She sat alone, cross-legged under the shade of the thatched hut, shielding herself from the searing mid-afternoon heat. She took her doek off and ran her fingers through her hair, scratching her dry scalp. A fine dust of dandruff wafted into the dry air. She patted her head to calm the itch and made a mental note to find time to wash her hair.The mid-summer sun – threatened to singe everything in its wake. The man with the smooth voice on radio said that it would rain soon. Her husband’s old grandmother did not think so. Emma was inclined to believe her. After all she was wise and had she not been right last year and the year before that? Emma gazed with squinted eyes into the distance and could see the sun’s rays shimmering in the distance. The scotched barren unyielding land stretching before her had long since stopped feeding her people. She longed for a cold coke to quench her thirst. She could not remember the last time she had a coke. She licked her chapped lips with longing. The air was dry and humid. The chickens wandering in the dirt felt the heat too. They fluffed their feathers in an attempt to cool themselves down. The two black emaciated Dobermans, her husband had been given by his brother for protection lay next to her, tongues lolling like rag dolls from the mouths. The once navy blue now grey- from too-many-washes top she wore was drenched in sweat. She could feel the sweat dripping down her back into the hem of her skirt.
She gazed down at her protruding belly. Her thin faded top stretched tightly over it. Soon she thought ruefully she would have to let the seams out. The brown skirt she wore matched the colour of the earth she sat on. It stopped just shy of her gnarled knees, exposing her legs, which desperately needed moisturising. Her eyes travelled down to her bare cracked feet. She had to walk bare foot around the house, to save the one pair of shoes she had for Church and for when she went to the hospital. Child number three was on its way. Not for the first time she felt the tears welling in the back of her eyes. She had told herself after the first two, ’Never again.’, yet here she was, pregnant again. How could she leave now? Who would have her with three children? Her late father’s brother would not have it. After all her husband had paid lobola and had not once laid a finger on her. What excuse would she give for leaving her marital home? Babamunini Tonde would send her right back.
Once upon a time she had dreams. She was in school. She was ‘a promising student.’ That is what the teachers wrote on her report card. She wanted to make her mother proud. Then her mother died, followed immediately by her father. They buried them next to each other, on a very wet stormy November afternoon. Numb and in shock she had watched as the coffins where lowered one after the other into waterlogged graves. With a handful of mud she had bid them both good – bye. It was all very surreal, but the whispers echoed in her ears. They said it was AIDS. People stopped talking when she approached and looked at her with sad pitiful eyes. Some wailed as if it was their mother and father that died,then sat down to eat ,laugh and drink like nothing had happened. The stream of mourners soon died down. For weeks after she could not enter her parents’ bedroom without breaking down. She missed them so much. Everyone departed except her Grandmother. Uncle Tonde made arrangements to vacate her late parents lodgings in the City and move Emma and her brother to the Rural home with Grandmother. She and her brother where enrolled at the old Missionary school 3km from home.
Three kilometres to and from school every day, come rain or shine. Her feet ached. Her shoes had holes. Her father’s terminal benefits never came. Grandmother did the best she could for them. Then she met him. It started with an offer of a lift to school. He was a teacher at the nearby Primary school. He seemed genuinely interested when she poured her heart out to him about her parents and her new not so enviable life in the rural area. He said, “I will look after you.”Then he put his hand on her knee, squeezed it gently in sympathy (or so she thought) and kept it there for the rest of the drive to school.
Things moved quickly from there and soon without even asking her he was driving off the dirt road that led to school, parking well away from the road, behind some bushes and fumbling hurriedly at her skirt in the back of his battered Mazda323. He lowered his trousers down to his bony ankles. He huffed and groaned while she struggled for air beneath his huge belly. She could feel the wires in the old seat poking her in the back. The old car rocked up and down as he pumped away mercilessly at her, with part of his naked body sticking outside the open back door. The whole business took less than two minutes. She knew this because the man with the smooth voice would still be giving the 5 minute weather report on the car radio when his body shuddered and stopped moving.
When he finished he would always smile down at her and rub his face in a mock kiss on the side of her face. She couldn’t help but notice what bad, yellow rotten teeth he had. He would crawl from on top of her, making sure not to hit his balding head on the roof of the car. Then he would turn away from her and quickly pull his trousers up before walking a few paces to a nearby bush to pee. He scratched his buttocks as he watched his own thin stream finally trickle onto his shoes. She would get up,pull her knickers up over her wet centre and rub down her crumpled skirt and wish she was somewhere else. It was like a ritual. He would put his jacket on top of his sweaty shirt, adjust his mis-matched tie and drive back to the dirt road. The rest of the drive to school was in silence. The mixture of his sweat, halitosis and sex odour made her sick and she would open the window slightly for some fresh air. She wanted to say no but the thought of walking three km to school and back was too much. She planned on dumping him once she finished her examinations.
Her thoughts drifted off to the day she told him she was pregnant. He nearly drove into an oncoming bus. The shock soon turned to rage. “It can’t be me.’’ he said. Emma packed her bags that night, left a note for her grandmother and presented herself at the teacher’s house a few villages away from her own. Not wanting to lose his job Remias had quickly and quietly married her during the school holidays. His wife just as quickly packed her bags and left. He was attentive and treated her like a Queen until she gave birth. Then Remias moved to another school far away. For three years now she has lived with Remias’s mother and Grandmother. Occasionally he comes home, mostly at the bidding of his mother. It was during these rare visits she has found herself pregnant two more times! She had been meaning to go to the clinic for some contraceptive pills. The rest is history as they say. A thin smile laced with self-pity creased her face.
While her friends sat for their last O –level paper she was pushing out her first child. Before they finished their A-Levels she was popping out another. That one nearly killed her. Breech, they said. The Doctor had looked at her and said, ‘No more children.’ while the sully midwife looked at her with disdain. Next year Rosemary, her one time best friend will be Twenty and at University while she would be twenty in the labour ward ….again.
Two large tears formed in her eyes and ran like a fast flowing river down her cheeks. Two large tears fell like huge rain drops onto the patched earth. Her body went into spasms as she cried and writhed in the dirt for what seemed like an eternity. The two Dobermans startled by her sobbing scurried away. It was then she made up her mind. ‘I am only 19, just n-i-n-e-t-e-e-n!’ She repeated to herself as if only realising for the first time how much time she still has left on earth if she lived to be as old as her Grandmother. It struck her with horror that she had started to sit in the dirt like her grandmother, walk with her arms crossed on her back like her grandmother and tie her doek like her grandmother! She even bathed once a week like her husband’s grandmother. With that her tears stopped and she got up abruptly from the dirt like she had been stung by a bee, dusted herself up and walked with a new found determination to her bedroom.
Emma packed her bags. Thankfully she didn’t have much. At dusk the next day she left a note for her mother-in –law. With one child on her back and another tittering next to her she hauled the one bag with her worldly possessions on her head and retraced her foot steps back to her Grandmother’s compound.
That was six years ago. Now three children later at 26, and studying to be a nurse, Remias and what he put her through a distant memory. Oh she has seen him a few times. He is old and crumbling like an old house. Emma is finally happy. Her Grandmother can’t help showing her off to her village folks. Emma looks up to the sky and smiles. ‘Thank you mom and dad. It was not easy but I am getting there’, she whispers the wind, before joining her three children as they play hide and seek around Grandmother’s compound.