For six months, activist Jane Komen remained under the care of doctors, fighting for her life. Even after being discharged from the place she had called home for as many months, she was not fully recovered. She needed a series of medical follow-ups and reviews for five more months.
What took Jane, 56, to the Emergency Room and subsequently caused her admission to hospital was not an accident. It was a diabolical act wrought on her by the man she loved: her husband of 24 years.
Jane, who advocates poor people’s rights through Bunge la Wananchi, met her future husband in early 1985 in Nairobi city. They fell in love and it was magic. Theirs was a match made in heaven. She was then a teacher at Pangani Girls’ High School in Nairobi. The man was in the army and served the country from Kahawa Barracks, Nairobi.
In 1986, the two lovebirds got married. It was pure bliss for the next four years. The husband was responsible and loving. But that changed when he started cheating on her. “He had a harem of women both in the city and at his rural home in Mwea, Embu county, where they had built their marital home and stoically anchored the pillars of their love.
The affairs shattered her spirit to pieces but she still loved him. The mother of four hoped that the man with a roving eye would soon turn his back on his philandering ways but she was wrong. The mipango ya kando lifestyle continued unabated, despite his promises to change. In fact, it spiralled.
“I had to take matters into my own hands to save my marriage,” Jane says. “I asked him to stop cheating on me but he couldn’t listen. It was like talking to a rock and expecting it to hear what you are saying.”
As the cheating episodes tripled, so did his verbal, physical and emotional abuse. He suddenly discovered that I am a foreigner among his people and community. “I come from the Tugen sub-tribe of the larger Kalenjin community, while he is Meru,” Jane says.
“Some of our misunderstandings and daily fighting were caused by his disgust on my person because of my Kalenjin background.”
In the midst of all these storms and drama, Jane never lost focus on her marriage. With all the strength left in her body, she worked hard to amass wealth. She bought four plots in Mwea and built a shop. All the while, the couple and their children lived in the city. They employed someone to manage the shop.
Without her knowledge, the woman they had employed was sacked and a new manager brought in. “After a few months, my husband informed me about the new girl at the shop. I had no objection because I knew he took the step for a good reason.”
She was wrong. One afternoon in November of 2009, Jane arrived at Mwea town. Naturally, she passed by the shop and found the young woman behind the counter. She was pregnant but as to who was responsible for the growing bulge was none of her business. Shortly after, she left for her house in the outskirts of the town.
She learnt from her mother in-law that the pregnant woman was actually her husband’s new wife. It was the old woman who scouted for the woman two ridges away from her Ngurufani village in Embu county.
His affairs had graduated to a full-blown avalanche.
“It was a jaw-dropping moment. Never had I imagined that his cheating would one day detour to this.”
With her competition now owning her shop, Jane was inconsolable. Despite the mammoth raging volcano of betrayal in her heart, the former teacher took everything in her stride. But the following day, her anger had not dissipated. She was boiling with rage. She walked to her shop and fired the expectant woman.
That was her undoing. It was what broke the proverbial camel’s back in January 2010. “As soon as he got wind of what transpired at the shop, my husband arrived a few hours later, breathing fire and brimstone. He gave me a tongue-lashing laced with threats to my life for chasing his wife. I was numbed by the admission that he was indeed married to another woman.”
My husband stormed out of the house, saying he was going back to Nairobi. “Of course, he was lying. He went to console his little wife at their love-nest — a two-bedroom house he had rented for her.”
Jane resigned to her new status as a co-wife. But she had promised herself that the property she had sweated for, including a public service vehicle, would never be the source of income for her husband’s long queue of women.
That night, she went to bed, he two-year-old daughter tucked by her side. Five hours or so later, she woke up to a choking, putrid smell. She thought she was dreaming but unfortunately what was happening was no figment of her imagination. Within seconds, pillows of smoke were swirling in the three-bedroom house.
She groped into the kitchen, blanket in hand. She had to act fast before fire engulfed the room. “I quickly dipped the blanket into a drum of water and covered myself and the baby with it as I screamed at the top of my voice.”
Luckily, a neighbour heard her cries for help and ran to help. But there was a problem. The house was padlocked from outside. That did not deter one neighbour, who brought a sledge hammer and broke the door.
“The neighbour found both of us overwhelmed by the fire. They thought we were dead. We passed out after inhaling thick smoke for almost three hours,” she said, wiping out a stream of tears cascading down her cheeks.
That morning, news of the tragic incident spread like wildfire in Mwea town and its environs. Newsmen arrived and reported that a woman and her baby girl had died in a mysterious night fire that gutted their house. “The door was locked from outside,” the news crew added.
Meanwhile, Jane and her daughter were on their way to Karira Hospital within the area, thanks to Good Samaritans who, although they suspected the duo had suffocated, believed it is only the doctors who could certify them dead.
As they laid on stretches, waiting to be attended to, guess who arrives? Her husband, feigning innocence over what transpired.
Their vital signs were working, albeit stressed. “My husband took us to MRS Kahawa Barracks, a medical facility for the army. She was in a coma.
Since her situation was still critical, they were referred to the Forces Memorial Hospital on Mbagathi Road, Nairobi, for further treatment.
Thanks to the wet blanket, Jane and her little girl were not licked to oblivion by the angry tongues of fire. Save for acute smoke inhalation, the child did not suffer any burns. It was Jane who incurred injuries. “Only my hands were burned and they had started to stiffen because the muscles were affected.”
Doctors did all they could to save her fingers and managed to straighten them after a series of physiotherapy.
Her husband was eager to get them discharged. Under his tough instructions, she and her daughter boarded a hired car. He was behind the wheel. The silent journey lasted almost four hours. When the car screeched to a halt, they were at the vast Kabarak compound of her elder brother in Nakuru county.
“Take your daughter. Take care of her. I am through with her!” he barked at her stunned brother, turned around and left.
MARRIED HOUSE GIRL
Jane had to move back to Nairobi for medical reviews because she was yet to heal properly. “I stayed with my other brother as I visited hospital.”
After chasing her away, the husband married the house girl who had been taking care of her other children while she was recovering. “She is my niece. I had brought her to stay with me after she dropped out of Form Two due to lack of school fees,” Jane said. She had planned to take her back to school. “I guess she had other plans after meeting my husband. The rest as they say, is history.”
This was not the first maid to have an affair with the man. “In 2005, my husband helped a house girl we had to procure an abortion. The girl confessed to me after she and my husband disappeared the whole day without good reason. She arrived bleeding and let the cat out of the bag.”
The fire scarred her hands but Jane is thankful that her husband’s plan to kill her did not succeed.
“The pregnant woman I chased from my shop never came back to this day, maybe because she feared to be charged with my husband for conspiracy to kill me and my baby.”
What she might not have known is that Jane did not press charges against her husband. Apart from taking away her trust in men, he also separated her from all the children. “I don’t know what he did to them but the children don’t want to see me,” she says.
Jane used to visit them in school but whenever they see her, they literally take off. “I bet he told them I died and if they ever see me, they would be seeing her ghost coming to take them.”
Since the fire incident, Jane bade goodbye to relationships. “I will never get married again,” she swears.