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Popularity. The feeling of being accepted as you are. The feeling of being beyond ordinary, admired, envied, loved. Popularity spelled Claire.

Claire was 29, happily married with two lovely daughters and a bakery business that had opened seven branches in the country. She was the official sweet tooth supplier for the white house, lived in the leafy suburbs of Karen and was the founder of the largest book club in the elite circle.

She had worked hard to get where she was, and her charm always opened doors for her when new prospects showed. Her husband, Mathew, was tall dark and no so bad on the eye. He was a doctor, a neurosurgeon to be precise and owned a very busy practice. He loved his work, and his family.

Her daughters, Olivia and Mia, were six and four respectively. They were both in ballet classes and seemed to have a bright future ahead of them. Olivia was more like her mum; proper, polite and sweet. She wanted to be an architect when she grew up. She enjoyed Lego bricks and had no time for dolls. Mia, on the other hand, reminded Claire of her brother. She was clumsy, loud and spoke her mind. Ballet was a bore for her, and she did not understand why she had to wear dresses for family functions. She would be the child climbing trees. chasing goats and being a mess wherever she went. But she was loved as she was, she was truly a beautiful mess.

Claire was on Facebook now. She had finally settled on the family photo to share with the world. They had recently taken a trip to Zanzibar as a family, and had used a private jet. There was a portrait of them all in front of the jet. The wind was so strong she had to hold her hat in place. But the surprised look on her face looked good on her. Mathew had a half-smile going on, which was good enough, and the girls were so excited they were caught jumping mid-air. This was the perfect little family. It would definitely have the girls talking, and quite jealous.

She eagerly typed a quote from Princess Diana, “Only do what your heart tells you” #familyrules #whenhedecidestospoilthefamily #myhusbandiscoolerthanyours #familyvacays

She smiled as she clicked on the post buttons and leaned back to wait for the likes. She had two hours to bum before she made her rounds at the bakeries.

She remembered when Mathew used to accompany her on her rounds. That was before daddy opened up a practice for him. Now, work took charge of his life. He came home around eleven, tired, hungry and sleepy. At times, he also came home drunk. He’d find Olivia and Mia asleep most of the time. The time they cherished for catching up was gone as they never had dinner together any more. They mainly had business like conversations. There’s an investment that needs his signature, they have an appearance at a party, there’s a fundraiser at home, bills that need be paid. She didn’t remember the last time he really looked at her, the last time he told her she looked beautiful without anyone around to hear his words.

She looked at her photo, which already had thirty likes and a few comments about how happy and blessed she was to have such a man in her life. She smiled, remembering the drama that ensued before he agreed to the trip. She had to talk to his PA to cancel his appointments. He yelled at her, saying she had cost him millions. She transferred some money to his account for the time he lost during the trip. She booked the plane, the hotel, planned the itinerary and paid for it all.

She was angry at him, for not stepping up. She was angry at herself, that she had allowed their dreams, ambitions and desire to be famous separate them. That they were okay acting out a role, rather than living their lives.

She remembered her dear friend, Aida, who had opened up about how miserable she was in her marriage. She spoke about his affair with her friends, the wastage of money, the emotional abuse and they all turned their backs on her. She got divorced, and got the family house. She got a hefty amount and was still getting maintenance fees each month. She was free but still had her life. But being a single mother, a divorcee did not sit well with the circle. Members agreed it best to have her off the book club. She was not invited to events any more, and what’s worst, her kids were not readmitted to school as the school culture did not believe in single parenting. She was shut off, while her husband moved on and got a new wife who was celebrated and embraced into the circle.

She sighed. That would never be her. She would not be rejected, ridiculed or laughed at. She had invested too much in this life to let go of it. It was who she was, it was what she knew to do. Mathew may not love her any more, but they were cordial enough with each other. He respected her, and she did him. Maybe somewhere along the line, they would fall in love again.

Maybe one day, the beautiful portrait she showed the world would become true.

Doors

She stood in the middle of two doors, two door wide open, with strong wind howling from both of them. She had to choose a door; the present or the past.

To her right was a new door, shiny and glossy. It looked firm, stable and energetic. Inside the door was sunshine, a meadow and a big willow tree. There was a picnic basket and two people in love, giggling without a worry in the world. She saw innocence in this door, happiness and a long happy life. In the horizon, she could also see rain clouds forming. A storm was coming and she feared for the two. They were far from any house, had no sweaters, no umbrella and nothing to protect them from the storm. She wondered when the rain begun, what the two would do. It was evident they only knew sunshine and that greatly worried her. She wanted to stretch out and protect them, warn them that a storm was coming and they had to hide, go home or find shelter. She wanted to tell them to be ready, to forget their innocence and sunshine, and realize they needed sweaters, warmth and each other.

As her hand stretched out, the door to her left howled out louder. Tears trickled down her face when she looked beyond the door. In this space, the storm had begun. There was a man seated by a window staring at the rain. He was old, he coughed and was in a gloomy room. She could see he held a photo in his hand of him and a girl, in their younger years. He seemed sad, alone and lonely. He wiped a tear from his face and kept looking out. Then a younger girl walked into the room with a cup of tea and noisy young boy. She observed  as the older man quickly wiped off a tear, put aside the photo and happily embraced the young boy as the young girl watched. They held hands as they all stood by the window and watched the rain from a far. They seemed happy, even after the storm. She wanted to be part of that world, part of that family.

As she stretched out, the other door started banging. The storm was about to begin and the couple needed her help.

The family was also calling out to her. Join us, they said, you belong with us.

The couple was calling out. You belong here, they said, you are us. You need to be here to become you.

As both doors called out to her, her head was spinning. Between the past and the present, which would she choose?

Both doors were part of her. Both played a huge role in turning her to who she was, who she was going to become.

Both doors were howling loudly now, the wind pushing her back and forth. Choose, choose they whispered.

Tears rolled down her face. She did not want to choose, she did not have to choose.

“Enough!” she shouted out loud. “I do not have to choose! I need you both in my life, I will not choose. I will live until you merge as one.”

As she said those words, she saw a window appear before her. Looking through, she saw the girl who was in the picnic and the girl who was with her father merge into one. She was happy. She was on a picnic with the young boy, the man and the old man.

She was calling out to her. She smiled as she opened the window and walked into this new world.

It was her world. She had made it just the way she wanted it. She made her own window that merged both worlds together, inevitably creating a new door, and a new world.

 

The Art of Fighting

Weddings are beautiful and glorious affairs. You have your family, close friends and the curious ones all gathered in one place to see you exchange vows with the love of your life and promise to try your best to make things work. At least that’s how I see the till death part. You vow not to give up on each other, to make things work and love each other always.

Well, life is not a fairy tale. You really can’t remain in love for the rest of your life, there will be breaks in between before you rediscover each other and fall in love a new. There are times you will hate each other, hurt each other and question why you ever got married. These feelings may spark off from basic things like habits; leaving clothes on the floor, snoring, house chores, friends who you want gone but stay, misunderstandings, infidelity, deaths and all other steps of life. We are all human, we change, our understanding evolves, and with time, you may find yourself married to a complete stranger if you don’t stick together through the change process.

Which brings me to my main topic; divorces. I hate them.

Divorces, to me, symbolize, giving up. Saying that nothing can be done to fix what has been broken. It symbolizes damaged and broken hearts who say they can live quite fine without the other person. Of course there are situations where divorce is the only way out but I worry for our current generation that is quick to toss things aside immediately things don’t work out.

It’s like once we stop having our way, we give up. If we are a bit uncomfortable, we give up. Yes, he cheated (which I don’t condone either way) and you let the whole world know what he did. You say you deserve better, which you honestly do, and we all sit there nodding and say that if we were you, we would’ve left a long time ago; that we don’t understand how you do it, that if we had half the grace you had, we would be way ahead in life. Then we will pray and tell you God is faithful, sip our tea and head to our perfect little homes.

But as we go home, we leave you with a doubt in mind. We have created the illusion that what you are going through is far much worse than what we endure. You now begin to question your whole marriage. You wonder how we live, and then the picture of the perfect little home begins nagging your mind. You wonder why your husband never opens the door for you like Jim does Charlotte, or why he never goes grocery shopping like Mary’s husband, or why he can’t watch the football game at home like June’s husband.

And he does the same. Starts comparing you the smartly dressed women his friends have married, the career woman, the grand chef Mike has for a wife, the home maker Tim has, the prayerful support system Mathew has, and of course the cool party animal Joe married, who knows how to balance all his life.

You begin looking for a perfect person forgetting that we are all flawed. You forget the good you saw in your spouse and you both end up feeling bitter in the relationship. She craves love, and he craves respect. Without one, the other won’t happen.

Soon the whispers begin. He has been spending too much time with his secretary, and you have been seen having too many coffee meetings with one male colleague. None of you want to confront the situation. If he’s doing it, I’ll do it too. If he doesn’t care, then i won’t waste my time.

Before you know it, you’re married to a stranger. You’ve become the couple who never sit together. The only conversations you have are about bills and family get-together. You don’t remember the last time he looked at you the way a man does a woman. You don’t remember the man who used to make you laugh and honestly, you both want to be happy. So you agree to call it quits and get a divorce.

Years pass by and you realize that life is the same. That the man you ended up with is still not perfect, and neither are you. That hardships are still coming your way, that change is inevitable. But you are wiser now. You, like the rest of your friends, now understand that marriage is work, secrecy and a lot of patience. You come to discover that Jim opens the doors but is a bum at home, that Mary’s husband goes grocery shopping but talks too much when drunk and that June’s husband always feels trapped watching the game at home but does it anyway as it makes June happy.

You realize we are all flawed and we will hurt each other over the years even when we try not to. That we have to try our level best to make things work. That sometimes, it is necessary to remind your partner that you are on the same team, that you are one, that the vows you took in front of everyone you care about mean something.

I take you to be my wedded wife/husband. To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish till death do us part. And hereto I pledge you my faithfulness.

Let’s all try to take these words a bit more seriously, and work towards achieving them. I’m sure we will all be happier and the world a better place.

The dark side of the moon.

 

Maryanne was furious. Her baby was crying, and the house adjacent to hers was booming their TV like they were in a concert. Her baby said that her mum had just slapped her and thrown her on the ground simply because she asked for the drumstick.

She took her leso and tied it around her waist and tightened her head wrap, she was ready for war.

With baby in hand, she stormed into the living room where Monica was seated comfortably with her feet on the table. She was watching one of Tyler Perry’s movies, again. Her two daughters were seated by her side still enjoying their dinner.

” Monica, we need to talk.” She said curtly. The woman maintained her position and attention to the screen as if no one had talked to her.

Furiously, Maryanne walked to the TV and disconnected it from the main socket. She could see Monica’s daughters stare at each other as if a fire had broken out.

Monica maintained her position but her eyes moved towards Maryanne. She smiled. ” I’m sure whatever you have to say can wait till we finish the movie, it’s very impolite to interrupt family time.”

” What’s the big idea beating up my son simply because he asked for a drumstick?”

“Well, it’s a good thing you brought him along as I’m sure he only told you one side of the story. Chichi,” Monica called facing her daughter, “can you tell your mother what happened.”

“Dan wanted another piece of chicken mum. He had already eaten two breasts and a gizzard. But the drumstick he wanted was in plate. He grabbed it and called me a cow. When I confronted him, he threw the bowl with hot soup on my face. That’s when mama came in.”

” Enough child,” Monica said patting her daughter’s head.”You’ve been through enough for one night. Now,” she said facing Maryanne,” I hope you understand why I did what i had to. Maybe next time you can buy enough meat for all of us and not depend on my kindness to feed your child.”

“Monica, I know you have always hated me, but surely that is no reason to treat my son like an animal.”

“Well, if he didn’t behave like one, it would be so much easier to-”

“What is your problem!” Shouted Maryanne.”All I want is a happy family, to live happily and in peace-”

“Well I wanted the same thing and you took that away from me,”Monica said calmly. “I married him. He was mine. He swore it would just be us till death, till death! Then he met you. You, who knew from the get go he was married. You, who was blinded by his charm, his money and his promises of a good life. You wanted a man who was already made and in your perfect little life, you thought I would exit my life ad leave you two to be. Where were you when we slept hungry? Where were you when we built this dream, when sacrifices were made. And now, simply because a law was passed where he can marry as many women as he wants, society and the like of you expect us, us who worked towards a happy home, nod our heads and say yes, he can bring in another woman. Am I dead? Is there a void to fill here?”

“Monica, I-”

“I hate you. I hate what you stand for. Your son reminds me each day of the betrayal pushed my way. A betrayal I am supposed to be okay with. A betrayal I am not to forgive because it is legal. I am supposed to live with you, love you and teach you what my husband loves, as if I am dying…And you, you view yourself the victim in this situation? Well, my dear sister, soon enough he will tire of you like he did me, and then, only then, will you know how it feels to be me.”

Maryanne stood glued to the ground. Her mouth felt dry. She just stared at Monica, her face showed it all. Her mouth spewed hate but her eyes showed pain. She looked tired, lonely and bitter. She remembered the first time she met her. She was full of life, bubbly, confident and genuinely happy. In her own quest of happiness, she changed this woman’s life. At that moment, she realized Monica had a right to make her miserable as she was mourning her life as she knew it.

She held her son’s hand, squeezed it tight. This transition was not going to be easy.

“Sorry for interrupting your show,” Maryanne said picking her son. “Have a good night.”

Maryanne walked towards her room holding her son tight, fighting the tears that wanted to escape her. Tomorrow will be better, she thought. Tomorrow must be better.

Night out of Paradise

It was dusk. The compound was more quiet compared to her neighbors. You could see the sun setting against the baobab tree, and she sat on a three legged stool next to her three stone fire cooking a meal for her family of three.

“Mum, mummy….where are you?” her daughter called excitedly from the front yard. She had a notebook, pen and bracelet in hand. It was from the mission. There was a white woman there who had taken fond of her daughter.

She gave her daughter a look as if to scold her. She had told her not to accept too many things from the lady, what would she think of their family?

“Mummy, I was with the other children. The missionaries gave us all. I tried to refuse but it looked bad…and when Rukia got a pink book and the beads on the pen, I wanted one. You know she’ll come with it to school, and so will the others and I’d be the only one without one….”

Aisha smiled at her daughter. She had a way with words, plus she was adorable. “Go put them in the house child, it’s okay,”she said smiling at her daughter. “And Rehema, there are two blankets under your bed, please bring them and put them behind the Baobab tree.”

A few meters from her, she saw her friend with shopping in hand walking casually.

“Aisha, how are you today,”she shouted. “Is that chicken you’re cooking?”

“If it were, you’d be the last to know!”she shouted back and they all started laughing.

“I left your husband at the Mnazi Place, he seems to be at a good place,”she said winking. “He’ll be home soon.”

“Thank you dear,” she said smiling back, “in that case, I’ll quicken my pace. See you tomorrow at the factory?”

“Ah, yes. See you then, I almost forgot Cashews are in season. Say a big hello to Rehema for me.”

Aisha’s mind was on her husband now. He would be home in about half an hour. She only had half an hour to prepare the home for her husband.

Hurriedly, she helped Rehema bath and change into warm clothes. She used to object due to the hot coastal weather, but of late, she understood it was for her own good.

The candles inside the house were lit. The bed was made, and dinner plates laid out with the rice and stew she had made.

She served Rehema some food and asked her to eat. Her father might be late, and she is a growing girl. She had school the next day and needed be ready for bed soon. She asked Rehema clean her plate once done. A girl is never too young to learn what is expected of her as a woman in society and in the home.

After the cleaning, Aisha took out her bible. They were reading the book of Daniel today. It was Rehema’s favorite. She loved how Daniel survived in the lion’s den. She always said that if God did that for Daniel, He would help them all get a better life. Aisha loved instilling hope in her daughter. It was important for her to know that God did not intend for them to suffer, nor live in poverty. She needed faith and confidence to have a better life than what they had now.

As they read on, they heard someone kick a bucket outside the compound and the goat bleat. He was here.

As if on impulse, she methodically stood up ad walked to the door. She opened the door with a smile on her face. “Welcome home my husband.”

“Someone left that bucket out and intentionally put it in my way, did they want me to fall, eh?”he slurred out. He smelt of urine and alcohol, and it had just been one day!

“I’m sure no one meant harm my love,”she answered politely. “Please come in, I’ve prepared dinner for you.”

He staggered into the house and slumped himself on the sofa. He then looked at his daughter and smiled.

“How is school treating you? You’re in class one now, aren’t you?”

“I’m in class four Papa,” she answered politely.

“Oh,”he said smiling as he picked the plate his wife had served him.”You kids grow up so fast these days…just the other day your mother would carry you on her back as she went to the factory….”

He took a handful of rice and soup and put it in his mouth. He’d always insist on eating with his hands as per their tradition. He then picked a piece of chicken and bit into it. He sighed in appreciation.

“Sweet Aisha! If there is one thing you know how to do, it’s took cook chicken,”he said biting onto another piece.

“Thank you Baba Rehema,”she said smiling and winking at her daughter. He then invited them to share the meal with them.

Aisha picked up two plates and served a meal for herself and Rehema. They ate quickly and in silence.

Papa asked for water. Aisha stood up and walked to the outside kitchen to fetch a jug.

As she walked back into the main house, she could hear the conversation between father and daughter, and she knew that the niceties were about to be over.

“Aisha, our daughter was busy telling me how you’ve single-handedly managed to pay her school fees for the past three years. You even managed to get her new uniforms for each year.”

“Rehema has made friends with the missionaries Baba,”she said calmly pouring some water in his glass, “they volunteered to sponsor her education. We visit the mission every three months before the reopening of school.”

“Oh, I see…and do the missionaries also pay for the chicken we are able to afford?”

“No Baba,that came from the money I make at the factory.”

“So you’re telling me the factory pays you enough money to buy chicken?”he asked a bit stern.

“No Baba, I just save up,”she said shakily. “I knew the chicken would make you happy therefore I thought-”

“Liar!”he shouted as he threw the glass against the wall.”You’ve become someone’s whore! You whore around for money thinking it will make you happier! You’ve been seen with that missionary man for long, you thought I wouldn’t know? You whore!”

With that, he took the jug and threw water at her. He walked towards her, and with the jug repeatedly hit her on the back and kicked her on the stomach.

“Get out of my house,”he shouted. “No whore sleeps in my home.”

“But Baba…”she cried while on the floor,”I have done nothing wrong. I work hard to make money to make us both happy…Baba, please listen to me. I would never betray you. Please don’t kick us out tonight…”

“Out. Toka!”he shouted. “You and your daughter sleep outside like the dogs you are!”

He was dragging her out as he said this. Aisha cried. She begged. She called onto God which infuriated her husband. He hit her and finally threw her out of the house. He called their daughter and asked her to follow her mother or face his wrath.

He then banged the door and locked it.

Aisha and her daughter were out in the cold, dark night-again. She hugged her daughter who was crying silently. She held her for two minutes and reminded her of how strong Daniel from the Bible was. She told her she needed to be strong, and that not all man were like her father. She asked her to pray for her father, that he may change his ways and be a good dad like Rukia’s or any of her friends. She asked her daughter to promise she would pray. Wiping off her tears, she promised she would pray for him.

She then sent her daughter to pick the blankets behind the Baobab tree as they moved to kitchen. They would have an early morning just to ensure nobody saw them.

 

 

 

 

Run, Run, Run.

 

She sat by the corner table, watching the waiters serve the other patrons. It was a busy Cafe, very new but well hidden. This being happy hour many people walked in from work to have a few drinks and unwind before heading home.

She looked at her wrist watch. 5:30. She had two hours to go before her family would call to find out where she was. She had already decided on rice and beef for supper, and she knew Mary, her maid, had already prepped for her.

Across her seat was a fairly young couple who were giggling and holding hands as if there was no one else in that room apart from them. That used to be her, seven years ago. Before the responsibilities, before the expectations, before the kids.

She thought of her husband now. He was still handsome, still a kind soul and a wonderful dad, but things had changed between them. They were no longer the couple seated across her. Time to be that couple was no longer available. The little free time they had was spent talking about their investments, what their mothers wanted, what their children needed, planning family functions and prayers. The rest of the time was spent with the kids, entertaining and each of their respective hobbies.

They both saw it happening though, the drift. They tried for a month or two, but date nights were expensive. She didn’t know his dreams or his wants any more. And what he saw in her was a home maker. He forgot she loved going out too, that she loved picnics and road trips. She was sealed in a box that she could not get out of so she stopped fighting him. In his presence she was a home maker, with her friends she could be who she wanted to be.

With that kind of dynamic going on it was a welcome surprise when Anthony called. He had liked a photo of her on Facebook and he said she was radiating with happiness and looked beautiful. After being married for so long, being seen as beautiful was a huge deal. They started talking. He was happily married too but had just started undergoing the change that leads to her current stage in marriage. He was sad that he was only seen as a provider, that only his little girl was the only one who asked how his day was. His wife saw him and saw a chore helper who was too lazy or tired to help out.

They both had a change identity issue. They felt close. They kept reminiscing about their college days, how young and in love they were. They felt alive then, the only responsibility they had was grades and happiness.

For old time’s sake they agreed to meet today for drinks. To catch up, laugh and create an imaginary little world for an hour or two before going back to their real lives. It would make both of them happy. And if they were happy, their families would also be happy.

But some voice in her head kept asking her why she needed to justify meeting him if it was nothing but friendship. Why did she pick the corner table where people were less likely to see them?

The it hit her. She was looking for her husband in him. She was looking for the man who she used to laugh with, the man who once pulled her chair and whistled as she walked by. She was looking to be in love again and not merely love.

In her heart she realized this was wrong. She should get up, go home, talk to her husband and sort things out. After all, this date or meeting or whatever you want to call it, would lead to more pain than happiness.

She quickly put cash on the table and picked her bag and stood to leave.

As she turned around to leave she saw him walking towards her with a smile on his face.

shit. shit. shit.

“Hi,” he said as he opened his arms wide to embrace her.

“Hi,” she said back as she hugged him back.

Two hours, she said to herself. Just two hours and I’ll be gone.

 

Waking Up

He sat at the diner counter with a coffee and newspaper in hand. The restaurant was best known for it’s Family Sunday Brunch. He had waffles, bacon, sweet potatoes and coffee with newspaper in hand.

He was a lone wolf in a place packed with families enjoying their meals after the Sunday service. He perused his paper as if he had no worry in the world.

Three tables from where he was seated sat a woman with three of her children. She had on a pink floral dress, white pearl earrings and red lipstick. Her hair was a polite afro. She had dyed her hair coffee brown. She was smiling, wiping her son’s mouth, and at the same time sharing the story of David with the other two. It was funny how he could tell her voice from the rest of the chatter in the restaurant.

She hadn’t changed much, he mused. If anything, the years had been good to her. He could remember how they used to talk of having children. How she swore she wouldn’t let her body grow fat simply because she was a mother. He remembered how aggressive she would get if she wanted something, he knew her determination is what had got her where she was.

He remembered her wedding day 11 years ago. He was in Australia. He had left her behind three years back to pursue his career. He had  traveled the world. He had lived among the Tiwi people, brought in revolutionary medication and education to a few children. He remembered her last email a month to the wedding. She said she missed him, but she was moving on. He was a good guy, and he, he was never around.

He tried to call her on the day of the wedding. Sally, her elder sister, picked up the phone. She said it was not a good time, said he had seven years and he chose to run away, said what he was trying to do was selfish because he would never be there for her the way she needed him to be. He said he was sorry, said he knew his timing was wrong and selfish, but she needed to know, needed to know that all his achievements were nothing without her, that he loved her and he was giving up everything to come home to her. But Sally laughed, said he never changed, and that it would always be a cycle. She said that if he truly loved her sister, he would let her go. She then hung up and turned off the phone. With the click of the phone, he had lost the love of his life.

He lowered his newspaper and looked at her. She was happy, healthy and beautiful. Deep down he wondered if he could have ever been the man she wanted, or if his needs, his dreams and his passion would come first. He wondered if he’d be the family man who took her to church and still had time to buy her flowers and bring them to family brunch every Sunday.

She was happy. This was her life, he was her past.

He paid for his meal, folded his newspaper and walked towards the exit. He walked past her, past her life, and for a moment, they locked eyes.

He smiled at her like he used to, he smiled at her and with his eyes said he was happy she was happy.

She looked at him as if she had seen a ghost, as if she was the only one seeing a ghost. Only her eyes moved with him. She couldn’t leave, she said, she couldn’t go on a roller coaster ride with him, she was happy and she was home, and she wished him well.

It was the briefest conversation he had ever had with anyone, but it meant the world to him.

As he walked out the restaurant and the sun hit his eyes, he knew it was time for a fresh start.