Julliet Mutegi: A golden heart under a steel exterior

Friday September 8 2017

Julliet Kangai Mutegi was an online sub-editor

Julliet Kangai Mutegi was an online sub-editor with the Daily Nation. She died on Saturday, September 2, 2017 at Aga Khan Hospital after a short illness. PHOTO | COURTESY 

By OBED SIMIYU
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I was busy in front of my office computer on the third floor of Nation Centre one day when a slender, light-skinned lady came and stood behind me.

Slightly miffed that she was intruding into my personal space, I ignored her and went on to open YouTube to look for my favourite music, which would soothe me as I edited online stories at the news desk.

"Heeeey, you listen to the Gaithers?" were the first words she uttered.

“Oh, sure,” I responded, not really sure where the conversation was headed. She was not done with me yet. She pulled a chair and sat beside me.

INTERROGATION

That’s when the interrogation started. She wanted to know why a bearded young man like me would be listening to such old-school music when we have the likes of Bahati, Willy Paul and their cronies.

Let’s just say my answer pleased her and a bond was struck right there. 

Of course, we had spoken earlier, in passing, but this was the first time we were engaged in serious talk. 

She complained she was having problems getting round the software that publishes stories on the web and was not getting much assistance from other online sub-editors. 

As she was telling me all this, there was a serious committee going on in my head with members engaged in a heated debate on whether to tell her or not. Unanimously, the committee agreed to tell her ‘the truth'.

"You know what, you may be the reason most guys do not want to help you," I told her.

A moment of silence.

Next was a series of questions, a grilling that lasted over an hour. So we decided to go for lunch before we could start our night shift. I told her to change how she approached people.

She did not know of a good place to eat in town so I took her to Kipepeo, opposite The Stanley. I ordered millet porridge. Another surprise for her. She could not believe it.

COULD NOT TRUST THE PORRIDGE

She said that she couldn’t trust it and ordered tea and mandazi. I rejected the mandazi on her behalf. Told the waitress to bring her nduma. Well, for the next many months, that was our joint and she learned to love uji

Our friendship, like many other relationships, was imperfect. Julliet wanted everything to be perfect and she disliked it when her train of thought was criticised.

I defied all these and it was always trouble. One minute we were hugging, the next we weren’t even speaking.

One day, during my shift, she was running late and requested me to help her with some work. I did. Unfortunately, my work did not meet her standards and she let me have it. That was my friend for you.

We didn’t talk for a very long time. No phone calls. No texts. No greetings in the office. But I knew the trick. I offered her an uji date, and she accepted on condition that I would allow her to pick the venue.

She picked Kaldis which was close by and as Ng’ang’a Mbugua said in a recent tribute, she was a tea and cake girl.

Julliet preferred texting to calling and we would text back and forth for hours on end. However, she was anything but open in showing affection, especially for fellow colleagues.

As we grew closer, she opened up about herself and her life, as did I. She learnt of my asthma and I of her health issues and struggles to get healthy and add weight. We made deals everywhere and every day. I encouraged her to eat ugali and tone down on the sugar she put in her tea. 

So, every day, we accompanied each other to the staff canteen for dinner. The canteen staff would ask where she was if I showed up alone. Even if I was full, I still took her there. She added a little weight. Then, suddenly, she withdrew.

She just vanished.

She would not pick up calls and never replied to any text messages. When she surfaced, she knew what to do. She took me for a date somewhere in town but away from cameras and colleagues.

CHURCH DISCUSSION

When she found me listening to gospel music one day, she asked me which church I worshipped at. She asked me so many questions and thanks to my knowledge of the Friends Church - Quakers, I had solid answers.

She said she was seriously looking for a church to join. She wanted a place of worship, so Friends Church it was; at least she knew someone there.

The distance to Friends International Centre (FIC) on Ngong Road scared her. She didn’t want to go all that way but fell in love with our United Society of Friends Women’s white flowing dresses. She wanted one.

Besides the Friends Church, she wanted to attend a service at one of those indigenous churches. Where drums are played and people are free to dance and rejoice in the Lord, wearing, of course, one of those dresses.

This is what surprised me. How would she even look in one of those dresses? I could not imagine the fashion-conscious Julliet jumping and clapping and dancing like those guys from Africa Divine Church.

LOVING WOMAN

Below that tough, fiery and stern Julliet lay a loving woman with a caring heart. She never met my little girl, but demanded to see her photos. She longed to meet her.

When my little girl was in town, Julliet was unfortunately not around. It pained her very much. She later told me she had been ill.

Then the question came.

“Do you even have a girlfriend?”

My answer was a question of the same: “Do you have a boyfriend?”

That ended that talk.

LOVED NATURE

Fashion was her weakness, so particular was she with what she wanted. Julliet also loved nature. When I travelled to the village, she would have me take pictures. She wanted to see how the Western region looks. She loved the whole idea of it.

Throughout our short friendship, she would literally lecture me when I showed up in just a T-shirt even when it was cold, because of my asthma, as well as on my not wearing jackets.

The last days of her life were filled with drama. She was rarely in the office, but never said why, just that she was on leave. As we went to the canteen one day, I noticed she was not in a hurry as usual, but seemed in pain. She had had an operation, she later confessed. After I left Nation, we stopped communicating. I sought her out when my little girl was unwell and she did not respond.

On the day that I met with three of my former colleagues in town, I was shocked to learn that she had been admitted to hospital. What did not shock me was her "no sympathy" request. That seemed like exactly the kind of thing she would say.  

We planned to visit her sooner rather than later.

The following day, I got a call: “Chairman, Julliet is no more.”