It is 7pm and my husband has not returned home, yet dinner is ready. I think I will wait a bit longer before I feed the kids who must be hungry now since they returned from school. They should soon be asleep to brave the cold morning air this September brings if they are to make it to school early tomorrow. As I wait, perhaps I should prepare the table, to make the meal more inviting.
I hear the keys in the door, jingling from the other side. I smile to myself to quell the disappointment lingering in my heart that the kids will not dine with their father, as I have had to feed them half an hour ago so that they could attend to proverbially counting sheep. He walks in and of course he is inevitably hungry from the look on his face. As tradition sets it, I willingly wash the hands of my husband, and welcome him to the meal I have prepared. When I fed the kids earlier, I did not eat so that I could share the table with my man. He looks comfortable enough now to take on the hearty dinner in front of him, displayed by the manner in which he has unbuttoned his shirt at the collar, and even taken off his socks. Typically.
Save for the small talk here and there about the neighbours and the weather, his phone has constantly rang since he parted the ugali. He ignores it and continues to speak of the hope for the promised rain; to fall and quench the sukumas in the backyard. I nod in agreement, but a hole develops in my stomach due to the thought why he refuses to answer his phone. We still continue to dine.
When we are done, I raise to clear the dishes before I can tend to his mchuzi-coated hands with water that has been nursing in a metal kettle in the corner of the kitchen – still warm. Void of appreciation to the meal I have made, he prepares his hands to be washed. This time, his phone rings of a different short tone and I can instantly tell that he has received an SMS. Once dry, he moves his fingers to unlock the phone to read the contents of the little envelope that flickered insistently in the corner of the screen.
I try to peak at it. “What does this Tom want at this hour?”, he smirks. But before he flung away the phone from my eyes, I had noticed that the sender’s number looked familiar. With the hole widening in my stomach, I reach for my phone from my apron pocket when I get to the kitchen, almost knocking down the kettle – the rattle of which would have woken the kids up. I scroll desperately through the phonebook, with hope that the familiar number will jump at me. Furiously, I begin the scrolling process from the top, but this time meticulously. And, there it is! My sister-in-law, my brother’s wife’s number. In all its glory, with the triple digits at the end. No wonder it looked familiar on the large screen of my husband’s phone.
I freeze. Then almost instantaneously, I lunge at the door into the living room to confront this case. I find Paul smiling at his phone, as if to raise my anger even more. “What is going on between you and that woman?”, I beg. He looks at me, and without hesitation, stands up and says he is going to bed. What? No answer? By now, my fingers are digging into the palms of my fists which were shaking by my side.
I paced the living room for what seemed like hours, trying to recall if I had seen more details of the text message. Could there have been something I missed? The thoughts wore me out, and I decided to retreat to the bedroom to catch some piece of mind from the night’s slumber. I thank God that he was asleep when I walked into the room and proceeded to change into my silk night clothes. I approached the bed, and in an instant, I almost thought I had gone blind when I felt some stinging liquid in my eyes, which dripped cold and viscous down my body. I fought to open my eyes to establish what had just transpired.
What smelled like kerosene, was kerosene! This man poured kerosene on me. And in my favourite nighty. Just what is he thinking? And why was he even pretending to be asleep? Thinking he would not harm me, I told him to stop wasting the kerosene that we use for lighting as I did not have money to buy more. As I contemplated going to take a bath to wash the fuel off me, he immediately took a matchbox, lit it and threw it to me. The match seemed to have travelled in the air for a lifetime, but when it reached me, I caught fire easily. I ran out of the room because I did not want to burn my children who were asleep in the adjacent room. Once outside, I fell in to a basin of water, then with as much energy as I could master, raised the alarm which attracted my neighbours.
When I came to at the Coptic Hospital in Luanda, my father told me that Paul rang him to say I had contemplated suicide. Now, unable to raise the hospital bills almost 5 months later, I was transferred to the Nairobi Women’s Hospital in Nakuru where I am recuperating with 60 – 70% burns all over my body. Far flung from the village in Vihiga where I was first hospitalized, I have not heard from my husband since that fateful night, and all I can think of is my kids and their welfare. Although I have reported the matter to the police, little is known about his whereabouts. I no longer wonder why they call it a hotline.