Celebrating East African Writing!
“You came again?”
“Yes. And of my own free will, so you can stop asking me that every time you see me.”
I put down the basket with a hot pot full of boiled turmeric rice and a stew of peas and beans. There is also a bottle of drinking water, two plastic plates, and two spoons. As soon her eyes spotted the package, she looked away, perhaps afraid to appear eager for a decent meal. She had been away from her family and friends for almost a year, completely cut off from them because of everything that had happened in her household. Hailing from the same superstitious people, it was easy for me to sympathize with her.
“And how much did you pay them to be let you through with that?”
“Only twenty shillings. I left them with a loaf of bread and a few old newspapers I did not need anyway.”
It was a lie, but there was no point of helping weigh her down with the guilt of small bribes. I cared less if I had had to pay one hundred shillings more. My own life had been marred with rumors of bad luck when I had trouble conceiving for two years. When the neighbours offered to help us, my husband had known better than to wait for the intervention. We moved to a different town and started our lives afresh; he bought a new farm, opened a mini-supermarket. Soon after the short rains I became pregnant.
“Did you sleep at all? Your eyes look heavy. Or were you up all night boiling beans for me?”
“Anita! What has gotten into you today?”
Much as I cared for her I also detested her mood swings. Anita was a headstrong woman and I would not stand her pitiful attitude one bit. The one thing that annoyed me more than sympathy was pitiful sympathy, begged for without really asking. She was the one who warned me about the women in our neighbourhood who sought out the seemingly troubled residents in an attempt to introduce the services of an old herbalist to them. Her mother-in-law had been one of these curious characters.
“I’m sorry. I’m in a terrible mood today. Maybe he is trying to disturb my peace from the other side.”
She laughed briefly, a dry careless laugh that spoke of disgust. Then she stopped suddenly and stared at a stained spot on the dull wall in front of us. She sat up straight for a short while, fiddling with her fingernails, then leaned slightly against the wall behind her and sighed heavily.
“You’ve never asked me what happened.”
Her gaze remained fixed to that same point. It seemed as if she were a different person; anxious or fearful. I could not tell right away.
“I assumed that you would tell me when you were ready.”
An eerie space of quietness sat between us. Her eyes did not move.
“The sick fool!”
She clicked bitterly and spat on the floor. The evenness of her tone did not match the distress on her face. Her brow was knotted with the most severe look of contempt I had come across. Then as quickly as it had come, the dark cloud over her lifted and in its place was her former air of indifference; the one I had grown used to.
“His people believed that twins are a bad omen. So the ignorant fool put something in my drinking water to ‘exorcise’ my demons. I drank it all. I was always so thirsty when I was…”
Her voice disappears into her thoughts and once again we sit quietly for a time.
“That witch he calls his mother, she brought him some concoctions, from hell knows where, to cleanse my body. My husband’s twin brother was a disturbed child. He always caused trouble in the house – breaking things and tearing clothes. Or he would disappear from home for days and have no explanation for his whereabouts or the bite marks all over his body. Then he stopped talking when he was about eight years old and died in his sleep a few days later. Perhaps he was sick. His mother kept him locked and told people that someone had cast a spell on her.”
She shifted slightly on the bed we also used as a seat and continued. I was quiet; listened to what I had waited ten months to hear. The letter she had sent to me had offered little information, except for her husband’s death and the blame falling conveniently on her.
“When I started to feel sick and he refused to take me to hospital something within me was left unsettled. Then I was sure that he had lost his mind when he locked me in the spare room of our house and started slipping leaves and ashes underneath the door. And when he had made sure to destroy the lives within me, he let me out and apologized for my agony. The fool spoke so humbly you would think he was father Abraham come again!”
I leaned forward, keeping my gaze fixed at a safe enough distance to ensure I would hear the end of this strange tale. I dared not make her uneasy. She tried to keep calm, but her breathing betrayed the sorrow she had kept hidden all this time.
“My body was swollen all over and when my neighbour rushed me to hospital I was on the brink of death. Death itself! And the man decides to visit and play the part of a good husband. I joined him and played along to his folly. I would soon teach him not to scorn a woman from the plains. We smite with more fierceness than the whips our forefathers used to punish disobedient servants. He would soon learn.”
A wicked smile begins to grow on her face. I struggle not to look her way, but my eyes are drawn away from my mind’s will. Anita’s eyes find mine and hold them for a terrifying few seconds before slowly pulling away. Tears fall from her face, but she makes not sound. Neither does she wipe them.
“I asked around and discovered what had been done to me. I spared little time for tears and sought to find the rest of the voodoo tricks he had hidden in the house. I found the small pouch behind my box of clothes and put it in his food. That night, his body started to swell, just like mine had. Only he suffered more pain. By the time he found his way to a hospital, he had started to bleed from all his body openings. His hair fell out like the feathers of a sickly fowl. I had left for my sister’s house a few hours away and only returned when a colleague of his sent for me. I played the role of the good wife for the two weeks that he would continue to grow round and soft like a tick on the back of a cow. Nobody knew where his mother had disappeared to. When my tears refused to fall for such a vile man, everyone knew that I had had a hand in his death. Honestly, I did not care. Where had they been when he killed my babies?”
I sat there, still listening long after the narration had ended. My opinion in the matter would not help her get back what she had lost. Telling her how sorry I was for her pain would not ease it either.
“Let us eat before the meal grows cold. I soaked the beans before boiling them so your stomach will not hurt.”
“Thank you. I hear that dipping a whole carrot in them while boiling also helps.”
I reached out for the basket and pulled out two plates and spoons.
“I’ve been told the same, but I haven’t tried it. I just think it’s a waste of carrots.”
S. Ogugu © 2014