Kon ! Kon ! Kon ! Kon ! the gong chimed as the town crier announced the call for a meeting at the village square. Kon ! Kon ! Kon ! Kon !the stick beat against the gong driving the message home . The chief had instructed that all be gathered at the square for my judgement.
Amidst judgement curses and threats, I feel silence and peace. Deaf to all of these with my knees locked in a French kiss with the hard earth, I clutch my toddler and Bible tightly to the stench of my unwashed body. Gently but firmly placing my other hand protectively around my unborn, my bulging belly hurt from all the stress and misfortune of the past few days of hell and torture. I was not evil nor a witch as the elders and my in laws accuse me to my face and at my back. Was I evil to have loved a man , sacrificed my freedom and married him? Was I a witch to have let his child grow lovingly within me? And endure the privilege of the pain of childbirth to give our young ones life? I had loved my husband with my whole heart, if only these people pointing accusing fingers and piercing me with judgemental eyes would understand and believe me.
I had done very well for myself in my career and many other aspects of my life and was living a good life by my standards. I had money, good friends and most important of all peace. But my family and friends said as a woman, it wasn’t very good for me to live alone with so much success. They claimed I needed a man for security, respect and most of all to be my crowning glory as they claimed that age was no longer on my side because I had witnessed thirty four rainy seasons in thirty four years. In obedience and out of frustration from all the hassles, I married a nice man. He was a soldier, went to Church regularly, had a good job and could provide and take good care of me. As more respect was accorded to married women than single women, we moved to the barracks and started our new life.
The first time he had struck me, I had not fought back, In shock I had covered my stinging cheek, too scared to weep in his presence. I had cried to my mother in law who had pleaded, patience and forgiveness and advised, “He is still your husband and the father to your children. He provides without fail, forgive him for the sake of our children and do not allow the devil put apart what the good Lord has brought together. You are a Christian wife remember? ” When I caught him with another woman and cried to my mother, she had advised me that the virtues of a good Christian wife is perseverance and she never left her husband’s house. What should be important was that my husband came home to me every night, after all the course of love was never smooth and these other women were nothing but the work of the devil and home breakers. What about the man with a wife and children who went in search of them? Did his actions make him a saint? On one other occasion, he had gone to visit Mama Benji who I had heard was his on and off girlfriend. She was a single mother with three grown sons. She and my husband had quarrelled over money and in annoyance she had soaked his clothes in a bucket of water and had her three sons throw him out of her house. He had run home naked and I had tried to cover his shame as everyone said it was the work of the devil. The devil had taken away his senses and made him go in search of other women! Satan was always blamed. If I left him, another woman would step in to take my place. Did I want a stranger raising my child?
I wanted to be a good wife and so had endured all the battering and never defied his authority like I had been advised to. I suffered physical, mental and emotional abuse in silence , while my neighbours had turned blind eyes to my pain. Pretending not to have ever heard my screams for help when I was being beaten up nor see my scars or heard my silent pleas for freedom from the bondage I called a marriage. It was between husband and wife and should be settled by both parties as long as the woman behaved herself! Both families did not want the shame and stigma of divorce tainting their names, would the taint of death be better?
When I couldn’t take his cheating any longer, I decided to take action. One time I had caught him with a woman and slapped her in annoyance, she tried to fight me but the other women had come to my rescue screaming words like “Husband snatcher ! Home breaker !” at her she had hurried away with her hand bag and almost fell off her cheap shoes.On another occasion , I had caught him with another girl at the local restaurant in the barrack. When I walked in on them, my husband frooze. I walked up to their table and introduced myself to the woman as her boyfriend’s wife. She looked uncomfortable, he had quickly lied to me that she was a distant cousin. I shook my head, he was from a small family and I knew most his relatives. In all my years of marriage to him, I had never met this gum chewing cousin with the auburn wig, bright red lipstick, big breasts in a tank top that covered them only half way and derrier the side of a school bus encased in a tiny tight skirt. Trust my lying husband. I greeted her sweetly and joined them at the table. As I sipped the glass of juice I had ordered,I told him about our daughter’s progress at school. The girl sat quietly staring intently at the floor. I noticed my husband’s hands were shaking. The final straw that made him take his cheating ways as far away from our visinity as possible, was when he started sleeping with the widow living a few blocks away from our flat. He usually sneaked there most evenings after dinner and came back very late at night.I never asked any questions. Last week, while he was in her flat having a nice time with her I took away his shoes from where they were neatly aranged at her door mouth. I placed them at the entrance to our house. I guess when he was ready to leave and couldnt find his shoes, he had either walked down the blocks on bare feet or borrowed one of her tiny slippers !
On seeing his shoes at home and me watching Tv while our daughter did her home work on the carpet, he knew I had caught him again. I was fed up. He accused me of not minding my business and inability to understand that a man had needs. I gave him a piece of my mind on the importance of intergrity, fidelity and responsibility and received a slap for that. He had gone drinking after that.
I tried to put myself in his shoes, his irresponsibility was enough to push me into the arms of another. Adultery for women had its repercussions, if a man “held your cloth” you could be thrown out of your husband’s house and you automatically lost all the right to your children. The thought was such a taboo, that explained why it was refered to as holding your cloth instead of saying it as it is . Women were trained to endure, they were not expected to cheat.
Then he fell and died this morning. Today his kettle had boiled over and I had had enough
As usual he had stuck me in drunken stupor and I had fallen to the ground bleeding as I gripped my bulging belly. My unborn moved about restlessly within me, I didn’t want a still born. My toddler had run to my rescue and taken a blow in my place. That was my wake up call, I could take any thing, but my children were God’s and mine to protect .Woe betide anyone who laid a violent finger on them even if he was their father. Today I decided to stand up for myself and my children, I had intended to do what ever it took to put an end to this battering. I had only defended myself by protecting my children.
As memories came flooding back. Memories of the career I had given up and all painful nights I had wept from beatings and assault by the man who called himself my husband and lover. The older women had said , it was disrespectful to push a man to the ground. If that ever happened I would be fined a goat to appease the gods for such a disrespectful act. The older women had also said it was disrespectful to talk back to your husband in anger, as it would only flare up his anger. Ha ! It was disrespectful to do so many things to your husband. What about me? Wasn’t I a human being too and didn’t I deserve some respect? Had I become an object because he had paid a bride price when he had married me?
Was I now a piece of furniture because he was the provider, while I was a wife who stayed home to look after our home and children? Should I have endured beyond endurance because I had endured the privilege of childbirth which many women prayed for and never experienced? Didn’t I deserve happiness and a friend in my husband? Whose hands had once shown me so much love and tenderness?
Like I said ealier, I was neither evil nor a witch as they all spit at me now. I had only defended myself and protected my children when I was being battered. My dear husband had slipped and landed on the broken bottle of alcohol which was his first love, as he charged towards the umbrella I had made with my body over my children. My voice disappeared, I was too scared to scream as the three of us sat curled in a corner. My unborn, my toddler and me. As usual no one had come to my rescue, hearing my screams.
How could I simply explain the truth to my in laws? The truth that their son and brother my husband and tormentor had fallen on a broken bottle and bled to death? Even if I hadn’t pushed him, they would say I had wished it and that my evil wish had been granted so either ways I was still guilty.
Once again amidst curses and threats, I felt silence and peace. I was again deaf to all of this with my knees still locked in a French kiss with the hard earth, still clutching all that mattered most in the world to me. My emotionless eyes noted the satisfied smirk on the faces of the women standing silently behind the seated men. Their eyes too had silent stories to tell, they spoke volumes of their perils. I felt nothing. It was not for me to say if he deserved the misfortune that had befallen him I had only done what every mother or human being would have done in self defence. I had but protected my children. On my knees I awaited the judgement of the elders who are all but men. Why won’t the older women be given the power to judge a case like this? If I am not banished into the evil forest, I would be ostracised like all witches were with their property from this village. Ostracised for a crime that I was innocent of. I had stopped caring as I silently prayed that I’d be ostracised . Ostracised to freedom, ostracised to the good life I once knew , ostracised to a better life for me and my children. Na dem sabi !