Asad and Maxine: The untold story of love on trial

Rally drivers Asad Khan and Maxine Wahome.

Two of Kenya’s most celebrated motor rallying icons lived together for years, building cars and reputations that captured the imagination of the nation. All seemed well for them, and then on the morning of Jamhuri Day a week ago, a fight ensued between them that left one of them fighting for life in hospital. What happened, and how is this tragic turn of events likely to shape their lives and careers?

The call came in the early hours of Monday morning seven days ago . It was short, less than a minute long, and curt. There was a sense of urgency in the voice of the man on the other end of the line, the kind that lingers in the ear long after the call has been disconnected. He wasn’t shouting, but imploring. Urging. Pleading.

“Your brother has been involved in a terrible accident and we have taken him to hospital,” the caller told Adil Khan.

“He is at the Nairobi Hospital, and you should rush there quickly.”

No way! Adil thought to himself. His brother Asad, a rallying ace who had spent his life building a stellar motoring reputation and nurturing the talents of tens, perhaps hundreds, of motorsport enthusiasts, had spent the whole weekend preparing for a motoring outing.

Now the man on the other end of this line was saying the rally ace was in hospital.

A terrible accident? Or a terrible joke?

Adil rushed to Nairobi Hospital, a premier medical facility in the Upper Hill area of the city. On the way he called his brother several times, but the calls went unanswered. Desperate, running out of breath and now frantic, he dialed the number of Ms Maxine Wahome, the girlfriend of his brother and another Kenyan rallying ace whose exploits behind the wheel of a small Ford Fiesta had earned her regional acclaim.

The call went through, but it was answered by someone else, even though Adil says he could hear Maxine screaming herself hoarse in the background. In the helter-skelter of the moment, none of the two could tell him what had happened to send Asad to the wards.

Adil khan, the younger brother to rally driver Asad Khan during an interview on 16|12|2022. Asad who was then fighting for his life at Avenue Hospital in Nairobi, passed on at the hospital on 18|12|2022.

Photo credit: Joan Pereruan I Nation Media Group

At Nairobi Hospital, Adil found Asad struggling to stay alive. He had injuries in his head, abdomen and neck. A huge cut in his leg, just above the ankle, had bled out more than five pints of his blood, according to doctors’ estimations. He was unconscious, straddling the thin line between life and death. His body had gone into shock and his vital organs were slowly shutting down; giving up the fight.

Adil stood there and watched in horror and consternation as doctors and nurses fought to save his brother. He watched, too, as Asad stopped breathing. And he watched as the faint beat of his brother’s heart turned into that ominous straight line on the monitor, and as the army of medics surrounding his brother scurried to perform electrical cardioversion on him, sending a high-energy shock to the heart to reset its rhythm. And bring Asad back to life.

“Many people do not know this, but my brother died twice,” Adil says. I am sitting across him at Motor Atrep, his motor rallying garage off Ole Odume Road in Kilimani, Nairobi. He has been fighting to keep the tears rolling since we sat down. Actually, since we walked into the small compound that this Friday morning is a beehive of activity as mechanics and engineers tune rally cars.

The contours of his body, the grimace in his face and the overall posture of his figure say he is uneasy, or tired, or both, and he keeps fidgeting in his chair. He wants to talk, to share this tragic story, but his body is telling him no. Think of it as the unfortunate representation, in reverse, of R Kelly’s psalm in ‘Bump ‘N’ Grind’; “My mind is telling me no, but my body is telling me yes!”

Rally driver Asad Khan died twice, brother says

Asad, Adil says, was found by a neighbour lying in a pool of blood outside his house at Preston Court, a three-block residency off Oloitokitok Road in Kileleshwa, on the warm morning of Jamhuri Day on Monday, December 12 this year. There had been a commotion in his house, where he lived with his girlfriend of more than two years, Maxine, and it appears Asad had come off worse of the two.

Neighbours had heard the fight, but they had not intervened. It was only after the gush of blood from Asad’s leg wound snaked its way to the ground floor that a neighbour knew something was terribly wrong. He rushed up the staircase, only to find Asad sprawled on the landing, unconscious and bleeding heavily. The door to his house was locked from inside.

“How could they do this to my brother?” Adil asks.

“Who do you think did this?” I ask him.

“I don’t know! I just don’t know! Perhaps Maxine knows. She was in the house, but I suspect there was someone else in that house too.”

“Why do you suspect so?”

“There were three footsteps in the living room, according to photos of the blood-soaked floor I have seen.”

“Who could have been the third person?”, I press on.

“I don’t know! I jjj…uust don’t know!”

Maxine’s lawyers have argued both inside and outside of courts of her innocence. They have insisted that while indeed she was in the house when Asad sustained the injuries, it is wrong to assume that only she could have hurt her lover. They have claimed, too, that Asad injured himself during the fight, but Adil would hear none of this.

He is getting agitated during the interview, breathing heavily and his hands flailing in the air in exasperation every time he can’t finish a sentence or a thought. 

And it is easy to understand why; Asad, the man who was then lying at the Intensive Care Unit of Avenue Hospital in the Parklands district of the city – to where the family transferred him from Nairobi Hospital shortly after the accident on the morning of Jamhuri Day – is his elder brother, whom he affectionately refers to by the nickname that stuck on him like a virus: Kalulu.

He refers to him in the past tense, using such expressions as ‘my brother was’ and ‘my brother used to’ in conversation. It is, perhaps, a subconscious acceptance that his brother will never be the same man again, that life has changed for good, and that the chapter this tragedy has opened in Asad’s life will have tentacles extending all the way to the private chapters of members of his close family.

A portrait of rally driver Asad Khan is displayed at his desk during an interview with his younger brother Adil Khan on 16|12|2022. Asad who was then fighting for his life at Avenue Hospital in Nairobi, passed on at the hospital on 18|12|2022.

Photo credit: Joan Pereruan I Nation Media Group

Sadly, last evening his 'premonition' came to pass, and Asad succumbed to his injuries.

"My brother Asad has left us. We had been at his bedside ever since he was admitted in the hospital with stab wounds. It is really sad,” Adil told Nation on phone last evening.

As such, an in keeping with Adil’s choice of expressions, sections of this report will refer to some of the exploits, adventures and conquests of Asad in the past tense.

They grew up together in Nairobi, the doting young boys of a man who also loved cars. That early life buried in the frenzy of engine blocks and clutch plates and the intoxicating adrenalin rush of manic gear shifts rubbed onto them, and the two found themselves deep in the trenches of the motoring world, building cars for the gruelling circuits of East Africa and traversing the region to participate in, or spectate at, motorsport tournaments.

Asad met Maxine when she was a young and successful regular in the Nairobi autocross circuit, riding a weather-beaten KTM motorbike before she graduated to a Subaru Impreza N12.

She is the daughter of another motorsport legend, Jimmy Wahome, and has followed in the footsteps of the father, quickly rising through the motoring ranks to become the first Kenyan woman to score points in the World Rally Championship-supported junior category when she won the WRC3 category for drivers aged 27 and below in June this year behind the wheel of a Ford Fiesta R3.

That Ford Fiesta is parked in the garage during the interview, as are two Imprezas that Maxine and her father have driven before. Adil says they have been preparing the cars for a series of championships in the country and beyond.

last evening Mr. Wahome told Nation that he had condoled with Assad's family, noting in a short text: heartfelt condolences and prayers go to the family and friends."

Asad had been married before, but the relationship did not work out and his wife left the country. It is not clear at what point his relationship with Maxine took a romantic turn, or when the two started living together, but Adil says the two families were aware of the relationship and had no qualms with it.

The two were inseparable, their common bonds extending beyond the petrolhead circles of Kenyan motorsports to the filial ties that now defined their lives and their very mutual existence. Maxine had trained as a kindergarten teacher, but the hum and spool of turbos had gotten the better of her and she had shifted gears to a career in motoring.

This appeared to be the stuff of fairytale, with two lovebirds who shared ambitions, passions and dreams finding each other and living in an enthralling petrol head fantasy. Then a fight ensued, Asad was seriously hurt, and that fantastical world came crushing down on them.

Nothing, perhaps, can illustrate this tragic turn of events in their lives that the eerie emptiness that now engulfs their home. Now a crime scene, its front door remains shut, but while the management of Preston Court has managed to clean Asad’s blood from the staircase and landings, there is still some frightening splash of dark-red peeping out under the door like a caged animal that seeks escape. Or the hushed, muffled cry of an abused child seeking redemption.

Preston Court is a quiet, tranquil residence, even in the circumstances of our visit. Three blocks form a U that opens into a courtyard that also serves as the parking lot. There is a sense of middle-class calmness here that one would not find in many of the new high-rise buildings that dot Kileleshwa nowadays since the Evans Kidero administration changed Nairobi zoning laws and allowed high-density developments here.

I want to substitute the word ‘calmness’ with ‘peace’, but I am not sure that the strict, literal meaning of that word exists behind the heavy curtains and massive balconies. I am not sure, either, whether the residents of this cosy settlement would agree with me in the wake of the intrusions and police nose-poking brought about by Asad’s tragedy.

A lone window remains open in Asad’s bedroom. It has been since Monday last week. His bedroom light is on too when we visit, perhaps a weary marker of the haste with which everyone left this haunted house. Outside, at the parking lot and on the floors below and above Asad’s house, life has gone back to its routine, commonplace emptiness. Taxi drivers drop passengers every now and then, and those passengers disappear into the huge bellies of the three blocks that form the residence.

Asad’s daily-run car, a grey Nissan Navara pick-up truck, is parked at his allocated space, D3. Inside it, in the centre console, a Redbull energy drink can lies next to a bottle of Aberdares drinking water and a car wheel safety locknut. In the back seat is a package addressed to a Ms Terry Stamper of Coventry, West Midlands in the UK; and what appears to be the packaging of a KFC meal.

Two kilometres away, at Avenue Hospital, the most famous tenant of this court lies in an ICU bed, all manner of pipes poking his body. His brother, Adil, has rushed here after the interview with us, and we find him conversing with family and friends at the waiting lobby. It’s just a few minutes to noon, when visiting hours start, and there is a steady trickle of family and friends coming to commiserate and generally be with the family during this difficult time.

One of Asad’s aunts sits quietly, a string of Muslim prayer beads in hand. She is not talking to anyone even though every now and then she surveys the area, perhaps deep in the involuntary, compulsive daze that one feels when confronted with the helplessness of hospital environments.

Asad has been fighting for his life for five days now, and the prognosis is not looking good.

“They paralysed his body yesterday to prevent his imminent death,” Adil says. What he is referring to is prolonged therapeutic paralysis, which doctors use in ICUs to allow mechanical ventilation of patients with respiratory failure. This is a medical conundrum this family never imagined it would face, but doctors now tell them it is inevitable. One the one hand, temporarily paralysing Asad to improve his breathing using machines could save his life, but for that to happen he has to be under heavy sedation, and studies have indicated that heavy sedation results in worse recovery.

“His organs are failing,” Adil had told me earlier during the interview at his garage in Kilimani. “His liver is gone. And his kidneys. And lungs. And pancrease. And….” he had trailed off, his voice swallowed by a heavy sob and the involuntary heave that he is trying to bottle up inside his chest.

“But his brain is okay,” he had continued after recovering. “And his heart too. His heart is okay.”

Doctors have informed the family that while they will do everything to save the life of Asad, he might never regain complete use of his organs and limbs. Adil is aware of this, but he is still terrified by the prospect of his brother never coming back fully to the life he lived before the fight.

“The injury in the leg is really bad,” he says. “That’s how he lost all that blood. The tendons are gone. Doctors are saying they might have to amputate the leg if he survives this and comes out alive. But my brother is a survivor.”

In his heyday Asad was the quintessential man of the people. Nicknamed ‘Kalulu’ – after the cartoon strip Juha Kalulu by Edward Gicheri Gitau in the Kiswahili daily Taifa Leo – he was the embodiment of vivacity, verve and vim. At the garage in Kilimani, he ran a small office overflowing with trophies from his motoring conquests. Here, he also ran a small workshop in which he built or rebuilt cars for the rigours of East African rallying.

Asad loved to cook too, and was the unofficial chef for his colleagues in the garage. He stocked the small kitchenette here with all manner of foods. In between the bursts of tears and the frenzy of garage commotion, Adil takes us through a short tour of the kitchen. There is a small refrigerator, an Armco microwave oven atop which a small three-channel sub-woofer music system rests. There is also an assortment of spices – paprika, turmeric, a ginger-garlic mixture from HerKitchen, a bowl full of onions, green pepper, tomatoes and garlic -- and an assortment of cooking pans.

“We are lost without him,” Adil says. “We don’t know how this new phase of life will look like, but it is going to be extremely difficult for us as family and rallying community.”

As the story unfolds and Asad fights to stay alive, detectives are seeking to establish what exactly happened at Prescon Court on the night Asad suffered his life-changing injuries. While his lover Maxine was held by the police immediately the matter was reported, she was soon afterwards released on cash bail of Sh100,000.

Inside Asad Khan's garage full of rally championship trophies

Granting her the bail, magistrate Bernard Ochoi, sitting in a Nairobi court, noted that there was no compelling reasons to keep the 24-year-old in custody as requested by police, who had sought to hold her in custody for 14 days to complete investigations into the matter.

Ms Wahome on Tuesday last week made an application to the court for the case to be heard in camera, saying she was a victim and needed protection, but the court rejected the application, with the magistrate noting that it was premature because it was not clear who was aggressor or the victim was. 

Police are investigating whether there were accomplices in the house when Asad suffered the injuries, as claimed by Adil, and also want to conduct DNA tests of the blood samples.

Ms Maxine has not granted any interviews regarding the incident, but her lawyer, Mr Andrew Musangi, told the Nation that she is not an accused person and “has not been charged with any offence nor has any accusation been made against her”.

“She is only being held to assist with investigations, which she has agreed to willingly do,” wrote Mr Musangi in an email to the Nation. “In this regard, she has from the word go agreed to assist investigations in all aspects, including surrendering aces to the apartment and all mobile communication devices.”

Maxine, the lawyer noted, did not leave the house she shared with Asad until police arrived, and gave them full access to the house after briefing them with her version of what had happened.

It is difficult in the circumstances to establish what exactly happened that Monday morning. While Maxine maintains her innocence, Asad remains unconscious, unable to tell family and detectives what happened. Maxine says Asad’s injuries were “self-inflicted” as he attempted to kick open a window and gain access to a balcony where she had taken refuge during their fight.

“Unfortunately, the injured person is not conscious, and is therefore unable to confirm the events of the morning himself, but we are confident that upon his full recovery the facts will be verified,” she says.