‘Let’s say our goodbyes right’
She sat at the foot of his hospital bed. Her eyes looking away from his. His new wife was wiping tears that were rolling from the sides of his eyes. It was an uncomfortable situation for Nancy*. She could feel a lump in her throat
Her ex husband was seriously ill at Aga Khan Hospital, Kisumu. One of his friends had called and begged her to come make peace with the man before he died. Their relationship had not ended on a good note, scratch that. Their relationship had ended violently. So violent that Nancy was in hospital for two weeks and her husband in police cells. But for “the kids” she had decided to withdraw the assault charges, against the wishes of her lawyer, her friends and her family. She did not want to be the woman who sent the father of her 12 year old son and nine – year old daughter to prison. That is not who she was.
Nancy had been a house wife since graduating from Kenya School of Law (KSL), Nairobi. She studied for her law degree in Uganda, was admitted to the bar as an Advocate of the High Court but had never practiced. She met George* through a mutual acquaintance while at KSL and their relationship advanced pretty fast it even scared the friend who introduced them. He was a man hard to resist. In fact, within a month of getting to know each other, George had given Nancy his Mercedes Benz C200 to be using to drive herself to school and for her errands. Within another month he had rented an apartment for her in Langata, moving from the one bedroom house she shared with a friend in Rongai. The apartment was tastefully furnished. Nancy had lied to her friends and family that she had gotten a well paying part-time job with an international NGO in Nairobi. George spoiled her rotten, if they were not spending the weekend in Dubai, they were in Zanzibar or Diani or cooling off at Enashipai Lodge in Naivasha. Nancy was living in the fast lane. She was sending good money back home to her struggling parents in Adiedo, Kendubay. Her two sisters in high school no longer had fee arrears nor struggled with shopping. Her mother who is a staunch SDA adherent thanked God for her each night.
Her grades at KSL could not keep up, she had had several retakes but she eventually passed and was admitted to the bar. It was a great celebration for her family. This was also the day she introduced George to them as a friend. They had dinner with her mum and dad, and the aunty who had paid her high school and campus fees at The Intercontinental Hotel, Nairobi. Though they suspected that George was more than a friend, they would not confirm it till later that month when he visited their rural home.
It was not Nancy’s idea to introduce George to her parents at that time, but being who he was he had made it happen his way.
“I remember he had asked me to accompany him to Homabay for a function. We flew to Kisumu on the 6.30 AM flight arriving there just shortly after seven o’clock. There was a driver waiting for us. We had breakfast at Imperial Hotel before driving to Homabay Tourist Hotel. While in Homabay he met with a couple of guys, though the meetings did not seem that important to make a man take the first flight out of Nairobi. When he was done, which was by about noon, he suggested that since we are passing by Adiedo on our way back to Kisumu, we do some shopping for my mum.”
Nancy had assumed that they would get someone to drop the shopping to her mum’s, but no, they were delivering the gifts by themselves. It was a lot of shopping. Her mum was happy and excited to see them. Her dad was his usual self – cautious. Read a little too much in everything. Maybe for good reasons. In fact he had asked George straight what his intentions were with his daughter that day.
“I want to marry her,” George had responded. Nancy was shocked. They had not talked about marriage. The drive back to Kisumu was filled with silence. She wanted to start a fight, ask questions but she could not do that with their driver in the car. So she looked outside the window, most of the time staring at the moving trees, villagers going about their businesses, at the road-front shops branded with telco logos. George was lost in his own thoughts too, at times bumping his head to the soft rhumba tunes oozing from the car’s stereo.
When they got to Kisumu George told the driver to stop for more fuel and drive to Gem. He was taking her to meet his mother. He had a beautiful home in the village but no wife. He had been married before but his wife had left with his two kids. She had asked why but he only claimed it wasn’t working, no details. The children still visited his Nairobi house. His mother was happy to meet him. His dad had died a while before that. They did not spend the night in the village, drove back to Kisumu that evening and spent the night at Sovereign Hotel.
That is the night he had asked her not to bother looking for a job. He was going to marry her, her job would be to take care of their children. Other than him forcing his way on people, he seemed to be a good man. Nancy thought that she could even make him a better man. He had flourishing businesses, interests in private security, real estate, hospitality and a host of other businesses he did with local and national governments thanks to his connections.
They had renovated her mother’s house before her dowry was paid. It was an event villagers in Adiedo spoke about for months. They had not seen that many cars in one place before. There was no church wedding. At the time of the dowry, Nancy was already pregnant with their first child.
Nancy soon started to hear rumors about George’s previous marriage. Claims of extreme cruelty against his ex – wife but she chose to ignore them. The George he knew was incapable of the kind of things they said he did. He wasn’t perfect but to her he was trying to be a good man and she appreciated that. He took care of everything Nancy and her children needed. They had moved to Kisumu just before the baby was born. Nancy even earned a monthly allowance, an amount that a lot of her colleagues who were working were not making. She used most of it to take care of her parents and siblings. She kept a little for herself.
She was friends with other girls who were married to the city’s tycoons. They had some sort of ‘rich wives of Kisumu’ club. They kept her occupied when George was busy travelling, or when she needed a break from the kids.
They occasionally traveled as a family, mostly during school holidays, but George traveled a lot still. Most of the time, alone.
The little arrogance and forcefulness that Nancy thought she could change grew. George was rarely ever at home, Nancy hardly knew where he was three-quarters of those times. When he was home he came back when everyone was already asleep. The kids barely knew him anymore.When she asked all he said was “I give you everything you need, what do you want me here for?”
But that was not all, Nancy started hearing stories of him with other younger girls. Girls in campus. At times she saw photos of him with small girls on other people’s social media pages. There were times he came to Kisumu for the weekend but never came home. Once when he was home she confronted him, he slapped her so hard she had a ringing sound in her ear for almost an hour. It was the first time he got violent with her. He never apologized for it.
His philandering ways became so obvious. He was dating a student from Maseno University. He had rented an apartment in Kisumu’s Tom Mboya estate. They were always seen in town together. His photos were on her Instagram. Nancy had begged him to respect her and the kids and not publicly display his cheating ways. She had made peace with the fact that there was a younger girl in their relationship, what she had not made peace with was him humiliating her in public.
She had reached out to both their parents for help, his mother sympathized with her, her own mother told her to just hang in there, perhaps blinded by George’s generosity. Her father said “I warned you.”
One Saturday George had thrown a birthday party for his first born son. He had invited both their friends to the party. There was music, food and a lot of drinks. All was going on well until the new girl showed up too.
Nancy was in the kitchen when she was told that she was at the house. She came straight to the living room and asked her to leave her house. She looked at his husband and asked him why he would bring his “whore” to their son’s party. An ugly scene followed, guests left, George left too with the girl.
That night, George came back drunk and beat Nancy up to a pulp. If it wasn’t for the guard who had called the neighbors for help, Nancy would have died. She was rushed to hospital. Her husband was arrested the following day. Nancy stayed for a week in hospital but when she came out she refused to press charges against her husband. The police had no option but to set him free. She said she was doing it for her children. She packed her bags, took out the money she had been saving and left with the kids to Kampala where she had gone to school to start over.
It had been two years since she had left. She had not talked to George the entire time. She allows the kids to come visit their dad, but she had never been back to Kenya herself. Two days before this day, George’s best friend had called her apologizing on his behalf. He had told her he could die any minute. He paid for a return flight from Entebbe to Kisumu.
George’s mum was seated on a chair next to his son. Their eyes locked. Christine the new wife was busy wiping his tears. She cleared her throat first and spoke.
“Nancy, I am sorry for what we did to you and the children. Forgive us so that my husband and the father to your children can live.”
Nancy was surprised that she thought that George’s state had anything to do with her. She turned to look at her.
“What did you just say, ” she asked.
“I only asked for forgiveness,” Christine replied.
“I forgave you and your husband the day I walked out of his house. It’s the reason I did not press charges. He would now be sick in a crowded public hospital and with a handcuff on his arm. I am here not to offer anything beyond what these doctors have been offering. I only came to let you and George know that I had forgiven him. To say goodbye the right way, not because I think he will die, but because we never got a chance to. As for you (she said looking at Christine in the eye), I only pitied you, if you knew the things I knew, you would have not done what you did.”
George did not say a word. Only tears flowed from his eyes.
Nancy returned to Kampala the following morning. George died that afternoon. Neither Nancy nor their children attended his funeral.
I met Nancy in Kampala last year. We were at the rooftop of Arcadia Suites Hotel. She sat with her back towards the city, I sat directly opposite her, facing Kampala’s towering buildings in the horizon. It was one of those quiet evenings, very little traffic on the road bellow that leads to the British High Commission. Quite the opposite of what it is during the day.
I asked her what her biggest regrets from their relationship was.
“Ignoring what I heard about his previous marriage. Not taking the little signs seriously. I overlooked the subtle arrogance, the rush that he had in getting us married. I regret being blinded by the wealth and the flashy lifestyle,” she says after a brief moment of silence.
“How do you feel about him now that he is gone?” I ask.
“I don’t know. I am at peace with my past I think. I am glad I set him free before he died. It’s not been easy for me and the kids but we are managing. One day we will go lay flowers on his grave,” she says.
*Names have been changed.