By Cecy Gaitho
I watched helplessly as the heavy rain pounded on the back of my four children and I. This was the third time in a week that we were sleeping outside in the unforgiving cold. Here we were hounded together with no warm clothes on, as my husband enjoyed himself with his mistress inside our house.
This is the man whom I had supported since the day he came to Nairobi, with his clothes in a polythene bag. I had taught him to maneuver his way around Gikomba to eke a living until he was strong enough to stand on his own feet. The gods had been gracious on us; we eventually owned a lovely mansion in the outskirts of Ruiru. Sadly, the house that we had both struggled to build together no longer belonged to me. The curvaceous Jezebel was now the woman of my own house, my own sweat. Such was life.
My name is Monicah, my friends call me Nicah. Some of them call me Nicah, The Boss Lady. As a young girl, my father called me Moni. I was his favorite and only girl, having been born in a family of three boys. I grew up enjoying the finer things in life as my father worked with a local bank in the big city of Nairobi. Our home being close to Nairobi, and daddy always came home every evening, of course with candy for his baby girl.
One evening, he failed to come home as usual. I was twelve and that was the last time I ever heard of him. I was at the verge of teenage and occasionally, I saw my mother crying but she would immediately wipe her tears and pretend nothing was wrong. I was sure that dad was alive somewhere but I couldn’t understand why he chose to walk out of our lives. Ours was a happy family and occasionally, we would ride to Uhuru Park in his small car and have fun as a family.
Those were my favorite days because it meant eating out in one of Nairobi’s big hotels. Immediately dad walked out on us, my granny from dad’s side also stopped seeing us. It was not until I was nineteen that I learnt of daddy’s new family.
My mother was a house wife and when dad left, life changed drastically. Food became scarce and the outings came to an end. My elder brothers were in boarding high schools and they had to transfer to a nearby day school that my mother could afford. My elder brother, Hemed was always holding some hushed talks with mama. When he dropped out of school in his final year to help mama take care of us, I was devastated. He was a bright boy and the whole family had high hopes of him becoming an engineer someday.
Life was giving us blow after blow and there was nothing we could do. My mother started leaving the house early and returned late into the night. Three months later, she became an alcoholic and our needs were no longer her priority. Just at 16 years, I too dropped out of school like all my brothers before me. She said I was big enough to fend for myself and chased me out of her house.
“Go to Nairobi and sell your body, you are beautiful enough to attract many men!” She yelled at me as she threw my clothes outside our home. There is no way I was going to spend my entire life in prostitution. I was determined to become an air hostess no matter what. I was in full bloom of my teenage years and here I was having my mother. Since she began her drinking habits, she would bring different men to our home which made me hate her the more.
All my elder brothers had fled from home, never to come back. Here I was, with just my clothes and nowhere to go. I hardly visited any of our relatives so I did not know where to go.
That night, I slept outside our house only for mama to find me perched at a corner on the perimeter wall of our home. The beating that I received still throbs so many years later. I remember how I walked all the way from our home in Kikuyu and landed in Nairobi’s Gikomba area where I was to spend the next thirteen years toiling so hard to better my life. It is here that I met Pascal my husband-turned-biggest-nightmare-of-my-life. As we continued to reel in the July cold and rain, I cursed the day I met him.
My biggest miracle happened on the day I landed to Gikomba. I had met a kind lady, Mama Msechu, who had taken me in his house in Huruma. It was a small shanty where I had to squeeze myself besides her two teenage boys. After narrating my story, she was willing to show me the tricks of mtumba clothes business. At first, I was her assistant. With time, I had learnt the tricks of whistling and calling on customers.
“Yote mia bei ya jioni!”
“Camera tops siste njoo ung’are!”
“Mia mia bei customer!”
My good looks soon became widespread and men would come flocking our business area. Business was doing well and Mama Msechu was really pleased with me. After a good day’s sales, she would give me five hundred shillings, which I diligently saved. She didn’t want me to spend my money on our food as she told me my services at her business were enough. Bless her soul.
Three years had passed by since I first came to Gikomba. I was nineteen, a beautiful woman that men could not resist. A year earlier, I had left Mama Msechu’s house and now had my own clothes store. My rescuer and business partner had offered me her blessing and wished me all luck. And true to her words, I had quickly flourished in business.
It was time to go back home and check on my mother. Imagine my sadness when I found a new family in the house that my father had built for us, the only place I had called home as a child. I introduced myself as mama Hemed’s daughter and the look I received sent chills all over my body.
“You mean that drunk, mad woman who carelessly walks around town almost naked?” The fat woman who met me on the doorstep enquired with a sneer.
“That woman sold me this house at just ten thousand shillings, he he he he.”
Tears threatened to pour down my face but I had to be strong and show no emotions. I could not believe that our four-bed roomed house with a perimeter wall could be sold at such a cheap price. All mama cared for now was money to buy chang’aa. I needed to know where she was staying.
“She sleeps anywhere in town. You can hardly miss her at Wa Jose’s chang’aa den!” She replied with a dismissive voice.
At that instant, all the hate I had for her melted into pity. I needed to save my mother. After all, she was the only woman I was going to have as a mother.
The commotion inside Wa Jose’s sent chills all over my body.
“Hey Prisi, let her be. You are going to kill the poor woman!” One spectator shouted.
“Let the two bulls fight. Relax and enjoy the free show!” A second spectator replied.
I couldn’t believe seeing my mother lying in a bloody pool and a giant of a woman raining heavy blows all over her body. She was no longer the woman I knew. She was dirty and looked like a bag of bones.
At that instant, I jumped forward and faced the Goliath of a woman. She was not going to beat mama in my presence. With all the strength of my nineteen years, I pulled her away, to the chagrin of most of the spectators. For Christ’s sake this was my mother no matter the situation she was in. The stench emanating from her body was suffocating, a mixture of body odour and the chang’aa she had been drinking.
When our eyes locked, I read shame, guilt and regret in her eyes. She looked away when she recognized me. I bent down to where she lay and embraced her with all the love, oblivious of the stench and our past differences.
“Moni, forgive me for failing to be a good mother.” She said in a voice that was almost a whisper.
She was bleeding so much and I had to seek help to get her out of this messy place.
“Find it in your heart to forgive me, lead a better life than I did and be a mirror to the lives of your children.” With those words, my mother died peacefully.
The funeral took place four days later at the public cemetery. On the funeral day, father appeared holding his new family. I was too heartbroken to question him and after the funeral, I fled back to Huruma. I had long since lost contacts with my brothers so they had not attended the funeral. Maybe they had nobody to notify them. That was the end of our family.
Back in Gikomba, business was doing very well and the sales were so high. I moved houses to a better place and life was indeed good. I had freedom and money but lacked a family. “When I finally settle down, I am going to have at least six kids whom I’ll love unconditionally.” I’d say to myself during those low moments when I longed to share my successes with close family.
On a chilly Tuesday morning, Pascal landed at the door of my stall. He was seeking any job that would sustain him as he was straight from the village. He was carrying his clothes in a polythene bag but did not have a place to sleep. All his savings had been used up in bus fare but he believed that if he got any job, he would save enough to rent a house within two weeks. His determination touched me and I offered him a job as my beba beba guy.
Pascal had graduated from a local university in his area two years earlier. Life had been tough with no job forthcoming and his whole family was counting on him. His first day at work was wonderful and in the evening I had offered to go with him to my house.
Anyway, my house had two spare bedrooms that I hardly used. I would give him one of the rooms, before he got his own house. True to his words, he had moved out of my house in two weeks’ time. When he came to Nairobi, he kept sending job application letters to various companies and seven months later, a call came through asking him to attend an interview for an accounts job. That is how Pascal left the mtumba life and joined the corporate world.
It happened so fast. Three months after his new job, we started going out and before long, I was expecting our first child. That is when we moved in together. Pascal had been a wonderful man. He pampered me with everything I needed. Life was bliss and to say we were happy is an understatement.
Within seven years of our marriage, we had thrived both in business and family wise too. We were parents to four kids. By this time, we had managed to build our own house and we had a good family car. What more could I ask God for than a perfect family that compensated the loss of my own parents and siblings?
“Millions of shillings lost in Gikomba fire.” That was the news headline the following morning that left my heart racing. My heavily invested business was among those that went up in smoke. That was among the lowest moment of my life. I could not imagine losing a business that had brought me so much fortune. I cried, cursed, and questioned God for all the ill-fate. My life had always taken a tragic twist every time a good thing happened.
Pascal stood by my side. He was God-sent and within no time I felt strong again. Pascal was insistent that I should turn the ill-luck chance as an opportunity to bond with our kids because I was always at work. This became the beginning of my nightmare with a husband turned beast.
He began coming home late and giving endless complaints. All our bank accounts were joint and I could not withdraw any amount without his consent. When I asked for anything, he would give me thorough slaps. I went down on my knees, praying for a marriage that was long dead. My mother’s final words kept ringing in my ears, “Be a good example to your children.” I was going to fight for them no matter what.
The occasional slaps graduated to thorough beatings. Sometimes he would beat me up for no reason. With no cash o my own, I was helpless and I was too ashamed to confide in Mama Msechu, the only mother figure I had in this world. Aren’t women told to persevere in marriages? The more I prayed, the worse he became.
The final blow came on this rainy night when he brought his mistress home, throwing me and our four kids outside. I had nowhere to go but endure the gnawing cold, hoping he’d call us back into the house. All my pleas went on deaf ears. By morning, I had decided that enough was enough and I was not going to force this marriage to work. My self-esteem was reduced to zero, I felt that I had terribly failed my children. I needed to make amends and live again for their sake.
On a bright morning, I began my journey to live again with the help of Mama Msechu. If I had to overcome my shame and face her, she had helped me once and she was going to help me once again.
From a home owner, I had been reduced to zero but I was willing to work again. Three years later, I had rebuilt a greater empire, by far bigger than my previous Gikomba business. I am now a proud owner of several businesses within the CBD. My children attend the best schools in Nairobi. Friends call me Nicah, the boss lady. I chose to walk out of an abusive marriage because I realized my life and those of my children are far more worthy.
I wrote this story as a challenge to women in abusive marriages, who endure violence because they fear to be judged by society. Maybe if I stayed longer in my marriage, the man would have long killed me. This is a call to look beyond the closed doors that you keep knocking when it is clear they are not going to open. Look beyond that door and see the extent of your blessings. I hear Pascal has married more than three women in the seven years that we separated. God has been gracious to me and my children.