What I Have Learnt Playing Referee in a Marriage

  • A bride slips a wedding ring on the groom’s hand.
    A bride slips a wedding ring on the groom’s hand.
    File
  • The last time Koki made chapati for her husband was 5 years ago to the day. 

    I would know, I’ve been keeping track. A small social science experiment on my part, if you will. Koki is a long-time friend and when she stormed into my home, bag clutched in hand, red as an over-priced supermarket tomato, I gave her a glass of water and marked off the first day as she started on the story.

    But I won’t put you through that, because we are friends, and I like you. But the short version, as I gathered from the long-winded speech, was that men were ingrates, chapati flour clung to everything like a bad spell and smart women didn’t stay married very long. Now, Koki was very angry then, and you had to take everything she said with a generous helping of salt. 

    She left my house much calmer that evening. The husband who had brought all this on picking her up and off they went but not before she vowed that as long as her toenails remained intact, she would never be found in a kitchen pummeling and beating flour to make chapos for the errant husband.

    And as a good friend would, well I kept count of how long her resolve would last. This is how I know it has been 5 years since Koki said those words. From what I can tell, she has remained more or less happily married since that unfortunate day.

    “The secret to marriage, Cee, is to grow a little deaf.”

    She said that to me once, cocktail in hand, on one of the many girl’s trips we’ve taken over the years. Koki is loyal to a fault, that I can tell you, but Koki is also no liar. When she said she would never cook chapatis she meant it. And wheat flour has not even dared graze the hem of her dress since that very fateful day.

    I asked Kim, the husband, about the whole thing once. They were hosting a small barbecue party in their Lang’ata garden which, to be honest, had more dust than grass. Having recently sworn off meat the ‘barbecue’ consisted of roasted bananas, potatoes, and I do believe they even tried burning watermelons. Suffice to say, most of the food went untouched. 

    In any case, it was during this little gathering that I finally got the chance to ask Kim what the chapati fiasco was all about. The poor man seemed to deflate, sinking into his plastic chair while rubbing a hand over his brow.

    “Koki made a whole mess about that small thing. Let me ask you Cee: just one day, ONE, I don’t eat the food you cooked? Now, do I really deserve to be denied it for all eternity? Is that fair?”

    Fair? I sipped my drink, it wasn’t my place to answer. Well, but that wasn’t the full story in any case. Or, it wasn’t the version I got. The version I got from Koki painted a dutiful wife slaving away in her kitchen, preparing a meal for her husband who was returning from a two-week business trip from Tanzania. 

    The husband did eventually arrive, late into the night, drunk as a drowned cat, after spending the first few hours back into his country drinking with ‘the boys’. 

    But alas, who can ever truly tell with these married people? who was telling the truth? Better not to get involved. Thus far, my very minimal role in this row has been as the keeper of scores, the counter of days, the keeper of tallies, if you will. Until recently.

    Kim and Koji invited me to take on a more active role in their 5-year spat. It was a wager, a sweet little bet: if Kim won, then Koki would swallow her (quite considerable) pride and make chapati for the family. And if Kim lost? Well, he would be crowned chapati maker till death do them part. What did I have to do? Just referee, they said, decide who wins.

    How did I end up here, you ask, playing mediator to the idiosyncrasies of the married? A little back story. I am staying at Koki and Kim’s for a few weeks as I wrap up a photography assignment in Naivasha. A quintessentially modern couple, they have no children—and last I checked, didn’t seem in a hurry to get them. No, they raise cats and plants from what I can tell.

     I’m the ideal house guest if I do say so myself. I carry around my own inflatable little bed that I can set up on any spare space on the floor. The bed is an upgrade, for years I had a blue sleeping bag. I would ceremoniously unfurl this at the end of the day, slither into it and go to sleep. I didn’t realise it was a problem until an intervention was called for in the village.

    Apparently, my people had learned that their granddaughter was homeless in Nairobi, moving from house to house, living in a bag. It would have been hilarious had it not been so tragic. I promised my grandmother that I wouldn’t embarrass her in the city by sleeping on floors and to keep my promise I splurged on an air mattress. 

    But back to the wager.

    We were currently watching Raised by Wolves.
    We were currently watching Raised by Wolves.

    I had been staying with Koki and Kim a few days before they brought it up over dinner one night. Most evenings we spent in front of the TV watching one series or the other. We were currently on Raised by Wolves, with plans to start on Season 4 of Fargo when the wager came up.

    It seemed like an ongoing argument between the two and it was centered around Tiger. Yes, the one Tiger we all know, Tiger Woods. Koki was adamant that the slump in his career was a direct result of the cheating. Kim disagreed: cheating was not the problem, the press attention that followed it, was. Now, granted, they were both operating with little more than rumors, hearsay, and largely imagined court findings. Yet the debate was escalating both in intensity and absurdity. The usually warm house was taking on a rather unwelcoming chill and it was becoming clear that a solution had to be found soon. 

    It seemed like an ongoing argument between the two and it was centered around Tiger. Yes, the one Tiger we all know, Tiger Woods. Koki was adamant that the slump in his career was a direct result of the cheating. Kim disagreed: cheating was not the problem, the press attention that followed it, was. Now, granted, they were both operating with little more than rumors, hearsay, and largely imagined court findings. Yet the debate was escalating both in intensity and absurdity. The usually warm house was taking on a rather unwelcoming chill and it was becoming clear that a solution had to be found soon. 

    Two-part Tiger documentary streaming on Showmax.
    Two-part Tiger documentary streaming on Showmax.

    Koki delivered this much-needed water in the desert, so to speak, that night. A friend of hers had told her that a two-part Tiger documentary would be streaming on Showmax. And the best part was that Showmax was having an offer: pay for one month at just 380 bob and you get 2 months extra!

    Koki had already paid the subscription fee and confirmed that yes indeed, they could stream the documentary. It would settle the argument. And here the wager was born: if Koki was right and it was the cheating that threw him off then Kim would have little choice but to fall in love with the age-old art of making chapos. 

    However, if Kim was right and it was the media that was the whole problem then Koki would abandon her silly vow and again make chapati for her dearly beloved. It was settled. And of course, to make sure it was a fair win, I was crowned mediator.

    It’s the morning before the scheduled streaming session. I have silently been packing my bags ready to orchestrate a disappearing act before the streaming session begins. I, Cee, am no village goat. These things never ended well for third-parties and that’s exactly what I am. No, no, I will leave them a nice note to let them know that my pet rabbit lost its tail and needed surgery ASAP. 

    Besides, I have my own Showmax subscription. I too want to watch this Tiger documentary, and not in the role of a stripped-down WWE umpire, but as just another interested member of the public. Koki and Kim will figure it out without me, In the meantime, I will keep counting the days. 

    By my last tally, we were at 5 years 13 days and counting.