The only reason I’m compelled to narrate the story of how he met his first wife is because I found it somewhat enchanting. Also because Jesus was involved. He was a church youth leader back in the days of yore. A man who had aligned himself to the ways of the good Lord. He was so devout a Catholic that this one time he was picked to play Jesus in the Way Of The Cross. As he staggered with the cross on his back, a small trickle of sweat making its way down the ridge of his back, he decided to remove his spectacles because Jesus never wore spectacles and they had become bothersome on his face. Without looking, he had extended the spectacles towards the crowd that was walking to his right, and someone’s hand had reached out from the crowd and relieved him of this burden of sight. He didn’t know who took it, all he knew was that that person was part of the church congregation.
The procession ended and the crowd gathered back in church. From the pulpit the catechist made an announcement: “Will the person who took Jesus’ spectacles please bring it up here?” The crowd was mum. “Because Jesus is having a migraine.” Ha-ha. The crowd shimmered with laughter. The person who had his spectacles, it turns out, was a lady and she was too shy to go up to take the spectacles because it takes guts to go up to the pulpit during a full mass. But later, after the mass, she gave him his spectacles and he have her his heart.
That first marriage ended three years later, with one son to show for it.
It ended because of a litany of reasons; first his business nose-dived after the post-election violence, and when it was floundering on its knees the recession of 2010 finished it off. His house got auctioned. Men came and silently carried his shit away. He moved to some small digz from which to try and eke out a living. He did odd jobs but un-oddly enough they weren’t enough to sustain him and a young family, so he had to gulp his pride and move into his pal’s mom’s servants’ quarters with his tail between his legs. His wife had to move back to her folk’s house with his son. Meanwhile cracks had started forming in the marriage like a thirsty earth yearning for rain. So he he asked his wife and son to move back in that crummy servants quarter. It was tough, suffice it to say. The cracks in the marriage started getting wider and hungrier, cutting into the marriage, looking for something to swallow. She started talking at him. They started fighting. There is nothing worse that fighting in a small servants quarter because of the proximity to the other person. When rich folk in Kyuna fight, someone can stomp off and go upstairs to sit in one of the three balconies overlooking the flower garden. In a servants quarter you fight and you stay there and the two of you sit there in the festering animosity like manure. But also, that means reconciliation could be faster because you don’t have to look for someone for 30 minutes in the 23-room mansion.
One night his wife left. For a week. Phone off. Left him alone with his son. By this time things had gotten pretty nasty of course and he was increasingly feeling more desperate. When she finally came back there was a massive fight that involved her phone. Another man was involved, he discovered, not without shock. He kicked her out. Her parents came for her in the middle of the night, there was screaming in the lawn and fury and hurt and disappointment and righteousness and a crying baby.
Then came the depression and the therapist and the medication and the hopelessness of not being able to support yourself financially let alone another small person and the fight for custody and the worse fights between him and her family and the tiresome malice and revenge coursing in the blood, and him being so broke because lawyers don’t do shit for exposure.
Amazingly during this time he met a girl and she was his type (his type is curvy and big) and she came into his life during this whirlwind, a time of confusion but she had such lovely hips to cling to and shoulders to lean on and moan about how unfair life was and he figured that those lemons people that people say life hands them, this could be it, so he made a lemonade out of it in by way of marriage.
When the the courts ruled – shared custody – he was already living with this babe who was to become his wife in 2013. Then his relationship with his ex-wife improved because he says that you fight so much for this child and it’s so unhealthy and toxic so much so that at some point you realise that someone has to try kindness because everything else has failed and kindness ended up working for him because the relationship thawed enough to allow for common decency to thrive.
Then his wife got a baby. Rather they got a baby. Because that statement makes it sound like she got a baby from napping in the afternoon. They got a baby.
Here is actually where this story starts. For me at least.
The are two things that seem to have become fashionable lately; guacamole and blended families. And what is important in this story is that he one day found himself in a blended family. He had a son with the first wife and a daughter with the second wife. There was one problem though; his wife didn’t get along with his son. His wife didn’t get along with his son because his mother-in-law doesn’t like his son. She told his daughter that she didn’t want to see that son in her house. Why would mother-in-law be meddling in their affairs like that, you ask. What does it matter what the mother-in-law felt? Why can’t they just tell her to piss off? Well, she is loaded. Old money. That kind of thing. And his wife doesn’t work, so you know that thing they say about he who pays the piper calls the tune? Yep.
“What would you expect of her if you were in my shoes?” he asks me. We are seated at the Java in Karen. I’m having a lemon-poppy muffin, pinching it like you would ugali. Just shadiness. Because certain things deserve to be eaten in certain ways; you can’t eat ugali with knife and fork just like only socially maladjusted people cut an apple in four equal parts. “What would you expect if she said her mom doesn’t want your own son at her house?”
“I’d expect her to defend my son.” (I wanted to add, ‘and avenge his honour!’ for purely dramatic effect]
“Exactly,” he says.
The wife didn’t do so. In fact, she totally disengaged from his son. He noticed that she can never be in the same room with his son; if he walked in she would walk out. She never acknowledges his son. Hardly looks at him. Hardly talks to him. When she cooks, she asks him to serve his son. He’s invisible. And it hurt him. Deeply. So he spoke to her. “I told her that I would appreciate if she made an effort to be more engaging with my son, because it didn’t make me feel good seeing how their relationship was,” he says twiddling the straw of his milkshake. Meanwhile he was barely staying afloat in business, you know how it is, many balls in the air, some falling, hell, most falling.
So he started feeling like he was being squeezed into a wedge – the stress of having your wife not get along with your son and the stress of business.
The wife never really warmed up to the boy. “At some point I told her, listen this is a child, you are the adult, you have to extend yourself to him and not the other way round, but you are not. I’m willing to give you time but if this continues for much longer I don’t see how me and you can work out,’” he says.
“And so things changed after that?”
“She started making some effort, a little effort but effort all the same. But then after a while things went back to how they were.”
“How do things stand now?”
“Same. I can tell you that we won’t last.” He then adds, “Nobody ever claimed me as a child. I was never claimed.”
“What do you mean?”
The answer to that riddle ironically is right before me – on his face. He points at old marks on his face. “You see these? You see these scars on my face, this is how I grew up. I grew up in the hands of stepmothers.” His mother left them when he was three years old. She just took off. He doesn’t want to get into it because there is nothing to get into. He doesn’t know her. Yes, he knows her in terms of he knows where she lives now and he can pick up the phone and talk to her but he doesn’t know her, you know what I mean? I try to poke in there a bit because I can’t imagine someone so blasé about his mother but he is nonplussed by the whole idea of having a mother. “She has never seen my two children,” he says. “Are you bitter with her, for leaving you guys so young?” He shrugs and says, “It’s not my fault she left us. That responsibility I can’t take. It was not my work to parent myself.”
So his father raised them and he speaks highly of him, they are very good pals, but his father never knew how to raise three boys, so what did he do, he would get married to find a mother to raise the boys and this mothers were not coming to raise someone else’s kids, that’s not what they had in mind when they signed on the dotted line, so when they realised that they were backing the wrong horse, they would turn their frustration on him and his siblings. Thus the scars on his forehead.
“We suffered under the hands of stepmoms. These marks are from beatings. I would be denied food. “And so I know how it is to be mistreated by a step-mother and I don’t ever want that for my son. You understand. I don’t want him to go through what I went through.” He sucks his milkshake. “ I don’t want to turn into my father. He is on his third marriage now.”
“You are on your second, you are not too far behind.” I mumble. “Looks like you are headed that way.”
“How do you think your socialisation, seeing your father try out different marriages affects you? Do you think these things have a bearing on who you are now? Ama shit just happens?”
“I think they do. I think I don’t know what to do with a wife.”
I laugh at that and write it down: I don’t know what to do with a wife. It’s a powerful line.
“No, really, I don’t. Listen, I married my wife but my wife never left her parents home. She comes from a wealthy family, she doesn’t work, she hasn’t worked since we got married, not because I’m ati rich, because I’m not, but because she gets a monthly allowance or stipend, or whatever from her father. As in every month money is wired for her for matumizi. Look, this money helps me sometimes when I’m broke and I have to borrow like we always do as husband and wife but this also means that she is still attached strongly to her family. I see it with her siblings, they just never really leave the digs and so my wife doesn’t know the value of hustling -”
“Let’s back up a bit,” I interrupt him. “I liked what you said about not being able to know what to do with a wife.”
“Yeah. I don’t. I have no references to feed from. I’m just you know, winging it and it’s not even going well.”
“You can fix it, no?”
“I fixed myself. I have never been a confident person and when you are not confident you make wrong choices, you get? I was fat, you guy. I wasn’t like this. I felt inferior because of that. I was a good 106 kgs at some point. In 2016 someone thought I was 40 when I was only 31. Our sex life at home was shit. I thought it was my fault that it was that way. So I worked on myself, I started losing weight and now I’m 82 kgs.”
“Did the sex life at home change after weight loss?”
“Actually, let me just say that for a year in 2016, when I started feeling that our sex life was terrible because of me I was at the very bottom of my self-esteem. I thought I had lost it as a guy. [“It” here is vavavoom]. I wanted validation, I wanted to know that I still had it, that I still could satisfy a woman. So I joined Tinder.”
So for a year he got chicks off Tinder and shagged them. He realised that he actually was interesting enough even with his weight to get a woman to sleep with him. And that led into him joining a gym and losing weight and when he got to the right weight and he had confirmed that indeed his “game” wasn’t bad as he had imagined, he got off Tinder. But sex at home never improved.
“What was the problem? Was she nodding off in the middle of it from boredom?”
“Ha-ha. It was just not adventurous. It was boring. If I don’t break a sweat then it’s boring sex. And so infrequent.”
He pauses, as if counting. Then he says, “In 2017 we had sex four times.”
“What?!” I say. Four times in a year? That’s the number of times I went to the dentist last year!
“Yup. And last year I think I had sex three times.”
“Get out!” I say.
“Yeah, but it’s cool. Of course I stepped outside the marriage out of that necessity.”
“Well, I bet she did too, she has those needs too.”
“I doubt she did.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“I just know.”
“Do you love her?”
“No. That’s the sad truth. The thing is the marriage has been in limbo for a while now. I don’t want it to fail because I don’t want mine to fail like other marriages, plus I don’t want to turn out like my father. I don’t want to have many marriages?”
“And what’s wrong with having many marriages? What does it say about you?”
“Look, two children with two wives, the common denominator is me, that’s what it says. It says there is something wrong with me.”
“Who is to say the maximum number of times one should be married?”
“I think getting married many times simply says you are shit at marriage.”
We turn to look at some punk honking constantly and loudly. The sound of his horn echoes in the restaurant and in my skull. We sit silently and wait for the ruckus to abate.
“Do you think you have been a good husband to her?”
“If I wasn’t I don’t think my ex-wife would want me back.”
I chuckle. “She does?”
“She acts like she does.”
I try again.
“Do you think your wife is happy in this marriage?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. Gun to my head I’d say she isn’t. Her folks have been married for 40-years and she is the only one in her family who is married. I think she wants to remain married for them. It won’t go down well if she gets divorced.”
“What’s keeping you in this marriage then?”
“Money. I don’t have it. I don’t want to carry a single thing from this house when I leave. But when I make that money, I’m out.”
I felt sad. To be honest. I told him so, I said, that’s no way to live. That’s no way to spend your life. People don’t have to be together. Nobody said so.
Ps. If you are a man – married, divorced, engaged, widowed – and you have a compelling story you want to share, please email me with a very short synopsis of that story to my private email address: firstname.lastname@example.org