OVERNIGHT STRANGER.

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They had gone for drinks at Level Seven Lounge at Nextgen Mall when his wife’s phone rung at about 9:30pm. It wasn’t a date night. It was a random drink-up that couples who have been married 11 years sometimes do. They had had something to eat and were now on their third drink.

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Overnight Stranger

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by BIKOZULU ,ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

They had gone for drinks at Level Seven Lounge at Nextgen Mall when his wife’s phone rung at about 9:30pm. It wasn’t a date night. It was a random drink-up that couples who have been married 11 years sometimes do. They had had something to eat and were now on their third drink. They weren’t planning on staying out late because they were parents. Plus, the life of staying out late in the bar was long gone – at least not with the wife anyway because she wasn’t a “party person.” She prefered to be at home, in front of the television.

She picks the call, listens for a moment and then hangs up without a word.

He finds it odd but he says he isn’t the kind of guy who asks, “Who was that?” because that sounds needy and insecure. And nobody wants to come across as needy and insecure. The music isn’t too loud yet, so they get back to their conversation. Her clutch purse is on the table, it’s a red one. (This information isn’t important, so don’t overthink it). Five minutes later she thumbs a text on her phone. At the end of the evening, he asks for the bill, runs his card, tips the waiter, puts on his jacket and they head home.

That was a Friday.

When he went to bed, he couldn’t stop wondering why his wife would pick a call and not speak. Now it was eating him. The next day, Saturday, he was on his laptop in the living room when his wife asked him to help her back up her phone. She was also the kind of wife who was a technophobe. He – on the other hand – was the kind of husband who backed up phones. So she unlocks her phone and hands it to him and goes out to bask in the sun.

A needy and insecure man would have checked her call log to find out who the hell that was who had called at 9:30pm. But he wasn’t a needy and insecure man. He was the kind of man who backed up his wife’s phone. A secure man, a trusting husband, a well-adjusted man. But he was also male so he went to the call log and found that the person who had called the number was called, let’s call him, John, because, come on, John is a low hanging fruit.

He goes to her messages and checks what she had written to John; that she was at a party and it was noisy and that she would call him back. A party, huh? He scrolls up to read the previous message from John and in one message he wrote, “Imagine I was allocated the exact same room that we spent the night in last time in Jan.” And she writes, “It must be so nostalgic,” or something like that. His heart starts pounding. His stomach starts acting weird. He wants to pee. He wants to lie down on the floor and take deep breaths.

We are at that new coffee place along Lenana Road, Coffee and Bagels. He’s speaking to me from behind trendy Storm sunglasses, with iced-coffee at his elbow.

One message leads to the next message and the next and it leads him into a rabbit hole that takes him into Whatsapp and emails and receipts and calendars and when he is done sleuthing, he unearths two different men his wife has been shagging, and two others that either she had shagged or was about to shag. He leans back in his chair, feeling light-headed, a bit sick and a lot confused. The sound of the children playing downstairs is like someone shouting under the sea, they sound like they are coming from a very far away place, a place that isn’t on the map. Morning light comes through the window in large wedges. He takes screenshots and then starts backing up her phone, this bar of damning evidence, this tomb of deceit and instrument of heartbreak, this thing that was turning his life on its head. While the phone backs up he sits there thinking, who the f*k is that basking in the sun outside?!

“You know, I sat there and with the benefit of hindsight, with its 20-20 vision, I started thinking back,” he says. “This second guy she was shagging was her ex-boss and that affair seem to have gone on for very long. Listen, this guy was in charge of my wedding’s evening party. I remember that at some point I was uncomfortable with their friendship,” he scratches the air in quotes, “and she had said that they were just friends.”

The other guy she was having a thing with was an interior designer who they had hired to redo their house. The other two were guys he didn’t know.

“Anyway, so her phone backs up and I take it to her outside where she’s basking, eyes closed.”

“You didn’t say anything?”

“Nope. I didn’t.”

“What? As in you just acted normal?”

“Yeah.”

“Wow. I’m pretty sure that I would be in jail right now, double homicide or something like that.” I tell him. “I’d be those guys sending you SMSes saying they are Linsey Hatts, a lonely humanitarian German girl working in Kilgoris and looking for love and a serious relationship.”

I suspect that these calm people who make great decisions in the haze of such emotional and intense moments are insane . They are like a pressure burner, boiling slowly inside and then one day I will stare at the TV and think, I know that guy being accused of murder! Oh Christ, I interviewed him! He’s the guy who drunk iced coffee with bagels! The guy who backs up phones! I will be asked by a journalist if I remember something odd about him when I interviewed him and will say, “Are you kidding me? Of course yes! He backs his wife’s phone after finding out that she was shagging two or even four men! Then he goes and eats a fruit?! Of course he was unstable. Only Hannibal Lecter would do some shit like that.”

Journalist: Shit like what?

“Eat an apple! What do you think?”

Normal guys would blow up, throw a TV through the window, spray her cat with a spray paint and chase her through the door with an axe, but then after they have expunged the anger, they will be sane.

“The next day, Sunday, I call a Private Investigator pal of mine. I tell him what’s up. He asks me to first find a way of printing out all the evidence. [He had the screenshots he had taken] and then he would do the rest,” he says. ‘The rest’ meant more evidence.

“I travel a lot, mostly out of the country. One time last year I returned from Lagos on a Sunday, mid-morning. She had spent the night at this man’s place and gotten back early in the morning, like 4am.” He laughs at that, but not a humorous laughter, more like a preposterous laughter, the type you shouldn’t join in on.

“I play basketball three times a week, and so what she was doing was that she was meeting these men when she was sure I was on the basketball court -”

“So when you were playing basketball she was playing hard-ball…” I say. [I can’t resist these cheesy lines. It’s a problem.]

He chuckles and sighs, but not sadly, but like the kind of sigh you would sigh when you walk into a banking hall and find a long queue. There are many different types of sighs but we can’t get into all of them right now.

So he took three days to put together a document with evidence. He says, “I put together this dossier.” He’s the kind of guy who uses flourish language.  When he emailed me he had said, “I discovered my wife’s licentiousness a few months ago.” How many people do you know who use that word? He also wrote: “I am happy to sit down and have a sotto voce over a light beer because I gave up Scotland’s aqua vitae three years ago.”

When he was done gathering evidence he confronted her. He called her brother and together they sat in his bedroom one night. “She denied vehemently. She started crying and being theatrical,” he says. “So I simply produced the dossier and handed it to her brother and he read it in silence. He was shocked. [I’m surprised he doesn’t use the word gobsmacked]. He looked at all the evidence in that file and then silently handed the file to his sister who looked at the communications between her and all those men. There was nothing anybody could say after that. Nothing. I wanted her gone after that meeting that lasted until 2am.”

In the messages he noticed that the wife was periodically receiving large sums of money from one of the two gentlemen and making references to school fees.  She wasn’t going to school and so it didn’t make sense. Why would he be sending school fees? His mind went on overdrive and he went online and googled “DNA test in Nairobi,” and he called the first number and the guy on the line said you have to have a consent of your wife to do a DNA test for your children. The second call was to Bioinformatics Institute of Kenya, which sounds like a place where they manufacture prosthetic limbs but which actually do DNA testing, relationship testing (whatever that is), newborn screening, personality DNA testing, premarital genetic testing and personal genomic services.

The next day he tells his children, “Guys, dress up, we are going to do a routine check-up, you and Daddy.” So they wore their little shoes and the lovely dress and the little girl  – she is 7 this year, looks at herself in the mirror and says, “I look nice,” and he says, “Yes, baby, you look terrific,” and they all bundle into the car and off they head to Viraj Complex, on Mombasa road.

“I thought to do DNA testing you just ask your child to say ‘aaah,’ then you swab their mouths and send samples?” I ask.

“I thought so too,” he says. “Turns out it’s complex; they need to see the original birth certificates of the children. They also need to see that the names on your ID matches the one on the birth certificate.”

I always thought that people who do DNA tests call a guy who calls a guy, who asks for your number and tells the guy you called to tell you that you will get a call soon. And one day, you get a call from  guy who sounds like Professor Hamo and he tells you where to meet and what time. So one night, around 8pm, you drive into the parking lot of Jaffrey’s Club and park in one of the many now empty parking lots. You sit there watching people walk around the track, some stretching, others getting in their cars and driving off and you sit there until 9pm when there are only few cars left in the parking and the track only has one old Asian man in sneakers a size too large, shuffling determinedly around the track. A car pulls over next to yours; it’s one of the old shape Rav4s, blue, with tinted windows. Your phone rings and the guy who sounds like Hamo says, “Come” and you ask, “Come where?” And he says, “The car next to yours, dummy.” So you look across but you can’t see who is inside the car because it’s tinted. You sigh (remember the different types of sighs I mentioned? This one is more like, ‘Oh screw it, let’s get over and done with it already’) and you get out and get into his car that smells of dhania and in there is not a big guy, but a petite guy who has big, wild hair like Larry King. Staring at his hair suspiciously, as if a hare will jump out it, you inquire, “You do DNA?!” He ignores you and says, “Do you have the sample?” You say, “Hold on a second, do you do DNA testing or are you the guy who is sent to pick the sample?” He sighs [someone in class guess what sigh this is] and rolls his eyes. Is it because of my hair? He asks, his feelings hurt. Oh, so people who can test DNA can’t grow their hair? What the hell? You tell him to calm down, you were only asking. He says, “Gimme the damn sample.” So you fetch a serviette from your inside jacket pocket and unwrap it. He immediately exclaims, “What the f*k, what is that?!” You say, “My son’s tooth.” He says, “My God, you took out his whole tooth?” You say, “I thought that’s what you wanted? I wanted to make sure you have enough.” He starts the car and says, “Jesus Christ, get out of my car, you are sick.”

Anyway, he was in his office when the DNA test results came out. He took the call in the  quiet rooms that the modern office has, nowadays. He asked them to scan and email them to him since he couldn’t go over. “It was 9 April last year, at 1:38pm,” he says. “I opened the email and by this time I had gone through such an emotional rollercoaster that I was ready for more bad news.” He pauses. “Of my three children turns out the last one was not mine.”

He sat in the quiet room for a bit, the phone in his hand, staring at the result trying to make sense of it. He leaned on the wall and closed his eyes and tried to empty everything from his mind like you would empty a dirty well. Outside his little cubicle, capitalism trudged on. Inside he felt like he was in a tank that was slowly filling with brackish water.

The baby belonged to the guy who helped us arrange our wedding evening party. “The large sums of money he would send her? Those were school fees. I pay school fees for the whole year, I write one cheque. So she was getting school fees from him and keeping it.”

“She’s rough,” I say.

He chuckles. “Yeah, man.” Then adds, “You know, when I told her mother about all these things she couldn’t believe it. Nobody could. Nobody! She is the last person you would expect this from; I mean no one saw this coming. She always carried herself as an innocent and pious person. She is the type who prefers to stay at home rather than go to the bar. She is a great mother and homemaker, very, very calm…”He trails off.

“There are correspondences with this guy when she tells him that he is the father of the baby and that he should pay fees and the guy refuses and she tells the guy that she will have no choice but to inform his wife. He has three kids…so in essence he is paying child support, surreptitiously.”

I’m amazed. I have never heard anyone use the word “surreptitious” in a conversation. It’s one of those words that I can write but can’t dare utter in a conversation, because it will end up sounding like I’m speaking jango.

“Was there any clue at all that these things were happening?” I ask.

“None. I thought I had a great marriage. I’m telling you that she was the model wife, the last person you would suspect.”

The waiter comes and says, “Would you guys like anything else?” We both ask for water.

“What do you feel when you look at your daughter now? I mean, how do you go from knowing that this is your blood to this child belongs to another man? Do you love her different after knowing she is not yours.”

He pauses and then mumbles that its complicated.

“The initial feeling is of shock and then rejection – like I want to reject her as my child. I mean, why should I be raising another man’s child? I wanted to tell the guy to come and pick up his kid. But obviously this guy doesn’t want this kid, he wants to pay her fees, to keep her a secret from his wife because it will just ruin their marriage, like they ruined mine.” He chuckles bitterly. But you know, at some point you realise that the anger isn’t towards the child, it’s towards the woman. I don’t think the love for the child has changed. There is a difference between a father and a dad. Anybody can father a child. It’s easy. But not everybody can be a daddy. So…I don’t know, let me see how it goes.” Small pause as the waitress settles two short glasses of water before us and leaves. “This kid doesn’t know anyone else as her father. I  could send her away and that will affect her siblings, they will wonder what happened to their sister. It will affect them, I know, because, come on, they are siblings, or have grown up as siblings.”

“Does the kid remind you of deception?”

“It was a residual feeling but I have learnt to suppress it because she is innocent. She has no part to play in this. I try not to think about it, to be honest. But it’s worse when I see the mother.”

“What do you think when you see her?”

“That she is a piece of shit.”

He spoons some ice-cubes in his glass. “You want some?” I nod and he throws a few into my glass. We sip in brief silence. It’s a hot afternoon.

She came back home, his wife. One day she asked him if she can go over and spend time with the children and one evening she asked if she could spend over in the spare bedroom. She has been there since July. They don’t talk and if they do it’s about “bread and butter.” He says he is trying to handle the mediation as peacefully as possible. He doesn’t want a brawl. He wants her gone. Out of his life. “The marriage is done,” he says. He wants her gone in a sober way that won’t destabilize the kids.  I ask him how this whole thing has affected him as a person.

“My biggest lesson is that there is no guarantee in human relationships. You can live with someone and you can have kids with them, or a kid, but you will never know them 100 per cent. You will only see what someone shows you and some people can give you a false picture of who they are and do it consistently for years. Human beings can be very deceptive.”

“You know, I told her that I never knew her. I told her, ‘I don’t know who you are.’ After 11-years of marriage she became a stranger overnight.”

“Do you think you have been a good husband? What in your opinion were your limitations?”

“I think I have been a good husband. In her own words she said she didn’t lack for a thing. She’s tried to explain that she might have strayed because I was spending a lot of time playing basketball with my basketball friends and so she got the chance to get sucked into bad company.” He makes a exasperated face.

“Do you have a picture of her?” I ask him and he takes his phone and scrolls and scrolls and scrolls and I start laughing. “My, she has been buried that deep in your gallery?” He deleted most pictures except for this picture he shows me. They are both seated astride a stone park bench in a city in Italy. Because I have bad manners I do something I completely hate when people do; I scroll to the left. The next picture is of them seated astride each other on a concrete bench with the leaning Tower of Pisa looming in the background . They are looking into each other’s eyes. It’s a great picture, artistically speaking. She’s beautiful. She’s one of those ladies who people say “doesn’t look like a mother of three.”

“Look at this dove in this picture.” I point at a dove near them, one of the many self assured doves in Europe. Fearless doves that walk right up to you. Doves that pose in your picture. I love doves. Have you heard the sound the Mourning Dove makes? It just untangles every knot within your body. People shouldn’t see therapists, they should lie on a blanket in a park and listen to the Mourning Dove coo. Twice daily. Then eat an apple.

“This was the last trip we took together,” he says. “On that same day we landed, she wrote a message to one of the guys she was having a thing with saying, ‘I tried reaching you, can’t reach you. Your baby is back.’.”

“That must gut you, man.”

“What do you do? You accept your fate. You can’t change it.”

“Will you ever get married again?”

“For now? Right this moment? Naah. But now is not the right time to give a definitive answer. But if one day it happens, it happens.”

I sigh.

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