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My daughters-in-law are a thorn in my flesh

Christopher Awuor is furious. At 75, he had envisaged a quiet retirement. At no time in his wildest dream had he imagined this kind of noise and  the intrigues going on in his home.

His son, Charles, 30, has just married a second wife  – an elderly woman of 45. Second wife arrived a week ago with three children on a motorbike. First Wife, 26, left for her parents’ home a year ago after a domestic fight that saw her pack and leave with her four children. But a day after Second Wife arrived, First Wife dropped her own children too inside the compound, in the middle of Awuor’s sitting room, got back on the motorbike and headed to Heaven Knows Where.

Now Awuor finds himself in a noisy house full of kids. His wife Nereah, 65, has become a mother again.

“My wife and I are not ready to take care of seven babies. We had eight children, all grown up now. They have left the nest. Our five daughters are well married and my three sons have married and settled down with their families too. The problem is this last born son of mine and his wives. They have made our lives miserable.”

Awuor believes that Charles only married Second Wife to discipline First Wife and not because of love. He suspects that Charles was advised by some of his friends on how to tame a wife. “First Wife has been a difficult woman, always spoiling for a fight and packing her clothes. Everyday, after a minor misunderstanding, she packs  her clothes and the children’s clothes too and threatens to leave my son and go back to her parents.  She often leaves for her parents home around Kisumu Airport but comes back a few days later. The children now know that when daddy and mummy quarrel, it is time for them to start packing their little clothes too. It is so pathetic that it breaks my heart.  Oh! I am so fed up with this packing business!” Awuor laments as he covers his face with both hands.” “This daughter-in-law walks in and out of my son’s house as if it is a lodging.”

Awuor lives in the same compound as Charles. Charles is the last born son and according to Luo tradition he has to stay in the same compound with his parents to take care of them. “I see all these happenings from my house, 50 metres away and it breaks my heart,” he repeats several times during the interview.

“The other day, First Wife came out of her hut carrying a picture and screaming. She ran towards my house, wailing and I came out thinking someone had died…probably my son Charles. We had guests that afternoon. As she approached my house, I could hear the words clearly. “Its Charles, Charles has taken a picture with another woman. I have found this picture in his suitcase. Look at this picture. Charles is unfaithful to me….Uwi! Uwi!” She wailed loudly as she tore the alleged picture in pieces and threw it at Charles and the visitors. The pieces fell on the soup that the guests were eating. The next second, First Wife, fell on Charles and started boxing and kicking him! Charles fought back but First Wife beat him up thoroughly. By then the crowd of villagers who had come to watch the show separated them. I went into my room. I could not stand the embarassment.”Awuor recalls.

The crowd, he says, held a Kangaroo court and agreed that First Wife was unreasonable and must return to her parents. Has Charles paid the dowry? No! Then she is not even a wife here. Let her go and find another husband to wrestle.  Other issues came out at the Kangaroo court. Charles confessed in a moment of anger that First Wife was already married somewhere for two years with one child before they met at a local bar where she served as a Bar-maid.  The child died after which the husband chased her away. “When I married her, she had no children. So as bad as she is, the four children she has are mine. But I don’t want her. Let her go with the children. I don’t care.” Charles said firmly. Before the Kangaroo court was over, First Wife got up, held her arms akimbo and laughed contemptuously at the crowd. “Ha ha ha ha ha Auuuu! Let me pack my clothes. Who told you I wanted to stay in this useless, poor, ugly home of yours. I am leaving now. Now!” She announced threateningly as the crowd moved back, aghast.

In a voice tired and heavy with the weight of this thorn in his flesh, Awuor continues. “First Wife took the children, packed clothes in five minutes and left. It was getting late and I was worried that she could be bitten by a snake or attacked by a Hyena, or even raped along the railway line,” recalls a sad Awuor.  “I begged her to stay the night and leave early in the morning but she was totally out of control. He verbal diarrhoea was untenable. She raged like a wounded bull, like a woman visited by wild angry spirits. Oh this woman, she has no respect for me! She abused me. She told me I had produced a useless son like me. Anyway, I insisted that my son must escort her to her grandmother’s home a few kilometres from us so the children could be safe.”

Awuor then laughs bitterly. “Do you know what happened? First Wife abused Charles so badly on the way that he could not take it anymore. He abandoned her with the children on the railway line, next to the wild sugarcane plantations and came home. My son is weak. He was afraid my-daughter-in-law would strangle him and he would be found dead on the railway line.” Admits Awuor.

“First Wife has been away for one and a half years.  I thought she was gone for good because we have not heard from her since she left. Her people have never been in touch.

“Last week Charles brought home a wife, a new wife. She was not all that new because she had three children aged Eight, Six and Four. My wife and I just saw a well-built woman and three children well packed in a motorbike arriving home at Sunset. The motorbikes are popularly known as Peng by the locals. Charles was besides himself with joy.  He ran towards the Peng, hugged Second Wife, lifted the children and introduced the new family to his mother and I. “This is my new wife and my new family. They will be staying at First Wife’s House.” He said. Culture allows a second wife to stay in the first wife’s house.

“What if the first wife comes back?” I asked Charles. His mother was uncomfortable with this arrangement too. “Look at the wife I have brought you, Dad. Look at how well built she is! This is not the kind of woman to throw out easily!” Charles said proudly as Second Wife nodded confidently. “Do not worry about First Wife daddy. I will sort her out if she tries anything tricky.” Second wife said quietly. “She sounds dangerous too like First Wife and I am worried that First Wife and Second Wife, might kill each other. I foresee a mighty war of wives looming over my homestead.  I foresee them ganging up one time and beating my son Charles. Oh! How I hate these fights.”Awuor reflected.

“But as Second’s wife’s children were just getting to bond with their grandmother the following morning, another Peng arrived carrying First Wife and her four children. First Wife did not greet anybody. She carried the children and dumped them in my house with their packed clothes.”

“Here is your property,” she shouted as she jumped on the Peng and ordered the Peng driver to leave. “Stupid people, stupid home, stupid children, stupid husband, stupid father-law, stupid mother-in-law!” She shouted as the Peng disappeared with her into the dusty distance, far beyond the railway lines.

“Before she attends to her household chores like going down the river to fetch water and to the forest to collect firewood, Second wife dumps her children at my house. My wife has taken in Charles’ four children into my house too. Everywhere it is children. And now in my old age, I have become a baby-sitter. I wash my son’s four children and other people’s children too. I feed them with porridge, they are all under eight years old. I dress the ones in Nursery School and Class One in the morning but these children of Second Wife are survivors and already know their way to School.”

“Charles will not take First Wife’s two children to school although they have reached school-going age. He says it is a way of disciplining their mother. This makes me feel very bad because the children are innocent. So innocent! He has lived with their mother on and off for the past ten years and despite her frequent packings, they deserve better treatment. They know no other home. He must take all the children to school. My son is weak, but he must take responsibility for his children He must not use them as a tool in this war of wives. I have warned Charles that I will report him to the chief.  Oh! These daughters-in-law of mine. They are a thorn in my flesh.”

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