Chapter Seventeen: Akinyi

Akinyi knew two things as she took the stairs to the apartment. She was going to meet Maureen’s friends and she was not going to keep her thoughts to herself. She adjusted the strap of her heel briefly before ascending another floor. She knocked twice before the door was opened.

“Hi, my name is Akinyi. Mesh invited me.”

“Um…okay, come in. She will be with you shortly.”

“Thanks. I brought some wine, have it.”

Belinda followed the woman into her apartment careful not to utter anything offensive, but she had the air of being in-charge, it was like seeing an older version of Mesh. Akinyi kicked off her heels and sat on the carpet right next to Mesh after greeting Okwan.

Mesh waved Belinda over and asked, “You remember the friend I told you about?”

“Which one?”

“The one I wanted us to go out with? This is Akinyi, we’ve been friends for almost four years now and she’s a Programs Manager. She’s got beauty, lots of brains and is constantly serving people truth juice.”

“Well, it’s nice to meet you Akinyi. I am Okwan, the uncouth friend who runs a restaurant.”

Okwan, seriously, how would you introduce yourself like that? Don’t believe the uncouth part, she is saying that because she is hurt by what I said this evening. I see you brought a bottle of wine, let me pour you some. I think we ran out of wine awhile ago,” said Maureen.

“Hi Akinyi. It’s nice to meet you. My name is Belinda and you can go with what Mesh told you about me.”

“Thanks. It’s nice to meet the two of you. Mesh cannot stop talking about you, so, why are we getting drunk on wine tonight?”

“I just confronted my husband and his mistress today and these two thought I needed friends. They asked me to prepare supper but showed up with two bottles of wine, so we drinking my sorrows away.”

“I see and who is going to nurse your hangover?”

“Don’t worry about my hangover, worry about your own and here, have some chips. They are still warm.”

“Thanks.” Akinyi looked at the three women and smiled, something about seeing them huddled together on the carpet inside the small apartment made her want to laugh. She wanted to laugh so much that her throat burned as she tried to swallow the fried chips she was eating. Maureen never ceased to surprise her with the kind of friends she rallied around. There was an odd strength to Belinda, the one whose husband was having an affair with her sister, she almost felt sorry for her.

Chapter Sixteen: Belinda

Okwan and Maureen stopped by Belinda’s house that evening with two bottles of wine and cake. She ushered them into the living room where she’d already set the table. Maureen sat on the carpet beside her and hugged her. “Well, at least we have some good news.”

“What is it?” asked Belinda.

“You got the job and I know the HR will call you tomorrow morning because I happened to print out contracts and I was not snooping or anything but your name was printed at the top. She might call you in to review it and if the terms and conditions are okay with you then you can start working.”

“Thanks, at least that is something.”

“Why aren’t you happy?”

“She’s had a rough day Maureen, let her be.”

“What is wrong with you two? Life is too short to sit around moping and crying about what’s hurt you. My mother always tells me that cry but don’t bleed your eyes dry. Now, enough about the sad stuff, ehe...tell us, what do you think of your new life?”

“What new life are you talking about?” asked Okwan. She was sitting on the only chair in Belinda’s living room. Maureen looked at her and frowned. The woman took a plate and served some meat before dipping her finger into the stew and licking it clean.

“I don’t understand where you come from Okwan. It’s like the term ‘decency’ was a foreigner in your home!”

“Mesh, do not disrespect Okwan. Look, you are what…twenty four almost twenty five years old. This is your second job and you have no experience whatsoever with men and have not been married, so do not judge because it’s never happened to you.”

“I am not judging Okwan. Look at how she is eating all the meat while we are talking. Hand me a plate will you?”

Belinda handed her the plate and the bowl of meat. Okwan laughed. Belinda threw a pillow at her. Maureen clicked and Belinda turned to her, raised an eyebrow and said “see! you are judging again?”

“Look, I say things the way I see them. Okwan is beautiful and she makes her own money. She dresses and acts like she is an old woman but she’s not. It just pisses me off. Before you start saying that I have no experience, I got pregnant in form three, carried the baby to term but he died during delivery. My dad kicked me out of the house. My mom defended me and she too was told to go back to her home because well, she was the third wife and he didn’t care that much. So, yes, I judge, but don’t sit all mighty and righteous crying about something that’s already done. Get up and get moving is all I say.”

 

Chapter Fourteen: Okwan

Okwan knew something was wrong when Belinda came into the restaurant a few minutes after Maureen. She watched the skinny girl bite her nails as Belinda walked to the kitchen. “What is the matter with you two?” Okwan asked.

“What do you mean?”

“I am not your age mate Maureen! You do not answer a question with a question; now tell me, what happened before I stuff garlic in your mouths!”

“Okwan, listen…”

“Is it the interview? How did Belinda do?”

“It’s not the interview. Well, the interview went well and I am certain they will take Belinda. It’s just that on our way out we got caught up in our conversation and the next thing we knew, we were near the Victoria Hotel and Michelle was seated at a table having lunch with Belinda’s husband. She went to talk to them and I ran all the way here.”

“I see. You saw them first if I’m correct.”

“Yes, but that is not the issue, Belinda just went in there, like it was her right!”

“It is my right, Mesh! They were having lunch and holding hands like they had no care in the world! Do you know how much he’d pay for that lunch? All the money he spends on her could be set aside for the education of our children. In fact, he’s never taken me out to lunch or taken the kids out, but he sits there, holds her hand and eats with her like she’s earned it. Don’t ever tell me that I have no right Mesh, don’t you ever dare tell me that you don’t want drama when I have to live every single day with the fact that he would rather have other women but me, that he would rather spend his time and affection on other women but his own wife! Don’t you ever dare tell me a thing about drama when he rolled out the whole production plus cast and crew right into our marriage. I am an educated woman. I am a responsible wife and I love my husband and even go out of my way to make sure that he is seen as a good father and spouse. I have never demanded a thing from him. I have never looked down on him or made him feel like he was not loved and appreciated. So, don’t…”

“Sit down Belinda…yes sit down and listen, take the day off. I want you to go home and prepare supper because we will be coming over to your house tonight,” said Okwan.

“What?”

“Belinda, you are boiling with anger and you have every right to. If I were you, I’d have beaten the two of them. You have friends, people who care for you and if there is one thing I know about that kind of anger is that, you need to eat. You also need your friends around. Go to your little house, sleep, cry, clean or do whatever it is you want to and we will see you in the evening. Mesh, see to it that she arrives home.”

“I am not going home Okwan.”

“Yes you are, besides don’t you think that your husband will look for a way to confront you after what you just did? Wait, before I even get ahead of myself, what did you tell them?”

“It doesn’t matter; those two will not stay away from each other. I am tired of all this Okwan. I deserve better.”

“What doesn’t matter matters and sooner or later it becomes a huge matter no matter.”

Uh? What are you some tongue twister, lyrical restaurant owner or something? Would you speak some sense, please?”

“Look at you making fun of me yet you ran here instead of standing up for your friend. Sugarcane legs!”

“I can run faster than you and in heels!”

“Are you two going to bicker like babies or will you listen to what I told the other woman?”

“I thought it didn’t matter?”

“Oh, shut up! I told her to get an HIV test because my husband had been with so many women. I also told her that I hope they have two kids just like he did with me.”

“Jeso! You did not! And then, what did she say?”

“I did not wait for her answer. I pushed back the chair, got up and walked out of the restaurant.”

 

Chapter Thirteen: Belinda

Belinda was ready to respond to her friend’s statement when she saw her turn. She looked around and then saw that Mesh was biting her finger nails. “Mesh, what is it?”

“Look, I will talk to you later on. I just don’t want drama.”

“What drama are you talking about? I swear you are the only Drama Queen I know in my life.”

“I am not joking Belinda. Look, you see the lady in that green maxi dress?”

“Where is she?”

“Look through the window of the hotel and you’ll see her.”

“Okay, but she is far from us. Who is she?”

“Belinda, look, let’s just leave. Please.”

“I am not leaving until you tell me why you don’t want her to see you.”

“I am not being a child Belinda! She is Michelle!”

“Well, let’s go and join her for lunch.”

“Wait, what? I don’t want her to see me. She will get ideas and I cannot fight her. Belinda, God did not bless me with fighting skills. Look at me and then look at her, I’m like a pole she can lean on, please, let’s just go. She is not worth the drama.”

“Okay, we are not going to fight. We will talk and I want to introduce myself. Look at it as some form of enlightenment. I have to face the woman my husband is having an affair with.” Belinda walked into the restaurant and headed straight for the table where Michelle was sitting.  Maureen stood her ground and remained where she was. Belinda pulled a chair and looked at the man having lunch with Michelle.

“Excuse me, we are having lunch,” started the lady.

“Hello Michelle, my name is Belinda. You are having lunch with my husband. I believe I have every right of being here. Jeff, this is the Michelle I asked you about three weeks ago. Do you now know her?”

“Besh, please, don’t do this…”started Jeff.

“I am not doing anything Jeff. I was passing and I saw you holding her hand across the table and thought she must be very important to you. She is beautiful. I like how progressive you are with skin tones. I never liked Molly or the secretary you couldn’t stop taking to Mombasa, but with this one, I have a feeling she’s nice.”

“Besh, this is not the place…” started Jeff, but Belinda turned her attention to Michelle and smiled once more. She said “If I were you Michelle, I would get an HIV test. My husband has dipped his hand in many pots here in Kisumu and you two make a wonderful couple. I hope you have two children just like he did with me. Kids are awesome. Enjoy your lunch.” She pushed back her chair and strutted out of the restaurant and made her way to Okwan’s restaurant.

Chapter Eleven: Belinda

The meeting was scheduled for ten o’clock in the morning. Belinda hated being late, but not as much as being unprepared, which she was. She looked at the time by her wristwatch and let out a shaky breath. Maureen waved at her as she approached the reception and smiled, “You are not late, don’t worry, I delayed the interview as much as I could.”

It had been two months and Belinda had found it impossible to stay away from Okwan’s restaurant. Okwan was hesitant about diversifying her client base but with Maureen and Belinda’s endless pleading, she’d given in and allowed them to set up a whatsapp group. They shared the weekly menu and received orders for deliveries via the network. Okwan would watch as Belinda neatly served the food, arranged the plates and took many photos only to share one of each on the platform.

They agreed that Okwan would receive the money while Belinda made all the deliveries to schools and offices within the town. Maureen offered to share her marketing skills to help them reach out to more people. They shared the profits.

Maureen waited for Belinda right outside the office building. She walked on ahead of her and Belinda followed. “I did not want them to know that I knew you. Our HR can be such a pain sometimes. So, how did it go?”

“They asked me a lot of questions and said they will call me when the time is right.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, why are you surprised?”

“It’s just that the position needs to be filled immediately and I thought they would tell you whether you got it or not. It’s not like they interviewed the whole world for it!”

“Do not stress yourself. If it’s meant to be my job, it will.”

“I do not believe in that. If you want something you go after it with everything you’ve got. You do not leave it to the universe, if I did that; I’d not be where I am today. Ehe, tell me, how are you holding up?”

“I am fine. Jeff stopped asking me about my whereabouts. He pretends not to notice me when I am in the house. Schools are closing soon and I don’t know what I’ll do.”

Chapter Ten: Jeff

He waited until Belinda had tucked the kids in bed before handing her a cup of tea. She looked at him and then reached for the cup saying “thanks.”

“How have you been Besh?”

“Fine, thank you.”

“How is work?”

“It’s great.”

“Where do you stay?”

“In a house.”

“Where is this house?”

“It’s here in Kisumu.”

“Who are you staying with?”

“No one.”

“Are you safe?”

“Yes.”

“Look, is there any way I can come and visit?”

“No, thank you.”

“So you are still insisting on staying away from us? It has been three weeks Belinda. You are like the day time maids in your own home. You come in the morning, at four in the evening and leave by seven thirty; does that seem alright to you?”

“How is Michelle doing?”

“Who?”

“Exactly, so, it seems just fine Jeff. I am taking the time I need to sort out my life and you do not get a front row seat! Thank you for the tea. I’ll be on my way now.”

“Besh, you can’t keep doing this.”

“I know, but when I get tired of doing it, I’ll do something else Jeff. Goodnight.”

He drew the curtain in the sitting room slightly so he could watch her walk down the street into the night. The cup of tea in his hand was still warm. She looked younger, stronger and there was something in her eyes, something he saw the first night he took her out on a date. He walked back to the leather chair he’d been sitting on and settled in with the remote in hand. She wanted time; he was going to give it to her. He however did not know which version of Belinda would return to him, if ever she returned.

He thought about Michelle and felt his heart take a leap. How had Belinda known about Michelle and why didn’t she wreck havoc over her?

He finished taking his tea and then went to bed later on. If he would have taken time to mull over Belinda’s question, he would have known that the storm she’d raised was gaining momentum. He would have run after Belinda into the night and begged for dear life, but being the man that he was, Jeff could always say that he never saw it coming and that would be the only truth he ever uttered in his life.

Chapter Nine: Maureen

There were things that haunted Mesh: Lies, truths, black heels, four-in-one leather handbags, Nivea body lotion and men who cheated on their partners. It is the last of these that prompted her to go see Belinda the next day. She knew that Belinda’s husband was still seeing Michelle. The Facebook updates and whatsapp chats with mutual friends informed her courage. If her man was cheating on her, she would love to know. She held her bag closer to her chest as she approached Okwan’s restaurant. She greeted Okwan and asked if Belinda had reported.

“Belinda told me that you helped her collect money from your colleagues at work when she delivered lunch, is this true?”

“If she said so, then it is. Why do you ask? Don’t you trust her?”

“You ask too many questions in one breath. Belinda has gone to make some deliveries. She should be back any time soon.”

“Sure, I’ll wait for her then. Can I have a soda to drink while I wait?”

“Which brand will you have?”

“Coke please.”

“Have a seat.”

“Thanks, and listen, can I ask you a question?”

“About what?”

“About who? I would like to know how Belinda is doing. Is she happy here or does she seem like she is miles away when she is at work.”

“Oh, I see, so he sent you!”

“Who sent me?” asked Maureen.

“The husband! Look, this is not Telemundo! This is a restaurant. I make food and people pay to enjoy that food. Sitting and eating is what people do here and occasionally the broke ones like you drink soda, so go and tell that silly husband to keep his drama away from this place.”

“Have you met her husband? What does he look like?”

“Are you trying to tell me that you do not know how your employer looks like? What are you smoking you skinny thing?”

“First, let’s get something straight, I do not know her husband. Second, I am not working for anyone when it comes to Belinda’s well being. Third, the only thing I chase and grind for is a clear note the largest value in print being one followed by three neat zeros!”

“I like you! So, what do you want to do about Belinda because she clearly has a lot going on, and from what I gathered yesterday, she left their home.”

“What? Already? Maybe she knows.”

“She knows what?”

“Her husband is cheating on her and that’s why I came to talk to her.”

“I see, and you know this because?”

“It so happens that the girl her husband is seeing is a friend of my close friend.”

“She is someone you know.”

“No, she is someone I have seen and heard about, but I don’t really know her.”

“You came here to tell Belinda about this and also maybe show her who the other woman is.”

“Yes, I came here to let her know.”

“If you just arrived and were quick to tell a stranger like me about this affair, do you think you are in a position to share this news with Belinda?”

“What? I told you because I feel as though you care for her. Stop trying to twist the situation to ease the guilt within you, besides everyone at Winmart knows you are jealous because she has hips to die for!”

“You are still too young to understand what life is. How old are you?”

“None of your business!”

“Less than twenty four I see. Look, Mesh or whatever you call yourself, don’t go around starting little fires that you cannot put out. It is Belinda’s life and marriage. She has been sleeping beside the man for more years than you could ever stay with a man. Before you break any news ask yourself whether it is worth breaking.”

“What if seeing her makes me feel guilty?”

“Guilt is a good reminder that we need to mind our own business. Let Belinda sort out her problems. If she comes to you for help, give it, don’t think about it, just give it and let everything take its course. Are you married?”

“What? No way.”

“Exactly, you have to be in the sea to know exactly where the sharks swim.”

“Okwan, what happened to your marriage?”

“I left it all behind at midnight. The things I had on me were my Identification card, five hundred shillings, the clothes on my body and one red slipper on my feet. I washed off the blood and saw to the bruises at my cousin’s place.”

“I’m sorry, but didn’t you go to the police?”

“He was the police. Now, enough of this, would you like some food as you wait for Belinda?”

“Sure, how about some chapati and beef stew?”

“So, you had money but were busy coating your tongue with soda just so you could pester me with endless questions!”

“I like you too, Okwan.”

“I like your money better.”

Chapter Eight: Okwan and Belinda

After all, was she not the one who always wanted to leave her husband? It might have been how Belinda coaxed her husband out of his anger or how she walked with him out of the restaurant and to the parking lot that ignited a heart beat in Okwan. She would never tell the exact moment when she found the courage to confide in Belinda, but later that evening as they were closing the restaurant, she asked Belinda to listen to her.

“What is going on with you Belinda?”

“Nothing much, why do you ask?”

“I heard the conversation you had with the men who came in today for lunch. One of them was your husband and he asked you to go back home, tell me, what is going on?”

“He asked me to stop working and I refused. I moved out of the house and now I am still working for you.”

“I see, and what about your children?”

“They are at home. I get to see them and spend time with them. I just do not sleep in that house.”

“What made you come to that decision?”

“You are asking as though there is a definite answer to such a question. Look, Okwan, do not worry about it. My husband and his friends will not cause you any trouble.”

“No, they won’t, but you on the other hand, could.”

“What have I done?”

“Exactly…that’s what I’m talking about, what have you done? You may think that you took one step but it doesn’t change the fact that you took it. There are some things in life that you can never turn your back on and just be careful while you are on this new path you’re treading.”

“Is that a threat?”

“If it feels so to you, then it is what it is. By the way, your friend came looking for you sometime after you’d seen off your husband.”

“What friend?”

“Some skinny girl who talks faster than I can count money, she said her name was Mesh!”

“Mesh! Yes, she helped me collect payment from the people are Re-Insurance plaza. She’s nice.”

“Yes, if you believe that anyone who responds to Mesh is nice, then you are really going downhill. Anyway, it’s not in my place to judge. Here’s your pay for today and please think carefully about what it is you are doing.”

“Thank you, Okwan. Do not worry about me. I will see you tomorrow.”

Chapter Seven: Okwan

Okwan rolled off her bed into the restaurant.

She had sent Joshua to the slaughterhouse to get fresh matumbo and some maini for the day. On Wednesdays were her worst days; everyone loved matumbo but she hated the process of preparing them. The customers sat down to eat holding the belief that she could deliver on what they paid for. Some days, like today, she felt like pulling out her dreadlocks as one would pluck a chicken. She’d been living in this city for ten years.

The first five involved running for her dear life and the next five setting up a restaurant.

The thought of making her way to the peace of mind she had, made it harder for her to deal with Belinda. There was something about the woman that reminded her of a dead cat by the road. Belinda had soft smooth skin, like the ones she saw on women plastered on billboards. Her face was adorned by a smile that when revealed, lit up her brown eyes. There was also the way she dressed, as though the clothes were privileged to grace her body. It was this last fact, or better yet, that she had hips that everyone at Winmart felt was appropriate for the ideal woman, that made Okwan loathe her. How she came into Okwan’s world and started reigning resulted in sleepless nights. In the dark of the night, Okwan would wake up, go to the kitchen, open the fridge and pour some Viceroy in a cup and drink it while seated on the floor. She would brush her teeth immediately after, trying to mask that scent with some peppermint, but the liquor burned her throat so bad, she would wake up, her voice coarse.

Okwan did not expect to be entertained as soon as lunch time, but when the customers arrived and asked for Belinda, she had the feeling that they were not after her food. She called Belinda and asked the men to sit down and wait. She walked to the corner, which was two steps away from the kitchen door and watched as Belinda approached the men.

“So, it is true Besh, you work here.”

“Hello Jeff and who are your friends?”

“It doesn’t matter Besh, I just wanted to see it with my own eyes. Are you happy doing this?”

“I love working here Jeff.”

“That’s not what I mean and you know it! Why? I mean, are you trying to get back at me for something I did? I don’t know whatever it is but I am sorry, just forget this place and come home.”

“Would you like to order something? We have the ugali-matumbo for lunch today and it’s really tasty.”

“Do you have kienyeji?” asked one of the men.

“Yes we do, may I get you some?”

“Please, I’d love that and then be sure to bring some pepper too, teargas.”

“You’re most welcome.” She walked back to the kitchen and went about serving the men and returned with their meals. She also set a plate of food in front of Jeff and whispered in his ear, “lunch is on me,” before going back to the kitchen. Okwan sank into the plastic chair at the corner waiting, pretending not to care, but she knew the signs all too well.

Chapter Six: Belinda

Iman and Hakeem jumped into her embrace as soon as they got off the bus. Once in the house, she helped them change into their play clothes and watched as they started chatting up their grandmother. She served them juice as their clothes were soaking in the bathroom.

Half an hour into the cleaning and dusting of the room, their bedroom door was flung open and Jeff said, “You’ll not work there anymore. If it is money you want, I’ll give it to you, but you are not going back there.”

She sat on the bed and looked up at him, “why?”

“Why? Did you just ask me that? You work in a kibanda! It is a small thing pretending to be a restaurant and do you know how it makes me look to have you working there? It’s just so wrong.”

“So, it is about how you look and not that I work.”

“If you want to work, send your CV to some places, apply for jobs and get called into an interview, just not there and it is not fair that you leave Mother here the whole day just so you can make loose change. Besh, you are a graduate for crying out loud! How can you sit on all that potential and instead waste it working for peanuts at some kibanda?”

“Are you asking me to babysit your mother?”

“Whatever! For as long as you live with me, you will not work there.”

“Thank you, Jeff. You should have said that in the very beginning. I’ll leave first thing tomorrow morning.”

“Belinda, wait, Belinda…be serious, and where would you go? Look, I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Stop talking to me Jeff, I am tired and I need to start preparing supper.”

“Is having that job more important than me and the kids?”

“Jeff, since we got married, I have done everything just for you and the kids. Now, sometimes I sit down and ask what have you done for me? I am not talking about taking responsibility for the kids or ensuring that there is food and supplies in the house and bills are paid. What have you ever done for me? I am tired Jeff, I am sick and tired of everything and now, I want to simply do what you always expect from me which is prepare your food and serve it to you and the kids. I’ll be sure to leave very early in the morning so you can go with the house keys.”

“Belinda…this is not the way we sort out this issue.”

“It is because you said so and frankly speaking I am glad that I finally get to see the real you Jeff, besides your mother is around and things will be okay, won’t they?”

“Leave my mother out of this!”

“You should take your own advice because she has more understanding and love than you and it hurts me that no matter how hard she tries to tell you to support me, you constantly put me down. I am done, Jeff.”

She walked into the kitchen and switched on the burner then placed the sufuria on it with some water for making the ugali. She was reaching out for the maize flour when someone reached for her hand. Her Mother-in-law was smiling and she took out the floor and switched off the burner.

“Mama, how are you? Can I make you some tea?”

“No, sit down.”

“What’s the matter, Mama?”

“Sit down and listen to me Belinda. Your Mother would be very proud of you if she could see the woman you are today. I could not help but listen to what you told my son and if there is one thing that I have always known is that, a woman never leaves her home. You just told your husband that you’ll be leaving tomorrow morning, is that true?”

“I have to.”

“Well, if you really needed to leave, you would have left two years ago my daughter. I know what it means to be fed up. Do not say something you cannot do.”

“Mama, are you saying that I cannot leave this house tomorrow?”

“Yes, however, I know you need time to think things through and that’s why I’ll stay. You can do as you feel you ought to but make time for your children. You have to see them when you can and reassure them that you’ll always care for them because they are not the reason for your misunderstanding with your husband, and even if they are, they do not deserve the same punishment as him.”

“Thank you, Mama.”

“Now, go and check on your children and let me help you out today. I will call you when supper is ready.”

“You don’t have to.”

“I just asked you to let me do my part Belinda, are we going to argue over that too?”

“No, Mama.” She walked into her mother-in-law’s embrace and for a few minutes it felt as though the world was finally smiling down on her, but that was before she heard the engine. Jeff was doing what he knew best and for once his outburst did not bother her. It was this final admission that enveloped Belinda into a sadness she could never share with the woman who was holding her at that moment.