In this first instalment of a special, four-part series, Aida Muturia reveals the struggles of celebrity, the showers of expensive gifts in the office, getting ensnared by a man she didn’t love, and letting down her guard
She would have been 70 today. Modesta Mukwanjiru Gatandi. My mum. I wasn’t that close to her throughout my life. I was led to believe that I was raised by my dad from when I was little.
Three months old to be precise. Didn’t breastfeed much either. Apparently, mum spent most of that period in medical school, studying to become a doctor but ending up as a clinical officer — which is, well, somewhat a doctor but without the conventional degree.
There were medical colleges in her time that offered equivalents in diplomas. And she had a good number of those, enough to surpass even that one, I dare presume. I found a stash of them later as I inscrutably rummaged through her stuff after the burial.
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Coming to terms with the undisclosed details of her life was dreadfully embarrassing in a lot of ways. Knowing I hardly knew her and rendezvousing with people, circumstances and situations that came to fore on the go, whether on issues of continuity, incomplete ventures, contributions, collections or the downright unfinished business of the unresolved or unexpressed emotional kind.
One by one they surfaced to my starkly unprocessing mind. I even surprisingly got to learn during the drafting of her eulogy that her birthday fell on the International Lovers Day, February 14.
My mum’s death launched a very dark, uncharted chapter in my life. She had been sick for a long time; high blood pressure and diabetes and all the complications that came with that. She was in and out of hospital and I thought it was another one of those. I was going through a really stormy season while she was in hospital.
While I visited her regularly to check up on her and take her home-made meals as she hated hospital food, I was dealing with some personal drama involving a long term boyfriend, Saraswati, who had turned on me when he uncovered a deception I had concealed for a long time.
I had been having an affair with another man throughout most of the duration of our relationship. In fact, when he discovered this, he had asked me to move out of the home we had shared for almost four years of our relationship, but my mum’s admission to hospital delayed that for a time.
I remember the irony of being so relieved that mum was in hospital so I didn’t have to move out because I did not know where to go or how to start.
You see, my life was pegged around Saraswati’s lifestyle and conditioning. He paid the rent, took care of the bills, the meals, the shopping and anything else, recurrent or otherwise. I travelled everywhere using cabs that were at my disposal, as and when I dialled. That, too, paid, not to mention a flurry of expensive gifts and jewellery.
We dined out regularly in fancy restaurants and hit exclusive clubs during the weekends. Every so often, we’d take a drive out of town to the enthralling and pristine coastal locations or wilderness safaris in the Serengeti or Masai Mara.
My employment earnings, which were meagre in comparison, went to mostly purchasing the latest trends of wardrobe, shoes and handbags. Or I’d simply lounge out with friends.
I was a young and popular financial news broadcast journalist and anchor at the time, with the premier television news station, Kenya Television Network, (KTN). I was only 24. My star was shooting high and my career was thriving.
I had more suitors than I could care to count. The newsroom phones would ring off the hook with groupies leaving barrages of flatteries and compliments about my fashion sense, hairstyles or exquisite make-up, leaving their phone numbers, sending gifts or wanting to take me out on a date.
The bold ones would straight out proclaim their eternal love and want to marry me in an instant or declare that they would divorce their wives if I just said the word! It was easy to get lost in the fame, and sometimes I would, but the spotlight was ever so shining in daylight or moonlight. My business was everyone’s business.
I met Maloy as I was dating Saraswati. He was equally well-to-do. Both of them were. I didn’t have to think about money — as I hadn’t all my life. I had a pretty modest but comfortable upbringing. My dad was a career politician. We had our ups and downs as he got elected in and voted out of parliament and government but we were mostly well off.
My mum later resigned from government employment and became a self-made entrepreneur, but it was not of her own choosing even though sometimes I muse over how that twist in her tale elevated her financially beyond her peasant government salary. She had been a clinical officer in the city for most of her life. But in an unprecedented and sudden move orchestrated by my dad, she was forced to vacate her home of over 20 years and relocate to the country.
Apparently, my dad had another woman in his life, a discovery that my mum had made when she inadvertently lifted a receipt off of his suit coat pocket, disclosing a fees note made out to a name, a male name bearing his name — I beg your pardon — his surname: Tangazo Mzee.
Turns out this was a young lad, his son — a teenager as a matter of fact — who, together with the woman, Watatu, had been in his life for a very long time. No one could figure out exactly how long this love affair had evolved, but the boy was a teenager now!
Watatu happened to be his wife, legal status unverified, though probability high, given that she was wearing his ring, as was sneakily visible later in a series of coerced introductions to the rest of the family and more so the legalisation of polygamy in this end of the world where civil law had been brought into line with customary law, allowing a man previously allowed only one wife to take on multiple partners.
My mum was a second wife under customary marriage. My dad, Mzee, had taken a first wife before her through civil marriage. Now the two laws were merged and my dad had taken a third wife.
The revelation, though shocking to my mum, wasn’t entirely strange, except for the formality of it, given my dad’s not-so-indistinct reputation. He had been an Assistant Minister in the Kenya government at the time and had just lost his election to Parliament for another term, but among the entitlements for his position was a two-storey residential property in one of the opulent neighbourhoods of the city, under the Civil Servants Housing Scheme.
For the duration of his service in government, and unbeknownst to my mum or the larger family, this home had housed his secret family. So when he was ousted, his vacation notice was applicable immediately, and that’s how mum emerged as the sitting target. Her home, the ultimate sacrifice. She didn’t have much time to pack her stuff but the ‘eviction’ was inescapable. She landed in the country, my dad’s native village, where she was vaguely acquainted.
There was no space immediately available for her on landing so she was directed to an empty, long abandoned warehouse, which with the support of a few villagers was demarcated using soft boards to create bedrooms for us children to settle in as our bedrooms for a few years to come. That’s as far as privacy went.
She would soon launch a successful medical clinic, one of the few at the time, and grow her wealth in a relatively short period of time.
So even when I started my broadcast journalism career, mum was always somewhere behind me, visiting often, supplementing my income and always supplying me with lots of food and groceries. I never really understood the value or scarcity, save for brief moments that passed barely noticed.
I never loved Saraswati. I did develop a deep affection for him, though, except for matters of the heart. He was an incredibly kind and gentle human being, God rest his soul. I felt indebted to him, so I sold myself for a loveless relationship.
He had been a secret admirer for a good number of years preceding our first encounter. He saw me first on KTN and fell in love, at first sight. Subsequently, he started this weekly and year-long tradition of sending magnificent flower baskets to my office from “Anonymous.”
The flowers were a sight to behold and never ceased to cause a stir in the newsroom, especially because they came so regularly that the older ones were never quite wilted by the time the new ones arrived. My fellow queens of the screen were ever green with envy.
Often, I would passively pluck stems from the stalks and distribute them to them and any and other colleagues, who eagerly grabbed them at a moment’s opportunity, perhaps for themselves, perhaps to impress their loved ones. Sometimes when they were so completely glorious and stunning, I would merrily carry them home, place them as the centrepiece of my living room nook.
At other times I would return to sender when I was in a bad mood or upset that this human could not muster the courage to identify himself, tag his card, or simply write a note. It used to really irk me in those moments, and on one of the occasions I called up the flower company on whose behalf Saraswati sent the baskets to raise the issue with the proprietor.
“Who is this man?” I would complain, “and why can’t he just call?”
Down the months, he grew on me as I started noticing how persistent and consistent he had been at this gesture. I was secretly pleased. I also loved the gifts and eagerly awaited them.
I gradually grew this anticipation to put a face to his name and perhaps even indulge him. In many ways, I may have already developed feelings for him. Default mode perhaps, but I smiled everywhere, all the time.
Eventually, he dropped his business card in one of the baskets. And now I knew his name, his title and career scape, and I also got to know where he worked, building, storey and company name. He was involved in the oil industry. He was the head honcho of finance.
By now the flowers had given way to full-fledged gift baskets bearing chocolates, perfumes, premium wines and all sorts of accompanying treats — waffles, truffles, nuts and fruits.
At long last he called me when I least expected it. His voice was deep and authoritative, but there was something about his accent that I couldn’t quite warm up to. He had a deep native accent that pronounced r’s as l’s and l’s as r’s! It was kind of off-putting but I overlooked it for now. After all, no one deserved to be judged by the accent of their dialect.
We arranged to meet at one of the newly launched, high-end, boutique hotels at the time. The Grand Regency. He clearly was out to impress.
The first time I saw Saraswati, I was a bit disappointed. He had a slight hunch back, a protruding tummy, his face was long, puffy and his head was bigger than his body.
His buttocks were flat — I noticed when he excused himself and walked towards the bathroom. Not to mention a sloppy walk. He was slightly knock-kneed, and his overall physique was less than impressive. He wasn’t good looking, at all.
I was immediately repulsed by him. His English dialect didn’t help matters, and on top of everything, his entire front teeth were decayed. Quite frankly, I was done before I began.
I couldn’t concentrate on our conversation as I scrutinised all these aspects while he ordered me exorbitant drinks and we dined in luxury. My attention was scattered all through the evening. In his smittenness, he didn’t notice.
He was really smartly dressed though: crisply ironed peach shirt, expensive looking, pricey timepiece, bespoke footwear, and well-groomed top to bottom. He wore a mild and sublime cologne, and I could tell he was very wealthy.
As we finished and headed out to his car, he gentlemanly opened the door for me.
When I look back on those times, in hindsight, on particularly gloomy days when it feels like my life has been a series of contemptible decisions, I wonder what kind of maturity deficit I was suffering, because — how could I judge someone so harshly on appearance? I mean his looks, physical frame and twang.
I remember feeling cold toward him soon after our first date. His overall image did nothing to convince me to meet him a second time, despite his affluence and effort. I avoided him altogether and declined to respond to his communications. I never revealed the truth as to why. Yet, he continued his ritualistic gift sending. Never did he falter.
Psychologically, I had disconnected after our first meeting. But I did enjoy the gifts tremendously, even though I didn’t acknowledge them.
It wasn’t until a couple of months down the line that we serendipitously met at yet another prestigious hotel where he was hanging out with some industry colleagues, and we sort of reconnected.
I wasn’t dating anyone seriously at the time and neither was he, so we kind of fell into the flow of the moment, and soon we started getting together every so often without really assigning much importance to it.
I could tell he was ecstatic about it by the way he treated me, showered me with attention and compliments at every opportunity and somehow, eventually, I let down my guard.
I didn’t know where my heart was as far as Saraswati was concerned. I just — well — we were spending a lot of time together, I loved the way he spoiled me, the company, the travels, the soirees. I didn’t know any single man at the time who had been so completely dedicated and gone out of his way for me the way this man had. I literally fell for and fed off of it. And I didn’t even notice I was on the ride of life with him without having acknowledged it to myself. I was also bored and tired of the dating scene, less-than-serious suitors and all, most of them stone broke with abundant flair but no ambition. So it was easy to be with Saraswati for his effort, attention, and indulgences rather than for romance. It felt that way anyway. I was passively into him with zero connection.
I remember from the outset of dating, he used to move heaven and earth to make sure I was happy. My job didn’t pay me well at the time, so the extra financial privileges from Saraswati made me feel secure in settling with him.
I promised myself that I would learn to love him eventually. It was a weak attempt of a pledge, though, because somehow I never did. There was a cardinal twist to the failed pledge. If ever I thought about giving romance a compromise, one thing could have saved the day.
This department I considered important enough to make me forego any and all qualities I had rejected. What if he was an incredible lover? A perfect invitation to slip into oblivion.
But, Saraswati had a problem. Premature ejaculation. I remember screaming inside my head,
“Oh no! This too? How much worse could it get, God?”
Naturally that situation evolved into a relationship that grew woefully skin-deep, pretentious, and self-serving, perfect on all fronts from the outside but miserable and frivolous on the inside. I fell in love, instead, with the lifestyle.
We moved in together to a leafy suburb after about three months of dating, and I remember just before we did, he proposed and I politely diverted his attention, “We have a whole lifetime to be together, no need to rush”, I said as I pretentiously bided time to escape this undesirable fate. His jaw dropped and his face flushed with disappointment, but since I had agreed to live in with him it made up for the unfavourable outcome of the engagement.
We tried to get him some help for the sexual condition, nothing elaborate nor specialist kind of medical or therapeutic appointments. Just drugs here, rubs there — off the counter. Yet still, he did not sexually satisfy me to the extent it eventually led me into another man’s arms, saturated with a sexually charged, whirlwind affair.
I spent most of my free time with Maloy, who made every moment of our experience utterly ecstatic. He was a monster in the bedroom and treated me like a goddess. He was my total man. I couldn’t have been happier!
But Maloy had a girlfriend in another town as I came to find out, directly from him. A long-term girlfriend, who years later became his wife. I loved being with Maloy, though. To this day I have somehow never wrapped my mind around the nature of my feelings for him, except that we had a deep, raw, and sensual connection. I tend to think sometimes that we were inseparable because almost every moment when we were not doing anything else, we were together.
His girlfriend, Akothe, sooner or later came to uncover our affair right about the time Saraswati did likewise. The pretty fairytale suddenly turned ugly.
About that time, I discovered I was pregnant. It was definitely Maloy’s because I hardly had any intimacy anymore with Saraswati. And of course there was the issue of timing. Maloy and I were together daily. A day did not pass when we were not. The pregnancy discovery coincided with mum’s admission to hospital and Saraswati’s demand that I move out of the home we had shared for nearly five years.
Maloy and I also started to lose touch as I presume he was also mending matters on his side. I remember one of the last conversations I ever shared with Maloy regarding the pregnancy when I delivered the news to him and subsequently asked him what ‘we’ should do.
“Whatever you decide babe, I will support you”, he said.
Didn’t seem like much of a confidence vote given the circumstances. He had no particular emotion written on his face, so I couldn’t read his real intention. I did not have time to process, though, as mum was in hospital.
Concurrently, I was having an issue at the office where I was in line for a promotion as the editor of the business section, a position I had been acting in for a time. Confirmation in the position had been stalling because my immediate boss at the time, Zambezi, was apparently ‘saving’ the position for a buddy of his and former co-worker, Majimbo, whose contract with the BBC in London was up in the air.
It was a precarious time for me, professionally, as well. I had become a heavy drinker, so I channelled my emotions into alcohol most times when out of the limelight. A functioning alcoholic I would say, although that too was to later have its consequences.
Names have been changed to protect the identities of individuals.
Tomorrow in the Sunday Nation: “I was still pregnant when we buried my mother. What I didn’t know at the time was the tremendous toll that this one event was to have on my life going forward, not to mention that it would expose the recklessness with which I had conducted my life prior and expose it for what it was: a big drama: an entanglement of two men, a pregnancy, a profound death, and a job I had sabotaged myself out of.”