20 November 2011

Milestones by Natasha Msonza

Brenda slammed her car door and quickly accelerated out of the gate before her husband Simba could catch up with her. She wanted to be alone. She wanted to do nothing but drive around the city with her windows down and the wind in her hair. It helped to relax and clear her head each time she had one of these fights with him. At first she took off at high speed and juddered carelessly over the potholes on her street; confidently flooring her still new Pajero. Once she was certain Simba wasn’t following anywhere behind her, she reduced her speed and cruised at a steady pace.

This bright and sunny Saturday afternoon, Harareans dotted the streets despite the sweltering heat. Children donning colourful clothes ran around happily at the neighbourhood sports ground. For a moment, Brenda wondered what it would be like to be a kid again; carefree and not having to worry about anything. Reality just gnawed at her insides as she assessed what life had thrown at her instead.

She was sure he was the one she had seen kissing some woman at a Nandos earlier. It was an open secret that Simba was an inveterate seducer and unashamed libertine who had married her only for her money. This being Brenda’s second marriage, Simba blamed everything that was wrong with the two of them on her, arguing that she was a difficult, emotionally damaged woman. That, he said, was why her first husband strayed. Tears slowly formed rivulets down her face, occasionally blurring her vision into an inviting yet frightening kaleidoscope of many colours before she quickly wiped them away with the back of her hand. She couldn’t believe he was the same man she met three years ago. She had been sipping on a glass of red wine alone in a hotel lounge when their eyes met across the room. He had walked up to her and asked her name and then later her age, to which she had shyly said, “2012. You are not supposed to ask a woman her age.” They hit it off from there.

Brenda struggled with indecision. Society was one to judge divorced women harshly. If she divorced Simba for all the great mental anguish he caused her, the womenfolk both sides of their families would self-righteously turn their noses up and label her a feminist who took things too far. After she and Robert separated three years ago, her community had silently taken her apart, piece by little piece pretending to sympathise when in actual fact they sniggered and sneered behind her back. The women at church no longer invited her to anything; she only got to find out about parties and get-togethers through the grapevine. She was perceived as a potential home-wrecker, what with all her money and fancy job. Nobody cared to know that Robert had been an abuser. Every time he got drunk and too excited, he liked to do these crazy weird things with her that always made Brenda feel like a cheap whore. When she refused to wear the kinky leather lingerie or allow him to do it to her in the ‘wrong hole’, he would hit her. One time he nearly choked her to death when she refused to masturbate while he looked. Nobody believed her and it soon became difficult to explain exactly why Robert beat her. They were unable to look beyond the privileged confines of her life and discover that under all the layers, she was after all, flesh and bone.

She turned into Enterprise Road. This stretch of road seemed little busy for a Saturday afternoon. With her windows down, she caught the sound of laughter and more happy children playing somewhere in an enclosed yard. Then Simba’s painful words lurched into her mind again. He had said it was abnormal for a woman to not desire children; that it was the kind of desire only prostitutes had for fear of aging and wanting to remain young and ‘in the game’.

He obviously chose to ignore whatever she said. She never said she did not want to have children; just she wasn’t yet ready. She was at the peak of her career and wanted a little bit more time. Hell, she always dreamt of and wanted to have a child. A son, she had imagined she would name Neri: God with us.

But every time they had a fight, her husband had this very annoying habit of choosing to cede the high ground, opting instead to wallow in the swamp of baseless name-calling. It was always at that point that Brenda decided not to humour him or give him that amount of satisfaction. Sometimes she calmly managed to tell him exactly where to get off, but sometimes like today, the highway became one of her closest friends and refuge. In her SUV, she was safe. By getting away like this, she avoided saying the wrong things and hoped it would save her weathered marriage. She thought, wasn’t it Leland Foster who said that success in marriage is much more than a matter of finding the right person; it is also a matter of being the right person? She wiped a stray tear. She was safe in her SUV; tempers would have cooled sufficiently by the time she went back home.

A flash of bright colours and suddenly, there was a thud and a bump. The Pajero swerved slightly as Brenda applied emergency brakes and came to a stop. She shook her head and tried to comprehend what had just happened. Had she hit something, or someone? Perhaps it was a stray animal. She glanced into the rear view mirror and her heart sank when she made out the shape of a body, a woman’s body, flung on the side of the road. Hands shaking, she slowly put her car in park, praying that this was all just a bad dream. On wobbly legs, she jumped out and walked unsteadily towards the body. When she saw the scarlet blood welling in a pool on the side of the woman’s head, Brenda stopped abruptly, suddenly feeling sick and fought the urge to throw up. More blood spurted in powerful squirts from the woman’s arm. It was obviously arterial. Brenda’s first instinct was to turn back to the safety of her car and flee. She felt a hand steady her and gently push her to the ground. When she looked up, ten or so faces peered at her; some were already standing by the body and loudly declaring it dead. A dirty looking young man with an eye patch prodded the body with what looked like a walking stick, and shouted she’s dead. She’s dead. She’s dead. Why did he need to keep repeating that like a fool? Brenda thought as she limply dragged herself to lean on her car.

“Aha, where is the culprit?” some other fool asked from nowhere, before he spotted Brenda sitting on the ground. “Oh, it’s a woman?” he asked stupidly, peering at her from under the wide veranda of his Caps United hat. “Mahwani,” he added, referring to a difficult and complex situation.

“Haa, mahwani,” people in the now sizeable crowd kept saying amongst themselves; pontificating how women were such bad drivers.

Brenda just sat there fumbling with her mobile phone, her fingers and brain momentarily paralysed and unable to recall the emergency number. Somebody snatched it from her and before she could protest, the person was talking to someone, presumably the police, giving them directions and telling them to hurry. In the midst of all the confusion, that was the last time Brenda saw her brand new Blackberry.

She was both surprised and overwhelmed by the number of people that had gathered around her and the corpse. Everyone whispered loudly and excitedly amongst themselves. Nobody once spoke directly to her. She looked up and saw the scorn on their faces, some pointed fingers at her and obviously weren’t concerned that this was, after all, an accident. In situations like these, the driver was always wrong.

Suddenly, the one-eyed man ambled closer and poked her with his stick. He leaned over, peered at her silently for a moment and said, “You were speeding, weren’t you?” The full force of his foul breath hit Brenda squarely on the face. Fighting the urge to frown, she stared blankly at him. She could have sworn the now dead woman threw herself in front of the car. But this crowd; it wasn’t the kind that seemed interested to hear that little piece of her side of the story. One-eyed turned to the now sizeable crowd and said, “You see, this is the problem with women drivers. They are so full of themselves and think they are special, heh?”

“True that,” somebody shouted from somewhere within the crowd. “God only knows if that whore even has a licence. That’s all they are good at: buying licences and driving expensive cars that are not even theirs!”

“Where is your license, woman?” a man asked.

“Gentlemen, leave the poor woman alone. She is traumatised as it is. She could even be in shock and needs our help,” another man said.

“Whatever, people. We don’t care whether she is traumatised or what, that will not raise this poor innocent pedestrian from the dead. Down with bad drivers!”

“But we don’t even know what happened people. Who actually saw what happened here?” somebody asked.

Brenda looked up and saw the woman who had just spoken. She looked smartly dressed in a two-piece suit. Perhaps here was someone who was going to be objective.

Police and ambulance sirens could be heard in the distance, possibly making their way to the scene of the accident. Brenda heard a faint sound near her car and quickly pressed the lock button on her remote. The loud murmuring and whispering stopped momentarily at the sound of a sharp peep, peep as the central locking latched into place. Immediately people started chirping away excitedly again.

“No, do you know what? I saw the woman walk into the path of the car, but heish, the car was really speeding. The driver saw her but hit her anyway,” said one of the onlookers. Immediately at that point, the crowd seemed to get incensed and jeered at Brenda. The air was suddenly fusty from tired, unwashed bodies and stale sweat. The many voices sounded like the buzzing of a thousand angry bees.

Slumped helplessly at the back of her car, she struggled to smother her annoyance and silently took in the verbal and mental torture, silently succumbing to several arthritic minds bent on stereotypes and name calling. There was no point in even trying to explain anything. Hell, she wasn’t sure what happened herself.

Other motorists were starting to park on the roadside; one pushed her way through the crowd shouting on top of her voice that she was a doctor and knelt beside the lifeless body. She placed her hand on the unconscious woman’s neck to feel for a pulse and proclaimed that she thought she was dead. Like I need to hear that again, Brenda thought.

Somebody passed a wrapper and the doctor gently covered the body. At this point, the crowd surged forward, murmuring amongst themselves. Before the doctor arrived, no one had dared check for the woman’s pulse.

“Take her to the hospital, how are you certain that she is dead?” somebody shouted at Brenda.

The crowd suddenly started jeering at her again, like it had just had an epiphany - challenging her to take the unconscious woman to the hospital.

“Why didn’t you do it sooner? When you hit someone, isn’t it just right to put them in your fancy car and take them to the emergency rooms? Come on, get up and lift this woman into your car,” an elderly man next to her said angrily.

“Wachekeresa ka, now you pretend to be afraid of blood?” One-eyed asked threateningly; stick shaking menacingly in his hand to emphasise his mention of ritual killing. “These business women, they have to taste innocent blood for their businesses to flourish. Are you telling me you couldn’t see this woman through that big windscreen?” As he spoke, little spurts of saliva shot from his animated mouth and the small crowd around him cringed and drew their heads back subconsciously in unison.

“Which part of she is dead do you not understand, fool? Why does the poor woman have to ruin her backseat for no reason, it’s pointless,” the woman doctor said as she turned to face one-eyed. Dead came out of her mouth as dared. An uncharacteristic hush fell over the crowd momentarily.

“Who are you calling a fool, you stupid woman? You are no doctor-”, one eyed started to shout back, but as he lunged threateningly for the doctor, he farted distinctly. Some of the spectators cackled. The men in the crowd quickly restrained him, some threatening to kick his butt in for disrespecting a woman. At that point the police or ambulance sirens were getting louder and Brenda craned her neck to see the flashing lights in the short distance. She felt a sharp kick in the small of her back and leaned back on her car. Although people were jostling over each other to take a look, she was sure that this was a deliberate kick. She suddenly felt like crying; not because the kick was painful, but because the words being carelessly thrown around stung more.

She realised she had paid an incalculable price for the desire to escape her husband’s vitriol. Up to this point, she had been willing herself not to lose her nerve. It was like a checklist; first get through this then cry later. As tears spilled unrestrained from her eyes, Brenda whispered a little prayer that this ordeal may soon end. She was going to have to live with the knowledge that she had killed someone, probably serve jail time for it too. Wasn’t that enough?

Suddenly, Simba appeared from nowhere and crouched beside her. He had somehow heard the news and came immediately, he told her. The police and ambulance had also arrived and were already attending to the corpse. Simba shouted for one of the paramedics to attend to Brenda too. Can’t you see she is in shock? Simba asked rhetorically as if explaining an elementary arithmetic lesson to an unusually slow pupil. The paramedic came closer, briefly glared at Simba, then peered at Brenda. She looked very vacant and did not seem to comprehend what was going on around her. Wordlessly, the paramedic flung a blanket over her shoulders and turned to one of his crew calling him. His attention quickly shifted to the police as the ambulance head announced to them that they couldn’t carry a dead body, and the police would have to do it. The ambulance team then dispatched, completely forgetting about Brenda.

The crowd started to break away too. Simba slowly helped Brenda to her feet and held her close. For a moment his demeanour was that of someone who cared. Brenda let herself melt into his side and hugged him tighter. They watched as the policemen carefully started to move the body. When they hoisted it and put it in the black body bag, a piece of neatly folded paper slipped out of the dead woman’s pocket.

One of the female police officers bent down and picked it up with her gloved hand; carefully unfolding it like it was lethal. She stared at it, and then glanced briefly at Brenda sideways, sadly shaking her head. The officer stepped forward and extended the note to Brenda. It was a suicide note. People had generally dispersed, the hostile crowd thinning out gradually.

A silent scream scratched at Brenda’s throat, commanding one-eyed, all of them to turn back and hear this piece of news. It wasn’t her fault after all. But the crowd was gone. And the realisation that she had only been an innocent decoy in some strange woman’s suicide mission did nothing to assuage the heaviness of her heart. The crowd had already judged her harshly, and as long as they didn’t endorse that fact, it didn’t matter that she was innocent. As Simba cradled her in his arms, attempting pathetically to comfort her, she glanced momentarily into his unloving eyes and dislodged herself from him. At that point nothing mattered anymore, and she didn’t care about anything. The only thing she cared about was that she didn’t care about anything. That was the decisive moment for her to quit her second marriage.

Milestones was written by Natasha Msonza.

Copyright © Natasha Msonza 2011.

Natasha Msonza is a Zimbabwean human rights activist with a passion for social justice. She has a journalism background and a flair for desktop publishing, design, and layout. She is a blogger and some of her work can be found on Kubatana.net (an online community for Zimbabwean activists) and her personal blog: Stashsays. She is currently working on her first novel and also reading for a Masters degree in Development studies. Natasha is not a feminist.



I am wordless...

Semai danha said...

Wow!very captivating story.loved it

Nolan said...

a captivating read.....

Hwesa said...

... an incisive anatomy that we usually do not see... delivered with surgical literary skill. So what happens next?

Donal said...

You totally captured my attention, Natasha. I was there and concerned for Brend's well-being. I had no idea what the outcome was going to be. Very, very enjoyable.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...what a good read.This keeps me alert and now I can start my day:)

Yvonne Dunu said...

Good story

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