Fridah watches as her husband takes his breakfast slowly. It has been a tough two years, but dawn is finally coming. Her husband Jeremy was involved in a road accident two years ago that left him bedridden for months. In those early days, Fridah actually thought he was going to die.
Jeremy used to work for a pesticide manufacturing company as a marketer. The pay wasn’t much, but they managed. Fridah is a primary school teacher. With their combined income, they were able to pay rent, put food on the table and keep their children in school.
But then one cold Friday evening Fridah received a call from a hospital: Jeremy had been involved in a road accident and was in a critical condition. She remembers that it was around 6 PM, and she was cooking supper for her family. She left her first born daughter Sarah, who was in class six, in charge of the meal and rushed to the Nazareth Hospital, where he had been taken.
She found him unconscious with blood all over. Doctors and nurses were fighting for his life, and she was escorted away after identifying herself and signing the necessary consent forms for emergency surgery. The nurses told him that doctors were still examining him to establish the exact extent of his injuries, but they knew for a fact that he had broken both legs, one hand and a few ribs. He was in a bad shape. His face was bruised and swollen, and she could hardly recognize him. According to what she was told, he was in a matatu heading to a client’s farm when the matatu hit a pick-up truck head on.
Fridah found herself crying and asking God to spare the life of her husband. She did not want to lose him, even though they had had domestic issues here and there over the years. She had met Jeremy twelve years earlier when they were in college. She was pursuing a P1 certificate course while he was doing a diploma in sales and marketing in a neighboring college. They met by accident at a restaurant. Funny story. Fridah was waiting for another man, who stood her up. Just as she rose to leave, Jeremy left the boys he was watching football with and joined her. He chatted her up and convinced her to give him his number. He even bought her the lunch she had come for and they ended up taking for hours, football all but forgotten. In the following weeks, they kept in touch and got to like each other. Soon they started dating.
They completed their courses in the same year. Her course took two years while his took three years, but he was a year ahead of her. After completion, they co-rented a house in Ndenderu. They struggled to get jobs. Even getting rent for their single room house was problematic. But finally, after five months, Fridah was hired by a supermarket as an attendant. She got paid five thousand shillings a month, but it was God-sent. Finally, they could stop playing hide-and-seek with the landlord, and they could get regular meals.
Fortunately or unfortunately, Fridah became pregnant. When she went to give birth to their daughter Sarah, the Supermarket fired and replaced her. But Fridah is a prayerful woman, even though she was living with a man who was not officially her husband. Her pregnancy and childbirth were smooth, so she did not need a lot of money. She had been buying baby clothes little by little, so that was not a struggle either. She knew that they would need money, but she trusted God to provide.
Three weeks after she gave birth, Jeremy was hired by Pest Maliza Limited, a pesticide manufacturing company, as a marketer. His starting salary was twenty thousand shillings a month but he was also getting a medical cover, as well as performance based bonusses. Jeremy is a hardworking man, and within a year, he moved his family to a one-bedroom house in Ruaka. He also got a raise at the end of the year.
Fridah became pregnant again, and she gave birth to twins, Luke and Tabitha. She took care of her children when they were young, but it wasn’t a problem because Jeremy was providing. He moved them to a two-bedroom house so that now the children had their own room. They generally had a good life, mostly because of his bonuses. When the twins were three years old, Fridah got job at a private academy. She would earn six thousand shillings a month, but with one advantage: the owner of the school allowed her three children to attend school for free. The twins joined the baby class while Sarah joined in PP2.
Things should have looked up for them with the additional income, but they didn’t. Suddenly, Jeremy stopped providing and insisted that she should also contribute to the household. Fridah did not have a problem with that. She used her income to feed the family. But getting Jeremy to pay house rent or buy clothes became a struggle. She had to beg and plead.
After a few years, Fridah was hired by TSC and posted to a public school. As a result, she lost the free schooling privilege she had at the private academy. She pleaded with Jeremy to assist by paying school fees, but he told her that he was paying house rent, and that already was a huge burden on his shoulders. TSC did not pay her for the first three months, and those months were a struggle. She had some savings, and that is what she used to purchase food in the house. She had learned how to manage her meagre income to feed the family. She negotiated with her former employer to allow the children continue schooling, promising to settle the fee arrears when she got paid. The lady, who was a former TSC-employed teacher herself, understood and agreed.
That is how their lives were in the years leading to the accident. But then the accident happened, and things took a turn for the worse.
When it became apparent that Jeremy would need round-the-clock care for a prolonged period, everybody fled. Friends and relatives who had been promising to help vanished. Fridah was left alone to take care of her ailing husband. She was left with her mother as the only source of support. The older woman would send foodstuff from her farm now and then, and over the holidays she would take the children and stay with them. She still does that. Still, expenses kept piling, and Fridah was forced to take a loan from her Sacco. Her mother, also a primary school teacher, helped her get guarantors for the loan. The money helped to offset the hospital expenses, and when Jeremy was finally discharged, the remainder of the money helped to pay for his physical therapy.
The Pest Maliza Limited allowed Jeremy fully paid sick leave of a month and a further fifteen days at half pay. That was in his employment contract. When that lapsed, he was told that he would keep his job, but with no pay. But after two months, he was fired. What all this meant was that Fridah would have to take over the responsibility of paying rent, with a salary that was already depressed because of loan repayments.
Still, she took in her stride.
She used the remainder of her salary to take care of their house expenses and dedicated her loan money to the care of her husband. Other than footing the hospital bills and paying for his therapy, she also used the money to hire a lady to be staying with him during the day while she was in the school, because he needed round-the-clock assistance. Since he could not walk, he used adult diapers which needed regular changing. He also needed assistance with his meals and medicine. The lady, Doris, would come in the morning just before Fridah left for school and would leave in the evening when she returned. Fridah would take over the night shift, and she would also do the job over the weekends, public holidays and when schools were closed. It was cheaper that way.
One day her colleague at school asked her whether she was following up on insurance.
“Insurance? What insurance?”
“Your husband was involved in an accident. If the car that caused the accident was insured, then that insurance company should pay.”
“How do I know which insurance it was?”
“The police usually indicate it in the police abstract.”
“Where do I get the police abstract?”
“At the police station. But if you get a lawyer, he or she can assist you with the whole process.”
“I don’t have money to pay a lawyer.”
“Usually, they will not charge you. They will recover their money when the insurance company pays.”
Her friend gave her the contact of a young lawyer called Felicity, and when she told Jeremy about it, he agreed it was a good idea and allowed her to follow up. She took it up and found the lawyer in an office in Ruaka town. The lady agreed to help.
She thought it would be easy, but it wasn’t. The insurance company played hide-and-seek with them. The lawyer was tough and diligent though, and finally, the company agreed to pay. The money should be disbursed anytime now. Felicity also suggested that they sue Jeremy’ former employer for unfair termination, and again Jeremy and Fridah agreed.
They filed suit, but the company opted to negotiate out of court. The negotiations have been protracted, but Fridah has also heard that an agreement has also been reached. She has been following up with the lawyer week after week, and Felicity told her that the money will be released soon. Finally, their days of hardship are about to end. According to Felicity, the money is almost six million shillings in total. The insurance company agreed to pay two million shillings as a blanket fee for his injuries and hospital expenses. Out of that, Felicity will get three hundred thousand shillings as her fee.
The employer, Pest Maliza Limited, agreed to pay him four million shillings, although Felicity had filed suit for ten million. Rather than spend time pursuing a legal case, she and Jeremy agreed to take the four million that was offered. Felicity will take five hundred thousand shillings as her fee. In total, Jeremy will be left with five million, two hundred thousand shillings. If they pay off her Sacco loan of a million shillings, they will still have enough money left to change their lives.
Over the past two years, Jeremy changed a lot. He told her that the time he spent in bed gave him time to reflect over his actions. He apologized to her for the way he treated her over the years, and has promised to take care of her and the children as the head of the family.
“I don’t want to see you struggling again. I will find another job and I will take care of all the bills as a man should,” he has told her over and over again. Fridah is confident that their lives will be way better now. She is confident that Jeremy will get another job because he is a hardworking man. And with the money they are expecting, their lives should change for good. The accident was a blessing in disguise.
Slowly by slowly, Jeremy started improving, and now he can walk again. For the last one month he has been following up the payments himself, because he is now fully fit again.
“Have you spoken to Wakili Felicity recently?” Fridah asks him as they take tea. Schools are closed, but the children are with their grandmother. It is just the two of them in the house. “Has the money been released?”
“What is your interest in this money? Why do you keep asking about it? It is my money,” Jeremy says sharply.
Fridah is shocked by his sudden outburst. Why is he so angry? They have been anxiously waiting for the money. What is wrong with asking whether it has been paid? But Fridah generally avoids confrontations, so she apologizes.
“I am sorry darling. I did not mean to offend you.”
“Well you have. I am tired of your constant nagging. I am leaving.”
“I said I am sorry babe. Please forgive me.”
“Oh, so you are sorry now? Are you sorry because I said I am leaving.? I don’t want your apologies, Fridah. It is over. I am leaving this house for good. I don’t want to hear from you again.”
“Jeremy, we have been married for fourteen years…”
“Married? Where? Did you see me paying your dowry? Or signing a marriage certificate? No, Fridah, we are not married. We have just been living together, and now I am tired of the arrangement.”
“But Jeremy, we have children…”
“How do I know they are mine?”
Fridah is too stunned to respond.
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