(A sequel to Sins of the Forbears)
“You are going nowhere. Who do you think will take care of the home while you are away?” Sebastian asks. His tone is calm but Fridah knows he is stewing just below the surface.
Fridah is also fuming. She is breathing rapidly and snorting like a Friesian bull on heat. Veins can be seen protruding on her temples. Her fiery, bloodshot eyes are conveying fury and contempt in equal measure. Sebastian’s arrogance is working her up.
She wants to go for the East Africa Young Lawyers Conference in Uganda, but Sebastian will hear none of it. It is nine months since she met him at Maguna’s Supermarket in Chuka, and eight since she officially started dating him. She moved in with him almost as soon as she started dating him. But their relationship has been stormy, punctuated by frequent fights.
“I am going. You cannot stop me. You are just a useless, insecure idiot. You cannot control my life. I do not even know what I saw in…”
She does not finish her sentence. Her head spins for a few seconds before she realizes what has happened. Sebastian has slapped her.
“You hit me? You are such a lowlife! I hate you!”
Sebastian’s cool exterior is cracking. He approaches her but she ducks. She picks a glass from the table and hurls it at him. He ducks, and it misses narrowly. Then, in one swift move, he grabs her and pins her to the floor and starts beating her. She does not take it quietly. She scratches his face with her nails, she bites his fingers and hurls more insults at him as they roll on the floor like school boys.
Then she gets a lucky break and connects a kick to his groin. He bends over in pain and she takes the opportunity to break free and rush to the bedroom, where she locks herself. She looks at herself in the mirror. Her face is beginning to swell. Her clothes have spots of blood on them, but it is not her blood. It is his blood, where she had scratched and bit.
Their constant fights are taking a toll on her. She has considered quitting the relationship, but for all her hatred for men, she has always dreamed of having a family of her own. And Sebastian, for all his domineering and violent ways, seems to be the only man who can love her. He has his faults, but he loves her. She knows it. Or rather, she wants to believe it.
Her friends would not understand, so she does not share her domestic tribulations with them. Perhaps she is embarrassed. She has always been the independent woman and always swore that she would not allow a man to touch her. I have money, she always said; I will walk out and leave his stupid self.
So what is stopping her from leaving Sebastian? She does not admit it to herself, but being in a relationship with Sebastian boosts her self esteem. Her father always called her a prostitute who cannot get a man to marry her. Her relationship with Sebastian proves her father wrong, and she has always yearned to prove him wrong. So she clings to her violent boyfriend.
Besides, she convinces herself, Sebastian is a responsible family man, unlike her father. He pays all the bills, including Tom’s pre-school fees. He doesn’t get drunk. He even goes to church with her on Sundays.
The only problem is that he is domineering and has a very short fuse. He does not like being contradicted. He expects her to be a docile woman with no opinions. Whenever she disagrees with him he blows off like a landmine. Okay, maybe she sets off the explosive by hurling a few choice insults at him whenever he tries to shut down her opinions. But he starts it by trying to control her.
She is now packing her things, ready to leave his house. She has not decided yet where she plans to go. Putting up with Stella for a while before she gets a house means she has to open up to her friend. She is not ready to do that. After fights in the past, she has always promised herself to start house hunting and leave immediately she gets a suitable one. But she often talks herself out of it when the heat of the fight dies down. Now she should probably move into a hotel for a few days, as she looks for an apartment. Because Sebastian pays all the bills, she has been able to save a tidy sum from her salary.
Her son Tom is going to miss Sebastian, and that is her major regret. It is also the other reason she finds it hard to leave. Sebastian is a good father, even though the boy is not his biological son. The two have formed a bond that in unbelievable. Thank God her son was out playing when the fight happened. Miraculously, none of their fights has ever happened in front of Tom. When he comes back and finds them wounded, they lie to him that they have had a small accident. They even make a show of tending to each other injuries, to fool the boy. This, inadvertently, helps them reconcile until the next World War erupts.
Fridah finishes packing and drags her suitcases to the sitting room, ready to find Tom and leave. She does not know how she will convince him to leave Sebastian’s house, but she will find a way.
“Fridah? What are you doing here? And what happened to your face? What is going on here?” a familiar voice asks.
Fridah is surprised to see Reverend Kinyua and his wife seated on the couch, next to Sebastian, whose face has bleeding scratch marks and whose left thumb suffered a deep bite. She stops, while still holding the handles of her two suitcases. She knows the Reverend is Sebastian’s uncle. But he lives in Kenekene village, where both she and Sebastian come from. So what are they doing here?
“Hello Reverend and Mrs. Kinyua. I was just…”
“Daddy! Mommy! Look at…mom where are you going? Did you and Daddy have an accident again?” Tom bursts into the room.
Fridah is caught flat footed. She hadn’t even thought of a lie to feed the cleric and his wife when her son gave her away. Oh children! Wait, what had Sebastian told them about his bleeding face?
“I had brought my wife Harriet for a checkup at MP Shah hospital. We finished early and decided to check on our boy here. He wasn’t at his Westlands office so we decided to check here on our way home. We didn’t know you live here, otherwise we wouldn’t have intruded like this,” the Reverend said, sensing her discomfiture.
“It’s okay Reverend. Your are welcome anytime. It is your nephew’s house,” Fridah says uncomfortably. She hasn’t even told her mother that she is living with Sebastian.
An uncomfortable silence hangs in the air.
“What happened to your face?” Mrs. Kinyua finally asks again.
Fridah involuntarily casts a glance at Sebastian.
“I…I…its nothing. I fell on the stairs,” she says without conviction.
The Reverend and his wife look at her, then at Sebastian, doubtfully. Fridah feels she should say something more, but is not sure what. Sebastian remains quiet, with his eyes fixed on Tom, who is now eyeing their guests with curiosity.
“Sebastian, did you also fall on the stairs?” the pastor asks.
“Tom, please go and play outside. Go find your friends” Fridah shoos her son away. Sebastian clears his throat after the boys has left.
“I am sorry uncle. It won’t happen again.”
“You won’t fall on the stairs again?” the pastor asks, sarcastically. Sebastian smiles.
“She did not fall on the stairs. I beat her up. And I am sorry. I won’t do it again,”
“You can’t beat a woman son. If you don’t want her in your house, ask her to leave. But do not beat her,”
Fridah is surprised. Sebastian has not even tried to shove part of the blame, if not all of it, to her. He must really respect his uncle.
“Is your mother involved in this?” the pastor presses.
“Mother? No! She does not even know Fridah lives here. She does not even know where I live,”
“Listen son. We all know how domineering and controlling my sister, your mother, is. And perhaps you are afraid of being dominated by a woman like your father is. So you take it out on Fridah when she disagrees with you. You want to prove that you are more manly than your father. But you are becoming a tyrant like your late grandfather Mutegi, and your mother. You are becoming your mother, son. Just because your woman disagrees with you doesn’t mean she wants to control you. When did you become violent anyway?”
Sebastian does not respond, but stares at the floor.
“Fridah, do you play any part in the fights? Do you provoke him in any way?” Mrs. Kinyua asks.
Before she responds, Fridah notices tears rolling down Sebastian’s cheeks. Her heart melts.
“Sometimes I say nasty things to him. And when he hits me I fight back,” she says calmly. She is suddenly feeling guilty, although she is not sure why.
“Let me tell you why you insult him. Because of your father Kithinji. Your father mistreated you and you are taking it out on him. You are also becoming your father Fridah,” the cleric’s wife continues.
“Listen, children. I don’t know what you have with each other. But I can tell you this. Relationships take work. Both of you need to deal with your pasts before you kill each other. Fridah, if you still want to leave, that is fine. In fact you should not live with a violent man, even if he is my own nephew. But if you want to ever get married, you need to deal with the question of your father. Sebastian, you need to deal with the question of your mother.” The Reverend concludes.
There is silence for a while. The cleric exchanges glances with his wife, and they rise to leave.
“Before you leave pastor” Sebastian speaks, blowing his nose with a handkerchief. “I have heard you. But how do I get rid of all the insecurities and bitterness that I have piled for the last 33 years?” he asks, tears welling in his eyes again.
“I also want this to work,” Fridah speaks up, her voice trembling. “But I do not trust myself not to insult or yell at him if he annoys me. Do happy relationships really exist?”
“First, you both need God in your lives. Second, yes, happy relationships exist. My wife and I have been at it for 40 years, and we have been happy for the most part.”
“Uncle we go to church. We have God in us,” Sebastian says, half-jokingly.
“If you have God in you son, you wouldn’t hit someone’s daughter like this” the pastor says chuckling.
“So what do we do?” Fridah asks.
“That is really up to you. We can’t dictate your lives for you. But if you allow us, we can share our story candidly with you. I had an affair when I was newly married. I had just been ordained as a pastor by the way, yet I slept with the church secretary. When Harriet found out, instead of leaving me like I deserved, she slept with a church elder to revenge. It was a mess. But here we are, forty years later. We can walk with you through this if you like. Harriet is also a trained counselor. She can help you confront your pasts.”
“But, aren’t you going home?” Sebastian asks.
“Yes we are, but not to Tharaka Nithi. We will be staying at Ruiru so that Harriet is closer to her doctors. That is what we had come to tell you in the first place. So, what do you say?”
“I want to this to work. I am in” Fridah says, glancing anxiously at Sebastian.
“I am in too. Do you guys teach people how to love properly after a crisis? I will pay for extra tuition” Sebastian says, and they all burst out laughing.
Image source: https://pixabay.com/en/people-emotion-dramatic-female-1492052/