Irene sits at her mother’s tombstone and lets her tears flow free. The stone is a beautiful, white marble stone, with Esther’s photo on its head. Irene has had many questions in this life, but the most nagging has always been why god would choose to take away her mother. Irene remembers those days when her mother was alive, those days when they were a nice, little family of four; her father Wilson, her mother Esther, her brother Eric and herself. Irene and Eric were happy and contented. Their parents worked hard to provide for them, but they also taught them the value of working hard.
Esther was an architect, and her husband, Irene’s father, a software engineer. They both worked in the city, Wilson at the University of Nairobi main campus while Esther was a partner in a firm of architects. Growing up, Irene wanted to be an architect. She was fascinated by the drawings her mother was making, and was even more fascinated to see them come to life. Esther considered herself to be an artist, and she drew some of the most beautiful buildings in the city. She always said that she wanted to design buildings ‘that will blow your mind away’. And she did.
But even though she wanted to follow her mother’s career footsteps, Irene has always been a daddy’s girl. She and her father have always been close. No, they were close. They lost that connection, which Irene misses so much, when Wilson got a new bride. Irene remembers the many times she went with her father to the fuel station to get the car serviced; or to the garage to get it fixed; or to their farm in Murang’a to oversee the planting, weeding or harvesting. Of the two siblings, Irene was the one who was more interested in the traditionally male chores. She is the one who helped her father to unblock sinks, change car tyres, repair bicycles and so forth.
Esther may have conquered a traditionally masculine career, but in the house she preferred to leave the male chores to her husband. She preferred to stick to the kitchen, and surprisingly, the child who had an interest in that was Eric. Because of that Eric is an excellent cook today, and can also bake wonderful cakes. What more, he can crotchet; that is a skill he learned from their mother. Irene on the other hand can take apart a computer and get it back together without blinking; and it is the same with most other electronics. She can fix minor problems in a car without having to call a mechanic. She is the fixer.
They were a nice, tight family until that cold July night when their mother was killed by a drunk driver. Irene remembers that day as though it was just yesterday. She and her father had just returned from Murang’a where they had spent the day in the farm. They had gone to their separate rooms to shower, while Eric was in the kitchen preparing dinner. Their mother was at work, although they were expecting her home at any time. Suddenly Irene remembers hearing Eric calling out their father and pounding at the door of the master bedroom. That was very strange.
She heard her father opening the door and she jumped into a track suit and went to hear what was making her brother so anxious. Eric may have been a bit of a mamma’s boy because he liked hanging around their mother in the kitchen, but he was a tough and unflappable seventeen-year-old, and the captain of his school’s rugby team. He was not very expressive when it came to emotions, partly because he is naturally reserved and partly because of teenage bravado.
“Mamma has been involved in an accident!” he yelled. Breathlessly, he explained that their mother had called their father, who had left his phone on the table. Seeing that it was his mother calling, and knowing that his father was in the shower, Eric had picked the call. But it had not been their mother on the other end, but a cop who informed him that Esther had been involved in an accident and had been rushed to Kenyatta University Teaching and Referral Hospital with severe injuries.
They all rushed out of the door and into the car, and it is a miracle that Eric remembered to switch off the gas cooker and to lock the front door. They sped from their home in Juja all the way to KUTRH but it was too late. By the time they got there they found that she was already dead. They were all overcome with grief. Of the two children, Eric was hardest hit because he was closer to their mother. He withdrew to himself, hardly speaking to anyone. The only person whose company he wanted was his sister, and they would spend hours in his room saying nothing, just listening to music. Irene would split her time between her father and her brother. While her brother wanted silence, Wilson wanted to talk, and Irene indulged him. Thus, her mourning oscillated between listening to her father talk and talk about his wife, and listening to music in silence with her brother.
Esther was buried in a small ceremony on their farm in Murang’a. As she was lowered into the grave, Eric finally broke down and cried in the arms of her older sister. Their father joined in and tears flowed freely in the ceremony. Even the chairperson of the Architectural Association of Kenya broke down and cried. Esther was a woman beloved of many.
Irene and Eric were still mourning their mother two months later when their father dropped the bombshell. He had found love and was getting married again. The two young people were stunned. How could he have moved on so quickly? Eric verbalized these questions and a fight ensued between father and son, which only got nastier when Eric asked their father whether he had been seeing the woman he was marrying behind their mother’s back. Wilson got so mad that he hit his son for the first time in close to nine years. The last time he had beaten his son Eric had been eight years old.
Eric was so stunned that he did not say another word. He just packed his clothes and left. Wilson did not ask him where he was going. But Irene asked, and he just smiled, kissed her on the cheek and told her that everything would be okay.
The woman their father was marrying turned out to be an arrogant twenty-five-year old, just six years older that Irene. When Esther died, Eric was in his final year in high school while Irene was awaiting to join university. She had been admitted to the University of Pennsylvania in the United States. She was not on scholarship but her parents had assured her that they had saved enough for her studies…for both her studies and Eric’s. The assurance was not even necessary. Both kids had gone to expensive private schools for their primary and secondary schools. If there was anything that Esther and Wilson were not willing to compromise on, it was their children’s education.
But that changed almost as soon as Esther died. Soon after her death, Wilson asked his daughter to defer her studies for a year so that they could stick together and mourn as a family. Irene agreed and she wrote to the university and deferred for a year.
But then came the wedding.
Wilson became obsessed with his fiancé, who soon became his wife, and forgot all about his daughter. Before they got married, Wilson spent all his time either away from home with his fiancé, or if he was at home, he would be on phone with her. Irene, who had been used to spending lots of time with her father, suffered. But she did not complain. She loved her father and she wanted him to be happy. She had saved up some money over the years from her pocket money and she decided to enroll for accountancy classes at KCA University just to keep herself busy. By then Eric was living with one of their aunts in Ruiru so that he could finish his final year in high school. He was still not on speaking terms with their father, but his school fees had been paid for the entire year.
The wedding was held five months after Esther was buried. It was a colorful-some would say ostentatious-ceremony. Wilson spared no expense to please his bride. Irene reluctantly attended the ceremony, and was even persuaded by her father to be one of the bridesmaids, but Eric skipped the ceremony altogether.
What Irene refused to do, and what brought about her first conflict with her father, was to call her father’s new wife ‘mother’.
“I have and will always have one mother,” she told her father defiantly after he and his bride returned from their honeymoon. “And she is certainly not a twenty-five-year old. I am not going to and will never ever call my age mate ‘mother’.”
The woman, whose name is Krystal, accused her of being arrogant and disrespectful but Irene was unmoved. One of the first things Krystal did upon taking charge of the home was to fire their long serving house assistant Marion. Marion had worked for Wilson and Esther for over twenty years and had been practically part of the family. She had been hired as Irene’s nanny, and she also baby sat Eric. Other than taking care of the children, she generally ensured that the home was neat and orderly. Although Esther and Eric liked to cook, they could not do it every day because of the demands of school and work and it was Marion who cooked on most days. She also worked the washing machine, cleaned utensils, mopped the floor and worked the flower beds and vegetable garden. It was her father-in-law who had sold the land on which the house stood to Wilson and Esther, so they were practically neighbors. Eric and Irene had grown up playing with Marion’s children.
But Krystal treated her with contempt and even when she fired her, it was with insults and an unwarranted dressing down. Wilson did not say a single word to support a woman who had served his family diligently for close to two decades. In fact, when Irene tried to step in and defend Marion from Krystal, Wilson growled at her to shut up and respect his wife. He even refused to pay Marion for the half-month that she had worked before she was fired. But Irene followed Marion outside the gate and hugged the woman who had been like a second mother to her and Eric for a long time. The two women cried in each other’s arms before they parted ways; Marion went to her home and Irene returned to her father’s house.
Irene had even more reason to cry. She soon realized that the reason Krystal fired Marion was because she wanted her, Irene, to be doing the jobs Marion had been doing. What Irene did not know was that Krystal had asked her husband to stop paying university fees for Irene. But Wilson mentioned that he was not the one paying for Irene’s studies at KCA University, but that she was paying from her savings. So Krystal fired Marion to make Irene the house assistant. Irene refused to do the house chores, but Wilson intervened and ordered her to obey the “woman of the house.”
Irene obeyed largely because she still needed her father to pay for her studies in the States. She discontinued her studies at KCA to become Krystal’s servant. Krystal herself is a housewife. As Irene came to learn, she had been Wilson’s secretary at the University but she resigned when she married her boss. She has a diploma in secretarial studies, and she doesn’t seem to have any ambition of advancing her education further.
So for the last one year Irene has been an unpaid servant in her own father’s house. She has endured Krystal’s insults and harassment just so she could secure her university education.
Today she received an email from the University reminding her that a year has lapsed and that she needs to pay her tuition fees and also join her class in a month’s time. Excited, she called her father and informed him. But his response was brief and curt. She is going nowhere because Krystal is pregnant and so she, Irene, needs to stick around and be the nanny when the child is born. Irene was devastated. She walked to the matatu stage and took a matatu to Murang’a so that she can come sit on her mother’s grave and cry.
Image by No-longer-here from Pixabay https://pixabay.com/illustrations/woman-sitting-sad-lonely-depressed-902213/
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