He was a man headed home, and she was a woman waiting for her man’s call. They both didn’t get what they wanted, and two years later, Sheila Wanyanga is still smarting from the callous way her husband died.
“There he lay on a table. The man I knew and loved. Still looked the same, only very cold and oh so still. I wanted him to wake up and talk to me so badly,” she says, dabbing her eyes with a white handkerchief tightly clutched in her hand.
This was two years ago in the cold confines of Nairobi‘s Mater Hospital morgue. She was 28. He had been 31 when the freak accident in the hands of rogue bus operators snuffed out his vigour. Forever.
Today, when the 30-year-old woman wakes up, her gaze is unconsciously drawn to the portrait on the wall of her modest home in Kisumu. A house that if things were different, would be home to a happy family of three. However, it houses a subdued two. Every morning, the woman’s gaze lingers on the portrait for a moment before she snaps out of the momentary darkness that threatens to overwhelm her. A longing so deep and anger so real that she feels it could shatter her heart into a million pieces. But she won’t take down the picture. She refuses to take it down. She feels protected by it. A sort of talisman, a comfort, for herself and her three-year-old son.
“I like to think that he is watching down on us,” she says.
She has had some pretty dark days. Thoughts of suicide have crossed her mind severally. And she has sought a counsellor to slay her demons. She has to live, if for nothing else, for her little boy. The beautiful Kennan.
A petite beauty with dark glowing skin, Sheila Wanyanga is still waking up from the nightmare that began about two years ago. She sniffles, a small sound that breaks into the silence, before staring hard at the wall. She is trying hard not to break into sobs, and I am oddly struck by her apparent vulnerability while in awe of her quiet strength. She then smiles brightly and sits up straighter in her chair.
"Sometimes, I wonder if he is really dead,“ she says, her voice now strong and clear.
“Chris was a great man. I fell in love with him as soon as I met him. Truly love at first sight. We were really good and fun together,” she adds with a smile.
The last call
Soon after, the lovebirds were married and had a son, and while they settled into their marriage, their career stars continued rising.
“He got a job in Nairobi’s United Bank of Africa and I remained in Kisumu because I had a good job as a sociologist at a Kisumu hospital and my business was doing well.”
The couple made the distance work.
“He called me up every morning. It was ‘our thing’. How we began the day before getting into the grind of things.”
Their future was filled with such hope and promise. Until it didn’t.
One Friday in December 2016, Sheila recalls not getting the always punctual call from her husband.
Thinking it was highly unusual that they had gone about their day without talking to each other, Sheila called him up.
“It was on Friday about 2pm. He was fine but sounded a little detached. So I flirted with him a little and he talked to our son for a while before ringing off. He explained that he had a lot to do at work and that he would call me later.”
Sheila went about her day and in the evening after the baby was soundly asleep, got ready for bed.
“Just as I was nodding off, I heard a loud persistent knock on the door. I opened it to find my sister-in law standing there, gazing at me anxiously. When I asked her what the matter was, she mumbled that she had come to watch my son because my husband had been involved in an accident and I would be occupied.”
Not thinking too much about it, she woke up her son and checked her phone only to find many unreturned calls from her father in-law and Chris’s friends.
“I soon found out that he was in hospital undergoing treatment. I needed to find out what had happened and so I dialed Chris’s number.”
The phone went unanswered before it finally became unreachable.
“And that is when another sister in-law called me up and told me Chris was dead.”
At that moment, Sheila recalls feeling like her world had been turned upside down. I couldn’t believe it.
“It seemed strange. I felt that Chris couldn’t have died just like that,” she says, her voice fading into a whisper.
“I remember my son holding on tightly to my dress and I taking his hands, and marching out of the house while trying to make sense of everything.”
Four in the morning found Sheila and her son at the airport boarding the first flight out to Nairobi.
Witnesses say that Chris, who resided in Nairobi’s South C estate, had boarded a Kenya Bus from town at 8pm. While he was planning to alight at bus stop, the driver failed to stop and drove on at high speed, ignoring Chris’s pleas to be allowed to alight.
This prompted Chris to confront the conductor. It was at this point, witnesses said, that that the conductor opened the door and pushed him off the moving bus and onto the road.
Chris fell face down onto the road and the bus sped off. Post-mortem results showed he died immediately.
A Good Samaritan looked at his documents and called his employer. That‘s how his family got the news.
‘‘I was angry and helpless at the thought of my husband being treated like an object which could be thrown out of a moving bus,” she says, her face irritated.
While the matter was reported to the Industrial Police Station and the bus impounded while the driver and the conductor were arrested, they were released hours later.
“So far nothing has been done. We have gone to the police station a couple of time and no one seems to care. The police claim there are no witnesses and there is nothing they can do.”
The Kenya Bus Service denied that one of their buses – registration number KBB652G had caused the accident on December 2, 2016.
A press release dated December 8, by Kenya Bus Service Ltd Management said Chris was not pushed out of the bus by the crew as alleged.
“The information we have from passengers indicates that Mr Otiende was on phone and suddenly realised he had passed his stage, he stood up from his seat and headed towards the door. The conductor was still at the back issuing tickets,” read the statement.
The press release claimed Chris opened the door while the bus was in motion, and an argument ensued between him and some passengers seated near the door who were telling him to close the door since they were feeling cold.
“Otiende abused the passenger in the scuffle as he tried to jump out. The passengers then pushed him out of the bus and he fell and was run over. The bus came to a stop and after realising what had happened, the passenger who had pushed Otiende got off the bus and ran away disappearing into the dark,” the statement read.
Otiende’s relatives still believe it was the bus conductor who pushed their son to his death.
A widow’s reality
But it has been a double tragedy for Sheila as she is also fighting battles with her in-laws.
“They claim that Kennan is not Chris’s son each time wrangles revolving around money and property he left behind escalate,” she said.
Besides that, Sheila has had to seek counselling for suicidal thoughts. She sometimes has to remind herself that Chris is truly gone.
“I still think that someday, he will call me up in the morning like he used to. Sometimes that is what keeps me going,” she says.
Has she forgiven those who have caused her pain? I prod.
“It pains me that my husband will never get justice and someone will get away with murder, but I forgive the perpetrators,” she says stoically.