Jenifer felt trapped. Her resentment for Bob had grown over the years, yet she couldn’t just walk away. She had invested so much in this marriage. The house Bob had built symbolized the sacrifices she had made to keep her family together. She wouldn’t give it up, and he wouldn’t move out either. He couldn’t.
The years of happiness with her husband felt like ancient history. They had been together for twenty years, but it felt longer. Her wrinkles assured her that. She stopped keeping a record of what Bob did wrong long ago when she couldn’t see what he did right. However, she knew things started going downhill when Bob lost his job.
Bob was a talkative guy and a social butterfly. His laughter filled the room. He was also a proud man whose identity heavily relied on material wealth. He had been fortunate to get a well-paying job at a young age to acquire a couple of properties and give his family a comfortable life. But the winds of fortune changed when he lost his job. Bob soon discovered that he wasn’t a natural at running businesses.
After unsuccessfully seeking employment, he decided to set up a business. He was always working on something, but they failed, one after another, and his saved-up fortunes dwindled. Initially, Jenifer and Bob were untied in the tough times. Jenifer encouraged her husband to keep trying, but she got tired of consistent failure along the way. The situation also got to Bob.
He decided to move to the city in search of green pastures and left his family in the countryside. Jenifer initially supported the decision. Perhaps the change would yield a positive outcome. As they faced these challenges, their children grew. They had two sons whose age gap was a year. Jenifer’s salary could handle the small bills at home, but the boys’ needs increased as they were in grades seven and eight. Bob struggled with school fees, and the boys were sent home for the first time in their lives.
Everything was falling apart. Jenifer turned to everyone she could for help, and the debts started piling up. Bob wasn’t making headway, and his communication with his family became inconsistent. Jenifer’s burden worsened as she cared for their children, and Bob was unreliable. The quality of their lives had taken such a nose dive that githeri became a staple food in their household. It wasn’t out of choice but because that was what they had from their garden. Maize and beans had a long shelf life.
Occasionally, they would add potatoes to the mix for a more filling meal. It got so bad that they would have it for breakfast. Jenifer had to sell their two cows to raise school fees, so they had to buy milk, which became a luxury. After Bob‘s silence for weeks, he sent word that he would be going home.
He got home on a Saturday afternoon. His weight loss was evident as his clothes were loose. He only had a newspaper in hand. After weeks away from his struggling family and no communication, that was his return. He found Jenifer and the boys cleaning up. They had a routine; they would do laundry and clean the house afterwards so that they could use the soapy water from doing laundry to clean the house. They could barely afford detergent, so they had to stretch their limited resources.
Jenifer didn’t utter a word to Bob. She looked at him as though studying him. He made small talk with the sons and then disappeared into the bedroom. He only came out during dinner. Jenifer asked her boys to get their food. Bob sat down as he had been used to before he left and waited for Jenifer to bring his food. She dilly-dallied in the kitchen, watching him and finally presented him with a bowl.
“What is the meaning of this?” Bob asked when he looked inside the bowl.
“Your dinner,” Jenifer confidently responded.
“Am I supposed to eat pieces of newspapers?” Bob asked.
“That is all you came with after leaving us struggling for weeks. Then you show up out of the blues, with only a newspaper, not even a loaf of bread for children. I think your dinner is served,” Jenifer responded angrily.
The boys looked at him sympathetically but knew not to go against their mother. Bob couldn’t look at his sons.
“Instead of coming empty-handed, you should have sent the money you spent on transport,” Jenifer told Bob. He didn’t utter a word. He went to bed and left early in the morning. That was the beginning of such incidents in their home. Sometimes, Bob sent money for the boys, but it was barely enough. Jenifer joined chamas and church groups. She learnt how to access education funding like bursaries to provide for her sons.
The marriage went from bad to worse. They hardly spoke. Bob didn’t communicate, and Jenifer was always angry at Bob. Jenifer progressed from insulting Bob in private, but she did it in the presence of others, too. She did it while their sons were present and in front of the extended family.
Additionally, Bob could only eat at home if he had met his financial obligations. He hardly met them, so he had no place at the dinner table.
Jenifer’s anger spilt over to other areas of her life, and she was constantly complaining. She also became an unpleasant person to be around. On the other hand, Bob couldn’t turn his life around, so he became miserable. Eventually, he moved back home after failing in the city. The tension between the two was palpable. Insults were only replaced with silent treatment.
Each was running a different show with the boys who were now completing secondary school. The parent with the funds at a particular time would get their way. Relatives urged them to fix things or part ways to no avail. Each lay claim to the house and didn’t want to sell it, so they continued their toxicity cycle.
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