My husband died in his sleep but my in laws said I killed him. How could I have killed my husband? After all, my uncle had married me off to such an old man because he could not repay the debt he owed. I had only set eyes on him a few days to the wedding and only known when my aunt had pointed him out, to me while we were gathering firewood “That is your husband.”
I had cast my young eyes upon the old man who stood bent over a ridge on his farm working. He was old enough to be my grand father. I couldn’t question why I was being used to offset a debt I knew nothing about. I had walked home with the fire wood carefully balanced on my head my heart was heavy at the thought and I wanted to weep. If I chose to run away, where would I run to?
On the wedding day, I had wept as the older women dressed me up in preparation for my husband. I did not understand what was happening as I had only just had my first period and my aunt had not educated me on the intricacies of womanhood, I was but a child. Before I was escorted to his hut , my aunt and the other women had said to me , “Do as your husband says and be a good daughter to your mother in law.” Left alone in his hut he came in and shut the door, it finally dawned on me that my new role and duty as a wife had begun.
Old enough to be my grandfather, he was kind and treated me well , I took good care of him, cooking him nice meals and cleaning the hut we called home. Pregnancy came with agony and my young body struggled. I was a child carrying another child and it didn’t help that the women advised me to be strong. The nine months seemed like forever and somehow I miscarried and bled and bled. Even though I was in pain and mourned over the agony of my loss, I wasn’t angry at him for making me pregnant. I felt I had failed him as a wife. So how could I have killed this kind old man? Didn’t his family know that at his age he was prone to having a heart attack? I had never been bold enough to ask him why he had not married earlier in his life. I was just a wife.
Five years after the miscarriage, I hadn’t reached the age of twenty yet and had still not conceived, his family said I was barren and a man and neither barren women nor men could conceive. That was part of the reason I had killed their son and brother. Come to think of it, a hut and a piece of land for growing cassava and vegetables was too small a reason for me to take a life. When I could easily have manipulated and staked my claim when he was still alive. The doctor had said he had died of a weak heart but my in laws would not believe him. They claimed this doctors in their white fancy coats and plenty education knew nothing. They did not know the ways of the gods nor could they understand what the gods had revealed.
They had shaved my beautiful hair with a new blade as a sign of respect for the dead. His corpse had also been washed and the water forced down my throat to prove my innocence as the Medicine Man had said that if I was guilty, I would die after drinking the water and if I was innocent I would live . I had lived, wasn’t that enough to prove my innocence? They were not satisfied, they isolated me in a hut far from the others, where I sat shivering at night from the fear of the thought that my male in laws might prey on my young body to satisfy their lust as had happened to some other young widows. Every night before I went back to that hut, I had to do the forbidden which was to carry firewood from my hut to the forest instead of the other way round..
What more did they want from me? Hadn’t I wailed louder than other women and attempted to jump into the grave to show how bereaved I was ,as was expected? Hadn’t I endured the humiliation of having the herbalist who communicated with the gods throw his cowries on the sand and leave without a word to prove my innocence? My body itched from days without bathing and my mourning clothes stank, I was hungry too. Tomorrow I would be inherited by my husband’s brother, who already had two older wives. They would mock my barrenness and my new husband might beat me because of their lies. Who would I run to and who would believe me? I couldn’t go back home to my uncle who had given me away in the first place, if my parents were still alive , I would have run to them for safety. Only the good Lord could come to my rescue.
When night came and cast its blanket of darkness over us, I slipped out of the hut and stealing my dead husband’s bicycle, I begin to ride fast into the night, towards the light in my head into the unknown. Leaving the past behind. I was free…