“You are mistaken if you still think life in marriage is that easy,” he lamented silently. He will be turning thirty-nine in April. I am an April baby. His hair is dark but scarce on his head. He visits the gym occasionally as evidenced by his massive biceps and athletic stature. He is Tony, a budding entrepreneur with subtle sales and marketing skills. Tony is a co-founder of two companies, with one in the top 100 companies in East Africa as rated by super brands. He is an engineer-a mechanical engineer but ventures more into business as inspired by his wife, a renowned importer of Japanese cars.
“I met Margaret when she hired me to check on her engines when she brought in cars from Dubai for the first time. She was twenty-eight, a girl after a dream. I was intrigued by the franchise she had created at such a young age. A professional relationship ensued but did not last long as love took over. She had a son, two years old by then, whom she loved dearly. Normally a man is put off by such reality, but for me, I got more reasons to be with her. We got married in May the following year, approximately a year since we met,” Tony opened up as he tossed the pen in his hand. Then he kept quiet for long as if lost in the memory.
“That was love’” I thought out loud.
“It still is. We are best of friends, senior partners in one of the companies we co-founded together. When a king meets a queen, they build an empire. She is the woman of my dreams, and every day with her is like a dream come true.”
I thought for a while. I had used the right words during the call for an interview.
Are you a man? Married for at least seven years? Do you have children? I need you to share your story about the troubles of marriage. The limits tested and the many times our wives push our backs to the wall.
I expected broken men, those who cry after two shots of whiskey. I expected to see men going through a divorce. Men whose wives have cheated on them. Men who have cheated on their wives. I got a man who has got it in control, a man smitten in love, a man who oozed confidence and gallantry. A perfect man who was quick to show his flaws.
“You misread the message. I wanted a person who has gone through the challenges of a typical African marriage. Someone with a past, someone who has hurt. Your story sounds like another Juliet and Romeo encounter, a match made in heaven.”
You are mistaken if you still think life in marriage is that easy.
“I am a man who has gone through all you have described; the only difference is I came out unscathed, against all the odds. You will marry in the next few years, and you will come to appreciate that it takes effort, prayer, sacrifice and compromise to remain married.” Tony said and paused for emphasis.
“I married a woman who has money, a woman who knows what she wants. She was a fast flowing river if I couldn’t swim she would have drowned me.”
“One of the earliest challenges my marriage had was marrying outside my tribal lines. Everybody seemed okay with it. We did a customary wedding and later a church wedding, everybody in attendance had one question ringing in mind. We are in Kenya, where tribe comes before patriotism. One year into the marriage I developed H. pylori. You know what that is?”
“Of course I do,” I answered, feeling abused for seeming stupid,” the one that surfaces like ulcers.”
“That one. I took a leave and went to shagz in Vihiga for about three weeks. I took my son with me, her son. He is my son; I brought it out as it leads to the next highlight.”
I hated the way Tony had to explain everything in detail; it made me feel stupid. Like someone who doesn’t get a joke.
John is Tony’s son, and he is a kuyu since all his chromosomes are from Kuyu Parents. But the generation we are raising does not appreciate tribalism as we do. Perhaps they are the ones to end the tribal politics in Kenya. I pictured young John in Vihiga County. He will be dressed up in long trousers unlike the local boys, but there will be green patches at the knees of the pants gotten from the field as they played.
“Najua kwa nini unavaanga omufuto,” a lanky boy from the village will announce one day as they played. I know why you wear long trousers.
“Mbona?” John will answer as the other boys surround him. Why?
“ Sababu mguu yako ni konde. Kama ya msichana.” The boy will reply, more to the amusement of the other boys. Your shins are thin, like those of a small girl.
“Uongo. I even run faster than most of you. I am strong.” John will fight, as Tony has taught him.
The boys would tease him, and they will continue playing. Innocent children.
That evening John’s grandmother would ask questions.
“John, eat and become strong. This is good food not like the rice you eat in town.”
“I am full grandmother thank you.”
“Doesn’t your mother give you enough food?” The grandmother will question.
“Mami, Margaret gives us enough food,” Tony will interject.
“You should instruct her how to do it. I know their people would go to bed on a hungry stomach to save money for a business.” Grandmother will add.
“That’s sacrificing mother,” Tony will defend.
“Tribal lines are so vivid in our country that they resurface no matter how many layers of paint we cover them. Margaret was not always welcome at home. First, they thought she made me ill, then came to a tale of inheritance, that my first son should not be part of the family. I made it clear that my wife and children came first and the relationship between my parents and me became tout, almost breaking.”
“Has divorce ever crossed your mind? Or the idea that you married wrong?”
“No. But most of my relatives and friends wanted me to believe so.”
He seemed quite uneasy, and for the first time through the interview, I saw a man who made a choice that was not favourable to all.
“Let’s talk about you and your wife. Who pays what bills? I think that is one source of trouble among spouses.”
“You are right. We saved together and bought a house. We have a monthly budget that both of us contribute towards.”
“Are there any investments between you? Besides the children.”
He laughed at that one.
“All are our investments.”
“Don’t you fear that she is a Kikuyu? I hear stories.”
“Lucky for me I am deaf. Ho hoho.” He scratched his head and stared at the wall for a while.
I wished to know what he was thinking. Was it about her? The memories from the first date? Was he feeling sorry for a moment he was about to slap her or was he just thinking of her chapos? This was a time I wanted to ask intricate questions, but there is a rule- do not interrupt a man in meditation but rather read his expressions.
I saw a man who knew it was not wrong to make mistakes. A man who spoke out his mind and held nothing hurtful. Through him, I saw her. She is a woman who knew to groom a man. A woman who left a mark on her guy- a no entry sign. I also saw them together, walking along the shore at sunset. They held onto each other’s little finger and shared more by talking less. She was the playful one; he was the one with the husky laughter. HO hoho.
“There are newlywed couples out there. Or others aspiring to get married. How would you advise them?”
“Most of the time it will be different. Learn to understand, and to appreciate.”