A short story by Mugs Gitau
Hebzeebah, or Zeeba as everyone called her, kept walking back to take a peek at her charging Smartphone. It was her first Smartphone ever! She had just got it and couldn’t wait to use it. But the customer care lady where she had bought it in Nairobi, Kenya, had told how she must charge it for 6 hours straight without using it. She sighed.
The first thing she did when she could finally switch on her phone what download WhatsApp. And start WhatsApping her friends! So cool! She could talk to her family and friends back home in Addis at virtually no cost!
*excitos* (a term she had noticed people using online)
So as she excitedly sent texts to let people know she was finally connected (oh! The number of times she’s been asked, “You don’t have WhatsApp?”), her old college friend, Christian, was among the first to get back to her With “You finally upgraded from that old ass Kabambe 3G phone?” Kenyans, she thought, they are so weird but you gotta love them.
Christian was different from all the other boys she’d ever give the time of day. He was so ‘straight’. Didn’t drink. Took himself seriously. He belonged to what she and her ‘happening’ friends categorized as ‘psycho’. Granted, they were very young, immature and couldn’t for the life of them comprehend how you could date a guy who didn’t drink and party. What on earth would you do together?
But all the same, Zeeba liked him. I mean his kisses didn’t make her toes curl or anything. And none of her friends understood why she even entertained the guy, but he was so sweet!
Eventually, when she sensed he was getting attached to her, she decided to come clean with him about her boyfriend, Haile, back home. After that, Christian withdrew from her life and they didn’t talk for 10 years.
Zeeba completed college, went back home to Addis and after some years married her long time sweetheart, Haile. One year after they were married, they mutually agreed to come to Nairobi, Kenya, and look for better opportunities.
While there they were blessed with a wonderful little girl, Tirunesh, whom everyone called Tiru.
Unfortunately, Haile kept travelling back to Addis and would sometimes stay away for weeks. Tiru and Zeeba found themselves left to their own devices most of the times. When Tiru was one year old, they separated. A hard time for Zeeba.
The separation was harder on Haile. He went through a period of emotional instability. And when Zeeba suggested divorce, he attempted suicide, twice. She didn’t feel responsible but she felt that to continue to pursue the divorce at a time when he was likely to fight it was bound to defeat the purpose.
2 years down the line, Christian and her bumped into each other and a steady friendship started to grow again between them. When she got her WhatsApp installed, she couldn’t wait to stop his annoying “you don’t have WhatsApp?” questions. She was enjoying the conversation, especially since she was mercilessly teasing him.
That weekend, he invited her over for dinner. She instantly liked his place. She could picture herself spending many hours there, sitting on the large sectional sofa and gazing at the eclectic mix décor with a contemporary African feel to it.
This time his kisses did curl her toes. This time she was not holding back for someone else/. She could really give it a chance, once he defined their relationship.
She thought often about his spiritual side. It appealed to her. But she hoped he wouldn’t turn out to be some psycho religious fanatic. Not that she wasn’t spiritual herself. This was the girl who would cross herself and say a short prayer before taking a sip of her red wine at the club! But she had never dated anyone quite as spiritual as herself. She was however, pleasantly surprised. He was actually fun!
“Lord,” she said on a light note during one of her prayer sessions. “I’m sorry I have been trying to help you do your job in finding me a mate. I was kinda scared you were gonna find me a man who’s unattractive and boring as hell! Who knew you had some fine ‘pastors’ out there?”
She liked who she was when she was with him. He made her want to be a better woman. She began to like him.
6 weeks later when he still hadn’t defined their relationship, doubts set in. On asking what they were doing together, the answer would be a pragmatic, “I like you a lot, and I find you very attractive. But right now am going through a ton of stuff”. Well, until she got some direction from him she was not gonna wear her heart on her sleeve.
She was going to regard him as a friend. A friend who would kiss her and make her heart beat faster, but just a friend nonetheless.
One day they were cozying up on his couch watching TV. It was their 3rd time meeting. She’d missed him and all, but his invite earlier to come and see him has sounded rather halfhearted. So she thought she’d see a couple of people then go see him for a couple of hours in the evening.
She still couldn’t believe he had invited her over again after what had happened the last time.
She sat on the other couch because she did not want him to get all preachy on her like he had the last time when things had got all physical between them. He had said he was saved and he shouldn’t have kissed her or touched her like that. Dude! Did you just realize you’re saved? Her mind had asked. But she had held her tongue and observed him. After all, he hadn’t defined the relationship, yet.
She was surprised when he asked her next to him to share his blanket when she complained she was cold. But she was not surprised when he started to kiss her. He was after all, a hot blooded African male. And he made her blood hot too.
“You watch this show?” He asked turning to the wedding show on one of the popular local stations.
“I hate that freaking show. You watch it?”
“Yeah if I catch it.”
“I am not to be let around brides.” She half-joked. “Give me a few minutes with one, she will go home and break off the engagement.”
“Why, what do you have against weddings?”
Zeeba sat up and faced him with a serious look. “A lot of our college buddies know this coz it was on facebook and all. But what do you know about me and Tiru’s father?”
“Eerr, I don’t know. You guys lived together, maybe you were married?” he ventured.
“Yes, we were married. In church. We are separated 2 years now. But we are still not divorced.”
A slightly surprised look on his face, “Uhhh that’s a useful piece of information that would have been useful to have”
“I am telling you now. He has the marriage certificate. He will not give it to me. I need it to file divorce.”
“But there should be a copy of that somewhere”
“Yes, in Addis at the registrar’s office. I could fly there and get it. But with the law there it could take years if he fights the divorce. That’s why am taking the advice of my shrink and negotiating with him for it.”
He was silent.
“I was worried what you’d think….” She started to say.
“It’s your life. You don’t have to worry what people think.”
“Not people, you.” She came back at him. But her heart sank. He didn’t think it was important enough. He really didn’t like her that way.
The next day as she was talking to Christian he sounded like his normal chatty self. Until she invited him to lunch at their place and he replied with, “we’ll see”
“Huh?” she asked wondering if there was more coming.
“Yes, we’ll see. Thanks for the invite, though”
“What exactly does that mean?” she asked.
She had not specified when the lunch would be. It was basically an open invite, whenever would work for both of them. So we’ll logically translated to “we’ll see if I’ll come over to your house, ever.” And they were both African. “We’ll see means “never” in Africa.
Ouch! After I’ve been to his house twice? After bi extend the opportunity to meet my daughter? Really?
These thoughts played out in her head over and over, and from him, resounding silence.
Finally, 4 days later, she could not take his silence anymore. Of guessing why he was not speaking to her.
“I remember us having a conversation about you going quiet or MIA when you were dealing with issues.” She wrote to him on chat.
“I remember you expressing fear that you would hurt me. I don’t know what’s going on here, but I expect you to do the honorable thing and get back to me. I am waiting for you to do that.”
He got back immediately on chat.
“I don’t think I can do this with you, mainly because you left out key information about your marital status.”
Do what? Zeeba thought. You have been very non-committal. Focus, Zeeba, focus.
“Just to be clear,” she typed. “Are you upset that am not divorced or that I didn’t tell you? I told you. On our third date. Remember? You didn’t find it out from anyone else. I couldn’t tell you on chat. And you gotta understand that I was bit scared of how you’d react?”
“Tiru’s father and I separated 2 years ago. We are not getting back together. The law will take time. We are talking about Ethiopia, Africa.”
“That being said, you should have said something.”
“From the very beginning. And no matter the circumstance, you are out of bounds. I wouldn’t date a married woman.”
“I’m not married, am separated.”
She paused and waited for comforting words that never came. Finally she typed,
“Thanks for getting back to me. The not knowing was brutal. Take care of yourself, Christian. Goodbye.”
She shed tears. Not as many as she thought she might shed. She listened to her heart to see if it felt broken. It wasn’t. But she was overwhelmed with outrage over how he had treated her. He had the right to choose whom he did not want to date. There was never commitment anyway. That was fine.
But on freaking WhatsApp? Really? He had shown not the slightest regard for how she might feel. Confused. She thought he was her friend.
That Bible verse on love kept going through her mind.
Love is patient
Love is kind
Love does not act rudely
Love always trusts…..
Is this what she was gonna get from the man of God? (MoG as she and her friend Diana would jokingly refer to him)?
3 weeks later, she walked into a popular coffee shop in the Nairobi CBD and looked around for Diana. Nowhere in sight. Am early for once! She chuckled quietly to herself as she walked towards an empty seat at the corner.
Then she saw him, Christian, sitting at a table in the middle. Obviously waiting for someone from the way he kept looking at the entrance then at his watch.
Following her first instinct she walked right past him, then stopped mid-step, turned back, pulled a chair opposite him and sat.
He was flustered to see her, knocking down his teaspoon and almost spilling his cappuccino. “Hi,” he said.
“You didn’t think I deserved a face to face meeting, not even a call, breaking up on chat?”
“Fortunately, here I am. You said your piece. Now it’s my turn.”
About my heartbreak on realizing that this 12 year relationship I had fought for with my all, was not going to work out?
About my fears of raising a child alone? Of being alone after 12 years?
As you sit there on your moral high horse and look down on me for being a separated, not yet divorced woman, did you ask me if I had gone to my father and asked him to call the elders and ask them to return the cattle he had received for my hand?
Did you ask me if I had gone to my church’s Judicial Vicar and asked for a separation?
And just out of curiosity, when exactly in your opinion, should I have informed you of my ‘status’?
Is it when I first met you for a drink 10 years after I had last seen you? “Hi! Long time! By the way am separated but not yet divorced?”
Is it when you escorted me to the bus stop and planted an unexpected kiss on my lips just as I was about to board my bus? “Stop! Am still married!”
Maybe I should just wear a big ol’ label that says —–> This subject is not divorced! Proceed with caution.
I remember joking about the stigma of divorce that people always talked about. About how I’d looked around but had never seen it. But for the first time since being separated, I actually felt stigmatized. By you! I thought you were my friend, Christian. I thought you would dignify me even though we couldn’t be lovers.
I wish you well. I wish you very well. I hope that when you do get married to the perfect, untainted girl, you will be happy. That your marriage will never fail. That you will never seek divorce. And that years after your separation, before your divorce is final, you will not need love, in your tainted state”
“Pastor!” She greeted him pleasantly, rising.
“How are you?”He asked, although he probably had no clue who she was.
“Am good. Am Zeeba” she offered him her hand.
“And am Pastor Q, as you might know.” He said with a warm smile.
“Don’t worry, I kept him engaged meanwhile”
“Thanks for that.”
“Goodbye”, she said casually to the both of them and walked towards Diana who had been sitting, observing the exchange from the corner of her eye.
“Girl, let’s get out of here”