by Chikondi Favoured Mlozi
The trembling of my lips made shouting impossible. Not that it would have helped. My voice would have only echoed, bounced across the house and frightened me upon its return. No one else could hear me. I was alone in a house of over ten rooms. The high walls of the fence exaggerated the impossibility of being heard even at my highest pitch. And so I lay there, curled up like a stranded snake. I tried to stretch my arm but it did not feel like mine at all. I could not move.
I had heard about rape, read about it and I sympathized with the victims. Rape was one of those things that happened to other people. I never would have thought that I, myself, could be a victim one day.
I imagined my own story on page three of the newspaper “Professor’s daughter raped by garden boy.” I imagined people’s reaction, especially my close friends as they would go down the page their expressions changing from mild interest to utter disbelief. Some would pity me, and others would be indifferent or perversely pleased because of the silent resentment they had towards me.
I tried to figure out who my enemies could be but could not find any. Of course I knew I had some but I was never sure. The problem with back biters was their perfection with disguise. They are so often the people you share your happy moments with, the people counted in as some of your good friends and they hate you for such petty things. Maybe they hate you for being liked by a guy they like and you don’t even know. Maybe they saw you having a little talk with their boyfriend and take you as a threat to their relationship. But when something goes wrong in your life, they are the reason you can’t live it down.
“No! I am not going to allow myself be the talk of the town, no way!” I said to myself.
“Nobody will understand this. Odala would lose all the respect he had for me. He would think I sleep around. He would probably dump me.” I thought frantically.
This was all my fault. There were little things I could have done different. I could have escorted my mother to the evening prayers at our pastor’s house, but I refused her request. I had other plans for myself that evening. It was a Sunday and I had not done my assignment which I was due the following morning. The previous day was my little brother’s birthday and I had been occupied with the birthday that I didn’t do a thing about school. Just this morning my father traveled to Lilongwe where he was supposed to present a paper on human trafficking for a research conducted with the help of the European Union. Our house help had gone to see her folks in Mulanje on her week long holiday.
After lunch my mother and I sat in the living room while watching television. Whenever I came home for weekends my mother told me stories that happened in my absence. She would sometimes tell me a single story over and over, from different viewpoints, arguing her own opinions against each other to the point that sometimes I got so bored I would pretend I was studying. I did the same this day only that on this day, I really wanted to study. I left my mother in the living room and went to my bedroom.
At around 3 that afternoon, my mother came into my room to tell me she was going out for the prayers.
“Okay, have a wonderful time. You will find me here” I said dismissively.
“I thought you would want to join us Akonda” she muttered.
I was not sure whether that was a question or a suggestion.
“No mummy, I will probably join you next time. I am a little tied up as you can see” I replied nicely.
“Alright, we should be on our way then” she said in a disappointed tone.
I buried myself in a book that was on my lap. The truth was that I had tried to read but I just could not get what I was supposed to get. I had been on the same page for over an hour but still I couldn’t explain anything I had read. My assignment was due the following morning but there I was with nothing to write. I decided to take a little nap so that I could refresh my mind a little bit and then get back to my assignment.
I don’t know how long I had been sleeping until I felt someone removing the wrapper I covered myself with from my waist to my feet. I thought it was Andre at his games again so I decided to ignore it. I knew if I ignored him he would know that I was not in any mood of playing and would leave me alone. I was startled to feel that the arm that was touching me was huge and rough. Andre was only nine and his hands were young and tender. I tried to stand up but I was pushed back on the bed. I looked up and I saw a masked man whose posture I recognized at a first glance. It was our garden boy Sautso, I was very sure of that.
My voice came out hoarsely with a scream that was strangled and short with surprise.
“You know that it’s just the two of us in this house so even if you scream no one will hear you” he taunted.
I didn’t know what to do at that moment. He tore the rest of my clothes off with ease. Tearing away my underwear and finding a way into me. It was painful not because I had not been involved in the act before but because it was with someone who I had always known to possess an unpleasant body odor. He was not my type –a garden boy for that matter. I tried to fight him but that hurt me more than it did to him so I relented. After all it made no difference because the deed was done already.
He got up and walked away.
When the thoughts swirling fiercely in my head had dulled, I went into the bathroom. I washed my hair with shampoo, scrubbing and scratching my scalp. Then I scrubbed my face and my body with soap only and rinsed. I took a face towel and repeated my scrub. Then a sponge. Then a stone. I washed between my fingers and toes, beneath my nails as far as I could bear it until I simply just stood as the water got cold. I spent over an hour cleansing my body.
I went into bed again and couldn’t sleep. I tried to make myself believe it was just a dream which I just had to wake up from and it would be gone. The more I tried to push away the reality the more it slapped onto my face and I cried louder and louder.
When my mother returned I told her I felt sick but refused to be taken to the hospital. I accepted the painkillers she gave me and took them in her presence. My mother was worried, I looked so weak.
“I will be fine. I just need a good night sleep” I assured her.
“Okay then I should leave you to sleep” She said.
She left the room and closed my bedroom door quietly. Andre came in while I was half asleep. He whispered good night into my ear and left.
I woke up the following morning feeling weaker than the day before. My mother decided to take me to the hospital. I couldn’t argue anymore because I felt too unwell. She took me to a private clinic and they tested me for malaria which I knew I didn’t have. When the test came negative, the doctor still prescribed malaria medication just to be cautious. From the symptoms and signs I was displaying he was convinced I might have malaria.
“You can’t return to school like this” my mother said, “I’ve told your father and he says he will communicate to the registrar about your illness.”
I stayed home for the week before returning to school. I decided not to share what had happened to anyone. But my behavior changed. I started to ignore my boyfriend and my friends. My life dwindled down to school work and sleeping. I felt betrayed by the whole male race.
Weeks later, I fell sick again and I was taken to the college clinic. My parents concluded that it was the same malaria that attacked me earlier. It was my father came to pick me from the clinic to home. We talked little on the way.
“Your mother is busy, I wanted to tell you this when we get home but Sautso has been hit by a car a few meters from the house, he died on the spot” he said regrettably.
“What?!!” I exclaimed.
“This very morning, just before you called” he explained.
I gasped in shock. Memories of Sautso forcing himself on me filled my mind. His stinky smell filled my nose. Surprising myself, I began to cry. I felt relief knowing he was dead. Now the memories would fade away easily. I wouldn’t have to see him again. I made myself believe that was the way God had chosen to fight my battle.
“I’m sorry Akonda, I know you’ve always known Sautso all your life. But God knows better. May his soul rest in peace” he said in a consoling voice.
I said nothing and sobbed quietly. He told me my mother was home and not in her right senses. She had witnessed Sautso’s accident as she was coming from morning devotions.
When we got to the hospital, the doctor said I still tested malaria negative so they had to test me for some other things. After several tests and not finding any problem with me the doctor suggested I undergo a pregnancy test. I was reluctant to admit the need of a pregnancy test with or without the incident hanging over me. Father was in the doctor’s office with me after all and it would simultaneously be an admission to being sexually active. I would rather have had my parents believing I wasn’t or at least speculating without any real proof. But here I was…I assured myself I couldn’t be pregnant. My illness could be a just a result from the bad habits I had developed in the past few weeks. I ate little, avoided interaction with people, even with my roommate, Linda, who was my best friend.
I sat beside my father in the waiting room. Then the doctor called father and I to his office. He stated nonchalantly that I was pregnant. I was so stunned I missed the anger radiating from father but stumbled after him when he roughly broke through my shock and pulled me to my feet. Pregnant! How was I pregnant? I thought stupidly. The feelings of disgust towards Sautso and those feelings of paralysis mingled strongly with denial washed afresh over me as on the day of the incident.
Father wasn’t talking to me or even looking at me. From where I was sitting, he seemed to lean away from me in his seat. My pregnancy would be, and already was an embarrassment and a symbol of disrespect to my parents.
My vanity quickly evaporated when I had thought that the pregnancy was shameful to my parents because I hadn’t yet completed my college education or married or independent. And maybe that was true to some extent. But my true crime was the social scandal of it all in light of my parents’ standing. It was embarrassing because father was a professor in a small town where college lecturers were unquestionably, the people with the highest social standing and their children were admired and envied. And it did me no favors that I learned in the same college father taught.
Immediately after we got home, he informed mother about my pregnancy. To be accurate, he informed mother of her daughter’s pregnancy. He did not even wait for mother to greet me first. Mother was in a state of shock because of what she had witnessed and sorrowful, when she heard about my situation, she was furious but not disappointed –that came later on. Her disappointment came slowly and grew and never slackened. She never really told me she was disappointed though, she would always find a way to let me know as she criticized my parenting –how I fed, dressed, talked to my child, when I did it…
When mother finally understood that what father told her was truth, she took me to her bedroom and locked up the door. She commanded me to take all my clothes off, “You take off your clothes for everyone, even strangers so this shouldn’t be an issue” she spat. Ignoring my choked sobs, she demanded an explanation as to how, why and when I got pregnant. I tried to tell mother that I was raped by Sautso but she didn’t believe me. To her, I was trying to hide something even more sinister since Sautso was not there to defend himself.
“God will punish you Akonda! We don’t speak ill of the dead! Just tell me who impregnated you” she shouted.
Mother swore never to talk to me again until I told her who was responsible for my pregnancy.
I went back to school even though I wasn’t feeling well. It was better than being at the receiving end of ‘words of wisdom’ and snide comments every day for the pettiest of things. School had to continue despite what happened.
News broke that I was pregnant for Odala before I even told him I was pregnant. He confronted me and told me if it was true that I was pregnant our relationship was over. Odala broke up with me twice after the news came out really. The first time was because he claimed I was giving him a bad name and that I knew what to do to save our relationship. The second time was a few weeks later, it was filled with taunting laughter and name calling because he realized the baby couldn’t be his.
My friends came out in the most brilliant of colors then. “Professor’s daughter was cheating on Odala with some other man from her neighborhood and Odala knew that’s why he has denied being responsible for the pregnancy” Takondwa, my classmate said.
“Not just a man –by a garden boy employed by her father. Some girls don’t have ambition. What did she see in a mere garden boy? She was born with a silver spoon in her mouth and a lot of good looking men here on campus have tried their luck but she turned them down. Vanity I tell you” said Linda, my best friend and roommate.
I decided to keep quiet and not bother to justify myself anymore. Nobody understood me even if I did.
Months went by and the more my belly grew, the louder and wilder the gossip about me became. It was rumored that even I didn’t know the baby’s father while other’s said it was a friend of my fathers. Some friends would come to me to ask what my plans were, what I would name the child, who would take care of it while I continued school and so many supposedly relevant questions. Throughout I hoped for I baby girl.
My hope was not disappointed. I gave birth to a baby girl who so much took after Sautso, it was clear she was his to all those who knew him. Mother believes she is Sautso’s child but her new theory is that I was having an affair with Sautso. She had heard several cases from friends who heard from their friends friends that some girls have affairs with houseboys, cooks and garden boys. Despite her constant tongue lashing, she accepted to take care of my baby whilst I was in school.
I named my baby Xavier, a Portuguese name which means “wonderful.” I got the name from a novel I had read in my secondary school days. This was to assure myself that even though I passed through the hard waters God was still wonderful to me.
by Chikondi Favoured Mlozi