An original short story by writer, teacher and speaker Lola Busari, originally published (in print) in her collection entitled Papa's Little Girls.
t was raining heavily on the morning that Kemefu decided to get out. Her fake passport was already hidden securely beneath the folds of her head- tie and she was fully confident that she wouldn’t get caught. Not again. Not this time. This was her last chance. Her large brown eyes contemplated the droplets of rain as they exploded against the small window in the downstairs landing, like millions of mini water bombs. For the 57 th time that day, she raised a scarred hand to her head tie, confirming the position of her secret with a swift, yet firm pat.
The faint sound of soft snoring trailed through the long corridor behind her, stinging her ears as she made her way towards the front door of her home. Tears began to form at the corners of her eyes and her breath began to quicken with each step that her bruised feet dared to take. Reaching the door now, Kemefu refused to turn around and look back at the empty corridor. She could feel the weight of the open space in the passage way - heavy on her back – like a burden – one that was speaking to her – singing to her – a condemning tune that penetrated through to her soul.
Again, the sound of gentle snoring coming from the two large bedrooms where her children lay stung her ears. That melody of reproach sailed out towards her, collided with her frame, her emotions, her heart, as it crescendoed and smacked her against the oak door. Kemefu fell against it shaking. She was a shivering mess, trying to shield herself from this inexorable musical opus and scratching and clawing at her skin which had now become prickly – not with heat or sweat – but with guilty anxiety.
After only five minutes of this poignant oeuvre, it was as if in a trance that Kemefu finally did it. She could feel herself opening the large oak door. Could feel her feet carrying her slim, hunched frame across the threshold onto the front porch. Could feel herself watching the clear raindrops as they splashed against and ran down the green leaves of the well-kept plants that lined their lawn – that same lawn where her husband had publically disgraced her before the whole neighbourhood. That was the day he broke her left arm. And her Spirit. Of course the arm had eventually healed with time but there’s nothing that a sling can do for one’s spirit.
She could feel herself closing the front door behind her. The distinct click of the latch as it shut, confirmed it for her. Confirmed that she was finally leaving behind all of the hurt, the cruelty and whatever shards of love that had managed to survive in that place. However, that haunting tune, laced with the soft wailing snoring had managed to escape from the house.
Kemefu didn’t understand how because she had ensured that all of the windows were closed and she didn’t recall hovering in the doorway long enough to let even the cool air from their air conditioned home escape into the wet humid world beyond. But the tune was out. It had gotten out just as she had. Whether it had seeped through the faint cracks beneath the window sills, been puffed out of the chimney or even if the brick house itself had taken breath and exhaled the tune from within its core…it was out. The tune was out of the house and inside Kemefu. She closed her eyes to the life around her and she could feel it banging out rhythms deep within her blood stream.
Minims, quavers and crochets - competing with her heartbeat for her attention - without cessation. This tune was coming strong and hard and rhyming with her blood! But there was nothing she could do. Despite this haunting tune, she would not turn back to her home, to her children. What use was she to them dead? One more mistake and he would surely kill her.
His reputation meant a lot more to him than anything else. “Being a general is no joke you know! I have responsibilities and an image to uphold! How could it have made sense to you to prepare plantain and egg to my fellow generals! Isn’t that the food of peasants? Or do you want them to think we are poor? Is that it? You want them to think that we don’t know how to live and to eat well!”
She tried to block out last night’s confrontation as she made her way to the car but the pain in her lower back refused to let her forget. Her husband, angry with the meal of fried plantain and egg, had reheated the remaining oil from the pan that she had used to cook, taken it to their bedroom and slowly poured it down her back as she slept. He had firmly held her down as she screamed and struggled. He would not let her go until every last drop of the piping hot oil that she had used to prepare such a menial meal, was on her body.
The tight black skin on her back, fleshed out as it sizzled, swelled and bubbled up with a hiss. And the heightened sounds of her cries were accompanied by the overpowering smell of burning flesh. Her children ran from their rooms, banging profusely on the hard, locked wooden door, begging and crying out, “Daddy please! Daddy! Leave her! Abeg! Leave our mother alone oh!”
On hearing his boys using the word “Abeg” and ending their pleas with the word “Oh!” Kemefu’s husband became more outraged. He wasn’t paying for his sons to receive a good education at a private international school, only for them to be mixing base, common-place colloquial phrases like “Abeg” and “Oh” with their English. It was their mother’s fault, he conceded. That’s exactly how she spoke. But what else could he have expected from nothing but a bush girl? He only had himself to blame.
When his parents advised him to marry someone from his university, he refused, claiming that an educated woman with her own opinions and her own intellectual circles was to be no wife of his. How would he control her? There was just no way! At the thought of this, ensuring that all of the oil had now been drained on to his screaming wife, he dealt her a powerful blow with the now empty frying pan, crashing it down upon her head before dropping it on the floor by the bed. Breathless, he clambered off of her, rolled across to his side of the bed and warned her that her punishment would be much more severe, should she even try to consider using this episode as an excuse to not perform her Wifely duties that night when he was to call on her.
Now, the large white jeep was waiting for her in a side road further away from the house. Kemefu quickly ran towards it, using her handbag to shield her head from the rain. She climbed into the passenger seat, leaned across and hugged General Mandu who sat behind the wheel, ready to take off. He had arranged for her husband to be at an early morning training, so as to eradicate the problem of his watchful eye during her attempt to escape.
Nevertheless, they had to be quick as they were not to be seen by anyone. ‘You have the passport right?’ he said as he reached for the gear stick with a large black hand. His voice was so deep. Kemefu stared at him in the dim interior of the car. She thought to herself, this here is a real man. Strong, with a gentle soul. With the back of her scarred hand, she wiped away the cool raindrops that were trickling down her forehead. "I have it."
Her head tie was wrapped securely and her fake passport was safe. The car drove off with a grating sound of the engine. They exchanged few words between them but just the fact that this man - a general in rank just above her husband’s division – was so willing to help her, made Kemefu feel like she’d known him on a much more intimate level. She would trust him with her life.
The jeep travelled far out beyond the outskirts of the city and the rain poured down more heavily the further away they drove. As they pulled out onto the muddy tracks of the village roads, the rain had ceased to rescind. In fact, it began to pour uncontrollably, the most it had rained after a completely dry spell of sixth months. Kemefu believed it was a sign. A sign of a great cleansing. A purging of the misery that her husband had brought her. She looked out of the window, admiring the beauty of the landscape. It was as though God had dipped his paint brush into the oceans of the world and painted over the scenery with a watery veil.
The once dry dusty roads upon which hard brown toes had strolled and heavy muddy boots had marched - craved to be drenched whilst stretched – across the village paths under the blazing rays of the African sun. And the tall god-like trees seemed to spread out their palms and tiptoe just enough to taste the finest of the sky’s pearly drops. And the people!
Kemefu was astounded by how happy they all were to enjoy the rainfall. They had been waiting a good six months for it – excitement gripped their hearts on that day when the heavenly banks had finally burst and pelted down all over the dry, parched land. She watched with delight as the villagers, old and young, all ran out in to the road, applauding and running alongside the jeep as it trudged along the wet muddy roads.
General Mandu locked the car doors. Kemefu looked at him, with a puzzled expression on her face. “Safety precaution. You can never trust these guys…some of them are pure crazy” he said. They both chuckled at this as they watched the villagers singing and dancing with their dark gaping mouths and wide eyes – they had all poured into the muddy streets like a flood of shiny dominoes - their glistening black skin sparkling as droplets of rain mingled with their sweat and dripped from their bodies like oil.
Their happiness made Kemefu think of her little boys. She could picture herself with them playing outside and enjoying the rain whilst their father was away at work. They would never be allowed to do that in his presence though. He would make it perfectly clear that it is beneath them to be dancing like wild monkeys outside in the rain for all to see. At least her husband would not grab her boys by the back of their necks and hold down their heads in a bucket full of the rain water, forcing them down until they almost drowned.
He had done just that to her in their second year of marriage. It happened one afternoon when he arrived home from work. He was jogging from the car to the house, shielding himself from the rain with his General’s Beret, when he saw her just sitting there outside on their front lawn in the pouring rain, claiming that she liked the way the rain felt on her skin, when he enquired as to why she was there. But no, he would never do anything like that to the boys thank God. He loved them too much. She missed them terribly now and the haunting tune that had mixed with the rhythm of her heart began to play loudly in her ears, drowning out everything else.
That’s why she didn’t hear General Mandu’s words as he pulled up outside an old, abandoned stone building. She could faintly hear his voice as though he were far away. She could make out that it was something about how she was planning to recompense him but Kemefu wasn’t paying him any attention. Her focus was on her boys. Her sweet little boys. She was so far away from them now. Her little boys…General Mandu’s large black hand came down heavily upon her face as he reached over, knocking off her head tie and attempting to unbutton her shirt.
He pushed her back into her seat. In a moment of desperate confusion and despair, she tried to open her passenger door but it was locked. She remembered how he had previously locked it when the singing and dancing villagers had come out onto the road. Kemefu fought back, reaching for his face and scratching at his eyes. She didn’t understand what was happening or why it was happening but she hadn’t come this far to give up now. General Mandu was trying to unbuckle his seat belt so that he could get a better hold of the situation.
Kemefu quickly reached for one of the biros from the dashboard and thrust it deep into his right eye. He screamed out loud in agony, instinctively raising his hands to his eyes. In his distressed state, she stretched past him and flicked the auto lock switch. General Mandu swerved round in his seat, still struggling with the buckle of his seatbelt and trying to snatch at Kemefu’s wrist as she flung herself out of the jeep. Her head tie had come undone and dropped to the ground along with her fake passport but she didn’t care. She just kept on running. Her feet slipped and skidded as she ran along the muddy soiled roads and turned off into a small clearing which opened up to a forest that separated the city from the villages.
Kemefu didn’t know where she was or which direction she was supposed to be going in. She was lost. But she didn’t care. She was lost and she didn’t care? And she had just stabbed an army general in the eye. It all sounded so ridiculous to her but it was the truth. She began to laugh. Feeling winded and sore, she kept on laughing, uncontrollably now. She could feel the rain on her skin. She loved it. She was free! She was carefree! Just like her boys when they were lost in play. Her boys. She saw them in her mind’s eye. The haunting tune began to play again – pumping with her blood – its steady beat accompanying the rhythm of her steps as she tried to find the long road back to her life – to her loving boys – to His Hate.
Lola is an English lecturer, publisher, editor and relationship adviser with a particular interest in marriage, motherhood and children's education. Lola was an award recipient at the 19th annual GAB (Gathering of Africa's Best) for Youth Empowerment.
Image: Sophia Dawson.
This short story may not be republished, modified nor stored in a retrivial system without prior written permission from the author, Lola Busari, or The Book Banque. All rights reserved.