The writing was on the wall. In black and white. You couldn’t miss it even with squinted eyes, but Mariam believed in focusing on the good side of humans. So for a long time, five years to be exact, she looked past the constant beatings her boyfriend unleashed on her. They were so many, these beatings; she had to recount the major ones otherwise Java would have offered to lock us in as everyone went home. She told me of the day she visited his house only to find five condoms when she left ten, and when she confronted him he offered nothing but a resounding slap across her cheek.
“I have told you before, you just don’t use that tone on me,” he retorted. “There’s a way you talk to me!”
He’s a Kalenjin man, born and raised to be the Alpha male. He wears his rage on his sleeve and he never shies from unfolding his sleeve to set free his rage. She understood him even when she didn’t have to. She apportioned some blame on herself and with that, dusted herself off, smiled and continued to love him the way an ‘African’ woman should.
What she didn’t know was that her submissiveness fed his ego. It grew big and he grew fierce. He continued cheating with impunity to the point that one day, during her birthday, he had the guts to fondle another woman’s ass on the dance floor while she watched from where she was seated. They had gone out to celebrate her but instead, he was humiliating her. She confronted him and stormed out into the rainy night, crossed the road and boarded a matatu ready to go home and forget that night. She was seated there waiting for the Matatu to fill up when he emerged, dragged her out, pinned her down on the wet pavement and slapped her two times.
“Where do you think you are going?” he groaned. “You are coming with me.”
Nobody dared to intervene because he told off every curious onlooker. Shaken to the core, she followed him to his place and they slept with their backs to each other.
“I am sorry about yesterday, but you know you triggered me. How many times will I tell you that there’s a tone that you just don’t use on me?” he told her the next day.
But after five years of being faithful, being cheated on and being battered, she finally decided to leave him. One day when he wasn’t at home, she packed everything in his house that belonged to her and left, leaving him a note. She moved in with her sister and despite his constant calling and messaging, she did not flinch. It appeared our hero here had won. She had seen the light and was now on a journey of self-discovery. She did not tell me this but I suspect she might have posted on Facebook, “This is the year where I choose me,” and someone corny must have slid in her inbox and said, “Well, this is a good sign because I also choose you.” And new love might have blossomed.
But no. Nothing of that sort happened. She discovered soon enough that she might have walked out of his life, but it was going to be hard to forget him. She was pregnant. With his baby. Jesus Christ of Nazareth, where are you when we need you? She reached out to him and told him about the pregnancy and he said, “I will call you back,” then blocked her.
Her young sister, the only person she ever opened up to, encouraged her. She told her she can do it on her own and soon her cup of confidence was overflowing. She started preparing for life as a single mother but three months to her due date, he reached out to her and told her they needed to talk.
“I met him in town and he said he wanted me back. That he regretted everything he ever did to me and that after taking some time out to work on himself, he now was a better man, ready to take care of my baby and me. To show how serious he was, he said he had moved into a bigger house.”
“Did you believe him?”
“No. The way he insisted we go to his house that day, I knew he wanted sex. Fine, sex was good given there’s a way he is designed but I was having none of it.”
She laughed. “I think there’s something they do to Kales during circumcision so they are designed differently.”
I made a mental note to ask one of my best friends, Kemboi, what exactly it is that they do to them to change their design. I also took a moment to reflect on whether, knowing what I now know, it was wise to let him anywhere close to my woman. It felt like time was reap to evaluate my life choices, and that included deciding who get to be in the same space as my woman.
“I turned him down,” she said, “But that did not stop him from calling or visiting. He was suddenly too concerned but I was careful not to make the mistake I made five years ago.”
One day the labour pains came calling. Since she was prepared for this day, she called the taxi number she had long saved on her phone, took her hospital bag and off they went to St. Mary’s Hospital where she delivered a boy (I had written bouncing baby boy but then I deleted it because I thought it was too cliché. Si, nimefanya vizuri?) In her hospital bed, family surrounded her, including her mother, and her boyfriend, who came after Mariam’s sister called him. Her boyfriend told her mother that he wanted to take Mariam with her.
“That’s not my decision to make,” said Mariam’s mother.
They all turned to her and maybe because she was just from delivering a baby and so was not thinking straight, or because she had seen the disappointment in her mother’s eyes when she told her she was pregnant for a man they had only heard of but never set their eyes on—until now—or because that side of her that saw the good in people prevailed, she said, “Yes.”
That yes would haunt her for years to come. She has been married for 10 years now and there’s no single day she does not regret saying yes. For two weeks after she was discharged her mother stayed with them because Mariam needed help with the newborn. For those two weeks, her boyfriend turned husband could have won The Husband of the Year Award! He turned into a teetotaler. Came home early bearing smiles and shopping. Mother-in-law nodded her head in approval and when the two weeks were done, she packed her bags and left. Unbeknownst to her, she had just left her daughter in the hands of a wolf in a sheep’s skin.
Her husband wasted no time in changing into his old skin. He went back to drinking. Beating her up at the slightest provocation. Sleeping with other women as if he was racing against time. She grew sad and fat. She got accustomed to lying to her colleagues at work when they asked why her face was swollen. She would lie that she fell. No one pressed further because at work what you have are colleagues and not friends. Everyone got satisfied with her answer and turned to their computers. Or went to fetch water from the dispenser. At home, misery became part of their family, taking up space in the dining table. When he wasn’t beating her, he was spending weekends and holidays away from home.
“You never told anyone about it? Not even your parents?”
“No. And by the way,” she chuckled, perhaps because of how ridiculous what she was going to say next was, “The funny thing is my husband and dad are tight. Best Buddies. He even regards him as the first born of the family.”
“It’s the truth. When he visited our shags, he placated my dad, a retired army officer, with words. He is a smooth talker and so by the time he left, my dad was in love with him.”
I found it really sad because I had hoped that her dad, retired or not, still had skills he could use to drive some sense into her husband’s head.
Life went on until one night when he came home drunk and blacked out, she snooped on his phone and found what she had always suspected—text messages of the woman she was sleeping with. They were damning messages, the kind of last-night-you-were-amazing and whatnots. She felt anger rising to her throat and the next day she confronted him.
“It only happened once,” he said, “She was having problems with her husband and I was only being there for her.”
That excuse was so ridiculous I chuckled. It was almost as if she now expected his wife to clap for him.
“You know, all along I had thought that perhaps if I gave myself to him often, then he would be content and stop cheating. But no, nothing changed. He had sex with other women out there and still did it with me when he came home. I got fed up and so I left. I moved in with my sister again before I went to see my parents.”
“What did they say?”
“My mum told me to go back to my husband’s house. She told me it was wise for a woman, an African Woman, to have a big heart and a thick skin if she were to hold his household together. That nothing she was experiencing was out of the ordinary because that’s what every married woman goes through. My mum said, ‘Where are you going with a kid? Stick in that marriage if for not for anything, then for the sake of that child.”
She paused for a moment and said, “Now that I think about it, I think my family let me down.”
I felt the weight of those words, mostly because of how she said them, with a distant look. Like she could picture them literally letting her down.
“Did you go back?”
“I did. But something was different about me. I decided he wasn’t going to have his way with me after having his way with other women. It was only fair that he left me alone. I stopped giving it up until one day—” she stopped. I could tell a dark cloud was gathering. Her eyes suddenly had the kind of glitter that is only brought about by tears. “One day he came home and forced himself on me. He raped me. Not once, or twice, but over and over again that night. I cried and begged him to stop but he only took short breaks before he got back on me, ignoring my cries and my many No’s. He broke me further that night and, in that process of him raping me, I conceived.”
“The worst part is I couldn’t tell anyone. No one would believe me if I said my husband raped me. I struggled with that pregnancy. I harboured abortion thoughts but somehow managed to keep it. When nine months were over and there were no signs of the baby coming out, I checked myself into Marie Stops Hospital in Eastleigh, ready for induced labour. But I was told the baby was too big and so I opted for CS. I was just so tired of having that baby in me, the baby that I hadn’t connected to throughout the pregnancy. I remember my young sister organized a baby shower and I wondered what for? I couldn’t tell why everyone was smiling or what exactly we were celebrating. Making it worse, my husband had been involved in it the planning.
“I had a CS and when my baby came,” she smiled like I hadn’t seen her smile that entire evening. Her face lit up and when she sighed, it was that of pleasure. “She was just so beautiful. And fragile. I remember looking at her and getting surprised at how beautiful she looked.”
Despite the gruesome manner in which she had conceived, she still chose to love her daughter the same way she loved her son, now five years old. She also set out on a journey of self-discovery and healing. She started going to the gym, a concept that her husband didn’t appreciate.
“Whom are you trying to impress?” he would ask.
She ignored him. She kept exercising. Her old body came back. The beauty, which had duck into hiding, crept back and soon it was impossible not to draw admiration from men she met. She held head above water even though he kept looking for her trouble, like the day he locked her out of their house for coming home late from a chamaa meeting with her friends. Late here being ten in the evening.
“I had tried calling to let him know I was running late but he didn’t answer. By the time I got home, he refused to let me in and instructed the house girl not to open the door for me. I stayed out until 1:00 a.m. before he let me in and even then, he still beat me up. I ran from our bedroom to the kid’s room but he followed me and dragged me back to our bedroom.”
She continued staggering in the dark until she met a man whom we shall call Andrew. She had attended a funeral in shags and her cousin had tagged Andrew, his friend, along. They hanged out later on that night and she connected with Andrew because Andrew is the wise guy who has mastered the art of conversation. Which is not a surprise given that he is a motivational speaker. She continued to see him after they returned to Nairobi. He would come to her place of work and wait at the reception until it was time to go home and then they would walk to Jeevanjee Gardens, sit on a bench and talk.
“It was the first time in a long time a man was giving me attention. The first time a man was letting me express myself. I remember falling madly in love with him after attending one of his talks. He was a good man and soon we couldn’t stay apart.”
“Describe this man to me,” I said.
“He is tall. Knows how to dress, and wears really nice cologne. A good talker and when we made love,” she shook her head and smiled, “It was magical.”
“He beat your husband’s design?”
“Ha-ha. Even with his design, my husband had nothing on him. He did things to my body that I never thought possible. True, he didn’t have my husband’s design, but he had mad skills.”
“Was it strange the first time you did it?”
“In fact, I couldn’t go through with it. I couldn’t relax no matter how hard I tried. But he never rushed me. We waited till I was ready and then, after having a little wine, got down to it.”
The only problem with this was that our new guy here was also married, though things weren’t working for him the same way things weren’t working for her. And so even though they dated for a while, even to the point of sharing a bank account, it got to a point where things started looking up for him in his marriage and they had to end things.
“A few issues came up, like his wife falling pregnant even when he had told me they weren’t having sex, but he left me a better woman. I had learned to love myself again and though heartbroken, I was able to move on gracefully. Now I am seeing someone else.”
“Tell me about him.”
“I met him in Coast through a friend. He was there for a vacation and I was there to visit a friend. We had a long chat and when we came back to Nairobi we continued seeing each other. We have, in fact, rented a house together—a safe haven for us where we retreat to when we want to spend some time together. I still don’t know where this will lead, because he is married too, but I am enjoying the ride.”
“Ever thought of leaving your husband for good?” I asked.
“I know for sure that I am not growing old with him. There’s no love between us. He isn’t even a great father because, though he provides, he is never there for the kids. He doesn’t spend time with them. He is not even a role model for our son because I am the one teaching him what his father should probably be teaching him. He’s nothing but a giving hand to them and so this house, the one my side guy and I have rented, is my backup plan.”