Fiction

Judgement Revoked: Fiction by Sandra Heteckery-Gudza

Image: Hotholler via Flickr

Today was the day.

They had all assembled like vultures around a rotting carcass. So it had finally worked. They had convinced everyone that she was bad, and they had urgently called a meeting to decide her fate. She knew in her heart it was decided already. She could hear the excited voices of her sisters in law chattering just outside the door. They had set her up and now her life in this family was in balance.

Patricia blinked back the tears as a sharp shard of pain went through her again. How she had laboured and loved these people. To have them treat her this way was killing her inside. She had tried to find fault with herself. They’d been unfair to her from the beginning and she’d taken it all in. Quietly. Henri had insisted she stay quiet and not say anything back to them. It had hurt badly and she had begun to withdraw. She’d lost weight, developed hypertension. She’d suffered nightmares and would often cry deep into the night. And still she kept quiet no matter how much they taunted her. Perhaps her not responding to their jibes just annoyed them even more. She would carry on quietly with her business and not fight back.

And they had walked all over her like a dirty floor mat.

She had been bruised and battered by everyone that she had thought mattered. Her closest in laws had been the very worst. Opening the curtains lightly, she saw Rolland swaggering across the homestead. She struggled to quell the harsh stirrings in her heart. This man, this one egotistic bastard, had caused her such an expanse of grief she could not forget it. His cold, handsome face showed elation. God knows how she’d tried. He had single handedly masterminded her suffering time and time again.

She had never gotten to know why.

Maybe today she’d find out.

‘As a man thinketh so is he’.

‘The words of your mouth reflect your heart’.

She’d never understood these words when she’d heard them in church.

Oh, how she knew now!!!

He had not been ashamed to show how he felt about her. His words had constantly harangued and cut through her. It was as though he had deliberately planned an offensive against her; and his daily onslaught had severely depleted her emotional resources. Once a strong vibrant comely young woman, all she could do now was watch helplessly as he led the battle for her will. His words, his harsh words, had been the cruellest serrated knives in her tender heart.

‘It remains to be seen if you will ever bear a child in this family. You two had a fancy wedding, thinking you were doing right. It’s really unacceptable in our clan; Mukoma should have known better. Anyway I guess we will see what comes of that’.

‘I wonder how long this marriage of yours will last. I never really knew you, so you cannot blame me for not understanding you. I knew Mukoma’s previous ex girlfriend very well. Shamiso was very nice to us, to me in particular. We spent a lot of time together – watching movies and going out. She was very accommodating and down to earth. I knew her very well and I liked her. Unfortunately in your case, I only met you three days before Big Brother married you. So as you can see, I am still struggling to come to terms with why Mukoma would marry a woman like you. I guess it’s really about each man to his own. I remain confused why he chose you’.

‘Had Mother lived I don’t think she would have allowed Mukoma to marry you. It’s just that the type of woman that you are…You argue too much Maiguru. You seem to have an opinion about everything. And you just want to be heard. Women should not be heard but seen. This type of woman…’

She had remained silent in the face of these onslaughts. What could she say? To whom? Fear has a way of giving everyone else around you horns. Patricia had stopped trusting anyone. Or even telling Henri. She didn’t understand his reaction when she told him some of these things. Often he would be quiet. Other times he would get angry and storm off. And still do nothing. It hurt her deeply. It was as though he was silently endorsing their behaviour. And the more they got away with it, the more ludicrous the situation became.

She’d tried to understand them all. How was it possible that they would all be so vindictive and nasty? What had she done?

One night when she had wept bitterly, Henri had taken her tenderly in his arms. Tears glistening in his eyes, these had been his words: ‘I have always told you that they have never treated me any better. When I fell in love with you I hoped they would see you as I saw you, and love you like I do. But I guess since I have never been their King, you will never be their Queen. Is my love for you not enough, that you desire them to love you too? This is the way they are beloved. Please don’t talk back. Just be still. God knows best’.

It had seemed weak and inappropriate at the time, and it had angered her. In retrospect, perhaps Henri was right. It just gave them enough resources to dig holes for themselves. She found comfort in the times they spent together but it wasn’t often. And as fate would have it, he soon found a better job far away from home.

Patricia had received this news with mixed feelings. She was happy he would be empowered and would take them out of this abject poverty they were living in, and yet she feared staying behind with these people. She’d wanted to be taken back to her people, to await his return whilst there. But he wouldn’t have any of it. She was a married woman, and must stay with his people. No amount of pleading would make him change his mind. Henri had thought perhaps if they were forced to stay together things would change for the better.

He couldn’t have been more wrong.

The day he left she had cried forlornly in his arms. She could see he was struggling to maintain his cool, and it had been heart rending when they were parted. She’d turned for home with a heavy heart, dreading already. As the gate swung shut that day, she knew she was shutting herself into a prison.

Then the real persecution began.

The accusations just became uglier and more shocking.

Rolland was the Captain extraordinaire, with his sister Catherine his trusted lieutenant. Nothing she did was right. She was labelled lazy, stingy, evil – the works. She laboured from day to dawn, working two jobs to make sure all went well. That still wasn’t enough. Had the blows been physical she would have handled them better. But words have the power to drill into one’s soul, and each day she lived for a very long time those words had rung over and over in her head.

He had seemed bent on either breaking her will, or her marriage. He almost succeeded in doing both.

Back to the present, more and more people were arriving now, and whilst she knew she was without fault she had no idea what tricks would be employed this time. They had always managed to make her look bad – the three of them. She really had tried to understand why they had done this to her. When she had first come into the family, she had tried to be good; and tried very hard to fit in. Maybe because they had been raised differently? She really didn’t see what was wrong with a country bred boy marrying a town girl. At the end of the day she was just as respectful and well turned out as the next rural child. What was so wrong with her they had to label her ‘not suitable to join the family’? That statement had come from Rosina, and it had hurt her deeply. Just as it had raised questions in her mind to discover Rosina was still friends with the much idolised Shamiso.

Rosina had accused her of taking her brothers affection away, and even now would never consult her for anything. Whenever she had a problem she went straight to her brother for assistance. Never to her. After all she was the outsider. Patricia had learnt over the years to develop a thick skin. Now she looked at things as though they were happening elsewhere, to someone else. Even now a sense of calm began to descend on her. She had done no wrong. When she had reacted she had done so through pain. After all she was a human being like them.

She touched the curtain lightly and looked again.

The bulk of the family was now there. In the distance, she could see the elders starting to make their way to the centre of the homestead where drama was about to unfold. Rage suddenly began to build up in her head. How dare these people do this to her?! What had she done to deserve this? Why were they treating her this way? She hoped Henri would get her message. They had lied to her; told her Tete Mazvita in the village was ill and was asking for her. She had been surprised when she got there, and Tete herself had stepped out of the hut. She looked fit as a fiddle. Rolland had asked to use her phone and had held on to it the whole way until they were in a no network zone. She had been puzzled by this, and now knew why. They hadn’t wanted her to reach her husband.

Something was amiss.

Unbeknown to them, when they had stopped for a recess she had quickly asked the shopkeeper if he had a phone and if she could use it. He had been more than happy to oblige. So she had hurriedly sent Henri a message. She didn’t even have time to check if it had gone, because Rolland came in to find out what she had purchased. So she had handed the phone back and purchased crisps and drinks. And they were back on the road again.

She had been surprised to see so many cars and people at the normally vacant homestead. She had been even more puzzled by the behaviour of everyone she met. If they had been deep in conversation, as soon as she came into earshot they strangely fell silent.

It was then that it dawned on her that trouble was brewing.

When Tamika arrived later that evening, she had been blunt with him. Of all her brothers in law, Tamika loved her unconditionally. And she him. He was the sweetest, gentlest man alive. She’d asked him what this was all about. He had taken her hand and gently led her into the house.

And broken the ice.

She had wept bitter tears and asked what she had done that was so wrong. So they had called a kangaroo court for her? And Henri wasn’t to know? Tamika had looked her in the eye and told her not to worry. He looked anguished but told her to be brave. He kept saying things would be well, that she was just to believe him.

She didn’t know what to think anymore. She had slept fitfully that night – all by herself.

Everyone else had ducked off to the other rooms and she had slept in the girls’ quarter by herself. Early next morning she had risen to help cook, and had been asked not to touch anything. To go back to her room. And so that’s where she had been until they’d all convened after breakfast. Had she not carried a few snacks she was sure she would not have eaten. So she had munched on the biscuits she’d bought for Tete and washed down with fruit juice. She felt so much better now on a full stomach.

As she was brushing the crumbs off her skirt, there was a knock on the door. Hurriedly she dashed forth and opened it. It was Tamika.

‘Maiguru, please be strong. We will get through this’.

Her heart warmed to him even more. She knew he was risking being frowned on by his cousins, but he had boldly chosen to stand by her. Protecting her. He had taken the place of Henri and she was grateful for that support. She closed her eyes, and for the first time since the whole saga began she smiled. Suddenly she was at peace. She would fight for her marriage and her happiness.

When she was led to sit in the middle of the staring circle, she knew no fear. She smiled at each of the women who sat in the accusers’ area. All three of them looked down, baffled by her sudden show of confidence. Rosina had chosen not to be part of proceedings, and hadn’t even come. She caught Catherine’s eye, who looked haughty and confident. She had set this ball rolling and was cocksure this woman would finally be ejected from their family.

Baba stood up to begin proceedings. He was a gentle peace loving man, and all this strife caused by his daughters caused him much grief. He loved his daughter in law dearly, and had been accused of spoiling her. He had not wanted to subject her to this but the pressure on him had been so great that he had eventually buckled. He sighed as he looked where she sat, all alone and forlorn. He admired her. She was a strong woman, taken a lot of battering at the hands of his children. He didn’t understand why they had been so mean to this child. She was a well mannered educated polite child. Very loving and loveable. The kind of daughter every man wants to raise. She was very good with her children and excellent with her older in laws. Disciplined and accommodating. His own children sadly seemed to view every female in their territory as a foe; a competitor. Including her. He failed to see why they would persecute her so. Now they had coerced him into holding this court against her. He wished desperately she would understand it wasn’t his doing. He hadn’t wanted to do this but then… He sighed again. They were here now, and they had to go through with the whole gruesome business.

Clearing his throat, he clapped.

‘Dear family, I wish we had gathered here today for a joyous occasion. It is never easy for a father to stand in judgment of his children. Today I must stand in judgment of my daughter in law. Patricia’. The old man turned to look her way. As their eyes met briefly, Patricia noticed the sad look of defeat on his face. Her heart went out to him that instant. She knew this had not been Baba’s idea, but he had been badgered into doing this. This same man had stood in her defence time after time… Until an ugly rumor had begun to do the rounds that perhaps they had a thing going. In Henri’s absence perhaps something was brewing. Amai had suddenly become very formal and cold towards her, and she knew that Catherine’s malicious tongue had been at work.

And so here they were today.

She boldly raised her head to look at her accusers. Rolland, Catherine, and Martha had taken front row seats. Rebecca had chosen to sit away from her siblings. Jane had flatly refused to come to such a hedonistic meeting, as had Rosina; albeit for other reasons. Their other sibling, Cuthbert, had been evasive and no one knew where he stood. She looked at Baba, who now was looking at her main accuser.

‘Rolland, please advise the family why you called the meeting’.

Oh, so it was Catherine’s proxy who had been used as the figurehead. She cocked her head as she listened.

‘Honoured elders, family and friends. It is with much pain that I stand here today. I would never have wanted things to get this way. Marriage is about bringing two people, about…’ a murmur rose in the already tense crowd. As always Rolland loved to hear the sound of his own voice, and being the fool he was tried to be elaborate with his words. Baba cast him a cold forbidding look and he hastily regrouped.

‘I have come here today to bear witness against my brother’s wife. It is a painful thing to do; but needs must. Patricia has been nothing but trouble ever since she came into this family. I don’t know what Mukoma was thinking really. She has an answer for everything; argues about everything. Just because I did not go beyond ordinary level like she did does not mean I am not educated. Growing up we were told women should be seen not heard. Maybe it’s because she is employed in the city that she looks down on us. These are not real matters to talk of. What pains me the most is what I heard from one of our neighbors recently. Maiguru fell pregnant just before Mukoma left, and none of us knew about it. About three months after that she fell sick. Again she did not tell anyone. She suffered a miscarriage, and went about telling everyone that I and my sisters had bewitched her and devoured her child!’

Loud protests were heard coming from the crowd.

‘Silence’ Baba roared. Pointing tersely to Rolland, he nodded his head.

‘I am not one to dig a person into a grave. This woman is nothing but evil. She has accused my sister Catherine of witchcraft. Catherine came to my house crying one day, saying Patricia had told the maid not to clean Catherine’s rooms because she had goblins under her bed. How does a person talks so much about witchcraft and goblins? Because she is the one who has them. After all, she is a foreigner in these lands. Who is to say what she came with from her own people?’

‘Tell them, my brother! This woman has caused us too much grief. She…’

‘Enough Catherine! Is that all Rolland?’

Baba was shaking with barely disguised anger. These children were shameless. Is this why they had called everyone together? He knew how fearful of witchcraft his family was. Even if there was no proof people would now shun Patricia. He had to stem this.

Rolland was obviously happy with the results of this campaign. Everyone was whispering behind their hands, pointing at her. She could feel the tears welling up again. What had she done to deserve all this?

Baba looked down gently at his daughter in law. How she had changed! She had come to them a blossoming blushing bride, but now all that remained was a shadow of that wonderful girl with the laughing eyes. He was ashamed with what his family had done to her but the monster of hatred had taken on a life of its own and he just didn’t know what to do. Well, for now he wasn’t going to let them be judgmental. He would give Patricia a chance to speak up for herself.

Clearing his throat, again he raised his hand for silence.

‘I want to believe I am a fair man. I am going to allow the accused to stand up and give us her side of the story’.

Everyone froze with shock. This was unheard of. As far as most were concerned, this was an open and shut case, and she was headed for banishment. But now with this twist…

The first to recover was Rolland, who quickly sprung to his feet.

‘But Baba…

The murmurs rose in volume, with people openly chattering now.

‘No!!! As long as I am the patriarch I dictate what goes. She will speak’.

Signalling with his staff to Patricia, he gave her the floor.

As she stood in front of them all, she looked intently at her accusers. Clapping softy she began to speak,

‘Respectable elders, I do not have much to say in the face of all these allegations. To even try would be a waste of effort and your precious time. All I can say in my defence God alone is my judge. I came to this family with an open mind and heart. I wanted to learn to love you as much as I loved Henri. I wanted also to be accepted as I am. I just wanted to be loved back’.

She stopped as a lump rose in her throat. She hadn’t wanted to cry, but the memories had just come flooding back and she was struck by the injustice of it all.

‘There is only one crime you can all accuse me of. And that is loving Henri. If I have ever caused anyone harm then I apologise. But I can’t go on living like this. Whatever you decide to do with me in this family, I will not say no’.

They had all been intently watching her every move, and so no one had seen the car that had parked a distance away, nor the figure that had emerged from there and swooped down on them.

Catherine was the first to see him and she started up guiltily. Her brother looked fit to murder someone and she ran for dear life. Rolland stood rooted to the ground, pure disbelief on his face. How had his brother gotten wind of this?

With a stony look on his face Henri strode to his wife and thrust car keys into her hands.

‘Go into the car. Right now’.

She knew that tone. She looked at Baba, who waved her away. Legs shaking she walked slowly towards the car. The last thing she saw was Henri man handling Rolland, who was pleading with his brother to give him a chance to explain. It was ironic how the trap laid so elaborately for her had caught its maker.

Justice had served its course.

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Image: Hotholler via Flickr

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