Analia did not give a thought to the drops of dew that fell on her face that morning when Balthazar was proposing to her. His arms were around her when he spoke. This was the first man to truly care about her.
“There are many girls who are more beautiful than me,” Analia was sad. She uncomfortably shifted on her feet. She raised her hand and touched her hair, looked up lovingly at Balthazar.
“My hair is never beautiful like the other girls,’ my clothes have been handed down to me ever since I can remember, I have never had a decent shoe…”
Balthazar placed his hand over her mouth and “shhhhh… I have always offered you money to do whatever you wish with it; you do not take it, ”he held Analia’s face up and looked into her eyes. “Marry me, and things will change.”
“You know it would be useless for me to make my hair, with the dust and ash,” Droplets of dew fell on Analia’s face. Balthazar wiped them off. “Decent shoes and clothes would not last a week. The long walks to the river, and the many hours I spend collecting firewood would not spare my shoes. How can I wear a new dress, the firewood tears my clothes?”
“Marry me, and you will not have to do that,” Balthazar persuaded Analia.
She held his arms, removed them from her waist and took a step back. “If I agreed to marry you, it would not be for change, I do not deny that I want a better life, but I would marry you for love. You have been very kind to me.”
Analia never thought beyond loving Balthazar.
When she came into the world, her parents were very young and poor. The pregnancy had not been planned, just like all the other pregnancies, conception was always a surprise. Very few people understood this. The villagers were angry. How could people start having sex when they were so young.
How could they have known that sex at such an early age was not allowed if no one had told them? They found themselves alone, building a hut out of reeds. Villagers whispered and gossiped as Analia’s mother’s belly grew. Her parents knew it would be easy to take care of a baby. After all people were getting babies all over the village…. and if the baby did not have food, he would suckle the mothers breast up to the age of sixteen, they decided.
The baby came, love did not bring food, love did not feed the baby. The milk disappeared and Analia’s father started fishing and hunting for food. Every day that passed they were angrier and bitter towards the villagers for shunning them away, for just one mistake.
“You are the one who enjoyed the sex,” they reminded them all the time. “We were not there, carry your own cross.”
“I do not care about myself,” Analia would cry. “Please have mercy on my child. My child is innocent. She does not have to go through this. Please give me food, for my child.” No one cared.
Sometimes Analia’s father would go the whole day, searching for food and come back with very little.
One evening he spoke to his wife, “You know we cannot go on like this.” The wife’s eyes were red and swollen from sobbing. Her two-year-old girl held on to her sagging empty breast.
“What are we supposed to do?” The wife asked resignedly.
The next morning Analia woke up. The door was half open. She opened it further and stepped out of the hut. “Mama!” she walked towards a covered small hole that was supposedly the pit latrine behind a tree. Mama was not there. Analia, having brought up next to her Mama’s breast, never cried much. She did not cry even then, she walked slowly back to the hut and sat on the doorway.
Villagers passed by, not one noticed that Analia was alone.How could they, when no one visited them, when no one bothered to find out how they were doing? Analia dozed off, slept on the floor near the door, sat up,dozed off again, but no one cared. Night came, she did not see Papa or Mama.Society tends not to notice the very intelligent children. Analia was intelligent. She closed the door and sat on the bed. She was hungry, lonely and confused.
God protects little children, she slept safely. (As I was writing this story I thought a horrible animal would come at night and maul her, but it did not.)
In every terrible village and market, there is always this person God chooses to be a Guardian angel. Everybody has one. Boys like small children, and Balthazar who was twelve years old at the time, always visited Analia’s home to play with her. That day, he found Analia alone. He thought her mother was running an errand. Analia did not look well and did not want to play that day. Maybe Mama had gone to get the medicine man. Balthazar waited.Evening came, Balthazar knew Mama would worry. Without a second thought he rushed home.
“Where are you going to?” Balthazar’s mum was surprised that he was going out to play very early in the morning, the following day.
“I am going to water the mango tree,” Balthazar, the previous day after the last meal, worried about Analia. He did not sleep well. He wanted to know if Analia was okay.
“Make sure to be back before the porridge gets cold,” Mama said as she stirred.
Balthazar rushed out and ran all the way to Analia’s house. Analia saw him, stretched her hands and started to cry. Little sound came out;her voice was very weak. He carried her, rubbed the back of her head and sang a song that he had heard the village women sing to their babies. Analia was quiet, but tears rolled down her cheeks. Balthazar placed her at the foot of the bed, removed a stinky, wet leso from the bed, rushed out and spread it on one of the shrubs outside. He ran home.
Analia lay down on the bed. Drops of tears fell onto the reed mat. Villagers passed by Analia’s hut, without a care, without turning their heads towards that direction. It was Analia’s parents’ fault that they had had sex at an early age. They were an embarrassment and shame to the village. The villagers would never be caught, even looking in that direction.
“Isn’t the sugar in the porridge enough,” Mama was worried. “You are taking longer than usual.”
“The sugar is fine.” Balthazar lifted the calabash to his mouth. “I am trying to change my eating habits, I am a grown up boy now,” holding the calabash carefully, he walked to the fireplace, picked a sweet potato and cut it into two.
Mama frowned, then shrugged, “I see,” she said as she walked to the cowshed.
With the calabash half full, Balthazar dipped the sweet potato into the porridge, covered it with Mama’s leso and rushed to Analia. Analia ate the porridge slowly, and remained some. The sweet potato did not go down well. Balthazar put it aside for another time. He brought food to Analia many times, until Analia learnt to fish at ten years old. Balthazar hunted.
God protects anyone he knows will continue to have a beautiful soul till death.
The villagers wished bad things would happen to Analia, so that she would die. They said the spirits would be annoyed one day because an outcast lived near them. A manner less girl who wore boys’ clothes…. They hoped Balthazar would tire one day and not visit her at all, then she would die. They even planned to kill her one time when drought struck, but no one had the courage to do it. They feared Analia’s parents would be watching from afar.
Analia jumped up and down with joy the day Balthazar brought three old dresses he had stolen from Mama’s wooden box. Mama had forgotten about them, she never realized they were missing. Soon Analia was wearing plastic shoes after Mama threw them away because they were outdated. Analia never wore a knicker, nobody had thought of giving her one, but she always tied her mother’s old and worn out lesos around her waist. These good deeds are the reason why Analia never accepted Balthazar’s money.
“You have done enough already,” she would always say.
The men of the village who had been afraid that the wrath of the evil spirit would strike them if they were seen near Analia’s hut, started noticing that Analia was a beautiful flower. The worn out dresses and lesos did not keep them away. Yes, there were many men knocking at Analia’s door at night. (Who knocks on a door made of reed) They did not feed or dress Analia,but they wanted to have sex with her. Analia never opened the door, let alone get out of bed. With the expert and feared witch doctors, nobody forced his way in.
She had gotten used to having very little and had decided to live with the very little. Men whispered promises at the door, but it did not matter to her. They should have been there for her earlier.
She also knew about temptations, so she avoided long,useless conversations with the men. When Balthazar visited, they sat outside,on the grass. When they were in the forest hunting, Analia dressed well with all the tempting parts of the body hidden well. She never brushed against Balthazar, always kept a safe distance. One day she inquired why no one loved her.
“Your parents had sex without permission,” Balthazar explained. “but I am beginning to think that is not the reason. People will make excuses, not to get involved with unfortunate people…. because they do not like to help. The hatred for you gives the villagers something to talk about, something to gossip about. A tale for their offspring. Don’t you worry though, you are beautiful, you are kind.
Analia was very afraid of sex; she knew sex brought very bad things with it. She loved to look at the villager’s beautiful children, but swore never to have her own. The villagers will hate her children. She did not know the right age to have sex, nobody would tell her and she did not want to suffer like her parents.
Analia’s mind was jolted back to the present by Balthazar’s squeeze on her hands. They were soft despite the hard work.
“I know you will want to have children.” Analia was in deep thought. “They will be cursed before they come out of my womb. The evil spirits will kill them.”
Balthazar who was now thirty years old, had spent half of his life researching about the evil spirits, curses and witches. He wanted to help Analia. He had learnt that the evil spirits and witches attacked a person,only if the person allowed them into his or her home or if a person was bad. Analia was safe.
“I will let you think about it,” he handed a piece of roast chicken he had brought from home to Analia. “Then I will ask again and again until you say yes.”
She laughed amidst worry. “You are the only person I have had in my life. Marrying you will be boring.”
Balthazar pretended not to hear, his smile was well hidden. He would never marry anyone else. He wanted Analia. She was beautiful, hardworking and passive. She hunted and knew how to roast any kind of meat well. He walked behind her to the door of the hut. He held a bunch of reeds firmly and shook the hut, it was weak and about to cave in. It had served its time. Beside the reed hut, they started building a thatched mud hut the following day. Balthazar moved in with Analia, came with a big bed, after he informed Mama that he had found a place to live.
When the elders visited Mama, Mama did not know why. A few minutes later, without mincing their words, they informed her that her son was living with a monster and the monster should die…. because they did not want to have little monsters running around the village spreading evil spirits. The evil spirits should not use Mama to destroy the village. Eighteen years had passed since the village had a good harvest. Analia was the reason, they said. They spent many hours in Mama’s house planning how to finish Analia.
As expected, Balthazar’s mother was wealthy and could not bear the idea of her son marrying a pauper. She visited her son. A very beautiful and well-dressed Analia opened the door. Her skin glowing and radiant. Mama knew she was with child. Her heart fluttered with excitement, because with the pregnancy, it would be easier to kill her. Analia smiled and gave way.
They had expected her to visit, but did not know when. She had come.
“I can see you are fine, my children,” she looked around the house and nodded.
Balthazar did not bother to talk about his marriage or introduce his wife. “Yes we are fine” He knew his mother was here to oppose the marriage.
“Analia has lived alone all her life,” Mama began. “I think it would be better if she lived among us now.” She continued. “She belongs to us now, we are one.”
The lovers were speechless. They did not expect this.
“All the villagers have agreed,” Mama paused searching their faces. No expression. They had trained themselves not to have facial expressions when a third person was around. “I can also take better care of her before she bears child. I will also teach her how to be a good wife”
Balthazar loved his Mama. Mama had taken very good care of him. No shouting, no quarrels, polite correction, and words of love now and then. Now that Mama was on his side, it crowned his joy. They moved in with Mama. Balthazar was confident that his wife was in good hands, so he extended his working hours from three to twelve hours a day. He moved back to his hut because it was near his work place.
Two week later….
“Analia! Analia!” Mama whispered from her bed when the cock crowed. “It is time for milking, let’s go, I want to show you how.”
Mama got up, followed by Analia. Outside the cowshed, Analia bent over and threw up. She held her stomach.
“Do not worry,” Mama said politely. “The first few months of pregnancy are the hardest.” She pointed at the mess, this will stop, soon.
Analia woke up every day when the cock crowed, threw up, milked the cow, cleaned the compound, went to the shamba, fetched water from the river and cooked. She never rested, she never had enough time to eat comfortably. She was Mama’s servant. Mama enjoyed herself so much that she forgot she was supposed to kill her, in fact, she did not want her to leave or die. Mama could now sleep most of the day and have her food served, sometimes in bed. She noticed that Analia’s legs were swelling and she had grown darker, but that was not her concern.
Balthazar visited every week, and brought with him many fruits and vegetables for his wife, from the neighboring village. He gave Mama money for emergencies too. He wanted a healthy baby. Mama kept three quarters of the goods to herself and never spent a cent on Analia. The villagers had a good time eating what her son brought. They came with their beautiful daughters hoping Mama will kill Analia and pick one of them. One day Analia fainted, they thought she had died, but the medicine man shattered their dreams when he announced that Analia was suffering from exhaustion and needed to rest. Mama did not pay him. When Balthazar asked,
“Why?” surprised that he left enough money to settle the medicine man’s bills for many days.
“You know your wife has to eat,” Mama was manipulative. Analia cried every night under the blanket. She asked God everyday why she suffered and Balthazar had taught her that kindness will be rewarded. Was she was going to suffer forever she and her child? Why did God not answer her prayers?
Analia wanted to get away from Mama. She wanted to talk to Balthazar every weekend when he spent the night with her, but he was worn out all the time and did not want to trouble him. Mama was clever, she never left them alone during the day. She made sure to escort Balthazar to the road every time he left.
“Rest Analia,” she would smile. “Sometimes you and the baby need rest. Let me walk your husband to the road.” Analia never had a mother to guide her, but she knew that older people were to be respected and obeyed. Every day her lover left, she would sit near the fireplace and weep. Every time Mama came and counted the money that Balthazar gave her.
“I was given some to bring to you.” she would spread her hands as she showed her the money, “but I will keep it for you, because running the errands around here, does not leave enough time for you to go to the shops.I told him you are a good person, a hard working wife.” It did not bring comfort to Analia.
Analia loved sugar, she wanted porridge and black tea with a lot of sugar. The medicine man said sugar was okay for her. Mama said sugar was bad for her health. One day she wanted to steal a few notes and buy sugar for herself, but Mama kept the money in a small bag that hang around her neck.
After treating Analia, the second time, the medicine man visited Balthazar.
“When was the last time you talked to your wife?” there was concern in his voice.
Balthazar was afraid, “Has something bad happened to her?”
“She is not dead, she walks,” there was sorrow in the medicine man’s voice, “but she has no soul.”
“It is a mistake, Mama would have told me” Balthazar fetched some water from the pot with a cup and washed his face. “or someone else. Maybe Mama is too old to see.”
“You say someone else,” the medicine man shook his head. “Who?”
It is when Balthazar realized that no one had ever spoken to him about his wife and no one would. The earth swayed under him. He wished he would fly to Analia. He stood still and tried to calm down. He and the medicine man walked slowly and parted at Mama’s gate.
Balthazar stood at the gate and watched. He watched his wife running up and down fulfilling duties in the compound. Sometimes strength flowed from her, she would sit and cry. She realized Mama kept appearing at the door now and then to check if she was working.
‘Mama never cared about the shamba?’ he thought trying very hard not to approach the hut until his anger had died down. ‘Why is Analia going to the river and I give Mama enough money to pay someone to fetch water?’he thought aloud.
Soon visitors arrived and interrupted Balthazar’s espionage.They were excited to see him, the generous son who brought nice things that could feed half the village. He walked into the house alongside them.
When Analia said hallo to her husband, it was without a smile, without excitement. Her husband realized that many days had passed without him seeing her smile. He was very sad, disappointed with how things had turned out to be, but did let his mother know, he went on as usual. Analia stood to serve the visitors.
“Oh Analia, rest,” Mama looked at her son. “You know, I insist every day that your wife should rest, but she doesn’t. I do not know what I will do with her.” Balthazar wanted to scream. He fidgeted on the stool. He did not say anything because he wanted to part with his mother, peacefully. He smiled now and then, until the villagers left.
“Mama,” She turned face him. “I would like to go home with my wife. I miss her. I have no one to spend my free time with. I have no one to serve me a warm meal when I come home from work in the evening. I have no one to talk to. My house is cold and empty.”
Tears stung Mama’s eyes. She knew what she was going to lose with Analia gone.
“But she is almost bearing child.” Mama wanted to cry. With her back facing Balthazar, she looked at Analia threateningly.
“Analia, do you wish to leave?” she blinked more than ten times.
“I am sorry Mama.” Balthazar stood and stepped outside the hut. “Analia, I will be waiting for you out here.” Mama followed him and he knew what Mama wanted. He took out a wad of notes from his pocket and gave it to Mama.
“Don’t you see the danger your wife will be in, if she does not rest the last few months?” Mama tried again. “How will she handle everything alone?”
“Analia has been alone all her life,” he did not turn to look at Mama, “she will manage.”
Without saying another word, Mama walked into the hut. She met Analia on the doorway and whispered, “One day, you will need me.”
Analia looked straight ahead. She was silent. Balthazar took her bag from her and held her hand. He stopped in his tracks. Those were not the hands she knew. He took them in his and looked. They were rough, with bruises and blisters. Some fresh and some healing.
A knife cut through his heart as they retraced the steps back home.
A few months later Balthazar built a strong reed fence and a wide trench around his compound. He disowned his village. Every time a visitor from his village knocked at the gate, he knew he or she was coming to ask for financial help or food. He made sure to send Analia, and the person would be too ashamed to make his request and walk away.
He continued to work as a guard at the village border and made many friends in the next village.
“Everything will be alright,” Balthazar assured Analia every morning, and every evening.
They had five wonderful children who became very successful and served in the neighboring village.
(Many women suffer in the hands of their Parents in law, but they cannot speak out, because they are afraid to lose their husbands and many times, they have nowhere to go back to, especially those who grow up as orphans)