Cynthia is smiling as the younger women show their admiration for her marriage. 24 years! Wow! They are at a church-sponsored marriage seminar where she is a panelist. The audience is composed of younger men and women; some dating, some newly married and others single. There are two other couples on the panel, and Charles, Cynthia’s husband, is both a panelist and the moderator of the discussion.
“I think marriage is what you make. I have purposed to make mine work by force by fire, and that is why we are here 24 years later,” Charles quips. The audience erupts at this joke. Cynthia smiles, largely because there will be issues in her home later on if she doesn’t.
But the statement is more true than it is a joke. Charles is domineering, and for the past sixteen years, Cynthia has felt stifled in the marriage. Charles literally makes it work by force by fire, except that it only works for him.
Cynthia hates these meetings because they are often an opportunity for Charles to flaunt his marriage. That wouldn’t have been a problem if Cynthia was feeling fulfilled in the marriage. But she isn’t. Which means she has to lie to these adoring souls to keep up an image. Not her image, but his image. Charles would be furious if she portrayed a less than perfect image of their marriage.
Right now she is having a different struggle. It is approaching 6.30 pm. Charles will be furious if supper is not ready by 8 pm, yet he seems to be enjoying himself. She cannot leave before him because “what will people say?”, neither can she ask him to wind up the meeting (which he convened) because, well, he is a pastor and should not lock out anyone who has a question.
Cynthia is no longer sure whether she still loves her husband. In fact, she has long forgotten why she married him. Okay, that is not true. She still remembers how romantic and thoughtful he was when they were dating. He would prepare meals for her, buy her thoughtful gifts and say very sweet things to her. He even used to write her romantic poems, some of which she keeps until today and reads them privately while crying when she gets overwhelmed by his insensitivity.
The seminar winds up at 7.15 pm. As usual, Charles becomes cold once they are alone in the car, shedding his romantic, witty public image. They arrive at their home shortly after 8 pm and Cynthia gets busy preparing a meal.
She quickly cooks rice and ndengu and serves. Charles is livid.
“I thought I said that on Saturdays we should be eating Chapati?”
“Charles, we have come home late. There was no time to prepare chapati,”
“How is that my problem? Why am I even married if I cannot get a decent meal?”
“But surely Charles, I always try and prepare your favorite meals. And it is not like I spent the day gossiping. I was with you in your meeting,”
“So it is my meeting now?” he thunders. Before Cynthia realizes what is happening, a slap flies onto her face. She is stunned. Charles has insulted her in the past. Many times. He has shoved and pushed her. But he has never hit her.
“Charles,” she says softly, her eyes getting wet with tears.
“Don’t even start crying woman. I am going to the bedroom to pray. By the time I am done I want a proper meal.”
Charles storms off and Cynthia goes about executing the orders. A searing pain is tormenting her face where the slap landed, but the greater pain is in her soul. She can barely recognize the man she married.
She makes up her mind to leave her matrimonial home and go back to her parents home. Her parents were not perfect, but at least they loved each other and created a comfortable nest for her and her siblings. Cynthia remembers a home full of love, warmth and comfort, something her two children did not enjoy. The only moments she and her twin babies had to have a good laugh happened whenever Charles was away for some conference. No wonder the two hardly come home since they left for college.
The following day, Cynthia goes about the duties as if nothing is amiss. She prepares breakfast, irons Charles’ clothes and gets ready for church. At about midday, he calls her to the pulpit to read scriptures before he preaches, as he always does. She reads the scriptures, opens his water bottle an takes his jacket and places it on his chair.
Then she slips out of the church like one going to the washrooms. She knows Charles has made a mental note to lecture her in the evening about walking out of the sanctuary when the preacher is preaching. But she knows he cannot reprimand her in public because of the image.
She walks out of the church and out of the gate. She takes an Uber to her house and packs her clothes. The same Uber drives her out of the city to her father’s home in Machakos. Charles preaches for hours so she knows that by the time he starts looking for her she will be in Machakos unburdening her soul to her parents. Unloading the miseries of 24 years.
She chuckles when she remembers how she and her girlfriends used to wonder why people married for decades separated. In their minds then, after fifteen years of living with someone, you can handle them easily.
“How naïve we were,” she says aloud.
“What?” the Uber driver asks.
“Nothing. Never mind,”
She stares out of the window. Traffic on Mombasa Road is light. She feels free already. She does not know what will happen next. She got married shortly after college and settled as a pastor’s wife without a separate career. But first, she will cool off at her father’s house and think about her life.
“I might even open my own church,” she says, loudly again and bursts out laughing.
The Uber driver gives her a quizzical look, no doubt wondering whether she is sane enough to pay him for this long trip.
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