I’m looking at their young and eager faces, a mishmash of his features and mine, combined to make these little humans, the suns around which I now orbit. As I look at them, thinking about the question our precocious 6 year old madam has just asked, I’m reminded of a staid architect who was once in a position similar to the one I now find myself in. Only that he was looking at two bored teenagers sitting on a couch who wished for anything but to be right there in that moment with him, listening to him go on and on about how he met their mother. How he lost her, which they all knew, having painfully lived through that and how he was now apparently ready to move on with their aunt Robin.
The faces that look at me are not like that. There are the two prepubescent boys who wonder of wonders have sat still for more than 5minutes. I blame their being constantly on the move on the Kipchoge blood that they get from their father, no relation to the famous Kipchoge but true walabataji nevertheless. Why stay still when there are records to be shattered? There is also our little princess, their unofficial spokesperson and who came out of my womb, already having their number and ready to run circles around them. And to run them around us too while she’s at it – it’s already past their bedtime after all and the little story-seeking imp knows that. These three beloved faces still show remnants of the dessert that their father let them eat before they had dinner. He spoils them so, spoiled them for dinner as well. These faces are half sitting, half lying on the beanbag chairs spread out on the living room carpet. They are now waiting for an answer from me.
“Honey, do you want to take this or should I?” he shrugs at my question and strums at the guitar that’s never far from him, his head probably filled with another melody that’ll soon be an anthem for Kenyan rockers.
“Aah my Chepchumba, you do it. You’ll tell it better than I can.” That name, that roguish smile as he says it, that’s how it all began.
“So, my little darlings, this is the story of how I met your father. It all began one Thursday night.”
Pausing for effect, a guitar softly playing in the background, I look at him and am back there again. That Oktoberfest fifteen years ago, him on the stage, sweat trickling down his face, me waiting for him to play Chepchumba as he, like Bon Jovi did years before him, sang, “It’s my life” surrounded by eager fans.
I am back there, sitting at that wooden picnic table in that rooftop pub, watching him strum that guitar, wondering how those hands would feel like. Would he play my body as skillfully as he played that guitar? His tongue stuck out as he got caught in the music. How would that tongue feel like? Taste like? That voice drawling out that final “it’s my life,” how would it sound like when we peaked?
What had once been written off as girlish dreams all came back that night, took root and blossomed. I sat there watching him dance with the one-woman-moshpit and with the fangirl who was never far from the stage.
“He was a rake, your dad.” I now tell our children.
“Before I met him and settled his ass down.”
Wait, back up a little, should I be using the a-word in front of the children? Ah, it’s fine, I reason. They’ve probably heard their father and I curse worse than that, artistic temperaments being what they are.
It was while he was doing a cover of Shinedown’s “If you only knew” that I knew for sure, that I fell deeper than before. If he only knew, if only he could read the thoughts rushing through my head. It wasn’t Shinedown’s “I’ll follow you” that caught me – no, he saved that for our wedding. I cried bucket-loads then as he sang about keeping me warm and promising to follow me whatever it took. I of course blamed the crying on the hormones caused by the reason for our rushed wedding. The reason that was then snug in her mother’s womb, taking in her dad’s singing and would one day sing a duet with him. The reason that was noticeably absent from her dad’s side and tonight’s story-time. Probably working on another music project, she takes after her dad, the lucky girl. She didn’t get stuck with her mother’s tone-deaf genes, not like her siblings.
When he sang about Chepchumba, I wished he was singing about me. I hoped. I wondered if I took his breath away. I could be wild, an angel, and a devil. I could be all of that, at that moment, for him. I would treat him right though. Taking his heart was okay right, as long as I gave him mine?
But it was when he sang, “It’s all about the money money money pesa…” ah fuck it! I got up then. And I went full-on fangirl on him. I had to make him understand that it wasn’t about that, don’t you see? It was never about that with us. We met while we were both starving artists. We lived for each other and the art. It became our religion, like he once said. We loved, we lived, like he once sang, surrounded by the smell of cheap champagne, and quite familiar with the taste of flat beer. A gasp from the peanut gallery brings me back to the present. Looking first at him and then around at our babies, their young faces showing their disbelief. How? It doesn’t seem at all plausible. Their dad, the aging – in their eyes but still very virile in mine – rock star, with his wall of awards; their mum with her bookshelf, groaning under the weight of all her bestsellers.
“We have spoiled you little loves,” I tell them. “You only remember the good life, you missed out on the slaving part.”
“As it should be.” Their dad quietly says, strumming. Strumming, breathing, loving, rocking – it’s all the same to him, it all comes naturally. I walk up to him, sit on the arm of his chair, and start stroking his hair, the hair that he usually keeps hidden under his beanies and caps. I used to wonder what he looked like unveiled. Now I know, now I love, now I can’t live without.
“I’m gonna have that, I’m gonna have it all.”
Spoken decisively by our eldest daughter, our love-child who has now graced us with her presence, takes my eyes away from him and cuts short my storytelling. Her guitar with her, an extra limb at this point, she goes straight to sit at her father’s feet and immediately joins in the strumming, not messing up the melody one bit. These two, music is their language and they speak it so fluently. He got her that guitar for her 13th birthday. I thought it was a little over the top, too much too soon, until she strummed it for their father-daughter duet. I wanted to buy her a gazillion guitars then. They play that duet for us now, their captive audience. I move to join my other three on the beanbags as we are mesmerized by the musical gifts in our midst.
His voice, not quite like Shinedown’s Brent Smith’s, makes me think about Chad Kroeger singing about a photograph. We too have photographs, a lifetime of them, a lifetime of loving and rocking. As the hyped-up fans were asking for twenty more songs, I was asking for twenty more years with him. That Thursday night, in that rooftop pub, we lived a lifetime as he sang and I listened. Too bad it had to end with his last set. Oh well, until his next show.