The most popular rumour about Brenda Wairimu for the last three months is that the decorated actress is pregnant.
In her latest social media posts and photo, Brenda seems to have added weight and her skin is also glowing.
Brenda, or Bren as her family fondly calls her, is slightly more than a decade in the show business but took the country's full attention as Lulu in NTV's Mali in 2011.
Being one of the best paid actors in the country, the Mombasa born-and-bred Brenda wasn't even thinking about getting into a studio until circumstances forced her to.
Brenda doesn't remember much from her childhood, which she has been told might be due to trauma from "some less-than-ideal situations in our home", other than the fact that she would go into her parents' room to watch movies and cartoons on "black-and-white TV" while under the bed.
Though this later shaped and formed her love for film and TV, she didn't really want to be a performer.
Brenda performed in the school music festivals choral verses category in Form One and Two. She attempted drama in Form Three but stopped as it took a lot of her time.
In 2009, she enrolled at United States International University-Africa (Usiu) on a scholarship to pursue a BSc in International Business Administration. She majored in marketing.
"I was broke. My mother was a single parent at the time and I was not comfortable asking her for money all the time. I never went hungry, even though we came close to that on a few occasions. I never was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth as most people say," she says.
Brenda came across a casting call on Facebook for the "Changing Times" show that was big at the time.
She gathered some friends and went to the audition at GPO, Nairobi, that morning. Brenda later found out that more than 800 people showed up as she stood before the judges that evening.
"I saw Size 8 in an episode weeks later, recognising her from the auditions, and knew that chance was gone. Two weeks later, I got the call to play Shariffa, a child from a poor background that was trying to fit in with her rich friends," she says.
The reviews were nowhere near polite. Her low voice, fast speech and mumbled words left the audience feeling like she only got the part because of her looks.
"Get that girl off the show! Why is she even there?" is one of the comments she remembers.
"I had to unfollow the pages but I'm not the kind to quit. It's true that I couldn't act, but I kept building on the mistakes people pointed out. Eventually, my character got a whole family on the show and I was nominated for a Kalasha Award. That's when the producers of Mali called me to audition for Lulu," says Brenda, who had now added journalism to her university major.
Shooting all week, except for Sunday, they made 216 episodes for a year. She was then cast for Kona.
Both shows were being shot on Ngong Road for hours and Brenda could not make the commute to her Thika Road campus, so she took a break from her studies.
"The pay was good at that time since I had no other responsibilities except to myself and dad; who was unwell at the time. I was able to move into a house. "Mali" is what I would give the most props to helping me perfect the art of film and television. I got to practise every day," she says.
She registered and even paid to complete her last semester in 2014, but got pregnant.
The pregnancy was of her daughter, Njeri Amor, whom she shares with rapper and activist Juliani.
The two started a conversation when Juliani had been allowed to perform at Usiu as part of his
"Kama Si Sisi" tour in 2011.
Brenda tweeted: "Braided my hair, can't wait to shake them at Juliani's show."
He responded to the tweet and they started seeing each other on the low.
When Brenda found out she was pregnant, her commitment to making the relationship work overrode her fears.
"I was okay with having a family with a person I loved but being my first pregnancy, I was afraid," she says.
Physically the pregnancy went okay, but emotionally Brenda was facing a tumultuous time. The negative comments about their relationship took a toll on her. She says Juliani's silence compounded matters.
"His reasons are not my story to tell, but I feel he should have countered the accusations. He didn't buy me a car, a house or even hair, even with accusations around infidelity," she says.
Highest paid actors
Brenda adds that there other things happened in the relationship that made it finally collapse.
Brenda admits she is an introvert and is usually anxious in social settings.
That is probably what makes some people think she is arrogant. The mystery is what Brenda believes makes people believe her characters are actually her portrayal.
She won a Kalasha Award for Best Actress in 2019 for her portrayal in Subira.
She was now able to prove her range apart from being typecast as a fragile, wealthy girl. She picked three other awards - Women In Film Award, Lake International PanAfrican Film Festival and Sotigui Awards 2020 in Burkina Faso as Best Actor East Africa.
Even as Brenda still ranks amongst the highest paid actors, she has taken a breather from the acting and moved back to Mombasa in November last year.
Brenda says her remuneration is not at par with the work she puts into projects.
"Life in Mombasa is relaxed and easier on the pocket. I don't have to work just to survive like in Nairobi. I'm able to pick and choose what to do. I've been involved in the production side and I know how things work. I have even done pro bono work because I understood there wasn't money in projects. But I can also tell when a team just isn't willing to pay what talent should rightfully get, opting instead to spend more on cameras, lights, location and editing that will make the film look good," she says.
"If you ask for even Sh5,000 more, they say you're exorbitant and get a replacement."
Brenda has worn executive producer and producer hats in "Blurred", "Disconnect" and "18 Hours" films.
People keep saying she's blossomed and become radiant. She attributes it to being close to her siblings, whom she can offload her stresses to or ask for help from.
"Stress za Nairobi hizo zimeniondekea. I was never really plump but, even in I high school, I had not been near as skinny as I became once I got into acting. Work and being in a relationship took a lot from me. I still get bashed about the relationship years later. People should move on. My heaviest weight during pregnancy was 55 kilos and I lost it immediately after giving birth," she says.
Brenda, however, says she is not pregnant.
With her newfound internal peace, she finds herself being grateful every time there is food in her fridge, serves food to children and is able to get them toys.
She has been taking care of her 10-year-old brother since 2018 following the passing of her parents.
Her mother died in November 2015, three years after her father lost his battle with kidney complications.
Brenda wishes they had been around a lot longer. She paid for her father's dialysis twice a week for some time.
"I bought him these new shoes that he had really wanted, but it took me long to get them to him. I wish I had done that sooner so he would enjoy them more before his passing," she says.
"My mother got to only see my baby for less than a year so I wasn't completely back on my feet when we lost her. I wish I had been able to take care of her more since she had done a lot in raising me."
"I took my brother in because my other sisters have multiple children. I understand the kind of child he is; very animated, in tune with his emotions, kind and needs a lot of love. He can be himself and does not need to hear me tell him 'Man up!' if he's feeling low or wants to cry. My daughter has a playmate. Sometimes, I catch myself telling her, 'Amor, talk to your brother... I mean, your uncle' because they are my kids now," says the youngest of four girls, who adds that the only difference to her co-parenting with Juliani continues.
Passionate about gardening
Brenda tries to have conversations with her six-year-old daughter and brother at a level they can understand.
Her daughter grasps the nature of her work and did not seem distressed when present during the rehearsals of the sometimes intense and brutal scenes of the theatrical musical "Sarafina".
Brenda is passionate about gardening, drawing inspiration from her mother.
"Even before my mother got her farm in Kikambala and we were still living in a flat, our balcony was always filled with plants. I have always wanted to do that myself, have a green thumb like she did. I had some space in the back where I was living at in Nairobi and I'd plant kales, spinach and onions. Now, with a bigger space, I plant the same plus rosemary, lavender and celery with my brother," she says.
Photography enables Brenda to become a different person from herself, similar to what acting enables her to do, and she tell stories with every shoot.
"I'm trying to work with different photographers and businesses in Mombasa. I feel like the talent is insane here. Especially for shows done in Kiswahili," she says.
"You are more able to believe these actors and it's something you can only see in Nigerian and Hollywood films. I think it's innate and culturally influence because of how expressive we are in speech or even preparing food. Kila kitu ni kitamu (everything is sweet). It's important to put that out there."
Another of her pet projects has been working with Makeup N Glow, a cosmetics and beauty centre that is run by a friend.
"I have been so involved with it that people think it's actually my shop. My friend and his wife asked me to be the brand ambassador. That's why I have been drumming up the opening of their third shop in Mwembe Tayari. The other branches are in City Mall and Likoni," Brenda says.
The overprotective mother, who says she only posts her daughter on social media when she is the one who requests her to do so, says she has stopped trying to date after realising that relationships take a lot from her.
"I don't get lonely because I don't have a man by my side. I pour out too much, but I don't get the same feelings back. They all end up horribly and it drains me," she adds.