Men with Cars

This is a true story. Names and places have been altered to protect the identity of the narrator. She hasn’t told this story before, not to her family, not even to her closest friend. This is the first time she is letting it off her chest. I hope it serves as a teacher and a mirror to the readers here. Sexy friends, Kerubo.

I was a virgin. In my early twenties. Beautiful and just starting college; living in a hostel in Kisii town, away from the shackles of my parents in Kisii village. I had the freedom to date now, and it happened that boys were everywhere. But I did not want boys. I needed a man, someone worth my purity, my youth, my bloom. I went on a couple of dates but none of them stood out. Like me, they were in college, relying on their parents’ pocket money or hustling. If I was going to give myself to a man, he had to be the complete package. Good-looking, moneyed. Someone in society. The kind of man my classmates giggled about behind lecture halls and in dorm rooms. It’s crazy, isn’t it? How we’re coached who we should like by what’s without than what’s within.

I met him while coming from college. A Toyota Wish slowed down and came to a halt beside me. The driver’s window rolled down and the man behind it asked where I was going. It happened that he was going in the same direction I was and he asked if he could give me a lift. I looked at his handsome face, his harmless demeanor and his Toyota Wish and saw my wishes unfolding in front of my eyes and I jumped into the passenger seat as if I was born to ride by his side.

What followed were meals and drinks in fancy restaurants. Here was a man who seemed like he was worth my purity, my youth, my bloom. Charles was good-looking. Tall. He had a sense of fashion and worked in the county government. Besides that, he was understanding, kind and warm. I would look into his eyes and see my future. We started talking about moving in together and why not? If I got a child with Charles, he seemed like a man who could take care of it.

He invited me to his house after the sixth date and I almost screamed with joy. I thought he would never ask. He picked me from school. We went to the shops, bought meat and went back to his house. In the eyes of a naïve college girl it was a big house. Sitting room, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen. I could see myself becoming the woman of the house; inviting my single friends over to give them the wisdom of a married woman. We fried the meat, ate, then cozied up on the couch and kissed. Nothing else happened. He was taking things at my pace, treating this blooming flower gently, and I found it endearing.

After we were done swapping saliva, Charles dropped me back at the hostel. The next day I went back to his house early in the morning. When God gives you something good you hold on to it with both hands. I did his laundry and fixed lunch. He came home from work and after eating, we had sex. It was painful. Even though he tried to be gentle, it felt as if he was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. He finally emptied himself inside me in a spasm and it was over. After I cleaned up he took me back to the hostel. I had left a girl and I was now coming back a woman. Charles’s woman.

Back home, things were not going so well. You see, we are three siblings in my family: my sister, my small brother and I. My father has been absent my whole life. I only hear rumors that ‘he is a doctor’, ‘he is a professor’ – rumors that I have never bothered to confirm. The only dad that I know is my stepdad,  who came into the picture late, when I was fifteen. And with him came my baby brother. My stepdad has a family of his own but he is estranged from his wife with whom he has two sons. Our ever-expanding family meant money was short and my mom could no longer pay for my hostel and I was now forced to commute to college from home.

This was a complication to my new relationship because Charles could no longer pick and drop me as he pleased. Every time he dropped me I would argue with my mom. “Watu wa magari ndio umeanzia? Hao hawatakupeleka mahali,” she would go off. My stepdad would remain quiet. He could not tell me anything. Besides, I have never really considered him my real dad. Even calling him ‘dad’ is a chore.

The fights with my mom got worse after Charles dropped me this one afternoon.

“Kerubo, umekuwa mtoto mzuri hadi saa hii. Ni nini imekuingia?” she started. “Hizi ni tabia gani umeanza? Badala ungojee umalize shule… Eh, si ni we naongelesha? Mimi sikukuwa na umalaya nikiwa age yako. Hizi tabia sijui umetoa wapi.”

My mom’s words cut deep and I remember I went to bed crying that night. Out of frustration and angst, I texted Charles and told him to come and pick me up the following morning. He came around when my mom was in her boutique. I packed my clothes into a suitcase and jumped into his Toyota Wish. I was leaving the arguments, the fights and the stepdad whom I didn’t care for behind and starting a fresh chapter in my life as Charles’s wife. “Watu wa magari ndio umeanzia? Hao hawatakupeleka mahali.” My mom’s words echoed in my head as the Wish’s engine roared and we left my home. My elder sister texted. I told her I had gone to a friend’s house. My mom called. I did not pick.

Life was good for the first six months. Sometimes Charles would come home early and we would go and have dinner in a fancy restaurant before coming back to the house and having sex—it had gotten better and no longer felt like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It felt good. It felt like my female parts were made for his male parts. And Christ did we do it. We did it in every nook and cranny of that house. After climax, we would cuddle and he would talk about kids. He wanted two boys and a girl. He would talk about paying my college fees. He wanted my beauty to go together with brains. He even talked about taking me to his family to show me off. My mom called frequently but I didn’t pick. How wrong she was about Charles. This man she despised was taking me everywhere and I did not need her raining on my parade.

It had become Charles’s habit to drop me at school and pick me up in the evening. My mom had paid my fees for the second semester and my newly minted husband had said he would pay for my third semester. The second semester came and went and the third one knocked on the door with a fee structure to the tune of KES 70,000. They say money changes people. They never specify whether it’s the presence or lack thereof but after this, Charles changed.

He asked me to give him one month to get the money together. The month came and went and he asked for another month and another one after that. Tomorrow never comes and this one didn’t either. The fancy dinners stopped and he started coming home at midnight, drunk as a fish.

“Mbona unakuja home late?” I asked him one evening.

“Sasa umeanza kuingililia maisha yangu? Sasa unaona wewe ndio mkubwa huku?”

That was the first time he hit me. I saw the slap coming but my face refused to move. The slap sent me back a couple of steps. I sank into the corner of the living room and started sobbing because nobody had ever hit me before, much less with such magnitude. It must have registered on the Richter scale. After some time, he came to me full of remorse and apologized.

The second time, I had gone to town to have my hair done. When I was coming from the salon at around five in the evening, I spotted his Wish parked outside a club that doubled as a lodging. I quietly went back home and waited for him.

“Where have you been?” I asked when he entered the house at midnight.

“Nimekuwa meeting,” he said, ignoring the clock. Who knew the county government schedules its meetings the same time as thugs?

“Who was that girl mlikuwa na yeye?”

“So you have been following me?”

“Me I’m packing and I’m leaving. Sitaki hizo mavitu umeanza.”

“Ulitoa wapi pesa ukaenda town?” He changed the subject from infidelity to finance.

He had told me to stay in the house because he was providing everything and I had no reason to get out. The little money I had I had gotten from loan apps but Charles’s blows, slaps and kicks did not wait for my explanation. I curled up into a ball, crying, wondering where I would go when I had burned my bridges with my mom. “Watu wa magari ndio umeanzia? Hao hawatakupeleka mahali.” Her words filled my throbbing head like a fulfilling prophecy. 

I decided to persevere. I can’t tell you what kept me there. Maybe I was hoping he would change, maybe I thought he would pay my fees or maybe it was because the world is full of people who claim that tough times don’t last but tough people do. The tough times, however, got tougher.

The third time Charles hit me I had packed all his clothes into a suitcase. 

“I have packed your clothes for you. Go and sleep with those whores. Ukishamaliza ukuje.”

Slaps. Blows. Kicks followed. He picked up my phone and shattered it against the wall then got up and left the house. I didn’t see him again for a while.

At this time, I fell ill. After I moved in with Charles I had begun to get minor headaches and would buy Panadol frequently. But now things escalated. The headaches turned to migraines. I developed backaches and nausea. I was losing weight rapidly and my female parts were itchy to the point of being bloodied, and they produced a greenish-yellowish discharge with a foul smell. It was so much that I had to wear a pad.

It got to a point where I couldn’t take the tough times anymore. I got out of the house and knocked on my neighbor’s door. She did not hesitate to tell me that I had lost weight. I borrowed her phone and looked up the symptoms. All roads pointed towards HIV. I got back to the house crashing. I was positive. I had to be. If I could take it all back, I wouldn’t have jumped into his car. My thoughts trailed off.

The next day I was worse. I couldn’t even sit down. I took a shower, got the remaining money I had borrowed from the loan apps and went to hospital. I knew I was positive. One of my friends had told me that Charles had been spotted with another woman around the clubs. Her name was Flora and she was well known to be sick. “Ule mkikuyu, ule ni mgonjwa,” my friend had told me and I had heard the sound of the last nail hitting my coffin.

Before getting to the hospital I passed by a supermarket and bought Rat and Rat. I had told myself that life was not worth living if I was positive. The doctor was a young girl. She sat me down and counseled me but I was not listening. I had already decided that I was positive. My only solace was the Rat and Rat sitting in my bag, waiting patiently to take me back to my maker. She did her tests, disappeared into a room and then came back.

“Kerubo, what do you think your results are?” the young girl with a white robe that made her a doctor chirped.

“Just give me the results. I know I’m positive,” I said, defeated. The Rat and Rat in my bag stirred.

“No, you’re not.” The child doctor grinned.

“You’re lying. Take another test,” I said, disbelieving.

“Mbona unasema you’re positive na nakuambia nishachukua test and you’re okay?” she fought back, her ego wounded.

The relief lasted for a second before my migraines, nausea and greenish-yellowish discharge brought me back to reality. I explained my situation to the child doctor and she took a urine test. The results came back. It was chlamydia. She was annoyed. She told me I was risking my life letting the disease fester while taking Panadol to calm it. 

She crunched the numbers. The chlamydia would set me back KES 8,000. I had KES 3,000 in my pocket. I asked her to give me drugs worth KES 2,500 that would calm the migraines and the itching so I could remain with money for fare and for food. I had been starving myself, refusing to eat, knowing that I was going to die anyway. But now I had a zeal to fight for life.

I got back to Charles’s house with my antibiotics, regret and disappointment in myself. He still hadn’t come back. I heard that he had another family and a trail of girlfriends. Chlamydia was enough; I didn’t need to stick around for HIV. After a year in his house, I had finally returned to my senses. I packed my bags and hit the road back to my mom’s house. The arguments, her cutting words and my stepdad were better than being humiliated, beaten and infected with diseases. You were right mom. Hao watu wa magari hawakunipeleka mahali.

I got home and braced for the wrath of my mom but to my surprise, she was kind and concerned. Like the prodigal son, I was taken back with open arms and I felt a little bit embarrassed to have gone through so much when my lighthouse was here all along, waiting for me to open my eyes in the dark tunnel I had dug and see its light.

“Kerubo, kwani ni nini imekufanyikia? Umekonda and you look hivi, hivi.”

“Mom, aki nimekuwa mgonjwa. Nimekua na typhoid lakini saa hii nimepona.”

She was leaving for Nairobi’s Eastleigh to get clothes for her boutique and she left me manning the shop. I had finished the drugs the child doctor had given me and I still had backaches. I went to my mom’s shop, opened her drawer and came out with KES 5,000. I headed to the hospital where the young girl with a white robe gave me four injections. Two on my arms, two on my buttocks. After the second round of medication, I got well. My mom never asked me about the money that had grown wings. Mothers and their sixth sense.

I got my friend’s phone and texted Charles. He asked me why I had left his house and I told him to go to hospital because he had given me diseases. I didn’t tell him which disease it was. He must have thought it was HIV and he ran to the hospital. He later texted me: “Kwani ni nini, si nimepata tu ni STI.” As if it was water off a duck’s back when the disease had taken me to hell and back. The disease, it turns out,  does not affect men as much as it does women. The good truly suffer while the wicked prosper.

My mom got me back to school. I saw Charles again after two months when I was on my attachment. I used to think he worked in the treasury department but to my chagrin, it was the municipal department—the same department I was attached to. We were in the same office but we never spoke. I would see him and my blood would curdle like spoilt milk.

Colleagues would sometimes make fun in the office. “Mkubwa, ebu leo tupeleke lunch,” they would say, referring to him, and when they got up to go I would go in a different direction. He would come and sit next to me and I would change seats with someone else. Things got so awkward that he would come to the office and only stay briefly, to the point people started raising eyebrows.

My weight, my youth, my bloom slowly returned and men started looking at me again. I started talking with this guy and going for lunch with him. Charles must have imagined we were flirting. He stopped me in the corridor abruptly one day.

“Kerubo, we need to talk,” he boomed.

“Tunaongea nini sasa na unajua place yenye uliniacha? Kwani ulikuwa unataka kuniua?”

“Not here. Hatutaongea hizi vitu hapa.”

“Hakuna mahali tunaongea vitu na wewe.”

This one Friday he called me. We sat in an open place and talked.

“Will you eat?” he asked, trying to start off in my good graces. 

“I’m not taking anything. Umeniita hapa, sema kitu imekuleta ama I leave.”

I was bitter. I went off on him.

“Wewe ni mtu umewaste life yangu. Ulinitoa kwetu ukaniambia utanifunza, haukunifunza. Nilikuwa nafaa kugraduate last year, sikugraduate. Umenipea maugonjwa. Wewe ni mwanaume bure kabisa. Never text me or call me!” I barked, breaking into tears.

He was silent the whole time. The truth has a way of holding your tongue. I didn’t see him again after that. My attachment came and went and I haven’t heard from him since. Because Kisii is a small town, we sometimes bump into each other but I don’t say so much as a hi to him. Whenever I see a Toyota Wish, I shiver and remember my mom’s words. “Watu wa magari ndio umeanzia? Hao hawatakupeleka mahali.”

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image credit: mike von

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