She once believed in the endless love story. She remembered the fire of love burning between them. Her husband, who was then her lover, had spotted her one day at her friend Tanya’s house.
Her youthful figure, her shiny skin gloss, the set of white teeth with a gap balanced in the centre of the upper row, her rounded medium sized bums; yes he used to comment madly about them. That each shake reminded him of the ripe fruit of a pawpaw swinging in the evening breeze.
They were madly in love. Every six hours at most, he had to report what had happened to him, giving the updates, discoveries, achievements and sweet nothings. But it mattered a lot to them, despite the fact that he had achieved nothing in a long time. Now at least he had her and nothing could compare to her. He had won her heart, and she his. To them that made the most sense.
James at that time, wanted to make it public. To check jealousy and other competitors for her attention, he always wanted them to walk together before everyone enjoying the mild morning sun, so that everybody would acknowledge their love. This was a protective device in itself but maybe it was exaggerated. From the grapevine her younger sister used to tell her how everybody was talking about them. She would let her know plainly that she was enjoying the moment.
“Let them talk. It means there is a story behind me. Am lucky. How many people die unnoticed?”
Her sister was convinced she had lost her wits for uttering such words, but she had the intrinsic base, she knew she had discovered someone who was ready to fly high with her. They had opened their wings; they were ready to fly to any height, the two of them. This was a sweet feeling. She wished she could replay the time.
She remembered how that time, its was only she who mattered. And James was so transformed. From a village rogue as people used to refer to him due to such characteristics as unkempt hair and checkered patterns/designs on his legs to someone who was visibly smart, elegant and visionary. She remembered when “mukaaka” as she later started referring to his mother, had met her and showered her with praises.
“Thank you, you are his chosen one, you have made him a man”
Her words of praise caused her temperature to rise from the normal. She then decided she had to continue to grip her man and groom him; shape him towards an ideal world of their own. This she emphatically swore. With mukaaka by her side, they made a secret pact.
"I will do all within my powers to make him a man. A good home maker.”
“I will give you all the necessary support. Then the onlookers will envy us, you the wife and I the mother” she added.
They clenched hands and mingled fingers in a pact ritual, meant to enhance determination to make the best of James. This in addition cemented their relationship. Many times, they would move together to the shamba, a basket containing dishes of hot beans and steaming unpeeled potatoes balancing expertly on her head, a hoe on her shoulder; and mukaaka too, carrying a gourd of kasheera, the local beverage.Then with rekindled friendship, a known secret between them, they happily gave in their sweat to the terraced gardens; one lap up, and then another, then a rest. Then, they would have their lunch uphill, and with the harmony between them, they would get back to their gardening, till sunset; then they would return home, back to their chores. Life was good, at its best.
One morning as she walked with mukaaka to the garden, it suddenly hit her. Yes, things were no longer the same. Mukaaka was not even bothered about her. Could it be possible that she had started feeling big, she with whom she had made a pact to groom her son into a man? But it was there now for all to see. She had grown wings! It was bound to come. It was unbelievable that she wanted her now to act like her maid.
Could it be because her only remaining daughter had just got married and gone away, that she wanted her to replace her. It was difficult to find a good reason for it but there she was, my mukaaka! Many times she embarrassed her in front of her husband and her friends. She and her husband started feeling uneasy towards her.
James too noticed it and they felt there was need for a break away, because she had started behaving as if she was spying on them. There are things which would be better done, enjoyed within the privacy of two people. No extra eye. One such a moment was when Mukaaka found James on her laps and she was giving him kasheera. His eye moved like a needle of a compass, from the cup to her face and back again. The two of them were deeply engrossed, savoring the moment. No wonder her abrupt entry into the door way caused them more embarrassment than it did her. This interruption was regrettable because it was a curtain raiser into yet another coveted intimate moment. They loved it alone, with no intruder but here was this old woman. Bless her soul, she didn’t mean to down look her but she should have looked back to her honeymoon days and known better than when to intrude on brand new love birds.
There was something about James, a character trait may be, which could be weakness or a strength depending on particular circumstance. He could be swayed with emotion, which would suffocate his sense of reasoning. On this particular occasion he could not put up with his mothers intrusion into their private moment.
“What do you want now, mother? Don’t you see you are in the wrong place?” he said almost raising his voice.
“Have you forgotten the person you are talking to? James, have you forgotten what I have been through with you, where do you get the guts to raise your voice at me?”
“Mama I remember all, more so because my memory is still stronger than yours but this does not mean I must be at your call all the time. Don’t you see, you are not welcome now?”
All this while mukaaka held her hand to her lips as if she had to keep custody of a bird which would fly away if she opened her mouth. She receded in reverse gear unable to put her eyes away from them, seemingly at a loss.
“This is an embarrassing scene,” Teo managed to utter, as the old woman’s footsteps faded.
“You know I love women so much .You are the cradle of humanity but I hate the way you close your eyes to reality,” he said amidst a choke.
“What do you mean?” she asked with apprehension.
“Do you want to say my mother does not see the need of my wanting to be with my bride alone? Surely is anything new to her? How can she behave like a young child ?” he furiously spat out.
“Sweetheart I will not be party to backbiting my own mother-in-law.” She said with a wish to regain the mood she had been in before this old granny popped in with her fly like visit.
This reminded James that she needed his attention. So he did turn his thought back to her.
They went on as one may wish to imagine .All she knew was that that time James was hers for keeps .The words he whispered in her ear, paving way for every other form of love expressing, kept the flicker alive.
Mukaaka kept quiet that day when her son asked her to go away. Often people think when someone keeps quiet, all is well but, this was not the case with mukaaka. When she receded from their midst, she run down the village announcing to whoever cared to listen; how they had a witch in their midst.
"A witch. A bride. She has succeeded in turning all the attention my son had to herself and now I am as good as a childless woman” she announced.
Mukaaka’s behavior at first puzzled Teo, but gradually a few pieces began to fall in place. She particularly remembered one time when her mother passed by to say hello to their family on her way to the diocese. Mukaaka had responded to her visit in a strange way. She had made sure she gave her company all the time asking about how her village was.
She even offered to escort her to the bush to ease herself decampaigning their pit latrine that it was not safe for her. It was her recount of victory to the entire village about how she had not given Teo’s mother a chance to administer her charms that she had come to make sense of her unusual behavior when her mother visited.
These episodes caused some kind of erosion in her day today relationship with mukaaka. The mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship was remarkably strained that she started dodging being with her.
Mukaaka, for her part, took this for insolence and started telling James bad things about Teo. To her surprise James seemed to believe his mother and started to drift from his wife towards his mother .
This she did not protest because it did not occur to her at any one time that he could compromise his mother’s love for hers. She knew the umbilical code bond was unquestionably strong but at the same time, she also expected the nuptial note bond to hold.
James is this type of a person who would rather purchase the whole world to atone for a mishap he has committed but will never say sorry for what he has done wrong. This was the cause of his wanting to show his mother that he believed in whatever she was telling him leading to the widening rift between him and his wife, Teo.
He started going to his mother’s house first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening. This had many implications for Teo as a woman. Among the things that upset her was the fact that he started having breakfast with his mother. Later on, he decided he could even have the other meals at the mother’s house. He gave her the liberty to choose where to have her meals but of course she was no fool to detect that if she decided to have her meals alone then her marriage would be gone. The following morning she shifted all her cooking utensils to her mother-in-laws house, not by choice but by necessity. In his bid to please the mother, he even started preferring her meals.
Whenever he entered and found his mother in the kitchen whether she was cooking or giving Teo orders, this would whet his appetite. Then he would eat wholeheartedly and stretch widely his limbs after the good meal and shout to the mother, "this has been a very delicious meal. Thank you so much mother." The mother with a restored glory would reciprocate,"you are welcome my son," even when she knew Teo had personally prepared the food.
Nonchalantly he would stroll to their house with a feeling of resignation and reaching home he would look for faults alone. In cases where they were missing he would complain about his tiredness and sleep like a neonate till morning.
The state of affairs was wrecking Teo’s nerves. Something had to be done to bring this situation to a close. She was incensed with the whole business.
At the well she met two sons of her friend Tanya. Tanya was the one whom she had visited the day she met James. He had come to her home asking for cramps of cigarettes from her husband. These two were known as spoiled men who could not live without the support of either their mother’s or their wives. Tanya’s husband had recently undergone a transformation by the presence of his bride so he encouraged his friend to follow suit. As good luck would have it, James's sister had just got married so in a spell of a week when her bride price arrived it was received by Teo’s brother who in turn kept it for two weeks and also got himself a wife.
By the state of affairs in her home she was determined to fight for her rights, however awkward it had to be. It is so amazing how the mind works to fight a pending problem.
“Good morning aunt Teo, the boys greeted her.”
“Good morning my dear friends, oh look who we have here Siima and Massi she wound her hands around them casting aside her worries. "How is my friend Tanya?" She asked them.
"She is in perfect health we thank God.”
“And the rest, your grandparents and your father?”
“They too are fine.” She looked around to confirm that the coast was clear so as to speak to them so that no one would hear what she was going to discuss with the boys. When she was sure that everything was okay, she beckoned the boys for what she considered was very important to her .The boys did not hesitate for they knew what she was going through was as cumbersome as what their mother was going through. James and Joachim their father were like similar shirts bought on the same day, made by the same manufacturer and belonging to the same batch number.
"Now boys I would like you to help me.”
"Aunt just tell us how and we shall gladly do so.”
"I want you to attend the village football match tomorrow.”
“No, make sure you get in touch with the boys from my village. Create some convincing conversation about my husband and how rumor has it that he has been bewitched by his own mother and he has ignored the wife.”
”Aunt no one would believe such a story.”
"If you are very smart, it will be believed and anyway; what I want is not the story to be believed by many people apart from my husband. He is very gullible he will believe it. So now boys shall I assume this as a done deal.”
”Tell us how to do it.”
"Simply walk to the football pitch and when you see him passing, ignite the talk .Point to him and speak out his name to attract his attention .He may not stop to ask you but when he hears his name he will want to know what is being spoken about him.”
Samii who was adventurous took the plan in full swing. The following day, the boys took strategic positions. They staged a group of peer spectators at a point where they knew James would pass. A few minutes later, James sauntered in. He was dressed in a grey t-shirt with folded sleeves. He looked like a person at peace with the world with not much to offer or demand for only satisfied with the way each day passed by. He had both hands hidden at the back but he later disengaged them when he bent to pick a blade of grass which he instinctively put in his mouth. When Saami saw him close enough, he coughed. Massi did not seem to remember what it was he was referring to. So Sammi was forced to repeat the process. His brother gave him a knowing look.
Sami cleared his voice.
"Eh this football match will really be interesting. See it has even attracted James who is said to have been bewitched by his mother?” How can you say that about someone? Can a mother ever bewitch his own son?” That is what I heard people say. I am no authority to that talk.”
“Any way I think I have also heard about that chatter. Some bits of it confuse me but again I wonder what sort of love can refrain a man from loving his wife’s food in preference for that of the mother” said Alex who had been tipped about the deal.”
“I also believe it because I heard his mother telling my aunt that her daughter-in-law thought she might deny her son his love for her but she proved out that she is not a joke. That is why I think there might be some element of truth.” Julian the third accomplice put in.
It worked perfectly. As the boys were sharing, James had corked his ears to hear what was being said about him. In his own way he decided the boys were only talking what they had heard from adults and there was no smoke without fire. He tried to reflect upon his conduct of late and he was also quite startled. He could not understand the veil of foolishness which had covered him and made him an enemy of his own wife. That night, he had his supper in his house.
He did not greet his mother under the accustomed fashion. His wife inquired about his health.
“Won’t you pass by mukaaka ,she has been inquiring about you?"
“Am not under any punishment to greet people. I will see her tomorrow?” he stressed.
”It has really worked. The boys must have been so smart,” she mused under the protection of the night.
The old woman tossed in bed throughout the night. She confirmed her suspicions when James did not come by to greet her in the morning.
"That woman has bewitched him again,” she concluded. She remembered that her daughter in law had recently gone to the hospital to see her mother who was admitted. "She must have gotten the charms, then.”
The ensuing days were days of recovered lost glory. The two love birds strived to make up for the lost time. They went to the shamba together and James appreciated the fact that Teo worked so much so he took it upon himself to help her. While she went to collect food, he climbed uphill to bring her firewood. He also adopted a habit of going to church with her and making sure they sit on the same pew close to each other.
Suspiscions of witchcraft moved on from her mother-in-law to the entire village. Many times all her age mates would pass on sympathy messages that her son had really been harmed. The news disturbed her a lot but to her all she wanted was the love of her man back. In fact, she hid under this cover to have him to herself promising premature death to who ever diverted him again. James was doing well.
In their village, some politician brought in a water project. He wanted to connect water to every homestead. In a bid to live his dream, he asked after every able bodied youth to come and work. In this way he was also reducing the rate of unemployment. Many youth flocked the politicians project James inclusive. He was giving them a daily wage which empowered the men greatly. With wads of money everyday the status of these men improved. They saw the need to take a stroll to the village bars and spend sometime there. The trading centre became a recreation centre with lucrative business. Overnight, the place started booming with booze, music and barbecue. The moneyed men took on a competition course. They went for the three hot items in great demand.
In the new development, James got hooked to a lady, a sales woman in the town. He confided to his friends about his new life with a tinge of guilt.
”Every man must take a stroll from home and taste the neighbourhood,” they encouraged him.
Then he became very rare at home. One day Teo trailed his footsteps. They led her to a makeshift house only to find him in a warm embrace of a woman slightly older than his grandmother. They were a happy lot. Some parts of his body were submerged by folds of her oscillating body. She was scandalized. She was convinced James was not acting sanely.
“He must have been bewitched by this granny of a woman,” thought Teo. “Oh my God, am I also falling into this trap of excusing his behaviour by attributing it to witchcraft. No I will not. I know better and I know the man I married, I know him well enough to understand that I have lost him. His emotions have misled him into the hands of this granny. Nothing else!"