By Sheillah Maonga
To read part two, click here
The next day, Neema woke to her phone ringing. She looked at it and saw it was Maina. She ignored it. He kept calling. She knew he would not stop until she either she answered him, or she blocked him. She didn’t have the heart to block him, so she answered the call. He told her that he was back in Kenya and wanted to meet her briefly to talk. She was too weak to say no to his request, even though Gaki had told her to cut him off. She knew she had to cut him off, but she thought that she needed closure first. So, she gave him her hotel details so that he could come and give her that closure, then they could both go their separate ways.
She opened the door for him. He looked dishevelled, as if he hadn’t bathed in weeks, yet it had only been two days since she left him in paradise. Those two days must have been rough on him, because he looked unkempt. His eyes had huge black circles underneath them. He looked a sight. He reached in for an embrace, but she pulled away from him.
“Nene?” He called her softly.
“Say what you have to say, then you go on your way. I really don’t want to see you, Maina.” Neema ordered him.
“Stop calling my name, you lying cheat.” She replied vehemently.
“Nene, I am sorry.”
“All this time, you have been lying to me. You have been married all along. And here you were leading me along.”
“You are still angry, Nene.” Maina said.
“Are you surprised?” Neema retorted.
“I didn’t come to fight, Nene. I came to give you an explanation. Please give me the chance to explain myself.”
Maina proceeded to tell her about his shotgun wedding to a one Sarai. That ten years ago, he had been a university student on long holiday when he had met Sarai, a final year high school student. He was twenty one, she was eighteen. They had had a brief fling that both knew would end with the holiday. They both knew that they didn’t want anything serious, as such, their dalliance was heading nowhere, and that is how they wanted it. The holidays ended, and he returned to university, while Sarai went back to her school. They knew that they owed each other nothing, so they had said their final goodbyes to each other, planning not to meet again.
Before the month was over, he received news that Sarai was expecting his child. She was kicked out of school making her miss her final exams. Her father had also kicked her out of their home, so she ended up moving in with his late mother. The mother was old fashioned, therefore insisted that her first grandchild shouldn’t be born out of wedlock, and that is how they ended up getting married. The marriage would also lessen Sarai’s stigma. Unmarried mothers were viewed lowly in the community.
“Oh my! You have a baby as well?” Neema queried.
“No. The baby was still born. Which was just a sad state of affairs. Sarai took it badly. And it took her years to fully recover from the grief.”
“How tragic.” Neema said.
“Yes, it was tragic.” Maina agreed.
“So, you have a marriage certificate?”
“Yes. But you must know that I never loved Sarai. I liked her as a person, but I had never thought that she would end up being my wife. It was a marriage of convenience. Just because of the pregnancy.”
“But you could have divorced her, since the baby died. You were marrying her because of the baby. But now that the baby had died, why keep the marriage, if you say it was of convenience?” Neema said matter of factly.
“That would have been cruel. I couldn’t add divorce on top of her grief.”
“And after the grief, you still remained married to her, why? You have been married for ten years. she could not have been grieving for all this time.”
“Because there just was no urgency to end it. There was no need. Until now. I now must it so that I can marry you.”
“But why didn’t you mention it to me? All this time you couldn’t tell me.”
“Because I never think of myself as a married man. I don’t see her. I don’t visit her. Ever since my mother died, I don’t go to the village anymore, so I haven’t seen Sarai for years. I used to see her up and about when I used to visit my mother. We hardly communicate. She lives her life independent of mine. We each have separate lives. It just never crossed my mind to tell you. Until now when I am contemplating marriage to you.”
Neema had asked him if they ever acted as husband and wife. He answered in the negative. He said that they were strangers to each other, and even none knew what the other was up to at any given time. That was why he was able to sustain a relationship with her (Neema) without any hassle, because there was no other woman in his life, other than Neema. He said that his marriage was just a piece of paper with no weight on it at all.
“If it is just a piece of paper, then why do you insist that we live separately until you get a divorce?” Neema queried.
“My desire in life is to live with you, Neema. You know that. However, I wouldn’t want to start our life together on the back of me chasing a divorce. I want us to start on a clean slate.” Maina explained.
“That horse already left the stable, so no need to shut the doors, Maina. We are already in a relationship. Our slate isn’t blank. It is drawn on already.”
“Then if you have no issue with that, I don’t mind living with you even today, Nene. That is what my heart desires.”
As he spoke, Neema’s hope in him was restored. She believed his story. She decided to stay in a relationship with him as he pursued his divorce, which he said would go quickly. They made up and agreed to continue with their plans of living together. Neema started house hunting as well as requesting a career break at her workplace in the UK, which was granted. She now had four years to settle, while her job was kept open for her, should she not have settled in the country after that time. Everything had fallen in place except one thing. She did not know how to tell Gaki that she had chosen to remain in a relationship with Maina. Gaki had zero tolerance when it came to married men dating other women. She did not care for the back stories and contexts. As long as a man was married, Gaki believed that he was off limits. As it was, Gaki gave her an ultimatum. To either end the relationship with Maina or lose her.
“How many years has it been?” Gaki asked.
“Five years. Five long years.” Neema said.
“You look different.” Gaki said.
“I know. I know I look older and haggard. Unkempt even. I know.” Neema said softly.
Gaki looked down at her drink. She concentrated on drinking it. Yes, Neema had aged considerably in those five years. Those years must have been very unkind to her, Gaki thought. She averted Neema’s gaze because she felt it unkind to show that she agreed with her (Neema’s) sentiments about her looks.
Neema looked at her old friend and saw that she had not changed at all. She still looked younger than her age; as it had always been the case. She missed Gaki. She missed their closeness. Today, especially, she missed her hugs. When they saw each other, they just nodded their heads in place of hugs. They had lost that too.
“I have missed you.” Neema said.
“Why did you call me for this meeting?” Gaki asked.
“Because I miss you. I wanted to see you. I want us to be best friends again.”
Gaki looked at Neema long and hard. Then her shoulders began shaking and her lips quivering. Neema thought she was about to start crying only to realize that she had started laughing. Gaki laughed until tears streamed down her face.
“What’s funny, Gaki?”
“What you said.”
“I don’t see anything laughter inducing in what I said. I simply asked us to be friends again.”
Gaki burst out laughing again. This time it was so loud it sounded like a cackle.
“Please stop, Gaki”
Gaki stopped as suddenly as she had started. She resumed looking intently at Neema.