A STRIDE INTO A FAINT HOPE
by Emmanuel Charity
When Geoffrey first saw his mother crying, he thought he was imagining it. He blinked thrice to confirm his sight and rushed to where she was at once. Her gaze was fixed to the distant space, and she did not seem surprised by his presence when he stooped closely beside her. She was sitting on an old stool, her sobs consistently slow. She reached out often to the loose end of her wrapper to wipe her streaming tears.
Geoffrey moved closer to her, “Mama…not again. Mama…” He knew she would not say anything, not when she was still sobbing. He put his arm around her gently and patted her shoulder consolingly. Her blouse was torn by the shoulder, revealing only the threadbare on the opening, its original bright red had faded into a dull maroon. She had worn it along with a few other blouses for a long time now, but it was obvious that this once red blouse had outdone its destiny on her part. Geoffrey covered it with his palm and looked away, she would certainly wear beautiful dresses when things got better.
He tapped her gently by the arm to see if she was done brooding, but she remained still, and except for the occasional sighs she heaved, she said nothing. Her eyes were sunken from worries and tears. Geoffrey hated to see her in this mood and he always tried to prevent it. He patted her more consolingly and rested his head gently on her shoulder. It was early evening and it was mildly cold outside, the moon had coyly withdrawn into the dark clouds, and everywhere would have been enveloped in gloomy darkness, but for the twinkles of the stars. Safely in the arms of her son, Geoffrey, Shenente’s mind drifted slowly to the beginning of everything when things did not seem too bad until it became worse and complicated, and she ceased to be a mere spectator of her life….
It was seventeen years ago when Shenente’s hand was first sought for in marriage. She was the third and only surviving child of the three children her mother bore and being a beautiful damsel, suitors had come earlier than usual seeking for her hand in marriage. Barely two years into marriage, Badji, her husband, changed from being the gentle and caring man she was familiar with. Initially, Shenente thought it was only because his palm trees did not yield much produce that year, which resulted in the financial setback he suffered that accounted for his change in attitude, but it did not seem entirely so after a while. At the time, she already had Geoffrey who was barely four months old, after four successive miscarriages.
First, Badji stopped providing food for the family. Shenente went begging from neighbours and later resorted to cultivating a little garden at the backyard of the house to survive. Before long, survival depended lesser and lesser on the little produce from the garden and she soon went into farming maize and other such produce on lands that were meant to be built upon, whenever a land was being prepared for construction, she moved to another.
The first time Badji asked her for food during that period seemed like a mere joke. Earlier that day, she had felt so weak that she could not go to the farm, and when hunger struck, she enlisted the help of a neighbour for a little foodstuff. Grateful, she prepared the food quickly, but before sunset, the bowl was emptied, and she knew she was going to sleep hungry especially as Geoffrey had not been weaned. It was later that evening that Badji arrived, demanding for food. ” Woman! You heard me correctly, ko? I don’t want to repeat myself, kinji? I’m waiting for my food, and now.” She sat still, wondering if it was all a joke, even waiting for the end of the joke was painful enough. She adjusted her wrapper before she spoke up, “All day long you leave me alone with the kid promising to return soon, only to disappear into thin air…” before she finished talking, she found herself on the ground screaming, “Wayo! What have I done to you? Oh! My ears, Badji…” With her hands on her left cheek, she received some more thunderous slaps, then swift but firm kicks until she could not hear herself scream.
She laid there on the floor willing herself to cry, but she could not find the strength. She heard Geoffrey’s shrill cry, and wondered if he was hurt too, but she could not move her head in his direction to confirm her fears. Just then, Badji advanced towards her again. Fear gripped her. “Help… before he kills me, help….m…..ee…pls.” A few neighbours had gathered and were pleading from without, asking for pardon on behalf of the offender. The very instant Badji heard their voices, he went wild. He went to the room where he kept his digging equipment, he picked one crooked long stick with thorny edge along with a cutlass and went out to meet them at the entrance of the house. Before he got very close, the small crowd had got wind of it and were swiftly dispersing.
One man, Gajere, who first took to his heels while letting out the cry for others to run, was mistakenly stepped on and had his slippers pulled off by a young girl who was also on the run for her life, “Ya…wayo! Wayo!” he screamed as he went back swiftly to put it back on. Upon bending down hurriedly to put the slippers back on, his weakly fastened trousers and dirty boxer pulled downwards, exposing nearly all of his buttocks. He sighted Badji angrily coming closer. He let out a sharp cry, left his slippers, and ran dragging his trousers by the waist, while pulling up his boxer beneath. He kept shouting; cursing the unfortunate girl who pulled his slippers, promising that if he got off Badji’s hook that evening, he would never in his life go out to attend to any cries for help thence forth. Luckily, he escaped narrowly, and as was his nature, circulated a well-concocted false account of the story to the community before daybreak.
After their dispersal, Badji simply went into the room, while Shenente laid helplessly in the sitting room with Geoffrey crying and tugging at her blouse as if to wake her up. The same thing happened the following day and next. As she could not bear the pains any longer, she took to the advice of Maimu, her confidant. In the days that followed, whenever Badji returned home and demanded food, she provided it to avoid rounds of beatings. The hardship, however, was borne by Shenente with a degree of perplexity and harsh reality, and as if the burden was not enough, she soon found that she was pregnant.
For days, she sought for the right time and mood to inform her husband on the new development. Then one evening, after he finished eating, he asked why she wanted to talk to him. “Actually, I’ve been wondering how to tell you this,” she paused to catch her breath and tried to sound as softly as possible, “I’m ermm…pregnant, and as it is, I think it’s important to rest more and…” “Who got you pregnant?” He looked her over disgustingly and stood up, ” You’ve got no mouth to answer, ko? Ciki din, who owns it, stupid?” Shenente was too dumbfounded to reply, he kept looking her over angrily as if to find the foetus in her stomach. This was what she feared, and it was happening now. She stood up quietly to avoid any verbal conflict, but he grabbed her hand roughly just in time and dealt her a slap across her face. It blurred her vision and left her lightheaded. She fell. He consistently kicked her fiercely, ” Get up, answer me! Answer me!! Do you think I’m joking with you?” Shortly afterward, she did not feel anything and everywhere seemed too dark to see through. She passed out.
The following day, Shenente woke up to the smile of a middle-aged woman whom she recognized as one of the local nurses in the community. ‘’ I knew you would wake up around this time. How do you feel, now?” She tried to reply, but the sharp pain in her head kept her back. The nurse felt her head with the back of her hand and nodded as if to say everything was going well. Badji stood at a distant corner in the room, a penitent look written all over him. When he heard the nurse talk with Shenente, he moved closer to the bed and gently held her hand, “Sorry. Errm… how are you feeling now?” Shenente stared at him for a long time, expressionless and closed her weak eyes. She had lost the baby.
“I came around to check on you several times, but your husband refused to allow me or anybody in.” Maimu started upon sighting Shenente in her compound. She reached out for a stool and balanced an old bench resting on the wall beside her door. ” Yes. He told me specifically about your visits and how he prevented you from seeing me.” “How are you now?” Shenente shrugged before she found an answer, ” Better, now.” But Maimu did not seem convinced, she moved closer to her, examined her for a moment and shook her head slowly, “You were badly wounded, Shenente. You have to do something about the situation you’re in,” Shenente kept looking into the distance as if she did not hear anything. ” you better do something about the situation you’re in.” She repeated affirmatively. Shenente sat on the stool and sighed deeply. Her face was swollen and her left eye had nearly completely closed up. Maimu reached out for her hand, patted it gently and shared the known silence. “What should I do? Will I kill him to solve my problem?” Shenente managed to say after a while, breaking the silence. She stretched out her legs tiredly, her wrapper had come loose, but she ignored it, allowing it to roll slowly away from the knot, revealing a yellow underskirt. Her wrapper looked dirty, the pink Ankara with cream- coloured flowery design had changed to a pale purple and light brown. She rubbed her eyes, pursed her lips and continued shaking her legs slowly, her mind obviously faraway. “Has he spared you your life to solve his?” Maimu asked calmly as though she had said something else. “If that will stop the problem. lf that will make you get the peace you deserve. You lost a baby, you just did.” She looked straight at Shenente with furrowed brows, her eyes roamed angrily, seeking something she could not find. “I don’t think so, Maimu.” She could not understand the sudden anger in Maimu now, and the sneer on her face at her response left her clueless. “Really think, Shenente. Think. You just lost a baby. Anything but a man who can put you to death by physical violence or other means.” Shenente looked away and tied her wrapper loosely. The discussion was not obviously leading somewhere comforting. ” I thought Badji would continue to demand food these past few days like he used to, but he hasn’t.” She said, finally. “Which could have generated rounds of beatings. Gaskiya, God saved you, but you might need to save yourself afterward. God has done His part.” Shenente looked at Maimu more closely, she looked so distant and different, as if she was suddenly possessed and she talked like a goddess who was addressing a spirit that remained invisible to those around. She did not look like the same person who had been offering the pieces of advice before in a very consoling manner. The two sat in silence, it was a different silence and it seemed like they were sharing their thoughts.
Occasionally, their silence was disrupted by their deep sighs, and their eyes met. “Let me see what I can do at the farm, Maimu.” “Ina? You cannot go to the farm today. Go and have your rest, I will send some foodstuff to you later. You have to be fine, first. ” Maimu reached for her leg and squashed a fly, her eyes showed that she was disturbed by something invisible, and it was not the fly which she directed her anger at. ” Thank you, my Mother Theresa, God will reward you favourably.” That was what she called Maimu whenever she received something so timely from her.”Amen, go and have some rest, Shenente.”
When Shenente got home, she went straight to the room where Geoffery was laid, he was still sleeping. She heaved a sigh of relief, grateful she had not left him crying all the while she was at Maimu’s place. She stood pondering over all that happened at Maimu’s place. What was Maimu suggesting as the next line of action to end the problems she was going through? Her mind raced at the thought of ever retaliating when she tried to picture it in her mind’s eyes. A lizard crawled in, nodding and looking stealthily around for which turn it should take, it picked up a piece of corn and swallowed it hurriedly, revealing a tiny red tongue, nodding as if to confirm that it tasted great, then it headed for the door leading to the passage. Shenente sat looking at the lizard mindlessly, just then, Geoffery woke up crying. She picked him up tiredly and slid her left nipple into his small mouth, but he did not suck it quickly, as usual, he kept his mouth open and did not hold the breast until the milky juice dropped into his mouth. The instant he tasted the milk, he sucked hungrily at the nipple and Shenente pressed it farther into his mouth. Whatever caused his hesitations which she noticed recently whenever she breastfed him, she was yet to understand, maybe he wanted to be weaned, she thought, briefly. She would go and see Maimu when she felt better. For now, she needed to rest, fatigue racked her entire body, and she wondered what it was that made her think she could do any work at the farm initially, it must be very wrong.
The moment Shenente stepped into Maimu’s compound a few days later, she knew something had gone amiss. The compound was in a state of disarray and she itched to know. The old stool was lying on its side and it looked like it had been flung across by somebody angry. The one-legged bench which was usually placed slantly across the wall was lying carelessly on the ground and the part of the bench which served as the only leg of the bench was pulled outwards. This was unlike Maimu. She looked around for more signs, the ground which had sand finely spread across the compound was scattered about with footprints like it had been wrestled on. Obviously, some persons had violently trampled on it. Shenente moved closer, her mind racing. Fear seized her when she did not get the usual response from Maimu after her usually loud salutation. Just when she was pondering hastily on what could have happened, she heard a faint voice call her name from within the house. “She…nen…te…” It was so faint and distant as though it was a voice tired from a long journey calling from afar. Apart from that, it must have taken the person a lot of energy to have muttered her name a second time. She felt a slow movement on her toes and looked down. A little cockroach had crawled on her left foot, it walked very slowly and stopped as if indecisive about where exactly it should go. She shook it off swiftly and headed for the place where the faint call came from. As soon as she touched the ash-colored curtain to go in, she noticed a bloodstain in the middle. It stood there in all its brightness, the patch formed the shape of a flying bird at the centre. The curtain looked very dirty with stains from charcoal and dirty hands. She stopped briefly, wondering whose blood it was that made such a scary sight, then she heard someone mumble from within, it was not her name, it was of pain and agony. She moved the curtain aside hurriedly and entered the room. The lighting of the room was too dim for her to make out anything at first, but after a while, she saw on her left a turning stick and a broom flung carelessly on the ground. Besides the only wooden chair in the room, the cover of a yellow bucket was lying on the ground too. On her right was a bunch of loads hurriedly packed into a faded green wrapper. Some clothes and shoes were scattered on the side of the wall dividing the room from the other room. As she was moving towards the adjacent room, she saw Maimu crawling very slowly and painfully on her stomach. She had been batteredly beaten, and blood oozed from the side of her head. Shenente dashed for her, “Maimu… who did this to you? Who?” Tears rolled down her eyes when she saw the difficulty with which Maimu tried to speak. Her eyes were closing up and her upper lip was badly swollen and on her left cheek were traces of fingers from slaps. “Help…help! Somebody help!! He…lp!”
In the only emergency ward of Bikini hospital, Shenente sat watching the consistency of Maimu’s breathing as instructed by the nurse. Not long afterward, she heard Maimu mumble something. She moved closer and inclined her ears near her mouth. “Kajur did it to me…” She closed her eyes painfully and continued, “He came suddenly in the morning, yesterday, asking me to make love with him to see if I would conceive this time.” Shenente patted her gently on her arm as she tried hard to lie on her side. “I asked why his concubine whom he left me for had not conceived for over four years that he left me, without a trace. He…he said she too probably had a problem conceiving. “She winced and paused briefly, “Do you blame him? He’s the only son of his parents that’s why he’s so desperate and even confused… And all I did, all I did… to be thus beaten was that I told him I could not bring myself to make love with him, yet. With that, he asked me out of the house…I agreed and… and… I asked him to give me two…days…days…to pack out. I was packing a few things the following day…. when he pounced…pounced on me, trying to forcefully have his way…when I refused, he dealt me blows…” Her voice trailed off as she painfully closed her eyes and tears streamed down her swollen eyes. Shenente reached out to wipe off the tears amidst her sobs. “But I fought, Shenente… I fought back. He too left with scars.” Maimu painfully forced one of her eyes open slightly, she was looking at Shenente. “You need to fight for your freedom, Shenente. Don’t sit and… and… just…watch your life passively…do something. Do something. Something for…for…the sake of yourself first…your well-being….and your son.” Suddenly, she groaned loudly. She stretched with a great force and jerked with her mouth open. Shenente screamed with hot tears running down her cheeks. “Nurse! Nurse!! Help!!”
As Shenente headed home heavy-hearted with the news of Maimu’s death late in the evening, she reminiscenced on all the times she had shared with Maimu till their parting on her death bed that evening. Life was so unfair to such a strong woman who stood her ground even when unfriendly situations put her down. She stopped at her neighbour’s house to pick Geoffrey, but she learnt that Badji had already picked him. As soon as she stepped her feet on the veranda of her house, she knew something was wrong. She felt it. She heard Geoffrey crying, but it was not so audible. Something cautioned her against rushing in or shouting. She moved quietly towards the window of the room and peered to see through. There, to her horror, she saw Badji forcing his member into Geoffrey’s mouth. She saw the discomfort Geoffrey was going through and the innocence in his eyes. A fit of uncontrollable anger rushed through her as she headed for the kitchen. It was faintly dark inside, but she gropped angrily for just anything and before long, she touched the pestle in its usual position. She picked it up and headed for the room. Badji saw her just in time as she stepped into the room and pushed Geoffrey aside, violently. He fell and cried out loudly, his small mouth dripping with sperm. Swiftly, Badji flung his boot at her. She staggered. But she was too determined to let go. He took slow steps towards her while their eyes locked, “Drop the pestle. Drop it, now! Don’t be stupid, woman.’’ “It is you who should not have been stupid, Badji, but you’re also wicked. Wicked! Wicked!! Wicked!!! Wicked!” Hot tears were streaming down her face as she held firmly to the pestle, trembling. Badji kept coming closer. She did not want to miss this moment. In a flash, she ran quickly to the place he was standing and hit him hard on the head with the pestle before he could grab her hand. He fell at once. She hurriedly carried Geoffrey and ran as fast as her legs could carry her, out of the village before daybreak.
She learnt later that apart from the state of coma in which she left Badji, he had been indulging in hard drugs earlier, which had caused an impairment in his brain and he had little chance for survival. Since his death seven years after, Shenente had not been able to get over everything and she broke down in tears uncontrollably whenever she thought of it. She had been staying with her aunt in a village faraway.
Geoffrey tapped her gently again to see if she was done brooding. She took his hand in hers and squeezed it weakly. She was no longer crying, and her sobs had stopped. The moon peeped slowly from behind the clouds and beamed forth its bright light. Geoffrey helped her up and gave her a warm embrace.
Source: From the Rebel Issue (October 2019)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
EMMANUEL CHARITY is currently a 300-level student of English Language department, University of Ilorin, Ilorin, Kwara State. She is a passionate reader and writer. She enjoys cooking, teaching, travelling and playing the keyboard. One of her greatest aspirations is to positively and richly influence everyone she’s privileged to come across; to make them have a sense of worth regardless of what and who they are.