You stare at me and point and poke fingers. You don’t know what happened. You don’t know the situation I was in and what pushed me to do what I did. You just don’t know! Yet you stand there and mangle me with your tongues. It’s ok! Turn away! What at all are you looking at? I promise, if you stretch your eyelids any further, those bulging, marble-like eye balls will fall out of their sockets!
You were not there, and if you had been, you would not even have cared. What would you have done? Would you have helped me? Can you look me in the eye and tell so blatant a lie? Really?
I know. I know you would have simply spread your mouth into the shape of an O and hidden your shock behind your eyes but worn your contempt openly. Your derision would have cloaked you and you would have laid a shroud of the same material on my shoulders and told me to bow my head in shame and to lock up my mouth and throw the key away. You would not have believed me and simply despised me. But I know that my fear would have gripped you too. Yes and it would have given you a loving hug while all it ever gave me were slaps. It would caress you and assure you that you and it were in the right. Yet daily it reminded me with each smack, that it was my ally and the day I would fight it would be the beginning of my demise. What would you have had me do? Swallow my fear and its companion pain? Though each day delivered a new dose more potent than the last, you would not have cared. So shut your mouth and close those eyes! You have no right to accuse me!
When poverty slowly and mercilessly squeezed the life out of my parents you were not there to watch. You were no witness to the times when they would come and stand in front of our creaking mud hut and promise that all would be well and God would provide. They would donate a pittance to us, their famished village cousins, and my father, that metal rod of a man would puddle to the floor in grovelling thanks. They had so much, yet in giving, took much more than they could ever give. I was there. You were not. I was the one who watched, who struggled to detach myself from the scene as my Father, then my Mother and then I, exchanged our dignity for a few paper notes. An old fisherman who had all but lost his strength and eye sight and a fruit and vegetable seller whose crops were doing poorly could focus on only one thing; survival. To hell with pride!
And so when poverty had had enough fun teasing them and finally knocked them into the other world, it was these same city cousins who came to get the poor village orphan, their cousin, to take to the city.
Your eyes did not grow round in wonder when I sat in the back of the hulk of red that the city cousins called a 4×4. Your skin did not sprout goosebumps with me when they asked their city parents to “turn on the AC” and your teeth did not chatter. I was the one quickly woke up during the journey to the city and tried to rearrange my body when I was told to “sit properly” so I would not snore. I was the one who walked with face pointed up to peer at the edges of the seemingly endless walls of the house my city cousins lived in and gape at the sheer size of the place. I was content with my room next to the kitchen; it was bigger than the old mud hut which had one day crumbled and squashed my parents out of my life and into the next. But the city cousins would laugh wide, loud laughs and say how they could not believe that they had had to clear out the store room for me. And I would remark to myself how their teeth looked like fangs when they grinned and the smiles on their faces felt like bullets instead of flowers; how different they were from the smiles I was used to.
Your face never felt like a river bed which each day churned out new drops to nourish the river of tears. It was my face, mine. It was my mind which, in my sleep, painted pictures of a fisherman and a vegetable seller holding oustretched arms and calling out words which could not be heard because the wind carried them away so that only those in the land were they were could hear what was said. Would you have heard their voices? If you had, would you have told me what they said? No, you would have laughed off my stories about these paintings that my mind conjured in the night and you would have checked my temperature.
I scrubbed the floors with my own hands. I cooked with them. I washed with them. And when one panty stunk from my city cousin’s menstrual blood, it was my fingers that removed the stink. I did go to the remedial school every Saturday so that I could resit my WASSCE exams next year but it was funny how the city remedial girls and boys would look at me strangely and tell me that my English was “not good” and was I really so and so’ s cousin? And they would say how lucky I was, how very lucky I was that my city cousins had come to get me quickly because otherwise it would have been even worse. And I would ponder in my head what the meaning of “lucky” was. Did it have the same meaning it had when my parents had said it, or was it something else, this “lucky” word? And I came to the conclusion that maybe this was a different kind of lucky; the type that smiled at you before it threw you into a pit.
You were not there, none of you were there. Why are you still staring? This is partly your fault you know. You people never asked questions about why your Deacon and Deaconess’ niece sat at the back on Sunday while the rest of the family was spread it out in the first five rows. You did not wonder why she always wore the same yellow dress, Sunday after Sunday. You did not see past her plastered smile to the ice that blocked here eyes. And I know why, it is because you did not care. So why do you care now? Why do you care that the shape of my mouth is the shape of defiance? Why are you now realising that my nose is snubbed in pride and my eyes do not merely blink but also roll with nonchalance? Where you blind then? Have your eyes suddenly been opened? Why do you now care, at the moment when I myself no longer care?
Those of you standing over there are even worse! You greeted the Government Minister when he came to the office but whispered behind his back about how thin his village niece was. Was she not eating well? Why not? Children number one and two were close to obesed and the other two were on their way, so what was happening to the single niece? You asked each other, but you did not ask me. I would have told you that pain is a staple more satisfying than yam or fufu and when it fed you, you only ate other things to keep your body from giving up and not because you wanted or enjoyed them. I would have told you, but you never asked. Your eyes when they looked at me wore masks which said, “just tell your Uncle we are good employees, tell him, that’s all we care about”. I would wonder what was behind your masks and my imagination would stir up my fear and it would slap me again and tell me to shut up. Why didn’t you ask me? Why? I would have told you….I would have, but you never asked……
And you neighbours ….you were close but the farthest I have ever known. I remember how you told your children and the city cousins not to touch me too often for fear that they would contract something, if only you knew. I washed the dishes they left piled haphazardly on the kitchen counter, and even the food they chomped so greedily was a product of my hands. Then, I chuckled to myself about your useless warnings. Today I laugh openly and you think I am mad. Well, maybe I am..don’t let your children come too close today ohh, this madness might be catching. I know you all want to get a good look at me but remember, you’ve always been so cautious about catching an infection from me and I could bet my laaast pesewa that you don’t want to catch this one! So don’t come too close and for goodness’ sake, stop pointing!
I was the one whose ears cupped my Aunt’s insults and then chucked them out before they could seep into my brain and upset things. They were like her daily ritual; her only way of recognizing my existence. She substituted abuse for greeting. “Lazy girl” was my morning greeting while “foolish” and “stupid” where interspersed throughout the day, depending on her mood. If I was lucky, she wouldn’t call me a beggar or a useless orphan, but then, this was the same kind of luck that smiled wide at you and then threw you, flung you into a pit.
I am amazed by the hatred with which you gaze at me. I believe that I have an equal right to hate them and to hate you. In spite of what I have done, I have been kind, far too kind and far too slow in doing what I did. You don’t know what pushed me. You don’t know….
You don’t know what happened after the first week. The sun had retired yet there was no moon to take its place that night. It was black….even the heavens acknowledged that it was a black night. I lay on the bed they had given me and the rusted fan toyed with the idea of actually shaking up the little air that slithered through my one window. My mind painted its usual pictures and though my tears flowed, they were the comforting kind. And then the thing you do not know began…You do not know that that night my bedroom door cracked open and then shut quickly behind an intruder. You don’t know that I was made to sit up and then lie down again. And things were done to me that have never been done before. I was told that I had something written all over my face, that it was obvious to this person that I needed this, wanted this. I was told that I was this and that and I was instructed to insert this then remove that and fear moved my hands in tune with the intruder’s groans. And I lay there till morning and no matter how hard I tried, my paintings would not come back.
You do not know that this happened the next night and the next and the one after that. You do not that the next week there was a different intruder. Who did not say anything about me being this or that but simply stated that it was natural for things to be this way between us. This one did other things to me that have never been done before. It was my body that was touched and held, yet breaking inside, was softly caressed, yet battered, battered within…It was me, not you! Do you hear me? It was me and you were not there! So don’t point at me!
You do not know that one night the two intruders bumped into each other on the way to my room and then mumbled excuses about going to the toilet in the middle of the night and then went back to bed with suspicions about the other’s excuse lingering as they lay down. You do not know that that was my only true night of rest.
You did not feel the sweat that would break out each time I lay down and you did not cry out when the paintings fled with the dread of what was to come.
I remember, with my own memory, the look of disgust that crossed the city children’s face when I asked them to google the word “homosexual” for me. And when after that, they saw me looking up “bisexual” in the dictionary, their sidelong glances were enough to let me know their thoughts. But it was not true, I was not! I never would be and I did not like the night visits.
I was sure that whatever was supposed to be written on my face was really not there and could only be seen by my night visitor’s warped mind….I was not and I most certainly did not need those visits.
I could no longer host the night visitors. They were heavy and ungainly and crushing my spirit. I could not. In the end, it was my weakness, not my strength that fought and overcame the fear. I did not unlock my mouth but simply my heart and the bitterness and anger were enough, enough to make me do what I have done and not regret it.
I am sure you are glad that you were not there when I stuck the kitchen knife through my first visitor’s chest, time and time again. The blood spurted as her face contorted in horror and anguish. She could mouth any words but only gurgled as blood seeped not only from her chest but from her mouth and nose. I hacked and hacked till I was numb. I killed her. You are all shocked. But you were not there, so don’t be and don’t judge me…it was the perfect time. Her city husband and city kids had gone for a three day trip and she had had her fill of me, touching and touching…and I could not do it anymore. I had no choice, I had to end it. And so I killed her.
Right now I am standing in this court room, thinking these thoughts instead of saying them, and so you still do not know. The lawyer is asking me why but he does not realise that the time for asking is past. He should have asked the day he came to the house and noticed me as I served drinks to him. He should have remarked that my lowered eyes not from humility but from insolence. He should have asked then, but he asks now and I laugh, I laugh, because it is too late and I have already smeared my hands with red.
I stare transfixed at my second visitor as he stares back in terror. Even he does not know the whole truth. He thinks he is the reason why his wife died but does not know that she is her own reason. The lawyer is still asking me why and this is what I tell him, “I am not stupid. I am not foolish I am not lazy. I am not a lesbian. I am not bisexual. I am not…” And he is puzzled. He thinks I am mad….he too does not know.
I am staring at my Uncle again, and this time he does not stare at me, but at the crumpled note in his hand, written by my hand.
“Pray that they pack me off to prison and not to a psychiatric hospital because they think I am mad. I am not mad. Pray hard, because I promise you, I swear by the life of the fisherman and by the life of the fruit and vegetable seller that I will take you to where your wife is. I will take you so you can tell her that I am not a lesbian and I am not bisexual…I want you to be the one to tell her…tell her I am not…”
The lawyer is asking me again and I am laughing and telling him what I am not. You are all staring and gaping. Stop! You do not know….you were not there…..