An Unlikely Bonus
The large, imposing, black metal gate was a statement of intimidation, quietly daring intrusion.
A Kei Apple fence grew protectively around the property beyond, screening it from winds, dust and stray beings.
Facing the gate was a town car, whose engine hummed inaudibly under the warm bonnet. The two occupants in it were clearly visible through the windshield, while the side windows were tinted.
The driver came out and took deliberate steps to the gate, eased the metal flap covering the peephole, then put his hand through, to feel the latch, easing it from the hold with some force.
For its size, the gate swung inwards easily, to reveal a moderately well maintained lawn on which grazed two immaculate Friesian cows beside an even gravel driveway leading to the ageing tile roofed bungalow fifty meters on.
He drove in and parked to one side of the large house.
After some bargaining with his nervous companion, an litany of assurances and some cajoling, Martin led Wendo gingerly to the front door of his father’s house, pushed it open without knocking and went in. His mother was seated facing the television set watching a popular opera show.
On seeing her son, she jumped off her seat with an agility that defied her swiftly approaching mid-life.
'No, no, now you don’t do this to your mother', she wailed in mock protest, stretching a well toned arm to greet the visitor.
‘This is our mother, Wendo', Martin said in introduction.
The elder woman sized Wendo up then said, 'why, such a beautiful name! Now, don’t tell me your first name is Love, I just might kiss you, is it?’
‘It is Madam', Wendo said shyly.
‘Come now, daughter, sit as I make you a cup of something', the matriarch said comfortingly, pointing tenderly to a seat further inside the large living room.
She sat delicately, admiring the framed family photos hanging on the wall, and felt the comfort of the carpet underfoot as the turf soothed her tender, sweaty feet.
She liked Martin’s home already, and wondered at how the people captured in the photos might turn out to be.
Presently, Martin’s mother interrupted her musings with an invitation.
'Have some coffee now', she said sweetly, placing a tea tray on a stool by Wendy.
Martin had gone out to sit with his father in the backyard, and came in an hour too late, to find Wendo clipping his mother’s toenails.
'Your tea went cold, waiting for you', his mother said when she saw him.
Martin picked his cup and went into the kitchen. He didn’t need tea, he was hungry. Rummaging in the fridge brought out frozen stew, just what he needed.
‘You daren’t eat my food while you brought me nothing', his mother shouted, teasingly.
'Is there some rice?’ Martin shouted back. ‘We last ate rice on your previous visit, son, there might be some left over since'. She teased.
As the stew thawed over a low fire, Martin took out the rice. His mother loved rice, she could live on it and a glass of lemon juice. It smoothed her wrinkles, she said.
As the sun killed all shadow, the threesome left the house to join Martin’s father on the lawn.
Martin wiped a park bench and sat, inviting Wendo to join him, while his mother sat in a simple chair next to his father.
'Where did you fish this crook', Martin’s father asked Wendo in greetings.
‘He looks like a good man, we met at a workshop for business strategy', Wendo said unflinchingly.
‘Ah, that’s interesting, so he does some honest work, after all?’ he said. It was an afternoon of easy chat, exchanges and beautiful stories. It turned out that Martin’s father, like her own, was a masterful story teller, it probably ran in their generation.
As the afternoon wore and the sun lost vigour, Martin begged to leave amid vehement protests from his mother. He promised a longer visit the next weekend and took Wendo’s hand to help her up.
His mother rose and escorted them to the car where he handed her the goodies he had brought her while Wendo gifted her a new shawl and a scarf.
‘You are a bad boy,' the mother complained.
‘See what my daughter brought me, what did you bring your dad? He’ll be envious!’
'Next weekend is his turn', Martin promised.
The sun burnt the horizon several shades of orange, towards yellow, and Wendo took the beauty of daybreak all in, standing at her bedroom window. She could never get enough of this scene on any cloudless morning. It was six.
The dawning of this beautiful day brought with it trepidation and cold feet. She marveled at the contrast.
It was the family meeting day at the Ikiugus, her future family.
Pushing her thoughts behind her, she picked her towel and went into the bathroom.
At seven she stood at her balcony, companioned by her musings and her fears.
Martin soon called, informing her that he was on his way to pick her up. She would be ready, she told him, trying to sound bored and unfazed.
Sitting at her dresser, she chose colourless lipstick and pulled her hair back severely, holding it in place with a simple clip. She wanted to look simple and unsophisticated.
Martin came in freshly shaven and she picked the scent of his quietly expensive eau as he held her face for a kiss.
‘You look smart in that jacket', Wendo said.
'Glad you noticed, thanks', Martin answered.
‘Janice’ jet will be taxiing in the hour, we need to pick her up', Martin explained. Janice was his kid sister who had flown out two years earlier on the American green card.
Instinctively, Wendo ran to the dresser mirror and gasped. ‘Goodness, Martin, I can’t possibly be seen at the airport looking like this!’
‘Why not, Wendo, what’s the matter?’
'I should have had my hair done, I had prepped myself for a country trip, dear'. Martin looked at Wendo bemusedly.
'We have at least an hour to spare, will that do any good?’ Martin said.
She held Martin’s necktie and tenderly stroked it while looking deep in his eyes.
‘Darling, you go on to the airport alone, arrange for me to go on home', she suggested.
Martin felt let down, he had wanted Janice to meet Wendo before the gossip did, it was all he could do to hide his disappointment.
Time was running out, so Martin took Wendo’s hand and led her to his car.
As it turned out, Muthii, Martin’s brother, was just then driving out from his residence the odd kilometre away and Martin got him to detour to pick Wendo.
Wendo had met Muthii twice before and she had liked him. He was much like Martin, but a little milder. Where Martin was rigid Muthii was rather more relaxed, worldly. She was happy at the prospect of riding with him in his car.
Wendo would be the first in-law to join the closely knit family and the parents were delighted at her presence. Martin’s father, a case study of introversion, left his cocoon long enough to walk his prospective daughter in law round the home, enquiring politely of her parents. He introduced to Wendo his rabbits, fowls, doves and goats.
In the backyard, they ‘ran’ into the patriarch’s sister, Flora, a dramatic, full bodied lively woman who embarrassed Wendo with her unhindered display and attention. There was song, clanking of pans, and, the aroma of fresh chapati and the enticing scent of simmering cloves in the air, teasing the taste buds. The party was starting. There were a lot more people in this makeshift kitchen than belied the serene front of the property.
Wendo chose to sit with some children who built castles and played with dolls as age dictated while their parents busied themselves making food for the occasion, within sight.
A particularly reserved child piqued her interest, a girl who sat alone with her doll. Her dress, she saw, was simple, unique, a piece of art one would not find at the emporium. Wendo sat beside this girl and introduced herself.
The girl spoke easily, confidently. She was Eunice, and went to a Montessori school in the neighbourhood. She was now learning to knit and make a brick house, she said. Wendo was flustered. The girl looked not a day older than eight years.
‘How old are you?’ Wendo asked sweetly.
‘Why do you ask? Who are you?’ the small girl confidently retorted.
‘Do you know Martin?’ Wendo asked the girl.
‘Uncle Martin?’ Eunice asked.
‘Ah, he’s your uncle? He’s my friend, that’s why I am here' Wendo explained.
'You are aunt ....?’ Eunice trailed off.
‘You may call me Wendo'.
'Wendall? Not Wendy?’ the girl quipped, sounding intrigued.
‘W-e-n-d-o’, she spelt.
Eunice laughed. She had tiny teeth, gram sized, a dimple on either cheek, and very dark hair that contrasted her lighter skin.
She put out her delicate hand and held Wendo’s arm. She rubbed it affectionately.
‘Where is mum?’ she asked delicately, in a conspiratorial tone.
Wendo was caught off guard by the question. She looked into the girls eyes and thought quickly. She couldn’t let the hope she saw in those innocent eyes down, now, she thought.
'Come, let us go find out', Wendo said confidently, as she rose, helping the small girl up.
Eunice led the way, and as they approached the back door of the main house she broke into a run. It was not a beautiful run, Wendo noticed, more like a waddle. A woman in a flowing dress stood in the doorway and now bent low to receive the running girl, hoisting her to her bosom. The girl pinched her mommy playfully and pointed at Wendo.
'Uncle Martin’s friend', she whispered.
Wendo could not run, could not hide. She stepped forward and warmly offered a hand to her new sister.
'I am Waruchu', the mother said, pronouncing her name easily in the proper diction, pulling at the 'rūū' sound perfectly. ‘This is my daughter, Eunice, named after her grandmother, I love her to bits', added Waruchu pecking her daughter on the cheek.
The guests now streamed in, and the tent was nearing capacity. It would not be a private family affair. The idea of 'by invite only' was unheard of on these ridges. Everyone was family to some degree, because the person you shared a fence with was often your brother, your step brother, your father’s cousin, homestead after homestead, covering half the village.
Word had gone round, as happens often, that the Ikiugus had a new family member, and just as easily said, Wendo was a hot number, sought by aunts, cousins and the full assembly of uncles having a go at succulent , well done roast goat ribs to the one side of the large tent.
Martin’s mother personally fetched Wendo and pulled her away from Waruchu just as the two warmed to each other.
‘Now, be a good girl, Wendo’, she whispered conspiratorially as she led Wendo through the back door into the crowded main house and on to her master bedroom.
She drew a colourful wraparound from her closet and tried it round Wendo's slim waist.
‘Don’t you ever eat, girl?’ she asked, stepping back, her tone worried, the wrap unbecoming on the famished waist. The elder woman rummaged through her closet again and brought out another piece.
'I last wore this before I birthed Martin', she said, 'I was reed thin, just as you are now, I remember'.
Wendo picked up the antiquated piece and delightedly put it round her waist.
'Perfect!’ The matriarch gave the thumbs up, surprising Wendo.
‘ The women out there will hardly let you breathe when they start with the questions, I can’t let that happen to my daughter', she said breathlessly. ‘ Stay here, feel comfortable, switch on the telly, sleep if you want, anything, call me if you need anything, but I will only be fifteen minutes', and with those words, she went out.
Wendo found her confinement strange, yet she did not feel moved enough to protest. She didn’t know any of the people outside, Martin’s mother did. She felt a longing to be near Martin and went to the window to catch any view at all of the outside.
She felt a hand on her shoulder and nearly screamed, she had not heard any movement.
‘Wendo, you are my daughter, I don’t wish that you hear strange stories from any mouth, I have come to tell you something important'. The matriarch said grimly, as she sat at her antiquated sewing machine.
Wendo felt an urgency to be attentive.
'You already met Waruchu, right?’
'Yes, mum', Wendo said, 'and her beautiful daughter too'.
‘I have two daughters, and two sons. You already know my sons. You will be meeting the other of my daughters today. She lives and works in Australia. She’s the baby, Janice'.
‘I had given up on having children of my own, until hormone therapy became available, so I had adopted Waruchu from an orphanage’, Martin’s mother spoke breathlessly, like she was in a hurry to let the words out before they harmed her.
‘Muthii was abandoned in church by his distraught teenage mother, so I took him in, we were overjoyed when he joined us, Waruchu now would have company.
'As fate would have it, I discovered on an off chance test that I was pregnant, just after Muthii joined us. Martin had been growing inside me undetected for three months! I was over the moon with joy.
'Nothing could contain me in those heady days before and after Martin’s birth.
‘That boy gave me no trouble, at all, my midwife was amazed too. Martin is the apple of my eye, he is special, that boy!
'I want to say you are lucky to have him, and I don’t say that because he’s my son. I would say the same if he was anyone else’s. He’s the kind of man I would be happy to have my daughter marry.
‘Waruchu too was a good child, so dutiful, so obedient, the dream child every parent wants. I dotted on her and gave her my heart.
‘The things we love most hurt us most. Waruchu got pregnant in her last year in high school, but hid the pregnancy fabulously. She spent her holidays at my sister’s to evade me and lied that there was a tutor nearby she needed help from to improve her grades.
‘Waruchu had never lied to me before, I had no reason to suspect her. I sent her third term school fees and asked my sister to escort her to school.
‘While writing her last paper, the headmistress called me urgently to school...’ Wendo had been listening intently, her head bowed. She looked up when Martin’s mother hesitated, to find tears welling up those beautifully sad eyes. Wendo panicked.
The matriarch broke down completely and wept uncontrollably. She was inconsolable. Wendo held the matriarch's shoulder and soothed her. She was worried and confused. Presently, there was a knock on the door.
‘Go tell whoever you are alone, that you are waiting for me here, don’t let anyone in, please', the matriarch beseeched.
Wendo rushed to the door to find a worried Martin.
‘We’ve been looking for you all over the place', Martin said, tagging at her wrist.
‘No, Martin, mother said I wait for her here, I can’t leave', she begged.
‘Where’s mum'? He asked.
‘She’s with a relative behind the house', she lied.
'Okay, don’t be too long, I need you to meet some people before they leave,’ he said and released her wrist with a kiss.
Mother had regained composure, and she continued.
‘I dropped the cup of tea I had held and drove the twelve odd kilometres like an ostrich off a burning forest.
‘At school, they had wrapped my girl in a bedsheet and had now converted her blanket into a stretcher. I was so mad, I was dumb. I didn’t say a word, I pointed at the car and opened the backseat door. They laid her there, barely breathing.
‘The school captain, a most sweet soul, offered to accompany me to the hospital. She jumped in and held Waruchu’s head on her lap. I could not wait for the headmistress' report, time was of the essence.
‘I could see blood on the bedsheet covering my baby through the rear view mirror. My nerves were steely at this time. A strange calmness, beyond shock or anger steered me.
'Barely inside the hospital doors, Waruchu went into labour. I knew it was labour, I was sure of it, much as I knew my daughter to be virgin.
‘ Luckily, there were no complications, she delivered in thirty minutes flat. I know because I timed my watch.
‘That was not all, though. The new mother was healthy, but the baby wasn’t. It had had no prenatal attention, only a dangerous dose of abortion pills that failed to kill it by some miracle. She was immediately evacuated to the nursery, while the mother lay comatose from exhaustion.
‘That child you saw is all of twelve years, but we all love her, she’s such a darling, as you saw. I love Waruchu with all my heart. Never let her know I told you this, and please love that baby with all you got, she’s my aorta, our family bonus!’
Wendo involuntarily pulled in a lungful of air then exhaled slowly. She at that very moment realised that she was irreversibly part of this family.