Registered under the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe

06 January 2014

Complements of the Season

It’s a brand new year and glory be unto Most High for this renewed energy to write and write and publish! At WIN-Zimbabwe we are ready. Please note that we will open offices on Wednesday, January 8, 2014. We strongly encourage members to commit themselves to their 2014 annual subscriptions. Your support for our work is very much appreciated. We start the year with The Bundle of Joy, the short story which won 2nd Prize in last year’s WIN Short Story Competition (Senior Category, English section). Writer Memory Chirere, who adjudicated the Competition, commented on The Bundle of Joy as follows: “A persuasive short story. Natural conversation. Pacy. The surprise element comes out at the right time, with the devastating truth and its effects.” The story scored 72 marks out of 100. We also would like to thank established writers who got in touch and passed worthy comments and suggestions for each story that we have published on the blog so far. We will make sure those suggestions will be incorporated into our skills workshops which are to be held this year. More updates coming soon in the first issue of our WIN Newsletter for 2014 (WIN Newsletter, Issue No 74). Please enjoy! 

By Mercy Dhliwayo

A sudden “what if” pops into Idah’s head. “What if this does not work?”  She ponders at the unwelcome possibility as she puts her bundle of joy into a basket. Before she knows it, her first “what if” gives birth to plenty more “what ifs” which are daunting than the pain of giving birth unassisted. “What if something happens to him? What if they take him away?” Behind these questions there is a familiar fear. It is a fear she has carried since learning of her pregnancy. For a person fully bodied as herself, concealing the pregnancy had not been difficult. Now having given birth, concealing the child was to be no easy task. Of the child’s father, there is much to tell. Neither pride-evoking stories to share with a smile nor romantic moments to remember with a blush. All that is there is a vague moment of drunken moment of sexual engagement and of course, the heartless demands to have the pregnancy terminated. With fear and uncertainty clinging on her like stubborn lice, she lifts her head weighed down by a dozen “what ifs” and sets out on the mission to veer her child into safety.

“Look at him, he has my nose,” Simon gazes at his son and smiles.
“Yes he does,” his wife smiles too. A woman walks in strategically balancing a tray of food in one hand and a jar of water in the other. She places everything on the table and takes a moment to absorb the young couple’s joy before announcing: “Breakfast is ready.”
“Thank you Idah.” Noma’s eyes sparkle as she speaks. It has a sparkle her eyes had lost; a sparkle the child has birthed. Her husband too beams with joy.
“This is amazing,” he says. “I could have sworn Doctor Munyoro said it was a girl.”
“You know how it is Simon; these things are never 100% reliable. I was not expecting a boy either, but I would be lying if I said I am not happy about this.”
“I know love. I have always wanted a son. But what are we going to do with all those girl clothes. My son is definitely not wearing those!” Simon laughs.
“If the child is his,” ma-Sibanda mumbles. The conversation and the laughter from the dining room suppress her appetite.
When Idah returns from the dining room, maSibanda does not wait for her to settle down before the kitchen table. “You know Idah, something about that child is not right. According to my calculations, that woman should have given birth by the end of next month. It therefore does not make sense that she has already given birth more than a month earlier. I am certain she is hiding something but my son is just too blind to see and too stubborn to listen.”
Idah, pouring herself a cup of tea, bites her lower lip and notices her hand shaking against the handle of the teapot.
“Tell me something Idah. Since you are here every day, have you not seen anything peculiar around here? For example, has there not been any men coming here while my son is away on his business trips?”
“No, Mama. Sisi is not like that.” From the corner of her eye, Idah notices maSibanda’s inquisitive eye on her. She bites a mouthful of dry toasted bread without realizing that she has not yet spread butter on it. The dry bread scratches her as she swallows and settles sharply in her throat.
“Are you certain?” maSibanda asks.
Idah nods her head to answer as she attempts to push the bread down her throat with a mouthful of tea. Ma-Sibanda’s presence in her employer’s home unsettles her. She knows the likes of maSibanda quite well. The type of women to whom no other woman is good enough for their sons and thus they cling on to them as if themselves would marry their own sons and bear children. The type that is threatened by the existence of other women in their sons’ lives and therefore constantly dig for flaws in their daughter-in-laws. Her own mother-in-law was one of those mothers but with her husband in prison, Idah did not have to see or tolerate her that much.

Idah watches Noma pace about the room.  Since telling her of the numerous questions raised by maSibanda, Noma is a nervous wreck. Although maSibanda has not raised further questions in over three days, Noma is edgy, especially having been summoned by her husband who awaits her in the dining room with his mother.
“Did they tell you what they want to see me for?” Noma asks Idah.
“Do you think they know?”
“I do not think so. How would they have known? Your secret is safe with me.”
“I hope so Idah. This is a secret I am willing to take with me to the grave. You have no idea how important this child is to my marriage…and his career.”
“His career?” Idah is curious.
“Yes, his career. According to his father’s will, his first grandson inherits 50% of the shares in the deceased’s  companies, which shares will be controlled by the child’s father until the child turns 18 years of age. Sometimes I feel like that is the only reason he married me. I was with him for five years before his father’s death. And in those five years, he never mentioned marriage. And suddenly after his father’s death, he decides he wants to marry me. No romantic marriage proposal, just a decision like any other business resolution. And that’s what our marriage has been all about: trying for a baby.”
Idah notices the tears well up in Noma’s eyes. She has not seen her cry since the baby’s presence and she prays, for both Noma and the baby’s sake that the secret does not come out.  Noma wipes her eyes with the back of her hand and picks the baby up from his cradle.
“Let me go and hear what that woman wants,” she says. “Please bring me his bottle when it is ready.”

Simon and MaSibanda sit in suspicious silence. Noma’s face heats up as she takes her seat. When Simon clears his throat to speak, she foresees her marriage fall apart. She sees the reserved truths and secrets come to light. She contemplates volunteering the truth before it is thrown at her. Perhaps that would lighten her plight.
“My love,” her husband starts. Hope beams as she notes the manner in which her husband addresses her. He is not angry. Perhaps the truth is not yet out. She relaxes.
“You must be wondering why we have summoned you here. Mother has something to say.”
Noma looks at her mother-in-law. She is not the usual intimidating figure. She looks harmless. In fact, a tail wiggles between the old woman’s legs. She watches the woman curiously and waits for her to speak. Idah walks in with the baby’s milk and places the bottle on the side table adjacent to where Noma sits. Noma picks the bottle, squeezes a few drops onto the back of her hand before carefully inserting the bottle into the baby’s mouth.
“None of my children ever had the bottle,” the old woman strikes unexpectedly. “They were all breastfed for over eighteen months. And this child of yours is barely two months old. Is there something wrong?” Noma is defenceless. She removes the bottle from the baby’s mouth and she attempts to place it down, the baby begins to cry.
“Mother, please do not start. That is not what we are here for. My wife does not have to explain why she is not breastfeeding,” Simon defends his wife although he too does not understand his wife’s reason for not breast feeding. “As I was saying, mother has something to say to you. Mother…!”
Stern with pride and annoyed at her son for forcing her into a degrading position, MaSibanda gazes into the blank television screen that stands parallel to where she is sitting and then takes her time to mumble, “Mmm sorry!”   
“Mother, I don’t think she heard you.”
MaSibanda, like a peacock burning, rises from her seat and yells, “I said I am sorry. What do you people want from me? Do you want to drive me to my grave before it is my time? If you no longer want me in your house just say so. I had no plans of staying here that long anyway.” MaSibanda storms out of the room. A surprised Noma stares at Simon searching for an explanation.
“This will probably make you angry but you will be able to forgive my mother. She can be over-protective sometimes but she really does not mean any harm.” Simon pours himself a glass of wine before he goes into explaining to his wife about how his mother secretly had a paternity test done on their child. Noma panics at the news. Her hand which is holding the baby’s feeding bottle shakes uncontrollably. Too weak to control it, she puts the bottle down.  She does not know whether to ask what the results of the tests were or start explaining and begging for a second chance. Detecting his wife’s panic, Simon assures her that there is nothing to worry about. “I have never once doubted that Moses was my son. And now that these results prove that he is indeed my son, my mother will not bother you anymore,” he says. Noma does not know how to react. Her eyes dance about the child’s face, whose tiny mouth searches for the bottle it sucked on a few seconds earlier. She gazes at the child long and hard and finally says, “Congratulations Simon. I guess all we needed was a paternity test to prove that you were indeed his father.” She rises from her seat and dumps the baby in Simon’s arms before she rushes to her bedroom. She locks herself inside and weeps bitterly for hours.
Weak with emotion, Noma recalls holding the child in her arms for the first time. Fragile and needing a mother. She hurting and desiring a child to fill her void. “Karma really has a very brutal sense of humour,” she laughs at the irony of her secrets and untold truth. But her laugh is a tormented laugh. A laugh that holds so much pain. The pain of embracing a child as a miracle only to lose the child to the truth of its paternity. Her unmarried sister, a single mother of three, had all her children, by different fathers, unplanned and by accident. Yet she, married and after a long time of trying, had finally gotten pregnant only to miscarry. Not once but twice; and the second time, it happened it was a month before her due date while her husband was away. She could not face her husband again or her demanding in-laws. She preferred death over such torment. But then, like a miracle, the baby came. Just as she was evaluating her purpose in life, the baby brought her joy and a new lease of life. She would have not known such joy had Idah not planted the idea of keeping the child and concealing the miscarriage.
“No one would find out. It would be our secret.” Idah, her house maid and confidant, had said this the morning they had found the helpless baby abandoned at their gate. This was a secret Noma was prepared to keep from her husband and live with for the rest of her life. Now the ironic truth robs her of her motherhood. How can she mother a child fathered by her husband with another woman? How had she not seen it? It was no miracle that of all the places in Bulawayo, the child had been dumped on her yard. It was all, perhaps, the fury or spite of a jilted lover forcing responsibility on an adulterous man who had probably denied responsibility for his actions.
Noma hears the baby cry from the kitchen. Her heart breaks. Although it is painful to just think of him in isolation of the truth, she longs to cradle him against her breast which longed to be suckled and hold him as though he was of her own womb. After all, she had loved him like her own and she could not just suddenly stop loving him. In the kitchen, Idah rocks the baby in her arms. With the revelation of his paternity, she wonders what will happen with the child now.  She looks at him, fragile and needing a mother. It cries uncontrollably. His crying breaks her heart. Overwhelmed by emotion, she unbuttons her blouse and digs for her bra. She pulls out her plump breast and plunges it into the child’s tiny mouth. The child instantly queitens as it suckles from the familiar tender breast. But it is not long that the sound of his crying is replaced by that of breaking glass. Idah looks up, and is met with Noma’s shocked and tearful eyes. Idah’s eyes fall back on the child and they carry with the pain in Noma’s eyes. She cannot bring herself to face Noma, so she keeps her eyes affixed on the child. Her bundle of joy and one result of her mistakes that made her smile. Pure and innocent, yet a permanent reminder of the consequences of one mistake born of a vulnerable moment of immense loneliness….
The End 
Copyright: Mercy Dhliwayo


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