A Guest Story by Berina Ogega
The floor was colder than usual. I turned away from the wall and moved closer to my husband. I could not reach him, so I moved again. I stretched my hand; he was not there. The light from the flame flickered through my eyelids…
‘He has gone to relieve himself,’ I thought. ‘A…nd what was I doing on the floor?’
I opened my eyes, “He rarely goes out at night,” I muttered.
I sat, stretched and rotated my feet towards the door. I was about to stand and go out to look for him when I saw him seated at the table. “You got hungry, why did you not wake me up to warm the food….” then I noticed the empty table and the harsh look on his face…. I remembered there was no food. If I did not already know that human beings rarely eat other human beings, I would have thought my husband, Stavros, was going to eat me.
Several hours earlier, I dozed off and slept in my favourite chair after taking millet porridge, just before supper. I overslept. He did not wake me up, maybe to teach me a lesson about laziness, I do not know. When I got up from the chair, it was 9.00 pm. I rushed out to buy supper, but found the shops closed.
His hen had laid two eggs. I cooked ugali (maize meal), beat the eggs in a cup and placed the sufuria (pan) on the firewood.
I sat on my kitchen stool and stretched my hand to get an onion from my basket. I turned to get the eggs, but this day, was not going to end well, I knocked the cup off the stool with my elbow. I let out a short scream. Stavros, my loving husband, came to the kitchen, looked at the spilled eggs and went back to the big hut. I followed him. Without looking up from the reed mat he was repairing, he said, “You can cook that hen. I know you have been planning to starve me to death. I will not die.”
‘Now, where did that come from?’ I wondered as I walked towards the hen.
“Leave my hen alone,” he said in a cold voice, “go slaughter the cow!”
It was my cow, my dowry cow and very precious to me. My husband knew it. I looked at him for a long time, hands akimbo, then walked to the kitchen, put out the fire and went to sleep on my leso, I did not dare ask for the mat.
Was he awake now because he was still angry?
He sat very still. “Come,” I walked towards the table. “What is this?”
I squinted. “Fire ants.”
“Bring that Kerosene lamp,” I placed it on the table. “These are mosquitoes! Why do you love fire ants so much?” Of course, I knew they were mosquitoes, why was he asking me when he already knew.
“This is the food you are going to warm for us to eat,” he growled. “You have been leaving the window open for them to come in and eat me, and get fat. They are fat now, go and cook.” I picked the mosquitoes; he attempted to slap my hand but missed. I walked towards the kitchen. Behind the kitchen, was my beautiful cow.
Every time I held the cow by the horn, she knew things were bad in the house and it was time to go. She would rush out of the gate towards my parent’s home. I ran behind her. If the cow was too fast for me, I released her and let her run ahead. Later she would be lying peacefully in my parent’s compound, looking very innocent. Only to get visitors in the evening complaining that their maize and kale was destroyed and some eaten. This happened twice.
On this day, I did not let go of the horn. The cow increased speed, but I held on tight. The speed lifted me off the ground. I tightened my grip and flew towards my parent’s home. Thank goodness, it was still early. Had the villagers been awake, we would have slaughtered a goat as a fine for showing the elderly my petticoat and underwear.
I sat beside the cow until Mama woke up. She saw the cow, and she knew, it was going to be an interesting day.
She smiled, “You have visited us,” I nodded, grinning.
“And I brought the milk,” I patted the cow; she laughed.
“Well, let’s brew some tea,” she brought her favourite metal bucket that was bigger than the rest. We milked and my mind wondered…
Two days earlier, after milking the cow, I heard Stavros murmuring to himself. ‘My two year old daughter has woken up early today,’ I thought, surprised.
‘What was she telling Baba?’ I moved closer to the door and listened. “Bring more groundnuts!” Stavros ordered.
‘My husband had bought groundnuts and hid them from me,’ I was offended. He chewed loudly. I peeped and realized he was dreaming. There were fire ants crawling in, from the corner of the roof, down the wall, onto the reed mat, into Stavros’ mouth. I rushed to the kitchen and came back carrying paraffin and a matchbox. I sprinkled paraffin on him and lit the match. I was about to throw it on the fire ants when my eldest son shouted “stop!” from behind, and held my hand. He blew out the flame.
Stavros suddenly sat up. “What is happening?”
“Mum wants to murder you!” my son shouted. I turned to look at my son in disbelief. My husband looked at his paraffin-drenched pajamas, then at me.
“I was saving you,” I shouted pointing at the fire ants.
“I’m I a fire ant?” I shook my head. “Do you really love me?”
I did not answer. He should have known it was out of love, that I wanted to burn the fire ants crawling into his mouth…
We finished milking. My mind drifted back to the present.
I was comfortable, sitting on my parent’s smooth grass, sipping my tea slowly, no complaints from farmers this time. I smiled, looked around, breathed in deeply…. then out slowly. I was at peace, at rest, not running here and there trying to make my husband and children’s life easier….
“You!” An old woman staggered towards me. “Shame on you!” I almost chocked over my tea. “What is that you were trying to show our husbands in the morning?”
‘Goodness! Now what is this?’ I thought. I placed the cup of tea on the ground and stood. “I was preventing the cow from entering your farms.” The old woman walked towards me and knocked my cup over, my tea, milk and sugar, all wasted.
“You are trying to burn me!” she was angry. “You think I do not know about cup traps and killing toes?
“Ah,” I shook my head in shock.
Mama appeared at the door, she was trying very hard not to laugh. I had not realized how funny the whole scene was until I looked at Mama. I turned to face the opposite direction and laughed quietly trying very hard to keep my shoulders from shaking.
“Why are you turning away from me,” she raised her voice, “Do you not have respect?” She placed her hand on my shoulder. I turned, and blinked the tears of laughter away.
At the furthest end of the path, I saw Stavros approaching. I raised my eyebrows. The woman turned to look. “You cannot even keep still in your marital home; you give your husband a hard time. I am surprised he has never seen a witch doctor. Even your parents are fed up.” She walked past Stavros, one hand akimbo and the other swinging angrily.
“Did the cow eat her plants again?” I did not answer. “Let’s go home.” My husband got hold of my arm and pulled. I struggled to get free. “Stop making this hard for me,” he struggled to whisper, “There are no more mosquitoes, remember? You took them all away!” he pulled harder. My right hand got free, I pinched him, but he did not release me. I attempted to bite his hand. He released me.
I lost balance, fell backwards and rolled up to my parent’s doorstep. Baba opened the door, mama behind him. Each was holding a cup of tea. They sipped. From the corner of my eye, I could see the old woman standing on the path, watching us with much interest. I knew she was weaving a story in her head. “I have seen your petticoat,” She shouted. I stood up very quickly and dusted my skirt. “What colour of petticoat is that?” She shook her head. “Tch, Tch, these children will show us wonders. Those colours will burn our eyes. We will all be blind soon.” She walked away slowly.
“Good evening Stavros,” Baba waved. Mama waved. Stavros waved.
“I have come for my wife… again” Stavros moved closer. Baba nodded. Mama smiled.
They did not say anything; they were used to this. Me, coming home with the cow, the old woman looking for drama (she knew every time I ran away from home, I do not know how), and Stavros coming for me in the evening.
“The cow is in the shed,” Baba said.
“We allow him to take you back to your marital home every time, because he is a good man. He never beats or insults you,” Mama said, as I took several sips of fermented milk.
Stavros walked to the back of the hut and got our cow whose udder was empty. We had milked her every hour, to make sure that she did not go back with any milk. Mama’s gourd was almost full when we left.
“Why do you make things hard for me?” My husband asked as he closed our gate, this time locking it with a padlock.
I was afraid.
He took the cow to the shed and locked it in.
We entered our hut, and on the table, were more than fifteen mosquitoes. I turned to run, but he blocked the door.
“This is our supper,” he said putting his arm around my waist. He looked at me. “You should see the look on your face.” He laughed.
I sighed with relief.
About the author
Berina Ogega is a writer of short stories. Her greatest passion, is to make people laugh while making them aware of those who suffer silently. Her stories carry readers’ minds away from their usual life and surroundings, to The Village. Her strongest wish is to let people know, that what is happening to them, happens to others too, and suffering comes to an end, eventually.
The humour in her stories is for readers to know, that, even when life is at its hardest, it is okay to smile.
Her stories can be found on her blog at www.berinaberrry.wordpress.com
When she is not writing, she enjoys music and movies, knitting, hiking and cooking.
She is based in Nairobi, Kenya.
**Note All the artwork created by Berina