Sarah was beautiful, young, talented and intelligent with a bright future, but all these qualities paled compared to her insecurity. She got into the dating scene before the rise of the body positivity movement. Those were the days when the ‘standards’ of beauty strictly dictated ‘thinner is better’, so it didn’t matter how many times her mother or friends told her she was perfect as she was because everything else suggested otherwise.
The magazines and billboards were filled with skinny girls, the girls in the movies who got the hot guy were hardly the bigger girls, and when the bigger women did ‘win’, it was the older women, not girls her age. However, you’d hardly notice her insecurity about her body because she spoke so confidently. She didn’t openly complain about it; in fact, she often joked about it. You know, the usual jokes that people make about body sizes. It could be a pair of smaller jeans, and she would casually say, “That would only fit my arm.” It was nothing alarming until she met Neph.
Neph was about seven years older than Sarah. He was the oldest guy she had dated at that point. She was smitten with him. He was the number one topic on her phone and in her life. Her conversations with her friends included a ‘Neph said’ segment because she constantly shared some of their discussions with this new guy. He had a good job, drove a nice car, and enjoyed going out, but he also had a serious side to him. He generally sounded like a balanced guy.
Everything sounded fine for the first month of dating then she started doing things that felt excessive. One Sunday evening, after spending the weekend at Neph’s place, she returned carrying a big bag. She lived with two friends, and they asked her what was in the bag.
“Back from your man’s place with such a big bag, what goodies do you come bearing?” One of the friends asked.
“Oh, these are just Neph’s dirty shirts that I want to wash for him,” Sarah responded.
“We see you’ve been become wife material,” one of her friends joked.
“You know we still don’t have water?” The other friend asked.
“It’s fine, I’ll buy some if we still don’t have running water by tomorrow evening,” Sarah said confidently.
“Kwani, they also don’t have water? The friend further inquired.
“No, they have water but his cleaning lady wasn’t available over the weekend so I offered to clean them for him,” Sarah responded.
“Wouldn’t it have been easier to clean them from his place where there’s water?” The friend asked.
“There was no time today and he’s back to work from tomorrow,” Sarah replied, looking somewhat annoyed with the line of questioning.
“Love is a beautiful thing if you’ve carried that big bag across town in matatus to come clean them from here,” the other friend said to diffuse the growing tension. They laughed.
The gods were clearly not on her side because the taps were still dry the following day, and she had to buy water to clean the shirts – a week’s worth of dirty shirts. Well, they say when it rains, it pours, and it literally rained the following day, so the shirts took longer to dry up. She was supposed to take the clean shirts to Neph on Wednesday, but they were wet. Neph got angry with her because they had agreed that she was to do the cleaning on Monday, and according to him, if she had been ‘more organized’, they wouldn’t have been rained on Tuesday. Of course, she didn’t tell him she had to buy water to clean them.
She almost slept reciting the rosary, praying for better weather so that she could take clean and dry shirts to her man the following day. That marked the beginning of such incidents. Two weeks later, Neph mentioned that he felt unwell. He was at the office when he told Sarah this, so Sarah suggested that she would go to his place in the evening to take care of him. She decided to make pumpkin soup because she had heard it was suitable for stomach issues.
The agreement was that she would be in town by six o’clock when Neph left the office for home, and they would go home together. Sarah prepared herself and the pumpkin soup in time to get to town on time, but as Nairobi’s traffic would have it, she got to town ten minutes past six o’clock. By then, Neph was so furious that she was late that he drove off and left town, telling her to find him in his house. Sarah got into a bus carrying her pumpkin soup, blaming herself for being late.
When she returned home the following day, her friends asked her how it went.
“Is Neph feeling better? Did he like the soup?” One of the friends asked.
“Yes, he’s better,” Sarah responded.
“Was he surprised that you showed up with it?” The other friend asked. Both friends had been impressed by how thoughtful Sarah was when she decided to make him the soup and had imagined Neph would feel the same way.
“The moment was ruined because I got to town late so he got angry and left me,” Sarah explained.
“Wait, he left you because you were a few minutes late?” The friend asked in disbelief.
“Neph is very punctual,” Sarah justified his behaviour.
“So you went through the trouble of making him something that would make him feel better, carried the soup from matatu to matatu and he didn’t even appreciate it because he was too busy being mad?” The friend asked.
“I’m still in shock because he left you because you were 10 minutes late yet he was heading home? You were going to check up on him but he couldn’t wait for you?” The other friend expressed her concerns.
“Honestly girlfriend, please tell us you also see the problem.”
“I know that was awful,” Sarah said, crying.
“Babes, then why are you allowing him to treat you like this?” The friend asked.
“You guys don’t how hard it is to find a guy who is okay with my size. This is the first time I’ve been with a man who hasn’t made snide comments about my size,” Sarah responded.
The friends were silent for a while, hugging her and crying.
“I didn’t know that you felt this way. You’re one of the most confident people I know. I’m so sorry. You are beautiful,” one of the friends told her.
Although the talk with her friends made her feel better enough and gave her the strength to confront Neph, she stayed with him. He apologized but didn’t change. Sarah eventually left him after discovering he was cheating on her.
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