When I lived in Bungoma our askari Wafula would sit by the gate in his wicker chair every evening, tweed jacket wrapped around his shoulders, shiny pointed leather shoes tapping against the dusty ground, home-made bow and arrow by his side, and nose stuck in a book. He would rummage through my bookshelf every week for something new to read. But Hemmingway was his real love. He was the gentile type. Sophisticated. Perfectly groomed. A dreamer. Not the sort you really want protecting you from a gang of marauding thugs. But he loved to read, and I am a sucker for those who love books.
What I remember most about Wafula was this whiff of disillusionment he carried around with him. He was destined for greater things he believed. He wasn’t sure how at this point in his life, he was opening gates instead of having gates opened for him. He wore a veneer of disappointment. It showed in the smile that was too quick to form but never reached his eyes. In the sighs he didn’t bother to hide as he talked about his life. In the looks of irritation he would give his wife Nekesa.
Nekesa. The Bukusu lady who stole his heart, and with it the sort of life that befitted a man of his nature. She got pregnant. Again and again. There were kids to be fed. To be schooled. It was not enough. It was never enough. She never let him forget it. And so every now and then Wafula would come to me with notes; meticulously written business proposals. A Kaimati manufacturing business. A dog food re-distribution company. A boda-radio-installment endeavour. The businesses never lasted. I suspect it had something to do with his market research skills.
Nekesa would come by to clean the house every other day, and would leave her own notes for me. Poetic shopping lists.
Blessed was the day you were born.
Happy are the parents that gave birth to you.
Wondrous is this life that you lead.
Big is the smile that you wear.
Thankful am I that we met.
Good is God. All the time.
All the time. God is good.
Yours always and forever with great respect and love, Nekesa
P.S. We need a mobber
Nekesa felt a great responsibility to make sure I ended up with the right sort of man. She was very concerned that someone had put a love spell on me, and so one evening she dragged me to see the person who had first planted this seed in her mind. Her Pastor. He was very bling. Shiny gold watch. Three phones laid out on the table. Big studded cufflinks. We sat at the balcony of Bungoma Tourist Hotel sipping on warm Fanta as bodas clung their horns and the smell of jikos being lit wafted up.
The Pastor told me gravely that someone had been putting herbs and bones and all sorts of other indecent items under my chair at work, to trap me and make me fall in love with them against my will.
Nekesa nodded and looked at me with wide eyes, as if to say ‘See, I told you!’
I must not have looked convinced, because he quickly started telling me things to prove his psychic powers. Real deep stuff. The sorts of things that he was certain would convince anyone that he possessed an innate telepathic ability. Like the fact that I had a dog. And a sick grandparent. And a tree in my garden. Nekesa eyes got even bigger and she nudged me with her elbow, mouthing ‘See, I told you!’ He was very convincing. I began to get paranoid. Which of my colleagues had displayed suspiciously amorous intentions? What are the signs that a love-spell-putter-on-er exhibits?
What if it really was true? I would spend the rest of my life in hapless servitude to a man who had used a bone and herbs and other indecent items to hoodwink me into falling in love with him. Where is the romance in that!? What story would I tell our children about how their parents met? Well, Daddy took a shine to Mummy, so he heroically dug out some leaves from the Chief’s garden in Kabuchai, with great hardship purchased an owl leg bone off the black market at Webuye, went through all the trouble to break into her office one rainy night and lovingly placed these items of courtship under her chair…and then, just like that, our love came to life. Like all great love stories, the stars were aligned.
Then I remembered the photo I had shown Nekesa. Of my home. With my dog sitting under the tree in the garden.
Now of course to get rid of this love spell the pastor told me I had to….. hold your breath… part with a rather large sum of money to enable him to procure the items he needed to ward away this vicious entrapment. Unsurprisingly, I learned later that the Pastor had been helping Nekesa rekindle her romance with Wafula. And relieving her of hefty sums of money in exchange for this favour.
They weren’t so different, Nekesa and Wafula. Both held a void inside them, carved out from the disappointment they felt they had caused the other. They tried to fill it with money making schemes or money sucking scams. Looking for love in dreams of what could be.
Is there a greater loneliness than feeling alone next to the one you love?
I wonder if they realised that weren’t so different from so many couples out there. There was nothing special or peculiar about their relationship. Every night, thousands of women pretend to be asleep as their mind roams for ideas of how to bring back that look in his eyes. Every morning, thousands of men wake up thinking, what am I going to do that will finally please her?
In the end Wafula left Nekesa. Ran away with another woman.
Perhaps he tried to run away from disappointment. His and hers. Tried to save her from him. Tried to save himself from her. The thing is I don’t know if you can run away from these things. They hide in your shadow.
And you can’t run away from your shadow.