On March 1st 2020, Karen and her boyfriend, Adams, moved to a three-bedroom house at Thome Estate. It was a dream come true. They had lived in a one-bedroom house in Maternity, Kasarani for five years. Saturdays were a nightmare because they’d be woken by someone looking to drive out of the “plot”, and they’d need all neighbors to wake up and reverse their cars out of the parking to give way.
The people who wake up the earliest always parked deepest. It looked like some sinister motive, at first, but it later dawned on Karen that it was a first-come-first-park forced arrangement.
When July came, Adams did not know the whereabouts of Karen. Their marriage had taken a swift turn and accelerated to a quick demise. None of them knows what happened because one day they were furnishing their house, and the next, Karen was nowhere.
They did not have a baby. They were an ordinary Kenyan couple that shares bills in a symbiotic and codependence way that reflected on their love since they bumped into each other at the computer center in Kenyatta University.
By the time they took the three-bedroom house, they felt like swans. They had chosen each other for a lifetime. They were planning on getting two kids, and they had reasoned that their kids would not share a room with the nanny or visitors because they had read sad stories on the internet.
Their perfect story met COVID and it disintegrated. The first month was fine. They worked from home, hugged from behind, toasted over mini-achievements, and shared bottles of wine. Working from home gave them a chance to rediscover each other, and things even got steamy for a moment, something that’s uncharacteristic of Kenyan long-term relationships.
But pandemics don’t feed on hope. They feed on anxiety and Karen was just looking after her interests.
Something flew out of the window when Adams received a letter from HR asking him to take a three-month unpaid leave. Karen got lucky as she only received a 20% pay-cut. Between them, their savings, and the grim poverty, they had a backup for 45 days, maximum.
They were not worried because they had been through worse. They moved in after college because none of them had enough for one person, but when they combined their efforts, they could at least feed two mouths. Whenever they could not find something to feed on, they’d have each other. Sometimes they afforded a vodka and savored it with lemon and on the occasional good day they would take the William Lawson’s concoction; they’d call it whisky.
When I talk to Adams, he is not mad at all. He understands why Karen left. He understands that he ran out of time. He knows that she left because they had been on autopilot for years, and the COVID pandemic revealed the fissures; the divergent paths that they had taken in their 20s, even though they stayed together.
Before the pandemic, their days and weeks were simple. Jump out of bed at 5:45 a.m. Adams would go straight to the kitchen and Karen to the bathroom. Adams needed to leave the house at 7 a.m. but Karen worked at the other side of town, so she’d always be on her way by 6:30 a.m. It made sense that Adams made breakfast as his love readied for work. Weekends would be the same old; Friday evenings would be spent with respective friends, mostly in town on an agreement that they went home in the same cab. Saturdays were for chilling and cleaning unless they had events or chamas to attend. It is the way of the city.
The first thing one does when they lose their job or get a letter of unpaid leave is to panic and try something, anything. That explains why we had so many car-boots open, with people selling eggs, back in May. A crate of eggs gives you a profit of 30 bob, mostly, and you need to sell 900 crates a month to raise 25,000 rent. That is when you forget the cost of transport and labor. And selling eggs was the first thing Adams tried. He was not ready for the disappointment.
The second thing that one tries after they lose a job is to perform their professional services to clients. You will see an accountant advertising “tax filings” or a marketing executive printing brochure for “digital marketing” and consultancy for “accelerated market penetration drive.” They forget that in times of crisis, the chance is that everyone is in the red and they cannot afford the services. Or worse, they forget that building a business is not for the faint-hearted, that only 0.9% of the working population is self-employed, in Kenya.
Not like I know what one should do. Not even thinking about what one should do when he loses a job and a girl.
But I know a few things come handy when you get stuck in life.
Friends. Friends are a very useless investment when things are okay. Friends feed on alcohol, time, attention and money (fundraisers, anyone?). When you have a full-time job and a full-time lover, these things become expensive and you just let your friendships die. Someone who was bosom to you de-blossoms into an emojist on your Whatsapp whenever you post a status.
The independence that comes with a job and a few savings reduces the need for friends. But if there is anything that COVID has revealed is that investing in friendships is a sure way of overcoming adversity. During this pandemic, I have seen families get saved by friendships. Of course, it also depends on your ability to discern and bond with friends. An acquaintance is not a friend, so don’t go around cursing people who left your life when you went broke. Those were good-time people.
Family. Family is another burden that does not make sense on a cost-benefit analysis. They eat your money without refunding. They expect you to be there for birthday parties, weddings, and funerals. But before you view the family as a burden, just think about their usefulness when things go awry. Unlike friends, family comes through for you without expectations.
The busy schedules for Karen and Adams took away their investment into friendships and family. When Adams broke the news to Karen that he couldn’t afford to raise the rent for June, Karen was quick to remind him that she had taken a loan to repair the car, only a few months earlier. She lost her mind and pulled the classic “other men are making things happen” line that turned Adams into a wild beast. That night, they crossed the red-line that usually destroys relationships around the world; physical and verbal fight.
When Adams woke up, Karen had left, without a note. Later that day Adams forwarded a note to the landlord saying he’d be moving to a cheaper house. He tried to call friends for help but they sounded distant. His family reminded him that he had missed all gatherings for the last three years, and they had better problems.
When we talk Adams is hopeful that Karen will get back to her senses and come back. It is good to have hope. But pandemics don’t feed on hope. They feed on anxiety and Karen was just looking after her interests. Like everyone, apart from government COVID tenderers, she was just trying to survive. She did the right thing, the only right thing, in light of the circumstances.