(Continued from Daddy’s Flame I)
Tess supports her mother by the shoulders as they walk down the stairs. She is furious as well as shocked. She cannot believe that her father is cheating; if someone had told her about it, she would have defended him. But she witnessed it with her own eyes. When they get to the parking lot, she helps her mother onto the passenger seat and then hops behind the steering wheel of the Toyota Harrier. As she drives out of the hospital, she is barely able to control her rage. Her mother has always taught her to be strong, and to take time to analyze a situation before reacting, but after what they have witnessed, she cannot understand how her mother can be so calm.
Tess is a communications graduate. She graduated last year with a first class honors degree from the University of Nairobi. She had just gotten a job as a features writer at the Standard newspaper when cancer attacked her mother a second time. She resigned and came home to help take care of her mother and her younger brother Phil. Antony is a boarder in high school.
Even though Peninah is all calm, Tess knows that she is hurting deeply. Tess knows that her mother really invested in her marriage. Peninah herself doesn’t speak much about it, but Martin openly speaks about their humble beginnings. He is a preacher and a motivational speaker and often incorporates his personal life story into his sermons and speeches. According to what she has heard him say, he met her mother at Egerton University.
Martin grew up in poverty. His father was a drunkard who sold his entire inherited land and used the money to finance his drinking habits and mistresses. He kicked out Martin’s mother when Martin was just four years old. When the money ran out, and he had no more land to sell, he committed suicide by taking rat poison.
Martin’s mum, Diana, rented a single room house at Karanga market and did odd jobs to put food on the table and send Martin to school. One day she would be picking tea at someone’s farm, the next she would be washing clothes, the next she would be weeding at a maize farm. She sent Martin to Karanga primary, a day primary school. Being a public primary school, the fee was minimal but Martin’s mother still struggled to pay. That was before free primary education.
But the headmaster was kind and allowed her flexibility of payment. Sometimes she would even be allowed to work at the school farm to settle the fee. She always reminded Martin that their only hope out of poverty was his education. So Martin studied hard. He was always top of his class. At the end of class eight, he passed and was admitted to Meru School.
Fortunately, he got bursaries and was able to go through his secondary school without a hitch. He passed his exams and was admitted to Egerton University to study Bachelor of Science in Agriculture. It is while at Egerton that he came to know Peninah who happened to be his classmate. He was elated to know that she came from a neighboring village. They found themselves as members of MUBET, a Christian evangelistic team for University students from the Meru region.
Soon, they fell in love and started dating. They told their parents not long after. Diana said she was okay with it, but reminded Martin that his education came first. She counseled him not to allow his relationship to sidetrack him from his education. Peninah’s father, Geoffrey, embraced the relationship. Apparently, he had met his wife, Rachel, while studying at a Teachers’ Training College. Rachel died in a road accident when Peninah was sixteen years old. Peninah was an only child and Geoffrey never remarried.
Geoffrey was even more excited when he learned that Martin was the MUBET Chairman and an active youth member of PCEA Nchuguni church. Geoffrey was a church elder and the Chairman of PCEA Karanga church, which was within Nchuguni parish before it broke away to become a single church parish. Although he remains influential in PCEA circles, Geoffrey has since retired as an elder, and his son-in-law has taken his place. Martin moved from Nchuguni church to Karanga church after getting married to Peninah.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture, Peninah came back home and decided to start farming. She started rearing chicken at her father’s farm. Her father, a retired secondary school teacher and established farmer, gave her the capital to start her chicken farm on one corner of his ten-acre farm.
As her farm flourished, she hired several employees, and her father transferred an acre of land to her. She constructed her house on one part of her newly acquired land and used the rest for her farming business.
Martin did not graduate at the same time as Peninah. He was accused of cheating in the final exam and was expelled from the university. He maintained his claims of innocence. According to him, he had been accused falsely by a female professor whose sexual advances he had resisted. Peninah believed him. His mother Diana, however, was devastated. His education had been her only hope out of the biting poverty.
Unlike Peninah, Martin did not have a father to give him farmland. So he struggled with joblessness. When Nchuguni Day Secondary School was established, he applied for a teaching job and was hired as an Agriculture teacher, earning a salary of Kshs. 1,500. After a couple of years, Peninah started asking about marriage, but Martin kept dodging the question. By then they had dated for six and a half years. Eventually, he came clean and admitted his fears. He was earning only one thousand five hundred shillings, and had rented a single room in Karanga market, just next to his mother’s. Without a degree, his prospects were dim. How would he support a wife and the children that would follow?
Circumstances changed when Peninah became pregnant. As a youth leader, the pressure on Martin’s shoulders mounted, and Peninah encouraged him to shed his fear.
“Marriage is a partnership darling,” she told him. “I have a house, which will be your house. You can join me in the farm and we can grow it together.”
Martin was still hesitant. He did not want people to say he had been married by a woman. But he did not want to abandon his girlfriend and child either, so he eventually agreed to marry Peninah and move into her house. Geoffrey, Peninah’s father, gladly blessed their union. Because he understood Martin’s circumstances, he waived the requirement for dowry. A simple wedding ceremony was conducted at PCEA Karanga church, and the newly-weds established themselves at the piece of land that Peninah had inherited from her father.
A few months after their wedding, the University Senate at Egerton overturned his expulsion, and he was allowed to graduate. Since he had fallen in love with teaching, Peninah’s father sponsored him to pursue a Post Graduate Diploma in Education. He was later hired by TSC as a teacher at Karanga Boys High School, which was then a tiny, abandoned school.
He rose through the ranks and became the Principal of Karanga Boys. In the years he was at the helm, he built the school into a modern institution. He constructed new classes, built and equipped laboratories and dormitories. He raised funds through multiple fundraisers, one of which was attended by the then Vice President, Moody Awori.
Martin has been hailed around Karanga as a visionary. Four years ago the Hospital Board offered him the CEO position at Karanga Mission Hospital. He resigned from his teaching job and joined the hospital. That is where Patricia found him.
“What are we going to do, mother?” Tess asks her mother. They have gotten home but they are still sitting in the car.
“Do about what?”
“What if dad doesn’t want to support us anymore? What if he wants to move in with his girlfriend?”
“We don’t need him baby. It is actually a good thing I found out his true colors before my death. Tomorrow I want you to find me a lawyer. I want to file a divorce, and I want to change my will. If your father has a mistress, I don’t trust him to take care of you. I am going to leave everything I own to you and your brothers. I want you to take care of your brothers after I am gone.”
“Don’t say that mother. You are not going to leave us.”
Peninah smiles at her daughter.
“I wish it were so, honey. But I don’t think I will make it. I think the Lord wants me home. I don’t want you to be unprepared, because I need you to be strong for your brothers especially now that we know we cannot count on your father.”
“One more thing, honey. Don’t let your father’s behavior distort your idea of love. There are good men out there. Your grandfather is one of them.”
Exhausted by the trip to the hospital, the drama of catching her husband cheating and giving her daughter advice, Peninah leans on the window of the car and closes her eyes to rest. Tess lets her be for a few minutes. However, when she tries to wake her up five minutes later so that they can head to the house, Peninah does not respond. Tess senses that all is not well and bolts out of the car. She runs towards her grandfather’s house while screaming at the top of her lungs.
Image by Public Domain Pictures from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/roses-plants-flowers-nature-woman-316749/
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