C/W: domestic abuse, miscarriage, alcohol abuse
The little I know about marriage I have seen from my mother’s failed experiments. She was a woman looking for love in a selfish and greedy world, and she got married three times and had nine miscarriages because either the baby was beaten out of her, or something was wrong with her womb, or the babies, my siblings, were too weak to make it.
To be free from all this pain, dear sister, to be free of womanly shame, you are free. At least dear brother, you retained your innocence, the world would have branded you toxic because of that thing between your legs. But that thing has been as hard to carry in the world as it was, apparently, when I first met James.
I don’t think my opinion is biased when I say that solitude is not the worst thing that can happen to you.
James met me when I was defending this point, arguing with Karen –a friend who worked at my favorite coffee shop. Our eyes linked as he walked past my shoulder, making both our heads turn. I couldn’t catch my smile in time. Turning my hesitant head back to Karen, I said, “I’m just saying, sometimes it’s good to catch some air. You can’t always use people as your emotional crutches as a way of handing your emotional issues. People leave, people die, nothing is guaranteed except the fact that when it comes to healing, it begins from you. Other people might help, but you are the one taking the actual steps on your way to where you need to go. It's better to do that when still single.”
By then, Karen was popping the bubblegum in her mouth at a rate that suggested she was getting irritated. She picked up the notepad from the table and placed her pen on the page as if to write something, but she never did. “And I think,” she begun, tilting her head to the side, “no one can survive alone. It’s stupid to think that you do not need other people. Humans are people persons…person people…people people…?” she asked, tilting her head to the other side and placing the pen between her teeth then brushing the idea off with her hand as if she was sweeping the air. “You need love and you need a good lay too. Flesh is better than silicone. Whatever else that ad tells you on TV is a lie.”
“What station advertises…”I began but was suddenly cut off by the voice of a man I then assumed to be very closely related to Idris Elba because if bees did not stop their work whenever they heard him speak, they were probably very ill. He apologized for interrupting and asked if he could join the conversation. Karen immediately turned around and walked away back to the counter. He dragged the chair opposite me and asked, “Can I seat?” while already seated, but I was feeling good you see. I was feeling good because I looked at that man and could not imagine for one minute what part of our conversation might have caught his interest like that.
The first words he said after that were, “I’m a feminist.” He went on to say that the problem with feminism was the feminists themselves because of how awfully they treated men. I told him that men treat women even worse and he said that it was not a competition of who treated who worse or better. I asked him what it was all about and he said, “Love for everything and everyone. That’s the key to everything. If we love someone enough, we will want to treat them well, not just fairly, but better than fairly. Very very well, because we love them. It’s like how hippies love the earth. It has to be a lifestyle, not just something someone says on twitter.”
I’ll tell you this, by the end of that night, all I could think about was this mysterious and highly opinionated man. I didn’t let him drop me home like he’d suggested because no matter how hazel his eyes, how beautifully drawn his smile was, how much longer his dreadlocks were than my afro, how for the love of me I had not been able to formulate another thought that did not begin or end with James, he was still a stranger. I took an uber, legs shaking, something -anxiety, joy- waking in me.
That whole week, I saw James every single day. He’d talk about democracy in Tunisia, the Egyptian uprising, Brexit in the UK, the black lives matter movement in the USA, Boko Haram in Nigeria, women’s rights movements, corruption scandals in Kenya, capitalism and about every other aspect a person vying for a political seat would go on about. He'd always leave me on the internet browsing news sites and listening to podcasts on revolutions that are shaping history. I always told him that his big head was big enough to make him president but his kind heart and ‘for the people spirit’ was the kind of character and strength needed by a president to lead a nation.
In just two months, I had agreed to marry him because what sane woman would not want a man who writes her a poem every single day? Sometimes it was just a line and other times it was pages on pages of what another person might call a rant, and me, a heart to heart by a manic hand. He was by far the single most interesting person I had ever met in my life and Karen’s people person by all means, but you want to know about the problems, right?
One year and eight months into the marriage. That’s what it took.
When I talk about my mother and her ex-boyfriends, I mean everyone from lawyers to drug addicts. I once saw her convince a middle-aged man to pay for her shopping worth $799. Honestly, that’s bank on bank for me. She had a charm on men, some might say too good a charm. But what did this ever do for us except leave us in the hands of preying men looking for a woman to cook and control. Once in love, it’s almost as if she forgot about me and my two sisters. She spent more time doing things for and with them than she did with us but for us, she would ensure we'd never sleep hungry or cold. Maybe that's all she was ever doing in the end and that's why she couldn't spend time with us often, but experiencing her emotional negligence made me come to one solid conclusion that I still take to heart today; I do not want to be stupefied by love. But when you’re in love, stupid is all you are.
I’d sworn I’d never let any man hit me. I’d rather cut that hand and serve time in jail. I’d sworn that if my man were to cheat on me, I’d leave him immediately without thinking twice about it. If a gun was ever pointed to my head, or a knife placed on my throat as a threat, I'd lay to rest the fight and walk out the next day. I’d tolerate no mistreatment because leaving was always an option. James never did any of these things to me. What he did instead was write my number on his chest with a marker pen whenever he went out drinking. I’d get calls at 3 a.m. from strangers telling me my husband was in a ditch by the road, or sleeping on construction sand, or threatening the security guards at the clubs he went to, breaking into farms and trying to bite their goats or fight with pigs. Sometimes I’d find James in a coma and I always thought he was dead. I didn’t want to leave him because I was really hoping that he would change.
Isn’t that, perhaps, why my mother stayed with those abusive men? Because of this hope for change? Apart from the monthly subscription to live in my country that I pay through taxes, another thing that came with adulthood was this understanding of a parent’s previous decisions in life. The more I grew, the more I could understand the factors that made my mother who she was, why she picked men like she did, why she stayed even when utensils started flying and why I was not going to take any of that from anyone, no matter how handsome the devil. Childhood was my free trial in life. The real world included poems recited from a garbage dump at five a.m. by a drunk revolutionist.
That second week of August, I tried the old-fashion way of talking with James as I had seen my mother try to do many times before. Even with the knowledge that this way might fail, I gave it a shot anyway. No sooner had I raised the topic that James grabbed his coat and walked out. He came home the same day a little past eleven but not as drunk as usual. I thought, Oh goodie! At least James is a sensible man. I didn’t even have to talk much. I warmed his food and sat with him all through as he ate. In bed, loved up his body like a woman should, in a sense, rewarding him for good behavior. That same night, he sneaked out of the house and went looking for a drink they call chang’aa that can make you go blind.
“Economic growth is not the supreme justice,” I found him saying while sprawled on browning banana peels, crumpled plastic papers, white thick liquid that looked like yoghurt and about a million other types of garbage. His eyes were half shut with his index finger pointing towards the sky. “It is our priorities that are wrong!" he shouted, shaking his head. "A world-wide culture is less likely to battle itself but capitalist schemes have us trapped. Do you know,” he begun as he turned his head to face me, “top 10% of adults hold 85% of the world’s total wealth, while only the bottom 90% hold the remaining 15%?” he paused waiting for an answer. His head was bobbing back and forth with his eyes going from fully shit to half shut. He finally lay his head on the ground and begun to cover himself in sand singing bury me now, oh motherland. Take me back now and swallow me inside the sand.
Africans were not permitted to drink ‘bottled' beer for the better part of a century when Kenya was a British colony because it was the preserve of their white masters. But this was more than sixty years ago so I never understood why James frequented those shoddy looking pubs to drown his guts in unhygienically produced chang’aa. If Tanzania and Uganda could respectively license the hygienic production of Konyagi and Waragi, which are equivalent to Kenya’s chang’aa, I hoped that someday, Kenya would follow suit before I lost James to this madness. Clearly, waiting for such a thing was stupid and his actions were getting even more stupid as time went by.
No talk worked, no threat, no therapy. August was by far the worst month of all because he went out every single day without fail. I could not come to terms with the fact that this was going to be my life for the next fifty or so years. At twenty seven, I’d rather be single and start over, but this man, I love him. I looked down at him and said, “James, you want to see a revolution? I’ll show you a bloody revolution!” I picked him up and we stumbled back to the car then drove to the house. I let him fall asleep then drove straight to the hospital.
Parked at the garage, I drew a deep breath in. I was fixing my lip-gloss in the mirror as my mother did whenever she was about to ask for a favor from a man, but I stopped mid-way. Why was James being like this? I asked myself, my heart clenching like a fist. By August, the daily poems were done except when he recited them while flat-out drunk as songs. He was still very affectionate in terms of checking up on my emotional and mental health so long as the conversation did not find its way to any alcoholism topic. I told him that his only love had become alcohol but he begged to differ jokingly saying, “I have space lots of space. I’m sure you two can squeeze yourselves in my heart and fit. Don’t be mean.”
I went back to glossing my lips and once done, all that was left to do was pray that my idea works. I walked towards the reception and asked for the direction to the morgue. I had a handkerchief in my hand and the nurse took one glance at it and pointed to the hallway on the left. After a talk with the mortuary attendant that barely lasted for ten minutes, we came to an agreement and I went back to my chang’aa James.
That night, James never came home at all. I waited by the phone with sweaty palms as my company, missing only the stars in my James’s eyes. No one called and I believed that he was truly dead, so much so that I even started crying and asking God to forgive my evil plan. However, in the morning, he walked right in, had a shower and a change of clothes and went to work. Before he left, he kissed my forehead, then my check, then my lips, then my neck and my cheek again repeating I love you, and all I could do was let the tears fall until my eyes were dry. We stayed cuddled by the door and before he left, we mad love by the wall. He kept apologizing saying that he was sorry but deep down, I knew I would find him in a ditch that same night. If God had brought him back to me, then maybe it was a sign that I should continue with my plans. I called the attendant to make sure I catch him on his shift and just like the previous day, I waited for a stranger to call me.
A little past one a.m., my phone rang and I rushed to collect my husband except this time, instead of taking him home, I took him to the morgue and left him there. Since he was passed out, it was easy for the mortuary attendant to take him in as a corpse without any suspicion. I handed him his fifty dollars and left James laid on one of the silver steel tables. His bare chest rose and descended slowly, and I stood there afraid that by laying on that cold table, he could somehow die. The attendant escorted me outside and told me that he’d call me later on and give me an update. I stood outside the door for a good thirty minutes afraid of leaving him there, but I also knew that this is something that had to be done because if it didn't work, I would file for divorce.
I’d negotiated with the mortuary attendant to strip my husband naked and lay him on the table together with the other dead bodies that had been brought in for the day waiting to be put in the mortuary refrigerator. After a couple of hours James woke up to find himself in the morgue. The attendant told me that his eyes shot wide open, so much so that he was unable to blink. He begged the attendant to let him out saying that all that was a simple misunderstanding but the attendant adamantly refused saying, “You corpses that come here to do witchcraft and disturb us should be taught as a separate unit at med school. Now lie down and remain dead.”
I could tell that the attendant would have done this for free with the excitement he was telling the story with. James pleaded with him insisting that there was no witchcraft and that he really did not want to be put inside the fridge but the attendant could hear none of it. He called for backup from two male nurses to ‘forcefully lock this demonic corpse inside the refrigerator’ and that’s when James went down on his knees. He apologized for ever touching a bottle of alcohol and swore that if he were to ever pass out from drinking even once, he would draw that fridge and shut himself inside by his own free will. The attendant called me to go pick him up and upon arriving, we sat with James in the cafeteria where we had a long conversation about alcoholism and how it can lead you to the morgue. Later on, this became a joke but back then, seated in that cafeteria, James held my hand and begun to apologize for all his actions. He swore to never touch a bottle of alcohol again He swore to never touch a bottle of alcohol again because he’d never been that close to death and it was chilling.
He begun, “You’re the only thing that gets me truly drunk. I know it was rough, thank you for not giving up. I love you so much. You should not have to share my heart like that.”
“I love you, I love you,” he said, and kept on repeating.
These days when he sees an alcohol advertisement, he switches off the TV and goes to bed. How’s that for a revolution? Marriage never worked for my mother. She died having been divorced thrice at forty two. Marriage will work for me and if it does not, I will not be afraid to walk out on him.