Unmarried: Sexual assault trauma on Braeburn stage

Irene Mungai, acting as Stella, with fellow cast members in the play Unmarried at the Braeburn Theatre on April 6, 2024. 

Photo credit: Margaretta wa Gacheru | Nation Media Group

Irene Mungai may not have known the people’s response to Unmarried, the play that she scripted and produced at Braeburn Theatre last weekend in Nairobi.

But to some in her audience, especially women, the play was a horror story and nightmare that women across the planet have faced. It’s euphemistically termed sexual abuse, but in reality, the word is rape.

In Unmarried, the story begins with the last scene of the play, after which everything is a flashback. It’s a provocative moment with a woman, looking frazzled and out of control, wielding a gun which she points at three people as well as at herself. They beg her to put down the gun. Instead, there’s a blackout and one shot is heard. It’s a baffling scene, but the flashback will hopefully trace what led up to that inexplicable ending.

It begins with our meeting Stella (Irene Mungai), a charming and chaste young woman who’s enthusiastic about marrying her Rasta boyfriend Lenny (Simon Kimani), but he is not. Nonetheless, he’s inclined to push off other men from Stella, like Lucas (Antony Kituku) who attends the same buy-your-blessings hallelujah church as Stella. She isn’t interested in Lucas in any case, since she had high hopes for a life with Lenny. When he breaks up with her, she’s heartbroken, leading her to take some time off from her work and head to the Coast.

It is now that the horror story begins. The Coast is where she meets Juma (Majestic Steve) by happenstance. They seem to have mutual friends and he seems pleasant enough. So, when he informs her his work is taking him to Nairobi where he claims he doesn’t know his way around, she offers to assist him with a housing agent. They agree to meet once he gets to town. By this time, she had no idea he already had a home and a wife in Nairobi. Nor did she know that her bubbly girlfriend Fatma (Abigale Munyau) is Juma’s wife. That would only come out later, but it means that Juma knows lots more about Stella than she knows about him.

In any case, they meet for tea in Nairobi shortly thereafter, and he suggests they go see the place that he’d found to stay in until he finds a better one with her help. She agrees, never imagining what lay ahead.

When they reach his place, it’s a tiny unadorned room, just big enough for a bed. It’s there that the showdown begins. She gets ready to go, but when he blocks her way, she finally reckons she’s in danger. But by then, she is already trapped.

Before this moment, Stella had been naïve, like millions of women who find themselves in comparable circumstances. They all have horror stories they might never tell. But Stella puts us through the terrifying experience of getting raped by a guy who has no mercy, only lust and power to overwhelm the woman.

In Unmarried, the acting of both Irene and Steve was painfully powerful. Stella had been trapped by Juma, yet she resisted up to the end. Even with her fighting spirit, her physical strength was no match compared to his. Yet her passionate fight to protect herself felt very real. So did Juma’s predator lust to ‘have his way’ with her.

One cannot know whether Stella was a virgin before being violated by Juma, but nothing in the play suggests she had broken her church pledge to abstain from sex. If she had been abstinent, her rape would have been even more mournful, painful and traumatising.

Irene Mungai, acting as Stella, with fellow cast members in the play Unmarried at the Braeburn Theatre on April 6, 2024. 

Photo credit: Margaretta wa Gacheru | Nation Media Group

Only in the last few years has PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) in soldiers who witnessed the horrifying pain, inhuman cruelty, and destructive power of war been addressed. In contrast, psychologists have yet to fully address the PTSD affecting women who have been raped. And that’s even though rape, like war, has a mentally scary impact on women who have experienced the trauma of sexual assault.

Then, Stella discovers that her friend Fatma is Juma’s wife compounding her feeling of betrayal. But it’s the sight of Juma who dared to come to her house, that triggered her running for her gun.

In the end, we don’t know who Stella shot, but her reaction to the sight of her rapist has a warped logic, especially as she’s still suffering from PTSD brought on by the trauma of being violated, body and soul, by rape.

PAYE Tax Calculator

Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.