The first time he ever hit her, he was blind drunk, and she was six months pregnant. The slap landed on her left cheek like a flash of lightning, followed by a thunderous buzzing in her head. Her face turned red. Her left eye turned black. Her jaw moved and her tongue was caught in between it. Her blood became hot. She felt the baby turn, as if in protest. And why? Because she had questioned where he had been all night, who he had been with and how much money he had spent drinking. He refused to answer and sprawled himself on their bed, with his muddy shoes still on. Njeri spent the night sobbing on the living room floor, wondering what the hell she had gotten herself into. See, Njeri is a good conservative girl. The kind that would prefer to spend Saturday nights baking mandazis for her man, with only his oversized T-Shirt on. Ngugi, on the other hand, is kind of a dick. The kind that would rather hop from club to brothel every weekend than stay home and be with his pregnant wife. The kind that would rather splash half his salary entertaining his fake friends than support his wife with her monthly chama dues.
He wasn’t always like this. When they got married slightly over a year ago, he was just a simple teller at a leading microfinance bank while Njeri had a small wholesale shop downtown in Kamukunji. They did not have much, but the little they could put together was enough for the two of them. 2016 was not the best year to be in business. Njeri’s turnovers decreased drastically and she was swallowed in debt. Three months into the year, she closed shop. As fate would have it, she got pregnant around the same period. With a baby on the way and only one income in the house, pressure piled on Ngugi to put in the extra hour to make some more pennies. Maternal check-ups are not that cheap apparently. Njeri developed some kind of perennial appetite which tripled the food budget. On top of this, Njeri’s sister came to live with them, to help with house chores. An extra mouth to feed. Ngugi realized he would not manage. He started applying for other jobs. He was in luck as one of the leading international banks was looking for a Financial Analyst. A well – paying job. It was one hell of an upgrade.
And that was where the rain started beating their family. Ngugi developed the rags to riches syndrome. You know this syndrome that makes you want to prove to people that you are not poor. Your lifestyle takes a turn. You move to a two – bedroomed house in Ruaka. All of a sudden, matatus are too noisy and congested, so you take an Uber to and from work every day. Suddenly, the bank’s food is tasteless and not well – balanced so you order lunch from these franchise eateries on a daily. You cannot use an Android phone anymore. New watch too, a gold Rolex. New set of clothes and shoes. And there is no way in hell you are spending a weekend at home. Haven’t you heard of Naivasha? Also, who has one girlfriend? With all these beautiful and well-bodied hotties around, will you honestly spend the night with a six – month pregnant wife? In fact, this wife of yours, who is she to question your whereabouts? And how you spend your money?
This is the mentality that makes you slap your wife. The first time you do it, she is utterly shocked. No one has ever laid a finger on her, not even her parents. She has never pictured you as a violent man. She knows you no longer love her like you did when you first met, but that does not warrant that you inflict pain on her body. Especially when she is carrying your blood inside her. She tells no one. She bears the pain, both physical and emotional in silence, quietly hoping it will never happen again. You sober up and apologise to her. She believes you because she really wants this marriage to work. She wants to give birth to your baby and raise it. She wants to have a happy family with you in it.
But then you hit her again. And again. And again. Sometimes in the presence of her friends. Other times in front of your one – year old son. Every time you do it, you blame it on the alcohol, even when you are sober. Other times you turn it around and blame it on her. She is crazy and provocative, you claim. She is annoying and disrespectful, you say. You say it in such a convincing way that she almost starts to believe she is the problem. She becomes damaged. An emotional mess. She starts to fear you. The sight of you pains her heart. Your touch sends a chill up her spine. The mention of your name clouds her soul with darkness and bitterness. When she sleeps next to you, she is relieved when morning comes.
Her friends and family members think she is stupid. Leave him, they say. If I were you, I would sue him, others claim. Why can’t you fight him back? Others ask. They do not understand why she is still with you. They do not believe in love like she does. They do not believe in family. This makes you more comfortable. You believe she will never leave you, she loves you too much anyway. Your son grows older is now smart enough to know when his parents fight. He almost can tell that his mother is always the one on the receiving end. He gradually starts to hate you too. He has seen you beat his mother, anyway. This infuriates you even more. You turn on your wife, accusing her of turning your son against you. And the beatings continue. And this makes the two of them hate you even more.
Njeri had had enough. It had been five years of waiting for a miracle, hoping Ngugi would change. Five years she believed in love and family and failed terribly at it. Five years she had sacrificed her peace and well – being in order to not deny her son a happy complete home. What was the need of having a complete home that was full of resentment and detestation? She decided she would put an end to this as soon as Muchiri, their son, starts going to school. Muchiri was enrolled at Brightpeak kindergarten in Runda. Ngugi would drop him to school every morning and Njeri would pick him up in the afternoon.
A day after their wedding anniversary, Njeri met up with her brother Kinyua. Kinyua also happened to be Ngugi’s mechanic. Njeri had another black eye.
‘What happened this time?’ Kinyua asked. Njeri swallowed a heavy bout of saliva and said nothing. ‘You know I won’t stop asking till you answer,’ Kinyua added.
‘He forgot our anniversary and when I brought it up, he rained blows on me,’ Njeri said, too embarrassed to look at his brother in the eye.
‘That’s it!’ Kinyua said, ‘Remember the solution I gave you, it still stands.’ Kinyua added.
‘No! Don’t you dare!’ Njeri snapped back.
The solution Kinyua was talking about was simple. Tamper with Ngugi’s car and cut the brakes off. All that was needed was a special liquid that would be injected into the brake fluid reservoir. Once the car was at a speed of 100 km/h, applying the brakes would trigger the release of this liquid into the brake lines. The liquid would dilute the brake fluid and it would not have enough pressure to grip the brake pads. Nothing could stop the car unless it slammed head-on into another object. Ngugi always took his Mercedes S 500 to Kinyua every month for servicing. It had been three months since he gave his sister the idea but she had always shot it down.
‘He brings the car around every third week of the month. That happens to be tomorrow. Let me know once you’re ready,’ he said and hugged her goodbye.
That night, Ngugi and Njeri had another fight during dinner. Reason this time? The food was ‘too salty’. He broke two plates and one glass. Little Muchiri was not spared as he hurt his leg on one of the glass pieces. He cried till his veins showed from his face and neck. As soon as Ngugi went to bed, Njeri picked up the phone and dialled his brother’s number.
‘Do it!’ Njeri whispered into the phone.
‘Are you sure?’ Kinyua asked.
‘Just fucking do it, will you!’
And she hang up the phone.
Kinyua is an early riser. His garage is always open by seven in the morning. Ngugi pulled over a few minutes after seven and threw the keys at his brother in law. He had just come from dropping Muchiri at school. The garage and the school aren’t that far from each other. He stated that he would be back around lunch hour and he left. He took an Uber to the office and proceeded to analyse finances at the bank. Kinyua finished servicing the car and it was now time to do the thing. He was having second thoughts but the teary voice of her sister rang through his ears once again. Her sad battered face flashed before his eyes again. And he injected the liquid into the brake fluid reservoir of the Mercedes S 500.
He called Njeri to inform her of the progress but her phone was off. It was now after lunch hour and Ngugi had not showed up. Kinyua began to panic. He was strolling up and down the garage and was so relieved to see Ngugi step out of an Uber at around 2.30 o’clock. Ngugi said he had been held up at meetings in the office. He got into his car, paid Kinyua and left him a small tip. The engine started and he drove off. Kinyua took a deep breath, buried his head in his hands and vomited his intestines out.
Ngugi was about to join the highway and proceed to the office when he had a change of mind. Muchiri’s school is not that far from here. It’s almost time for them to be picked up. I can pick my son from school and take the rest of the day off. At least we can spend some time together. Let me call my wife and let her know. He dialled Njeri’s number. Voicemail. Well, I will just pick Muchiri up and she will find out from the teachers. And he turned left towards Brightpeak Kindergarten.
He found Muchiri playing soccer with his friends. Muchiri was surprised to see his father as he had never picked him up from school before. He had brought ice cream. Muchiri popped into the back of the car and licked his way into the vanilla toppings.
‘It’s such a surprise to see you here at this hour’ said Ms. Kang’ara, Muchiri’s teacher.
‘Well, I happened to be in the neighbourhood and I thought, why not spend some quality time with little me?’ Ngugi said.
‘Well, good for the two of you,’ said Ms. Kan’gara.
‘Are they always this dirty? I actually have never seen him before he takes a bath,’ said Ngugi.
‘You know, boys!’ the teacher chuckled.
‘I know. Do me a favour, his mother’s phone is off and she does not know I have picked him up. When she comes around, just tell her to meet us at home, will you?’ said Ngugi.
‘Most definitely. Enjoy your evening and I’ll see you tomorrow,’ she said, waving them goodbye.
‘Goodbye, Teacher!’ shouted Muchiri from the inside of the car, his ice cream dripping between his fingers.
‘Where’s mom?’ asked Muchiri as soon as they drove off.
‘She must be on her way here, but she will meet us at home. How was school today?’ asked Ngugi.
‘It was okay, I guess. I tripped and fell while playing soccer,’ Muchiri said, showing his father a dry scar.
‘Oh, we need to have that sanitised as soon as we get home,’ said Ngugi.
‘Mom will do it for me. She has done it before,’
‘Great. Are you buckled up, back there?’
‘Okay. We will be home in a few,’
He turned right and joined the highway. There was not much traffic. The speedometer needle was gradually rising. 45km/h. 60km/h. 70km/h. 90km/h. 95km/h. 103 km/h. Suddenly, there was a cracking sound from underneath the car. Ngugi tried to slow down to find out what it was. The car would not slow down. He pressed the brakes harder. Nothing. The car was now cruising at 111 km/h. The bus in front of him slowed down. He tried his left foot. Still nothing. He was fast approaching the bus at the front. There was no space to overtake on the right as there was a lorry that was coughing up steadily. He knew he had to act swiftly or he would ram into the bus at the front. He switched on the headlights and rested his left arm on the car horn. He grabbed the handbrake making the car spin around in circles before ramming head-on into the oncoming lorry.
The pieces of metal, plastic and rubber were scattered across the road. a huge traffic snarl-up ensued. The Red Cross ambulance arrived half an hour later. It drove straight to the morgue.
Njeri heard of the news from television. She jumped off a bridge and breathed her last, Muchiri’s picture crumpled in her hand.
Kinyua is currently serving a 30 years sentence after he confessed to tampering with the brakes of the ill-fated car.