By Patrick Ngugi
I finally met Maggie Lisper Wamaitsa after a decade of romantic letter exchanges, during which I even proposed and she accepted, and I promised I’d give her a ring, when we eventually met.
Ours was love made in heaven and it is funny how relations shape you as you grow and live in oblivion of what lies ahead.
I was a young boy in Form Two, in one of the leading schools at the coast. She was two or three classes behind me, and a daughter of a politician in Western Kenya, and it was by sheer miracle would that we meet, as we were at the extreme end of the country. But destiny had already made this arrangement.
I had just entered puberty and wasn’t quite excited about the girls in the neighbourhood, who seemed too naïve for me. I yearned for excitement. I needed to spread my wings and expand my horizon. Every Sunday I would peruse the newspaper’s pen pal column, seeking for adventure.
Since there was no Facebook or WhatsApp those days, the pen pal column was one way – perhaps the only way – through which you could make new friends in far of places, unless you attended a boarding school. I enjoyed reading the pen pal column and even wrote to a few girls, sometimes getting response, and sometimes not, or getting those whom we didn’t rhyme and eventually stopped communication.
Then one day I thought of sending my own request in which I would describe the type of girl was looking for.
About a fortnight later, my request was published and I received a flood of letters to which I replied. However, one letter that impressed me was one from Maggie. Not only was it well crafted, but it was also humorous, and rich with details in all the four foolscaps that it came in; as compared to most of other girls who wrote a maximum of two foolscaps full of nothing really exciting.
A letter would take a whole week
I wrote back, answering line by line, and that way, I managed to equal the number of foolscaps she had written.
Since there was no internet or emails those days, a letter would take a whole week after you posted, for you to receive a reply – that is if the respondent replied and posted the letter the same day he or she received it.
The following week or so, I received response from most of the girls, while some did not write back at all. Again, Maggie’s reply impressed me and I felt that there was something special about this girl. She was brilliant as she was charming. She would send me photos once in a while.
Reading her letters would teleport me to another world altogether. Through her letters I would see the maize fields of Kitale, read about places with exotic names such as Hoeys Bridge – which later came to be known as Moi’s Bridge; Matunda, Cherengani, and even Bungoma and Kisumu would enchant my young mind.
Needless to say eventually all the other girls fell on the wayside as Maggie and I continued corresponding and becoming close and closer. Soon our letters became love letters as we confessed our love for each other. And Maggie was romantic as she would sometimes enclose flowers in her letters, spray perfume or powder. Of course the flowers would arrive shriveled and dried up, but the fragrance still remained.
She was poetic too; and at one time she wrote in the inside flap of the envelope some poetic line that I still remember to this day: “Sealed with a lick, ‘cos kiss wouldn’t stick.”
Ours was a world of make believe, with faith that one day we would not only meet but marry.
And so it happened, the appointed time for our meeting came a few years later after I had completed my High School and was in a Nairobi college pursuing an engineering course, while she had just completed her Form Four and was readying to go back to school for her higher secondary.
While visiting relatives one day she called me on the office line where I was working on an attachment.
We planned to meet a few days later, and as the day approached, scratched my brains over what type of gift I should get her. I settled for a small handbag, and spared some money for the meeting, and also the surprise I intended to give her.
I we met outside Hilton Hotel, which was, as it is now a major bus terminus. It was a joyous occasion and the moment our eyes met she screamed in ecstatically and threw herself all over me with a tight hug and kisses that made me blush in the early afternoon sun of Nairobi.
We then had a long look into each other’s eyes as Nairobian eyes wondered what was wrong with this couple of youngsters doing bad manners in the streets. You see in the early 80s it was a taboo hugging, or kissing in the streets unlike these days. After a romantic afternoon having coffee and walking around Nairobi hand in hand, I unleashed what was to be my surprise.
I took her to a gift shop and bought a couple of rings for both of us, as we had promised each other in the letters, I placed her ring on her finger as she placed on mine as the shopkeeper looked at us in amusement.
Eventually I noticed something wrong with her letters
What followed after that was a roller coaster of events. I graduated from college and got a job with an engineering firm in Nairobi, just around the same time she was completing her high schooling and joined The University. Our relationship flourished with letters and sometimes on phone, whenever we could land our hands on one since mobile phones had not discovered Kenya yet.
Eventually I noticed something wrong with her letters. They were no longer as sweet as they had been, and sometimes she would take too long to respond. At first I thought it must have been the pressure at college, and the culture shock of the city. How wrong I was.
A few days later she laid bare the whole mess, in a way that felt like she didn’t have the least care of how I would feel. She said something akin to the fact that ours had been just puppy love and really had no future. She said she had found a more promising boyfriend, and even gave me the name.
It was a popular radio DJ, whom I knew had hordes of following among the girls, and I knew she was wasting her time with him, and the fact that he was going to use her and dump her. This, I was not able to warn her because she never gave me the chance and she was too blinded with this new infatuation, forgetting our almost 10 year relationship.
To say I was devastated would be an understatement. I however recovered and gradually I found another beautiful girl, after a long but patient search, who I eventually tied the knot with, completely forgetting about Maggie, who had stopped communicating once he found the DJ.
To my surprise, she wrote to me after about two years and her letter spoke about the good old days with her, and how she had missed me. I asked about the DJ she left me for, and she responded that she did not stay long with him since he was a womanizer and bully … Would there be a chance for her in my heart, she had wondered.
I don’t remember how I answered that
I told her the truth, that despite I still loved her, I had gone on and was about to get married to the love of my life, so I said I was sorry. Of course she was disappointed, and blamed me for rushing and finding another woman instead of having waited for her. I don’t remember how I answered that, though I thought it was ridiculous.
We kept on communicating, now on phone once in a while and even meeting on coffee dates, but that is farthest we went.
Then she got a job after completing her university studies. She was employed as assistant personel officer at Majani Co-operative Institute, Kericho, and invited me to her wedding to a Nakuru doctor. I was not able to attend due to pressure of work but I sent my best wishes.
About two years down the line, the company I worked for posted me to Kisumu branch and I once I settled, I informed her about my new station. She congratulated me and sounded quite excited about it.
Once in a while we would speak on phone and she would tell me about the problems she was having in her marriage and was about to file for divorce. She also invited me to pass by and visit her in Kericho whenever I went to Nairobi to visit my family. I said I would pick a date and do so. However, it took a long time before I would visit and she continued pestering me about it for quite some time.
For about two years we had not communicated with Maggie, and I thought it was time I heeded the long standing invitation at the institution she worked in Kericho. It was going to be a pleasant surprise because I had not warned her of my impending visit.
I wondered whether she eventually got her divorce
It was a weekday and I knew I would not miss her since it was a working day. I had just taken a two week leave from my station in Kisumu, to tackle some personal business in Nairobi, and therefore I had decided it would not hurt to pass by, meet her and if she did not keep me, I would proceed to Nairobi on the same day.
As I drove towards Kericho that late morning, I mused of the fact that we had not communicated for almost two years, and remembered our youthful days when we could fall seek if we didn’t receive the other’s letter in a week.
I wondered whether she eventually got her divorce, and an idea crept in my mind of eventually consummating our childhood the relationship that had ended on the rocks.
This idea had always crossed my mind whenever she send that invitation, but I had always pushed it behind my mind. Since I living alone in Kisumu, it had not crossed my mind that I could have invited her to Kisumu instead.
Finally, here was that opportunity, to meet her and see how she would react in seeing me again, and how she would behave. Would she ask me to stay on, even if for a night, I wondered.
I drove into the compound of Majani Co-operative Institute as the gateman saluted me and I nodded, as he took the number plate of the vehicle and asked me to sign in my particulars which I did and was allowed in.
I parked in the institution’s large parking area and got out of the car, locked it and looked around. The Institute was a five storey building, surrounded with lush green lawn, and a hedge of various shades of green. It was really a tea college, I thought as I walked towards the administration block.
‘’Hi, I’d like to see Lisper.’’
At the large circular reception desk were three ladies, two were typing some data into their monstrous desk-tops as they chatted incessantly, while the other one, who was at the telephone exchange desk looked up and smiled at me.
The chatting women quieted a bit and looked at me, as if I had interrupted the flow of their gossip. Then they continued after sizing me up.
‘’Good morning Sir, what can I do for you?’’ she asked.
‘’Hi, I’d like to see Lisper.’’
She looked me over again and asked. ‘’Who?’’
‘’Lisper. Margaret Lisper Wamaitsa,’’ I said, giving the full name and I was sure she would know her, after all Lisper was their assistant human resources manager.
‘’You want to see Maggy Wamaitsa,’’ she asked in some confusing tone. I wondered what was wrong with her. She hesitated picked the phone, then replaced it and looked at me, ‘’who shall I say it is? ‘’
‘’Maurice. Maurice Gitema.’’
‘’Yes,’’ I said, starting to get angry.
How are you related to Maggie
‘’Excuse me,’’ she said and left her desk and went to the two women and whispered something I couldn’t hear. The two women stared at me as if I was a mad person dancing in my underwear. I was about to ask them what the matter was, when the elder of the two women left her computer and came to me. She suddenly looked nervous, and this confused me more as it made me curious.
‘’Hi,’’ I said.
‘’Where are you from?’’ she asked making almost ask her why I was being interrogated.
‘’I am from Kisumu, does it matter?’’
‘’I’m sorry to ask, but it does,’’ she said softly. ‘’How are you related to Maggie,’’ she said and I now started getting a mixture of anger and anxiety and more curiosity.
‘’We are old friends…’’
Then she leant over towards me spoke gently almost in a conspiratorial whisper and I had to move closer to her to listen.
‘’I am sorry; it appears that you are not aware that Maggie passed away two weeks ago. In fact we buried her over the weekend.’’
‘’What?’’ I almost screamed in shock.
‘’Yes sir… I am very sorry. But that is what happened,’’ she said.
‘’How… what killed her?’’ I asked.
‘’Sir, she was sick for about a year or so.’’
I was not interested in their talk
Gosh… I felt I could faint, and she noticed it, and went around the desk and held my hand, leading me to the visitor’s seat where I sat down to regain my composure.
I sat there for about 10 minutes, and then got up, and as started walking away and I could hear the women back at their gossiping. I was not interested in their talk, but as I went past the desk, I heard one of them say in a loud whisper.
‘’Si nasikia Maggie alikufa na ukimwi?’’
I almost shouted back asking her ‘’so what if she died from AIDS!’’ but I held back. There was no need.
Whatever she died of, she would always remain in a beautiful part of my life.
Rest in Peace M.L.W.