A beautiful brown coat hangs on the empty chair. It is checked and looks woollen, but I could be wrong because I’m the last person to comment on fabric. But I know silk and how it runs away from hands and feels – against cheeks – like a slow dance; under the coat’s collar is a sliver of silk with the word Zara on it. Seated next to the chair is the owner of this coat. He’s 44-years old. He has a very good job that requires you to wear a tie, like the one he’s wearing now at 3:30pm. You don’t have to know squat about ties to know that it’s a decent tie because what’s the point of wearing a Zara coat if you are going to ruin it with a tacky tie that looks like a rope for tethering a goat? He looks like the kind of guy who wakes up earlier than usual to take his time to shower, then takes more time picking out his clothes. He has on reddish/maroon shoes that could be Ted Bakers or some brand we have never heard of. I’m not sure of the name of the colour, but I know it’s the colour your get if you go to an abattoir and step on a pool of blood that dries on your shoes. Later when he stands I will notice his bow-legs. He walks like that actor guy that asphyxiates every bird that talks about his devastating looks. What’s his name? That guy who likes squinting in photographs, black British guy…arh, I forget his name.
Anyway, he has a diary and a pen and his owlish spectacles – the type lawyers who make a lot of money wear – sit next to his diary, which means his spectacles might be for reading or are cosmetic. Something that completes his style. His nails are well trimmed. He’s isn’t one of those chaps who grow the nail of their little finger like the type who belong to a cult. Our man here is the type of bloke that they call a clotheshorse.
He’s also single. A senior bachelor, if you will.
And that’s why I’m here with him; to ask him why he’s never married at 44-years of age. Which means there is a danger that I might start sounding like one of his aunts.
To answer this question he has to go back into his childhood and into his time in the US where he moved to when he was 17 years old and stayed for 22 years – basically half his adult life. He lived in Los Angeles, working in finance and strategy (he’s a numbers guy), held a big job at Walt Disney, became an American citizen at some point and then in 2013 packed his shit up and moved back home. He moved back because as the last born of many brothers who are out of the country, he had to come back to take care of his parents who are now in their 80s.
When he came he met someone. Someone nicer than most girls he has dated. Seven years younger. Someone from a prominent family, he says but won’t tell me which family. But like the rest of the women he has seen, he “was never fully in, both feet.” Soon he started withdrawing, started making excuses. “She was a really great woman, completely great, but I started finding faults in her. I started making her weight an issue, for instance. Just really silly excuses I made up.”
Eventually they broke up and he felt horrible about it, he says. So horrible that he met another lady soon after and started dating her. This girl came from a poor background, worked hard, got scholarships to school abroad, came back, became successful and was making tons of money. “She was very temperamental, and I felt like I was always walking on eggshells. We argued a lot and about everything from where we were going to stay on vacation to general outlook of life. I made so many compromises in this next relationship, perhaps from the guilt of the last one.”
They broke up.
“When I came back home from the US I realised that I wasn’t getting anywhere with our Kenyan women because of cultural differences,” he says. “In the US, dating, as with marriage, is an equal partnership. You consult on virtually everything – love, finance, family, planning and so forth. The words ‘the man is the head of the family’ would offend many girls in the US. When I came back I always treated the ladies as my equal but then I was shocked when the relationships failed,” he says. “But then I realised why I was failing – it’s because our women wanted a man to take charge, to make decisions. That applied to even successful women, according to my experience. I wasn’t leading. I only learnt my error at Man Enough and I changed, but still I wasn’t getting any luck.”
“What kind of chicks were you meeting?”
“Professional women, mostly, but also women who were only interested in my money.”
There are men who remember who they dated by election cycles. There are men who remember who they dated by the kind of car they were driving at that time. There are men who remember who they dated by where they were working at that time or where they were staying during that period. There are men who will say, “When I broke my leg and was hopping around in a cast, I was seeing this girl who would draw cartoons on my cast. She was pretty good.” Then there are men whose dating cycle is no longer than the short rains. His relationships were generally like that; meet a girl, wine her, dine her, after a few months start getting cold feet, then eventually pull the plug. His mother continued to “recommend” girls who she was sure would make good wives. Girls from other upstanding families. Girls who have been “tried and tested.” His mom would ask, “But why don’t you like her? She’s staunch in church and has masters and a good job….” He politely ignored them.
At some point he thought, hang on a second, what if I’m the one with the problem and not these girls? So he attended the Man Enough program at St Andrews. I haven’t been to this program but the way it sounds, it sounds like a place where they guide men on how to be man enough. (I know, I’ve said nothing). He finished this program and came out manned up to get his beak back into the dating game.
“I learnt a lot about myself. I learnt that I was always the one sabotaging my relationships by refusing to be vulnerable to the women I dated.”
“What was holding you back?”
“My childhood,” he says. “When I was a boy my mom confided in me a lot since I was the last born and the one who was left at home. Mostly it was about her marriage to my father and the struggles of the business they ran. My therapist told me that it changed how I view relationships. That I was scared to go all in and so I always had one foot out.”
“Do you see your parents as happily married?”
“I saw them as happily raising children,” he says cryptically.
I ask him if being single at his age – 44- attracts a lot of cynicism from ladies.
“Yes! They ask themselves why you are single at 44. There must be something wrong with you.”
“Is there?” I ask. “Are their fears unfounded? I mean, if you were to evaluate yourself as a partner, what have been your limitations? Do you think you are complex to date?”
He laughs. “Well, I like my things to be a particular way. [Pause] I have OCD. I’m a Virgo; I’m not spontaneous, I’m very clean and organised, I get pissed off when people use a hand towel for a dish towel and when someone places a travel bag on the bed -”
“Hang on, why would that irritate you?”
“Do you know how many places a travel bag has sat? In the belly of the plane, the carousel…the travel bag is filthy.”
His mother continued praying for him and you know how mothers will throw your agenda in prayers randomly: “Also, Lord, you know the heart of my son, Lord, he is a special son, he doesn’t see the fruits that hang over his head. Jehovah, you know what he is searching for, please shine a torch in his heart, open his eyes and send a dutiful wife his way, someone God-fearing, she doesn’t even have to know how to cook mboco, just someone decent who doesn’t put a travel bag on his bed, that stuff gets him so pissed off, Lord…”
Then one day – last year – he met a lady who we will call Cleopatra because she reminded me of Cleopatra, the Egyptian queen that Julius Caesar loved. They met through mutual friends. He liked her. He liked her a lot. He felt something shift in him when he met her. “She ticked all the boxes,” he says. She was also 27-years old, which made her 17-years younger than him. She was light-skinned and curvy, the dangerous type of curves. She was an engineer, sharp as a whip, witty and personable. She challenged him. Also, she would never put a travelling bag on the bed.
He wooed her. He pursued her. He dropped everything to get her. Their first date after weeks of chatting was at that rooftop bar at Ibis hotel in Westlands. She had a vodka and sprite. She glowed from behind her glass. They talked and talked and talked until he kissed her. Their real date was at the rotating restaurant at Movenpick. The next date they left town, drove to Meru and Nyeri, she had on a great nail polish and her feet were wonderful – when you are into someone you will always think their feet are wonderful. On her birthday she took him to Hemingway in Karen, and got a room that overlooks Ngong Hills. She’d stand in the bathrobe looking at the breathtaking Ngong Hills and he’d lie on bed looking at her breathtaking self. On his birthday (their birthdays are a week apart) she took him to Kempinski. This love affair was in full swing.
“What I like most is her bubbly nature, she laughs easily. She has a wonderful spirit, a spirit that is big but also a bit defiant. I love her independence. She loves art, she stimulated me intellectually She was perfect and I let go for the first time and I was in with both legs.”
They discussed marriage. He wanted children. She wanted children. She was just the perfect fit (over and above the fact that she didn’t leave travel bags on the bed) she used the right towel, she gave him space when he needed space, she was mindful and caring and he brought her breakfast in bed.
A few months into dating he noticed that some of her things in his house were missing. He asked her about it and she said that she wanted some time to “think things through.” He was taken aback because things were going great. “What do you mean? What things?” She said she needed time to rethink the relationship. So she took time off. Then on 31st December, last year, she came to his house and told him that she couldn’t do it. That their age was going to be a problem for her family. “It hit me so hard,” he says. “I tried to understand what was going on, I even suggested we see a counsellor, but she was adamant. Her mind was already made up.”
“This was terrible because this is the only woman I ever completely let go for. Maybe it’s karma, maybe I was paying for all the girls I disappointed.” Shrug. “I even wrote a letter to her sister declaring my love to her sister and she wrote back and said she didn’t have a problem with my age. I thought that maybe there was someone else, you know…”
“What’s your state of mind now?”
“Heartbroken, I guess.” He chuckles.
“How does that feel? Does your house sound hollow with her absence? Do you smell her on your sheets?”
He laughs, but I’m not joking, I’m serious, I want to know. He says, “Sometimes I think that perhaps God is saving me, that being together, marrying would have been disastrous because perhaps she needs to live her life first.”
“Kiss a few frogs?”
“My friends say I should give her time. That she will come back.”
“How long can you wait, you are 44. Is there a biological clock ticking?”
“I don’t know. It’s just that I was sure this was the person I wanted to marry, now I’m in this place of confusion. My view is if you are not going to have kids then there is never any reason for marriage. There are many people who are happier not married.”
This is his first heartbreak. I wonder if heartbreaks at 44 are as bad as at 19 years. My only real heartbreak at 19, I felt like my heart was constantly being scrapped by a grater. I wanted to take it out and give it to someone and walk around without a heart. I was willing to contend with just my kidneys, liver and gallbladder.
I ask if I can see a picture of this heartbreaker. He shows me a picture of them at his birthday; they are kissing. I’ve never known how couples manage to kiss and take a selfie at the same time. There is another picture of her alone; she’s got a wonderful smile, she’s got black braids.
“She’s very beautiful, that’s for sure,” I say.
“I like the size 10s and 12s. You can tell I’m a boob guy.”
I laugh. “I can tell. I don’t meet boob-guys often, where do you guys hang out?” He laughs. I tell him, “You know, sometimes when I look at a couples picture I can always almost tell who loves the other more.”
“Yeah. The person who normally leans into the other in all pictures is more invested emotionally. It’s a subliminal and unconscious thing. Do you think you loved her more than she loved you?” I ask.
“That’s a hard one. Let’s put it this way; she is the kind of woman who I would stand by if she was rendered to a wheelchair for life. In fact, I would have been willing to stay with her even if she had said she didn’t want children. Look, let me show you my vision statement for 2019.” He hands me his phone where I read his vision statement that read in parts; live a balanced and meaningful and purposeful life for me and my family….to live a life that earns the love and respect of my partner and our family….to be personally responsible for my family’s financial independence…to be courageous enough to stand up for my values…” then his plans to travel to 32 countries, a home, etc.
“Jesus, people out there actually have ‘vision statements of life’ written down!” I say handing back the phone. “I feel so purposeless now.”
We sit there for a moment and I tell him. “I can actually see sadness in your eyes.”
He’s ideally looking for someone who can get married and have babies. I ask him what he’s bringing to the table and he says he’s considerate, he’s not mean-spirited and not judgemental. For now he lives a life of heartbreak. At the end of his day he goes back home to his empty three-bedroom apartment, he fixes a drink like he has always done everyday – a manhattan, or a vesper casino royale. He carries the drink to his bedroom, where he drinks it as he checks his emails or gets some work done. The TV is on but ignored. He then prepares dinner, which he carries back to his bedroom (he does everything in the bedroom) eats alone, then calls his parents on the phone. Then he takes a bath and gets into bed and lies on the side he has always laid on, her side untouched. He thinks of her before he sleeps. He wonders if there was more to the break up, if she is with someone else, younger than him; he thinks of how she used to pack his lunch in the mornings, he wonders if there is something she didn’t like about him.
I feel sorry for him. I do. Because he’s so damn sad. As if on cue, a lady friend sends me a Whatsapp that reads; I quote: “Where does one get good men? Hassle free…no drama…focused?”
I show it to him and he reads it. I say, “It’s amazing isn’t it? She doesn’t know that I’m meeting you. We haven’t even spoken in ages and she sends this. There is a woman out there who is looking for someone like you. Maybe you guys will meet, maybe you will never meet.”
He says something before we part ways. He says, “I wish she changes her mind, but the waiting is horrible.”
The registration for the Creative Writing Masterclass is now open. It’s on March 6-8th. To register please email [email protected] We have 14 slots left to go.