A vignette on domestic violence and a call to protecting our women
What you need to know:
- The woman rushes out of her house. Wailing. The man is punching. Hard and heavy. Her face is red and there is blood coming out of her nose and her now ugly jaw.
- She is muscling her way into our open house but he has pushed the door back and grabbed her by her hand, his face filled with unfathomable rage.
- She keeps wailing. Everyone continues to stand and watch, mouthing the words Jameni please, to the irate husband.
The sun has come out and its rays are digging sharply into our dark skins, making us squint into the daylight, our bodies sweating slightly from the unrelenting heat.
It is Saturday, midday, and everything is quiet except for the loud chatter of the friendly female maids who are bent over, gently washing the piles of clothing that have been waiting for them for the entire week.
On my back is my 10-month-old baby brother, his little fingers digging gently into my neck, pulling at the little tag on my grey blouse.
He is not a heavy child for my thin frame, so I stand outside our house, swaying from side to side, singing a little song to keep him entertained.
Then in an instant, the aura turns gloomy with loud wails from the neighbour’s wife next door.
Everyone appears like lightning out of their one-roomed wooden structure they call a house to verify the source of these disturbing cries.
The woman rushes out of her house. Wailing. The man is punching. Hard and heavy. Her face is red and there is blood coming out of her nose and her now ugly jaw.
She is muscling her way into our open house but he has pushed the door back and grabbed her by her hand, his face filled with unfathomable rage.
The incident is savage. I cannot understand why he is angry and why he is pummeling his wife like she is a burglar and why no one is rushing in to save the poor woman from the jaws of this angry man.
She keeps wailing. Everyone continues to stand and watch, mouthing the words Jameni please, to the irate husband.
Sofia is now sprawled on the gravel, her knees bruised and bleeding, just like her nose and jaw.
He drags her back into their house, by her lesso, and locks the door behind him.
The wailing continues, and then little by little it starts to die down.
Maybe from exhaustion or from the satisfaction that his humiliation of her has been achieved or that she has learned her lesson.
There is whimpering. I listen quietly. My ears are perked up. I can hear a deep sigh. A sign of the deep pain originating from the wounds she has acquired.
My little brother continues to play with the tag on the back of my blouse, unperturbed by the gruesome scuffle.
Hours go by and the evening starts to break in, and Sofia does not leave the house. We retire to our wooden structures and very little is said of the incident we have witnessed.
But I am eager to see Sofia again. I like her. And I feel great sadness for her.
I always admired Sofia. She would always walk around covered in two lessos. One wrapped around her waist and another thrown neatly around her upper body.
She was a friend of my mother and when my baby brother was born, she was the one who came to our house and cooked ugali for my siblings and me when my mother was away.
Maybe tomorrow she will wake up and throw a lesso around her neck and face to hide the scars that tell of the ordeal of the previous day’s brutality. And life will go on.
And neighbours will whisper, others will giggle, others simply won’t care. It is none of their business. It is now up to Sofia to reclaim her space and shake off the shame that she has endured.
Days go by and Sofia is nowhere to be seen. Did I miss her? Did she leave early right before the cock crowed? Is she too ashamed to leave the house again?
Or does she only come out when I am gone to school? Time passes and a month later we move away to another area of Satellite into another plot of similar economic value and life continues.
It is 1996 and a familiar figure in the distance is walking into our mabati gate.
She is draped in lessos, one tied around her waist and another covering her bosom. Sofia, I scream and mother comes out to greet her long-lost friend in a tight embrace.
She is happy to see her and they sit together sipping on hot tea while catching up on life.
They subtly touch on the cruel ordeal in 1993 in muffled tones so we cannot hear them.
My ears are highly attentive and I can make out that she is saying that she finally left her husband. Mother is elated. Two hours later she leaves, bidding us goodbye, for the last time.
Cynthia Abdallah is the author of the short stories collection The Musunzu tree and other stories and the poetry chapbooks, The Author’s Feet and My Six Little Fears.