She was frantic, panting and seemed to be going in and out of breath when I picked up my husband’s call.
“He’s not breathing! I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to do it”. She was snorting, crying and frightened.
“Where is he?” I calmly asked.
“We are in Rongai, Treetops hotel”
“When did you check in?” I probed.
“Last week. He came in on Friday” she diligently answered.
I paused. I could feel her breath. Her breathing was desperate, laden with rue. I thought I’d take advantage of the situation, and confirm my fears.
“What’s your name?”
“Vivian. Vivian Shisia.”
“Vivian, stay calm. Can you try and perform first aid on him? I will try and get there as soon as I can.”
As I pulled up in front of Justin’s school gate, I felt a small ball of hatred swell up in my throat. I looked back at the empty car seat. We had led quite simple lives without him. He barely asked about his father, and never actually cared for the video calls he rarely made to remind him to get a haircut. I felt in my heart, that maybe, his demise, would be a blessing in disguise.
Justin came running right through the gate, and my heart sank when his face lit up with a smile when he spotted my car. He tugged on his shoelaces while running and fell with his stomach on the ground. The loud thump had a banging effect on my heart, and I quickly got out to help him up.
“Justin, are you okay?” I asked, wiping the dust off his sweater and pants.
“Yes, mum. You look beautiful”. He always said this with a flattering smile. I always looked forward to his compliments. They nourished me, my embattled soul. I held him, and the warmth of his skin revealed how cold my hands had become.
Justin climbed to the co-driver’s seat and put on the radio. He loved Amapiano and Afro music, I most definitely imposed this music taste on him.
Speeding through the Mombasa Road traffic jam, my eyes flickered every time my son’s voice peered through the loud music. Jackson failed me, and now his son too. We fought the weekend prior to the wedding. We fought about my wedding dress cost, the venue, the guest list, his immediate departure after the wedding and a whole list of things I can barely put together.
I thought that maybe Justin would make him want to spend more time with me, us, and his family. But I have never been so wrong about anything in my life. In the last trimester of Justin’s pregnancy, I spent a lot of time reading and writing poetry. I was starved for words; I felt a longing. Poetry made sense of my situation. The unidentified, second-class taste on my tongue, as if someone else chewed my food, and forced it down my throat. In those times, everything felt like an acquired taste. Maybe, it was dawning on me that, I’m an acquired taste.
As it was customary, I went out that fateful Tuesday to buy the Nation paper. The news vendor, Nick, sold newspapers alongside milk. Much more like the dairy shop was his main business and newspaper vending, his side hustle. He always spared one for me. He gave it to me as if it were a deep dark secret, and I came to understand that even he, found it amusing that a woman bought a newspaper every day.
However, on that Tuesday, the Standard caught my eye, because I thought I recognized a familiar face. My husband was on the cover of the dailies, in full military combat. He appeared to be hiding behind a grey car, a gun in hand, holding two girls in blue identical shirts. His face was sweaty and I instantly felt my tummy tie up in knots. He was at Westgate Mall. The father of my child was fighting terrorists on the frontline. And I remember waking up in the delivery room alone.
The hooting car behind us snapped me back into reality. I felt like I was going to labour all over again, only that I was all alone, with no baby to deliver. I can feel my face cramming up. In to what exactly, I don’t know, but it’s quite evident that I have turned into a bitter woman over the years, especially after I learnt of Jackson’s secret affairs and the children he sired out of wedlock.
Justin has a bruised palm from when he fell. So, I quickly wipe it up with spirit.
“Ouch! Mum! That’s painful” he gasped.
Often, I feel compelled to tell him, that his father is a soldier, living in a very complicated country, risking death by bullets every day. That we could switch on the TV one day and his camp would have been torched down, his body damaged beyond recognition. Today, in my heart, it feels more like a lie, because he didn’t die at war. I felt an anguishing relief, that at least, I wouldn’t have to identify his body or worse off, bury a banana tree because there was nothing left to bring home to his mother.
“Justin baby, I need to talk to you about something”, I say, softly rubbing his forehead. There’s this stain around his lips, and I lick my thumb and try to wipe it off. I remember how much I hated it when Mama did this to me. I wonder if my son is disgusted by this quite motherly act that happens subconsciously.
“Do you have a new job?” He asks.
“No baby, I need to rush somewhere to check on your dad. Someone called to inform me that he’s not doing so well.”
“Who called you?”
My heart breaks for the number of times I’ve lied to my son, about his father.
“A friend of his,” I reply.
“Is he at the hospital or at the camp?”
“At the hospital,” I lie again. “I need to get going, Vera will be here to keep you company, she’s at Naivas, getting you some snacks.”
Tears are welling up in my eyes as I make for the door. I’ve always known that Jackson would pass away but in his line of duty. I dreaded the fact that I would have to play a dutiful widow, cry, mourn and rain praises on his character, even though he lacked it.
Driving quietly along Magadi Road, I can’t help but remember how violent he had become when he came home from his first assignment. It felt like he never left the battlefield. He had worn off all the tenderness in his soul. He was vulgar, very dismissive and showed no atom of concern, not even for Justin. I thought, that it would die down when he stayed home with us, but he got worse. He called me names for the slightest reasons and beat me up when Justin broke his phone, for being an irresponsible mother.
I was completely shattered, when a few nights after his return when we were making love, he tied me up and gagged my mouth. Of course, I had read all about this type of thing and watched it in movies but I never in my wildest dreams thought of trying it. I’m the classic “wife material type”, picture perfect. I dress decently, prepare chapatis every weekend, go to church every Sunday, pray for my husband and call my mother-in-law every week to update her about her grandson. I like it missionary, with lights off and some clothes on. That night, he didn’t ask if I was okay and without my consent did things to me that I can’t talk about even today. That was the beginning of the end of our marriage.
The watchman smiles broadly as I drive into the parking lot. I wish he knew why I was here in the first place. I look at my phone for the room number and shakily step out of my car.
Walking up the stairs, I wonder if Jackson told his mother about our understanding to remain married on paper, for the sake of Justin. He said I wasn’t interesting, or adventurous. He came clean about his affairs and the two daughters he sired with Emma. I have seen her and the twins in pictures before and heard her voice but never really met her. I wonder if she too knew, that the father of her children was married.
I knock softly on the door, and there’s no response. I lean in, hoping to hear any movement but there is nothing. I knock again, but there’s no response, so I decide to storm in. Jackson is lying on the bed, motionless, but Vivian is nowhere to be seen.
Unlike Emma, I’ve never seen Vivian before, so I really can’t tell who she is. I’m frightened, maybe I should call Emma, tell her that the father of her children is dead, only. How awkward would it seem that I’ve always known he had another family and kept quiet about it? Who would believe, that I have the best intentions?
I sit next to Jackson, he looks so innocent. The first time we met, he had terrible flu. His eyes were watery, and before I asked why he was crying, he said “I’m always like this when I have flu. Terrible for a soldier, right? I know”. My heart shatters, for what we would have been. If he hadn’t grown so violent sexually, to the point that some other woman stuck a knife in his neck.
I too can’t comprehend why I’m comfortable sitting next to the corpse of a man I once loved, blood oozing slowly from his stabbed neck. The imagination, how all this went down fumes me up with rage. I wish there was something left to do. I wish I had come in early, while he was still breathing, so he could tell me what to say to our son.
I want to touch his hair one more time, to call him Baba Justin, and remind him to call when he arrives, but instead, I call the police and then his mother. She will hate me for breaking this to her, but I can’t wait to see the look on her face when she sees Emma and the kids. Let alone find out that her well-built, strong, energetic son, was stabbed by a woman, for sexual abuse. Min Jalweny will be swimming in the pits of denial.
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