The sun penetrated through the small gap in the grass thatched roof. The ray of sun woke her up. She shielded her face with her hand. Atarah was glad it had not rained for two days. She had given her steel pail to Bernice her neighbour. The pail she used to trap water. Bernice had only one steel basin. She wanted to wash her clothes in the basin and rinse in the pail.
“Bring it back,” Atarah had reminded her. Bernice nodded.
Atarah placed her hand on Bernice’s shoulder as she handed over the pail. “I tell you that all the time, you nod, but you do not return it. Do you know that there are times I do not want to get out of the house at night? Sometimes the pit latrine seems very far.
“Yes,” Bernice nodded, “You told me…. and because of Zebadiah, you do not want him to see you at night and…. you tricked him into buying you five pieces of roasted cassava.”
“Yes, Yes,” Atarah said quickly. “Now go, I would like to rest. He kept me up past midnight talking about the village fights and how his muscles are getting stronger every day.”
“You are lying,” Bernice looked at Atarah suspiciously.
“We did nothing, we just talked,” Atarah said. “I know you love to think of bad things all the time, let me not hear a word about this.”
Bernice was hurt, she spoke no more. She thought she was walking out until she hit the wall on the other side of the hut. She mumbled, turned and walked out the door.
Atarah needed her pail. She sprinkled water on the earth floor, every day after sweeping, to keep the dust down. She got out of bed, stretched, raising her short night dress to above the knee. She was about to walk out when she noticed that the rays of the sun were shining directly from the top of the hut.
“It is mid-day!” she exclaimed. “Goodness!” ‘I hope my neighbours have not noticed I overslept,’ she thought. ‘Men in the village will think I am lazy.’ In her heart, she knew it was one man. When she woke up early, she opened the squeaking window as noisily as possible, so that the man would hear that she was a very hard working woman. On this day, she tip-toed, which did not matter because she walked on an earth floor and was wearing rubber shoes.
She moved the window lock back slowly and supported the window up as she opened. Sospeter and I were walking hand in hand on the path outside her house eating roasted maize. I had bought this because I loved to watch Sospeter chew, with his mouth closed, concentrating on each grain. Then we saw the window open.
“Uuuui Atarah! Is this the time you are waking up,” I rushed to the window; she banged it shut. The loud bang echoed throughout the village. I pushed the window in from outside, she tried to keep it close from inside.
“Sospeter!” I hit the window with my fist. “Come quickly”
Sospeter thinking I was in danger, rushed to where I was. “Please lift me up”
“No,” Sospeter shook his head. “The reason why these windows are placed high up, is that no one can peep into other people’s houses.”
“Please,” I begged Sospeter.
After clicking his tongue, he lifted me onto his shoulders. Making sure that I was steady, I pushed the window hard. Atarah had let go. In a fraction of a second, my hands slid along the window frame, the hem of my dress caught Sospeter’s head, banging it against the hard wood. He pulled my dress off his head. I fell to the ground, with all my weight. I thought I had cracked the floor.
“Khai!” he cried as he put his head inside the window. “My head!” He rubbed his forehead “I hope your curiosity has been satisfied. You broke your back, who will split the wood and cook supper? I am not paying for any donkey to carry you home.” He walked away, then after a few seconds, “I hope you are happy now that you can talk to Atarah face to face.”
I do not know what Atarah was doing under the bed, I wanted to laugh, but a sharp pain shot through my back radiating to my thigh.
“Come out,” I said gesturing. “Nobody is going to eat you.” Atarah crawled out.
“Berina!” then a knock, Atarah jumped and slid under the bed again. “Open.”
“I can’t stand,” I shouted. Sospeter appeared at the window, his forehead started to swell. “Atarah, can you open the door,” Atarah shook her head. “Atarah, men have been brought up to climb through the window. You are not safe.”
She crawled out slowly, opened the door and rushed back under the bed. Sospeter walked in. Without attempting to help me up, he sat on a three legged stool near the fireplace. He stared at Atarah.
“You should know, that I know, that you stare at my son through that window.” Atarah’s head dropped. “You know; my son cannot love you.” Sospeter shifted on the stool. “I know you want him.”
Atarah shook her head and thought of how annoyed she gets when the son prolongs his visits. She wondered if Sospeter knew. I forgot my pain and turned a little to look at Sospeter, then, Atarah. Atarah wanted to cry.
“I also know he comes here.” Sospeter leaned forward. “You are not good for my son.”
“Aiiii, Sospeter…” I placed my hand on his knee. “Leave the girl alone,” I said. He pushed my hand away and placed his elbow above the knee. With the other hand, he stroked his beard while looking at me, then said,
“Big mouth,” I shrugged my shoulders. “It would be better if you shut up. You are the reason we are here. You are the reason I am forced to look at that manner less girl’s thighs as she exposes them from there,” he pointed at Atarah’s thighs. She tried to pull her dress to cover her knees, but it did not budge. She pulled it again, harder than before, and tore it at the seam. She tried to pull the pieces together, another inch of her body was exposed.
“Wah! Atarah!” I said as Sospeter looked away. “Will you stop that,” I whispered “and come out of there.” Atarah looked at Sospeter and crawled out slowly. Her legs were numb. She limped a little before she sat on the bed.
“Were you wearing that short dress for my son?” Atarah looked at Sospeter angrily. It did not bother him.
“You know we are not rich.” I gestured to Atarah to help me up. “If you think I am going to give you the cow I paid as dowry for my wife….” Atarah came behind me, bent and tried to lift me up.
“Take those things away from me!” Sospeter shouted as he pushed Atarah forward. Atarah stretched hands forward, pushing my head down, causing my lips to hit the knee. She held the edge of the bed firmly and saved herself from falling. Tears of pain ran down my cheeks joining the trickle of blood that was coming out of my lips.
“I will not only miss supper,” Sospeter complained. “but also my kisses…. And you,” he stood, walked to Atarah and poked her head three times. “I don’t want to see you near my son. You wake up late, you wear short dresses, you bend towards men and your house is full of bad luck.” He walked to the fireplace, took the lid off the pot that stood on three cooking stones, picked three sweet potatoes and walked out.
“I am dying today,” I sobbed, “I am sure, I will die today. I should have known when I saw that black cat dragging a dead black rat across the path. It looked direct into my eyes, as if to tell me something, but I ignored.” Atarah placed her hand on my shoulder. “I should have changed paths. Go and tell the villagers to come, I will die today!” I wiped off my tears.
Atarah picked a leso from a reed basket in a corner and stepped outside the house. “Atarah,” I called. She turned. “The long grass outside your compound, why don’t you take advantage of your beauty and get one of the them to trim it for you?”
She turned and smiled, “Those sobs scared me. I am glad you still have a sense of humour”
She walked away to Bernice’s house. She knocked… silence. Knocked again… silence. She opened the door. Bernice was sitting on a table on one side of the hut, head on the wall, snoring. There was a plate of very few boiled maize and beans left over by her side. I picked up my pail and kicked her foot lightly.
“Aaaah…” Bernice groaned. “I am so full. Si I have eaten!” Atarah looked at her stomach and flinched, she tried very hard to keep a straight face. Bernice’s stomach had hang a little to the left. “I think my stomach is going to burst and I am going to die.”
“Seems like several people will die today,” Atarah said, “You will not be the first one, there is another one dying a few metres away from here. Why didn’t you return my pail?”
“I wanted to return it,” Bernice answered, “but I can’t stand. I feel like a big stone just dropped in my stomach. The food has not been digested at all since I ate.”
“You should have brought the bucket before eating.” Atarah was annoyed. “Maybe, if you had, I would have woken up earlier.”
“Woooi, how can I get this food out of my stomach?” Bernice groaned in pain.
Atarah looked out the window. “Phew! I thought someone had stolen your pit latrine, I cannot imagine you depositing all that food in mine,” she pointed at Bernice’s stomach.
“Look behind you” Atarah turned. Zebadiah was standing on the doorway with his friend Barak.
Atarah remembered she had not combed her hair, she unconsciously touched her head, then made to untie her leso. She stopped when she remembered why she had it on.
“I thought you did not care about this body builder?” Bernice whispered, shifting the weight of her stomach to the right.
“Are you sure you are not pregnant and in labour?” Atarah whispered facing her briefly. Looked at Zebadiah, smiled, looked behind at Bernice and made a face.
“You are beautiful…. Still.” Zebadiah smiled. “Even with that hair, and the leso.”
He turned to Barak. “This is the girl I was telling you about. Isn’t she beautiful?” Atarah smiled. She walked towards the door, Zebadiah made way, they started to walk away, when….
“You can’t leave me like this! Atarah please. I will die!” Bernice tried to stand but could not.
“You refused to return my pail,” Atarah shouted as she walked away.
“What is happening?” Zebadiah was surprised.
“Your Mama is hurt,” Atarah said.
My lips were swelling. Zebadiah bent to look at them. “I met Baba on my way here, were you two fighting?
“You do not want to know! Trust me” Atarah said placing the pail on the floor. “Let us lift her up to the bed.”
I was on the bed when I heard a donkey trotting, then footsteps approaching the house. “Your husband sent me here to treat and take you home,” the medicine man said.
“Thank you for coming,” I tried to get up.
“We will help you,” the medicine man said as he approached the bed. “That is what I am paid for,” Zebadiah and Barak placed me on the cart behind the donkey.
“You want to make more money?” Atarah asked. “Come, let me show you. There is someone dying in there,” Atarah pointed at Bernice’s hut.
“There is a gap in your roof,” Zebadiah whispered to Atarah on the way. “I will mend it for you tomorrow.” Atarah nodded.
“What is wrong with her?” the medicine man frowned when he saw Bernice’s stomach. “She will explain later,” Atarah replied.
Atarah, Zebadiah and Barak entered the hut. They held their noses. The medicine man was modest, he held his breath, walked straight to Bernice and helped her up. He placed his arm round Bernice’s back and supported her to the cart. He wriggled his nose.
As they were passing outside Atarah’s house, Sospeter joined them.
“I came to check if the roasted maize I dropped while lifting my stubborn wife is still there,” he pointed to the grass under the window. “Seems like the ants got a free meal. I also think I accidentally stepped on it, because it is half buried in the soil.”
“Was it a wrestling match?” Zebadiah was amused.
“Shhh! No,” Atarah shook her head. “I will tell you later.”
“Was she peeping too?” Sospeter asked pointing at Bernice. “And what’s that smell?”
“And you!” he turned to Atarah. “What are you doing here?”
“Leave her alone.” Zebadiah and I said simultaneously.
“The medicine man shouted. “I almost forgot to pass a message from your husband to you, Mama Nyakundi. He said, the money he had saved for your leso, scarf, necklace and rubber shoes, is what will cover the medical bill.”
He turned to find out why everybody was quiet, and wondered when Sospeter had joined them.
“Sorry,” he murmured.