The millenial sticks her head around the door to my office. I have headphones on, which is the universal sign for “do not disturb”, but this is a millennial; they care not about the universe. This one is called Becky Genga. She has big imposing hair, a very big, black mane that rises like the shadow of a baobab. She likes cake and sweet things. She also has a sweet wit. I reluctantly pause Stephen Colbert and pull up one side of my headphones to allow her words to get through. “Do you have a moment?” She asks how I choose my interviewees. I drape my headphones around my neck like a used towel and give her the long “man eat dog” analogy. Then she says she thinks her sister would make a good story. I ask why she thinks so. She says, “Because she’s 40-years old and she’s a virgin.”
Well, Stephen Colbert can wait for much longer.
“Why is she a virgin at 40?” I ask her.
She shrugs and says she doesn’t quite know why but suspects it’s something to do with her steadfastness in church. Also, it’s not a subject that she would easily broach with her given that she’s the last born of a family of seven and between her and her sister is a 13-year gap. I tell her that I can interview her but only if she is willing to use her name and not a pseudonym. She says, “Let me ask her,” then steps out into the balcony in the bright mid-morning sun. Through the glass wall I see her leaning against the railing, phone pressed against her ear, mouth moving, nodding, listening, shifting her weight from one leg to the other, walking to the corner of the balcony, looking four floors below, back turned to me. She is gone for a few minutes. Eventually she comes back and says, “She has agreed. Her name is Dorine Genga.”
Blue was a colour favoured by the blessed mother – the Virgin Mary. It is said that the Virgin Mary is iconically depicted to be wearing a red outer garment and a blue undergarment, representing how she carried divinity (Jesus) within her humanity. Goes to show how unoriginal fashion is, because the Virgin Mary was colour blocking long before you even knew what that was. This colour, which has been associated with the Virgin Mary in christian art for the past thousand years or so, is called Marian Blue. It’s a sacred colour and it reminds us of Mary’s faithfulness. I know all this not because I go to church but because I googled “what is the colour of virginity?” Google is extra, yeah?
Well, when I finally met Dorine at Mediterraneo Restaurant in Gigiri, she wasn’t in Marian Blue but in a purple dress and purple lipstick. Purple, is derived from mixing red and blue, if I remember correctly. Biblically, purple is obtained by mixing red (flesh) and blue (word of God) and the result is royalty. In darker hues it suggests magic and mystery. It’s also associated with luxury, ambition, wisdom, dignity, grandeur, devotion and pride. Purple may also represent sexual frustration or a need to appear unorthodox, and is apparently a favourite colour of artists, which might suggest that artists are sexually frustrated, which is cock. Anyway, the internet is like the Bible, you can interpret it in any way that floats your boat.
Dorine doesn’t look sexually frustrated as she sits there and orders sparkling water and juice and I order chicken pizza. I came with expectations, of course. You would too. I thought that a 40-year old virgin would speak very softly. Would take time to chew over questions. Would laugh in a low tone, like a brood of mating doves. I thought a 40-year old virgin would not call me “chocolate man,” because that kind of thing is only the province of lost sheep wandering the vast wasteland of sin and debauchery.
To be clear, she’s more than a 40-year old virgin. She’s a sister, a friend, a daughter, an aunt. She is a professional too; she works for a development donor agency in Gigiri. She makes important decisions. She probably has her own tray with a thermos flask in her office, and a printer. Maybe even her name on her door. Yes, but let’s not pretend that we want to know a lot about how the donor development works. What we want to know is the “why” because we know the “how” the “when” and the “what”. We want to know how one can keep their virginity for all these years in this day and age of the very persuasive and amorous men who send women pictures of their penises as a highly sophisticated art of seduction.
Have you noticed that when your pizza comes you look at it and think it won’t satisfy you but when you eat two slices you already feel so full? Is it the cheese or what? Pizza is not a meal, it’s a trick.
Dorine has always been faithful in church. Actually since she was 18-years old. She’s a church girl, through and through. She says, “The conscious decision was and has always been to not engage in premarital sex. You want to be in a relationship that’s fulfilling and progressive. And there wasn’t a point at which, uhm, I would say I felt like I needed to give myself away sexually. It was harder in my 30s, to fight off that temptation, but the fact is that I now feel like my virginity is a part of me that’s really special that I need to give to somebody who I want to honour. I think for me it’s important to go through this process, the traditional stuff, all the way to the altar. Then I will basically have tested my character in such a way that I have a good foundation on which to build that marriage. And so at that point, I feel like I will be able to unwrap this gift that I’ve been, quote unquote, keeping safe for this particular person.”
I groan a little and shift in my chair, not because of the pizza (which is okay, really) but because of the word “gift.” I tell her, “You know how gifts work, right? So, sometimes it’s your birthday and then someone, a loved one, gives you a gift that they think will blow you away, but then you unwrap it and you find out it’s a tie or a belt. But the belt is not your type of belt, it’s a terrible belt. You know you will not want to wear this belt again as long as you have a pulse. That’s how gifts sometimes work. Question is, don’t you worry that this person might not like this gift you have kept so well for him?”
She laughs. “Well, yes and no,” she says. When someone says “yes and no,” be ready, they are going to talk for hours.
“Yes, because of what people say.”
“And what do people say?”
“I mean, I work in an environment that’s very liberal and people always say that one has to ‘test drive’ a car before they buy it and I’m like, I’m not a car. Yes, so what if the other person does not appreciate it? Well, if this is the package that you want, you’ll take this package as it is, and work with it. My belief and my understanding of meaningful relationships is that they are about a set of values that you have and share. And so if the gift I give you is gonna cost me so much that I lose my own sense of value and sense of well-being, then it’s too costly.”
I chew on my pizza. She’s having some crazy juice that has beetroot. I try to avoid beetroot juice because when I pee the next morning I pee red.
“Would you feel devalued if you chose to have sex with somebody you liked and it didn’t go anywhere?” I ask her. If they dated for a year and one day he got posted to Dodoma where there is no wifi and no means to keep the relationship afloat and he sent an email with the title; I write this with a heavy heart, because he was those guys who starts writing an email from the subject, which should have been the first sign that the relationship was not going to go anywhere. Would you feel devalued?’
“I probably would,” she says.
“What if you enjoyed the sex?” I press on.
She pauses. “I think I would probably still feel devalued because my conscience would kick in and the sense of guilt is what would make me feel devalued. And I feel like more and more, there are a lot of conversations to silence that conscience and that guilt, which I think is a very dangerous thing because it permeates into other areas and you don’t realize it.”
“So does this voice grow louder or quieter the older you get?” I ask.
“The voice to stay committed?”
“Depends on the season,” she laughs. “Season meaning my frame of mind. If everything is fine and dandy and I’m happy, I really don’t want to compromise on my values. But when I am in a place of neediness and stuff is not working out and I’m looking for some emotional crutch, so to speak, it’s easy to think, ‘it wouldn’t be so bad to get…’”
She dates. Men. She says that she dates men of the “same persuasion”. I like that expression, haven’t heard it in a minute; the same persuasion. To mean men of her own spiritual and social beliefs. She never dated in university because she felt that those were not men but “boys.” She has met and dated a couple men from her work circles, but most have been men of the church. She has dated men who started respecting her faith as they respected their own. Dating for her, she told me, is like dating for anybody else who is not in church or not a virgin; coffee and dinner and sitting at corner tables and laughing at jokes and talking about “riparian” or “SANY” or her interests or his golfing or whatever it is that Kenyans talk about on dates. I always imagined that churchfolk only talk about prophets in the Bible and King David and the miracle Jesus performed with five loaves of bread and a couple of fish. I was not too surprised to learn that just like us, most church guys also perhaps look at their dates in a manner likely to suggest that they want to do unchristian things to them. That they also secretly stare at their date’s posterior as she walks away to go powder her nose in the washroom, clutch purse tucked under her arm.
“Of course there are men from my faith who started wanting and expecting more after a while. Some get physical, wanting to touch and kiss and just can’t keep their hands off me. At this point I always know that our values are different and that’s the point to part. Not all the church men I have dated are like this, of course, but a good number of them have been, in my experience, two-faced.”
She also gets younger men who chase her. “Because they know where you work, they think you make good money and imagine that you must be very lonely and desperate. That you need someone to warm your bed. So they really don’t bring anything to the table other than the saviour mentality. On the first coffee date they sit back and expect you to pay, they want to borrow your car and expect you to cook for them. I’m always like, ah-ah, that doesn’t work for me.”
She believes in what the Bible says about chastity; to keep the marriage bed holy.
“The bible says that we should not defile the marriage bed, which I see in two ways. I see it in faithfulness in marriage and the second way that sex is spiritual as it is physical and emotional. When you go out and have sex with three or five people before marriage, you’re basically bringing those people spiritually with you to your matrimonial bed,” she says. “I also do a bit of mentoring and counselling and I’ve seen some of that. Many times I’ve seen that if somebody who goes through a rape ordeal doesn’t go through the process of counseling well, they get promiscuous. Which in a sense you would not expect them to. And so it’s like whoever they connected with in whatever state or form left something in them that draws them to others, for lack of a better way of explaining it.”
“Would you be open to marrying someone who has had multiple partners?” I ask.
“Yes,” she says.
“But wouldn’t they be bringing history and different spirits to your matrimonial bed?”
“They would, but the other thing is it’s not the only value that brings you to the table, right? That might have been your experience before, in your past, and hopefully you have learned from it, and have sort of rethought how you approach the whole issue of sex. If we have the same mindset now, we can work.”
I give up on my pizza. Three tables away a caucasian man is literally almost smelling the neck of his date, an Asian lady in her late 40s. There are four cars in the parking, one is mine, one is Dorine’s and the other two are red plates, which means it’s Friday off for these two and Mediterraneo seems like a good quiet place for this guy to make good his case. He seems to be doing okay; the lady is all smiles, giving him a lot of attention, laughing at his jokes.
I want to ask Dorine about her hymen but I’m looking for a window to throw it in casually. I ask her if her body reminds her in any way that she lacks sex? She says, “The doctors really are not clear about this but they say that the womb needs a child as one grows older and if it doesn’t get a child by a certain age it starts to create its own, that’s why I have fibroids. Other doctors say my fibroids are a result of my diet.”
I ask about her hymen and whether she believes that as one grows older it gets harder to break. This is according to the street gynaecologists that we all meet in the bars, chaps who have never studied gynecology but seem to know a hell lot about the hymen and what makes it tough. “I don’t have a hymen,” she says, “I lost it during one of the surgeries to take care of my fibroids.”
“You broke your hymen in a hospital,” I say. “How romantic!”
She chuckles. She says she was under anesthesia when the hymen was being broken anyway and was only told by the gynae when she woke up that they needed to break it. But it’s not the hymen that makes you a virgin. There are many types of virgins. Even those who practice secondary virginity. If there are men out here practicing secondary virginity, do you mind raising your hands, please? Don’t be shy now.
She gets sexual urges. “Especially when I see a fine brother that’s hanging around,” she says. I ask, hanging around? In church? “Do you sit in your pew and watch some guy play the piano, stare at his hands stroke the keys of the piano, as he sings some Psalms? Do you feel something, just staring at Mr. Long Fingers handle that piano?”
She laughs and says no. She then bursts my bubble and says that she is actually attracted to the mind of a man. [Yawn]. She is a sapiosexual. She likes a man to stimulate her mind, someone she can have intelligent conversations with. “Somebody with good language and diction, like, can you present, can you show up in a big way,” she says. “Somebody who believes in something beyond them. Because you can strum the guitar and sing me a song and it will pass. But somebody with whom I can have long conversations, that’s likely to last longer. Then there’s more of a mind-spirit connection than just physical.”
So in short she has been making love with her mind, not her body? I ask. She protests. “Ha-ha, what a weird way to put it. Gosh. I wouldn’t repeat it.”
If this profile fits you, then you are the kind of man she is open to. He has to be dark. So you light fellows who use sunscreen, please, kindly sit on those seats at the back. Thanks for coming. I have just noticed writing this that this completely disqualifies Otile Brown. He should also not be short, at least not shorter than her because she’s “short enough for the both of us.” She also doesn’t like very tall men. Maybe because they will block her sun. It would be really nice if you have a job but even if you don’t, you have a plan. She wants someone with a vision, not someone who just wings it. Someone she can listen to speaking and think, “My goodness, what is he saying?” She wants someone of the same – wait for it – spiritual persuasion. Because her hope is that they can pray together, go to church together, raise their children with the same values that are based on the understanding of salvation. She also wants someone who values education, who won’t be intimidated when she gets a “Dr.” title before her name.
But she can negotiate. Which means she might be persuaded if you meet all these but you are light-skinned. (Unfortunately Otile Brown still doesn’t make the cut, though. He isn’t of the same spiritual persuasion.) She can look away if you don’t exactly have a 10-year plan, maybe five. But the one thing she won’t compromise is the faith. That is the motherboard, everything sits there.
“Does it get lonely? Do you sometimes want to be held and have someone whisper things (not all clean) in your ear?”
She laughs. “It has its moments, yes. But for the most part I’m content, peaceful, happy, I actually like my life. I feel like I’m working in a sector that’s making meaningful contribution to the people. I feel like in my own little way, with the ladies that I mentor, I’m contributing positively in their lives. So if I become a forever spinster, a 55- year old virgin, then so be it.” She then adds, “I made a conscious decision not to get to a place of desperation. I made the decision in my thirties not to stress looking to fulfill one small aspect of my life when there is a lot of it that is working. My life can’t be about the missing small piece. It’s like saying my life can’t move on because I don’t have the Range Rover I’ve always wanted.”
“Do you ever wonder what happens if this guy you are keeping your virginity for never shows up?” I ask her.
“Yes. It’s a possibility.”
“What happens then?”
“Nothing happens. Singlehood is not a disease,” she says.
I leave and I go to Village Market to meet a friend for a drink and she asks who I was interviewing and I tell her that it was a 40-year old virgin and she asks why she is a 40-year old virgin and I tell her that it’s because she has a gift and she’s yet to meet someone who is worthy of that gift. She sighs and thoughtfully stirs the crushed ice in her drink with a wooden stirrer. “She’s a unique one,” she says. I signal the waiter and order a stiff one.