Previously in Njambi & Kagwe’s World…
I clench my fists to quiet the trembling. I try to take a deep breath but my lungs refuse to fill up with air. My stomach feels like a gaping crater. I press my palms to my cheeks. I have to do this. I have to find out. I unlock Kagwe’s car and peer inside. I slide in the driver’s side and close the door. Then I flip what I think is the switch for the interior lights. A soft, yellow light glows instead. I just turned on the ambiance lighting. Huh. So this is what atmosphere lighting does to a V8. It strikes me how odd it is that I haven’t entered his car in months. It’s like a man cave that I am not allowed into.
The dashboard is dusty and warm from being in the sun all day. There are crumpled nut wrappers on the floor mats. It smells a bit like food – pizza in particular, whiskey and leather. I turn the ambiance lights off and use the torch on my phone instead. I point the beam at the headrest and squint. There it is – a smudge of hair oil on the leather. I crack the window open, draw in the cool, night air and roll it back up. Then I turn my nose upwards and draw a noseful of the hair oil on the headrest. It’s just as I thought.
A sharp rap on the window makes me jump.
“Njambi? What are you doing?”
“Oh, nothing,” I exhale. “Nothing.”
I jump out of the car, evading Olivia’s gaze and feeling slightly embarrassed at being caught snooping on my husband.
“Do you know whose it is?” she asks, motioning at the co-driver’s seat. She looks at me all wide-eyed, waiting for my answer.
I shake my head. “You have a better chance of knowing than I do.”
Then it occurs to me that she does actually have a better chance of knowing than I do, so I say it again for good measure, more to her now than to myself.
“Were you out with Mwai last night?”
“No,” she answers, but in the tone of a question, which tells me that she didn’t even know he was out. It’s probably not right, but I feel a tinge of comfort that she’s as in the dark as I am. Mwai must be getting serious with her if he didn’t tag her along on a night of getting hammered. It must mean – in his own peculiar way – that he cares what she thinks about him. I chuckle to myself. Olivia dear, welcome to the good wives club.
“That photographer, eer…” I realize then, that I don’t even know her name.
“Mel? I think she said her name was Melissa.”
“Melissa,” I roll it around on my tongue. Tsk. Trust Kagwe to go for a girl called Melissa. “Do you know her?”
“No, I just met her today.”
Oh. That doesn’t make any sense. This isn’t turning out to be helpful at all. I start to think that maybe Olivia isn’t to be trusted. Maybe Kagwe and Mwai have manipulated her into coming here to throw me off Mel’s scent, literally.
“I was under the impression that he goes out with you guys all the time,” I say. “He doesn’t come with her?”
She shrugs. “No. I’m the one who brings my buddy, Cheru. Kagwe always comes alone.”
“Who the hell is Cheru?” Now there’s another woman in the picture?
“It’s not like that. That can’t be Cheru’s coz first of all she’s like the diva of braids and… and…”
“Okay. I know she has a crush on Kagwe coz she’s always spilling wine on him and everything, oh my gosh, it’s so embarrassing. But Kagwe is like this standup guy who’s always like ‘Guys, I have to go home to my wife.’ He’s a real gentleman,” she continues, and I stand there stunned, listening to her talking about my husband like this stranger I haven’t met. “In fact, I don’t think she’s ever been in his car coz he always Ubers her home. And she lives all the way in Nyayo Embakasi.”
“Did you say Nyayo Embakasi?”
“Yeah,” she says opening the co-driver’s door, where she proceeds to swab the oily substance with her finger and sniff it. “This is a spritz, I know coz I use one for my hair.”
She’s giving me so much information that I have a hard time digesting it.
“So you’re telling me that when you go out, it’s always with this Cheru chic who lives in Nyayo Embakasi?”
“And she has a crush on him?”
She starts to backtrack. “Like a high school crush, you know? She just gets all jazzed up by everything he says. Like this one time he said cherry for Cheru and she just lost her marbles,” she rolls her eyes. “I was like honestly Cheru, you’re embarrassing me.”
“Cherry for Cheru? What’s that?”
“Cherry as in cherry wine. It’s this cocktail they serve at eer…” she snaps her fingers, trying to slide the name off the tips. “Eer…okay, I forget.”
“Yes! That’s it.”
So this entire time, what I thought was cherry perfume was actually spilled wine? Goodness. Here I thought I had a good nose for these things.
We lock the car and head back to the house as I chew on this new information. Olivia dutifully delivers Mwai’s cigars to him back at the fireplace, just as Nancy and Magdalene intercept me on the front porch. I gather Nancy has already caught Magdalene up on what happened earlier.
“Well?” Nancy prods. “What did you ask her?”
My fingers have gotten cold. I blow some hot air into my palms and rub them on my arms. They both huddle closer expectantly.
“I asked about her hair.”
“Huh? Oh Njambi, you asked for hair tips from that…that homewrecker!” Nancy spits.
“Sssh! Keep your voice down! First of all, nobody’s home is wrecked and secondly, did you see how shiny her hair looked?”
“Oh Dear God,” Magdalene facepalms. “If she didn’t feel good about herself before, I guarantee you she feels better now.”
“I wasn’t asking for hair tips,” I say, feeling ruffled. “It was just a hail Mary. I figured if she’s the one Kagwe was with yesterday, there would be remnants of that oil on the headrest of his car seat. Apparently it’s a spritz, the same one she has on her hair.”
“Heh! Good thinking,” Nancy says. “I wouldn’t have thought of that.”
Silence hangs amongst us for a moment. Nancy stares at something beyond me, while Magdalene toys with a weed sprouting from a thin strip of soil between two cabro tiles.
“That woman, ah ah,” Nancy says. “She doesn’t give me a good vibe. They looked too cozy with each other.”
“And the fact that he brought her to your house?” Magdalene jumps in.
“He wasn’t the one that brought her, it was just –”
“Oh my gosh Njambi, why are you defending him?” Nancy says.
I lower my eyes. Is it that bad? Am I not seeing things clearly?
“Well, he has a type all right,” Magdalene, says. “That has to count for something.”
I understand what she means right away. Melissa has a long neck, short natural hair, a woman’s hips and the grace of a swan. Her skin is supple, her wrists are lithe and when she walks, her body sways as if to a rhythm only known to her. She wears a small smile that looks innocuous to the unkeen eye, and yet, the energy around her is that of a fiery spirit. She is alluring. I’ll give her that. Our resemblance in mannerism and looks is not lost on me. I may even go as far as to say, I can see why he likes her. I am not sure whether that’s a good thing, or something I should be repulsed by.
“What does having a type have to do with anything?” Nancy asks.
“Well, if he has a type, that means he’s not an indiscriminate philanderer.”
“A skirt-chaser with a type? In what world is that better?”
“It is; it means he likes her, and therefore, isn’t really a skirt-chaser. He just likes this one woman.”
“Of course you would say that Magdalene,” Nancy shoots.
Magdalene whips her head towards Nancy. “And what’s that supposed to mean oh queen of the high horses?”
She was once the infamous other woman, Magdalene. She managed to wriggle out of that labyrinth unscathed, if you don’t count her love child. It’s still a raw subject for her, and she doesn’t share my appreciation for Nancy’s bluntness.
“Guys, please,” I cut in. “Can we shelve the pitchforks for a minute and come back to my thing?”
“What do you think?” Nancy asks. “Cheating is cheating.”
“I think context has a part to play. Things aren’t always as clear cut in marriage as you make them.”
“Argh! I can’t believe you two. This is why men get away with all kinds of things. If I were you Njambi, I wouldn’t let him off easy.”
I mull over Nancy’s words apprehensively. “What would you do?”
“Leave his ass!”
I am taken aback. “Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. I’m trying to save my marriage, not obliterate it.”
“You have to do something though,” Magdalene says. “I think you need to hold him responsible for his actions.”
“What are you suggesting?” I ask.
“Move out. Show him you’re not happy with what he’s doing.”
“Abandon my fortress?” I ask. “You couldn’t get me out of my house if you tried. This is my house.”
“At the very least, I think you should confront that woman,” Nancy says.
“Out of the question,” I shake my head. “I don’t know. She seems…”
“What?” they ask simultaneously.
“She seems…I don’t know,” I shrug.
When I looked in her eyes, they weren’t hooded with disingenuity. Her poise told of no scorn. She didn’t turn up her lip at me in contempt, or pout in pity. I don’t tell the girls because it sounds outrageous, and Nancy is sure to say that I’m being naive, but I don’t feel threatened. My instinct here is not to fight – figuratively or otherwise.
“Are you really saying you would leave Martin if you found out he was seeing someone else?” Magdalene turns to Nancy. “For good?”
“If I found out, yes.”
“So it’s okay if you don’t know about it?”
“Martin works out of town,” Nancy says. “I don’t know what he does when he’s out there, but at the very least I think he should have the decency not to parade another woman in front of my family, in my own house.”
“I don’t think that’s what Kagwe was doing,” I come to his defense again. “I know my husband. Kagwe wouldn’t do that to me.”
Would he? Would he really defile our home in that way? I ask myself this question all week.
Kagwe flies through the night, getting home before I leave for work, and leaving just as I get home. On some mornings, I hear him shuffling around the house. He comes to the bedroom I’m sleeping in and cracks the door open. Some days he lingers in the doorway, watching me. Other days he just comes to see if I’m home. Once we meet in the kitchen. He stands there, shifting his weight on his feet, but I refuse to meet his eyes and see whatever pleas or indifference they hold.
Most days I feel numb. I stand in the shower and let the water stream down my back. I close my eyes, turn them upwards and pay attention to the drops falling on my eyelids. I don’t come out until my fingers wrinkle from being in the water too long. I focus on mundane tasks around the house. Yesterday the food burned, but who cares. I’m not one of those women who bake or clean obsessively to process their feelings. My thing is shirts – ironing them specifically. I am amused by how therapeutic I find ironing his shirts now when usually; it is the task I least look forward to on Saturdays.
When a storm of rage starts to stir in my chest, I quell it. When disappointment starts to sprout on my shoulders, I quash it. When the whys and the how-could-yous come knocking, I turn my back on the door. I have one more week until Christmas break, just one more week of holding it together at work. If nothing else, I will not be that woman who cries in the bathroom. Or in my car. Or God forbid, at the morning briefing like Mr. Wanyonyi when his wife took off with his driver.
No. I Njambi Kihoro-Kagwe will not be wrecked by this.