Forty and Failing at Love

I didn’t think I would be forty and failing at love, yet here I was at Kasarani Police Station reporting the woman I loved. Even though business had been good I had had a funny feeling all day. After work, I had passed by Chicken Inn Thika Road and bought chicken. She had been sulking for a while, and I hoped it would appease her, even if it were only for a moment.

I parked my Honda Fit and looked at the clock on the dashboard – the hour hand was stabbing at 5. Before removing the key from the ignition, I stared at the rearview mirror. Hanging from it was a lanyard holding my identification card. ‘Anthony Wanjiku’ it read. Not only telling my clients my name, but also reminding me who I was.

I removed the key from the ignition, closed the door, and climbed the stairs to my one-bedroom house, while carrying the chicken. I knew it would lift her moods; maybe it would even make her open her legs to me again. She had kept them under lock and key for a month now and it was driving me and my hand up the wall.

I got to the door and knocked. One time, two times, three times. There was no answer. It’s odd knocking on the door at 5:00 am. People were starting their day while mine was ending, I realized, not knowing what to do with myself while I waited. I jiggled my Honda Fit keys and felt the weight of the chicken which was quickly getting cold. 

“Mrembo, fungua. I have bought you something… It’s chicken,” I started the beg. It was nothing new. It was a habit of mine. Building her up too high and ending up feeling small, both to her and myself.

“Ningekuja mapema but job ilikuwa imeshikana.” My lateness was a big source of our arguments so I started apologizing in advance; heightening the beg. But now I was getting angry. Here I was having worked the whole day and the whole night so I could put food on the table and a roof over our heads but she didn’t see it.

Damn these women. They wouldn’t know a good thing if it hit them in the face, I thought painfully as I went down the flight of stairs to get my house key from the glove compartment. I climbed the stairs, turned the lock, pushed open the door, and there it was. The reason my knocking and begging were falling on deaf ears. I dropped the bag of chicken on the floor; with a resounding splash, followed by an echo. She had fled and taken all my furniture and electronics with her. I knew it was her because I had had four wives before and they had all done the same thing.

***

Let me take you back to my romance with Nduta. I am not the most good-looking guy. When I look in the mirror, beady eyes stare back at me and I see a chubby face with a fist for a nose and a wide mouth. I’m short and built with a paunch. That means I’m not going to be named People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive any time soon. The icing on the cake is that I am a forty-year-old taxi driver. Women, I have realized, will give an ambitious young man who has nothing a chance but you get to forty and all of a sudden your ambition starts to count for nil. But not Nduta. She saw the dream, at least for the first six months.

I met her the same way I meet all my women, through my Honda Fit. Kenyan women have got to tell us, what is their fascination with cars? Is it the headlights, the bonnet, the starting of the engine, what is it? I remember she was in a yellow midi dress but when she sat in the passenger seat next to me, it became a mini dress, exposing her chocolate thighs. I didn’t even see the three-year-old baby she was holding. All I saw was all that chocolate.

Most female passengers that I carry are very guarded. They sit at the back with their face buried in their phones and you can barely get a word in. But not Nduta. She talked, telling me about her estranged baby daddy and how sad she was that she was going to be a single mother, something she did not want for her baby. She wasn’t bitter or hateful about it. She just wished that things had turned out differently.

I looked at her hopeful brown eyes and thought, She could be the one I finally build something solid with. She had a baby but so what? I had one too. We saved each other’s numbers and soon, I was picking her up and dropping her at her clinic appointments and shopping errands. That must be the fascination Kenyan women have with cars. The picking up and dropping off. The convenience. 

“Kuja uishi kwangu?” I texted her one slow afternoon.

“Weh, hauna bibi?”

“Wewe ndio bibi.”

“Sitaki kuchomwa na maji moto.”

“Kuja weekend uone hakuna bibi.”

“Na mtoto?”

“Wangu anaishi na mama yake. Wako ni wangu sasa.”

I took the weekend off to clean and cook and prepare for her. When the phone call came that she had arrived, I jumped off my couch as if it was on fire. She had a thing for dressing up. Even though it was a cold afternoon, she had on a pleated midi skirt, a sweater, and short platform heels. I looked at her sitting on my couch and it all seemed surreal. It felt as if I had been dreaming about this moment all my life, and now she was so close to me I could smell the soap on her skin. I looked at her in her pleated skirt, sweater, platform heels, and all that chocolate, and I had nothing special to tell her besides; 

“Umewacha mtoto wapi?”

“Sikutaka a-get in the way of grown-ups.”

I didn’t need an invitation bigger than that. I jumped onto her, attacking her with my mouth and my hands like a deranged beast. Our clothes were soon on the floor and my cock, which I had touched so often to her pictures, was deep in her core. We lay in bed afterward; her head on my still-heaving chest and her tiny hand stroking the hairs on it. She was twenty-eight, a nurse by profession, and she was going to be the love of my life. 

We lay there on that bed, on that pillow, and she told me how she had been searching for a nursing job for over two years in vain and how she had a passion for fashion and wanted to open her own boutique. I told her to forget about searching for a job because I would open the boutique for her. We talked about the children she would give me. We talked about a fleet of taxis and how we would move to the suburbs. This is what the pillow talk is about, dreams of grandeur, shooting as far away from reality as possible, isn’t it?

She moved in with her three-year-old, her dresses, and her sea of chocolate. There was a lot that I loved about her. I loved her touch. I’m a man who wears baggy polo shirts, baggy trousers, and Toughees. So I end up looking like I have been stuck in high school for all of my forty years. When they made the ad, ‘Kijana, kwani how long have you been in Form One?’ I think I was their muse. But things were now taking a turn for the better under Nduta’s touch. I started wearing fitting clothes whose colors went together. We started watching what we were eating. I felt healthier, happier, and I started letting my guard down.

While in bed, with her head on my chest and her tiny hands playing with my chest hair, I told her about my first wife. How she left with my daughter and took all the furniture and electronics with her. I didn’t go after her, I told her. I didn’t see the point. Things were just things. Besides, I was a hardworking man and I could just buy new ones. “You have such a good heart,” she said while rubbing my chest. I had been fishing for her affirmation and her words were music to my ears. However, I didn’t tell her that even after the second and third wives came and went, I still visited my first wife. Was it wrong to want to see the mother of my daughter and spend time with my family? I didn’t feel it was.

I also didn’t tell her I had gotten violent in all my relationships. There was no need for that. I was an old man now, on the bleeding edge of half a century. I had outgrown that shell and the man upstairs had repaid me in kind with a woman who had a Midas touch, a sense of fashion, and a sea of chocolate. She had a baby but so what? I had one too.

Somedays I didn’t even notice the baby was there because her attention was all on me. I would enter the house and she would rush to my side with a bowl of warm water, wash my hands, and dry them with a towel. She would then bring me a hot plate of food with just the right amount of protein, greens, and starch, before we wound up in bed, her tiny hands massaging my chest and my mouth ajar, spilling all the beans.

I told her about my second and third wives. How they both emptied my house when they left and how I let them. This time around, my tongue slipped further and I told her how they would sometimes get cold on me and I would get into my Fit and disappear, sometimes for days, sometimes for weeks, to teach them a lesson. I told her how I had beaten them until they couldn’t take it anymore and they fled. I didn’t know why I was telling her the darkest parts of me. A foolish part of me hoped the stories would serve as a warning and make her behave.

“Where did you disappear too?”

“Other women,” I said again, foolishly.

It wasn’t other women. I took long drives and stared at my identification card dangling from a lanyard on my rearview mirror. ‘Anthony Wanjiku’. The name jumped at me as if it wasn’t mine. After my drives, I would end up in the second house where I paid rent. Was it wrong to want to be with the mother of my daughter and spend time with my family? I didn’t feel it was. 

“I have outgrown all that now. I’m older, wiser,” I said, realizing I had said too much and trying to rectify the course. She laughed but I noticed that the tide had started turning.

Things that annoyed me about her began to creep up, and they became the cause of our arguments; arguments that soon turned into fights. ‘When’ became her favorite word. She constantly asked me when I was going to open a boutique for her. When we were going to move to the suburbs. When we would finally live the life I had promised her during all those pillow talks, and it started to irritate me.

I was nowhere close to living in a gated community or opening anyone a business. I had mouths to feed, people to provide for. Didn’t she understand that those were just words you said in the heat of the moment, when your head was on the pillow, to ride the wave of dopamine that was still rushing through your body after sex?

“When will you open me a boutique?”

“When will we move to the suburbs?”

“When… When… When..?” It became her soundtrack and my lullaby.

She started sticking her face on her phone often. Then I noticed a protrusion on her left arm. She told me it was a contraceptive implant to keep her from getting pregnant. I got a funny feeling that she was emptying me while biding her time for the next best option, and leave me high and dry. I forgot about the man I was becoming and I was back in my old ways again.

“Wewe ni mwanamke bure, hata huwezi nizalia.”

“Baba mzee na hata pesa huna,” she said without looking at me. “Ndio maana mabibi wanakuacha.”

It was one quick slap but it sent her to the floor. It’s strange, but even now I can’t explain it. Every time I was emotional with her, I felt low. The height of my emotions was me hitting her, and even though she was the one that was physically hurting, I felt as if I was the one that had lost. Something strange happens when you hit a woman. Things shift in her favor. The whole world goes to her side because now she has something tangible to prove that you’re all bad. You stop being her lover and become the man who hit her, and you sink even lower. 

She closed her legs to me. That was my punishment, and the begging and self-pity began. I would touch her when we were in bed and she would recoil away from my touch. I would move towards her and she would get out of our bed and go and sleep on the couch. I would sit on that bed with a stiff cock and sometimes I would show it love with my hand. Other times, I would visit my first wife. Was it wrong to see the mother of my daughter and spend time with my family? I didn’t feel it was.

I said sorry, I bought chocolate, I bought flowers. Nduta’s legs remained closed and her face stuck to her phone. Was I the sucker that was raising another man’s child, putting a roof over her head and food in her belly, while she bided her time for the next man? I grabbed her phone and smashed it against the wall.

“Feelings zangu zimeisha. Nikirudi nisikupate.”

“Feelings zako zinaisha saa hii? Zangu ziliisha kitambo.”

That was Nduta. Or maybe it was all women. When you think you have said something that will hurt her, she will say something that will destroy you. This time, it was four quick slaps and a kick on the arm that had the contraceptive. She was bleeding and sobbing and then the guilt was overwhelming me and I was saying sorry and giving her money to buy dresses and cook something nice for the family, and I was leaving, running away from all of it in the name of going to work.

I had a funny feeling the whole day. I stared at the rearview mirror, at the lanyard and my identification card. ‘Anthony Wanjiku’. There was my name, reminding me who I was. A fatherless child – a bastard. Is this what I wanted for my daughter? The thought was pushed out of my mind by Nduta. I was dreading going back to her, yet I still wanted to salvage our relationship. I worked throughout the day and burnt through the night. And then I was opening my door at 5:00 am and finding she had gone and taken my whole house with her.

***

She had taken everything, even the roll of tissue paper in the bathroom and the drum of water in the kitchenette. She had emptied the drum on the floor, the same floor where my clothes were now scattered. 

I had never seen my house in such a desperate state before. I called her and called her and called her but she wasn’t picking. I opened up my messages. ‘Wewe malaya rudisha vitu zangu.’ And I immediately regretted sending the message. I thought of sending an apology text and telling her how much I loved her and how alone this house felt without her but instead, I texted, ‘Kuja tuongee, nimekusamehe.’ Which I realized felt more pathetic. I decided to stop texting and deal with the problems that were in front of me.

I removed my shoes and folded the hem of my trousers to my knees and my shirt sleeves to my elbows. Got a broom and pushed the water out of my one-bedroom house. It took me almost three hours to dry the whole house down. I went to the now-empty bedroom and sat in the corner. The wretched woman didn’t even spare me the mattress. I sat with my phone in my hand and waited for her to call or text but there was nothing but crickets. I called and called but she didn’t pick. “I’m done with younger women,” I said to myself, wanting to smash my phone against the wall. There was a burning sensation in my chest. It wasn’t a physical pain yet it was there. I could feel it growing and threatening to consume me.

I dozed off and woke up at noon. The pain and emptiness had multiplied. Forty and failing at love. Was I cursed? I had gotten too soft with her and she had taken advantage. If she had had my child maybe I would have let her get away with all of it. But our bond was flimsy and she was undeserving of anything of mine that I had sweated for.

I went to a nearby café and had tea and a mandazi. It tasted like paper. The taste had been knocked out of my mouth. After I was done, I walked towards Kasarani Police Station. I passed random women on the road and they all had Nduta’s face. Was I going mad? I got to the station and explained my situation to a bored policeman. He filled the OB while mouthing mmmhs and ahhhs. I felt like slapping him.

“Umesema she’s a nurse looking for a job?”

“Ndio.”

“We will make up a job vacancy, akikuja, tukamate.”

She fell hook-line-and-sinker for some imaginary nursing job at Nairobi Women’s. There I was, staring at her brown eyes. Eyes that had once given me so much hope, but all they gave me now was despair. I watched her mouth move but I didn’t hear what she was saying because my ears were ringing. As if someone had slapped me or there had been an explosion near me.

“Anthony, utaweka mashtaka? Anthony… Anthony.”

”Hapana, wacha aende.”

She had sold my furniture and electronics and moved back with her baby daddy. I looked at the windscreen in my Honda Fit and thought it was raining but I realized it was my eyes that were glassy. I blinked the tears away and stopped at a nearby supermarket. There’s nothing lower than living in an empty house. You never know whether you should sit, stand, or walk around. I bought a top gas burner, a Kenpoly plastic chair, a flimsy mattress, and a blanket. Forty and starting over. It left a bad taste in my mouth.

Even after everything she had done I still missed her. The house felt truly empty without her. There were days I texted her reminding her of the good old days, and other days I texted to insult her. I felt miserable on both occasions. I felt even worse that she did not acknowledge my messages with a response. It took everything in me to call her. My call didn’t go through. She had blocked me. 

She called, crying, just when I was starting to adjust. She said she missed me and she was sorry for all of it and could I forgive her? I told her we would work it out. She was staying at her baby daddy’s house in Ruaka. I got into my Honda Fit and gunned it towards her. I was on Limuru road going 60 km/hr to get her and her child. I stared at the rearview mirror, at the lanyard and my identification card. ‘Anthony Wanjiku’. The name jumped at me, and I was breaking and turning my Fit around towards my wife and daughter.

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