28 March 2010

The Echo of Silence by Delta Law Milayo Ndou

Had she been there she would have asked them why they were crying. She would have looked each one of them in the eye shaming them to silence with her mute accusation.

Had she been there she would have laughed at their duplicity and poked fun at her aunt’s hysterics – rolling herself on the ground like that as if it would make her appear more bereaved than the rest. But that was just typical of Makhadzi, her paternal aunt, her father’s sister was one given to all manner of theatrics.

She did so love to keep up appearances, beating her generous bosom as if she would flatten her ample bust out of sheer grief.

And then allowing herself to be restrained by the other women only after she had let out another ear-piercing scream to ensure that no one was spared the tumult of her contrived sorrow.

But she was not there.

Had she been there, she would have surely taken the time to remind her aunt of that night, the first time it happened.

She would have reminded her of how Makhadzi herself had locked her in fearing that she might be crazy enough to report the matter to the authorities.

That was always Makhadzi’s fear – that someone would one day break the silence and that only madness would push one to bring such disgrace to the clan.

Had she been there she would have seen her mother, stare blankly at the wall; refusing to have any part with the mourners – keeping her distance as she always did, cocooned in a shell of denial.

It was her mother who had taught her everything she knew about denial; she had raised them to believe in silence.

Her mother had taught them that lesson quite well, she had lectured it to them with the smile pasted on her swollen lips, tutoring them with the sparkle of unshed tears that glistened in her eyes.

Mama had been quite a teacher – priding herself in concealing the bruises and passing on to them the myth of how clumsy she was – always bumping against the doors, the tables and chairs.

So now while they wept, feigning a sorrow they couldn’t possibly feel – mama sat alone, aloof and silent.

Had she been there she would have overhead her father cursing and swearing about the tribulations of having girl-children – look at the mess and the expense of this whole occasion, he mumbled to his brothers.

“I always knew she was a stupid one that one. But to do this? My mouth has been dry ever since I heard, do you hear me son of my mother? I have no saliva left, if I had I would spit in her face and send her off with nothing but spittle on her face!” he hissed in impotence and frustration.

That was always the way with her father – he was a hard man, a man who brooked no argument, unwilling to accept the possibility that his point of view could be flawed in any way or that he could be possibly ever be wrong.

Even now, he refused to believe, to accept that the blame lay with another – for how could any man possibly be in the wrong?

So despite her pleas, her explanations – he had remained resolute, threatening to disown her if she so much as left her matrimonial home, if she divorced or left her husband.

“What insect had entered that child’s head? For her to do this! Stupid. She could not have possibly been mine, how could I sire such a fool?” so he ranted and raved well into the night.

His lips moving incessantly as he muttered, while those who cast glances his way pitied him thinking he was overwhelmed with sheer grief.

Had she been there, she would have seen how that woman lay cuddling herself in the corner – refusing to eat, to talk, to sleep or to drink.

She would have seen the emptiness in her bleak eyes, seen her shoulders convulse with pent up grief.

She would have seen how that woman had aged over night and remembered that it had only been 48 hours since she had seen that face under different circumstances though.

Circumstances that had led to the present gathering and the irony of it all would not have been lost on her.

Had she not been there at that exact time all these people would have had no cause to gather in this sham ritual of bidding a hollow farewell to a woman whose life they had never cared for.

She had been there. She and that woman, the one huddling herself in the corner, trying to melt into the darkness and blend in with the shadows.

But there had been someone else too. And it was them who knew the full story, who knew what had really happened. Had it really been just 48 hours? She had been there.

She stood transfixed. Her heart pounding so fast she wondered why they couldn’t hear it because surely if they could – they’d have stopped by now.

She just stood there watching the whole nightmarish thing unfold before her very eyes – screaming so loudly but finding her throat so tight that the scream couldn’t get past the lump that had stubbornly lodged there.

She wanted to shut her eyes, shut her ears – anything to shut this horror out but for some reason she just stood there – numb and dumb in mute disbelief.

Stupidly gazing around trying to find something that would convince her that her world was not shattering, disintegrating and falling irrevocably apart; the room seemed to have shrunk to nothing but that bed where he grunted like a tired horse and she squealed like a choking pig.

Then she heard it – a loud, long and piercing shrill; slicing into the air and for a moment the pair on the bed froze before he turned around, his hairy behind still in the air in mid-thrust.

He was saying something, snarling at her as if it were she who was intruding; from afar she heard him bark, “Shut up! Contain yourself!” and realised that that crazy scream had somehow erupted out of her, that it was her voice that was shrilling laced with naked hysteria.

And it seemed as if it were all happening in slow motion, she watched that woman slither out of the bed, hurriedly put on her clothes with such haste that she fumbled as her fingers shook with fear and a part of her mind thought it all to be a part of some grotesque illusion.

And him!

He just got up, still erect and walked towards her, with a menacing look in his eyes, his lips were moving again and although she heard what he was saying she couldn’t act upon the words because they seemed so absurd – the whole thing was surreal.

He was telling her to get outside, no telling her to ‘wait’ outside as if she were a servant who had walked in to disrupt the master’s leisure.

She lost it then, rushing towards him in fury, and relishing her anger, brandishing it like a shield to ward off the shards of pain that threatened to engulf her – she hit him hard.

Swinging her shoulder bag like a bat and slamming his face with it, while he swatted it away with ease as if he were swatting a fly – his big hands intercepting her arms and grabbing it out of her reach before he shoved her with such force that her slender frame bounced off the dressing table.

Howling in pain as her shins connected with wood, she got up again incensed and blinded by a red-hot rage that seemed to lend her strength; she jumped on to his back, dug her nails into his neck before sinking her teeth into his exposed ear lobe. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a slight movement at the door and realised that that woman was fleeing half-dressed, sensing danger and beating a hasty retreat.

He was yelling now, cursing her and cursing her mother too – trying to shake her off before she could mutilate his ear.

“Have you lost your mind? Do you have a death wish, by my mother’s grave I swear I’ll kill you,” he roared tearing at her hands with his own trying to pry her off his back.

“You have killed me already you bastard you! You son of a whore, that’s right! That’s what you are! A good-for-nothing-leave-it-dangling-can’t-keep-his-pants-on fool! Go ahead finish me off you coward you,” she shouted ignoring the hot tears that stung her face making everything a blur.

It was as if she were possessed, as if some stranger had taken over her body and for a moment he was frightened but the moment passed fast as he remembered that he was after all the man.

Fortified by this realisation, he swung his feet in a crude tackle and swept her off balance before neatly pinning her with his huge body – sweat glistening from his body at all the exertion – first of the sex and now this – this crazy woman trying to swallow his ear!

Trying to catch his breath at the suddenness of her attack, he was caught unawares when she suddenly moved her knee and made a painfully accurate connection with his exposed groin – recoiling, gasping in agony and doubling over at the excruciating pain – he let go of her to cup his balls with delicate hands fearing for the worst.

Sensing that she had an advantage, she rolled out of reach and rushed out of the room, barely noticing that her blouse was torn, her bra was loose and one breast hung bravely out of the contraption as if challenging anyone to stare.

How could he? The question echoed in her mind, taunting her, hounding her, haunting and refusing to be ignored.

After everything she had done, every sacrifice she had made, after all these years, this was how he repaid her?

Her tormented mind tried to reject what she had seen but the images imprinted in her mind, refused her the luxury of slipping into denial – of wishing away what was.

She wasn’t sure how the idea got into her head but once there, it germinated, lodged and firmly took root. She would end it all. She could end it all. She did not have to suffer any more, did not need to endure any of it.

The thought was liberating, seductive and hypnotising. Suddenly the confusion seemed to melt away leaving in its stead a calm resolve and her face shifted as the shadow of a smile touched her lips.

Walking into the kitchen and shifting through the boxes, she knew it was there. At least she was fairly certain that no one had removed it.

And when she saw it, she wiped away the film of dust that covered the bottle, tenderly caressing it as if she had found a lifeline; again she smiled wondering why she had not thought of it all along.

It was so easy.

Opening the cap she pinched her nose closed with one hand while with the other she held the bottle to her mouth and forced down the foul smelling liquid, ignoring the awful taste.

Instinctively gagging, she threw back her head to ensure that the liquid stayed down and ignored the stinging tears that rushed to her eyes as her body shivered involuntarily, automatically rejecting the alien substance she was imbibing.

Having drank the last drop, she left the bottle on the table, ignoring the ‘keep out of reach of children’ warning written on the side while the thought formed in her head – there were no children left and even if there were; the empty container no longer posed a threat.

She giggled, it was a strange sound; more like a croak. She was not a bad mother was she? She had kept the children out of harm’s way hadn’t she? She had kept it ‘out of the children’s reach’ and she had done all she could to keep them safe.

But it was not enough; in the end she had failed to shield them.

Gloomy thoughts, she chided herself for entertaining them. Walking calmly she went to the bathroom and stepped into the shower, allowing the water to beat her body until she felt numb.

Then she stepped out, wrapped in a towel she went back to the bedroom idly wondering if he’d still be there, half hoping he was and half dreading to face him.

This was her moment of triumph – her chance to have the last say. To tell them all that they could go and fuck off.

The door was ajar and she stepped in feeling some of her earlier boldness slip away until she realised the room was empty.

Empty but in disarray, testimony of the scuffle that had occurred there barely an hour ago, she found herself thinking, “he didn’t even have the decency to get rid of the used condoms.”

The condoms lay discarded, offending and insulting as they sagged with the whitish slime of his semen.

She stepped over them, opening the closet and picking out the outfit she knew would be most appropriate.

The outfit to wear on this most important day of her life, for what day could be more important than one’s last day on earth?

Getting dressed she hummed a tune and made her face up as she toyed with the idea of leaving a note.

What to write? What to say? What was there to say that had not already been said? How many times had she asked for help, called out to everyone, to no one in particular, to all of them?

So now what should she say? Nothing.

She resolved that she say nothing. She would leave it unsaid.

Let them live the rest of their lives with the torture of unanswered questions, let them wonder, let them speculate, go round and round in circles and evade the truth that would stare them straight in the face.

She was done and feeling slightly dizzy. So it had begun. She looked around and wondered if this was a fitting place to spend her last moments on earth. She saw the bed – defiled and thought it appropriate to lie down on it.

It was the scene of the ultimate betrayal after all, the scene of the greatest crime any mother can witness, any wife can live through and any woman could suffer.

So she lay down and unbidden the images flashed through her mind – graphic detail, the ugliness of the truth.

She saw again that woman fleeing in panic, in shame, in fear and in humiliation. She saw again her husband telling her to wait outside while he finished what he’d started, while he buried his throbbing organ into the soft and pliant flesh of that woman.

Then as she began to slip away into unconsciousness, the images merged and the two faces juxtaposed in her mind – that woman and her husband.

That woman with the same forehead, the dimpled smile, the same jutting chin and flat nose as her husband; that woman who had whispered as she ran out of the room, had whispered so softly that she could not understand how she had even caught the words, “sorry mama, he made me do it!”

Perhaps it was years of being a mother, of being attuned to the distress signals of her offspring, having that blind maternal instinct that kept her in tune with her children.

Whatever the reason she had heard her, her own child, a woman now – that woman.
She had heard her, heard the fear, the horror, the humiliation and the shame and wished she could leave a note – at least for that woman. A note to say that she didn’t blame her, that it wasn’t her fault.

But she couldn’t move now... the poison was taking effect and she was slowly fading away – her breath coming in shallow gasps.

No note. Nothing at all. Let it haunt them. Let her death hang over their heads like a dark cloud; let it follow them like a malevolent spirit.

As she breathed her last she remembered words that she had once heard, the wisdom of others cushioned her as she slipped out of this world: “there is nothing as deafening as the echoing sound of the things we leave unsaid.”

Yes, let her death be like that deafening echo of silence.

The Echo of Silence was written by Delta Law Milayo Ndou.

Copyright © Delta Law Milayo Ndou 2010.

I am a wordsmith. For as long as I can remember I have had the uncanny ability to pour the feelings and experiences of others into the malleable form we call words. I am a VOICE - one of those who refuse to be gagged by the traditions that tell me that my womanhood obscures my humanity. Mine is a literature of deconstruction. I am preoccupied by the need to challenge the status quo, to de-construct the stereotypes and the myths about what womanhood entails, particularly in patriarchal Africa.
My literature is a woman's interpretation of the world, and it is a human being's critique of the beliefs and traditions that relegate one set of human beings to inferiority on the basis of their anatomy.

In a world where a woman's voice is considered irrelevant - I choose to use words to break the silence. So like the ironsmith wields the anvil - I too, wield words to break the chains of ideologies that enslave women and deprive them of the space to shape their own destinies, to have a say in matters that affect their lives and especially to forge their own identity; to define on their own terms - what womanhood entails.

So I write because I have failed to buy into the myth that an African woman's silence is a sign of virtue and not cowardice.

I write because I refuse to be counted among so many of my sisterhood - those born with mouths wide open and lips sealed shut!

I write because my anatomy can not bind me, define me, confine me, restrain me or limit me...

To introduce myself in the conventional manner, perhaps a menu of the tags I've worn all my life will suffice and if that is not enough perhaps a catalogue of all of the labels I have picked up as I passed through the varying seasons and phases of life.

Who am I?

I am a member of the human species, an African by race, a Zimbabwean by nationality, black (perhaps brown is more accurate) by color, a woman by sex, a Venda by tribe, a Christian by religion, a feminist by choice, a journalist by profession, a writer by design and an activist by default.

And I have answered to the name Delta Law Milayo Ndou for a quarter for a century now and will do so all my days.


Novuyo Rosa Tshuma said...

Delta, your writing is so rhythmical, this story for me teetered between the story and the poem, was this a deliberate play with both formats? Loved the images you invoked, and here the story-poem-poetic prose seems bent on bending over and around itself. Enjoyed it. A point to note, I think the 'Had she been there' carried on a little too long at the beginning, so that in the end it had a rather flat cadence.And the telling at the beginning sort of gave away what to expect in the following lines in a bit of a cliched way, what was to follow became too predictable. Other than that, for me this poetry-short story interplay was an enjoyable read.

maposa said...

Well um no writer so dont know the technicalities but as an ordinary reader - I cannot fault the story. I read it over and over again and each time the climax was fresh. Simply the best - have been recommending it to everyone I know who appreciates a good story. Well Done Delta!

Anonymous said...

wow,second time reading it and it still captures my mind.i want to find out what it is that they had been saying. It's a good piece that tells the story of the woman in Africa, something we do not want to talk about as a society. Great work D

Anonymous said...

Delta i enjoyed reading through your story snd it flows just fluently at the same time painting the image of your story in my mind. Your charecters are strong and speak to well, you did well in that regard. The language is also good, i love it.

Anonymous said...

Eish captivating i wish i was a critic then i'd have the proper and right words. But with my simple English i think you nailed it. Thumbs up gal In-Harmony

ntoe nxumalo said...

thanks to harmony i read this story.you are a great writer delta.you really made me feel all the emotions that the woman was carrying inside of her.i applaud you for showing the world some of the horrors that women go through without anyone really hearing their cry.

Busani said...

Brilliant piece !

DUDU said...


Delta said...

Thanks everyone... I am glad you enjoyed reading it as much as I delighted in writing it.
Novuyo, thanks for the observations, I will certainly take them to account and I appreciate the honesty.
Keep reading Storytime and let's keep celebrating our continent's own storytellers!

Jerà said...

At some point in the story, I began to draw (flattering) comparisons to one of the most amazing books I've read - Yvonne Vera's Butterfly Burning which, like this one, straddles the line between poetry and prose.

If the chef continues to bring out the hors d'oeuvres, the guests might become too full to eat the main course - the teaser line “had she been there” was stretched a liiiittle too far but the story recovers very well from that.

Loved the clever technique of keeping reader in suspense about the contents of the bottle.

Small booboo, the reference to the husband (“buried his throbbing organ into the soft and pliant flesh”) sounds too erotic and almost a compliment which is incompatible with a story written in anger/pain.

The story's greatest strength is that it makes the reader FEEL something.

With tweaking, this has the ingredients of an award winning tale.

In conclusion - and I say this with a smile - it is a pity that such a talented writer REFUSES to write more.



StoryTime: Weekly Fiction by African Writers.
All works published in StoryTime are
Copyrighted ©.
All rights reserved.