Kendi sighs when she hears Mutwiri shouting her name from the dining room. She is outside, cleaning the chicken coops. It is 8 am, and Mutwiri should be leaving for work right about now. What does he want? She is almost done cleaning the coops, but she cannot dare keep him waiting. She closes the coops to keep the chicken in, washes her hands at a nearby tap and goes inside the house to hear what he has to say.
Kendi’s days start at 5 am every day; that is when she wakes up. She starts by cleaning the house; that house is a huge, one story monstrosity with five bedrooms, a clothes room, a huge sitting room, a spacious dining room, a kitchen and adjacent store, Mutwiri’s home office (which he rarely uses), a balcony on the first floor and a porch on the ground floor. The balcony and the porch are both the size of modest sitting rooms. It takes Kendi one and a half an hour to clean the house, excluding the master bedroom which she cleans after Mutwiri has left for his town office. Four of the five bedrooms are not in use, but Mutwiri insists that she has to mop every part of the house, and wipe surfaces in tall the rooms every single day. He checks on random mornings to see if she is keeping up the pace. By six thirty Kendi’s back is usually aching.
After cleaning the house, she goes to start preparing breakfast. Mutwiri’s breakfast has not changed in the sixteen years she has been in this house: it is always made up of two pieces of boiled arrow roots, one piece of boiled sweet potato, two fried eggs and two cups of tea. When she finishes cleaning the house at six thirty, she goes to the kitchen and starts boiling the arrow roots and sweet potatoes. Mutwiri likes them freshly boiled so she cannot do that the previous night. As they boil, she goes to the clothes room and irons the clothes that he would be wearing that day, which he selects the previous night, and then polishes his shoes.
After that she goes back to the kitchen to prepare tea. She fries the eggs as he dresses so that he can eat them before they turn cold. He eats alone; when the children were younger and still in the house, they used to join him at the dining table. But Kendi is not allowed to do that; she eats from the kitchen. After serving him breakfast she goes to the chicken coops and collects eggs. She places them in a crate ready for collection. Mutwiri has fifty chicken so she collects about thirty eggs in a day. The crate is usually collected by a messenger and taken to Mutwiri’s supermarket for sale.
After collecting the eggs, she cleans the chicken coops and feeds the chicken. Then she goes to wash clothes. Mutwiri is wealthy, but he has refused to by a washing machine because he says it is too costly and a waste of electricity. After washing clothes, Kendi cleans the master bedroom and then takes her breakfast. She takes breakfast at about 10 am. After that she cleans the breakfast dishes. At 11.30 she starts preparing lunch. Mutwiri owns a restaurant, and his office is actually opposite the restaurant, but he insists on eating at home. But he is not the only one she cooks for. Mutwiri has a three acre farm and there are always casual workers there either picking tea or tending crops or both. There is one permanent farm hand whose job is to feed the two cows and supervise the other workers. But Kendi feeds all of them.
After lunch she cleans the dishes and then goes to clean the cowsheds. She then milks the cows so that after the farm hand returns from the tea collection centre, where the KTDA lorry collects farmer’s tea, he can take the milk to the dairy. It is only after she has milked the cows that she gets a chance to shower, but her work is usually not done. She starts preparing supper after showering. Mutwiri gets home just in time for the 9 PM news bulletin. She serves him dinner which he eats as he watches news. She cleans the dishes and then waits for him to finish watching news, including the interviews, so that they can go to bed together “like a proper family”. Mutwiri decides if and when they should have sex.
Technically, Kendi is Mutwiri’s wife. She has been sharing a bed with him for the last fifteen and a half years and even has a son with him. Actually, it is the fourteen year-old Munene who cemented their relationship when he was conceived. He is currently in a boarding secondary school.
But Mutwiri treats Kendi like a servant.
This is not the kind of life that Kendi had envisioned when she received her KCSE results sixteen years ago. She was the best student at Kanethe Mixed Day Secondary School, and although everyone had expected her to do well, she exceeded their expectations. Before Kendi sat for the exam, best student in the history of Kanethe Secondary School had scored a C plain, and that had been eight years before. Year in year out, the top students at the school only managed to score C minus.
Kendi joined the school after scoring 351 marks out of the possible 500, which was also a record at the Kanethe Day Primary School. Kendi had qualified to join a more prestigious secondary school, but her parents could not afford school fees, and could not secure sponsorship, so she ended up at Kanethe Day. The principal of Kanethe Day offered her mother a job as a cook at the school, and part of her income would be used to off-set Kendi’s school fees. Her father would keep working as a night guard at a nearby church at night while doing manual labor in other people’s farms during the day so as to feed the family and keep the other children in school.
Everyone knew that Kendi was a bright girl. She had topped her class at Kanethe Primary from class one to class eight, and that streak continued into high school, where she retained position one from form one to form four, usually with a large margin between her and the second person in the class. But the truth is that being a student at Kanethe Secondary was challenging and therefore nobody, including her teachers, expected her to exploit her full potential.
First, the school did not have proper facilities. There were no laboratories, and the practice of the school was to teach sciences in theory and then take form four students to nearby schools to see the equipment. The school did not have a library either, and the parents, including Kendi’s parents, were too poor to buy text books for their children. Students had to rely entirely on the teachers’ notes. Finally, Kanethe was a day school, and Kendi’s home did not have electricity or a place she could study at night.
Everyone expected her to do well though, and probably score a B- or a B plain. But she stunned everyone when KCSE results were announced and she had an A-. The Kanethe community jubilated. There was even more jubilation when Kendi’s aunt Kananu returned from the United States, and promised to take her through university. Kananu was Mutwiri’s wife and Kendi’s father’s younger sister. She and her family had been living in the United States for fifteen years. She left the land of opportunities as a senior economist at the World Bank.
Before they left Kenya, Mutwiri had been unemployed, and did not have any professional qualifications. Both of them had just completed their high school education. Kananu had scored a straight A, while Mutwiri got a B-. Kananu got a scholarship to study in the US, and against her parents’ wishes, quickly married her teenage sweetheart so that they could leave together. They were both 19.
When they went to the US, Mutwiri became a cab driver, and his wife worked part-time at McDonalds to make ends meet even as she studied. The scholarship had only covered her tuition fees and air-tickets for both her and her spouse. Where she would live or what she would eat would be up to her. But her academic excellence continued, and she topped her undergraduate class and was given another scholarship for her masters. When she completed her masters, she got a job at the World Bank where she stayed for ten years, rising to be a senior economist.
When they returned to Kenya, Kananu decided to take a break from banking and the corporate world and get into business. She snubbed Nairobi altogether and went to her village. She had saved enough money while in the US, so she established a restaurant in her home town. She wanted her husband to be financially independent, so she established a supermarket from him. She also bought the three acre farm and built their house. Mutwiri’s father’s land was only one and a half acres, yet he had eight sons including Mutwiri. Kananu decided that they should have their own land instead of squabbling over the small piece with Mutwiri’s father and brothers.
When Kananu heard about Kendi’s achievements, she was very impressed. She told her brother, Kendi’s father, that she wanted her niece to follow her footsteps.
It was Kendi’s father who decided that since Kendi would be staying at home for a while before joining University, she should go and help her aunt with the children and domestic chores instead of Kananu hiring help. Kendi readily agreed. In addition to being grateful for the university sponsorship, she greatly admired her accomplished aunt.
But then tragedy struck. Six months after Kendi joined her aunt’s family, and one month before she joined the university, Kananu slipped in the bathroom and hit her head. By the time Mutwiri got her to hospital, she was declared dead. Kendi was prevailed upon by her parents to defer her studies by a year, so that she could help Mutwiri with the children so that he would not be stressed while mourning his wife. She agreed. Mutwiri took her to Kenyatta University and she filled all the necessary forms to defer her studies by a year.
It did not take long for Mutwiri to start making sexual advances at her though. He would flirt with her after the children went to sleep, and then gradually stepped up and started fondling her until one day he took her to the master bedroom and made love to her. Kendi was 18, naïve, inexperienced and with hormones raging in her body, so she did not resist. The following morning he asked her to move her things to the master bedroom because they would now be living as man and wife. He assured her that he would still take her to the university and pay her fees, just like Kananu had promised. But by the time one year she had asked from the university lapsed, she was eight months pregnant. She asked Mutwiri to go and defer her studies for another two years so that she could give birth and wean the infant. He promised he would, but never did.
Mutwiri started treating her like trash even before she gave birth. She ran away once and went to her father’s house. But she was sent back, first because she was bringing two additional mouths to feed, and second because the extended family had decided that she would remain as Mutwiri’s wife to prevent Mutwiri from using Kananu’s wealth to marry an outsider. He wasn’t beating her so what was she whining about? The family’s decision only emboldened Mutwiri, and he turned her into the slave she has been for fifteen years. Along the way she figured out contraceptives because she did not want to have any more children while carrying the burden of running the home.
Kendi rushes to the house from the chicken coop to hear what Mutwiri has to say. She finds him on the porch, fully dressed and ready to go.
“What took you so long?” he demands, even though it is less than two minutes since he called her.
“I was washing my hands.”
“I want you to move your things from the master bedroom to the guestroom before evening today.”
“My fiancé is moving in. She and I are getting married at the end of the month but we have agreed to start living together. So tonight cook dinner with her in mind, and from tomorrow you will be taking instructions from her.”
Image by Siggy Nowak from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/house-traditional-abode-3816499/
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