On a chilly countryside morning in February 2005 in the village I was seated besides the three stones used for cooking in my mum’s kitchen roasting maize for breakfast when I heard the sound of a bicycle bell outside. It was a bodaboda (bicycle taxi) who had dropped Joseph Walala a former college mate who had come to talk to me about some job offer in his “company” he had formed after graduating from college. Walala was the ring leader of a students strike we staged in college against our then principal Kikete Mungau but I can’t remember what grievances we had then. I was in first year and so excited to be striking and marching to town shouting “Kikete must go!”and then back to the principal’s office to flush him out. In short Walala was a hard guy! So hard I thought the police didn’t scare him. When the cops were called in to contain the situation Walala stood his ground and mobilized us to answer to his “Comrades!!!!” and we did “power!!” in unison you’d think it was one very loud person. Then he started singing “Solidarity forever….” like Sossion the KNUT sec gen but before he could finish the police had had enough of us and decided since we were not agreeing to restore order as they requested us we’d now be flushed out of the college premises and the institution closed indefinitely. So they asked us to park our stuff and leave the compound but we resisted and added another “power” to another Walala’s “Comrades!!!.” The police who had come in very many land rovers but had parked them at the nearby market called Shikondi and would only call for the whole battalion would there be any resistance from the students decided it was time for that reinforcement. The speed at which the land rovers came down would get you a prison sentence if you were caught by the very same police driving your Mazda demio or any other car at the same speed. Long story short, they gave us five minutes to vacate the compound but I remember I used only two. Walala the hard guy must have used one because I found him already boarding the matatu (public transport vehicle) to town.
So Walala is here to offer me a job as a technical consultant in his “company” called JOWA INTERNATIONAL SERVICES and as expected I take the offer because I left college a year ago and its now time to start working! Together with a group of other guys who worked under me we completed our first assignment at Shamusinjiri seconday school and it was now time to move to Bukhalalire seconday school in Busia county and the excitement was immeasurable! “Am excelling!” I thought quietly and smiled. When we reached Busia Walala became a dickhead and a control freak he handled us like nursery school kids in a boarding school who should take in every instruction from their teacher starting from what time to sleep, what time to eat, when to go for a shower, what time to go for break and all that. We didn’t have a life of our own he even forced us to go to church one Sunday but we openly revolted and I was on the front line of that revolution. We showed open defiance and told him we were not his kids! We were his staff! Walala decided to “sack” me and send me back home of which he did but after paying me quarter of what he owed me. I insulted him before all his workers who feared and worshiped him and told him he hadn’t seen the last of me. I didn’t go home. The day before that I had met a girl on our way from the school after work to our residence. She was dancing to reggae music as they rehearsed for their next show with their theatre group at Bukhalalire market. I stopped and waited for them to finish the rehearsals and made sure I talked to her that evening. She was beautiful and I got attracted at first sight. They went round the villages and markets sensitizing people about HIV AIDS and malaria in fact when we met our first conversation went like; “Hi, am Martin” and she was like “Hi, am Velma na nimechill” and in my heart I was like “You’re my wife!!!.” Nimechill was a swahili word coined by the AIDS campaigners to mean “I don’t do sex until after wedding.” She was right. She was a virgin. Trust me I know what am saying. So now Walala has sacked me and I need to go back home to Kakamega and leave my chilled Velma behind barely before getting to know her better. I had fallen in love with her instantly. I went to the next market called Bar Ober (pronounced in Luo not English. It’s not a name of a bar its the market) and entered the first bar (real bar now) I saw.
I was devastated that I was leaving my princess charming behind only a day after meeting her! I drunk till 4pm then went back to Bukhalalire market where I’d meet her after the rehearsals of the day but I arrived late and they had already left for home. Since I had walked her home the previous day I knew the direction so I went straight there and found her riding a bicycle in her dad’s compound. She saw me at the gate and signaled for me to wait outside the fence as she picked the bike and picked a plastic container as if going to get water from the river. There are no taps in the village hope you know that. We’d throw the container in the bush and go on a stroll. She was very sad when I broke the news of my sacking and that I’d be leaving the next day. She persuaded me to stay but I hadn’t sacked myself! Walala had sacked me and he sucks! We talked a lot that evening. I confessed my love for her and she did the same. She had fallen in love the first day we met. I took her back to her home and promised to see her the next day before I went back to Kakamega. Because I was so mad at Walala I decided to go book a room in the hotel he stayed at Bar Ober and I asked the hotel attendant to give me the room next to his. Of course they didn’t we had beef so they obliged. I wanted to give Walala a scare in the morning because there was very bad blood between me and him at the moment I told him I’d run him over if I had the chance. When morning came, I waited for him to get out of his room to wash his face before I could do the same. When he did, I did. He started trembling and I could see the fear all over his face. He didn’t even brush his teeth he rushed back to the house and in no time he was out and dashed past the gate. He had gone to the assistant chief of the area to report a threat on his life. The assistant chief happened to be the coordinator of the theater group Velma belonged to. I left my hotel room and went back to Velma’s home to say my last goodbye before I left. When I arrived she was ready to leave for her morning computer lessons at the market so we came strolling. Walala was in the vicinity of the market so he rushed to get the assistant chief from his office to arrest me. The two of them came and I was summoned to the chief’s office. I was told Walala had reported a threat on his life and that it didn’t seem right that I was still in the area when we had fallen out with him and if anything happened to him I’d be held responsible. I made it clear to the chief that I wasn’t in the area because of Walala but for my girlfriend.
The chief told me “We’re happy that you have found a girl among our people my son and you are more than welcome to be our in-law but as long as this man is working here and has filed a report with the administration it’s more likely that you might get yourself in trouble. Kindly leave and come back any other day to visit your girlfriend but when these people no longer work here.” I agreed to it with a heavy heart and hurled one more insult to Walala while still at the chief’s office and left. I went back to the computer room where I had left Velma and bid her an emotional good-bye before I finally left Bukhalalire. I promised to go back. Walala was not done with me yet. He went to the theater group later in the evening and caused a turmoil lecturing the group members how they preach water and drink wine. He pin pointed Velma and wondered how she was preaching about per-marital sex while she moved around and dated a married man who had neglected his family and his wife walked around the village without a panty because the husband could not afford one for her. I am the man Walala was trying to discredit. He said all the meanest things he could think of just to get Velma to forget about me and he’d have had his revenge. I was only 23 years old then but Walala made everyone believe I had a family that I had neglected. Velma wanted the ground to open up and swallow her. I had “lied” to her. I had caused her embarrassment before her friends and peers. The assistant chief cum coordinator of the group wanted to expel her from the group. The rest of the members pleaded with him to give her a last chance. He did but with conditions. She should never, ever! see me. And she promised she will never, ever! see me. Velma had a phone then. I didn’t have one so a week later when I went to the market to make a call to her from a public phone popularly known as simu ya jamii she picked but the moment I said “Hello, its Marto” she cut me short and yelled “Don’t ever call this number again. I can’t believe you lied to me! You are married, you have neglected your family, you have caused embarrassment, you have broken my heart, I don’t ever wanna see you again!!” Before I could ask for her to explain all that because it all sounded strange to me she disconnected the call. I was crashed. I paid eight shillings to the phone owner and walked away. I was bleeding inside. I was confused. I explained everything to my mum to whom I had so happily revealed how I had met my princess charming in Busia. My chilled future wife.
My mum felt so sorry and asked me if I wanted to go see Velma in person instead so she could explain to me everything. I said yes and she gave 500 shillings for my bus fare the next day. I didn’t sleep that night. By 8am I was on my way to Busia. Walala still worked there but nothing mattered to me at that point. Walala and his assistant chief could go and rot in hell if they wished to. I reached Bukhalalire market and went to where Velma’s theater group practised but because I didn’t want to cause her any further trouble I stood meters away where he could not see me. But Velma did. She spotted me from very far and arranged to escape from the rest of the group to come see me. Not so tell me she loved me but to send me away. To tell me I should never ever look for her again. She did. She explained how Walala had told the whole group about me and how embarrassed she was and that I should go back to my family and forget about her. I tried my best to explain the truth and that all Walala said were lies but she could have none of that. That’s one day I have never forgotten in my life. My world came crumbling down. My dreams came crushing before my very own eyes. I left her with one sentence. “One day you’ll realize I was telling the truth and that my love for you was genuine and not a lie. I’ll be back.” I left and boarded the matatu back home. When I reached Mumias town I was almost run over by a bus. I was absent-minded as I crossed the road and couldn’t hear the hooting bus. It stopped centimeters away from me with all the emergency brakes applied and dust covered the whole scene. I still walked off the road in the same pace like nothing had happened. In Mumias town I went to another simu ya jamii to make the last call to Velma. I told her I had reached Mumias town but all she replied was “OK” and disconnected the call. I knew we were done. It was my turn to wish the ground opened up and swallowed me whole.
From that time in February I never heard from Velma till June when I got a job as a shopkeeper in a school canteen at Kegoye seconday school in Mbale Vihiga county. I had access to a simu ya jamii that was in the canteen and I though this was another chance to try get in touch with her. I called her number one day and she picked then I introduced myself and asked where she was and if she still did theatre and stuff like that. She still sounded cold on me. She still hadn’t forgiven me for lying to her. The more I insisted on calling her daily the more I realized “This will just never work!” I gave up and decided it was time to move on. I wasn’t in a hurry to find another woman though. I moved on by accepting I had lost her not by falling in love with someone else. In August the same I got my first job at Jalaram Academy Kisumu after having seen the vacancy in the Daily Nation and took my application by hand delivery to the school then went back home to Kakamega. I had written my brother’s phone number in my CV because I was living with him while in Vihiga. When I went back home he received a call from Jalaram asking him if they could talk to me and told them I was very far from him but he could deliver the message if any. They asked him to tell me to go for an interview the next day. He called my mum’s phone and delivered the message. I got the job. That was in August. I never tried to get in touch with Velma again until December. I had bought my own mobile phone then so I called just to say hi to my one time love but what went I heard changed my life forever! “Hey, sasa! mbona umenyamaza siku mingi hivi? nimekumiss!” I didn’t believe she had just said that! I was like “You sure!? you miss me!?” and she repeated the same thing, “nimekumiss sana!” During the time I used to call her daily in June I had been explaining so hard how for sure I wasn’t married and she had been cold but at least she started thinking I sounded genuine and she had been waiting for my next call since I didn’t have a regular number she’d get me on so she hoped against hope that one day I’d call and she’d use that chance to let me know she wanted me back.
They say If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they’re yours; if they don’t they never were. And at that time I believed in that saying. Some idiot tried saying If you love someone, set them free. If they come back it means no one liked them so set them free again. Lol! I wasn’t gonna do that. That’s crap! We kept in constant touch after that but never saw each other until April 2006, a year and 2 months since we last met when I made another journey to Busia town this time where she lived with her elder sister. That day still lingers on my mind like it was yesterday. When we hugged, we didn’t wanna let go of each other. It had been a grueling odyssey. No one had ever warned it would be this tough. We were back together. She visited me in Kisumu in August the same year and yes…… She was had been chilling all that time we were apart. She was a virgin. I haven’t said anything don’t look at me like that! 2007 came and we were getting stronger by each passing day. In October I went and asked for her hand in marriage from her father who quickly agreed because according to him, I looked like a good man. I am a good man y’all can keep your opinions to yourself. On 21st December 2007 we got married. It was on a Friday and stop wondering how we got married on a Friday. We didn’t wed. Come we stay and here we are. I would never ask for a better mother to my kids. Velma has been the best mum to our daughters, she’s been the best wife. She’s stood with me through all my flaws and shortcomings. Trust me no one else can put up with me and you can take that to Kenya Women Finance Trust as security for a loan and it’ll be approved. We started from the bottom now we here. At the time we got married my gross salary was Ksh. 8,000. The net would come to something close to 5k a month and she didn’t have a job. I had to pay rent of our one bed-roomed house at Ksh. 2,200 a month in Nyalenda some area called Katworo and my landlord was some alcoholic called Nyamweno. When I couldn’t afford that we moved to a smaller house costing Ksh. 1,500 a month and didn’t have power connection and Oyombe was my landlord. These were decent brick houses back in the day the cost of living was low. I remember Jakoyo, my colleague in Kisumu lived in a two bed-roomed house in its own compound for only Ksh. 4,500 a month. I left Kisumu a year later for Nairobi in November 2008 mad God has been faithful.
“I ain’t lying. Yeah. I’ve always been a bit of a hopeless romantic myself. If our true match exists somewhere, it’s our goal in life to find her. But, see, Andrew’s a bit more rational than me. Andrew always believed that “the one” was a farce created by musicians and Hollywood. Until last December. Andrew calls my cell phone and he says, “Remember all that stuff I said about there being no such thing as ‘the one’?” He said, “Well, I was wrong. Her name is Gina Baker. And she doesn’t know this yet, but she’s going to be my wife.” Awww. And I knew at that moment that this Gina Baker was the luckiest girl in the world.” ~Kevin Hart (The wedding ringer 2015)
Velma is “The One” that almost got away.