I found Norma the tea-lady crying alone in the kitchen yesterday morning when I went to fetch myself a spoon for my yoghurt. I don’t usually know what to do when people cry but I put my arms around her shoulders and shut the door. When she stopped sobbing I asked her what the matter was. What she told me will shock you as it did me.
I know that Norma lives alone with her 2 children across the city at a place called Dandora, in the vicinity of a garbage dump. I’ve dropped her off a few times when it’s been raining a storm and I was privately appalled at the condition of the place she calls home. It’s a gloomy but clean top floor 10ft by 10ft claustrophobic room in a 6-storey high lift-less tenement block, the kind where Nairobi’s forgotten millions live.
In between sniffles and using my tie to dab her eyes I managed to extract the story behind the tears. Errant husband David returned from a 4 year-hiatus last month and Norma unwisely welcomed him back. All was going swimmingly well until Monday when Norma arranged to meet prodigal hubby at lunchtime to draw money from her Barclays account Masaba road. This money was not her savings but rather a loan taken from the cooperative to be repaid over 3 years. 150k. It was intended for setting up a small shop for their 20 year old daughter Alice who like a majority of young people can’t seem to find any meaningful work nowadays.
Well here comes the bad news. David has taken off with the cash. All 150,000 shillings of a loan that Norma has to scrimp and scrape to pay back. And the nightmare part where you need to be sitting down is he has run away together with Alice, who I came to learn is his step-daughter. I didn’t take in the full impact of the last statement, until Norma explained bitterly, ‘Amemchukua kama bibi yake.’ (He has taken her as his wife). I had to sit down; I thought I was going to pass out. During Norma’s only answered phone call to her husband he drunkenly told her they were both at an undisclosed location and Alice even came on the phone to say she was ‘taking care of baba because mum you have failed to play your part!’
To be continued.