“Hi I’m Gladys (not her real name), I just came across your blog and I really love your pieces. I have seen your Lust not Love article and I know you penned it like a year ago but I was wondering if you still take the experiences via mail?”
“Thanks for the email. I do. Go on shoot,” I wrote back.
She sent me the story, I read it, it was surreal. It’s a story I always want to tell because I would never want anyone to go through it. I remember my dad coming home drunk, coming home late, exchanging words with my mom but I don’t remember him ever hitting her. I don’t judge either one of them. My mom is from a generation where they didn’t talk about that stuff. A generation that considered themselves strong for persevering rather than leaving.
I also don’t fault my dad. There is no single day we lacked food on the table or clothes on our backs. He took us to the best schools even with the hardships we had. Some days I try to put on his shoes. I try to imagine how it was like being a young man back then. Selling fruits on the roadside, selling newspapers, before finding his niche in the matatu business. If there are any wrongs he did to my mom they are for him to sort out with her and not for me to meddle.
I imagine it must have been hard for my mom to raise children in an environment where the father came home in the wee hours of the night drunk like a fish and still found a pot of hot food waiting for him. I can only try to imagine her anger and bitterness but I can’t start imagining what goes through a woman’s mind when she is raising or thinking of starting a family with a man who instead of protecting her puts his hands on her.
I wrote back to Gladys and asked her if we could meet. She was in Meru but scheduled to come to Nairobi the same day I was flying out to Kisumu. I called her and asked her if we could do the interview on phone. She agreed.
Here is her story.
We had a teenage fling that lasted two weeks when I was fifteen and he was seventeen. That was our contact point. We met later after ten years and our love for each other burned like dry grass. He was well-built and dark-skinned but that was not what I loved about him. I loved that he had a generous heart, that he had an ear for music. I’m a church girl. I sing in the choir and he was working towards becoming a disc jockey. I could see us as the next Size 8 and Dj Mo. That man could also cook, serious food. And the sex, it was sizzling hot. When we argued he would give me a world-class fuck, cook me up a storm and then mellow me further with a song and things would go back to peachy.
Things were not all biscuits—even when we were dating he would cheat on me. It was his way of showing me that there were other women he could fall back on besides me. That I wasn’t the only flower in his garden. A bizarre way of keeping me on my toes because it only made me resent him. I would sulk and threaten to leave him but then he would come with his erection, and his food and his lyrics and we would be back to normal.
We moved in together after I got pregnant. When I say move in, I mean my mom knew but his didn’t. That felt weird. When I asked him he would tell me that he was waiting for things to get solid before he introduced me to his family. I waited. I’m still waiting.
He had a habit of drinking and I was concerned. My way of releasing the steam was talking to my friend. I would vent to her about how he got violent when he was drunk and how his moods kept fluctuating like the shilling.
“Sema my dear?”
“I got knocked up.”
“Because Ethan can be violent when he’s drunk. He has two sides to him. He’s sweet sometimes and other times he’s outright cold.”
“Heh, sweetheart that’s a tough one. I can’t tell you what to do but whatever you decide I’m on your side.”
I got hot slaps that rattled the teeth in my head and sent me hurtling towards the bed after he saw those messages. I got a few more until my face burnt like a kiln. My phone was confiscated as if I was a two-year-old. Funny that I was apologizing the whole time I was getting the beating.
That took me to a really low place. I had just officially moved in, I was a month pregnant and this was my big welcome.
I used to write business documents and get a bit of pocket money to add to the small stipend that my mom sent regularly. That took wings with my phoneless status and I now had to beg him for money.
After that beating things went teats up. The sex fizzled to once after a while to non-existent and when we did find ourselves tangled in bed together it felt like a burden to him. The drinking became rampant. He would come home hurling insults and harsh words.He became controlling. How I dressed, what we ate, the day and time I would visit my folk. I had to get his nod for all that.
Some things are difficult to grasp because I was allowing this when I had once been an independent and outgoing woman. A staunch feminist who could never have let anybody treat her like a doormat yet I was reduced to washing his clothes and cater to his drinking buddies. Reduced to wait for him with a pot of hot food even during those nights when he did not show. My contact with friends and family dried up to only speaking to them when he was listening. God forbid I say something that might shatter his eggshell manhood.
I thought of leaving but I had this foolish hope that things might change. That his drinking and violent side might fade and his generous and loving one surface. It never happened.
One night he came home with a truckload of insults, I had gotten used to them by now. He bragged about how his friend beat up his wife till her eardrums burst and how I didn’t deserve anything less. How the child I was carrying didn’t deserve a mother like me because I wasn’t ready for a baby and that he was cheating on me with a twenty-year-old.
“You don’t respect me,” he barked followed by two quick slaps across both my cheeks. One with the open side of his hand and the other with the upper side. Then he grabbed my neck and started choking me. He had put the fear of God in me before but not quite like this. My breath ebbed and I started going towards the white light. I don’t know what time he let go because I got back to my senses with dizziness and a sore neck but I thank God.
After that I became a saint. I stopped complaining, or exchanging words with him. I would clean and cook and serve and when he spoke I would tell him what he wanted to hear.
The next time he came home drunk I took off as soon as his head hit the pillow. I remember it was eight in the morning. I had no money, no handbag only the clothes on my back. I asked an Mpesa agent if he could allow me to use his phone, I called my mom for transport cash and I was out of there.
You know I think things could have taken a different route if we had gone for premarital counselling. If he did not always hang around his miserable friends who seemed more interested in drinking and sleeping with everything in a skirt than building a family. Like me, he comes from a single mother home. It used to torment him and he would tell me how he would never want his kid to grow up without its father. Isn’t it funny how we become the things we resent?
We still talk because I still love him despite what he’s put me through. It’s worse now that I have time on my hands waiting for this baby that when he calls I jump to pick.When I think with my heart I want us to get back together. I want us to be a family. I want things to work but when I think with my head I’m sad because I know a leopard does not change its spots.
Memo: When I was a kid the ghetto was my home. There was a shanty between Kangemi and Loresho, a piece of land owned by PWC. That is where we used to live. Some days were good others were bad. I never went to bed without food but I saw people who did. I have seen people suffer, I have seen domestic violence, I have seen young men turn into nothing under the vices of bhang and crime. I have seen little girls get pregnant and dropout of school and that’s why stories like this strike a chord with me.
If you’re reading this and you have a story that is consuming you. Or you know someone who has gone through something and sharing it would make their load lighter, catch me on email firstname.lastname@example.org as always: coffee, pizza or both, a chat and a laugh.
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