I was born a rich girl in a family of three children. But that’s not my superpower. My superpower is that I can tell you within the first minute or less of interacting with a man whether he’s a fool. You see, men have it easy. For most of their existence the only thing they have to do is be and the world will pat them on the back, but they won’t admit it. They will get into a spiel about bills and providing, but it’s the 21st century—we all foot bills and provide.
Most men have a terrible secret. They are fools. You will see them walking with swagger and occupying rooms with confidence, but it’s arrogance. After they get a deep voice, broad shoulders and a standing penis to every passing skirt, they think they are conquerors. God forbid they learn how to dress; then they believe they have unlocked luminary status.
They guard this secret with every ounce of primitive energy in their being. They talk little and use their muscles more and when they are not mansplaining or cheating they meet in their sanctuaries—local or exclusive pubs to invent even more primitive lifestyles. You will know a man is behind it when it has poor taste. Phrases like ‘Man Up’ will go around. They even have the nerve to decide when they should get to the house and when they do the world should stop. Its hubris, disguised to hide their terrible secret.
I have a superpower of picking out a fool in one minute or less after interacting with a man, so I knew when I had landed a good one. But there was one problem. You see, my choice husband was not well off. He was a mechanic who lived in a shack and drove a jalopy but I saw his kindness, his charm, and his erudition. I saw a man who did not wear hubris like a second skin and feel accomplished for it. But my parents would have none of it.
They raised an eyebrow and whispered between themselves when they first saw him. He didn’t look the way our inner circle did; like money. To me, money was secondary, a piece of paper. Besides, there is a cure for being broke but there is no cure for fools. There isn’t a book in the world that can cure it. It’s malignant and the only treatment is cutting it off and throwing it away but the human race is not that advanced yet so let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
I pulled my mom aside and brought this up. “Andrea don’t be ridiculous, you can put a monkey in a suit but you can’t buy it class. Honey, please don’t make us the butt of jokes and innuendo,” she brushed me off brusquely. It was my fault. I expected too much from a woman who had gotten married to a fool.
I told you in the beginning, I come from a rich family and we don’t just marry anyone. My brother married the governor’s daughter. My sister married a CEO’s son, and I was set to marry the president of a clothing company but like most men, he turned out to be a fool.
I had gone to his house once or twice. A mansion with a bevvy of maids but he still dropped hints that he wanted me to take care of him. I had spent a weekend in my sister’s matrimonial home to understand what he meant. Cooking for him, washing his clothes, waiting with a pot of hot food on those late nights when he happened to stagger to his mistress before coming home. I was not cut out to be a maid, what made him think I would agree to slavery?
My sister had beamed when she first introduced her fiancé to us. I mean my parents arranged it but she behaved as if it was new stuff. I could only guess that they had already slept together and the sex was good, good, but was it enough for her to be a slave? I did my part. I used my superpower. His regal manner, muscles and eloquence did not fool me, not once, not when I had been doing this for years. Yes, he had a straight ‘A’ in blithering fool.
I pulled her to the side and told her it was better for her to be a damsel in distress all her life than to sup with a buffoon but she didn’t listen. Not when the sex was good, good.
“Why do you always have to ruin everything?”
“Mind your own business.”
“You’re too young to understand these things.”
They were words that she threw around. More than once during my visit I heard her whimpering in her room and when I asked, she said something had gotten into her eye. I did not know things getting into your eye made mucus run rivers down your nostrils and your body convulse with hiccups. But my point was clear. You could not fight the superpower—it was disturbingly accurate.
I called my dad to the side and told him my distress.
“Andrea, you know we don’t just marry anybody in this house. Marriages, for us, transcend love. They are about strengthening our family empire. You have to get this mechanic out of your head.”
But that’s the thing. I could not get him out of my head.
“I will run away with him before I marry one of your arrangements,” I heard myself roar, refusing to be moved like a pawn on some board for my family’s selfish whims. My dad held my hand, his nails digging into my skin enough to draw blood.
“You will do what we tell you to do,” he barked before letting go.
My parents knew I was willful but even I did not anticipate what they did next. My boyfriend was uplifted from his lowly mechanic shop in the ghetto and given an apprenticeship in the dealership of one of my dad’s friends. A year later he was the managing director of the company and the year after that, we were in church saying our wedding vows before the eyes of God and men.
And then he became a fool.
I was born a poor boy in a family of eleven children but that is not my superpower. My superpower is knowing my place. The world lies to all of us, it makes us believe that ambition is a beautiful thing when really, it’s dangerous. I have read enough books to fear ambition. Starting from The Great Gatsby, many foolish men see their ruin in its hands.
You see, before Andrea, I didn’t have any illusions of grandeur. I didn’t want to be rich, neither did I want status and I believed it made me happier. I played my role humbly as a lowly mechanic. Diligently waking up in the morning and taking a cold bath from my faded, blue basin. Having my sugarless tea with yams before heading to my shop.
I would have married a Class 8 drop out—Form 4, if I got lucky—and we would have had six or eleven children and I would have worked day and night in my mechanic shop to provide for them, oblivious of ambition or any shiny thing that would make me take a misstep from my place. That was before Andrea showed up in her Mercedes and kept showing up even when it did not have an issue.
At first, I thought people would jump from the nearby bushes with cameras to tell me that it was a prank and I was on some live TV show but that never happened and she kept coming around. Eating ugali and sukuma wiki with me at my favorite kibanda, staying a minute longer in my shop, dusting and arranging my tools, and helping manage my cash flows. God knows it wasn’t much but she came up with a system of helping me track my debtors and creditors.
I was dizzy the first time she took me to one of her family events. I marveled at the opulence with my mouth wide open. It lit a flame in my imagination and for the first time, I realized life could offer me a whole lot more than I had settled for. I didn’t even mind when her sister came around and with a face drenched in mockery said, “I see you have settled for one of our servants. What is he, a janitor?”
After a few events and a couple of dates in expensive hotels, I got spoilt. My sugarless tea and my yams started tasting horrible. I could no longer stand the cold showers and the deafening noise in my shop gave me migraines. It was a breath of fresh air when her dad came to my shop with an offer that felt like a dream. “You must worship a living God because your life is about to change, son,” he said with a poker face, and excitement coloured my face. I was not going to only taste ambition but eat it with a big spoon. It felt incredible.
Things were rosy a year or so after our wedding. It didn’t start immediately or overwhelmingly. It started with crumbs here and there. You pick up a lot of things sitting in an exclusive pub after a game of golf. I learnt, for example, that I did not have to get home in time for supper, that I could get there whenever I wanted and hot food would still be waiting for me. I started by wetting my toes. One late night every week. Before it became two, three, then seven.
I also picked up whiskey and I realized that I enjoyed it better when she served it to me silently without buzzing in my ear about couple’s therapy, so I began raising my voice at her whenever she did, as if she were partially deaf and she could only hear me when my voice was ten octaves higher.
My humble mechanic days thinned into the background and my courage became obese. I rented an apartment for a mistress and on some months, I never showed up for entire weeks at a time. She confronted me, of course, many times. I think I said something offhand, something I had picked up in the pub. “Don’t question me unless you wear the trousers in this house.”
The night she poisoned my whiskey I did not hear much beside shuffling feet and fading voices.
“Mom, I think I killed him.”
“I thought you loved him?”
“I did, before he became a fool.”
“Honey, you can put a monkey in a suit but you can’t buy it class.”
Were the final words I heard before the lights went off and darkness engulfed me.
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