There was a debate and counter debate as they decided who would be sacrificed for the other. A standoff ensued with the adamant husband, ready to die first, reluctant to take any truce. She was so upset and bitter accusing him. ‘You call me skylark for nothing. It makes me sad to know that your love for me stops short at death. And if I died, it makes me sadder to know that you’d have another skylark in your bed even before the sheets lost my body’s heat.’ And she began to cry once again, at her desperate situation and at her husband’s apparent ‘refusal’ to protect her.
Jack the Raper came back sparkling clean after the hot shower. He was in her bathrobe. A foreboding indication to her that her fate was sealed. Yet, instead of going straight for her, he headed into the bedroom. Pushed and pulled the wardrobes, browsing through suits, hunting for what matched his taste. Taking a pair of jeans now, trying on a buggy T-shirt, disarranging, shuffling disapprovingly at the owner’s taste for cheap clad. Deciding on one pair of designer suit, he went closer to the dressing mirror to make sure he looked ready for the imaginary ‘date’ he was going.
He applied lotion on his face. Put on an after-shave and sprayed. Took out the purse that had been placed carelessly earlier on, and poured its contents on the dressing table. He gave an amused survey of the debris – puffs, powders, patches, two Bibles, rosary, a love letter. He dusted one of the Bibles and smiled as if, unworthy as he was, had realized that, its inclusion among love letter and cosmetics suggested a general confusion between worldly and spiritual affairs and values. He clutched at the Rosary and for a moment, the husband thought he was reflecting on his sins, as his wife had done, but Jack the Raper couldn’t distinguish between true and false worth for his gaze was fixed on a love letter and smiled at the lady’s picture to whom the letter was addressed to.
‘So romantic of you!’ he commented. ‘Look at this! Where do you get lovely ideas like these?’ and then he recited dramatically.
“I’m dying for you.
My heart is internally
Bleeding for you.”
‘Are you ready to die for the sake of you wife?’ he asked, looking at himself in the mirror.
‘You are such a nice young man. You could do something worthwhile with your talents.’ The husband advised. ‘They will find you. The authorities, you know.’
‘Don’t you lecture me on how to live my life.’ He hissed at him, with such finality that left the husband more terrified, and especially when he went back to the sitting room.
But he didn’t stop in the sitting room. He disappeared into the kitchen to forage for the food that he had been rudely interrupted imbibing, and came back almost instantly, sat near the wife and ate from the saucepan. He ate voraciously, with mouth stretched back to ears to swallow the more, eyes opening wide at the same time as jaws, and throat generating noises like the gurgling in a drainpipe. His eyes wandered to the unpacked dinner the wife had bought home. ‘Is that beef there?’ he asked, looking as if he had never turned a third course of any meal. He neither waited for the answer.
He picked up his fork and poked the meat with the knife; he cut off a slice of the beef, which lay in a mourning sea of watery gravy and heavy enough to hold upright a huge wooden spoon. Put the beef in his mouth, chewed it and, with great effort, made himself to swallow. ‘That tastes swee-eet so still!’ he went on, scrutinizing the almost dressed figure of the wife. ‘Isn’t it splendid to see young people eat? Lot’s of food to build up their strength! They are the people who are going to stir up the fermenting forces of the future.’
He grinned between mouthfuls throwing her a Jack the Ripper grin- his teeth gleaming like a lighthouse and his laugh coming up out of him like the beginning of an earthquake. But the wife only stared him with empty eyes, to which he retorted: ‘Aah! No attempt at conversation? I see you have been through such an experience before. Well, then, I must continue talking.’
She simply looked at the metallic darkness of his eyes and remembered the same look in the eyes of a snake, poised to strike her in the woods of her childhood. Her sobs had died down to a low moan. And she heaved now and then at her sorry state. Her husband had given up pleading. And waited for the worst to happen, a disturbing thought crossing his mind, that the old man made of bones had finally come to lay his cold and heavy hand on their shoulders.
Laying aside the saucepan and wiping his mouth with his thumb, Jack the Raper sat closer to her. He loosened his belt, unbuttoned the shirt. He simply stared at her as a cat would to a mouse that he had caught and was lying helplessly. Perhaps thinking too the thoughts that ran through the cat as it celebrated its feat. She started to plead but her mercy was met with his stern and stone-faced look. ‘With rape, as with making love, foreplay is an all-important factor.’ He reminded her (isn’t that what the cat would say?) and caressed her sweating cold face. ‘Do feel free to let me know how you feel.’ She was now screaming uncontrollably at every kiss that she received.
But before the foreplay could develop any further, there was a loud ‘O-P-E-N!’ noise and commotion from the outside. Then a single mighty blast—the sort of terror-inspiring noise that accompanies all big earthquakes-and the loudest knocking of the door in the history of the neighbourhood shattered the peace that had reigned. Someone slipped and fell heavily on the ground outside. Cursing followed; ‘Open thish houshe thish inshtant before I bring down the door with my rainsh and blowsh and kicksh…’
Action. Shuffling of feet. A cocktail of noises from the excitement inside and careless banging outside, mingled to awake the whole neighbourhood. ‘Come right in! Come right in!’ the tearful voice of the wife could be heard. ‘Just break it dude! Just break it pal!’ the faint voice of the husband was heard crying in the wilderness of his the bedroom.
The deafening banging persisted with total disregard to the pleas inside for the ‘damn’ door to be broken, as the knocker seemed never bothered at what the couple was saying. ‘This ishn’t my head I’ve got now,’ he kept threatening, between blows. ‘I think thish ish shomething that ushed to belong to Columbush or Shakeshpeare.’
He was now kicking and hitting at the door with all his might. ‘I think you better shtart looking for some new asshes, ‘caushe I’d blow away what your mamash gave you.’ He kept cursing frantically. It did not take long for the frail joints and the mortise lock to snap under his pressure and caved in, letting in the drunken neighbour.
His stupor left him for a second at what met his gaze: a semi-naked woman who did not resemble his wife, but then overpowered again, when he thought that his eyes were deceiving him with double vision. ‘I’m not drunk. I can prove it…I shwear. I can even shtand on one leg.’ He tried to but lost balance and fell flat. They all laughed. He laughed hysterically, too, and rose up, recovered and stood up. ‘I’m laughing at my own exshpense…eeh? Woman, your looksh different. I thought you wash my neighboursh wife.’
He staggered to the wall, took off his coat and tried to hang it on what he thought was a nail pinned on the wall. But it was a fly. And each time he made the attempt, it flew away. He followed once or twice until he gave up on the effort. And finally when he realized his mistake, that he had broken into the wrong house, that he had intruded, that the woman tied to the chair and the man tied into his bed were his neighbours, he could only laugh. But knew that he would get off lightly with his welcome intrusion, ‘you shall love your crooked neighbour with your crooked heart,’ he managed to mumble after helping them to their feet and wobbled away.
The couple could only sigh and feel their weariness, as swimmers climbing ashore, feel the full weight of their body. That beautiful ‘All is well that ends well’ never fell more reassuringly on their ears. The only sign that an intruder had been lurking around was the open rear kitchen door, which let in a gust of wind as sharp as a Berber’s sword slicing the curtains. She went to close it, stood for a second to hear the brawl that was brewing in her neighbour’s house. ‘Where have you been? I’ve been scouring the whole town looking for you.’ The wife demanded from his straying husband and reminded him with a few slaps—not to intrude into other people’s houses.
[Leon and his wife finally moved to an upmarket undisclosed destination. The drunken neighbour kept drinking and bragging, ‘as long as the number of drinks was less than the number of your body, it was ok to drink so much!’ Jack the Raper was finally caught and is serving a maximum of fifty years.]
©Gideon Chumo 2010
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