The first time she set eyes on the new school-teacher was burned forever in Zuri's memory. Every eye turned when he entered the small grass church. Sporting a well-cut suit and black shoes polished to a sparkle, and holding his Bible aloft, he strode confidently down the aisle to the front row. When he danced, the building itself pulsed in time. When he prayed, the emotion in his voice carried every heart towards the throne of God. And when he looked at her, his liquid eyes drew her straight into the depths of his soul.
That Mosi chose her out of all the village girls put a lightness into Zuri's step and a broad smile on her face. The tough cassava roots crumbled like chalk under her vigorous pounding. She skipped along the three miles of rough paths to the water pump, images of her lover spinning before her eyes. Their daily clandestine meetings in the hills above the village were the most exquisitely beautiful moments of her humdrum existence.
In her happiness her missed period escaped her notice, but the nausea caught her mother's attention.
“You spoiled her! Now you pay for her!” Zuri's father's voice was harder than the sun-baked yard in which they sat.
“Of course Baba, name your price. I will marry your beautiful daughter. Nothing could make me happier than to have her always in my arms.”
The wedding feast was a hurried affair, and the bride price modest. Yet when Mosi took her from her father's homestead to live in his teacher's house, Zuri considered herself the luckiest girl alive.
Heavy with child, Zuri tired easily and slept early while Mosi marked school books. Then one night she awoke alone. Silver moonlight bathed the room. Incessant cicada chirping dispelled the silence. Anxiously she waited at his desk. She dozed lightly and woke to his heavy footfall. The stale smell of beer enveloped her. He pulled her roughly onto the floor and thrust himself upon her. She bit her lip until he finished, then lay shivering on the earth floor sobbing quietly as he fell fully clothed onto the bed and slept, snoring loudly.
A month later Zuri sought out her mother. “What can I do, Mama? I think Mosi has other girlfriends. He comes home smelling of perfumes that I don't use.”
“My dear girl, he's a man. This is what they do. The best thing is to say nothing, cook nicely, keep the house clean. That way you keep your husband, even if you share him.”
“I won't share Mosi! I will talk to him. He will change when he sees how upset I am. He's a good man.”
“Binti, he's a typical man. Think about it! When did he last accompany you to church? Why are you eating vegetables? You are pregnant! You should be eating meat! Talk to him if you will, but be wise.”
That night Zuri cooked Mosi's favourite dish, and donned her wedding beads. He was smiling, laughing, teasing her. They moved into the bedroom, and began to undress. Zuri took a deep breath, “Mosi, I'm glad you still find me attractive. I thought maybe you found my... expanding body... ugly!”
“My beauty, how can you think that? My dove! My perfect treasure!”
“I'm so happy with you! But you are so often away. I worry that you have other girlfriends.”
Mosi sprang from the bed. “How dare you? Take that!” His fist swung at her face. “And that!” Her chest. Then, gesturing towards his own body, “This is mine! I use it how I want to, put it where I choose. Do you hear?” Dressing hurriedly, he stormed from the house.
Zuri gave birth to Penda in her parents' house. Mosi visited briefly when their daughter was a week old. In hushed tones Zuri's parents found ever more creative ways to encourage her to stay under their roof for 'just a little longer'. Penda was taking porridge before Zuri finally insisted on returning home. A woman greeted her. Two small children chased the chickens around the yard. Mosi emerged, smiling and handsome. “Zuri, meet my first wife, Hasina. We grew up together in Nairobi. You can stay here as second wife of course...”
Zuri ran through a veil of tears into her mother's arms, but the response was damning in its finality. “Binti, he is a man. This is what they do.”
Binti: Daughter (Swahili)
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