By Felly Oyuga
Life had become unbearable. It was not always this way though. 16 months ago, Cherie thought she was blissfully married. They lived in a decent three bedroom house with her three children and her husband, Saul.
Their three children, Anna 13, Anita 9 and the little Jonah 5, all went to a neighbourhood school. To onlookers, they were the ideal family. Saul looked like a mild mannered man. Saul always came home by 7pm on weekdays. On Saturdays he watched the footie, and on Sundays he took his family to church and then for lunch. They looked ideal to be honest.
Cherie swears she suspected nothing. Saul was easy to please. He wanted his food on time, his shirts crisp and ironed, and his children clean and quiet. She managed to do this without much effort. One day the year before, Saul drove home at about 4pm. A bit earlier than usual, but he occasionally did that. He got into the house and went straight to their bedroom and started packing his clothes into large bin bags. Cherie did not panic. Maybe he was throwing them away. When he started packing his toiletries, she asked what was going on.
“What does it look like? I’m leaving!” He replied without even looking at her.
She suddenly felt faint.
“Why?” She managed to ask in a weak voice.
“I never wanted to marry you. You tricked me by getting pregnant! This wasn’t the plan for my life. I wanted to open a carwash and live simply. I work so hard and you are here trying to turn me into a midwife with all these many children. Even Rose was saying…”
“ROSE? Are you cheating on me Saul?” She literally jumped on him from across the room. She pushed him back from the bag he was trying to tie. He looked at her for the first time since he started this madness. She did not recognize him. This was not Saul. The man she had met as a young girl, who had followed her around like a love sick puppy. This was a stranger.
He pushed her away, picked the bags and walked out. She followed him screaming and begging. Asking him to think of the children, she promised to change, he could start the car wash, she would help him. She would even get a job. They could work it out, she just needed one more chance. By the time he reached the front door, the kids were also crying for their father with their mother. He never once looked back. He entered his car and drove off.
Cherie walked back to her room in a daze. She felt like she had been hit by a truck. Her marriage had ended in less than two hours and she did not see it coming. She lay on her bed and cried herself to sleep.
A light knock on the door woke her up.
“Saul?” She sat up in bed. Hoping to see his tall frame.
“Mummy, it’s me. I made you food.” It was Anna. Poor Anna had tried to make dinner. Cherie had slept and forgotten to feed the kids. Her daughter presented her with lukewarm tea and a slice of bread.
Cherie smiled at her and thanked her. She tried to drink the tea. It would not go past her throat.
“Tell everyone to go to bed and switch off the lights.” Cherie said to Anna as she tried to go back to sleep. She was still fully clothed. She had not checked to see if the doors were locked. That was usually Saul’s job. Tears began to well up in her eyes. Would this nightmare end? She dragged herself up and went to check the doors. The house felt cold. She peeked in the kitchen and it was a mess. Anna had used almost all the utensils to make the tea. She checked on the kids, they were still in school uniform. She did not have the strength to wake them up and get them to change.
What was she going to do? Where would she start? She had never worked, as she got pregnant straight out of college. All she knew how to do was be a housewife. She had lost touch with so many of her friends. Who would give a 34 year old woman who had never worked, a job? As she lay in bed, she prayed the house would collapse on her and her children.
The days that followed were pure hell. She found out Saul had not paid rent for 3 months and the landlord was threatening to auction it. The electricity and water was shut off. The school also sent a note for the kids to stay at home, until last term’s fees were paid. How did she not see all this coming? She had left every financial obligation to her husband. He was the head of the home. She did her duty. Cherie hid nothing from her husband and just assumed he did the same. She had no savings. Her mobile wallet had five hundred and eighty five shillings. Where would she start?
Cherie never knew her mother. She died during childbirth. Her father married his second wife out of necessity. He needed a mother for his infant daughter. Her step mother was wicked. It was often said that Cherie survived by the Grace of God. Her father never intervened in her upbringing. She spent most of her school holidays in the Catholic boarding school with the nuns. She had wanted to be a nun, until Saul. Was this her punishment for turning her back on God and the church?
The landlord made good on his promise and was evicting Cherie. Saul would not answer her calls or texts. She cried a lot. The kids cried too. They were scared and hungry. She could barely feed them. They went from a normal routine of three meals a day, snacks, school and play to lumpy porridge that smelled of paraffin, occasional weak tea and bread became a luxury. Anita, the middle child just stopped talking all together and urinated on herself constantly. Anna tried to be a parent to her siblings while her mother figured out what next. Little Jonah cried constantly of hunger. Their once beautiful home was now a smelly cold prison.
One morning on her job hunting and begging rounds, Cherie thought she heard someone call her name. She had not heard her name out loud for a while. She thought it was the voices in her head. She continued walking, her head bowed. “Cherie! Stop, please stop!” It was Asweeto. God! She had not seen her since their days at dressmaking college over 10 years ago. She looked beautiful. She was dressed elegantly. Her hair was shiny and held back in a bun. Her face looked fresh, her cheeks plump. Asweeto hugged her and she smelt fresh. Suddenly Cherie felt ashamed. Her clothes were creased. She wore a dress that hung loosely on her. She had lost weight. She had a headscarf that smelt of Anita’s urine and she had not showered. They did not have water. Her legs were dry. She tried to remember if she had even brushed her teeth.
“How have you been my friend?” Asweeto asked her as she held her by the shoulders. Cherie looked up at her friend and tears just started rolling down her face. She cried. She cried for her mother, she cried for her children. She cried for herself. She cried for her marriage. She cried because no one had shown her tenderness in a while. She cried because God was silent. Was he dead? Had he ever existed or all this time, she had hoped in nothing. Asweeto held her friend, by the road, on a busy pavement. All the world became still to them. The only sound was Cherie’s cry.
After what seemed like hours to Cherie, she had no more tears. She pushed Asweeto away like she had just got out of a trance. “I’m sorry”, she mumbled while she looked around. “Let us get into that cafe there and have some tea.” Asweeto offered as she pulled her friend in the direction of the eatery. Cherie hesitated.” My children,” she started, “they have not..”
“It’s ok, eat first, then take them something.” Asweeto insisted. She knew. She had been there.
They drank tea. Cherie barely spoke. Her friend did not push her either. They just sat there in silence. It felt good, Cherie thought, it was like a holiday that she did not want to end. But it ended. Asweeto wrote her phone number at the back of a receipt and gave it to Cherie. “Call me anytime, for anything!” She then reached into her purse and removed two, one thousand shilling notes and pressed them in Cherie’s hands. Before Cherie could thank her profusely, her friend stood and left.
She wondered what she would do with the money. The excitement quickly turned to despair when she realized they could barely eat if she paid the debt they had at the kiosk. Besides, the landlord had also given them notice to vacate. After walking around for a while, Cherie decided it was best to end it all. She would owe nobody anything if she was dead. She would take her children with her. She knew what it was like to grow up without a mother. Even if she barely had relatives, dead people were always buried.
She walked into the small agrovet and bought some rat poison in powder form. She told the attendant she needed it to take care of some stubborn rodents . He assured her that this particular powder was the best. She then went to the supermarket. They might as well have a nice last supper she thought. She bought a frozen chicken, a kilo of pishori rice, cooking oil, coconut cream, 2 litres of soda and some cheap chocolate bars for the children. With the remaining change she bought charcoal. The charcoal seller was particularly kind that day. Maybe because she was not asking for credit.
When she got home, the children were so happy to see her with shopping bags. They ran to her, hugging her. Little Jonah went straight to looking for what he could eat. Cherie quickly got the chocolates and distributed them. The look on their faces was priceless. She quickly went into the kitchen to start preparing the food. She asked Anna to light the jiko (charcoal stove). She decided to mix the rat poison into the soda. She opened the bottle and carefully emptied the contents of the packet. She then closed the bottle and set it on the counter. “Mummy, you bought soda? Please can I have some?” Little Jonah could always spot food. “After eating!”, she responded to her youngest.
When food was ready, she gathered her children and served them. They ate like they had never seen food. She wanted to cry. She did not. It would all be over soon. Soon, they would not be hungry anymore.
Cherie got out her mobile phone and decided to send Asweeto a text to thank her and well, to say goodbye. Asweeto called back immediately she sent the text. She kept Cherie on the phone with all manner of questions. Cherie decided to stand outside her to answer her friend. She found herself opening up about everything.
After what seemed like an eternity, Cherie walked back into her house. She was feeling better about life after a long time. Maybe things would get better.
“Where is Jonah?” She asked the girls who were laying on the floor.
“JONAH!” Cherie called desperately. She ran to the kitchen. Jonah was on the floor. He had drunk most of the soda.
“GOD!” Cherie yelled.” Don’t be scared mummy”, little Jonah said to her as she lifted him and ran outside.
Jonah was pronounced dead on arrival, at St Mary’s Hospital.