(Continued from Deadly Machismo III)
Wambui sits at the very back of the church, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. She can see people stealing glances at her, but she ignores them. The service is conducted by Reverend Nicholas Mwenda, the parish minister.
Gatune was a member of the Woman’s Guild, so the Guild women are present in their blue uniforms. The Presbyterian Church Men’s Fellowship (PCMF) members are also wearing their maroon coats in support of their chairman Zebedee. Zebedee, his son Murithi and his grandsons Munene and Kinyua are all dressed in black suits, white shirts and black ties. Kawira is still in hospital, and her husband is in remand, but their three daughters are present, wearing black dresses. All the three girls are way younger than Kinyua, Wambui’s second born son.
The funeral service takes two hours, from eleven when the body arrived from the mortuary to one in the afternoon when the parish minister says the last prayer. Wambui sneaks out of the church while the minister is still saying that last prayer. She doesn’t want to get caught in a situation where she will have to greet other mourners and probably get dragged into awkward conversations.
From the church she drives straight to the hospital. She locks herself in her office and calls Robert. Robert is a lawyer and a family friend. He was married to Wambui’s late friend Carol, and that is how she got to know him in the first place. Carol and Wambui were buddies from Kangaru Girls. Carol was also in Moi University, although she was studying law at Annex. She met Robert at the Kenya School of Law and they got married two years after their admission to the bar. Then they went ahead and established a law firm together and got three lovely children. But Carol’s life was cut short by a drunk driver who rammed into her car one evening as she was driving home from a meeting. Carol died on the spot, but the drunk survived and is currently serving a jail sentence for causing death by reckless driving.
Wambui and Robert have not spoken since Carol was buried four years ago, and that makes Wambui feel slightly guilty. But when Robert picks her call, it is as though they spoke yesterday. He is in a lovely mood. He is the Robert she remembers when Carol was alive, not the broken one she saw at the funeral. They play catch up for almost fifteen minutes.
“Okay, Robert, I wish I could say I called just to check on you, but the truth is that I am in trouble.”
“What is it?”
“I have been sued, so I need a lawyer.”
“What have you not done?” he asks, and they both burst out laughing.
“It is a medical malpractice suit. My father-in-law is accusing me of being negligent towards my mother-in-law.”
“What happened to your mother-in-law?”
“She is dead. She was killed by my brother-in-law. My husband was the one who arrived at the scene first. His brother Mutegi had attacked both their mother and his wife. So my husband called me. I found Murithi attending to his sister-in-law, so I went to attend to mother. But she was already dead when I arrived.”
“Was a postmortem conducted?”
“Yes. It says that she either died on impact or soon thereafter.”
“Okay. I need you to scan the court papers and email them to me. Send me the post mortem report as well. Can you do that?”
“Sure, right away.”
The grave is still fresh. The roses are still upright and defiant, having been planted on the soft earth less than an hour ago. Murithi looks at his mother’s grave and a tear finally rolls down his cheek, and then another. Soon, two streams are flowing down his cheeks. His sons, Munene and Kinyua, stand beside him quietly. The boys have never seen their father cry. Everyone else has left the grave site, but Murithi’s sons have remained with him. Munene is holding his left hand, and Kinyua the right. He wants to speak to them in the presence of their grandmother; or at least her grave.
Murithi kneels near his mother’s grave and draws his sons close to him.
“Listen, sons,” he tells them, his voice choking with emotion. “You are growing up to be physically strong men. Never use your strength to assault anyone, and least of all women. There is no pride in violence. Masculinity is not the same thing as machismo.”
The two boys do not respond but nod their heads earnestly. They are fine lads. Munene is seventeen, and is a form four student. Kinyua is fifteen, and he is in form two. Both of them are students at Meru School. They are good boys, and he is proud of them.
“Dad,” Kinyua ventures. “Why are you and mum not speaking to each other?”
The question catches Murithi off guard. How can he express his anger and bitterness to the boys? He is angry at his brother for killing their mother. He is angry at his father for trying to sanitize the actions of his brother. He is angry at his wife for failing to take diligent care of his mother. And he is angry at God for letting his mother die. Out of the four the only one he is speaking to is his father, because the old man has just lost his wife and is afraid to losing his son to the authorities. That could explain his actions. He doesn’t have to talk to Mutegi because he is in jail; he doesn’t have to talk to God either, because He is tucked away in his palace in heaven. The person he has to face, but who he refuses to talk to nonetheless, is his wife. He is fed up with her, but he cannot tell the boys that.
At 65, Gatune was still relatively young. She got married to Zebedee at 19, and gave birth to Murithi, her first born, a year later. Even though she had endured years of abuse at the hands of Zebedee, Gatune was in perfect health. She was not suffering from any of the diseases that plague people as they age; she had none of diabetes, hypertension, angina or even arthritis. How then could she have been so cruelly taken from the earth?
“I am not in a position to talk about that right now, son. I promise we will talk about it when I am emotionally ready.”
“Grandpa said that mum killed grandma. Is that true? Is that why you are not talking to her?”
“Your mother did not kill your grandmother. It is your uncle who did that, and he is going to spend the rest of his life in jail for that. Your mother had a chance to save your grandmother’s life and she failed to take it. That is why I am not happy with her. I know she did not like your grandmother, but as doctors, we took an oath to protect human life. And every life is precious, even if it is the life of an enemy.”
“Are you two going to divorce?” It is the turn of the older boy to ask the question.
“I don’t know son, only time will tell.”
Even as he is saying that, he is actually thinking about divorce. Although he has never said it openly, he has over the years been frustrated by the tension between his mother and his wife. He wished they could get along, but they did not. Gatune felt that Wambui was not taking proper care of her son, while Wambui felt that her mother-in-law was meddling in the affairs of her home.
Gatune was a traditional woman, and she expected Wambui to perform the traditional duties of a wife-to cook, to wash and so forth. But Wambui insisted that she was a professional woman and since she was personally paying someone to perform the tasks, she did not have to do them herself.
“You are the woman my son married, not the house assistant. You should serve him personally,” Gatune had told Wambui one day, shortly after they moved to Chuka from Bomet. Gatune had already been told by Kathomi that Wambui does not do any house chores. That was not strictly true; both Murithi and Wambui do perform domestic tasks, but they do that whenever they feel like it and whenever time allows. Otherwise their house assistant performs all the domestic chores.
“But I also need to work mother.”
“Your sister-in-law Kawira also works but she serves her husband. You should be able to balance your wifely duties and your career. Besides, Murithi can take care of the clinic while you take care of the house.”
Wambui had not responded, and that matter would probably have rested there, except that the next time Gatune came to visit, she found Murithi preparing fried eggs in the kitchen.
“Wambui, why is your husband cooking while you are seated?”
“He wanted to cook mother.”
“No man ever wants to cook, Wambui. Maybe in Karatina your mothers disrespect your fathers that way. But here in Meru our husbands don’t step in the kitchen because we don’t let them. Get in the kitchen and cook that egg.”
Wambui went to the kitchen and cooked the egg and then went off to the bedroom. Later that night she told Murithi to rein in his mother.
“I respect her but she is not going to give me orders in my own house.”
Murithi did not say anything to his mother. Not long after that, Gatune came and ordered Wambui to prepare tea for her and her son. Wambui told the house assistant to prepare the tea.
“I told you that you should be performing your wifely duties personally,” Gatune said.
“I am sorry mother, but I have my own way of running my home. I hired that girl so that she can assist me with domestic work. So relax mother, and wait for tea.”
Gatune left in a huff, and that was the last time she spoke to Wambui.
As he looks at his mother’s grave, Murithi is convinced that his wife is glad that Gatune is dead. Yet the only thing that Gatune wanted was for her son to be treated like the head of the home. What is so difficult with that? Maybe everyone has been right all along: Wambui has been henpecking him. She will either have to change, or she should pack her things and leave.
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