THIS IS THE THIRD PART OF FOUR POSTS ON A VERY COMPELLING NARRATIVE!
Let us play a game of trading places,
Pausing triggers of mud slinging tongues.
Viewing with glasses that mirror chances,
We will find all toes fit the shoes it belongs.
“When the old woman’s husband died suddenly, she knew exactly what to expect. Similar drama had been played around her many times before and she was knowledgeable if not experienced, prepared if not ready. She broke into his cupboard, opened the cardboard box she knew he kept his money in, took all the money he had left there and hid it somewhere else. Events soon overtook the family’s grief, as it most quickly does for the wealthy families and attention veered towards his assets.
“There was enough assets to go round his extended family twice over and no one bothered about a ‘few change’ they didn’t even know existed. There were no quarrels at all. ‘It was hardly surprising because there was enough to go round,’ she told me. No one complained. She got nothing of course; she was just a ‘wife’ and mother to ‘some’ of his nineteen children. Her husband’s brothers took over, promising to handle all his affairs until his sons were old enough to take care of things themselves. But that was the end of it. They simply kept it all.”
The old woman’s main swung an arm and accidentally knocked over the empty water cup beside her. It rolled in an uneven semi-circle, as far as its one curved arm will allow it and stopped. She picked it up lazily and placed it carefully beside her stool, right where it was before. Deliberately fitting it precisely in the same small moist ring it had earlier made on the concrete ground, where she had placed it down initially.
“She didn’t go back to her parents in the village because it was clear that she was now ‘too’ literate for that kind of life. She also didn’t like the idea of another husband. She said nothing about the offers that were made for her hand, yet it could be imagined that for the sheer pride or luck of having a late wealthy man’s wife, offers were certainly not short in coming. Also for the purpose of getting her permanently out of the inheritance picture, persuasions were surely plentiful too from her in-laws. Not to mention her own desire to fit in somehow into the traditional and religious scheme of things.
“She was then still quite young by our modern standards; considering the age in which she got married, her two-children-every-three-years average and her less than a total of seventeen years of married life. She would have been a good ‘buy’ in the scrap market of the ‘once-married.’ But she wasn’t going to have that again. She wanted her life back the way it was before. Since that is not possible again, then she would only settle for something else, according to her own terms. She started a little trade and rented a room. Her late husband had left many houses scattered all over the place, yet there she was renting a small room on a side road. Her children stayed with their uncles.”
Soon the sun can barely be seen over the top of the broken bottles lined western wall. The mild sun rays glowed through the all green pieces of broken glass, casting a halo light-green display of lined lighting on the opposite eastern wall, far behind the maid. The sight achieved more of a viewing attraction at this time of day than it achieves the anti-burglary objective the crudely enforced walls were conceived and defaced for.
“A number of years passed by and as soon as she could pass off all the money she took from her late husband’s stash as money she had made from her business, she bought her own house.”
She exhaled as she conquered a yawn and rapped two sharp knocks on the centre of her head to warn the onset of an itch.
“Her late husband’s brothers started to peddle silly tales about her. They were saying that she was now a whore. Her children were ordered to stop seeing her and they came to see her only in secret. Soon they stopped altogether. She only heard when they got married. As years added up into decades, she saw her daughters, daughter in-laws and grand-daughters when they were pregnant, then their babies. She never knew when they gave birth. It hurt her so much but there was nothing she could do about it. They tried to come to see her secretly but she wasn’t allowed to go to them, ever. Their uncles did not allow that and they had ‘poisoned’ the minds of her sons too.”
The strain of talking is usually managed with the love for ones own voice and not the point being made or the reason for it. With the old woman’s maid, it had to be something else. Maybe it is the silent encouragement? It could be the attentive eyes following her every twitch, or all those knowledgeable nods she kept getting. Maybe it is the apparent riddles snared inside another person’s misfortune in the almost reluctantly unfolding story she is telling in her own jerky wavy self-entertaining way?
“The years didn’t change anything in her situation. Still she prospered in her trade, she grew older and she started to have great grandchildren. She grew so old. Some of her great granddaughters got married! That in itself was an unusual thing. The years were not being fair though. With so many years beneath her skin, her body organs started to wear-out. She became very ill. It started quite normally though, like the onset of most fatal ailments; common headache, knees and back hurt, belly ache, that sort of thing. She was turning bad inside out”
She cleared her throat and appeared to swallow with difficulty. Her eyes fazed up momentarily then cleared up as she blinked.
“For someone her age, not being ill is very abnormal. She was alone and that in itself was an illness. Over the years she had massively changed the little building she had bought on a huge piece of land. The price was ridiculously low. Finally, she had sold off two-thirds of the land and built an impressive house on the remaining land. Later she had the old renovated building initially on the land completely demolished and further expanded the new house. A huge modern building now graced her land, instead of the original one. It is a simple styled solid structure, common in all its four sides, a very well made house.”
She choked, coughed and cleared her throat. She appeared relieved, with no trace of the brief discomfort she had earlier experienced. It almost epitomized her personal decision to tell this story, which like the cough, she had initially tried to suppress, had been choking her up. Telling this story was theoretically relieving her conscience, which is why she must.
“Her illness took a turn for the worse and some of her tenants took her to a nearby government owned hospital, but all the Doctors were on strike. So they rallied round and took her to a private clinic instead. None of her family members came to visit her during those two months she was in the clinic. But honestly, they didn’t even know. All the time she was admitted in the clinic her most frequent visitor was the Pastor, who came to visit and pray with all the patients in the clinic’s wards. They had met on her third day in the clinic, chatted for a while and the Pastor was impressed with her mind.”
The maid politely asked for more water and the cup beside her was taken away as someone left for more water for her.
“The Pastor took a special interest in the old woman, and unpredictably, in addition to his regular routine of Saturday morning visits; he came mainly to see her every Tuesday afternoon too. They talked some more and he brought along books for her to read. He prayed for her at the end of every visit; even though she kept telling him that she is a Muslim. She got slowly better and her bill slowly grew into a huge sum. Sometime after she got to know about her bill, she chose to tell the Pastor her whole story. Smart move, if you ask me. He then seized the opportunity to preach to her. An even smarter move, if you ask me. But hey, I am only telling a story here.”
She laughs in her gaily way, a shade longer this time and then she stole an impatient look in the wake of her yet to appear water, her discomfort worsened with her evident impatience.
“She told me that it was on that rain soaked Tuesday afternoon, after the Pastor had preached to her, that she made up her mind to give what was left of her life to this new faith; that is new to her. And she did, though not on the same day. But she did on the Pastor’s very next visit. The owner of the clinic, who is a member of the Pastor’s church, told her not to bother about her bill. A nurse in the clinic revealed to her later that the Pastor’s church had paid up her bill in full.”
The water arrived; she gulped down half of it and placed the cup beside her again, gracefully and without looking down.
“The old woman was so touched. These are people totally new to her, yet they are doing things for her that her own folk are not doing for her. She concluded that these people must belong to a faith that is actively true. She gave her life to their Christian faith and willed her house to the church.”
Wiping her perspiring palms on her wrapper, just over her thighs, the maid smiled into the space between her and the western wall. Her smile said something to all those who saw it follow her eyes over the wall, transfixed as it followed the fading lightening of the dusk skies, giving up its retiring Judge, who had started his daily trip abroad for just another night.
“Her family heard all this and then they started to visit her in large numbers. They came in doves like vultures to a fallen lifeless corpse. It is strange how word traveled to her family. Even her late husband’s brothers; whom she hadn’t seen since his funeral, came to see her on more than one occasion when the story got out that she was now a Christian. I came into the picture much later, but I have a strong feeling in my guts that those old men from the Mosque outside her house were the early pair of vultures that escorted her juicy story and reported every vowel and syllable of it to her people.”
She stressed her perceived ingenuity by widening her eyes.
“Her grandchildren and their spouses and their own children; some of whom she had not even heard of or seen before, all came to see her. They couldn’t change her mind. They had cut her off completely. She had been like a heavily bandaged bad arm they had neglected, and then they had amputated her with their desertion. She was alone and the Pastor, the Doctor and their fellow church members all became her family now. She was picked up in flashy expensive cars for church services and brought back home with small gifts weekly. She even got a social life again. Her family’s desertion did not hurt so much after her conversion because what relationship she had with them before was not worth weeping for. Soon afterwards the Pastor baptized her in a simple ceremony.”
She leaned forward slightly.
“The church took care of her. Soon, even some short evening prayer sessions were held in her compound. The church got her a young maid to stay with her and paid the maid handsomely too. The church also gave the old woman a monthly allowance. They actually gave her money! Can you imagine that? She is by far, so much richer than eighty-nine percent of the church’s members, who gave money regularly to their church for nothing back in return. Still the church paid only her bills.”
She cleared her throat thunderously and made a face.
“She became ill again. She was so ill this time that the Doctor said there was not much he could do for her. She was just too old and getting older. She was returned home from a second sojourn in the private clinic. The young maid left while she was in the clinic, so I came into the picture when a member of the Pastor’s congregation told me about the job. No one who was approached wanted the job. I already had a morning job at the government general hospital. But when it was agreed that I can manage both jobs and I will cost them much less because I will not be working full time, I started.
“It was established that the old woman is always cared for by her married female tenants during the day and as such, I was to stay with her from the late evenings till dawn. Since in the mornings and afternoon she was cared for; when the women weren’t too caught up in their other daily chores, I naturally assumed that I would just have little to do for her while I was there. Little did I know that I couldn’t have been more wrong in my assessment of the work laid down ahead for me. To think that the old dying lizard had so much money hidden away all this while, was such a rude revelation. No one knew but me, I am certain of this! But that is not why I thought of killing her.”