Eight Years of Toxic Love

This is a true story. The person has wished to remain anonymous. After you read it you will understand why. As she narrated the events I had a mixture of emotions. I felt angry, most of the time I wanted to cry, and other times I felt like screaming. I tip my hat to her for keeping her composure throughout the three hours or so we spoke. I hope this serves as a teacher and a mirror to the readers here.

I ignored the first red flag. My boyfriend loved to party but I loved the indoors. Night clubs in their nature are cold and noisy and I preferred the warmth of my bed. This one time we were out, I protested that I wanted to go back and sleep. He held me and shook me. “Stop embarrassing me in front of my friends,” he barked. “Just try and have a good time, eh?” He mellowed after his friends calmed him down. I never protested again in fear of flaring his anger. Little did I know that I was only at the beginning of a rabbit hole of terror and pain that would leave me scarred physically and emotionally.

2012

I met my boyfriend in 2012 during my first year at The University of Nairobi. A naïve 19-year-old girl from Kisii feeling the freedom of the city for the first time. I was set to do anthropology but law was the course after my heart. I spoke to my dad and enrolled to take law on a parallel program while living in a private hostel off-campus. I got introduced to my boyfriend by a friend during this time. He was a 24-year-old hunk in his third year, doing design. He was tall, dark, handsome and charming, and I took to him immediately. To this day, I tell people what he’s capable of and they stare unbelieving. “Him? But he’s such a charming guy.”

You see, I didn’t know how to cook. When I visited him at his third-floor hostel, he would do most of the cooking. He made mostly ugali, sukuma and scrambled eggs in that tiny hostel of his that felt like a shoe but that didn’t matter because we were in love. After eating we would crank the music to drown the moaning and groaning voices of our love making. We continued with the fling for about three months before making things official. I would often find myself in his hostel and that’s when his true colors started to show.

This one night, he decided to leave me behind when he went partying. When he came back in the dark of night, he asked why I had not cooked. I told him he should have said something because I had already sorted myself with fries, and besides, he knew I did not know how to cook. He locked the door, put the keys in his pocket and cranked the music. “Today you will understand who is the man in this house,” he roared. What followed was a beating like I had never seen before. He rained blows on me with both his fists and his feet. I’m tiny—40kgs, 5’3”—and he’s 80kgs, 6’. I felt like a bag of feathers being bounced off the walls.

“I want to leave,” I screamed, my voice drowned in music. “You want to leave, eh?” He opened the window. “Then leave.” The weird thing is that I climbed onto the window ready to jump and take my chances with gravity than take my chances with him but before I could, he got back to his senses. “Come down, you want people to say I killed you?” 

“If you want to leave, all you have to do is give me a blowjob and I will give you the key and you can go.” He had just beaten me to a pulp and his manhood was as hard as stone. Fearing another beating, I got on my knees, fumbled with his belt and took him in my mouth. Afterwards, he had his way with me. I realized five years later that it was rape because there was no consent. He later cuddled me, all the while crying. “I’m sorry. It will never happen again,” he said mid hiccups. Little did I know this was just a simple orientation of things to come.

2013

I got pregnant at the beginning of 2013. When I told him, he got into a fit. “I am still young and I want to enjoy myself. Are you trying to trap me?” At this time, he was also sleeping around with three different women. I had seen the suggestive texts on his phone.

‘The other night was great.’

‘Babe, when can I see you again?’

‘I miss you.’

The conversations revolved around sex and when I asked he didn’t even deny it. “I’m a man. I need to sow my seed. I need to do these things before we get married, and at the end of the day, I am coming home to you, not to any of those other girls,” he said without remorse. It’s weird because not even once did I think of leaving him; not even after he told me to get rid of the baby.

There are these pills called Cytotec, Misoprostol. You swallow two and insert two up your vagina and as long as you are not three months pregnant, the abortion is a success. The pills went for around two thousand bob. He did not have the money and he told me to come up with a story for my parents. 

I was with my friend when I took the pills. The pain was excruciating, lasting a full hour. I felt as if someone was dragging a knife through my insides. “You should leave him now,” my friend cried to deaf ears. My boyfriend came later and gave me a sideways hug and I ended up giving him two hundred bob for fare back to town.

Around the time I had the abortion, his anger flared again. He had told me to cook ugali and I had done a terrible job. This time I was not up for a beating. I slipped out the door, ran, and hid in the hostel bathrooms. I could hear him knocking on doors, asking students if they had seen me. He went all the way to the gate to ask the watchman. When he finally found me, his anger had ebbed and he told me he would teach me how to cook and clean. “Hutakua unanipikia ugali mbichi. Lazima ujue kupika na kufanya kazi.” He wanted his meals hot and his clothes and duvets cleaned once a week. So there I was, both his maid and his sex toy, and in my mind, all of it was love.

After that, he cleaned up his act. Most of 2013 was good. He started this tradition of throwing parties for me on my birthday. He would have his friends and my friends surprise me and then he would get me a gift. It was always a dress. He did not know how much I disliked dresses. I would smile and pretend to love it even though deep down I didn’t.

He never wanted to use protection. “Why would I use protection and you are my woman?” he would ask. “Si it’s only me you’re fucking? Why are you even suggesting that we use protection?” He didn’t want me to take contraceptives either. His argument was that they would make me fat and he loved me the way I was. I didn’t dare use them even though, thinking about it now, if I had he probably wouldn’t have had a clue.

Towards the end of 2013, right before he finished school, I got pregnant again. We were on a long holiday. I was in my second year at Law School and I was in first year in my newly enrolled second major in Political Science and Philosophy. When I told him about it, he was still not ready. “I’m just getting out of campus,” he said. “We are going to do the same thing we did with the first one.” This time he was around for the abortion. He bought the pills and helped me go through it and he finally adjusted to the idea of contraceptives. “We’re having too many scares,” was how he put it.

Just before he cleared campus he told me he had a friend living at the staff quarters who happened to be moving out. He suggested I move in. The rent was six thousand a month, which was the same as my private hostel but the staff quarters were bigger, had more privacy and after I was done with school I could rent it out for a bit of money on the side. He suggested I move in with a friend and share the cost with her. He must have talked to my friend and told her not to take my offer because she bailed out after we had made extensive plans to move in and my dad had already sent the rent.

2014

I moved into the SQ March of 2014. Me, my laptop, mattress and electric cooker. My boyfriend would casually come over and spend the night. Slowly, he started bringing his things and before long he had moved into a house whose rent my dad was paying.

At the time, he was looking for a job. He never actually got one. “I’m tired of looking for employment. I am just going to do my own thing,” he said, frustrated. He started his own design company and he has been successful so far.

In December of 2014 he got a major job in his hometown, Nakuru. A friend had hooked him up with a gig. I was having my exams then so we couldn’t go together even though that’s what I would have wanted because we were so used to spending our evenings together. After he left he would call often. “I miss you so much. After you are done with your exams come and visit me.”

When I got to Kisii, I asked my dad if I could visit my boyfriend in Nakuru. “Dad I have a boyfriend in Nakuru. I want to go and see him,” I said with all the excitement and confidence of youth. My dad is a an easy-going guy. He gave me fare to go and see him for one night and come back the next day. His only caveat was that I make sure I was communicating the whole time I was with him.

My mom protested but my dad cut her short.

“Let her make her own decisions. That’s the only way she will grow,” he said with finality.

2015

I got pregnant again end of 2014. Before my boyfriend went to Nakuru we had had this discussion about contraceptives. He had told me that his married cousin told him they were not good, that they were going to affect my fertility when I wanted to have a baby. So I stopped taking them. 

Sometimes I feel as if I wouldn’t have gotten pregnant if my dad had not given me permission to go to Nakuru.

Doing two degrees concurrently, I wasn’t ready for a baby but this time round my boyfriend was ready for one. “I don’t think this is the best time for a child. How are we supposed to bring up a baby when we are sleeping on a mattress on the floor and I’m struggling with school?” I asked him. He went into a rage. “How dare you tell me you are not ready when I’m working? How can you be so selfish? We will have the baby and figure out what you will do about school.” 

I told him he was going to be the one to break the news to my parents because honestly, I was embarrassed. How was I supposed to explain to my parents that I came to school for a degree and ended up with a baby? “No. You will tell them because they don’t know me yet but I will help you with school. It doesn’t make sense to defer your studies because of a baby.” 

I went home to break the news when I was three months pregnant. My dad is a retired doctor and my mom is a retired nurse so immediately I got home, they knew. They were just waiting for me to say it. I waited till the last day before I was to come back to Nairobi to tell them. I sat them down the night before and told them. “I knew you were pregnant the moment you walked in that door,” my mom admitted. “We are grateful that you did not think of having an abortion,” they both added.

They went on to say they would support me and if I wanted to defer school, it was okay. They asked about my boyfriend and I told them he was the nicest guy in the world. “He just graduated in December and he is working hard trying to provide for us.” I didn’t give them the slightest hint of the rabid creature that lived within him. 

2015 was not a great year for me. Everything was hectic and I was tired most of the time. On top of a pregnancy and pursuing two degrees, I was living with this demanding boyfriend who wouldn’t let anyone besides me touch his laundry or make his food. We did not have running water in the house and I was usually the one going outside to fetch it. The neighbors would sometimes look at me and out of pity help me carry the water.

It was not a great year for me but it was a great year for him. Excited that we were having a boy, he became really hardworking. He started getting luckier, money started coming in, and he bought a bed, carpet, sofa set and a TV. He bought them around my birthday in July, after throwing me his signature surprise party, complete with a dress. Obama was also coming to Kenya. “Wacha tununue TV ndio hata sisi tuone Obama,” he said. He even got a GoTV decoder. We were moving up in life, finally.

He started getting broke again at the end of 2015 when I was around seven months pregnant. We started having shouting matches. My hormones were flaring and he wasn’t helping. He would come home around three in the morning, drunk, and demand food. Fresh food prepared when he arrived and if his clothes were a bit dirty, he would get pissed.

“I’m working all day. When I come back, I want peace and quiet. Don’t let me ask you for things you already know.”

It became routine. He would come home late, ask for food, and we would start arguing. “You just eat where you are. I spend all day in school, I come home tired. I’m pregnant, you should be the one cooking for me.” I would come back from main campus from my Political Science and Philosophy classes, shower and go to law school, then get back home at around 9:30 pm. “No, it’s your wifely duty to take care of me,” he would bark.

This one Saturday night, he came home really drunk. It was early for him, around 10:30 am. He came in and immediately started talking down at me. At this point, my hormones could take none of it and I started talking back. What pushed him off the edge was when I said I would leave and go back to my parents’ house. He got a mwiko and started bringing it down on me till it broke. He then got a knife.

“You’re giving me too much stress. Si you’re trying to kill me, eh? Take this knife and kill me because I can’t even come to my own house and just relax. Take the knife and kill me. If you don’t kill me, I will kill you. You and my son will die today.”

At this point I was scared for both my life and the baby’s. I was wondering how I could calm him down. I started begging him. “Think about our son, just think about how happy you’re going to be once we have this baby.” He started raining blows on me and I crouched against the wall trying to protect my belly.

“If you’re not going to hold this knife and kill me, I’m going to kill you.”

Out of nowhere he stopped. As if something clicked in him that he shouldn’t be hitting the mother of his child. He then started crying. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do this. I did not mean for it to get to this point.” We were both crying. I thought that was the day I was going to leave him then I wondered what I would leave him for—to go back to the village to be laughed at by neighbors? So I forgave him. In my head I thought that after we had the baby, it would calm him down and things would get better.

They got worse.

I gave birth on October of 2015. Being broke continued. We used to be so broke that if not for the money my dad used to send me, we would have nothing. When I gave birth, that’s when I realized who my friends truly were. No one would even come to check up on me. No one would think, “Let’s get together and visit her with diapers.” I would tear up sheets to use during the day and reserve the one, thirty-shilling diaper we bought every day for night time. It wasn’t enough because a one-month-old baby poops all the time.

My boyfriend did not give me any kind of help with the baby. The whole time I was feeding or changing the baby, my boyfriend was either out drinking or fast asleep. He claimed that taking care of the baby was part of my womanly duties.

On top of it, he still wanted sex. One night he came home drunk and started demanding for it. “The doctor said we shouldn’t have sex until after three months because I need to heal,” I tried to placate him, but he would hear none of it. “You know you’re my wife. I have the right to have sex whenever I want. I don’t care what the doctor said.” When I tried to resist him he got physical and I let him have his way. I started bleeding heavily and there was blood everywhere. He sobered up and started asking if I was on my period. 

I started dissociating from school. I would go to class and I wouldn’t hear a thing the lecturer said. I would go for my law classes in Parklands and the milk would just be leaking through my blouse and then I would leave class and rush back home. My class attendance was so poor I remember a lecturer noticing me because I attended like three of his classes. “Are you sure you’re ready to do my exams?” he asked. “Yeah, I’m ready,” I said defiantly and he went on to fail me. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have pushed myself that much. I should have taken a year out but my boyfriend kept pushing me. “Show your parents you can do this. Don’t show them that you can’t handle it now that you have a kid.”

I had the baby in October and I had exams in November. We did not have a nanny. We did not even have money to buy a breast pump so the baby would only have milk whenever I was around. When I rushed to school for exams my boyfriend would stay home with the baby. Whenever the baby woke up screaming for food, my boyfriend would sanitize his hands and give him his thumb to suck on. That happened for a week or so. Then he put in around two hundred bob and I chipped in three hundred bob from what my dad sent me, and we bought a bottle.

We would give the baby an empty bottle to suckle on. We did not know it was a bad thing because he was ingesting gas, and he would cry most nights. I wasn’t allowed to tell my parents we were struggling. My boyfriend would get pissed whenever my dad sent me money. “Are you trying to show your parents that I can’t take care of you and the baby?” 

2015 went on without any other incident. We had agreed to visit my parents for Christmas holidays after I was done with exams. “There is no way my son will travel in a matatu,” he said, and hired a car for three thousand bob knowing only too well he had four thousand bob in his pocket. His mom and dad are separated. There was a back and forth among them about who would take him to see my parents. They both ended up declining and his cousin, who ended up fueling the hired car, came instead.

When we got to Kisii town we went to a nearby supermarket with our remaining one thousand bob to get my folks something. I remember the exact amount we spent: Ksh 573 after buying 2kgs of sugar, one bar of soap and the big Ketepa tea. When we got home, my mom had told the whole village that her in-laws were coming and they had cooked up a storm. The women were there waiting and it was just me, the baby, him and his cousin. My mom was so sad about it. “Mnaniaibisha hivo aje?” she whispered to me later.

My boyfriend was not embarrassed at all. I also did not ask him what he thought about it. I felt I would have pushed his buttons if I did, so I let it go. The funny thing is, he got along with my parents. They said they liked him. He’s a charmer, conversations come so easily for him. If you met him before I told you anything about him, you wouldn’t believe me. He charmed the socks off their feet. When we left kisii my folks thought they had a model son-in-law and I had the greatest husband in the world.

2016

I came back to Nairobi in January of 2016 after staying with my parents for two weeks and it was back to the same struggle. He was still doing his design gigs but they were dry. Here I was, no money, no food and he was out partying all the time and when he came home he either wanted food, despite having left no money, or sex, even though I didnt have any appetite for it.

My sex drive had nosedived. I would refuse him and he would go into a rage. “Do you want me to start sleeping around?” he would kvetch. Scared, I would let him have his way. I would lie there unmoving, like a log, and he would force himself into me.

“Why are you so dry? Don’t I excite you anymore? Is there someone else out there that you’re having sex with so that you don’t want to have sex with me?” he would complain often.

I started hating sex. My demons started haunting me. The demons of abortions, his abuse, being broke, struggling with school and a baby, and I fell into a deep depression.

I did not graduate in 2016 like I was meant to because I missed all my exams for Political Science and did about four for law school. I used to go to exam rooms thinking, “There is no point of me doing these exams. If I do them I’m going to fail.”

I would wait outside the exam room wondering if I needed to take it, and most times I would just go back home. When my boyfriend asked how the exam was, I would lie and tell him it was good. Partly out of guilt and partly because I did not want to piss him off. “I told you we could do this. There was no need for you to defer school,” he would say happily and I would be unsure if he was happy for me or happy that I was following his orders.

We got a nanny just before my birthday in July. It was my mom’s suggestion. “How are you going to school without help?” she asked and they sent us one from the village to make things easier. We were still struggling but at least he had money to pay the nanny and when he didn’t have, I would secretly ask my dad to pay her.

For my birthday, my friend called me and told me she was in town and she wanted to buy me pizza. She bought pizza for us to go and eat back at my place. When we got there, it was another of my boyfriend’s surprise birthday parties. All my friends and his friends were there. The baby was crawling, eating cake and chunks of chicken, and my boyfriend had bought me a dress again.

Things got better after my birthday. Through Instagram, around August, right before my son turned one, I got a job that paid me ten thousand bob. My Instagram has been about fashion for as long as I can remember. I met someone who was opening a shop at the Mirage in Westlands and she gave me a job. She also gave me room to go to school and work intermittently.

I used the salary to pay the rent, the nanny, buy diapers and do a bit of shopping for the house. “I can see you’re becoming a responsible woman. I can see that giving you a baby was a very good thing,” my boyfriend said when I first brought home the bacon. At this point, I started feeling that I could not do life with him anymore. I started thinking of moving out and leaving him.

He had not changed his behavior. He would still go out and party with the little money he had. There was a day he came home so drunk, being supported by one of his friends. He got to the house, vomited on the carpet, collapsed and fell asleep on his own fluids. I got a mop put it under his head and just left him there. He woke up in the morning and got into a fit. “Why would you let me sleep on the floor? You’re trying to embarrass me in front of the nanny, eh?” And I stood there silently wondering how a 40kg woman was supposed to move an 80kg man.  

December knocked on my door and my class was graduating. My parents were the first to call and ask if they should hire a bus. I told them there were about two units I had not done so I was not going to graduate, and they were understanding. They probably knew it was a lot to handle school and a newborn child. For their generation, they have been stellar parents.

Around the same time I started telling my dad that I was thinking of leaving my boyfriend. I didn’t give him any concrete reasons but he was supportive. “If you want to come home and stay I’m okay with that.” I went back home with the nanny and the baby at the end of the year. Stopping by Nakuru with my boyfriend. He was bawling. He had gotten a gig that made him about a hundred thousand bob. He had hired a vehicle and on Christmas morning he took me to Java. Five years in a relationship and that was the very first time that he took me out on a proper date. In my head I had broken up with him already. “This is the last time you’re seeing me,” I thought. After that, I went to Kisii with the nanny and the baby.

2017

I came back to Nairobi January of 2017 without the baby. I told my boyfriend that I left him back in the village because we were trying to wean him off breast milk. My dad sent me thirty thousand bob and I went and got a thirteen-thousand-bob house in Ruaka. I didn’t tell him I didn’t have furniture. My parents had just retired and I did not want to bother them. Besides my job, I had started selling clothes. I would go to Gikomba get clothes and sell them to my friends. At the end of the month, it would come to around six thousand bob. So I was sure I was going to manage living on my own.

I moved on a Sunday. He had left me alone in the house and I figured it was my chance. When he came back at 3am in the morning like he usually did, he would find only wind. I didn’t want the neighbors to know I was moving out so I had the taxi wait behind the house.

He came back at around 5pm in the evening as I was giving my things to the taxi guy. He wore a look of confusion. “Where are you going? I thought we had such a nice December, why are you leaving me?” He got on his knees and started crying. “You can’t go like this. We’ll make up for the rent and deposit money you’ve paid for the house in Ruaka. Just don’t go, don’t leave me.”

After all his crying he started threatening me.

“You know I’m going to take that baby away from you. You can’t go with my baby, you go and leave my baby here.”

Even after his crying and begging and threatening, I still left. I took the mattress which I had bought for twelve thousand bob, my clothes, the baby’s clothes and my books. I love my books—I had about a hundred and fifty at that time.

I had spoken to my best friend’s parents who had a set of seats that they were not using and they agreed to sell them to me for ten thousand bob. I went to their house, which was behind Garden City, got the sofas and headed to Ruaka. I remember I spent that night in tears. The whole time I was questioning my decision. “Why would I be so stupid as to leave this man?” He also spent the whole night calling and crying. “Where are you? I’m coming to get you now. There is no way you’re going to leave me.”

After two weeks, I got back the baby and the nanny. I could barely make ends meet and to top it all off, I got fired from my job. My depression hit new heights. I used to put the baby to sleep and sit and cry and pray. “What am I going to do? I don’t have a degree that I can look for a job and the transcripts I have are full of blanks.”

There was a guy on Instagram who really liked my style. He had a boutique in town. He told me he would pay me fifteen thousand bob to run three of his social media pages. He also told me I could go to his shop on Wednesdays and Fridays and at the end of the week he would give me one thousand bob. It wasn’t enough but I was getting somewhere.

At this time, my boyfriend started reaching out. “Can I come and see the baby?” he would whimper and I would let him. He usually came with a paperbag of bananas and oranges. “Sasa ju hutaki maneno yangu, you provide for the baby,” he said whenever I asked if that was all he could manage, even though he knew I needed a little bit more than a bunch of bananas and five oranges.

When I was really pushed I would call my dad, cry and tell him to send me some money. My dad felt that I was really struggling and he told me to take the baby back home while I tried to figure out my life. I took the baby and the nanny back home in April of 2017.

My social media gig started going good. I opened an Instagram page selling clothes online. Around my birthday in July my boyfriend reached out again.

“Happy birthday,” he said excitedly.

“Thank you.” I kept the conversation short and ended things there.

Around August, I got a call from his grandmother whom I had visited often because she lived in Kisii. “Kwanini sijakuona? What happened? Nimekuja Nairobi and I want to see you so when can you come and see me in Umoja?”

“I’m working from Monday to Saturday but I think we can plan for Sunday,” I told her.

I went to Umoja where one of his aunties lived and I found his grandma and a bunch of his aunties waiting for me. They sat me down and started asking what happened. I told them about the infidelities and the abuse and they did not even flinch.

“That’s how men are. Ata mimi immediately niliolewa nilikua nachapwa,” one of them volunteered without being asked.

“You’re not supposed to question when your man is coming back home. Akitoka kwa nyumba hio ni shughuli yake. Hizo ndio vitu zinafanya unachapwa,” another one fired.

“Just leave him be. Don’t bother going through his phone. His phone is his private property. Also, you’re supposed to be cooking for your man. Whenever he comes home make sure you have food ready,” the first one continued.

“And don’t warm his food, ugali inafaa kuwa fresh, fresh,” the second auntie supported the first auntie’s sentiments.

They didn’t even believe me when I said he got violent. They thought it was a light slap, not something that would make me get out of a marriage.

He later joined us and that’s when I realized it was an intervention. “I’m ready to take this woman back as long as she does what you have told her.” The only thing I wanted was to bring my son back and I thought it would work with him in the picture. “You can come back but I don’t want to see anything from your house. Wewe kuja tu na nguo zako na za mtoto.”

I went and sold the seats I had bought from my friends’ parents for three thousand and used it to taxi my clothes and books back to the staff SQ. I went back to Kisii and got the baby and our nanny. I didn’t tell my parents that I was getting back with my boyfriend. I came to tell them two months after I moved back in with him but my mom had sensed it.

“Are you sure you’re not going back to that man?”

“Mom, mi siendi kwake. Nataka tu kukaa na mtoto.”

Every time I left my boyfriend his financial situation got better. He was doing really well now. He decided that our family was growing and it was time to move out of the staff SQ into a bigger house. He told me to go and look for a nice two-bedroom house in Utawala. He said he wanted to start afresh. We only carried our clothes, the carpet, gas, mattress and TV.

We moved to our two-bedroom house in September of 2017. In hindsight, that was the worst decision I ever made.

Utawala is at the end of the world. You go past the airport and you keep going into a sea of dust and empty fields. I tried to look on the brighter side though. Life was getting better. We were moving to a two-bedroom house, I was earning some money, and he was doing well and had started a gaming shop with two TVs and two PlayStations. We were moving up.

Two months into moving, he started dropping the past into conversations. “Why would you leave me when I was struggling the most and take my son away? Did you think that was something I would ever forgive?” I brushed it off thinking it was not a big deal. Whenever we had an argument he would bring up the “You left me” conversation. I couldn’t tell him he was the reason I left; I knew he wouldn’t understand. “You used to beat me up,” I would sometimes say. 

“I was making a point to show you how a wife should treat a husband. Now when I come home you’ve cooked for me, when my friends come over you treat them well, wash their hands, and make conversation, and they no longer say you’re a snob. You should be thanking me. I have helped you grow into the woman you are today.”

I started going in and out of depression. He still wouldn’t let the nanny touch his clothes, not even the baby’s nor his inner wear. After he showered, it was my work to go into the bathroom, get his dirty boxers and wash, hang and iron them after.

My depression got worse. My friends from Political Science and Philosophy started calling to ask if I was graduating. “We’re just finishing up, tunangoja tu graduation.” I would sit and tear up wondering what I was doing with my life. ‘I know I have a baby but I don’t know whether that’s the one achievement that I would want to be known for. I would at least want to be a lawyer and take one degree back to my parents,’ I often pondered.

To add salt to the wound, my boyfriend started monitoring my finances. He would take all my money and say something along the lines of, “My business needs a new PlayStation,” or a new TV or some fresh shit like that. “Be patient, I’m investing the money. You’re going to see the fruits very soon,” he would say when I asked what he was doing with it. Afraid of his temper, I wouldn’t push the issue further.

Pregnant

At the end of October, I found out I was pregnant. I didn’t tell him because I was still deciding whether I wanted to be in a relationship with him. He noticed and said nothing. I think he was waiting for me to tell him. The pregnancy, my broken studies and the fact that I was working and not getting anything sent me into total darkness. I dissociated from things. I stopped trying to look for my grades in school. The only thing I cared about was my son. Everything else didn’t make sense at all.

I stopped talking to my boyfriend. I did not want to have sex with him either. And when I didn’t want to have sex with him he would just force himself on me and I would have to be okay with it. I couldn’t leave the house because I literally had no savings. There was so much tension that we would talk through the nanny or through the baby. “Ambia daddy.” “Ambia mommy.”

When he got home anywhere from 11pm to 3am, he would still want me to wake up and cook. He had started a kinyozi in Mukuru kwa Rueben and he would come home drunk with the excuse that he was hustling for us. “I’m not formally employed so I have to hustle till late.” I started resenting him, building up anger internally because I was afraid of confronting him.

There’s a time he came home around 11:30 pm while drunk. I usually had to go down the stairs to open the gate for him. He had refused to get a key for the gate, saying that it was my wifely duty to open the gate for him. After we got into the house, he told me he wanted food.

I grew up in an environment where if my dad came home late my mom wouldn’t bother. She would wake up every now and again out of her own volition to fix him a meal but it was generally up to my dad to sort himself if he came home after 9pm. I had told my boyfriend this and his nerves had frayed. “Ni kwa sababu mama yako ni mkamba. Kwa wakisii we don’t do that.”

This night I told him I had a headache and I wasn’t going to be able to make him food but there was left over food that he could warm up and eat. He silently went to the kitchen, warmed his food, ate and came to bed, and I thought I had won and that I should start standing up for myself more.

I did that the next night. He came late and demanded food and I told him to warm it up himself. He quietly warmed it, ate and came to bed. He asked for sex and I said no, and he kept quiet and slept.

I kept doing it for about two weeks. I started thinking I was winning this battle. I didn’t know that he was talking to his auntie. I came to know much later that he was talking to her and telling her I was a bad woman who didn’t want to cook and wash his clothes and he had to do those things himself.

I decided I did not want to be in the relationship anymore; there was no way I was going to be yoked onto him forever with a second baby so I made up my mind to get rid of my pregnancy the same way I had done in our hostel days with Cytotec Misoprostol. I knew this quack doctor on RiverRoad who was willing to give me the pills but he wanted five thousand bob for them. I called up a friend and asked for a loan. After getting the pills I suddenly became unsure and I put them away not knowing they would come back to haunt me later.

It all came undone one morning around 10am. The nanny had gone to the rooftop. The baby had woken up. Immediately he woke up he usually told me, “Mom nataka beebix.” And I would sit him on his little plastic seat, put on some cartoon for him and feed him Weetabix.

My boyfriend woke up at around 9:30 am, went to the bathroom, showered and went to the bedroom. He always wanted me to lay out the clothes he was going to wear for the day, clean and ironed. With the power that came with standing up for myself, I had neglected that duty too. I mean what was he going to do about it besides be quiet?

He came back to the living room and asked, “Mama Ed, why are my clothes not laid out?” I remained silent. “I’m talking to you. Mbona unaninyamazia? Ni nini mbaya na wewe?”

He went back to our bedroom and I thought I had won the battle again. He put on his dirty boxers, shorts and a t-shirt, came back to the living room and locked the door. I was following him from the corner of my eye the whole time and when he locked the door with a padlock I realized, “Oh shit, I’m in trouble. Fuck! Why didn’t I just do what this guy was telling me? Why did I push him?”

He put the key in his pocket came to where I was sitting, took me by my foot and dragged me from the living room to our bedroom. He locked the door to the bedroom and put the key in his pocket. “Sasa leo you’re going to understand that you’re not the man in this house. You’re going to know that not talking to me, answering me back and denying me sex will cost you.”

He had found the Cytotec pills and thought that I had already aborted. He unplugged the extension cord that was in the bedroom, wrapped the cable around the outlet and started bringing it down on me. He hit me with it till it broke. He then cut it and started using the cable to hit me. He lifted me and threw me against the wall and then started kicking and punching me wherever his foot or fist would reach. It didn’t matter if it was my face, stomach or legs. If he wasn’t kicking or punching me, it was the cable he was holding. I have never been so scared for my life the way I was that day.

He started concentrating on kicking my stomach. “Do you know that I’m pregnant? You’re hurting the baby,” I cried. “So finally you decide to tell me that you’re pregnant, eh? Do you think I don’t know you’ve already bought pills and had the abortion? You’re just going to kill my baby and not tell me about it. You’re a witch. You’re a very stupid woman. You won’t kill me like you’ve killed my baby.”

He took the cable, wrapped it around my neck and started choking me. He choked me till my eyes bulged out of my head and I started feeling dizzy before letting go, and then did it again. “Scream as much as you want. Do you think anyone is coming here to help you? You’re going to die here and no one is going to do shit about it. I’m going to take my baby and move to another country. No one is going to give a shit about you. I will leave you in this house and you will rot.”

He went and got his belt and he used it to choke me to the point where I was passing out and then he would let go. “You see what you’ve made me do,” he kept telling me. “Do what I tell you. You want to give me stress till I die. I am too young to die so I’m going to show you I’m the man in this house and you’re not the boss of me, okay?”

The baby realized something was wrong and he came to the bedroom door knocking. “Mama, mama.” My boyfriend stopped beating me, opened the door and let the baby in. Immediately my son saw me crying he started crying too. “You want to be a sissy now. So you’re going to be crying because your mom is crying? I am going to teach you to be a man. You can’t be crying, crying like that like your stupid mother here.”

When the baby came in, my boyfriend had taken off his shorts and placed them on the side of the bed. He was getting dressed to leave the house. He went to the bathroom so I took the keys, unlocked the door and ran to a field somewhere and sat there and cried. That’s when my stomach started hurting and I realized the baby was hurt. I sat there for about two hours and then headed back, telling myself, “By now he should have left the house.” When I got there, the gate was locked and I had to wait for a neighbor to open it. The house was locked too.

I went to the shop downstairs and told the woman there that I locked my phone together with my keys inside my house and could she help me with her phone so I could call for help? I called my dad. I didn’t tell him I had just been beaten, I told him we had an argument and he’d locked the door and taken the baby and I didn’t know where they were. He tried to call him, my mom tried to call him too but he wasn’t picking up his phone.

I called the caretaker and fed him the same story of locking my keys inside and he came back with a padlock cutter. It was now three in the afternoon. A friend of my boyfriend came and found me outside the house trying to open the door. He asked and I told him that I left my keys inside. “And where is your boyfriend?” “I don’t know where he is.” My plan was to open the door, get my phone, try to find out where my baby was and leave.

This friend of his called him and told him. “Nimeona mama anatry kuvunja mlango, kwani ni nini inaendelea?” My boyfriend came back a few minutes after the call. “Niko na ufunguo. Tuko sawa,” he told the caretaker and opened the door.

We got into the house. The whole time he was not talking to me. “Kwani where did you take the baby?” “Si you ran and left the baby in the house? That is not your concern. Just know that the baby is safe.” Being scared for my life, I didn’t push him. I let it go. As long as the baby was fine I would be fine. Plus my dad had called the nanny and he’d talked to the baby.

I started feeling excruciating pain in my stomach on Tuesday around midnight, two days after he had beaten me up. There was so much pain I had to wake him up and tell him I thought I was dying. He rushed me to a nearby clinic. The doctor gave me morphine because I was in so much pain. I think this was the time the miscarriage was happening.

“Your wife was pregnant but she’s lost the baby,” the doctor told my boyfriend. He told us to get an ultrasound to see if the miscarriage happened in full or if I needed to get my womb cleaned. We did the ultrasound and the doctor told us to give it two weeks. After I was done bleeding, we would do another ultrasound to make sure it was completely clean.

After that he started to try and fish for information about what happened. I told him I did not take the Cytotec pills at all and he didn’t believe me. “I found those things in this house. Even if you didn’t take them it means you were thinking about getting rid of my child.”

I tried to be subservient even when I was in pain. He would get home and I would serve him. On Friday he came home drunk again. He didn’t demand anything. He came, got into bed and slept. The following morning he woke up and started questioning the pregnancy. “If it was mine why were you trying to get rid of it?” I stayed silent in an effort not to get him angry. Again he locked the door and put the key in his pocket. This time I knew my parents would find me in City Mortuary. I said my last prayers asked God for forgiveness and told him to take care of my son.

He took the plastic baby chair and started hitting me with it till it broke. He threw it away and started picking shoes from the floor and hitting me with them, “You’re being very fishy. You’re not really telling me the truth about what happened. You’re going to tell me the truth or I’m going to kill you. That kalittle job of yours, from today I do not ever want to see you going to town again. I want you to stay at home and take care of our son. Hawa watu unakutana nao huko town are putting ideas into your head. If you want money to go to the market, I’ll give you money. This stupid job of yours I never want to hear about it ever again.”

He had this tool in the house for design which resembled a drill. That they used for drilling walls. After raining blows on me, he took it and plugged it into the wall then told me to kneel down in front of him. The drill was spinning and spinning. I just felt my bladder let loose and urine trickled down my thigh and pooled on the floor.

He gave me a notebook and told me to write down five reasons why he should not kill me. “You’re going to tell me how you will be a better wife. You’re going to tell me how you will be a better mom. And starting today you’re going to be a housewife. You’re going to be staying in the house, I don’t ever want to hear that you went to town.” I can’t remember what I wrote down but they numbered to five.

“You’re going to swear upon this. Si you’re a lawyer? Swear upon this.” He showed me where to sign and where to leave space for a witness. If you go against what you have written just know that I’m going to kill you and I’m going to take the baby from you. Already I had not seen the baby in two weeks so I knew he was not bluffing.

After I signed the contract he told me to stretch out my leg. “Have you sworn that you’re not going to go to work ever again?” I nodded my head rapidly in between hiccups of yes. “Are you sure? Because I’m going to drill through your leg and you will never walk again in your life and I will take you to the hospital in the afternoon na ntasema ulianguka kwa stairs.”

“I swear I’m not going to work again,” I said, shaking. “I’m just going to be a good wife and a good mother.”

“I want you to be pregnant by next January. I don’t know how you’ll do it but I want you to be pregnant so you can stay in the house and take care of your kids.”

I swore and begged him to unplug the drill. He unplugged it and went and got his belt. And it was back to choking. I did not have any fight left in me. He choked me till I passed out. When I regained consciousness, he was towering above me still holding his belt. “Do you think you’ve had enough or do you want me to continue?”

“I have had enough,” I whimpered.

“I want you to wake up tomorrow morning, go to aunty’s place, show her this contract and tell her you’re going to be a good wife because I have been telling her what you have been doing to me. Go and tell her and make sure amesign hapa kwa witness.”

Even when he was beating me up and threatening me he was completely turned on. He was wearing his boxers and you could see his manhood pressed against them, almost tearing a hole through them. I think power was a fetish for him. The fact that he was holding my life in his hands turned him on to dizzying heights.

“You’ve been starving me for too long and I want sex now, okay?” he said. I told him I didn’t think I was in a position to have sex but he wasn’t listening. “You spread your legs, I don’t care what you’re feeling, and I don’t care what’s going on.” He took me and came in literally two minutes. After he was done, he told me to clean myself up, that my baby and the nanny were with his auntie and that I could go pick them up.

After he left I called my dad. “He’s told me where the baby is but I think I’m done with him.” I didn’t tell him my boyfriend had been beating me up because I thought it would make things worse. He had told me if I ever spoke to my dad about anything that was going on in our house he would kill me.

My dad asked how much money I had, I told him I had like 1500 in my M-pesa. I did not have anything in my M-pesa, I just told him that to soften the blow. He told me he would try and get me money so that the next morning I could get the baby, leave and go back home. “You don’t have to carry anything from that house; just leave.” The next day he sent me three thousand bob and my boyfriend left me two hundred bob, just enough to get me to his aunt’s place and back.

I called my best friend and told her how badly I had been beaten up by my boyfriend. My thighs were bloody. My eyes were swollen shut. I looked so bad I couldn’t even get out of the house without people asking questions. She told me she would talk to her mom, get her car and come and get me in the morning. All I needed to do was make sure my boyfriend was not around.

On Saturday I went to his aunt’s place while wearing my long sleeved blouse. My eyes were not as puffy. His aunty started questioning me. “Kwa nini unapatia mtoto wetu stress? Why don’t you want to be a good wife? Marriages ni kuvumiliana. You can’t be telling him you’re going to leave him every time you have an argument. Kupika tu ndio inakushinda?”

I took the baby and the nanny and called my friend. I only took three suitcases— mine, my son’s and the nanny’s—and carried the books that I really liked. Two Harry Potter and Steve Berry novels and that was it.

There is another friend of mine who lived in Kahawa. It happened that they had gone to visit their folks in Eldoret for the Christmas holidays. She told me I could take my suitcases there and stay for a while. She even told her brother to wait for me. The house had been locked because they hadn’t paid rent and they hadn’t even paid for electricity. We bribed the caretaker and he opened the door for us. I stayed at my friend’s house and the next day we went to Kisii. My boyfriend didn’t try to reach out. Not once.

2018

Around December 31st of 2017, I decided to come back to Nairobi. I did not have anything to do in the village so I left my son with the nanny and came back. I went back to the house in Kahawa. I woke up in the New Year on my own and I switched off my phone. My depression was ten times heavier. I felt so worthless. I felt I couldn’t go on. I had told my parents that I had come to finish my studies but I had come to finish myself.

At around three o’clock during the day, I got out of the house to take a walk. There was a chemist nearby. I went and told the chemist I had a really bad migraine and could he recommend a strong painkiller? He recommended a fifty-bob painkiller. I told him to give me painkillers worth five hundred bob. I went back to the house and locked myself in thinking this was my last day on earth.

I didn’t see the point of life anymore. The abortions and the miscarriage I had were making me feel like the worst person on earth. On top of that, the emotional and physical abuse and the fact that I had quit my job and I was broke, were making me feel miserable. How could I let my parents raise my son for me? They were retired, they should be relaxed, not troubled by my trivial affairs.

I switched on my phone when I got back to the house and found that no one had called me. I found it absurd that even when I was about to kill myself the world was moving on and no one cared that I was going through hell. I felt so alone. I went and got a glass of water and started contemplating the number of pills I needed to take to sleep forever.

I had ten pills and I decided they wouldn’t be enough. I had a bit of money, my dad had given me five thousand bob when I left home. I decided I would send my nanny three thousand then use the two thousand to go to two different chemists and get ten more. I sent my nanny the money and left the house. As I was walking my phone started ringing. It was the guy whose social media accounts I used to run. I wondered why he was disturbing me and ignored the call. He called again. I ignored. He called yet again and this time I picked up.

“Happy new year. Nimekumiss, kwani uko wapi?” he said jubilantly.

“Niko tu Nairobi.”

“Si you come and see me in the morning? There is something I want to talk to you about.”

I didn’t go to the chemist after all. I decided to go and see him and hear what he had to say. Maybe he was giving me some cash. After all, he owed me some money. And I could use that money to cover the nanny’s salary for about six months or so and my parents wouldn’t have to struggle as much.

The next morning I went to see him. He told me the guy who was working for him had quit and he was thinking that since I had a kid, I could use the job. I thought this was the thing I needed to hold on to. Like that saving grace. I kept feeling that there was something in the universe that must have been working. There was no way this guy called me out of the blue and someone quit their job just when I was at my lowest point. I felt yeah, maybe I was still needed on this earth for something.

I stayed with my friend in Kahawa. I didn’t tell my dad to loan me any money; it was enough that I had left the baby with them. I worked for the guy for that month and scraped together fifteen thousand bob. My friend helped me get a small bedsitter for six thousand and gave me a mattress, a blanket, one sheet and a pillow. Her place was walking distance from mine. After work, I would go back to her place, have a meal and then walk back to my place.

My house was depressing. It was on the ground floor and it smelled musty. There was mold growing on the walls. When it rained, water seeped in through the door. This one night it rained so heavily that the house flooded to the point where my carpet and mattress were soaking. I took two suitcases, joined them together, placed clothes on top, and slept.

My boyfriend contacted me six months into 2018, on my birthday. Through another one of his aunties who lived in Utawala. “Happy birthday. Unajua nimekumbuka ni birthday yako because my son’s birthday also falls on the same date. Si you come I take you out tomorrow.” The next day was Saturday so I obliged her. It wasn’t in my head that the same intervention that had happened before would happen again.

After staying in her house for a bit, we headed to this hotel in Utawala where she said she would buy me a glass of wine and I would tell her what has been happening in my life after I left their child. I told her how much he abused me and she started crying. “He’s coming here to see you; I’m sorry it was his idea.” I was in denial and I told her I had healed and it was okay.

“Mama Ed, you’re glowing. Kwani what have you been doing to yourself all this time we haven’t been together?” he said when he got to our table. “Si you just give me a hug.” He behaved as if nothing happened, as if it was my fault that we had not been talking all this time. His aunty excused herself. “Time imeenda sana wacha nikaangalie watoto. By the way, he’s driving now. Atakudrop tu home, don’t worry about it.” Since I had had like three glasses of wine, I went with it.

He apologized. “I’m really sorry about what happened last year but also there is something I want to ask you.” He went back to my miscarriage. I don’t think he will ever accept that he was the one who caused it. He has made himself believe that I took the pills.

Since he’s the father of my kid, I knew I would have to put up with him. Regardless of how I felt I knew I would have to be friendly and cordial towards him.

I went and got my son and the nanny around October. By this time my boyfriend had moved in with a different girl. He got into this habit of drunk dialing me every Friday evening. He would then come over to my house we would have sex and then he would go back to his house. I didn’t know how to end it. I still felt I needed to be friendly with him for our son’s sake and sometimes I was lonely so I thought, ‘Let me tolerate him and sweep every terrible thing he’s done under the rug.’

His girlfriend started calling. “Now you, you left this guy and you want to take him from me? Stop being a whore and let him move on with his life.”

When he picked our kid for the weekend, the girlfriend would take photos of herself with my son and send them to me. “See how your son loves me, we’re going to get married and be a family.” And I would sit there bitter and think, ‘I’m just tolerating your boyfriend because I need him to start pulling his weight.’

He called me one drunken night in December of 2018. “You know I have been thinking a lot about you and I think I want you back in my life. Even that girl who used to text, text you, I have chased her out of my house and I want you to come back.”

“I will be so happy to come back,” I told him, not knowing where my head was.

When I went home for the December holidays, he told me not to come back to Nairobi with the baby because he needed us to sit down and talk. I was really excited. I had no idea why. When I got back he called me and took me out for coffee.

He told me he loved me but he was at a place in his life where he needed to be on his own. “I have thought about taking you back and I don’t want to do this because of the baby. I need space to grow on my own. If we’re meant to be we’re going to end up together and if we’re not, it’s okay we’ll just co-parent.” He was doing so well, I felt I needed to be a beneficiary of that. I was already building sand castles of going on holidays together. So when he finished his speech I was heartbroken. 

2019

I had been saving for some time. I moved out of the bedsitter towards the end of December 2018 to another bedsitter. The fact that we didn’t get back together, I feel, made me a better person. Since then my business has been thriving. I have gotten a lot of styling and video and photo shoot gigs. In April, I moved into a one-bedroom house and went all out and decked the whole house.

After I moved into my new house I went home and brought the baby back. My boyfriend used to call me every now and then so this time round when he called me I told him there was someone who wanted to talk to him and gave my son the phone. “Kwani the baby came? Where are you? I want to come and see him,” he said after he was done talking to our son. I gave him my address and he came immediately.

After seeing how well I‘m doing he now comes up with all sorts of antics to see me. The other day he told me he wanted to take me out for coffee because his life was in danger and since I’m a lawyer, I could tell him what to do. “People have been calling me and threatening my life,” he tells me without getting into details.

A day later he calls and says he didn’t want to tell me because his phone is bugged and can we meet again? This time he has a fresh story. “There is this woman I have been sleeping with and I didn’t know that she is married. Now her husband wants to kill me. I drove her car to Kisii to see our baby without knowing it was also bugged. Now the husband knows we have a kid and he’s coming for all of us, that’s why I’m so concerned. Even when I call you at night, it’s because I want to know if there is something fishy going on around you.”

When it’s not scare tactics, it’s drunk dialing. He calls me in the middle of the night to profess his love for me. “I love you so much that I can’t do this life without you. Our son needs us to be together.” Twice or thrice a month he comes to my house around 1am and honks his car horn till I open the gate and he starts crying, asking why I’m not taking him back when I know he’s going to give our son a better life. I let him sleep on the couch and after sometime he wakes up and comes into my bed and sleeps there till morning.

I told him I didn’t feel safe when he came around and he told me he was a changed man. That he had started going to church. “I will never raise my hand against a woman ever again,” he vows. We haven’t been intimate the whole of 2019 but some days I’m weak and I want to topple but then I remember the man he is and I snap out of it. Besides at the end of last year, his ex-girlfriend texted me to tell me he had beaten her like a dog and she was in the hospital.

PS: She has since told her parents. She’s in touch with a therapist and she’s getting professional help. Read the update here. Adieu!

image credit: philipp sewing

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