Sofia scrambles out of the sofa, where she is dozing, and runs to the kitchen. She switches on the gas stove so that the food can warm as she dashes out of the house to open the gate. It is 1 am, and she is feeling tired and sleepy. But she could not have dared go to sleep before her husband arrives from wherever it is that he is coming from. He expects her to be awake when he arrives, whatever time that might be, so that she can attend to his needs. And he doesn’t like being kept waiting. The silver Toyota Premio shoots across the gate at top speed, stopping just inches away from the main house. Sofia quickly closes the gate and runs back to the house. If he gets there before her, there will be trouble.
By the time Frank drags his drunken self out of the car, Sofia has already served him with his favorite dish, mukimo with beef stew. Constant beatings have taught her to be swift in everything she does. Not that it stops her from getting beaten-Frank will beat her whenever he feels like-but the beatings are less frequent and less severe. Frank is smelling of female cologne, as he always does when he comes home at night, but today it is a different cologne from the one she is used to, which makes her wonder whether it is the same woman who has changed her brand or whether Frank has found a new lover. Not that she would ask him, leave alone complain; that would be suicide.
“This food is too hot,” Frank grumbles. He always grumbles about something or the other. But Sofia has learned not to respond, because a response of any kind, including an apology, will result in a beating. So she looks at him with what she hopes is an apologetic look. He doesn’t look at her, but gobbles the food like a ravenous wolf.
Sofia silently wonders what value the woman, or women, that he goes to add to his life. Whenever he comes home he is always starving, food wise and sexually. Doesn’t he get food and sex wherever he comes from, or does he have superhuman appetite and libido?
Sofia watches silently as he eats. She is not allowed to go anywhere while the King is eating, just in case he chokes. When he eats three quarters of the food, she serves him a mug of tea, so that he can take it after he finishes eating. Immediately he finishes eating, she takes his plate and washes it as he takes tea. When he finishes taking his tea she similarly washes the cup and goes to the bedroom. She undresses and waits for him in bed while naked.
This routine has been established after many years of Sofia getting beaten. In fact, it is fair to say that she has been beaten to submission. There was a time she used to protest. Twice, she ran away and went with her children to her parents; and twice she was sent back to her husband by her father. Over the last ten years, she has reported Frank to the police about eight times. She usually goes to the police when she is badly beaten, but no action is ever taken. So she gave up and taught herself to adapt to the situation.
Although Sofia has been married for ten years now, she is only thirty years old. She has never been in love with Frank. In fact, they are not married, strictly speaking. Frank has never even paid her dowry.
It all began about ten years ago, after she passed her KCSE exams. With a mean grade of B+ of 69 points, she was the top student at Kanja Mixed Day Secondary School. There was a lot of excitement when the KCSE results were announced: her family and the whole village celebrated. But the reality soon set in: her parents did not have enough money to take her to University. In fact, she had huge fees arrears at Kanja Secondary School that needed to be cleared before her KCSE certificate could be released to her by the school. Sofia’s father, Charles, knocked every door looking for help. He tried the local CDF office, the local churches…everywhere, but to no avail. Sofia gave up and joined a local tailoring shop as an apprentice.
One day, while they were in church, the deacon who was leading the program said that they had an important guest amongst them. Apparently, Frank, the son of church elders Martin and Veronica Mwaja, was in church. Frank had grown up in the church so most people knew him. But he had gotten a scholarship to study Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US. He found employment with Ford Motors Company in the US where he worked for five years before coming back home. When he came back, he was hired as a senior engineer at General Motors East Africa. Now he had come home looking rich and sophisticated.
After the service, Charles found him and begged him to find Sofia a good job. He explained his daughter’s predicament as Frank listened patiently. When he finished, Frank told him that it would be unfair to find Sofia a job at that stage. What he would do instead is that he would clear Sofia’s high school fees arrears and then take her to the University. Charles was stunned and then excited.
When she heard the news, Sofia was skeptical at first. Life had frustrated her so much that she could not believe that such a miracle would happen.
Frank kept his word. He cleared the school fees balance that Sofia had accumulated at Kanja Secondary School, a total of sixty five thousand shillings. When the time came for her to go to the University, he personally came and picked her. That was the first time that Sofia rode in a Mercedes Benz.
According to her admission letter, Sofia was supposed to report to the University of Nairobi’s Chiromo Campus to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology. Frank persuaded her to do an interfaculty transfer and pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Education instead. He convinced her that a Bachelor’s degree in Education was the more marketable option. Since she did not know as much about careers as he did, she agreed. The transfer also meant that she would transfer campuses, from Chiromo Campus to either Kenya Science Campus or Kikuyu Campus. If she wanted to teach science subjects, she would have to go to Kenya Science campus; if she wanted to teach languages, arts or humanities, she would have to go to Kikuyu campus. Sofia felt that her strength was in sciences, so she wanted to go to Kenya Science. But once again, Frank convinced her to go to Kikuyu campus. Fortunately for her, she was able to get a Mathematics/Business Studies combination in Kikuyu campus, and that is what she settled for.
It soon became clear why Frank wanted her to go to Kikuyu campus. He did not want to rent a hostel room for her. It so happened that he lived in Kikuyu, a short distance away from the University Campus. That is where he took her and showed her to the guest bedroom. He did not ask whether she wanted to stay with him, and since he was the one who was sponsoring her, she did not think it was proper to protest. Besides, he had shown her to the guestroom so there was nothing sinister about his motives; or so she thought. That night they ate food that he bought from a restaurant.
The following day she cooked all the meals, cleaned the dishes and mopped the floor before she walked to the campus for orientation. On Saturday, she washed the clothes they had worn throughout the week, and that evening he kissed her and led her to his bedroom. That is how she became his wife. Later that year, when they went for the Christmas break, she went with him to his house in the village. On Christmas day they visited her parents and Frank told them that he intended to marry her. That was the last time that that matter was discussed, but she continued to live with him.
Ten years later, she feels trapped in this marriage. But whenever she tries to walk out, everyone, including her parents, says she is ungrateful; that she wants to abandon Frank after everything he did for her. Frank was fired from his job because of insubordination and drunkenness. Sofia on the other hand got a job with TSC. But that is not the reason she wants to leave him. If he was nice to her, she would never think about leaving him, even though she does not love him. He is the father of her two children, and the man who helped her to get where she is.
But Frank is not a good man. He beats her, insults her, sleeps around and generally humiliates her. When he lost his job, Sofia surrendered her ATM card to him so that he can feel like the provider. But that is the money he uses to drink and entertain other women, leaving her and the children to sometimes sleep hungry.
The persecution is the reason Sofia wants to leave him, but no one wants to understand her.
Sofia is lying still, waiting for him to come and finish his business. She knows that he is in the toilet and will come shortly; that is the routine. Sex is a painful business for her because Frank is rough. The only consolation is that is usually takes a few minutes before he gets his satisfaction and collapses on the bed to sleep. But those few minutes leave her with bruises and she often has to wash her injured organ with warm water to get some relief.
“I am no longer going to sleep with an uncircumcised woman!” Frank suddenly bellows, kicking the bedroom door open. That startles Sofia, and she sits up. He is being more belligerent than usual. To her utter shock, Frank is holding a gleaming knife; the sharpest knife she has in that kitchen.
Image by Pexels from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/knives-set-chopping-board-slice-1839061/
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