Celebrating East African Writing!
Written by Wesley Macheso
When he told you that he did not believe in anything you told him that he could believe in you. You mistook this cruelty for kindness and went on to build a foundation for what you thought was love. And even if it was the latter, what can such an irrelevant sensation as kindness mean to a man who has lost faith in existence? He only called you sweetness because the taste of your saliva sugar-coated the bitter cud of war on his tongue. You helped him conceal the pain but your tenderness was too tender to kill the images in his nightmares. So he continued screaming in his sleep; he called you Mia in the haziness of his twilight sleep and he shouted out to Bastante, the son you never knew. Haven’t you heard that love is not any better than the lover? That wicked people love wickedly? Weak people love weakly? Stupid people love stupidly? Violent people love violently? And that the love of a free man is never free? You should have read Toni Morrison.
When you left the city to look for a job at the refugee camp you told me that you were looking for closure. You said you were looking for a sense of finality and that you wanted to come to terms with your experience. I did not understand what that meant but I knew it was good for you. At that time anything was good for you because the living thing in you had escaped. You told me that sometimes you saw nothing when you looked in the mirror. You lamented that you could not dream anymore because you could not even sleep. You felt like cutting yourself up or running and running and running. “I wish I could just run”, you told me. “But where to?” And you said any which way was freedom. You wanted to be free from the life you led here and I understood. But I told you that I could not come with you because there was nothing more left for me in this world. I was what I was, whether that was good or bad. But you wanted to escape from you. You wanted to be with other empty people so that you could share the emptiness. You believed that emptiness could be shared and that the more the void increased in volume the further away it could be felt up to a point when the emptiness would just melt into an empty space and you would not feel it anymore. I did not believe it but I thought you too intelligent for my comprehension. I don’t believe in a lot of things but I believe that the world is a very big place. No matter how bad you think you are, or how flawed, or how inadequate, or different, it has a place for you. If you want to live there is room for all of us.
When you sent me your first letter I was excited to hear that you had finally found a man. I wanted to know everything. You told me that you loved how the sun reflected your face on his dark brow. You loved how streams of sweat made rivers on his back that disappeared into the ocean bordering the small of his back when he worked with his hoe. You loved his faint smile that seamed devoid of any vigour and sincerity. You told me that your man was sweet and strange at the same time. At first your greatest worry was that he did not touch you. You feared that wind of your previous life must have reached him. Maybe he was that kind of man who could not touch a woman who had spent most of her prime years selling pleasure to men. You actually thought that somebody must have told him that you were a woman with a past. But that’s what history does; it haunts you. The past always comes creeping after us no matter how far away we may want to run from ourselves. When he finally touched you, he did not do what you expected. You are a woman of experience and you thought you had seen it all but he was different. He trembled with his hand to squeeze your firm breasts and you felt good. His hand wriggled down your shinning dark skin in the faint light of your bedroom and you made way for his masculinity. You shut your eyes and awaited pleasure. Then you felt a sharp object edging on your thighs. You opened your eyes and saw the sharp knife shinning in the thin darkness and you trembled. He moved the knife all over your body and then rested his face on the moisture in your groin. Then you realised that he was crying and you held him there.
Your man told you that he did not want to see you with other men. “There has to be a considerable distance between my wife and other men,” he said. “I don’t want a loose wife. Don’t go about embracing men or giving suspicious handshakes. My culture believes in respect and so I don’t want you around men.” You thought he was a jealous man and this somehow made you feel secure. If he did not want you near men then you assumed he loved you and did not want to share you with any other man. He told you about his culture but you never asked what culture it was. He told you that he was a refugee but he did not tell you about the war. He did not tell you about the day when the soldiers invaded his village and killed all women and children. That was the day he was taken hostage and was made to fight and kill. That was the day his wife Mia was brutally killed. The rebels battered your man and tied him to a tree. They undressed his wife and put his six month old baby in a mortar. They made him watch everything. He watched his wife pounding the baby in the mortar at gunpoint as the soldiers smoked and laughed. The poor woman could not take it anymore and run for the gun. But the soldiers struck her down and took turns on her while mutilating her body. When they were finally satisfied they commanded your man to shoot her but he could not. They cut two of his fingers and made the offer again. When he refused again they cut his left ear and applied gun powder to the wound. The pain was unbearable as streams of blood oozed down his face. He screamed out “MIAAAA!!!! BASTANTEEE!!!!” and squeezed the trigger. Your husband did not tell you about the war. And I wonder why some people say that depression is a western phenomenon. How can a place like Africa, full of war, hunger, poverty, and disease not have depression? It beats my small mind.
Your man was victimised and so he loved you like a victim. He made you a victim of love. He did not want you around men because he had seen what men could do to women like you. Women who were beautiful and naive. He had lived the violence of men and experienced the culture of war. He wanted to protect you. But my dear sister, our elders searched through this life and concluded that old habits die hard. They said you cannot domesticate a chicken meant for the market place. So he had been watching you as you made secret moves with the aid worker at the camp. He read into all your signals which you thought were secret. Had you forgotten that he was a man of war? And when he found you giggling in bliss with the aid worker that fateful evening, he did not waste his time. He burst into the room and you could not trace any emotion in his hollow eyes. You shuddered and the aid worker made for his clothes. He pulled out the revolver which you never knew he had and emptied the brains of your lover. You were too frightened to scream as the cracking sound attacked your ears. The next bullet he squeezed out went through his head and you were left there standing alone. The only thing left with you was the deafening roar of the gun that kept resounding in the void around you. That was when it struck you that all along you had been loving an empty space.