As Sheila struggled out of bed at 4am she was convinced that this particular Saturday was the one to kill her! Her body ached from the grueling week she had, shuttling between work, her toddler, doctor visits, church mission, family get together and her farm in Ley tok. Her body whispered “sleep-in today”, her mind told her “the grocery won’t get itself”
The day was still young but felt spent already. She looked at the post-it notes on her dressing mirror; every last minute of the day was allocated! It was glaringly obvious that her life had become a seamless stream of activities.
She finished getting ready, went to the window to draw the curtains and was glad the morning looked crisp and promising. Standing there, looking outside her window through expensive sheer curtains, she embodied the fallacy of a successful African woman.
She had a university education (THIS had evolved quite a bit from her grandmother’s time where grade 4 education was too much for a woman to have), had a job (never mind how much it paid or the elusive job satisfaction), was married (had children…well, had a child) and lived in the big city. And yet, with all this, she felt empty.
She took one last look at Dumelo, her husband, still sleeping peacefully, in a fetal position no less! All he needed was to have his thumb in his mouth and he would be a fetus. Nothing about him made her feel “at home” anymore. There was a time he occupied her every being, but that feeling she lost along with her first born child. She had no impetus to try and bring back the fire in their marriage. Not after all he had put her through four years ago when she was pregnant with their first baby. She bit her tongue to introduce a physical pain that could overshadow the emotional pain she was feeling. She wobbled to the dining room, gulped down a cup of tea with some mandazi Mariah had made. She was thankful to have this lady working for her, what with Brandon demanding for her attention, her busy schedule, and emotional turmoil, she would not have managed it all.
She sometimes thought about Maria, her house help, and the hardships she had to endure to keep her daughter in school. From an abusive marriage to homelessness, ethnic conflict that uprooted her from a town she called home to a town she was struggling to understand. At one point, Sheila being very frustrated in her marriage asked Mariah why she was always jolly yet her circumstances called for mopping and self-pity. Mariah, in her usual cheerful way told her “the worst is over, I am excited about what the future holds. Once my daughter clears her last year of campus, my life will change for the best. For now, I am happy I have a roof over my head and steady, reliable income to send my daughter to school”. Mariah hesitated and with a thoughtful look replacing her initial sunny expression she continued, “I am blessed mama Joe, I can never complain”.
“I am blessed…” these words still rung fresh in her ears. Blessed? Old. No car. No home. No husband. No parents. No fat bank account. Yet she calls herself blessed, Sheila wondered within herself. Sheila wanted to feel blessed, but the feeling of hopelessness was stronger. She did feel blessed at times whenever she looked at her ever-active two year old Brandon. He gave her meaning, he rooted her. He gave her bearing. Still the feeling of “blessed” paled in comparison to the emptiness she felt inside. And whenever it happened by, it was for a fleeting moment.
But, she must hand it to herself, she rode the “successful woman” wave quite well that even her village people no longer pestered her about her life choices. She loved her job save for that pesky boss who was hell bent on adding her to his list of conquests. She still did not know how she was going to handle it without losing her job. It gave her sleepless nights. At one point it gave her such nightmares where she dreamnt she was fighting him off, screaming his name in the hope that if she was to die in that situation, anyone within ear shot would know it was he who killed her. But these were only nightmares that left her sweaty, shook and frustrated. Dumelo once woke her up angry demanding to know why she was calling a man’s name in her sleep. She tried to explain herself, to no avail. She let it be. Had Dumelo been more supportive, she would have moved jobs, taken a pay cut, anything to get away from the situation. He wasn’t. And she needed a job since he stopped supporting her. She attributed her feeling of frustration and emptiness to him; she had traded her once adventurous fun-filled life for a routine-riddled one, initially to support him get back on his feet after he lost his job. They recovered but their marriage did not.
She sipped her tea allowing her eyes to trail the line of ants climbing up her wall clearly excited having found a source of sugar on her floor. Her eyes settled on the clock. She was jolted back to reality sending her scurrying for the door. She needed to get to the market fast and be back in time to drop the Brandon off at her mother’s for the weekend.
The chilly wind outside was a pleasant contrast to her stuffy house and a perfect reflection of her inner turmoil. As she meandered round a corner she met with Ti, her voluptuous neighbor strolling cheerfully towards her. Ti, oh Ti, her usual animated self-gave her a warm hug lamenting at how “lost” Sheila had been. While Ti chirped away at how life had dealt her a blow, Sheila could not help but notice what nice skin she had! She must not know what stress feels like she thought to herself. Ti was the epitome of success in Sheila’s eyes; educated, a fancy job at the Ministry of Commerce, drove an AUDI a8, worked out, and when she got back home, she had TIME TO HERSELF! She mentioned her thoughts to Ti in their usual neighborly banter, and Ti laughed it off. “I want YOUR life!” Ti shot back while nudging her with her elbow under the rib-cage. Had Ti been a little taller and stocky, that jab would have caused a cardiac arrest. But Ti was petite with round bottom, long natural hair, full lips and chocolate complexion. She could never hurt a fly with this type of composition.
She had caused many a fight among married women in this leafy suburb. But Ti swore she had been falsely accused of trying to ensnare the short stubby men. She had her eyes set on a bigger fish, the governor Mark. She was however quick to note that she “is very happy and does not need a man to complete her” a statement that made both of them burst into laughter. Sheila nodded towards the strange car parked outside Ti’s gate knowingly. “I am single not dead” Ti responded defiantly. Sheila would gladly swap positions if only to be as happy as Ti seems. She joked about Ti’s tiny waistline and how she would soon lose it to a baby. Ti laughed it off as they parted ways each walking their trajectory of being female in the African society.
Every day a woman in Africa wakes up, decks herself up for a war. A war that started decades ago with the advent of education. Education teaches her to want more from life, society that sends her to school demands that she settles for a few “key” things in life. She dares to dream she will win this war that keeps evolving, that keeps changing the rules of engagement in favor of the male species. She dares to secure her seat at the boardroom, but her boss demands that she “earns” her keep by being his play toy. She qualifies for that long-awaited promotion, but the board is unsure of her competence especially in her child bearing age.
Two hours later Sheila got back home exhausted from fighting her way through sweaty crowds, unscrupulous traders and targeted harassment on the streets to find an unhappy man perched precariously on the rail guard on the foyer. He gave her a long drawn disapproving look. Her disheveled hair, her lack of enthusiasm as she sauntered towards him to place a cold peck on his cheek, her trudge up the staircase, she looked twice her age.
She must have gone to meet him for breakfast. She is shameless, he thought to himself anger simmering at the pit of his stomach. Her suspicious promotion the previous week caught him off guard. She had been quite a mess the last 4 years, there was no way she was achieving anything at work. In fact, he expected her to be fired sooner rather than later. And then the boss started calling at all hours of the night. She would ignore the calls to her credit, but who knew what she would do when out of his sight and alone with him out there. He made a mental note to get his own back. And he knew just how to torment her.
He no longer fancied her as he did a few years back. They would be married 6 years in a few weeks’ time. But had been truly happy for the first 2 years of that marriage. After which, she got herself pregnant against their plans. Her excuse, the contraceptive failed. “Lies!” He retorted when she told him. The doctor confirmed it was contraception failure when he couldn’t find the IUD Coil string during examination. Still. He felt cheated into a role he was ill prepared for. He was not ready to give up the intimacy they had over a brood of children. He did not particularly like children, but he never mentioned it to Sheila for fear of losing her. He grew up in a family of 8 children. Eight freaking children! It was a hell hole! Everything he got he had to fight 4 older siblings and 3 younger ones sometimes to the disapproval of their exhausted parents. He wanted peace, he wanted to have a few years of just him and her. No obligations, no demands. Just sunlight, travels and good food. He wanted the volume in his head as a result of an over crowded childhood to go down a while before contemplating having children. Sheila on the other hand was an only child, she wanted a brood of children. He hadn’t realized just how much until she sneaked up on him with a pregnancy. He despised her.
She must have felt it. Women and their 6th sense. She had since she lost the baby, recoiled into herself, losing her shine to tears every night. He had wanted to console her but how would she learn to be careful next time. She should have used implants not a coil! He had heard stories about the coil. How it makes women infertile, interferes with intimacy, and he had duly warned her. But Sheila, she is as stubborn as a mule! “Let her cry”, his very supportive colleague Samantha advised. “She will get over it if you do not interfere”. He listened, and she too listened to his lamentations.
Samantha was the perfect woman; never argued with him, listened to him with a gleaming light in her eye. One could tell she really enjoyed his stories. Sheila. How did he ever settle for her? Regimented. Demanding. Unappreciative. Samantha could speak French too and it sounded very titillating. Had he married Sam, the boys in his village would have died of envy. They would have a rendezvous every now and then and it was magical!
He recalled that day four years ago when Samantha waltzed into his office wearing that tight, black mini dress that left little to the imagination. She had taken leave that day and he had wondered what she needed it for. In their numerous chats she never ever mentioned any of her social ties except her single mother back in the village. He liked it this way. Not crowded. But this sudden leave day, he wondered. She must have gone to see her boyfriend who had come back to town. He brushed the thought aside because it made him sick!
She looked very attractive. She perched delicately on his desk, and offered him something in a shiny blue box whispering “happy birthday”. He had completely forgotten about his birthday and he doubted Sheila had the mind to remember it, not after the sleepless night she gave him complaining of severe back ache. She was nine months pregnant and quite a handful! He had tried to be supportive but felt less obligated as his interest in Samantha grew. He dropped her off at the hospital for check up and sped off to the office. She had not gotten back to him since then. But then again, she had become quite distant after she found out about his interactions with Samantha.
He brushed the thought off his mind and focused on the moment, with Samantha. He could tell, the night was going to be very short. And it was. He was jolted up from his sleep by the phone ringing. Samantha slept peacefully beside him. He squinted to see who was calling as he tried to find his bearing. It was a landline. A man spoke on the other end. He was a doctor requiring him to come over to the hospital. His wife had been in prolonged labor and now the baby was in distress. He jumped out of bed and made his way to the hospital. Samantha was left trying to get him to sleep over until morning. They lost the baby.
He had not wanted children, but had been ill prepared for this news. He had gotten used to the idea of having a child in the house. He had made attempts at getting necessary supplies for the baby. But to see his son, motionless, unresponsive, cold like that gutted him. It destroyed Sheila. He swore he would never ever want to see her in this kind of pain ever again. He was going to straighten up and be there for her. That was 4 years ago. That was him reforming. But, that was also him being overly ambitious.
Sheila held a grudge. He could tell. He felt that she would get back at him for not being there in her moment of need contrary to their vows. And he now suspected, she was seeing her boss; he was tall, dark, handsome and very successful. He despised her for this. They had another baby after the first, but he was unsure of the paternity. His mother said Brandon, was the exact replica of him when he was young. He wanted to believe it, but jealousy held him back. He had made very little effort in getting to know his son.
As she let the warm shower water run down her spine, Sheila relived his cold attitude towards her. She cannot precisely point out when exactly the rain started beating them. But she suspected he is seeing someone else even after the ordeal they went through over 4 years ago. She was determined to ruin him and pay him back for his callousness.
She would soon come to collect her pound of flesh, she promised herself.
To be continued…