It started with a huge grinning hello. The kind that boys who have seen a pretty girl say. It was followed by ‘Is Nancy home?’ and ‘Just come in and wait for her.’ But it ended with a goodbye, and a miscarriage.
Gerald and Harriet had known each other for a very longtime. First as neighbors in the old posh Lavington area of Nairobi. That was the original Lavington. Before those apartment dwellers in its environs started calling it ‘Lavi’. With houses on expansive chunks of land, buildings did not go above 3stories. They literally grew up together. They played together and visited each other’s homes. Harriet would also become Nancy’s best friend. Nancy is Gerald’s sister.
While Harriet and Nancy made it to Kenya High School, and sealed their eternal friendship, Gerald finished his primary education two years later and joined Nairobi School.
Gerald and Harriet literally called each other bro and sis. They would introduce each other as such for a long time to come.
When Harriet went to Campus, Gerald did not see or hear from her much, save for the family events she was invited for.
He went on to study business administration in campus. On completion, his influential family helped him get his first job. This was with an international telecommunications firm with links in India. For one reason or another, his stint at the company was short-lived. Nevertheless, courtesy of his well-connected folks, he immediately got another job in a bank.
Unfortunately, a crisis hit the bank and Gerald was one of those unlucky souls considered excess baggage and was therefore thrown off the ship to keep it afloat at that turbulent time. He lost it all, and took some home too. His car was repossessed by the bank to offset some of his loan.
Restructuring hits one like a slap from a policeman. You are fired.Politely. But it still hits you hard even when expecting it. One is never prepared for it despite the rumors and that precedes it, it is extremely painful and leaves one completely disoriented. Gerald was let go. What was once basic became hard to come by. He could not make to pay the rent at his one bedroom in Dagoretti Corner and many a day he slept hungry. His then girlfriend left him. It was not because of his circumstances, he said. It was just not working.
He said to himself, ‘I will go to my father and say. “Father, I am struggling. I am sorry, make me like one of your servants.” Well, not quite.But he went back home, and got back his room. His parents gave him up to 6months to get things figured out.
Harriet rang the bell somewhere in second month of his being back home.
They spoke for long, and he was forthright with her, saying he had no choice but to come back home. But he couldn’t wait to go away again.
‘You look really good, Harriet,’ he flirted.
She blushed, giggled and told him to stop. He asked her if she got married.
‘There are no good men out here. And I am looking to settle. I don’t have time and energy for endless coffee. I am 29.’
He told her there were one million good men out there. And he knows 999,999 of them. He said she was not looking right. And asked her if she was looking for something specific. She gave him all the qualities a sixteen year old girl would want in a real prince.
‘I am going to find you a good man, and you are going to pay me.’ He said.
She laughed until tears came out. He joined her in the laughing.
‘Fifteen Thousand. Inclusive of VAT.’ His days at the bank were not in vain.
She burst out laughing. He joined in.
She said they could trade. He finds her a boyfriend, and she finds him a real girlfriend, and that would make them even.
He declined. He said he doesn’t want a girlfriend. Before she could ask why, his sister came and broke the spell. They exchanged numbers then she left.
‘He whatsapped me the next day. He had pictures of celebrity African-American actors and pastors, and he asked me to pick one. That was funny. We chatted for a long time.’
It would continue like that for a few weeks. They spoke about everything under the sun. Literally everything. They had become like best friends in a matter of weeks. He would throw the occasional ‘Harriet amewasalimia’ to his family at dinner. His sister once asked them what was going on. She got a ‘we are just friends’ answer from both.She said they could keep the friendship, but ‘Harriet amewasalimia’ was her’s and her’s alone. She was jealous.
One day he told her he had found the perfect guy. He first told her about this guy, what he likes, his dreams and his future plans, and the kind of girl he likes. He also said the guy would like to meet her as soon as possible.
She laughed, and asked for the usual picture. He sent his profile photo. And then she went silent. He whatsappedbut she did not reply. After 3 hours, at about 11 pm, she called him.
‘Hi. Are you serious? What was that?’
‘I like you. I do.’
‘No. You can’t. You are like my… brother.’
‘Only that I am not.’ He insisted.
‘This is not happening. What is this?’ she asked. ‘Your sister is my best friend.’
‘So?’ He asked. ‘Maybe we should just meet and talk.’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Tomorrow. We can have lunch at Monikos.’
Harriet went to a meeting, Gerald went to a date.
Someone called him and he told them in her hearing that he couldn’t talk, because he was on a date with ‘anaaaa hotmama bana!’ Harriet blushed. But insisted this was a meeting, not a date.He insisted it was their first date.
‘How is a meeting a date?’ She wondered to herself. ‘But what do guys know?’ She resolved.
She told him was not sure. He said he was very sure. She asked for time. He said he would give her all the time she needed.
When he dropped her at her house later in the afternoon, they kissed. A bit.
Later at night, he sent her a message telling her that while she is thinking about his proposal, he has other potential guys she could be looking at if she declined. He proceeded to send the usual Idris, Denzel, Morris Chestnut…He even sent James Earl Jones and Morgan Freeman. And then he included his.
They met a second time. A meeting, not a date. She told him everything she will not stand in a relationship; lies and cheating, secret debt, gambling, cursing, politics and disrespect. She said she had suffered much from men and her dad, and that she was not ready to do anymore of those things with another man again.
‘Ever.’ She drove the point home.
He said he doesn’t do any of those things. There was really no other answer if he wanted the next meet up to be a date. They went for an official date. This is after Nancy had threatened to cut off his head if he messed up his relationship with her best friend, and his mother saying she will not be embarrassed by his son in Nairobi by breaking the heart of a girl she knows.
After their official ‘first date’, Harriet gave Gerald fifteen thousand shillings in cash. She told him, ‘Thank you for finding me a goodman.’ He refused, but she insisted. He took it and they went together to the Nakumatt Supermarket on Prestige Plaza and he bought two Phillips’ shaving machines. He was going to start a barber shop in Umoja. He had found space. Two young men who were able and hungry and just finished learning how to cut other men’s hair in one of those colleges in the City Centre.
Falling for Harriet gave Gerald a new lease of life. People underestimate the power of a woman in a man’s life. The right woman.
Three months later, he asked him to moved into her house in Langata because his time at his parents’ house was almost over, and he didn’t want him to go elsewhere when she had enough space for both of them. They would later move to Kileleshwa to a house they would be paying for to own.
Gerald ran the barbershop in Innercore skilfully and diligently, and he grew it. First they got a much bigger space. Then he opened another one in Savannah, and then Pipeline but had to close it because one of his barbers was stabbed in a robbery. He moved it to Buru Buru, opened one in Nairobi West and Hurlingham. He now had his sights set on the Central Business District. He was also experimenting with some elite business ideas in growing his business. He wanted to take over or merge with struggling barbershops.
In the meantime, Harriet grew her architectural and interior design consultancy. They were doing really well together.
‘We always did.’ She says.
In October, 20, 2012, Harriet wedded Gerald in very colorful wedding. Nancy and her husband James were their best couple.
In May 2014, they had their firstborn, a girl. They gave her their mothers’ last names. Their second born child, a girl as well, died from pneumonia in January 2017. She was almost one year old.
‘That crushed all of us. We did not want another kid. We did not even want to talk about it. We went to shags, buried her and came back straight. We said we would take it slowly.
‘We had grown the businesses and we were doing a lot more than just barbershops. We had a welding workshop in Dagoretti Corner and Kariobangi.’
They had also started a carpentry business that was servicing the design business, as well as generate separate revenues on its own. Everything was going well.
And then it began…
In March 2017, some of Gerald’s friends approached him. They needed his help in marketing and people skills. They wanted him to consult with them, at a fee of course, for a specific client. He was a politician running for Member of Parliament. They agreed on the rates.
‘He came and told me about it, and I told him a strong and clear “NO!”
‘No politics in this house. I have seen first hand what politics did to my father and our family, and I will not take it.
‘He insisted, but I stood my ground. I knew he wanted it. When you live with someone for just 6 months, you pretty much know who they are.’
Gerald insisted it was just consultancy. And he was not going to be involved in any actual campaign work. She refused, still. Then he said he had taken it. She asked him to cancel it. He had been paid a deposit already. She still refused. She told him she did not want that money, that they had enough, and that these politicians are crooks.
He didn’t listen.
‘He got fully involved in the campaign work. They were his hangout friends. Plus we were embarking on a couple of big expenditure projects and the money looked pretty good. He went ahead. His side of the businesses started suffering in the process. He wasn’t collecting the cash every evening as expected. And when he did, he would keep it with him and not bank it.’
‘He wasn’t spending it at all. He was just too careless with it. Money would be in his car for two days, or in his pockets. For the first time, I saw that same guy in whose house I went looking for his sister. I was very scared.
‘He would say where he was but not with whom he was with. He started the late nights. Coming home in the wee hours. And even then, he would work the remainder of the night. I confronted him and told him I won’t take this. I toldNancy and my mother-in-law and they spoke to him. He was mad that I told them about it and we had the biggest fight we had ever had. But he calmed down a bit.’
‘I met one of those guys at the Barbershop on Standard Street and he asked how Gerald was doing. If he was getting better. Apparently, he had told them he was sick. I told him he is much better. But he will be out a bit longer. And then he went on and said, “Hukukunaivana. Mwambie afanye haraka.” I felt disgusted.’
A few days later, the guys came to their home.
‘Imagine. They came to my house. Where I live with my daughter,’ she emphasises.
She sat in the seating room, watching a soap opera to make them uncomfortable.
‘Their conversation was full of curse words. I wanted to ask them to leave but the respect I had for my husband made me hold back’
Eventually the guys left. Gerald was not happy with her, how she treated her friends. After exactly one month, he was back to working with them. His phone calls were all elections, Jubilee and Nasa. He was like a junkie on an acute relapse. It was now July and the elections were fast approaching.
She was praying for grace for the next two weeks.
‘On 1st of August, he took out KES. 500,000.00, from our account without telling me. And then on 6th of August, he asked me for another KES 200,000.00. Of course I denied him, but he went ahead and took out all the money from his account. He had about 50,000.00 or so. I guess that’s what he took.’
Gerald had tried to explain that he was lending the money to his candidate client, and he was going to pay back. They had already won the election, according to the campaign team, and their party leader was all the way behind them. They just needed to pay their agents in the polling stations. He also had a drafted and signed contract that whatever happens, his candidate would pay him back all money paid back in full save for zero cents.
Harriet could not believe how naïve Gerald had become. When she refused, he stormed out of the house and came back on Election Day at 4:00am.He showered, ate and changed, took Harriet’s car because she voted in the neighborhood and there was nowhere she was going. He left. He came back almost the same time on 9th and slept for an hour. Then he showered, ate and stepped out.
‘On the 11th of August about 7:00pm, he came back home. Obviously very tired. His eyes were red, and he was shaking. He was also evidently mad. We were following the news on TV. He banged the front door after him, and did not even say hi to us.’
She followed him to asked him how he was.’
Harriet did not believe her ears when he answered, shouting;
‘You f**king Kikuyus.’
‘What did you say?’ She asked holding her waist.
‘I said you f***king Kikuyus. You stole the election.’
‘Gerald has never hit me, or cursed in front of me. Other people have.But that one, I felt that one deep in my gut. Worse, he said that in the hearing of Makena. And the house help. So now I am going to have to explain to her [Makena] what a f**king Kikuyu is, and now that she is half Luo & half Kikuyu, why she is not part of that bracket.’
I asked him to apologize to me. But he repeated the same thing. And just moved past me.
Harriet asked Gerald to get out of their house. Because she could not going entertain that kind of talk in front of her child.
‘He picked his car keys, wallet and cards, and left the house. He didn’t even look at us.’
While dating and courting, Gerald had confided Harriet that some of his relatives did not think it was wise of him to marry a Kikuyu. And Harriet accepts that her relatives, including her mother, were opposed to marrying from a different tribe, but they let her go ahead with it because she would not backdown. They believed they had seen the best of people. The best of each other.
‘It was a slap on the face.’
Her in laws have tried to sort things out, but the anger and bitterness took a very long time to die out.
‘They are on my side, I know, but he is still their son. We are seeing a counsellor now and are still doing business together, but we have lived apart for over one year now. I also had a miscarriage immediately he left. First trimester. I didn’t tell him but Nancy and his mom did. So there is that to get over as well.’
Gerald’s and Harriet’s mother have done quite a bit to have this marriage not fall apart completely. Always visiting and calling.
‘I don’t want remorse. Or pity. But I also don’t know what I want with this marriage, or even if I now really want it at all. I am sure he may have just lost it. But I don’t want to see more losses.’