An entry in The Crocodile Prize
People's Award for Short Stories
IN a flash, the back of his hand connected with my cheek. The force caused my 10-year frame to turn 360 degrees on the spot. Stars erupted in my eyes, and my brain sloshed inside the cavern of my head.
It was hot, fiery hot, and the tears evaporated from my eyes as I struggled to choke back my heart which had leapt out of my chest from the shock.
As the room recoiled with the slamming of the door behind his retreating back, the heart wrenching sobs from the direction of the bedroom made me realize that what I had just experienced was just the aftermath of the storm which had raged in the bedroom for the past half hour.
“Mum,” I screamed as I threw myself against the bedroom door, forgetting my searing hot face. I screamed louder as I fumbled with the knob. The door was locked from the inside.
“Mum, please open the door,” I begged.
I heard a shuffle in the room and heard my mother leaning against the door on the other side of the locked door.
“Please baby, don’t cry, I am alright,” she slurred, “go and get Uncle Greg, I need to go to the hospital.”
“Mum, no,” I screamed in alarm slamming myself on the locked door.
“Please baby, just go and bring aunty and uncle,” she begged in a fading voice as I heard her slide to the floor.
“No,” I screeched and sprang out the door and straight into uncle Greg and Auntie Pat who had seen the retreating back of the man we called dad and were coming to check on mum and me.
“Mum, mum,” was all I could manage as I passed out.
When I came round, I was lying in auntie’s house, being fanned by their grandmother. The cold cloth on my face was not cold enough to quell the sweltering pain on my tender cheeks. My brother was sucking his thumb, all hunched up and pressed into the old woman.
Old bubu mama informed me that my mum had been taken to the hospital and she left instructions for me to not go home but to look after my baby brother and stay with bubu mama until she returned from the hospital.
That night, even the prayers offered by bubu mama or her comforting presence could not stop the events from replaying in a continuous loop in my head. Initially, my concern was for mum but as the night hours ticked on, my mind shifted to what had happened to me. I could see the huge hairy hand coming down in slow motion and connecting with my face, as spittle flew out the other side and I spun like a highly strung spinning top.
Mum had told me that the word hate was a bad word – in Gods eyes hate was on the same level as murder. Hate is reserved for sinners bound for hell. Then it hit me there in bed beside my baby brother and nestled against the bulk of the old woman - I had become a victim of hate. He hated me, the man I looked up to and called father. I broke down and my heart followed suit.
Eventually the tears of self-pity ran out and the tear ducts hardened into tight coils of hatred. How I wished he could fall down dead where ever he was. It did not matter to me there and then that I was now the transgressor.
The next day, mum returned from the hospital looking bedraggled and shaky. She had a black eye and a butterfly Band-Aid plastered on a gash on her upper lip which was swollen and purple. Her left hand was bandaged and in a sling. We reunited tearfully.
That night we went home with great apprehension, but we had the company of all the female members of our neighborhood who came to give us support and protection in case the beast of a man came around again.
As predicted, he did return.
“Sisi, honey, Sisi, I am so sorry’, he pleaded tearfully with mum using her pet name, “please forgive me, I did not know what I was doing. I will never do that again.”
“Go away lowlife,” aunty Pat threw open the door and spat in his face.
He only needed the door to be partly open to jam the door with his huge hairy leg to stop it from shutting.
“Aaron my boy, I love you so much, I am so sorry, please come to Daddy,” he beseeched while ignoring Aunty Pat as his eyes searched the faces in the room for my baby brother.
Again, it was happening as was predicted. He would try to get back into your life by using the children, mum was told, be strong and do not give in into his tears. Mum was beyond persuasion by his crocodile tears, so she just ignored him.
He kept on for a while and upon getting no response, he slunk away in shame under the cover of darkness.
The next day, mum went to the Community Peace Officer and set a date to meet with the man we call dad and sort the issue. The next available day for the meeting was two days away. Word was sent to my real grandparents to come to the meeting. It would be a shameful business - airing the private story of our life, but mum decided that reliving those painful memories were the only way to break the cycle of violence.
The day arrived and we were all summoned to meet with the Peace Officers under the mango tree at the church grounds. Our agenda was first and the only item in the list and it lasted the whole day. At the end of that day, our story was the tasty morsel that made the standard fare of sweet potato palatable around the evening fires.
One year ago, at just 23 years of age and armed with a Nursing Certificate, the woman I call mum was posted to this rural hospital. Being a young woman, she needed company, so that was how, Aaron and I ended up with her. Aaron and I are cousins – the woman we call mum is the younger sibling of my mother and older sibling to Aaron’s father. Aaron’s parents and my parents gave us up for our aunty to adopt us. I was 6 years older than Aaron.
Mum was young and attractive and had a lot of admirers, but she chose the broad shoulders and rippling muscles of Sam – muscles that turned deadly as we gradually found out. He worked at the local didiman store - which had its benefits. He took care of all our hardware needs - bags of fertilizer for mum’s flower gardens, and my little plot of peas and corn at the back of the house, a proper tank and proper gutters that fed our tank with clean fresh rainwater. He also installed all the locks in the house and made them fool proof.
The only drawback, he was a very insecure man – very suspicious of my mother, questioning her every movement; scrutinizing all her friends and even severing her friendships. He wanted mum to himself. He would even get jealous if mum showed us children more affection than him.
All of the jealousy had built for the past eight months and spewed into that violent explosion 5 days ago.
On that fateful day, at around 4:30 pm, he came home straight from work and demanded sex. Mum was busy preparing to go for night shift that she put him off. His advances being thwarted, he snapped. Then accusations started flying – he accused mum of not loving him the way he loved her and he accused her of infidelity.
Not long after, his huge gorilla hands took over the talking. Behind the locked door, she was like an amateur boxer in the ring with a heavy weight. And when he was done and leaving, he gave me a serving of his frustration for being my mother’s daughter.
That day under the mango tree, other stories came out – evidence which mum carefully hid from me and Aaron and even the neighbors and no one suspected that such a man like him – stable and family oriented would be capable of such violence.
With a stoic expression on her face, mum recounted how he had destroyed some of her best clothes and at one time he even took a scissors to all her underwear. He would pull her hair and pinch her to draw blood on her thighs and stomach areas. Places where the bruises would not be visible.
Once he came home late stinking of alcohol. When he was served dinner, he took one look at the food and threw the plate out the door. He demanded to eat chicken and not the tin fish that we served him. We did not sleep well that night.
That afternoon after he stormed out of the house, mum slit her wrist in frustration, she could not bear the torment anymore. But hearing me on the other side of the door; she realized that she couldn’t just take her life because she had responsibility in me and Aaron. That night, she lost enough blood to need a transfusion overnight.
That day under the mango tree, the shame on grandfather’s face was overwhelming because mum was blamed for bringing the problem on herself. She was presented as an immoral woman to have let Sam move in to her house to share her bed and her life even before any bride price was paid. Grandfather could not ask for compensation on that ground.
At the end of all the day, Granddad asked mum to apply for a position in the hospital in our own home district. We left 4 weeks later. We were not sorry to see the last of the place that held dreadful memories for the three of us.
As I am writing this piece for a domestic violence report, I see mum bouncing my first son on her lap.
Through arranged marriage - since grandpa did not believe in leaving things up to chance - he married mum to a distant relative, slightly older but stable in temperament. Mum bore three younger siblings for Aaron and me.
When I came of marriageable age, mum ensured she approved my husband before I got married. As for Aaron, we are saving up money to buy him his bride. We have learnt our lesson well and not leaving our future to chance.