(I first wrote this story in July 2019. I am re-writing and expanding it into a novella.)
Rhoda was born sixteen years ago. Felista, her mother, was a stunning beauty then; she still is. Felista had just completed form four and had passed well, having attained a B-. Unfortunately, her father Mutuku was too poor to afford college, and the grade was too low to earn her a spot as a government sponsored University student. So she started fooling around with a local lout and became pregnant. As is often the case, the ruffian denied being responsible, even though he had all along been bragging to his friends about bedding the beauty queen of the village.
In a different household, Felista might have become destitute and desperate; but Mutuku embraced her and her baby. At the very least, they did not lack basic needs. When Rhoda was a year old, Felista moved to Nairobi to look for work; she left Rhoda under the care of Mutuku and his wife Mwikali. The only work that Felista could find, however, was that of a house help. She was employed by a well off couple, Stephen and Nadia, who lived in Nairobi’s Karen neighborhood. Stephen and Nadia had only one condition: they did not want a woman with children. They wanted someone who would give undivided attention to their two kids. Felista told them with a straight face that she did not have any children and therefore got the job.
Stephen and Nadia were kind to Felista and paid her well. She regularly sent the money to her parents, keeping only a little to herself. Mwikali and Mutuku used the money to take care of Rhoda. Because of the demanding nature of the job, Felista hardly came home. She only appeared for a few days over Easter and a few more days over Christmas. But Mutuku and Mwikali did not mind taking care of Rhoda. They loved their granddaughter to bits.
Felista was a hard worker and her bosses loved her. After working for them for six years, Nadia and her husband Stephen decided to sponsor Felista’s university education. Felista was enrolled at the University of Nairobi as a self-sponsored economics student. She was still expected to do the household chores, but this was not much especially because the children had by this time been sent away to boarding school.
It is around this time that Mutuku died. Felista did not mention his death to her bosses. Nadia would have allowed her to attend the funeral, but Felista feared that with the children gone, Nadia and Stephen would realize they could do without her. Her fears were, of course, unfounded.
Stephen, a businessman, had more flexible hours than his wife Nadia who was working as a Chief Technology Officer in a large IT company. So he insisted on dropping Felista to school and back, to save her from the hustle of using public transport. Nadia had no objection. Felista had been with them for over six years and was like a little sister to her. She was proud of her husband for being so thoughtful.
When Stephen and Felista started sleeping together, Nadia had no clue.
When Felista completed her studies, Stephen hired her in his company and gave her a pay rise. Felista built a decent house for Mwikali and enrolled Rhoda at Our Lady of Mercy Messa Junior School, the ultimate school for the children of Shava County’s middle class. It is a relatively expensive private school run by Catholic nuns and ranks second in the region after Shava Springs Academy. Shava Springs is a school for the ultra-rich, and attracts students from across the country.
Felista continued to do the housework even after Stephen hired her in his company. Nadia told her that she was free to get her own place if she wished, but Felista insisted that because they had been so good to her, she would continue helping them with housework.
She would wake up early to prepare breakfast because Nadia left the house at 6 am, then she would tidy u the house before taking a shower. Depending on whether he was up to it, Stephen would make love to her before she showered but after Nadia left. They would take breakfast and leave for the office together. Stephen would drop her at the house at 6 pm and go back to the office. Felista would take a shower before preparing dinner. Nadia would come about 9 pm, exhausted and quickly take dinner before going to bed. Felista would watch television until Stephen came home, usually about 11 pm. She would then serve dinner which they would take together. They never made love when Nadia was in the house, asleep or not.
Nadia found out what was happening in a most dramatic way. The CEO of her company had just left to take over as the Global Director of their mother company in London. The Board appointed Nadia as the CEO of the Kenyan unit. On that particular morning, she was scheduled to give a speech at the farewell party of her predecessor. She had decided to give a formal, written speech. When she got to the office and instructed her secretary to print out the speech, she realized to her horror that she had forgotten the flash disk where she had saved the speech at home. It was still in the handbag she had used the previous day. So she jumped into her car and raced home.
The house was unlocked so she got in and went straight to her bedroom where she kept her handbags. There, on her matrimonial bed, lay her husband and the girl she has started to consider a sister, both naked and in the throes of passion.
Nadia was deeply hurt by both the man she had loved for over fifteen years and the girl she had taken in and treated like a younger sister. But Stephen was unapologetic. He accused her of abandoning her duties as a wife and leaving them to Felista. He claimed that that is what pushed him into sleeping with Felista; that Felista was more of a wife to him than she, Nadia, was. Felista did not utter a word, and Nadia picked her flash disk and left without another word.
The divorce was acrimonious but swift. Nadia did not want her personal problems to distract her from her new job as CEO, so she agreed to a 50-50 sharing of property. Stephen knew she was entitled to a lot more than that: he was a poorly paid BOM teacher when he met her, while she was already a rising star in the IT firm that she was now heading. She had taken loans to fund the business they started, which was registered under both their names but managed by Stephen. Nadia had also worked her networks to find clients. In other words, Nadia built Stephen into the successful business he now was.
Stephen insisted on taking the Karen home, where he continued to live with Felista. Nadia reluctantly agreed to settle for their holiday home in Malindi and the rural home Kericho.
The divorce and her subsequent elevation to wife status complicated things for Felista as far as Rhoda was concerned. Stephen controlled her income. He removed her from the company and insisted that he wanted her to be a housewife, as he did not want a “repeat of Nadia”. Without a salary of her own, and with Stephen monitoring their house expenses, it became difficult for Felista to continue paying school fees for Rhoda, who was now fourteen years old and in form one.
Mwikali took Rhoda to a public day school and was able to manage the tiny stipend that Felista sent. But Mwikali is now dead. The youngest of Felista’s brothers has claimed the house that Felista had built as his, dubiously insisting that culturally the parents’ house belongs to the youngest son. None of Felista’s siblings want anything to do with Rhoda, so she has been rendered homeless.
Rhoda is now sixteen years old. Her mother, Felista, has a three-year-old son with Stephen. She cannot dare tell him that she has a sixteen-year-old daughter because he is already acting cold towards her. Felista suspects that he is having an affair with his secretary, but she doesn’t know why. She cooks for him; she cleaned the house; she washes his clothes; she is ready to jump into bed whenever he demands it. She is doing everything that he had accused Nadia of not doing. So why would he seek another woman?
Felista is acutely aware that she does not have the financial clout that Nadia had, so she cannot afford to be kicked out by Stephen. She does not want to give him an excuse to get rid of her. If he could divorce the woman who had made him wealthy, he can certainly dump her for his yellow-yellow secretary with fake hair and nails.
So Felista does nothing while her daughter is suffering; Rhoda has been roaming from relative to relative seeking shelter and food. Relatives have been treating her like trash. She is often overburdened with housework and is often beaten for wrongs she did not commit.
Relief seemed to come for Rhoda when she was taken in three months ago by a prominent Christian couple in her Sodi village. Mr. & Mrs. Kasida took her back to school and got her everything she needs to resume learning as a day scholar. Mrs. Beatrice Kasida leaves her to do all the house chores when she is not in school, but Rhoda does not mind. She is grateful for the opportunity to go back to school, to have a roof over her head and to have regular meals.
There is only one thing that has been making her miserable in her new home: one week after her arrival at the Kasida house, Mr. Kasida, who happens to be the Chairman of their local church board, discovered a hobby. He sneaks into Rhoda’s room every other night after his wife goes to sleep, and defiles her while she sobs.
While Felista is struggling to impress a man in the city, her daughter is fodder for a male predator in the village.
Image by Yoss Cinematic from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/pet-friendship-animal-adorable-4303277/
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