I had never heard of the phrase “Non-Resident Alien Spouse,” until this morning when Lekan rudely told me to go and look it up. His rejoinder left me upset and embarrassed but I went ahead and whipped out my phone and googled the phrase. I had never known Lekan to be rude in this way but maybe my question to him had touched a raw nerve, eliciting this impolite remark.
Let me start this story from the beginning;
Lekan was well liked in Hekima Estate. He was friendly, sociable and always ready to help. He came to as many community events as possible and was proud to introduce himself to any new neighbours.
“My name is Bakari Lekan,” he would say. “But everyone calls me Lekan. I am the Regional Legal and Compliance Director at Investech International. I stay in house number B12.”
Lekan lived in his three-bedroom maisonette alone, save for his houseboy Dunde. He had lived in this house for five years now and we had never met his family. Lekan drove a top of the range vehicle, wore expensive clothes accessorised with expensive watches, shoes and colognes.
He was often the subject of gossip at Hekima Nirvana Hair, our local hair salon.
“I wonder why Lekan, with all his wealth and good nature is not married,” one woman would say.
“I have never even seen or heard of him dating,” another would say.
“Maira tried to go out with him but failed terribly,” another woman would chime in. “Don’t tell her that I told you this!”
“Maybe he is gay,” the hairdresser would quip. “Maira is the hottest woman in this neighbourhood! I doubt any straight man would turn her down.”
“How old is he by the way?” a third woman would ask.
“I think he is in his late thirties or early forties,” the first woman would answer.
“And the way he is so good with kids,” the third woman would say. “He should at least get kids.”
Indeed, Lekan was very good with the children in the neighbourhood and was the universal “uncle.” He made toy cars with the boys out of old milk or juice boxes and dollhouses with the girls out of old carton boxes. He played soccer with the boys and skipped rope with the girls. None of the other men in the estate seemed to have the time or the energy to do all this.
Lekan’s personal life remained a mystery to everyone until one afternoon when all came to light. I was on leave and in my house watching TV when I received a call on the intercom.
“Mama Tindi, there are two women and two children at the gate claiming to be Lekan’s relatives,” the gateman said from the other end. “Lekan is at work and his mobile phone is off so I cannot reach him. There is nobody else I can reach in their houses and that is why I called you. One of the older women claims to be his mother and I would feel bad to keep her sitting here or to send her away.”
“Why don’t you come with them to my house and we can interrogate them further to see if they are indeed who they claim to be,” I told him.
A few minutes later, my doorbell rang and the gateman came in with the two women and two children. One of the women was indeed quite old. The children were a boy and girl. All were dressed in old and faded but clean and well-pressed clothing. The boy’s trouser had a patch at the knee and the girl’s t-shirt seemed to be too small for her as it fit her rather snuggly and did not go all the way down her waist.
“These are the people I was telling you about,” the gateman said.
“How are you,” I shook their hands and showed them into the living room.
“The gateman says you are Lekan’s relatives and you cannot reach him,” I began.
“Yes, said the older woman,” I am Lekan’s mother, Mwanaidi Lekan. This is his wife Natelo Lekan, his son Lekan Bakari and his daughter Naeku Lekan.”
“He did not know you were travelling here today?” I asked.
“We informed his brother who lives in Kabete to tell him because we usually have difficulty reaching him on phone,” the wife Natelo responded. “I don’t know if his brother told him.”
She spoke good English in a clear voice. Her demeanour, language and deportment contrasted sharply with her threadbare attire. She had on a kitenge skirt suit, but it was faded and I could see that it had seen quite a bit of repairs. Her hair was covered by a matching kitenge headscarf and she wore old and faded black ngoma rubber shoes on her feet.
“Just be open and tell this nice lady that Lekan keeps changing his number like someone who is running away from repaying his loans,” Mama Lekan said. “He comes for holiday in December and shares with us a new number but in January when he comes back to town, the number is no longer in service and we can only reach him through his brother Azam Lekan who lives and works in Kabete. In fact, it is Azam’s wife who gave us directions to this place.”
“Okay,” I said, shifting uncomfortably in my seat. I did not know how to respond to this. I felt that this was a family issue and doubted that I should be involved.
Lekan’s wife’s eyes started tearing. She pulled a handkerchief out of her kiondo and wiped away the tears then looked up at us, obviously struggling to fight back the tears and keep a brave face.
“I can call his office line if you wish,” I said. “We can get the telephone number of his company on their website.”
“Don’t do that,” Mama Lekan said. “We want to surprise him.”
“Okay,” I said again.
I went to the kitchen and quickly prepared tea and snacks for my visitors. As I did so, I could hear them talking in low tones but could not really catch what they were saying. I served the tea and sat down with them.
The two women did not say anything as they took their tea but the children giggled, pointing at one thing or another and talking to each other in a language I did not understand.
“Who are those in the picture,” the boy asked me.
His mother gave him a quelling look.
“Don’t disturb this nice lady with silly questions,” she admonished.
She turned to me and said, “Lekan, I mean the boy here, is a bright and curious boy and is full of many questions. You can ignore him.”
“He seems like a good boy,” I said. “How old is he?”
“He is twelve,” Lekan’s wife answered. “His sister here is seven years old and he has an elder brother Leshon who is eighteen years old.”
I nodded and we fell back into our silence.
“You see, I got married to Lekan fresh out of high school,” Lekan’s wife volunteered. “Actually it is more like, I got pregnant and moved in with him. He was at the university then, a second year student. He did not abandon the child or me. His parents supported me while he was still in school and after our first-born was born, he went to my parents and paid dowry and a year later, we went to the District Commissioner to register our marriage. Our first-born is now eighteen years old. He is working as a cashier at Shoprix Supermarket in Narok town as he waits to join University. We left him behind because he really needs to work hard and save towards his university fees.”
I nodded, encouraging her to continue telling her story.
“Lekan graduated from university and got a pupillage positon at a law firm in Narok Town which is about an hour’s drive away from our home,” she said. “He said that the firm did not pay much and so I should continue staying at home. He sent money here and there whenever he could. After pupillage, he got a good job in Nairobi and we joined him. We were staying in Ongata Rongai then. I got a job as an untrained teacher in a local primary school. Soon our second born was born and Lekan and I agreed that hospitals back home were cheaper and I should go and deliver there.”
“I went back home to deliver the baby,” she continued. “Lekan came to visit the baby and said that he had lost his job. He told me to continue staying at home with the baby and he would stay in town with our first born, Leshon as he continued hustling. However, at the end of the school term, he brought Leshon home and registered him at the local primary school claiming that he was hustling until late and could not take care of Leshon.”
“I was happy to have my son close to me and I did not complain much,” she said. “Lekan sent us money when he could and came to visit us every school holiday. I kept asking if he had got a job but he was always evasive. After our third born came, the frequency of his visits reduced and eventually stopped for about two years and then he started coming home for Christmas only. He also stopped sending us money for upkeep.”
Mama Lekan jumped in here, “I saw that my daughter-in-law was smart and hardworking and that if she went to college, she would earn enough to support her family. My grandson Leshon was about to go to secondary school and his school fees would be a burden. Baba Lekan and I discussed and we took our daughter-in-law to Narok TTC. She just graduated last December and started looking for a job.”
Lekan’s wife nodded.
“I told her that there is no use of getting a job here,” Mama Lekan said. “She should go and look for a job in Nairobi where her husband lives because there are more opportunities there. She should live with her husband and he should get to know his wife and children. His daughter was to join class one this year but I said to the head teacher that she should join class one in Nairobi where her father lives.”
“Baba Lekan got a loan from his SACCO to enable us travel here today.” Mama Lekan continued. “You children of today should learn to stay together as a family.”
I was lost for words. Who would have imagined that Lekan had a son who was ready for university? With the way he loved children, I wondered why he did not strive to be closer to his own.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, Lekan came home that evening and took his family to his house. Of course, he was shocked by their sudden visit but he played it cool, hugged his mother, his wife and children and thanked me for hosting them.
I do not know what discussions took place in house number B12 that night. What was clear, however, is that the discussions must have gone south because the next morning, sitting strategically at my dining room window, I saw Lekan escort his mother, wife and kids to the main gate, dressed as they were the previous day and carrying their bundles of luggage with them.
After about ten minutes, he returned without them. I did not have the courage to ask him whether they had gone back to the village. Instead, I did what city folks do and minded my own business.
That was three years ago. I have never seen Lekan’s family visit him again. Lekan remains an acquaintance but I have never broached the subject of his absent family with him.
Not until this morning when I asked him, “How are your wife and kids Lekan? You must miss them terribly!”
“Read up on non-resident alien spouses,” he responded rudely and walked away.