Hellen watches from the window of her house as her brother-in-law, Donald, drives into his compound in his new Toyota Hilux double cabin pick-up truck. It is a sleek car, and an major upgrade from the old Toyota Fielder that he has driven for years. Hellen feels as though her intestines are being cut into pieces by a hot knife. That man would have been her husband, had she not miscalculated.
Hellen has known both Donald and his brother William since they were children. They grew up together in this same village, Kiambugi. They went to the same primary school, Kiambugi Primary School, which is a local public primary school in the area. Hellen was in the same class as Donald, while William was two classes ahead. He was classmates with her elder brother Mike. Hellen had two older sisters, and a younger sister who was in the same class as Donald and William’s youngest brother Richard.
In the entire group, it is only William who was academically gifted, and he consistently remained at the top of his class. When he did his KCSE, he passed well enough to get admission to Meru School, a good provincial school (as they were then called). When he sat for his KCSE, he got a B+ and qualified for university. He went to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Education at the University of Nairobi.
Hellen and Donald did not pass that well in KCPE, and they crossed the fence and got admitted at Kiambugi Mixed Day Secondary School. It is while they were in this school that they started their relationship, even though it was kept secret. Both of them got D+ in KCSE and their parents took them to Kiambugi Polytechnic. Donald pursued carpentry and joinery, while Hellen did tailoring and dressmaking.
It is while they were students at the Polytechnic that Donald’s talents began to show. He was consistently top of his class, and seemed to grasp the carpentry concepts at a speed that surprised even his tutors, so much so that when he graduated, he was offered a position by the school as a tutor. All this time, he and Hellen were still an item, and they planned to get married after graduating.
Before that could happen, however, William returned from University and was hired by Kanyonta Boys High School as a BOM teacher. He wasn’t earning much, as the school offered him a starting salary of Kshs. 25,000. But that was more than the Kshs. 10, 000 that Donald was earning as a carpentry tutor. Besides, since William had a degree, his life prospects were way better that Donald’s. He would be hired by TSC and would in years to come get promoted to become a school principal. This would of course come with financial rewards.
That is why Hellen decided that she was tied to the wrong brother. She started making moves on William while still dating Donald, and she even started sleeping with William before she officially broke up with his younger brother. By the time she officially told Donald that it was over, she was pregnant with William.
Donald took the news hard. For years, Hellen had been the center of his life. He had known she would be his wife since they were teenagers. For her to dump him in favor of his elder brother was double betrayal, and it disoriented him. He did not attend their traditional wedding, or their church wedding, both of which were hurriedly planned. Donald started drinking heavily, and it wasn’t long before he was fired from his job. For a while, it seemed as though he was the loser that Hellen told everyone he was.
In this period, Donald started dating a barmaid at the local pub. Her name was Mary. It was a relationship that everyone, including his parents, disapproved. Barmaids are generally seen as “loose” women, especially in conservative rural areas. They do not even deserve the love of hopeless drunks. Ironically, it was this relationship that saved Donald.
When Mary became pregnant, Donald took responsibility over the child. But everyone told him that it was a mistake.
“That woman opens her legs to every man who touches her at the club,” his mother counseled. “How can you be sure that that baby is yours?”
But something had shifted in Donald. He asked his father to show him where to build his house, and the old man reluctantly agreed. His mother tried to stop him, because she knew that the only reason Donald wanted to leave the mud hut that he shared with his younger brother was because he wanted to bring “that prostitute” home. But the old man argued that in as much as he knew that that was what his son wanted to do, and even though he was against it as a faithful Presbyterian, he also knew that a share of the ancestral land was Donald’s by right, a heritage from his ancestors.
The old man called all his three sons and gave them a share of the ancestral land. William, as the first born, got two cares. Donald and Richard got one and a half an acre each, and the old man retained three acres to himself. He said that the three acres would be shared equally amongst the three brothers when he and their mother died.
The day after the old man showed each son his share of land, and even before the official transfer was done, Donald invited his friends to help him build a hut. He got the frames from the trees in his share of the land, and he joined them himself. He was, after all, a carpenter. His friends helped him to plaster the walls with mud. Because he was penniless, he had to sell a few trees to afford the nails, iron sheets, a few house items such as a bed and cooking vessels. He used the remainder of the money to buy his friends cheap alcohol for their efforts.
Ironically, the trees were bought by his brother William, who had since been hired on permanent and pensionable terms by TSC, and was planning to take a loan and build a stone house for his family. They were living at the staff quarters of Gituamba Girls Secondary School, where he had been posted by TSC.
What Donald’s friends didn’t realise, even as they helped him build a house “for his prostitute” was that he was leaving them. That evening they all drank themselves silly to celebrate the construction. It was the last time Donald touched alcohol.
The following night, Mary came under the cover of darkness and took her place as the woman of the new house. That night, both she and Donald took a vow to quit alcohol for the sake of their unborn baby. Mary even decided to quit her job as a bar attendant. The two of them focused on tilling their land and growing their food. Donald sold more trees, to the chagrin of his father, who was convinced that the young man was looking for money to buy alcohol.
But Donald had a plan. He used the money to buy basic carpentry items, and started hawking his services in the neighborhood. A sober Donald was a carpenter with no equal, and he soon became everyone’s favorite. He was getting regular work, and Mary soon found herself tilling the land alone. But she did not complain, because money was flowing in and their lives were improving. When pregnancy started to take its toll on Mary, they hired casuals to tend the land. By the time their son was born, they had plenty of food in the house, and they even had some savings from Donald’s carpentry work.
Mary had even managed to earn the respect of her parents-in-law. They had not yet embraced her fully, but they no longer treated her like a pariah. But they were still poor, living in a mud hut, and so all the affection went to the “wealthy” William and his wife Hellen. William and Hellen, but particularly Hellen, treated Donald and Mary with contempt and condensation. It was only Richard, their youngest brother who had become a primary school teacher, who treated them with brotherly affection.
But Donald’s fortunes continued to change. In a bold move, he decided that he would stop hawking his services as a carpenter and would instead open a carpentry shop. William laughed at him telling him that he was “over-ambitious”. Hellen jeered. Their parents told him he was throwing his savings down the drain. But in his characteristic way, Donald refused to be swayed. He used his savings to lease a yard at the local market, and to buy timber and other materials.
It wasn’t long before he got his first order. Kiambugi secondary school was establishing a new stream of classes, and the principal gave Donald the contract to build desks and chairs. That was the turning point. Today Donald’s workshop is the busiest in the area. He bought the yard where it is situated, and expanded it by buying the neighboring land. He has seven carpenters working for him, making all sorts of furniture. He has four delivery pickups and a canter, and each of them has a driver and a loader. Other than orders from schools and other institutions which are processed in bulk, Donald has specialized in high quality home furniture such as beds, sofa sets and tables. In 15 years, has come to be recognized in the three counties of Meru, Tharaka Nithi and Embu as the top most supplier of quality furniture.
He has gotten the financial rewards for his efforts. He has built a mansion for his family, larger than his brother William’s. He bought his wife Mary a Mazda Demio as a birthday gift three years ago. Mary still does farming, but as a business. She has all types of poultry, including chicken, guinea fowl, ducks, geese and turkeys, which she rears for both eggs and meat. She has two permanent staff members, and adds casuals as the business demands. She supplies meat and eggs to many of the top restaurants and hotels in the region.
Donald and Mary have been challenging themselves to advance in their education. They started with a certificate in business management, and after graduating moved on to diploma. They are currently pursuing their Bachelor’s degrees in Business Administration. They are both respected members of their local society. They are both deacons in their local church, and Mary is the current chairperson of their Sacco. Donald is the chairperson of Kiambugi Secondary School, where his brother William is the discipline master.
As Donald rolls into his compound with his pickup, Hellen decides that she will win him back whatever it costs. She doesn’t give a damn what the local villagers will say, or what William will do. He has turned out to be a loser anyway. He hasn’t even managed to become a deputy principal, leave alone a school principal, even after all these years.
Hellen has tried to seduce Donald by flirting and reminding him of the “good old days” but he remains stubbornly loyal to that “bartender”. That is why she has decided she will take the only available option: visiting a witchdoctor for a love portion.
(To be continued on Saturday.)
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