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ELECTION 2022

Silent treatment can be deadly

SUNDAY MAGAZINE
By Benson Riungu | Sep 28th 2014 | 3 min read

Experience has taught me to be highly circumspect about inquiring after acquaintances or old friends I have not seen in a long time.

In a number of occasions, when I have been so rash as to do so, I have been met with either a look of surprise or reproach, depending on the case, and questions.

“Where have you been, man, are not you aware that so-and-so went to America eight years ago?”

Or, more damning, “That man has been dead for a good ten years!”

In either case, there is the unspoken accusation that you have either become anti-social or you are badly out of circulation.

Yet the truth is that the best of us will in the fullness of time be victims of social mobility and natural attrition.

I was keeping to a well-worn script therefore when the other day I met in a pub a friend I had not seen for quite a while.

We started chewing the fat about old times.

In a roundabout way, I raised the matter of a common friend we had shared a flat with when we first came to live in the big city during our youth.

Shared is the wrong word — he was an older man who had come to Nairobi before us by some years, and he had invited us to join him in the flat in Eastleigh and share rent.

He was very strict, especially with money, to our young minds a mean man.

He never could understand how we could receive our salaries at the end of the month and be stone broke in a few days, and had to walk to and from work because we did not have one shilling which was the fare from city centre to Eastleigh.

Surprisingly, our friend would often join us in the walk though he would have a hundred-shilling note prominently tucked into his shirt pocket.

In the 70s, that was an awful lot of money to young men  who had come to the city from the village.

At times, we would all sleep hungry even though we knew the hundred bob was still there.

We regarded him with a mixture of awe and hatred.

I need not have feared that our old nemesis had relocated to America or worse, to his maker upstairs.

A public servant, I learnt that he had been transferred to a station near his home.

But he had not changed his old strict ways, and my friend told me a story about him that reminded me of  a story I read years ago in a book by Can Themba, the late South African journalist.

It was about a resident of Soweto who got home from work unexpectedly to find his wife entertaining another man in their marital bed.

When the interloper heard the man of the house open the front door, he leapt to safety through a widow but forgot his suit, shirt and shoes.

The cuckold was politeness personified when he entered the bedroom and realised what had been happening in his absence.

He took the clothes and shoes and in a most friendly tone told his frightened wife that they needed to be hospitable to their “visitor.”

He neatly put the clothes on a hanger and put them in the wardrobe.

Early the following morning, he woke up the wife and told her they needed to take their “visitor” for a walk.

The “trio” walked to the shops and back. The same thing happened in the evening and for several days.

One day he came back home and found that his wife had hanged herself in the bedroom.

While we were still living in Eastleigh, our common friend heard that his wife was being unfaithful.

Far from confronting her, he constructed an extra wing to their house, presented her with the keys and told her to continue enjoying herself without fear.

It was some 30 years since this happened when I met my friend at the pub, but he tells me that our common friend had not been intimate with his wife ever since.

They are still married but inhabit separate worlds.

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