When the call comes in a fourth time, my heart beat becomes a pounding sound in my ears and my stomach lurches, threatening to cast up my dinner along with the capsules of gelatin just swallowed.
The door is bolted, so I allow myself to think of the next available option; the bottle that is our makeshift candle holder. I think of it in my grasp, coming down with a force great enough to break a human skull, and for a moment, I envision its jagged edges sinking through fabric, tearing through skin. I think of the crimson of blood, oozing with the gentleness of an old spring, dripping down to the futon, its red coalescing into a sticky and dreary dark red.
Many are the nights I’ve prayed for peace, for the implausible. On such nights, I have looked out into the night, conscious of the fear skittering across my skin with the darkening of the night. I have willed myself to be strong, to rid myself of the alarm that constantly goes off in my body each time he fails to get to his house at dusk. I cannot recall what it means to be safe in one’s house, to own and fully exist in one’s skin. I cannot remember how it feels to have laughter move through you, to have one’s eyes water from joy. I cannot recall how it feels to fully surrender to my body’s want for sleep without the fear of impending doom.
My babies lie asleep in the corner, peacefully snoring and blissfully oblivious to the war coexisting with us in this house. It is two in the morning, so I do not move to wake them. Quickly gathering my cashmere sweater, I unbolt the door and silently creep down the corridor. My padded sandals mute my jog down the stairs. At the gate, a body groans and turns in my direction. It is John, the caretaker, asking if I am coming back. In the silence, pity clutches my heart; it must be cold having to sleep out like that, nodding off on a chair, struggling and pretending to have an ear out for emergencies, disturbances or intrusion.
“Usiamke, ntafunga mlango,” I respond whilst moving through the adjoining pedestrian gate. I do not have a mask on, and despite the clear streets, my vision sharpens as my ears perk up. I take the road straight ahead, moving quickly while watching out for the puddles that litter the street. When I turn the corner, a man’s voice from up in the adjacent building calls out, something that only serves to spike my blood with more adrenaline. I break into a jog, my neck inadvertently swivelling back from fear of being followed or stalked out.
My mind is a turmoil of thoughts; I think of bodies of all the dead I have seen in my lifetime; bloated bodies, bloodied bodies, bodies with missing limbs or disfigured faces. There are fleeting images of all the evil that lurks in the shadows. I can almost hear the gentle sobs and screams trapped behind the silence of late nights.
Having ascended four floors up, I stand breathless before Eta. She doesn’t ask why I thought to show up at her doorstep in the dead of the night, neither does she prod beyond " you need a place to rest, don’t you? "
With the doors closed behind us, she guides me by my shaky elbow to the spare room. In the safety of her home, I fight the urge to come undone, the urge to tell it all to her; how nights no longer bring me respite after long gruelling days in the sun. How in those nights, my body convulses from this fear that has knotted itself so deep in my bones I can no longer feel the warmth underneath my blankets. How the thought of a man with whom I shared my mother’s womb revolts me to the edge of dry retches and panic attacks. How I am slowly accepting in my mind the possibility of my children growing up sans a mother. Why? Because after the first attempt, the memory of his wanton hands roving my body drives me to the brinks of my sanity. That after futile attempts to rid my body of those memories, I have had thoughts of the various ways to make it stop.
I want to tell her of how yesterday, my eldest, Rita, while in her sleep, was crying, asking whoever it was in her sleep to not hurt Mama, wondering why they couldn’t pay heed to my protestations. I want to tell her of how helpless I felt in that moment to see her battle my demons in a time and space where her body should only know joy, and rest. I want to tell her of how my hands shook so hard from the anger coursing through my veins, of how I had to pinch myself one spot at a time, long enough to feel pieces of skin underneath my nails. Longer enough to feel the pain lift away and in its place the warmth of blood. Only then did I stop. Only then did I feel my anger ebb away, only then did I forgive myself enough to not go through with the murderous plans in my thoughts.
In the darkness of Eta’s room, my phone lights up with an incoming call for the umpteenth time. With a right swap of my finger, I accept the call and listen as he calls for me to join him, this time calling me by the name Melody, another of his many concubines. After a beat, he hangs up, maybe out of the fear of his oblivious wife walking in on him. Maybe after the realization of his unforgivable mistake. Maybe after the distraction that is the warmth of his many lovers.
Even in Eta’s house, sleep evades me. So I lie awake through dawn, trying to coerce my body into the rest it needs. Trying to fight back tears, to push down the screams in my throat, to quiet the voices in my head. It takes all of me to hold myself with love again, because it all seems to have seeped and soaked me through and through. More than anything, it takes my most when morning comes and it’s time to get back to my house, to the only people who remind me of the little goodness left in my world; my children.
About the writer:
Beverly Nasimiyu is a Kenyan writer passionate about non-fictional writing. She writes short stories on issues plaguing the African society on her blog, stumahway.com. She has previously contributed to Fuzu, an online business journal, and truebliss.co.ke. She writes under the name Giuliana Nasimiyu. Reach her through firstname.lastname@example.org.