They met at a prayer center. She always loved breaking her fasts at prayer centers, it felt like they had a higher concentration of heaven. We’ll call her Jojo.
Peter* was the kind of person who greeted people with “Praise the Lord!” He’d just exclaim ‘Hallelujah’ in a normal conversation. He was among the dying breed of people who don’t say “shit!” after every sentence. His showers always turned into full-blown Pentecost moments when he started singing.
The day they met, she saw him later that evening praying prostrated. A man lying prostrate crying to his maker gives a Christian girl feels that can only be well understood if you read Song of Solomon. They kept contact and often met at the prayer center. And in 2017 while the rest of you were swooning over Chilobae, their relationship was beginning to take root.
They traveled to Warufaga, which is the Kikuyu version of Elburgon, to see her parents and make the grand announcement. Before long, goats and sheep were being converted to cash and she had chosen her theme colors – burgundy and silver.
They planned for pre-marital counseling with his pastor in the church at the prayer center but he seemed to try all he could to avoid them. She chose a mermaid gown, silver shoes with glitters, and earings that weren’t too long and waited for the grand day.
Two days before the wedding, the officiating minister – the General Overseer – insisted on Jojo and her fiancé taking a pregnancy and an HIV test. She traveled to Nakuru from Nairobi and they took the test. The minister insisted they share the results with the church leadership. She did, although this is against medical ethics.
On the morning of her wedding day, as the hairstylist fiddled with the bobby pins, tucking them into her twisted braids like she was building a fortress, Jojo got a call that she needs to go take another HIV test and pregnancy test.
This was 2018 and you’d expect people to mind their own business where pregnancy and HIV are concerned. I mean, a university in Seattle had invented a male birth control pill, yet someone was still getting stigmatized for having HIV – which she didn’t even have!
But these were not your ordinary people – these were the very anointed of the highest, assistant angels. They had come to purge this wedding of all sinfulness – real and imagined.
It wasn’t true. And even it was, Jojo couldn’t understand why that would be any of their problems. But she wasn’t one to cause ripples; if they wanted a repeat test she was going to give them a repeat test. They passed by a clinic and took the tests and went to church with them.
They arrived in church and waited for the women to come around singing, “Muhiki ta uyu, mwamwonire ku?” as they went around the bridal car like a night runner in Shamakhokho. Instead, the air in the compound was thick with apprehension, like someone had detonated tear gas laced with gloom before they arrived. The general overseer announced that the results they had sent in were ‘inconclusive’. One showed she was neither HIV negative nor pregnant while the other – the one from the clinic he ordered – said she was!
The general issued a fresh dose of instruction to take another test at another clinic of his choice. By this time, it was very late in the day. And the pastor didn’t want her peeing on a stick, he wanted a blood test! The hurricane was getting closer to shore.
Guests started getting irritated; the village women and their colorful vitenges started demanding for answers and threatening to take ‘their bride’ away. Jojo’s colleagues and church members from Nairobi brought their Nairobism and called the media. Jojo was still in the car crying while her groom oscillated between the bridal car and the pastor’s office.
They were called into the office. The pastor went made sure he wasted time, going in circles like a dog chasing its tail, calling the bride and the groom into the room separately, convincing the groom that his bride was tainted until it was past 6 PM. Then he announced that he can’t officiate this wedding. It was already past official time. Her world unraveled like an old yarn sweater.
She had pictured the evening of her wedding day: they’d ride to the hotel in the hired Range Rover Sport, kicking the high heels off to let the toes breath finally. Her new husband all over her, his hands on her hair that was filled with bobby pins and the other hand undoing her gown, lips locked, almost suffocating in the embrace and the new bra whose underwire was now eating into her chest.
But on the evening of her wedding day, she hastily got rid of her wedding gown at the back seat of the said Range Rover. She threw on an ordinary dress and buried her head in her hands, weeping dying from shame, disappointment, and frustration. She was with her mother and she too was crying, watching her baby go through pain she could neither understand nor alleviate.
She was in hell, the devil had bought new and improved coals and she had walked through them on bare feet.
Confused, angry, and utterly frustrated, Jojo was whisked away by a friend. She felt like she had been fighting in a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and lost.
Even her parent’s separation two weeks before she was born seemed like a child’s play. Her three attempts at suicide when she was a teenager felt easier to handle than this. She was right in the eye of the hurricane and she couldn’t do anything stop it. And the groom had turned to a deer in the headlights.
Seeing the lies being peddled and her groom not helping much was more painful than a bullet-ant sting. The guy who had whisked felt they needed to get away from the drama, and because they were church people, they couldn’t just go to Mombasa for a honeymoon after a botched wedding. They ended up in my house – frustrated, angry, confused, but still smiling.
As if the botched wedding wasn’t a sign enough, they planned to get married again in December. Many service providers and companies offered to give them a free wedding.
Everything seemed verticle until Peter* went back to Nakuru to see his pastor. He just went MIA – she couldn’t get through to him. He had told her that he was going home, she called his parents, and they said they hadn’t seen or heard from him. After a couple of days, he emerged again and he seemed confused and unintelligible. Nothing he said made sense.
He’d say he was kidnapped. Then he’d say people want to kill him. Then he’d say he wants to get married. Then he wants to cancel the wedding. It was like she was in an extreme roller coaster, her head was spinning out of control and she couldn’t breathe. She put the kibosh on the second wedding.
Do you get to that place where you stand with your hands on your head, twist up your nose like someone broke wind around you and you wonder, “How in the name of Mekatilili wa Menza did I get here?”
Jojo did. She started remembering small moments that she ignored – like the ‘general overseer’ instructing his young men in the church not to marry outside the church. She was among the congregants that day, she was engaged to one of the said young men, and she didn’t belong to that church. It felt like a personal attack.
She remembered how, a couple of months into their relationship, she had started feeling like she was staring at a straw in a glass of water – things were crooked. Peter would go quiet for long periods and then emerge like Moses from the mountains – only without the radiant face.
“There were strange stories of there being other women in his life which he vehemently denied”.
The Facebook Bureau of Investigations seemed like a good place to get answers. She had opened a pseudo account and started chatting with him. To her astonishment, he was proposing to her pseudo and even talking smack about Jojo. She was gobsmacked. She felt like she should dump his ass and save him as “Don’t pick idiot” on her phone.
She shared with her friends and mentors who reminded her that the good book says to forgive seventy-times-seven times. She confronted him about it but he followed the agreed protocol from the men’s conference – deny, confuse the enemy and propose.
Sirens had been blaring all over her, telling her to run and not look back. Different people gave conflicting information about his past and present life. But she had still said ‘Yes!’.
“I think I was desperate to get married. I was 29 years old and felt like time was running out. I needed to settle down”
She was scared to even walk in the streets, people who had seen the news stared at her, having a Deja vu moment and trying to place her face. She was on the brink of depression. She couldn’t go to church. She stopped picking Samantha’s bridal’s calls. She developed a phobia for anything bridal – even the sight of a car with the bridal decorations would cause panic attacks. She couldn’t still solve the mystery of how she could get this one thing so wrong.
If you think farting in the elevator is embarrassing, try returning the dowry that was paid to your parents. But Jojo did, to the very last coin. She went for counseling and slowly got back to her circles. After a while, she was ready to go back to church.
“There were red flags I had noticed but I foolishly over-spiritualized things. That was a very huge mistake. I still believe in marriage, but I will be very careful and walk with my eyes open when I get to that point again.”