Someone once said to me, at some point in your life you will be the other woman. With or without your knowledge. Is the other woman always a Jezebel? Sometimes she fills a need,other times she wrecks havoc, many times she is a punishment disguised as a beautiful distraction. Whatever the case, because the grass always looks greener on the other side, the allure of the other woman will remain.
They met at a funeral. He had accompanied a friend. She had come to mourn a cousin. They shared a bottle of water in the hot Kwale sun.
Later that evening, the visitors from Nairobi congregated in the small town for a few drinks before retiring to bed. They bumped into each other again. This time Alex offered to buy her a drink.
Flora only drank bottled wine and this local way out here did not have any. So she settled for a warm soda. The fridge at the bar was not working.So was the ladies washroom. Alex was kind enough to take her to the gents and stand guard while she used it.
They got to talking and talked almost all night. Flora liked Alex, even though he wore a big wedding band. He looked lost though. There was an emptiness in his eyes. Though he talked a lot and laughed loudly. He had plenty of funny stories. Alex was an animated storyteller.
Flora noticed the bags under his eyes, his shirt was creased, as if it had been chewed by a cow. He said he was a lecturer. He spoke really well, but the man who sat opposite her in the dingy local did not match what he said.
Flora was a nurse. She had worked at a doctor’s clinic in Nairobi for twenty years. Her years as a nurse had taught her how to listen to what people did not say. Most often, her learned skill saved many lives. Flora had three grown up children. Two of whom were abroad.
It had been a long day. Flora excused herself. She had a long journey the next day back to Nairobi. Alex would not let her leave before they exchanged numbers.
Alex had grown up in the village. A simple village boy who came to Nairobi to go to school. He got his first trousers when he started his A levels. He had his first alcoholic drink at the university. He had many firsts away from home. Village life was very different from city life.
The girls were friendlier in the city. They laughed loudly, they smoked openly, and not the same kind of cigarettes his grandmother smoked. They drank until they staggered. It was all very fascinating for a village boy. He never forgot his mother's warning about city girls though.
He was in many ways a mama’s boy. Alex had no sisters. Just five older brothers. Being the baby of the bunch and having no sister for his mother to dot on, he became his mother's handbag.
Mama Alex favoured him openly. His older brothers took it in jest. They knew their mother needed a ‘pet’ and they were happy to let Alex be the one. Mama Alex was an overbearing woman and not just physically. She was tall, huge, not fat. Her body was lean from all the hard work in the farm.
Her hands were big and hard. Alex and his brother's often reminisced about the slaps they had received from her over the years. Slaps that could send you to your ancestors. She was a handsome woman. Strong and decisive. She had to be, She had been widowed young and she had to raise six men on her own in a society that thought women could not amount to much.
Her in laws had constantly attempted to disenfranchise her, but she stood firm on her beliefs. Mama Alex identified as a Christian. Though her doctrine was unique. She chose only what favoured her and misquoted bible verses to suit her. It was hilarious. She was a character.
Alex took after his mother. He was tall and had big hands. Witty and intelligent. A loud booming voice and he was not afraid to get into a debate and twist truths and lies till they made sense. Only for him to disown his whole argument. He was engaging. I will tell you that.
As he retired to bed that night in Kwale, he could not help but think about Flora. She reminded him of home. Of his mother. She did not look like her, there was just something about how she showed concern for him. How she seemed independent but wanted, no, needed him. For the next few hours, he was in heaven, with Flora, in his dreams.
The insistent beeping of his phone woke him up. Text messages. He checked to see why the texts were coming in fast and furious. It was Purity, his wife. She must have been drinking again. He checked the time, 4:37 am. He lay back down on the bed. He did not bother to read the messages. When she was like this, she never sent nice messages. She abused and accused him of everything and anything. The frequency of her ‘episodes’ were increasing. He could never figure out where it went wrong.
They were the perfect couple. Alex and Purity got married straight out of campus. He could still remember that day. Flanked by his older brothers and his mother. They were so proud of him. He wore a double breasted suit, with pinstripes. His shoes were shiny, his socks white. His hair neatly combed and his face cleanly shaved. He stood at the front of the church waiting for his bride.
Purity walked in and his heart skipped a beat. She was a petite girl and he loved every small detail. Her small face, her small eyes, her thin fingers, her small feet, she was everything to him. That day as she walked down the aisle in her white gown that covered her growing belly, her head covered in a white veil and her hands in gloves, he could not have been happier. That was sixteen years ago.
It had been sixteen years of a maddening rollercoaster ride. Purity gave birth to their firstborn, a girl six months after the wedding. Their son came three years later. They only had two children. Purity seemed ok, apart from the periodic moodiness and rage. She seemed to really over react sometimes but he had put it down to hormones and general mood swings he thought all women suffered from.
As their children grew older, Purity started drinking. Wine mostly. It was not alarming. She would go out and have fun with her girlfriends and indulge in a few glasses. She was so much fun when she drank then.
Over time, she started drinking at home too. She graduated from wine to hard liquor. Soon she needed the drink even in the morning, but she was still almost good natured. Things took a downward spiral when she lost her job, of course due to her drinking. He tried to reassure her that he was able to take care of them. She did not have to work. She became wild when she drank.
Purity often confronted him physically, she did not care that the children witnessed it when she was in that state. If Alex was not at home, she called and sent him messages till his battery died. He had to take away her car keys after she ran over the neighbour’s dog. Thank goodness that is all she killed that day.
Their children suffered. They were withdrawn and not doing well in school. Alex did not know who to confide in. He told no one of his trials. Not even his mother. The children had learned to manage themselves as Purity sent away every domestic worker they had.
She believed they were Alex’s new wives. So with no domestic help, the children had to fend for themselves when their father was at work or had to travel. Alex tried to chip in with the housework but between lectures, setting and marking exams, school runs, he often forgot to do things like ironing.
Alex picked up his phone and deleted all of Purity’s texts before reading.
“Hi, are you asleep?”
“No, I’m selling mangoes by the road! What are you doing up this early?” Flora texted back so fast. Unexpected. He smiled. He loved her sense of humour.
They chatted for an hour before Flora had to prepare for her journey back to Nairobi. Alex did not want their conversation to end. He liked that he did not have to walk on eggshells when talking to Flora.
Once back in Nairobi, Flora tried ignoring Alex. He tried reaching out daily. He wanted to have coffee. Being a mistress was not her thing. Flora had lost her husband five years earlier. He died in a road accident.
They had had such a wonderful marriage, she did not see herself being the reason someone else did not. Her heart thought otherwise though, there was something about Alex, he was such a gentle giant. His eyes, she remembered the look in his eyes from that dingy bar all the way in Kwale.
He looked like a sad little boy. She wanted to hold him and comfort him. She also wanted him in her bed. It had been a while since she felt certain sensations in parts of her body. Parts she thought had died with her husband. She thought of his hands and smiled.
Alex could not understand why Flora would not meet him. He needed her. Life at home was unbearable. His children were suffering and he just did not know how to get it together for them.
“I'm at the hospital, I really wish you'd answer my texts.”
“Which hospital?” Flora always read his texts. She had stopped responding but today, he was in hospital.
“Are you there?” She had stopped responding again. Alex was at his wits end, He had never felt so alone. He held his head in his hands, he felt light headed. He seemed to fall into a deep sleep. He had not slept well in so long. Now He felt like he was falling into a deep dark hole.
“Alex!” He felt a hand on his shoulder. He opened his eyes slowly. He looked up. There she was, an angel. Was this the end?
“Alex! Are you ok? What's the matter?” Flora asked him.
“Flora? Flora? You have come? You have come?”
Flora sat next to Alex and he fell into her arms and cried like a child. In the waiting room, in the middle of the night. In the arms of a woman he barely knew. He cried because his family had fallen apart, he cried because he did not know how to help his wife, he cried because he was sad and lonely and tired. He was tired.
Alex had walked into the house earlier that evening to find his children trying to wake their mother. She had collapsed in the bathroom. She had vomit on her clothes. She was gasping for air. He would forever be haunted by the way his children looked at him when he walked in.
The fear and helplessness in their eyes. He dropped his briefcase, ran over to them, picked Purity up like she was a doll and ran out to his car. He drove like a mad man. Praying loudly. He had not prayed in a long time, but he remembered some prayers from his Sunday school days in the village.
He prayed all the ones he could remember hoping God would pick the one that was acceptable and spare the mother of his children. He barely parked when he got to the hospital parking lot. He picked his barely conscious wife from the back seat and ran into the emergency entrance yelling for help in his big voice. The nurses took Purity from him and ran in through some doors while another nurse led him to a desk to fill in some forms.
Flora just held him and let him cry. There was something special about being in the presence of a man who trusted you with his fear and emptiness.
When Alex had calmed down, Flora asked him about his children. Dear God, he had forgotten about them! He looked at his watch, he had been at the hospital for almost five hours.
“Don't worry, give me directions to your house, I will take them some food and then come back” Flora offered. She thought it better for him to be around when his wife woke up.
Flora arrived at Alex’s apartment. It was past one in the morning. The lights were still on. She knocked on the door and almost immediately the door opened.
It was Alex’s daughter.
“Oh, who are you?” she asked.
“I'm a nurse from the hospital, your dad asked me to bring you this.” Flora handed her a large pizza and soda.
“Is our mum ok? Is she dead?” Alex’s son asked from behind his sister. He looked like he had been crying.
“No no, she is fine. Don't worry. She just needs to rest a bit, she will be back home in no time. Now, take the food, eat and go to sleep. Make sure you lock the doors.”
As Flora drove back to the hospital, her heart was heavy. She felt so sad for Alex’s children.
Flora was at Alex’s side every chance she got for the next few days. They sat at the hospital cafeteria or in the parking. Alex talked until he was talked out. They fell in love in the midst of chaos.
Purity was discharged after three days. The stint at the hospital scared her straight. She agreed to get counselling. Flora suggested to Alex that they all go to therapy. He would have done anything she asked.
Alex still needed Flora. He Kept calling her and looking for excuses to see her. She tried to keep her distance once Purity started getting better. He just would not let go.
One evening after he had tried to reach out to her and she had gone silent again, he showed up at her door. She knew she was wasting her time trying to keep away the minute she opened the door and looked into those eyes.
Alex spent the night that day and many other nights for years to come. He never left his wife and Flora did not want him to but they never left each other either. He needed Flora to stay married to Purity.
Maybe sometimes a man can have his cake, and eat it.