Chapter Twenty: Finale

Maureen stood in Belinda’s way at the office. The first two months had taken a toll on Belinda and Maureen could see that she was beginning to get a grip of her home and her work. She had also noticed the wall her friend put between them.

Belinda would leave the office in a hurry. She never answered Maureen’s calls over the weekends and whenever she was asked about it, she said that she was busy with the kids. Maureen could not understand who was busy with kids at 11 PM.

“You are avoiding me Belinda. Tell me, what is wrong?”

“I have so much work to do. Can I talk to you later?”

“I don’t have time for later. What is the problem?”

“Mesh, we are at work and I have reports that need to be filed. Can we talk about this over lunch?”

“No, we never have lunch together. You always rush to Okwan’s and leave when I walk in. It’s either we talk now or I start shouting at you.”

“As you wish then, you knew Michelle and you also knew that Akinyi was her sister but never bothered to tell me, that is my problem.”

Maureen folded her arms across her chest, shook her head and said “You are right on both counts, so?”

“Your friend is pregnant for my husband.”

“Wait, Akinyi? No!”

“Michelle and to be honest Maureen, you may think that you are doing what’s best for me by bringing all these women into my life and watching how it hurts me, but the truth is, I cannot be friends with someone who cannot come to me and tell me things as they are. It is too much.”

“I came to you and told you everything about Michelle, what did you do?”

“I don’t have time for this!”

“Make time, Belinda. I came to you and you yelled at me and insulted me for an hour! Do you remember? When you moved back into your house, what did I tell you? You went on and did just that, listen, you may be right and I may also be right, but here’s the thing Belinda, your husband cheated on you, not once or twice but a couple of times. You have been low for so long that you’ve forgotten what it means to think and act for yourself. You are going to need friends and frankly speaking, you owe me for playing nice so you could get an interview at this firm. So, how about we forget this drama with your baby daddy and focus on you being a superwoman?”

“Mesh, I am serious. Jeff played games and look where it got me. It hurts knowing that you withhold things from me because you are afraid of how I would react. Think about it, if you were me, how would you feel? Would you trust that kind of friend?”

“I know, you are very sorry for jumping into conclusions and all that stuff, now, get back to whatever you were doing and let’s earn some money.”

“See, I am having a serious conversation with you and you are busy cracking jokes.”

“Madam! I will have you know that I do not crack jokes when it comes to earning money. You should know all this by now, weren’t you the one who had enough savings to move out of her house when things got thick? Listen, my mother always tells me that there is nothing as powerful as a woman who can earn and save her own money. She also says that there’s no better feeling than spending your own money.”

“I will see you later on Mesh. Now, let me file these reports. You know we are having external auditors coming in for an evaluation and the bosses are tense.”

“Forget about it, why should you be scared when a visitor comes to inspect your kitchen? If they don’t like what they find, they can always go to their homes and cook for themselves.” Belinda was about to respond to Mesh when she saw he computer screen light up. Mesh walked back to her desk, giving her time to respond to the email she had just received.

****

Jeff dreaded having a conversation with Belinda. The children were at home with their grandmother and he could not escape his wife’s presence at every turn. He thought of his friends advice on keeping the news of Michelle’s pregnancy to himself. It worked well for the two months but he knew that sooner or later he’d have to break the news to Belinda. He sat on one of the steps leading to the front door and took in a deep breath.

****

Belinda watched him sitting outside the house and approached him with a cup of black tea. He took the cup from her and set it aside as she sat beside him.

“How was work today?”she asked.

“It was the same stuff. You know nothing changes in banks as much in terms of what’s done. How about you? How was your day?”

“My day was good. I sorted out things with my friend, Maureen, and so far all is well.”

“That’s very good. Thanks for the tea.”

“You’re welcome. Jeff?”

“What happened to us?”

“You are asking the wrong man, Besh. You are seriously asking the wrong man.”

“Well, at least I asked, kuuliza sio ujinga, isn’t that right?”

“You always asked me questions Besh. Do you remember when Iman was born and she was admitted at the hospital because she was running a fever and the doctors had to run tests? You turned to me and asked ‘is she going to be okay?’ and I was so stupid then, I answered ‘of course, isn’t she under the care of qualified doctors?’ Do you remember?”

“You will have to make more trips to the hospital now. I know Michelle is pregnant. She must be two months and one week along, right?”

“Besh…”

“Don’t beg. Don’t make excuses. Don’t try to argue, Jeff. Congratulations, you will be a father. You’ll have to take care of that child.”

“Besh…listen, I wanted to tell you but I couldn’t find the…”

“Words? Well, you have uttered quite a number this evening, haven’t you? Jeff, we cannot argue about this anymore. You made your choice. I love this house, but it’s not a home. I’ll look for another place and take the children with me. I am telling you this because I want you to see them as often as you can. I will never deny you the privilege of seeing them, but when you do, she is not allowed near them, not until I am certain that she understands we are not feuding or competing for your attention. You can have her Jeff. In fact, you can keep her and all the other one night stands that you so desire. I have already told my uncles of my decision and they’ll be visiting your parents over the weekend. You win Jeff.”

“Besh, listen, you don’t have to move out. We can work something out, a plan or a sleeping arrangement, please don’t do this to Hakeem and Iman. What will you tell them?”

“I see, now you understand that the well-being of our children is at risk? Jeff, it is not about what I will tell them. It is what we will tell them because as far as I know, you are the one who won’t be coming home to them. Shall I add you another cup of tea?”

Belinda stood up and took her cup of tea with her. Jeff stared at her back but even then he could not find the right words to say to make things right. If he would have only answered truthfully the first night she asked about Michelle, then maybe he’d not have been swept by the storm. Maybe…just maybe he never knew that they were like a string of beads, if the clasp holding the string snapped and one bead fell off, then the others would scatter.

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Chapter Nineteen: Okwan

Okwan was closing up the restaurant when Belinda walked in. She was wearing a black pencil skirt a white chiffon blouse and was in nude heels that gave her the upper edge as she walked. She hugged her briefly and pushed back the door to welcome her. Belinda helped her stack the plastic chairs before sitting down.

“I haven’t seen you in a while Belinda, how are things?”

“I miss you Okwan. You know while I worked here there was no office drama but it seems I have found myself in the middle of a battleground there. How are the girls? Do they follow your instructions?”

“The tiny one does, but the dark one is a pain. She served a customer ugali-matumbo and brought back fifty shillings instead of a hundred. I almost slapped the money out of her, but I sent her packing instead. I cannot work with thieves.”

“I am sorry to hear that.”

“Okay, speak up. Something is bothering you and given the fact that you did not come here with the skinny thing that talks too much, I have the feeling that you are unhappy.”

“I moved back home.”

“Mesh told me about that last week.”

“Okwan did you ever have the feeling that all’s lost at a particular moment? I mean, when Jeff talked to me, he asked me to go back home but not to him and not as his wife. He put the children first and something in me felt like we were done. We could never work and live as happy family. I found out yesterday that Michelle is pregnant. Okwan, I cried. It was the first time I cried until I fell asleep. Do you want to know what hurt me the most? It’s the fact that she sent me screenshots of her conversation with Jeff and he was telling her he loved her while he was telling me she was nothing. Okwan, what did I ever do to deserve all this?”

“Have you talked to Maureen about this?”

“No, she would not understand.”

“Do you remember the woman she invited to your apartment two weeks ago?”

“Akinyi? Yes, why?”

“Well, I cannot step on a thorn and keep my mouth shut. Akinyi is Michelle’s sister.”

“No”

“Yes, you were drunk to see the similarity, but I saw it the moment she walked in and the truth is, Maureen is a sneaky devil, but she is a good person. I don’t know if it was her way of getting Akinyi to understand how far her sister had gone in destroying your marriage, but it is what it is.”

“No, why couldn’t she tell me?”

“She has not told anyone. I overheard their conversation as we were leaving that night. So, has Jeff said anything about the baby?”

“No, he has not.”

“Good. Let him be Belinda. You started this new job, concentrate on that, make some money and save enough for your children.”

“Okwan, he took me for a fool and look at me, all this time, I thought that maybe we could work things out. He says sorry now but does the opposite the very next minute, how could I not have seen it Okwan? And Mesh knew all this. She knew about Michelle and even introduced her elder sister to me, like we were friends! How could I have been so stupid Okwan? How could I have been so blind?”

“You are not stupid Belinda.Do not put yourself down for a man’s mistakes. He is the one who cheated. He is the one to bear the consequences of straying. You did your part and you have an even greater part to play, so pick yourself up and keep moving. By the way, I expect to see you here on Saturday, we are catering at some funeral and I know you could use the cash. It’s a lot of work but you can make something more than you did earlier.”

“Thank you Okwan. You are a true friend. Let me get to the house now.”

“Think about it Belinda, you are a good person and you should pick yourself up and keep going.”

Chapter Eighteen: Jeff and Belinda

Belinda looked up from hugging Iman and Hakeem to see Jeff driving into the compound. She walked with the children into the house and took their bags. They went to their rooms to change into their play clothes as she waited in the sitting room for Jeff. He walked in a few minutes later, “I was hoping to see you today. Have you had something to drink?”

“No, I haven’t. What are you doing home so early Jeff?”

“I was hoping to talk to you. I called Mary and she told me she was in school so I guessed you would be here and seems I was right.”

“Yes, at least you are right.”

“Come home Besh.”

“It does not feel like home Jeff.”

“I know that things cannot change overnight Besh. You always used to talk to me, to tell me anything that came to your mind. It was easy back then and then we had Iman and you started retreating into the shadows. You know we never argued about a thing, we would talk things through and I miss that. Mary said something to me yesterday, it was almost as though, she was giving life to the pain you’ve been going through. She said that you did not just snap, that you broke…and Besh, I am sorry, look, if there’s anything you want me to do to make things right then I would do it. I just want you back home. I want you here beside me and I want Hakeem to wake up at night knowing that his mom is there. I want Iman to see you home because this is all they know.”

“You want me to come back to this house?”

“I want you in our lives Besh.”

“I’ll think about it Jeff and let you know.”

“Do you still work at that place?”

“I got a job. I’ll also keep working at Okwan’s but not as often as I did. We worked on a system that suited us.”

“Congratulations, where’s this new job?”

“It’s here in Kisumu. Do not worry about the details but just know that I am embracing the eight to five lifestyle. Mary will be coming over next week to help with the kids and after that I was thinking they could go home and spend some time with your mom when they close school. It will give me enough time to get someone to help around the house.”

“Sure, that’s great.”

“Okay, let me go and see what those two are up to.”

“Besh…”

“Yes, Jeff.”

“You are the mother of my children. I love you, always have…and though I have made all these stupid mistakes that cause you nothing but pain, I just want you to know that Michelle was a mistake and it took me a while to accept that.”

“Honey, no woman wants to be called a mistake when it comes to love. Can we not talk about this today?”

“Sure, I just wanted you to know.”

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 Fifteen: Jeff

He went home early. He parked the car in the garage and walked into the house. It was four o’clock when he stepped into the sitting room. Hakeem ran up to him and hugged him. “Where’s Iman?”

“She is drinking juice in the kitchen with Auntie Mary.”

“Auntie Mary is here?”

“Yes, she bought us ice-cream but I finished mine! Sorry.”

“It’s okay, let’s go and say hello to Auntie Mary and get some juice too.”  He lifted Hakeem and made his way to the kitchen where his sister-in-law was busy grating carrots with the help of Iman. They looked up when he entered the kitchen. Iman smiled and waved at him. Mary nodded and continued grating the carrots.

“Mami, go into your room with Hakeem, I’d like to talk to your Auntie.”

“Why? Did she not do her homework too?”

“Something like that mami, get off the kitchen counter and see what you can do as we catch up.”

Jeff waited until the kids had left the kitchen before turning to Mary. She smiled at him and continued grating the carrots. “Where’s Besh?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know? She is your sister for chrissake!”

“She is your wife and you know what Christ has to say about that and being put asunder.”

“Mary, I am not in the mood for one of your games. Tell me where Besh is!”

“I don’t know. She called me this morning crying about something and asked me to be home when the kids came from school. I was shocked but seeing as I had no lectures today, I got into a matatu and made my way here from Maseno. Iman told me that she does not stay here anymore. I don’t know what is going on Jeff but given how you demand to know her whereabouts, I have a feeling that you did something to make her leave. What did you do? Wait, better yet, whom did you do?”

“Watch your tone Mary! You are in my house.”

“You are right. Listen, you can finish grating the carrots and check on the meat that’s cooking. I have other things to do with my life than live by your rules.”

“Mary, wait…just finish cooking, you can leave in the morning. Forget what I said, it’s been a stressful time for us. Your sister asked for time to think things through and I don’t know, maybe I was putting too much pressure on her to have another baby, she just snapped. I am sorry if I offended you. It was not my intention.”

“Aha…I see, so you can also apologize? Listen Jeff, she knew about the other women and it killed her. I don’t know how you could never see how much it hurt her when you lied to her face. I don’t like you but I am here because my sister asked me to. Besh, did not ‘just snap,’ she broke and for the sake of your life, I hope you get what’s coming to you. You don’t deserve my sister Jeff. You don’t.”

Chapter Fourteen…

“Now, that is the reason why you need to go and sleep it off. I know your husband is a coward and he will come here trying to confront you. Listen, go home and rest and we can talk about your next move.”

“Mesh, what do you mean by my next move?”

“Belinda, what she means is that you have finally caught him and he cannot hide from the truth. He knows you can do one major thing and that is to take the children from him. He also knows that he has to act like he is saving his marriage in order to look good among his fellow men. You have started a war Belinda and from where I’m sitting, I want you to win.”

“What is wrong with you two? I just confronted my husband and his mistress. I haven’t been living in our marital home for two months. I might lose my children and worse off, it hurts that he cheated on me and you are talking about war and winning?”

“You are too good for this life Belinda. You should become a Pastor.”

“I know right? We can be ushers and help collect all the tithes. Belinda, listen, Mesh is right. You are too good for this life and look where it got you. You got married and you embraced the season of marriage so much so that you forgot about yourself. Your whole world revolved around Jeff and sometimes when you give people the title of “Perfect” without informing them, they let you down. You expected so much from someone who knew nothing of your expectations. It hurts and it won’t stop hurting until you decide to keep loving and embracing yourself. You are lucky he didn’t leave you seeking the casualty wing of a hospital.”

“Okwan, I didn’t mean to…”

“No, that is what I mean by it hurting. Women bear secrets that could drain this world of all the tears the creatures have. It took me five years to choose myself. In those five years, all the nurses at Russia knew me as the punching bag of my husband and whenever I came in, they’d say ‘the usual,’ and write on my visiting card that I fell down. You know, later on when I looked at those cards, I saw that I’d fallen down four hundred and fifty three times. Did you know that anyone with Epilepsy does not suffer that much number of fits? Go home and sleep. We’ll talk in the evening.”

“Thanks Okwan.”