A normal birthday in my books, begins with the husband giving his wife – the birthday girl in this case – a kiss very early in the morning. You pull her from her side of the bed to yours therefore cutting short her snoring.
Getting the covers out of the way, you pull your body slightly above hers, making sure not to squish her with your weight. You turn her sleepy face towards you and give her an awakening kiss happy birthday.
If she wakes up, you hope she wakes up, you kiss her again, with more zeal this time, and wish her a happy birthday again. You might want to throw in a few words – “You grow more beautiful each year” “I love you more than ever before” She will wonder what time it is. What day it is. She might get her phone from the nightstand to check the time with squinted eyes, and seeing that it is five minutes past midnight look back at you with adoration in her eyes.
“You woke up at this hour just to wish me a happy birthday? How sweet!”
You will allow yourself to feel proud.
You will pull her closer. To deeply kiss her. To wrap your hands completely around her. Sleep thrown to the curb, she will return your kiss – now wetter, hotter, and more tongue-y. You will feel her body loosen in your arms.
You will work your way through her lingerie, and once she lies in your arms, spent, you will caress her, plant a kiss on her forehead, and once again wish her a “Happy birthday”- in my case, “Happy Birthday Penny”
I did this for her first two birthdays in marriage. Only two birthdays. I was hoping to make it a thing, so I tried it again on her third birthday. I however only got as far as the first kiss, then she rolled over to her side of the bed and went back to sleep.
That is when I knew. I had suspected it but at that moment, I had a revelation that my wife was being touched by another man.
She was to come clean two weeks later.
“I am sorry Mike.” She’d added
“For how long?”
“I really am sorry”
“Stick to answering the questions Penny. How long?”
“Why?” my voice shook. My whole body shook. I hated that Penny could break me like this.
“Because I … there is no excuse Mike. I am sorry.”
“WHY?” I had to grit my teeth to prevent from shouting.
“I needed someone to talk to. I…I…you were working all the time”
“So this guy, he does nothing but sit with you the whole day? Is that it?”
She was quiet.
“What do you expect from me? I have to work to provide for you. You should have told me that you preferred an idle man for a husband. A man who does nothing but sit with you from morning to evening!”
“Do you really think that just because I am a housewife, I do nothing?”
“That is not what I said”
“You might as well have!” she started to walk away.
“You don’t get to be mad Penny. You are the one who is stepping out of our marriage! You don’t get to be mad!”
She banged the door and left me standing there.
Many doors were banged from then on by both of us. The nights of passion became fewer. The “Happy Birthdays” were now mumbled, and the entrance of Claire into my life did not help matters between me and Penny. Not one bit.
Today has been a long day. All because I chose to do more than just mumble a routine ‘happy birthday Penny’ like the good old days. Whatever happened to birthday flowers and cakes and cards? Whatever happened to Penny?
This day would get better if Claire would talk to me. She has not said a word since we left the hospital. I search her face as we walk towards her car which is parked at the basement. Tears still dance around her eyes. She had smiled and cried as she looked down on me lying on the hospital bed. It was a sad smile. The saddest smile I had ever seen on her. I had watched her turn to the doctor who was in the room with us, seen her look at him with the same smile as she nodded to him. She started to leave. I had to leave with her.
Now she walks ahead of me. Head bowed. I follow her close behind.
She heaves as she opens the door to the driver’s seat. Holding the car door, she leans on it and looks up.
“You will be ok now Mickey. Rest in peace my love” she whispers.
I watch as her whole body shakes. As she bows her head down and the tears flow relentlessly down her cheeks.
I reach out and embrace her, cupping her face in my hands. I wish she could see me. Feel me.
She gets into the car and starts to reverse, looking for a way out of the parking. I am not ready to let go yet. I jump onto the passenger seat as she drives out of the basement to the Nairobi traffic. It is a rainy night.
Please stop crying Claire. It breaks my heart to see you so sad
She drives exceedingly slow.
She looks my way. Tears still rolling from her eyes.
“What do you want from me?”
Nothing Claire. I just wanted to see you one more time.
“Tell me. What do you want from me?”
I want you to stop crying. You will be ok. You will get through this.
“Mikey is dead! Ok? Dead! So leave me alone. Get away from me Penny!”
Penny is in the car? She is in the car with Claire…with us!
I stretch my hand to touch Claire’s shoulder. Yes, I know how futile that is. But I had to try.
“Penny, I don’t know why he killed himself ok? It was not because of me. He…he could not have done it because of me. I know that he loved me!”
It is uncanny how Claire is looking straight at me as she talks. Penny must be seated in the passenger’s seat just like I am.
The car comes to a screeching brake at the side of the road.
“Get out! Get out of my car Penny!” Claire screams
Atta girl! Get her out.
“I don’t care about your birthday. I owe you nothing. You hear me. NOTHING! Now just get the hell away from me!”
She grabs a serviette from the dashboard to wipe her tears and blow her nose. Her soft sobs almost choke her. She rests her head on the steering wheel. I take the chance to run my fingers through her hair. How is it that she is so unaware of my presence? Of my touch? Of my undying love for her?
A knock on the car window startles Claire.
“Ma’am are you ok?” it is a traffic cop
Claire winds down the window. The rains have subsided to a slight drizzle.
Tell him Claire. Tell the cop that you are not ok.
“I am fine.”
No you are not! Penny wants to kill you! Get some help Claire. Talk to someone. Don’t be like me. Don’t keep it to yourself! You have to talk to someone!
We’re back on the road again.
Please seek help Claire. If you can hear me. Please get help my love
As soon as we are out of the cop’s sight, Claire hits the accelerator; driving at the speed of light. Blaring horns fill the air as the car flies through the road.
“You are happy now Penny? You are happy now? You want me to go faster, huh? How about now? Are you excited to watch me die?”
She is driving like a mad woman. Crying like a wounded woman.
“Happy birthday Penny. Happy freaking birthday bitch!”
Stop this Claire. Stop it!
The car is shaking. Swaying from side to side.
A lorry is approaching us. Claire has seen it but shows no intention of slowing down. The driver of the lorry is honking furiously.
Damn you Penny! DAMN YOU!
Claire swerves inches away from the lorry and the car lands on the pavement. Her head hits the steering wheel leaving a bump on her forehead. She has not stopped crying.
Please get some help Claire. Don’t allow Penny to win. Get help!
Claire takes one look around the car. Reverses it and turns back the way we came.
I watch her now as she fills a form at the hospital reception. She is a beautiful woman, Claire. She is also a smart woman. If Penny is around, Claire is doing a good job of ignoring her.
She now sits on a bench in the waiting area for her turn to see the doctor.
I sit next to her
I am sorry for everything I have put you through. I wish I could be there for you.
Stretching my hand, I touch her growing tummy.
I wish I could be there for our baby too.
Claire places her hand on her tummy too, sadness clouding her eyes.
I know that you will be ok Claire. You will be ok my love.
“Claire? The doctor will see you now” a nurse calls out.
Claire nods to her direction and closes her eyes for a minute, still holding her tummy.
I watch her stand up and walk into the doctor’s office.
It is time for me to leave now.
Time for me to roam the night in the world of the dead.
In this series:
Illustration by Elsardt Kigen. Elsardt is a talented artist and a senior student of The Arts and Design at The University of Nairobi. He has won several Art Competitions including ‘Experiencing Kenyan Heritage Through Art’ (2013) where he was accorded a visit to the UK.