Dirty, Dirty Linen!

Dirty, Dirty Linen!

If you talk to Ambani, and you get close enough to exchange intimate details about your lives, he will tell you that I used him. Don’t believe him. At least until you hear my version of the story. And then you can decide.

I am that woman you (by you I mean the bachelor, the campus student, you) call every once or twice a week to come and do your laundry. I realize there is a name you have coined for me; Mama Nguo is it? I suspect that is how my name is saved in your phone. Did you know that it wouldn’t hurt to just ask my name and refer me by it?

And the name is Nelly, thankyouverymuch! I would appreciate if you pulled out your phones and edited that Mama Nguo contact. Why Mama Nguo, why Mama Mboga? Do people call you Mama Pesa because you work in a bank? Or Mama Kalamu because you are a teacher? Mama Mboga and I do not like this. Not in the least.

Rant aside. I will tell you why you should not believe everything you hear from this Ambani guy.

Ambani used to be one of my customers. I would wash his clothes and he would pay me for it. We had managed to maintain cordiality in our relationship – to everyone’s amazement.  I was glad that Ambani had not tried the typical male antics on me. I know men. Sometimes, just because you do their laundry some think they can order “A quickie with your laundry services ma’am?” – Who is to say that insults can’t be laced with courtesy?

We had got into a routine, Ambani and I. I went to his place once a week. Fridays. I got the key from his neighbor’s house. Let myself into his house. Found the dirty linen in the bathroom. Washed them. Washed his house and washed any dirty dishes in the kitchen sink. My money was always on top of the kitchen counter so once through; I would take the money, lock the now sparkling house and leave the key with the neighbour. We hardly met with Ambani and that worked perfectly for us.

This Friday morning, I went to his neighbour’s house as usual and asked Lisa for the key to Ambani’s house (Lisa is the house help to Mr. and Mrs. Musyoka who are Ambani’s next door neighbours) Lisa loves to sing and so every time I knocked, I had to compete with her shrill voice. On this particular day, she was butchering Jemima Thiongo’s ‘Akisema Atakubariki’ mercilessly when I interrupted her – you’re welcome Jemima.

I expected Lisa to hand me the keys as was the norm. She didn’t.

“Ambani hajaleta key. Bado yuko kwa nyumba” Ambani is still in the house, she said. How odd. He was not going to work?

Just in case you saw me, that lady in a green dress who was knocking at house no.3C at 9am on Friday was me.

“Come in Nelly. Come in”

I went in, Nelly. Ambani was standing in his living room wearing nothing but shorts.

Ok. He must be getting ready for work. We can still maintain common decency if  I go to the bathroom and busy myself with washing until he dresses decently or until he leaves for work, whichever comes first. He is not a mad man, of course the former will come first.

I headed straight to the bathroom where I encountered problem no. 1: No clothes.

Me again. Standing outside his bedroom door.

“Pass me the dirty clothes Ambani!” my voice traveled to reach him on the other side of the door.

“Sorry. Just come in Nelly. Ingia tu

I hesitated. I opened the door cautiously. He was ironing his shirt. Still in shorts.

Problem 2: The hamper containing dirty linen stood at the far corner of the room. I entered the room, walked towards the hamper. I reached the hamper. I picked it up. I also picked one or two socks from the floor (men!), a stray vest thrown carelessly on the bed (again, men!). I made for the exit. Hamper in hand. Quick steps. Eyes on the floor. Quick steps. Eyes on the floor. Quick steps. Almost at the door. Almost at the door. Almost…

“Here, add this” Ambani said as he threw something into the hamper.

Almost at the door. Brandy said it, and I did not listen; almost doesn’t count!

Now take a guess what Ambani added into the laundry basket. Don’t worry I will wait.

His shorts! Yes. You know what that means? It means that the bird was out of its cage! The…the…ok, I got nothing. That is the best I can do.

He then came round to hold my shoulders from behind. I looked at the door that was so near yet so far. I moved away from Ambani. I made for the door.

“Nelly wait…” He said.

Nelly, that’s me. I wished he called me Mama Nguo like the rest of you.

“What is it?” I asked.

“I miss you.”

“I don’t”

“Come on…”

“I need to get started. I have other clients you know”

“I know. I just want to talk to you”

I realized avoiding eye contact was a mistake. I turned to look at him square in the face.

“You are naked Ambani! What did you want to say that could not be said with your body covered with fabric?”

I went straight to the bathroom. I am fetching water in basins. Adding detergent to water. Sorting clothes as I throw the white shirts in first…

In my head, I expected things to go back to normal. Normal meaning, he would go to his managerial job and leave me to mine.

“I wish things had been different, you know?”

So much for normal! He was not gone. He was in the corridor, leaning on the wall.

We had had this conversation before. How he regretted the way things had ended between us. How he wanted to make things right. How he was sorry. How he should never have let me go. Blablabla…you would be tired too listening to him.

“You really don’t miss me Nelly? Not at all?”

I remained quiet. I just came to clean and get paid for it. I am not Doctor Phil. I was not interested in soothing his conscience.

Why would I come and clean for my ex you ask? Because I overcharged him and he paid. I am a business woman. Ambani needed someone to clean, I needed the money. Demand needed supply and even if there was history, supply had to meet demand. Please don’t pretend to understand. Many people don’t either. All you need to understand is that I needed work. I need to feed Nathan. Nathan is my boy. No he is not Ambani’s boy. The story about Natahan’s father and I is also a long one. Like I said, men!

Ambani and I were not married for long. Two months into our marriage and I realized that he would never accept Nathan. Can you believe he suggested that I should take him to stay with my mother? My son? Why would I take my son to stay with my mother? I carried that boy inside me for nine months; I raised him on my own for the four years before I met this Ambani dude. And now that he was my husband I was supposed to get rid of my flesh and blood to make room for him? Send my boy to stay with my mother?

The nerve!

He got dressed that day, eventually, and went to work – dressing came first as predicted. He was obviously disappointed that I refused to succumb to his charms.

I worked as meticulously as always. Grabbed my pay from the kitchen counter and headed straight to Lumumba’s. I like Lumumba. He is a quiet guy. He always has a girl over at his house. Never mind that his girlfriend turnover is very high. If I was the type to judge my customers I would say something like: “It is always the quiet ones, isn’t it?”

Lumumba is a writer. He works from the comfort of his living room, always punching away at his laptop. So engrossed in his work is he that he barely acknowledges my presence when I am working. I like to wash in his balcony which has a nice view of the city. I guess the view helps him think when he takes a break from writing? Maybe there is a writer in me too somewhere?

I picked Nathan from school that evening and we came home to find the landlord waiting for me outside our house. My rent was overdue. I was given one week to clear it.

I decided to call Ambani.

“I miss you too” I said when he picked up.

“Can I come over?”


“No. I will come and see you tomorrow”

I told him that I was willing to give him another chance. But that we had to take it slow to prove that he did not want to just use me for sex.

Four days and our love was blossoming to the naked eye. I even did his laundry for free.

I informed him of my financial predicament in passing. How I risked being evicted. This to him did not qualify as a problem, problem. He paid my rent the following day.

I broke it off with him a week and two days later. The speech was nicely done too: I had done some soul-searching. I could not keep seeing him when deep down I knew he would never accept my boy – which was the truth.

This is a man who is so full of himself that he allows himself to imagine that he is more important to me than my son. My own flesh and blood. A man who thought that my boy was better off with his grandmother and not with his birth mother. A man who believes that he deserves to be loved and my four year old son doesn’t!

What kind of man asks a woman to choose between him and her child?

So he paid my rent. Big deal! I think men who do not accept single mothers with their children should be made to pay their rent arrears every once in a while.

Yes. Ambani will tell you that I used him. Do you think I did?

This post was first published on the Storymoja Festival Blog

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