Continued from In Sickness II…
Reginah wakes up early. She considers going to the kitchen to start on breakfast but she rejects the idea almost immediately it forms in her mind. She is certain that the house assistant is already there, doing exactly that. She stays on the bed, scrolling on Instagram and Facebook. She gets out of bed at six am and goes to the bathroom. She takes a quick shower and dresses in jeans and a T-shirt. She is not going to work today so there is no point of dressing formally. At six thirty, which is the time that her children wake up in readiness for school, Reginah heads to the kids’ bedroom to wake them up.
“Mommy!” six-year-old Tom squeals when he opens his eyes and realizes that it is his mother not the house assistant that is waking them up. His four-year-old sister Jean immediately snaps her eyes open. Tom is in grade one, while his sister is in PP1. The children share a bed. The room has a decker bed; the children share the lower bed while the house assistant takes the top bed.
“Mommy are you taking us to school today?” Jean asks. Before the accident, Reginah used to drive the children to school every day on her way to work. She had been doing that religiously ever since Tom joined the playgroup class. The children would be dropped at home in the evening by the school bus, because the school day would end at 3pm while she was still at work. But ever since she started sleeping with Martin, Reginah stopped doing that. The house assistant takes them to the road near their Wangige home and the school bus picks them up from there. The reason is simple: these days Reginah comes home late and therefore struggles to wake up early. But even today she had no intention of taking them to school, even though she woke up early. Her plan was to walk with them to the road and wait for the school bus. But she finds it difficult to say no to her daughter.
“Sure, sweetheart. Today I am taking you two to school.”
“Thank you, mommy.”
“Aren’t you going to work today, mommy?” Tom asks.
“I am, but my boss said I can be late today.”
“We really loved it when you used to take us to school every day mommy.”
Reginah knows that that is an accusation. But her son, though he is only six years old, is smart enough to know how to phrase it in a way that will not sound offensive. She is proud of him, but at the same time she feels guilty.
“Mommy has to work very hard to get medicine for daddy. That is why I leave for work early. But daddy will get well soon and mommy won’t have to work so hard, okay?”
The children nod. Usually, the children leave for school while she is still asleep, but they have no way of knowing that. If they knew, they would probably refuse to take the bus.
“Okay then kids, let’s get you ready for school.”
To reduce the number of things she has to do in the morning, the house assistant usually bathes the children in the evening. In the morning she simply dresses them, feeds them porridge, wipes their faces and then takes them to the road to wait for the bus. That is precisely what Reginah does, except that she will actually drive them to school. She dresses both children into their school uniforms and then walks with them to the sitting room for their breakfast. Corazon is awake, and is reading a book, while George is still asleep. The children greet the nurse softly, so as not to wake up their father. They apparently have been taught not to make noise in the morning as they take breakfast. Reginah takes cue from them and mumbles a greeting to the nurse. She feeds the children, wipes their faces and opens the door so that they can walk to the car. But they first rush to their dad and each of them pecks him on the cheek. Reginah feels a pang of guilt when she realizes that she plans to separate the kids from their father. They have always loved him. But it is for their own good, she reminds herself, and as they grow up they will understand.
St. Pius Academy, Ndenderu, is a church-owned private school located about fifteen minutes’ drive from where George and Reginah live. It is a relatively good school, and most of the pupils there are children of the elite of the local community: teachers, doctors, nurses and mid-level civil servants. In fact, if you ask these parents, this is a top school. But Reginah’s children were in an international school before the accident, so this school doesn’t impress her much, it is only that it is the best that she can afford in the current circumstances. But the sad reality is that if she doesn’t go ahead with her plans with Martin, this school will be out of reach for her children as well. She cannot allow her children to be reduced to public schools.
As she drives through the main gate, she realizes that the last time she was here was the day she enrolled the children to the school. She has talked severally to the kid’s teachers on phone, especially Mrs. Githua, Tom’s class teacher. But she has never physically attended a clinic day. As she opens the door of the car to let out the children, someone calls her from behind.
“Mama Tom, it so good to see you,” she says. It is Mrs. Githua, who has been trying to get her to come and see her for the last two months. Reginah already knows what the problem is over the telephone, and that is why she has been reluctant about coming. The teacher told her that Tom had become withdrawn, and was no longer the same kid he was when he joined the school. Reginah doesn’t want to come and discuss her family issues with a stranger.
Reginah kisses the children goodbye and they run off to their classes. Then she turns her attention to the teacher.
“Hello Mrs. Githua. It is indeed a pleasure to meet you after such a long time. I have had a hectic time at work and at home, but today I got an off day and I decided to come and see you.”
“Thank you for that. Let’s go to my office and have a chat.”
Mrs. Githua is a pleasant, short and plump middle-aged woman. She is obviously very concerned about the welfare of the children under her charge, and that should have pleased Reginah and indeed any other parent. But right now Reginah finds her to be meddlesome and nosy. But she decides that it might be rude to tell off the woman, so she follows her to the office. When they get to her office, Reginah discovers that the reason she has her own office rather than sharing one with colleagues in her department like the other teachers is because she is the Guidance and Counselling Mistress. That explains her interest in the psycho-social welfare of the children.
“Thanks once again for coming, Mama Tom. The reason I really wanted to see you is because I am concerned about Tom. When he came here, he was a bubbly child, full of energy. But in recent months he has become withdrawn and anti-social.”
Reginah tries to convince the teacher that Tom’s behavior is because of his father’s accident, but Mrs. Githua is not convinced. She makes the logical statement that the accident happened before the children joined the school, but Tom had been fine until recently.
“There is some other change that happened, and it hit him harder than his father’s accident. We don’t give children much credit, but they are very perceptive. Is he exhibiting the same behavior at home?”
Reginah considers saying that her son is fine at home, but she doesn’t know that for a fact because these days she hardly ever spends time with him and his sister. She realizes that Mrs. Githua will see through the lie, and that will give away the real reason for the change in her son: her absence from home. Tom had been fine when she had been coming home on time every evening. But over time, her absence from home must have started getting to him. Reginah never sees her children on weekdays because she comes home long after they went to bed, and they don’t get to see her in the morning before they head to school. She only spends a little time with them over the weekend, before heading out to hook up with Martin. Many times when she heads out on Saturday morning she doesn’t return until Sunday night. The children’s excitement when she woke them up, excitement that made them forget the usual sleepiness that plagues them on school days, explains the real problem they are facing. They are missing their mother, but Reginah is not about to admit that before this nosy woman.
“Yes, of course he has become very sad these days, even at home. But I think you can understand why. He and his father have always been very close. It must have occurred to him that he will never play football with his father again, or ride bikes or do any other things they did together. I think that is what is affecting him. You have just said that children are very perceptive.”
Mrs. Githua nods slightly.
“What about you, Mama Tom? How are you handling the situation?”
The question throws Reginah off balance.
“Me? This is about Tom, not me.”
“It is about you precisely because it is about Tom. We just agreed that children are very perceptive, and they notice even the slightest shift in their parents’ relationship.”
“What are you insinuating?”
“I am not insinuating anything, Mama Tom. I am simply asking if you and Baba Tom are having a problem in your marriage. That could affect your children in more ways than you can imagine.”
“Why do you think George and I are having a problem? You know, I don’t like the way you older married women always think that your marriages are perfect and everyone else’s marriage is failing. Get off your high horse. Your husbands are the worst cheats in the world. They might be church elders or even pastors but they are busy impregnating college girls while you are busy lecturing the rest of us about how terrible wives we are.”
Mrs. Githua doesn’t respond, but instead pulls a file from a drawer on her desk, opens a page and hands it to her.
“What is this?”
“Your son’s writing test. They were asked to write about their families. The boy writes beautifully, but the contents are the reason I called you.”
Reginah goes through the paper quickly. When asked to write about his family, he spared two paragraphs about his father, saying how he loves him, how he prays for him to walk again so that they can do the things they used to do before he fell sick. He spared a paragraph for his sister, “Aunt Corazon” and “Aunt Monica”. Monica is the house assistant. At the end, he concluded by saying “I have a mom, but she is never home. I don’t think she loves my daddy, my sister and I anymore.” Just two sentences, and none of them is flattering.
Tears sting Reginah face as she reads the message. But she is not about to admit to this arrogant woman that her marriage has failed.
“I work hard these days Mrs. Githua. My husband’s treatment doesn’t come cheap and I am now the sole breadwinner. I do double shifts at work to make ends meet. Of course the boy doesn’t understand that.”
“I understand, Mama Tom. But try and spare a little time for the children. They are begging for it.”
“I will,” Reginah says, rising. “Thanks for your time.”
She walks to the door and is about to step out when the teacher calls out after her.
“I just wanted you to know that you were right about my husband.”
“He was, and still a pastor. But we are not together anymore. I caught him making love to his twenty-year-old secretary and divorced him. He wasn’t even remorseful. He married another girl last year by the way; not the one I caught him with but another one. They now run the church together, leaving me to raise my four children alone. Not that he was contributing much when we were married, which is the reason I probably didn’t think twice about leaving him when I discovered that he was cheating. What I mean is, I was not being judgmental when I asked about your marriage. I understand what it means to have a failed marriage, and I understand the struggle of being the family’s sole breadwinner.”
That catches Regina by surprise.
“Why do you continue using his name then?”
“I don’t. My maiden name is Beatrice Gathua, and I have always preferred it when people call me Beatrice or Ms. Gathua. I didn’t change my surname when I got married. But my father’s name and my ex-husband’s names are similar, and that confuses people. My father’s name is Gathua, and my ex-husband’s is Githua. It also doesn’t help that many people think that the title ‘Mrs.’ is more respectful that ‘Miss’. So when I got married everyone started calling me Mrs. Gathua or Mrs. Githua. I didn’t have the energy to keep correcting everyone, and even after the divorce I just let everyone call me what they like. Frankly, it’s a non-issue to me. But the point is, when I asked about your marriage, I wasn’t gloating about mine. I was simply trying to help your son.”
Reginah is suddenly embarrassed about her earlier outburst, so she mumbles an apology and flees from the room.
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