Following our engagement last week, I felt there wouldn’t have been a better time to do our love story. Something that I have wanted to do for so many months now; but somehow just had to wait until the timing was perfect. Writing this hasn’t been informed by a false imagination that we are somehow popular and people would love to hear our story. Neither is it born out of people asking us to; only a few younger friends I’ve had the privilege to pour into their lives have occasionally asked. I’m doing this because of a strong conviction that God will be glorified by it. Ours is a story of His great mercy and love, and our hope is that at the end of the three-part series that will run for three weeks, people will praise Him. That they will not wish they were us, but instead they’ll seek Him whom we have.
Wish I’d begin with the catchy line of ‘summer of 2013’ but, too bad we don’t have those here. Here at home we can only say ‘it was during the rainy season or the dry season of 2013’. That doesn’t sound perfect for a romantic story though, does it? Anyways, 2013, that’s when we really became friends. Of course we had met before, this being our third year in campus. I had been present when she tried for the Miss Moi University title in our first year of studies. I’m sure word had gotten to her of my disastrous attempt for the same, men’s category, the following year. We both weren’t really saved then; and I doubt we ever talked, perhaps only when we would occasionally say hi whenever we met. We would both give our lives to Christ in 2012, with a space of a few weeks between us.
I sat behind her in church that beautiful afternoon both her and Teckla, her best friend, gave their lives to Christ. Strangely they both felt a prompting and individually responded. I had already joined the worship team, and grown a little popular. Jose, the drunk, spiky haired and loud fella known to almost every crazy girl on campus getting saved! That was highlight worthy. But while to the world my recent unbelievable transformation may have been the thing to watch, my attention was on something different. Rather, someone different. This slim, stunningly beautiful lady before me giving her life to Christ was the miracle I couldn’t take my eyes from. Though we never interacted much, I knew her sinful self well. And here she was, receiving mercy and looking all so new.
Watching her grow in Christ felt exciting like watching a baby learn to walk would. She had this zeal that just couldn’t stop at anything until she experienced the fullness of Christ. Before I knew it, both her and Teckla had joined ushering ministry. Whether because they thought they were fair enough for that, I have no idea. What I know is going to church became much sweeter. I honestly would look forward to that smile when she would welcome us into church. Or on days I would be luckier than usual, she would be the one collecting offerings from the row I sat. I wasn’t the most gifted in that Grace Chapel Worship team, but I suspect my singing grew a lot since she joined church. She was always attractive in these long Swahili dresses she loved donning. They always perfectly fit her. Simply put, I had met beauty and it wasn’t about to let me breathe.
Apart from confessing to friends from church who apparently were sharing in my suffering still thanks to her, I couldn’t do much. I knew she was way out of my league and so I couldn’t even try. Imagining us together was already too great an accomplishment and even if nothing ever happened, I still was the man. But this one evening, opportunity availed. I was on my way to see a friend at their hostel and she was heading out to the shops. We said hi, and I joked about joining her for supper. She was like, “O that’s fine, you are so welcome.”
“Wait, did she just say that to me? Oh man am so done! What am I going to say to her now?” I said to myself.
I couldn’t take back my request, and she was gone. There was no canceling, I had to go. Soon I was standing at the door of her room. K 129 it was. A gentle knock, perhaps trying to pass as a gentleman. A welcoming voice from inside followed, and I was shown in. I offered myself a space to sit, and did my best to make myself comfortable. She wasn’t going to find out I was nervous. I wouldn’t let that happen. So I talked a lot, joked a lot and teased a lot. We would be eating a meal of rice and beans. Nothing unusual, but this would be special. First because it was cooked by the patience and skillfulness of a woman. From the Coast for that matter. And secondly, for very obvious reasons.
Every time I walked into a lady’s room I’d be fascinated watching them connect their coils to open sockets with wires protruding outside. Not that I never did that, everyone in Moi did. But it was just so unlike a woman, and the fun only increased when I found one who did it so fearlessly. To every relative and friend, please make sure to give those ladies a hero’s welcome every time they close school and come back home to you. This particular day though, I found interest in something different. I was fascinated by how Isla cooked her rice!
I will say this; my name is Joseph Okoth Wanyama, and I am a Luhya. I’ve never flown a plane, flown in one or hang on one. I have never started a religion and claimed deity. I have never watched a bull fight or worked as a night guard. But one thing is true, I love food. I respect chicken and fish enough to never enjoy them with anything that’s not ugali. I respect rice enough to never drink it with anything like sossi.
How Isla was careful with that rice made me wish she becomes my wife. I had never seen anyone before cover boiling rice with a cloth! Who even does that? A nicely washed, white piece of cloth for covering rice! I can’t explain it, but that moved me. Her beauty had drawn me to this point, but this sealed it. Add to it the gentleness with which she served me, and how she passionately talked about God the entire time, and how real about herself she was; and I knew I wanted to marry her. The night would quickly end, and I had to leave. I thanked her and suggested we meet more often.
A few weeks passed and the moment came when we needed to leave for the holidays. Rumor had it that we would be going for ten months. If that was true, then the senate had successfully devised a plan to ruin my life; and boy was it true. I mourned carrying Isla’s suitcase to the stage where she would board a matatu to town. I’ve never multi-tasked that much before. I had to keep talking to her and her friends who had already read my interests and probably thought I was crazy. I had to worry how the long holiday away from each other would affect what I was hoping was just beginning and I also had to balance on my shoulders this heavy suitcase most of the way. Please, please, Moi University Admin, kindly recarpet the pavements in that school.
Anyway, Isla went home to Kilifi that day. I left school a few days later. We chatted occasionally, but it grew. Soon a day without a chat would feel weird. We had grown so fond of each other that we would hustle hard for that credit just so a day wouldn’t go by without us talking. She clearly had grown an irresistible liking for me too, but any moment I dared say I loved her I would attract some stern rebuke. The timing wasn’t right; she would always insist. As I knew her more, I loved her more. Of all the things I daily grew attracted to about her, her honesty stood out. For a while I had been hesitant to share personal things about myself. That ended when she taught me what it is to be honest, completely holding nothing back. How she confessed about her past, especially the sexual struggles she had had, made me vulnerable.
Soon I was the one who couldn’t keep a thing. I grew comfortable telling her about my own sexual struggles, my imperfect family, basically anything and everything. If we were going to be with each other, we had to know each other well enough. We shared spiritual knowledge. A lot of that. If either of us read a book, it was as good as both of us had; we would discuss everything we learned. Definitely, the distance was a hindrance, but the phones were of great help.
One afternoon, about nine months down the line, she texted me what would be the sweetest message I had ever received in all the years I had lived till then. These aren’t the exact words, but they are close: “Hey. I have been praying about us for some time. I don’t quite understand why I have been hesitant to give you a yes. But recently I have felt God telling me that it’s all fear that I had. He wants me to trust Him, and I’m convinced you are the one for me. I know this will not surprise you, because you knew it would come out one of these days. But it is a yes from me. I love you 32.” (We had used our birthdays and developed code names for ourselves. She is 34 while I am 32.)
She was right I wasn’t surprised, but I was no doubt excited. For the first time, she had said she loved me without me having said it first! I couldn’t wait for school to reopen to go be with her. We had only two weeks to resume school, but boy they were long. Finally they passed, and I got there first. She joined me a few days later. We hugged for the first time, but something didn’t feel right. She wasn’t as excited. I was hoping for a happy ever after, but this looked unlikely! What would follow wasn’t a fairy tale, but a molding in the hands of The Potter.