A 2 part short story on Love.
A young Kenyan musician fights for the love of his life against cultural prejudice.
On the weekend of the February 18th, four days after Valentines, to avoid being such a cliché, I decided to do something special for Benny. I was going to make the most of her afternoon window of freedom. I invited her home because the band had travelled out of town to Kitale for a wedding that I didn’t feel like being part of. I had no ulterior motives but she deserved a treat. I kept it simple. I prepared a mean chicken curry and vegetable rice, a green salad, got a decent bottle of sweet wine even though she did not drink and some Gelato ice cream.
I lived in a two bedroom apartment in Golden Elite estate. A series of apartment blocks where house maids chaperoned children following them around with bowls of food and gossiping with the watchmen in the parking lots below. My house was on the second floor and I had a small balcony that I had turned into a green space, stacked with small potted plants, mostly succulents because they did not need frequent watering. Benny had more to say about my green corner than the ice-cream. It was a pleasant surprise. The last ‘blonde’ I brought home complained about my plants attracting mosquitoes.
After cleaning out her plate, she began thanking me sincerely for making her feel special and then started sobbing. I do not handle tears too well and she was downloading some heavy stuff. I could not give her what she wanted even though I had no doubt that I liked her a great deal. To take her away, to help her break free from the bigotries of her culture, that she had been trying to escape all her life.
I was not as brave as she was. My mother used to say, women are the stronger sex because they are not afraid to love. I had contemplated eloping once, to take her far away from her male relatives but they would probably kill her first for honour and then subject me to some medieval torture technique. I may have been in love but I was not stupid.
That episode passed quickly and she regained her composure. Then we slumped into silence with the music playing on my laptop and the estate on goings below providing the background ambience. I tried to comfort her by squeezing her hand, my way of saying,
“It was going to be okay”.
We held hands for a long time before she initiated it by turning and kissing me intensely. She led me to the living room and undressed me. We made love on the couch with such passion and urgency and yet effortlessly like old lovers. This was not the kind sex I was used to. I know, I sound cheesy. This was a connection between two souls. After the longest time, we fell over each other in a sweaty mess.
Daylight was gone. We had lost track of time.
“I have to be out of here in 30 minutes”.
“Don’t ruin the moment, I am enjoying the afterglow”.
We laid there in stillness, Ayub Ogada’s charming “Kothbiro” vocals serenading my newfound love. This was heaven.
I had agreed to drop her off near her place as soon we recovered but as she lay her head on my chest, the relaxation swept over and we both fell into deep slumber.
She woke up with a start past midnight cursing like a Rongai tout and totally freaked out. 16 missed calls from family!
“Fuck! What have I done! Fuck! What have I done!”
“I have to go home now”.
It was close to 1 am. I pleaded with her to wait for the morning as I thought of a water-tight excuse.
I was unable to console her. She stayed awake waiting for the first sign of daylight. At 5.30 am she was out of my door like a genie out of a bottle.
I sat on the couch stumped.
Fuck! What had I done?
For the next two weeks, I did not hear from Benny. I went by the garment shop and she was not at work. Her phone was offline. Sameer did not return my calls. I got very nervous.
I finally got hold of Sameer at the club, three weeks later and he was not pleased to see me.
“Listen Odhis. You are a great guy but the best thing you can do is leave my sister alone”.
“They locked her up in a small room like an animal and beat her up in turns”.
“If you want to protect her, leave her alone. It is not your fault. She is just the wrong woman for you”.
I was helpless. I have never felt so emasculated as a man. I was pathetic. Unable to protect the one woman who touched my soul because I was afraid.
3 months went by but I could not move on. One Tuesday morning before 6, I got a message from Benny, “My Dhol brother, I miss you so much”. I sent off a series of desperate messages that went unanswered. The anxiety started getting to me. I was back to chain smoking and keeping to myself. I had to act.
That night I cried and cried. I cried over my impotency. I cried over my weakness but mostly I cried for Benny. How could I call myself a man and abandon the woman I loved because of fear.
Since the cat was already out of the bag, I made an appointment to meet her father. Honour was a code that resonated across cultures. I would do the honourable thing and step up.
On the day I arrived, I found their Nairobi West compound, packed with male relatives. I was let in through the small door on the huge gate and found a bunch of her cousins seated on plastic chairs in front of a one-car garage, seriously checking me out. No one said a word. Fortunately, Benny’s old man who wore a plain white shirt and khaki trousers was calm and soft-spoken. There was something professorial about him.
He invited me to the veranda of their two storey house and offered me properly brewed masala tea served with tea cups on saucers. We made small talk, talked about Nairobi traffic and corrupt politicians but it was very stiff. I cut to the chase, looked him in the eye and voiced my truth.
“I am very fond of your daughter” and listed a litany of positive character traits that I attributed to her grounded upbringing.
All he said was “Is that so!” and poured himself more tea and stirred the sugar gently for a very long time with the teaspoon hardly making a sound. After an intentional long pause, he leaned over,
“Kijana, you sound like a decent fellow and I know Luos are good people. I worked with them in Kisumu, honest people but….” he let the pause linger as he ran his finger lightly over my arm, “this colour”, and he shook his head in resignation, “my people would never allow”.
With that, he stood up. It was my cue to leave. I got up slowly like a lame dog and walked out to the harsh stares from the male cousins and I had laughter as the gate was bolted behind me. I had been thoroughly humiliated.
I would not see Benny for another 2 months. Reaching out to her would only cause more pain. The Gods did not favour this union. I had tried and failed.
Then out of the blue, one Friday evening, Benny suddenly shows up at my door, wearing a head veil, just as I was about to leave for a gig. We hugged for so long, tears flowing down our cheeks. I did not want to ever let her go. She had come bearing heavy news.
“They are sending me away, to an uncle in Canada. I got the visa.”
She would be leaving in about 2 weeks to do a degree in Actuarial Science. She tried to resist it but her family had told her in no uncertain terms, that she did not have a choice.
I was shattered. She had been beaten, abused, locked up and it was all my fault and now they were taking her way from me. There was nothing I could do to stop it.
The following week, at exactly 12.35 pm on a Friday, we were married at the AG’s offices. The witnesses were my band mates and true friends Sally and Kiptoo. We timed it to coincide with the Friday prayers, the Jumah prayers that all devout Muslims attend. I sent her father a courtesy message just as we entered Sheria house to exchange our vows and prayed that he would not get the message in time. Benny wore a simple blue dress with block heels that Sally bought for her. She looked serene. I wore a black suit with a blue tie for the first time in my life. She could not get over how sexy I looked.
After we were married, we went to lunch with Kiptoo, Sally and Joe at the Inter-Continental Hotel. The crew tried to keep us uplifted but despite our best efforts, it was obvious we were worried sick. I kept glancing over my shoulder, expecting her cousins to burst in and shoot up the place. Kiptoo drove us home as the best man and as soon as he left I bolted the door. We were legally husband and wife. Yikes!
Just after seven pm, I noticed commotion outside the apartment parking lot. A police saloon car and a Land-rover had arrived. Two other private cars were in tow. The armed cops, three men in Administration police uniform, led by a female office came up the narrow stairway and started banging my door furiously.
I refused to open up and demanded to know what they wanted. I deliberately walked out to the balcony to engage them there and create a scene that would attract my nosy neighbours each armed with a phone, recording video. I called Kiptoo and Joe for back up in case I needed a witness testimony. I knew that the police hated publicity and the strategy worked. The female officer changed tact and started to speak to me respectfully. I eventually conceded and opened the door apprehensively with my hands half raised. Don’t shoot.
The police woman kept an even tone and told me that they had an order for my arrest. There was no warrant. Just orders from above that they had to suffer the inconvenience of having to carry out.
My crime she said, “You have done something very wrong by kidnapping mtoto ya muhindi”.
I smiled reassured and showed her the marriage certificate. Benny was 22 and she was now legally my wife. She examined the certificate for a long time and then insisted that it was a small misunderstanding that could be cleared at the police station. She pleaded for my reason, basically asking me to play along.
“Mkubwa akitoa amri, yetu ni kufuata tu”.
I was sure money had changed hands and I could either cooperate or do it the hard way. Kiptoo arrived in the nick of time and I told him to keep the door locked.
“Do not let them anywhere near my wife”.
As soon as I took a few steps from my door, the APs grabbed me roughly by the seat of my pants and I was bundled into the back of the Land Rover followed by a series of kicks to my body. I stayed in that uncomfortable crouch position all the way to the Pangani police station where I was booked into as a kidnap suspect and thrown into a cold remand cell. I was laughed at with my marriage certificate. The nice police lady turned brute and told me to my face that I was a ‘mjinga”.
“How do we know it is not from River road. It could be fake?”
That was the longest night of my life.
The next morning, Kiptoo showed up with a rookie lawyer called Bosire and posted bail. He looked fresh out of law school with his youthful looks. Outside the police station with my temporary freedom back, I teared up when I found Joe and Sally waiting by the car. They were my true friends. They all said I looked spaced out.
I was to appear in court in 9 days. I could not go anywhere near my wife because I was now a kidnap suspect. Kiptoo reassured me that there was a silver lining in the pronouncement. Benny would have to appear in court, intact and they could not sneak her away to Canada.
They did not have a real charge that could stick but they would find one soon enough at this rate.
As we drove off, Joe who never gave unsolicited advice, may be out of concern, stepped out of line, “Odhis, If it is a muhindi woman you want, we can find you one. This one has too much drama.”
I gave him the look of death. He apologised profusely without my asking. What I had gone through was nothing compared to what Benish had had to endure to protect my honour.
On a Monday, I was taken to court to answer criminal charges. The courtroom was packed and our case was the fourth in the order of business. Kiptoo thought it wise to mention at this opportune moment, that my lawyer Bosire, was making only his second court appearance ever since he left the Kenya School Of Law. No wonder he looked very nervous in front of the judge. The presiding magistrate was a strict SDA adherent, brought in to clear a backlog of cases and she hated policemen who wasted her time with half-baked investigations.
The prosecutor was a sophisticated type in a pin stripped suit and a Cartier watch peeping from under his sleeve. He spoke with an air of arrogance talking of “the insurmountable psychological distress that I had caused Benny’s family”. I stood on the dock and watched in disbelief as he built a case for my conviction.
When it was Bosire’s turn to speak, he first fumbled over his paper work and the magistrate made a dig at his inexperience. He eventually got himself together and dismissed the prosecutor’s submission as a waste of breath and asked for the case to be dismissed on account of a valid marriage certificate that he produced.
The magistrate looked at the document intently and then turned to the prosecutor, “Where is this Benish girl?”
Summons were issued and the court went into recess as Benny who was not in court had to be brought in. We resumed in the proceedings in the afternoon and Benny took the witness stand. It was obvious to anyone looking at her that she had been assaulted. It was surreal standing across from her in this small courtroom as her husband. She was a brave woman.
The magistrate was very matter of fact and only asked her three simple questions.
How old are you?
Who is this man standing in the dock to you?
Who do you want to stay with, your husband or your family?
I want to go home to my husband.
The court room broke into applause. Both Benny and I were in tears and it took the stern magistrate a few minutes to bring the court back to order.
The magistrate then read the family the riot act issuing a warning to the parents and a severe reprimand over their cultural prejudice.
“You should be very ashamed of yourselves”.
Then she tore into the police for wasting her time with a trumped up charge. It was beautiful watching that arrogant police woman’s whole frame cringe as she got a mouthful.
The case was dismissed. I could go home with my wife. We could be together.
But to her family. She was dead.
Marriage life was not happy ever after but we made it work. Three years later, after the birth our son Baraka, our blessing, we began to reconnect with Benish’s family, who fell in love with their mixed-race grandchild. Everyone loved Baraka.
Interestingly, about this time, I came to discover that Benish’s father had a long secret affair with an African woman. Her two uncles kept their African house helps as mistresses and one resulted in a daughter. Like hell!
It is funny, people can appear to stand worlds’ apart and separated as the land masses that define our continents but below the surface, we are connected by the same waters.
We are all one people separated by oceans of misunderstanding and inherited prejudice.
– The End –