any more attention than he gave the other nine members. His gaze never lingered on her any longer than it did on the rest of the girls in the group. He never showed that he was interested in her in any way. Why would he? He was 28, a whole Bible Study leader and most importantly, a proud owner of maroon leather seats!
But one time, during a church shindig at The Nairobi Arboretum, where he was in a jungle green kanzu, off white trousers and brown sandals, she found herself standing with him and his best mate shooting the breeze. He pointed at her with the water bottle he was drinking from and told his best mate, “One day I will marry this girl.”
“A year passed and he neither said nor did anything,” she says. Which is a great plan if you want to marry a girl. “After what seemed like forever, he finally made a move and asked me out. Of course I said yes. He said he’d take me for a date over the weekend. That Saturday, he took me to a nyama choma joint in Burma market, a place with flies.” She chuckles. “I didn’t even consider it a date, because, come on, Burma market?”
Well, what can we say; some men just love their meat. “During the date I asked him why he took so long to ask me out and he said that he was observing me. Whatever that means,” she says.
For the second date he stepped it up and showed up with a big bouquet of flowers, probably upon realising that she wasn’t too chuffed by Burma market and the grittiness of smoke, wobbly chairs and someone – Karanja – walking through the middle of the restaurant with a massive, bloody bovine thigh slung on his back. He took her to a nice café in town. There, he proposed to her. “He had a ring with him. Something silver with a small stone in it,” she recalls. “I accepted his marriage proposal.”
Where do you take a lady who is now your fiancée for a third date? “He took me to Sagret Hotel for more nyama,” she says. For those of you reading this from Muthaiga or Karen area, Sagret Hotel is in Milimani road. As the name suggests, it isn’t a place which serves paninis or infused teas. It doesn’t feature Sunday brunch with the well heeled in their big floppy hats and uppity sneers. It’s a nyama joint. This man really loved his meat. Surely such dedication and commitment should be rewarded in heaven. Given his carnivorous tendencies, I don’t have to state the obvious and mention that he was from the House of Mumbi.
“It’s at Sagret that he allowed me to see and learn his true self,” she says. “He was very considerate and attentive, quiet and an overall great guy. Someone I could love.”
In 2003, a year after a whirlwind love affair, she finally moved in with him and his maroon leather seats. “I was conflicted with this stay-together thing because remember, we were committed to church, plus he was my Bible study leader. What we were doing would be deemed bad and sinful,” she says. It didn’t help that she found out that she was pregnant soon after. “I wasn’t supposed to be having sex!” she says. “It was something that would bring great scandal and shame in church.”
A wedding was quickly convened to right the wrong of that bun baking in the oven. The lovely ceremony took place in 2004 at Safari Park Hotel. She was in a white sleeveless gown, looking every inch the gorgeous bride. He was standing tall like a dangerous double agent in his black suit and he held her hand the whole time, as if afraid a tide would sweep her away.
“The following year our daughter was born and we moved from Donholm to Kileleshwa,” she says. He started building their transport business. “He was a gifted businessman, the most intelligent man. He studied mathematics at university, very sharp.” Business started picking up as their daughter grew and domesticity set in.
One morning eight months after the wedding as she was arranging his stuff that he had left all over the place on the dresser, the debris from a man’s pockets – wallet, car keys, business cards, half eaten gum in wrapper, coins – she found receipts from a motel from the previous night. “It was one of those motels with dodgy names like Blue-something,” she says. “I asked him, ‘Babe, what were you doing in a motel yesterday?’”
“He said that he had booked a room for his cousin from Nyahururu who was in town for an interview,” she says. “His cousin was indeed in town for an interview but him booking a room just didn’t make sense to me.”
She wasn’t satisfied with the explanation. “I can’t explain it, but I just felt like something was off. That something had changed. Well, a month later, I met a family friend of ours, a former neighbour, for tea at Kasuku Center. I don’t know what we were talking about but she told me that my husband had propositioned her, that he had asked her to have sex with him.”
She was disbelieving. How was it possible? They were church people. Church people didn’t do shit like ask the neighbour for nooky! Actually “nooky” is a word church people would not even use. They would instead say “intercourse”, as if it’s a transaction – which it is. Sort of.
“Did you believe her?” I ask.
“Our former neighbour? I did,” she says.
“Why?” I ask. “What made you believe a former neighbour and not your man?”
“Because of that thing, that feeling I had the month before.”
So she called him immediately. “Michael, did you make a move on Grace?”
“Grace? Which Grace?”
“Grace, our former neighbour from Dohni?”
“The one who drove a pickup?”
“Where is this coming from?”
“Just answer me, Michael!” she said. “Did you or did you not ask Grace to sleep with you?”
“Listen, this is crazy. Let’s talk at home. I’m leaving town in a few.”
So they met at home. He got home first. She found him watching the television, still in his socks, legs stretched before him, like he was waiting for a spa treatment. She wanted to kick his legs out of the way but instead, she walked right over them without a word, like you would a mannequin in a store. He followed her into the bedroom where he found her leaning on the window, waiting.
“Did you ask Grace to sleep with you?” she asked after he slowly closed the door.
Her baby had seen her walk in and she could hear her crying for her. You know how needy babies are, they don’t care what kind of day you’ve had or that there is a crisis. All they want is to be carried and to have a nipple in their mouth.
“I did,” he says.
She felt her head getting light.
“What?” she whispered. “Why?”
He stood there, looking like a sinner.
“Why would you ask Grace to sleep with you, Michael?!” she pressed on.
“Well, you should have waited to hear my side of the story. It’s because she was willing,” he said, avoiding eye contact.
She held her head in consternation, as if it would explode. “And you think that makes it better? That she was willing to sleep with you makes all this okay? Tell me how? You think I would be relieved if she wasn’t willing?”
The baby was now crying loudly. She opened the door and told the domestic manager, “Linda, mpatie maziwa nakuja!” Then she faced him again. “Have you slept with any woman since we got married eight months ago?”
He stared at a spot on the floor and remained quiet.
He looked out the window. Outside, dusk had fallen but a darker dusk was falling right inside this well-lit bedroom. “ Yes,” he admitted.
She remained still, almost stopped breathing, as if if she stopped breathing the yes would somehow turn into a no. Her head was now swimming. Her chest felt tight. She slowly removed her shoes and for a second he thought she would hurl it at him. Not a nice way to lose your eye.
“How many times?” she asked
“A few times.”
“How many times is a few times?”
He was quiet.
“How many times is a few times, Michael?”
“A few times,” he repeated.
She left and went to take care of their daughter. When she was done, they ate dinner. Rather he ate dinner alone (“Men will eat through anything”). She got into bed after putting the baby to sleep. When he came to the bedroom she asked him why he would sleep with other women. “He didn’t have any reason. He wasn’t unhappy, he said. He said he was curious,” she says. “I was so hurt. Of all the problems I thought we’d encounter in marriage, infidelity was not one of them given that were were born again and belonged to a church. We fellowshipped together! I was a good wife, dutiful, respectful. I can’t explain to you the kind of hurt I had. I cried the whole night. I texted my dad and told him what had happened and told him that I was coming home. He told me to go. The next day I packed my bags in the morning and left for my parents’ house with my daughter.”
After a day, he went to her parents’ house, hat in hand. I’m sure the devil was blamed. Poor devil, even when he’s just chilling at a beach somewhere in hell, sipping his favourite drink of overnight swine blood, an umbrella stuck in his glass for devilish pizzaz, face covered with a large sombrero to block the sun, people still blame him for shit. One of his demons would show up and report that a Michael was blaming him for something and he’d not even look at the demon. He’d just mumble under his sombrero, “F***n story of my life” and not move a muscle.
A family hearing was convened to mediate. “He said he was sorry,” she says, “that he had acted poorly and he promised to change. He promised to go for counselling as well to sort out whatever issues that made him shag these women. So I moved back to our house and we started counselling sessions in church which were, truly, a waste of time.”
“Why?” I ask.
“Because I felt like the pastor was siding with him as a fellow man. He kept stressing on forgiveness and reconciliation in marriage while not addressing what he had done,” she says. “He never admonished him. While I felt like my world was ending, the pastor looked at it as a sin that God forgives you from. It was not enough for me. I felt that they were men and they had an unspoken understanding between them that locked me out.”
After three sessions she said screw it and stopped going. Then came the bitterness, a vengeful wave of it, pouring out of her like lava. “I was one angry woman. And very bitter. I would bang doors and go at him. Nothing he did after that was right. Nothing. I’d go at him for the smallest of things. One time I broke down our bedroom door. I was going nuts with anger. He, on the other hand, never raised his voice, never showed any form of aggression. He’d take my aggression silently. He is the type who didn’t know how to fight verbally, so he’d walk away,” she says. “At some point I thought he would kill me for frustrating him so much, so I started sleeping with knives under my bed.”
“What?” I say. “You’d sleep with a knife under your bed?”
“Knives!” she corrects me. “Not one knife, but many knives. I had pent up rage which I didn’t know how to expel because I couldn’t talk to anyone about this. He was apologetic but a few months later I started getting the feeling that something was off. And then I started discovering more girls because I was now checking his phone. I kept unearthing these women he was sleeping with. They were mostly flings, because even by their communications I could tell that there was no emotional connection. It was just ‘Hey, are you coming today? and ‘Thanks, nice seeing you.’”
“Did you confront him?”
“Oh yes. I’d throw major fits. Funnily, he would not deny these flings. Somehow he’d just say, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know why it happened.’ I would find packets of condoms in his car. I had never seen a condom in my life. This was my first time to see condoms! So what I’d do, I’d take the condoms and place them next to his wallet and say nothing.”
There were long stretches of silent treatment running for weeks. They continued to fight about these girls then make up. “I’d wonder if it’s me, something I wasn’t doing. I had put on weight after baby, so I’d wonder ‘Is it my weight?’ He couldn’t explain why he was doing what he was doing.”
“Were you having intercourse frequently?” [See how subtle I can be, ey? Intercourse. It’s like coursework but with clothes off.]
“What is frequent intercourse?” she poses. “Remember this was my first and only man. I knew nothing about sex. I didn’t know what an average amount was. In retrospect, we were having so little of it and I remember asking him if this was normal for marriages and he would tell me it’s normal. So I figured once in a few months was not abnormal.”
“One time, I think after my second child was born, I found some salacious messages on his phone and went ballistic. I demanded to know who that woman was and he kept saying she wasn’t important. Eventually he admitted that it was a girl from a brothel,” she says. “I was like, what? You go to a brothel?! I was dumbfounded. I thought brothels was not for people like us. How on earth did he even know where a brothel was? He said a friend introduced him to it and confessed that he would go to the brothel every week, sometimes as many as three times a week. He said that it was not really a brothel per se but a place where you went for a massage but ended up having sex.” [Ended up. That made me chuckle. It’s like taking the wrong road and ending up in a dumpsite.]
“It’s called a happy ending,” I offer.
“Really?” she asks. “Now I know.”
It’s the first time she has heard the term “happy endings.” The only happy endings she knew were happy endings in romantic movies; a sunset and a couple holding hands into it. This happy ending where you get a massage and the masseuse finishes you off was not the kind of happy ending she had in mind. She was livid. Livid! She demanded to see this brothel.
“I forced him to drive to this brothel in Hurlingham- at noon,” she says.
“What were you guys talking about in the car while driving to see this brothel?” I ask, a silly question really, but I’m curious.
“I was yelling at him, abusing him, saying horrible, horrible things. I wasn’t nice to him at all,” she says.
“But why did he agree to take you to the brothel?”
“Because I threatened to tell people. I also told him that me seeing might save the marriage. I was basically bullying him into doing things at this point and like I mentioned, he wasn’t the type to fight back.”
So they drive to Hurligham and stop outside the gates of the said brothel. The sun is reflecting brightly on the dashboard. It wasn’t as grand as she thought it would be. It was an old maisonette, very unassuming, painted cream on the outside, a lowish gate a dog could jump over. (See what I did there?) It could have been any other old house at first glance. An elderly civil servant could be staying there, instead men were getting happy endings therein. “It was a boring-looking house to be honest,” she says.
“What did you expect to see?” I ask. “What was seeing a brothel going to do for your marriage?” Because really, who wants to go to the back of the kitchen to see how a sausage is made?
“I didn’t know what I was doing, I wasn’t thinking straight. The idea of a brothel was so surreal to me, I had to see it to believe it,” she says. “Also, I didn’t believe him when he told me he goes to a brothel. I thought he had a girlfriend, not a brothel.”
So they sat in the car, looking at the entrance of the brothel, perhaps hoping to see a big-bosomed, sassy lady step out to bask in the sun with nothing on but fishnet stockings and a cigarette between her lips. “I demanded to know how it works. He told me that you pay three thousand shillings at the entrance and get your massage and things. He admitted that sometimes he’d go in and not be able to get it up but that when you failed to get it up your money was never refunded. An erection was your problem, not theirs. But they’d be kind enough to change girls or even rooms to see if that would help you get an erection.” She shakes her head pitifully. “This was all too much for me to comprehend; my husband going to a brothel? This same man who would go six months without touching me was going to brothels thrice a week to have sex with those girls!”
From Hurligham she dragged him to Liverpool VCT in the same neighborhood where they did an HIV test while holding hands. I ask her why they were holding hands and she says, “Because I knew this was not him. I knew he could be better than this. I was certain that this didn’t define him. He was addicted. He had a sex problem.”
“He was a perfect man in everything,” she says. “A great man. A true friend and a loving husband. We would talk and laugh together. He was a responsible father and husband. Anything I asked for I got. If I asked him to jump he would ask me how high I wanted him to jump. He was a perfect man for the ninety percent of it. The ten percent was the addiction to sex.”
She didn’t know who to talk to about this. She kept everything bottled up in her; all the bitterness, unhappiness, rage, loathing and shame. “I couldn’t go to church to seek help,” she says. “How do you go to church and say your husband has a sex problem; that he likes sleeping with women in brothels?”
“If you don’t go to church with such problems, what problems are you supposed to go to church with? A receding hairline?” I ask.
“That’s my question. I have no idea.” She chuckles. “The issues weren’t addressed. The pastor would tell him things like ‘You have a beautiful wife at home and you are in business. If you feel like having sex you should go home and have sex with her.’ But that was not even the issue. “Counselling was crappy. We didn’t get any help. One time in church one pastor called for people with addictions to be prayed for. When he went to the pastor after the service, the man of the cloth asked him to call his wife, but when I came he clammed up. He couldn’t speak. I realised that I couldn’t help him, nobody could.”
“Did you feel sorry for him?”
“I did. He had so much potential. He was an extremely smart person and easy to like. If you met him, you would be his friend,” she says. “I also think that the guilt was killing him. He was shamed by his addiction, as I was. He was struggling to be better. We both didn’t know how to help each other, so we just let things be.” She then adds. “At some point I even suggested that he gets a regular girlfriend, to avoid going to this brothels where he could catch a disease.”
“No. He said he didn’t want. A girlfriend meant emotional attachment and this wasn’t about emotions, it was physical.”
She started getting these bad headaches. Nasty headaches that couldn’t go away. She tried many doctors. She’d be given tablets like Tegretol but the headaches would not go. So they went to see this neurologist at Nairobi hospital who told her husband to wait outside while he spoke to her in private. “He told me to tell him what was going on in my life and I unburdened everything to him. It felt good to speak to someone.” The doctor told her that her problem was not physical but psychological. He prescribed some drugs and the headaches went away never to return.
That was the turning point for her. She decided that staying in the marriage would kill her -if he didn’t with some disease that made your ears fall off. So she went to see a divorce lawyer and got started on the paperwork. She was thirty three years old then. The plan was to process the papers and tell him it’s a wrap but in a cruel twist of fate, one day he, after a day of having a persistent headache, collapsed in town. At the hospital the doctors said three quarters of the left side of his brain was dead. He had had a stroke.
That threw a spanner in her works.
“Now I couldn’t leave him in that state. There was no way I was going to abandon him in his hour of need,” she says. “When you say your vows – through sickness and health – you never imagine that it would apply to you. I was going to respect those vows. So I told the lawyer to tear up the divorce papers.”
He stayed in hospital. He couldn’t talk or walk or read. He could barely recognise people. He just lay in bed. After two months he was brought home. Then the tough times really started. “They say when it rains it pours. Soon after, our biggest client, YU-Mobile closed shop and left with seventy percent of our business. We were making three hundred thousand a week, and suddenly it dropped to ninety thousand a week. We had debts, rent to think of and school fees. His medication alone cost twenty thousand a month, yet little money was coming in. I had to move houses to Lang’ata, which is near Nairobi West hospital, where he was going for check ups and therapy. I was a housewife, running a small school transport business so money soon became so tight. Our cars for the transport business were auctioned. I was also dealing with his relatives who were claiming that he had a stroke because I stressed him. It was like everything was going wrong at the same time.” Murphy’s Law in full force.
“What did that period teach you?”
She thinks about it for a second. “I don’t regret being a housewife, but I don’t think it’s the best decision I made. You should always have a back-up plan as a woman. You can’t rely on your husband financially a hundred percent.”
It got to a point they couldn’t pay staff. The one client they had remaining ran broke. The children couldn’t go to school. Everything was grinding to a halt. Eventually in 2015, she cancelled the one contract they had with a client. The bottom had caved in.
“On top of this, I had to nurse him because he couldn’t do anything on his own. So I washed him, fed him, blew his nose, wiped his mouth, told him to close it, took him to the loo.”
“Did you resent him during this time?”
“I don’t think resentment is the word.” She pauses to look for the word. “I was tired. I felt like crying.”
She started hearing rumours that she had moved out with another man and that’s why he got a stroke. One day she confronted his mother-in-law with this information and told her everything that had been going on in the marriage with her son. She was shocked. Her mother-in-law told her, “If I were you, I would have left him a long time ago. You are a good woman.”
A few weeks later, his mom came for him. She picked his stuff and they left. This was in 2015. “I think that’s when my marriage ended. I never kicked him out. Never turned my back on him. He was taken by his mom.” And so, a twelve year marriage ended like that. (In the twelve years, she says, they had had sex not more than twenty times).
Soon after, things got so bad that the kids couldn’t go to school. She couldn’t make rent. One day auctioneers came and took away their stuff. She shipped the kids to her mother. (Her mother-in-law later brought them back to Nairobi and got them scholarships.) “I lived in friends’ houses during this time..” Slowly she found her footing over the next few years. It wasn’t a picnic but she crawled out of that hole, a painful day at a time. Now it’s been three years and she is in a good place. I ask her why she stayed through all that.
“He was really nice person, besides his sex addiction, such a nice guy,” she says. “Our love wasn’t fake. I loved how he loved me. He would do anything for me. I would call him at any time and it didn’t matter what he was doing- whether he was in a meeting with a chief executive officer of a company or with those girls he was sleeping with – he would pick up my call and if I needed help he would come straight away. He was dependable and I was sure of my position in his heart. He had a big problem with one bit of his life, but that didn’t make him a bad person. There was so much about him that was great, much more than his sexuality. I never questioned my place in his heart even once, because he made me feel that I came before anything else…”
“Do you go to visit him now?”
“I do, sometimes. I’m not in love with him but I still love him – like I love my kids.”
“What is love?” I ask, almost rhetorically.
“Good question,” she says mulling over that. “My language of love is acts of service and going by that, he loved me a lot because he knew me. Love is not a feeling. Love is a verb. Love is respect.”
I’m confused. (Aren’t I always?)
“So what you are saying,” I tell her, “is that a man can sleep with another woman but still love and respect his wife?”
“Absolutely!” she stresses. “I honestly believe that. I keep telling my friends that infidelity is never a reason to throw away a great marriage. After my marriage, I talked to a lot of men about this and I’m convinced that men can still love and respect their wives but still sleep with someone else. What do you think?”
“Er, I don’t know. I just work here.”
I ask her if she would get married again. She says she wouldn’t. “I don’t think I will ever remarry. I will never nurse another man.” She chokes up a bit. “Anway, I don’t want to cry.” Then she adds. “ Maybe I might consider marriage when I’m fifty five because I feel like I didn’t do so many things in my younger days. I have learnt so many things in the past three years than I did when I was married for the twelve years.”
“What has all these done to your faith?” I pose. “How is your relationship with God currently.”
“I have questioned many things that I grew up believing was the gospel truth. I have been angry at God. Why allow us to go through this? We are not bad people.” Her voice lowers, deepens. “I was very active in church once. I was in the choir, I attended Tuesday evening services, Friday miracle service, all the praise and worship on Thursdays and Saturdays. Every Sunday I would be in church by seven in the morning. I attended the women’s ministry meetings once a month. I belonged to three Bible studies.” She catches her breath. “The last time I went to church was a year and a half ago. All the numbers of people I have blocked on my phone – and they are several – belong to people from the church.”
We get a new guy in – OK, it’s not a new guy, it’s Jose – to fix this email notification pain in the neck. He says it’s been fixed. For those who have been having trouble kindly let me know if you received an email notification for this piece.