Why getting a wife is no joke

When we graduated, we dumped our college girlfriends believing, correctly as it turned out, that the beautiful ones were not yet born.

Then fate conspired with a malicious boss at the Teachers Service Commission and posted us to schools that were practically in the middle of nowhere.

You alighted off an old matatu with a carton stuffed with your mattress. Then you scanned the two tired dukas at the market, the tree where a group of men sat playing bao and realised your social life was over.

So we spent the next three years flipping through our college albums and whimsically reliving the romance of the days that were, like a helpless eunuch in King Solomon’s palace.

Then one Friday evening, my colleague arrived from the nearby township smirking his lips like a well fed cat.

He was with a woman who, even to my then youthful 24-year-old eyes, looked a good 15 years older. Thin as a stick, she had this shrivelled look, like a malnourished orange that has been left to wrinkle and dry in the sun.

My staff mate would have to work extremely hard to squeeze heirs out of this one, I thought. “She is a teacher,” he announced proudly, naming a distant school whose name has become cobwebbed with the passage of time.

Still, at a dusty little market where days, even months, would pass before anything passable in a skirt ambled by, she was a hot tomato.

The last female teacher who ventured in those parts never reported for duty, perhaps frightened by the pack of males who stared at her hungrily but forgot to invite her to the table when lunch was served.

The shrivelled madam spent the weekend. And when she left on Monday, not a word was said of her, until she reappeared a week later with a huge bag.

“We are married,” my friend announced that night while, gazing pensively into the distance. Two nights later, when a newly married man should still be consummating his marriage, he popped into my house with a jug of water and a toothbrush.

“Omundu,” he began, using a nickname that denoted my tribal roots. “This woman is born again and I lied to her that I’m so religious that I even speak in tongues. I haven’t smoked for two days. I am dying!”

That charade was repeated for the next 20 days. He would tiptoe into my house, puff away from a packet he hid at my place, brush his teeth and then go back home whereupon the newly married duo would launch into fervent prayer, cursing demons and praising the Lord.

I heard all this through the thin wall that separated our houses. It didn’t seem like they were working on the baby project, I mused.

That he could pull off that subterfuge for weeks was understandable. He was the school drama patron, after all and when high, he could launch into emotional renditions of Francis Imbuga’s Betrayal in the City or the soaring speeches of Martin Luther King.

His brand new wife did not know this dark side of his life. Until payday. As was his custom, he never came back that day. She hysterically knocked at my door at dawn, saying we should go look for him.

“Maybe my husband was killed by thugs in the night and his body is lying by the roadside,” she wept. I suspected he was lying in a house of sin with a woman of loose morals, snoring away yesterday’s inebriation. But I didn’t say that.

“He will come,” I said simply. And come he did; muddy, haggard and clothed in that unquestionably stale stench of fermentation. That night, there were no prayers next door.

The devil had chosen the week when Jesus was wandering in the wilderness to pay a visit.

Maybe the incongruous couple could have lived unhappily to a ripe old age. Except that a week later, my colleague’s father, a retired stern-faced headmaster, arrived with a lorry, his four older sons in tow, and ordered him to pack his things with immediate effect.

He had arranged for his son’s transfer to a school in the neighbouring district, to separate him from “this washed out rag of a woman who is older than your grandmother!”

I hear she fainted when she arrived home that evening and found the open door creaking ominously on its hinges, to behold a house swept clean, and the man of her dreams gone without a trace.