Nduku tightened the kanga around her waist; this symbol of what her life was and always would be. She wiped the occasional tear that slipped from her eyes but continued scrubbing the sufuria. Her husband, Kyalo, walked into the kitchen and asked- no, demanded- for some food to eat. She dropped what she was doing and looked in the fridge. He stood leaning against the counter and looked at her as she went about warming some food for him. She heard him smirk and felt a sense of foreboding. What did he want now?

She stood stirring the meat stew when he came and cupped her chin in his hand and made her face him. He studied her face, looking at the bruises he had put on her face the previous night. Nduku averted her eyes but he forced her to look him in the eye and smiled. She refused to cry, not in front of him anyway.

“Nduku, my dear.” He waited for a reply of some sort but none was forthcoming.

“Nduku, my dear, you know I love you,” He started again.” I didn’t mean to do what I did last night”

She stayed quiet. It was an internal struggle but she knew speaking her mind would make things even worse for herself. He continued looking at her. She tried to turn to tend to the food but he did not loosen his grip on her. She could feel the mood of the encounter going the same way last night’s had gone. And that had lead to a bloody nose, an aching ribcage and bruised emotions. She didn’t want that, especially not today. Some relatives were coming to spend the night.

“Say something Nduku. My wife, say something.” His tone told her she had better say something or else she’d have more bruises that would proclaim themselves to the world.

“I know you didn’t mean to do it,” she finally said. It rang false in both her ears and his. He stared at her a moment longer and then let go of her. She took his food to him and he left once he was done with his meal, leaving her to pick up after him.

Nduku got to cleaning immediately. She had to prepare for the guests who were coming that evening. Kyalo’s mother and his aunt were coming to spend the night. As if things weren’t already bad, her mother-in-law was coming into her home to criticize how she kept her home. Her loving husband would of course urge his mother on. Tears threatened to fall as she thought of the night to come. She would be torn apart piece by piece but she was expected to remain unaffected at the end of it all.

By evening, everything was ready. The kids were home and bathed, the rooms the in-laws were to stay in were ready and the supper was almost done. She cleaned herself up; wouldn’t want anything in the house to reflect badly on her dear husband. But she couldn’t find a way to hide the bruises on her face.

When they arrived, she tried her best to look happy. She put on a smile on her face and like a good wife, helped her husband’s visitors with their luggage and made them as comfortable as she possibly could. She brought them tea and mandazis, serving them all by herself. She cleared the table and immediately washed the dishes. Wouldn’t want to give her mother-in-law a reason to complain about the way she did things.

She knew that they had noticed the bruises on her face but no comments would be made, at least not in anything louder than a whisper and away from a crowd. Or so she thought. As she brought the evening meal to the table, she knew she wouldn’t last the whole night without shedding some tears.

“Kyalo, I see that you have been showing your wife that you love her,” his mother begun. She froze for a moment but went on with her duties. Kyalo burst out into a delighted laughter that brought tears to her eyes.

“Ndio, ninampenda sana. I showed her how much last night,” he said. She kept her head down so that she wouldn’t see the looks on their faces and more importantly, so that they wouldn’t see the tears in her eyes.

“It is not a bad thing my son. I mean, you paid many cows for her,” she said. They continued laughing, but Kyalo’s aunt’s silence was just as loud as their laughter; she refused to be drawn into any demeaning conversation. And Nduku felt she had a sympathizer.

After supper and after most were warmly tucked in bed, Nduku struggled on with cleaning up. Her aunt-in-law came in and shut the door behind her.
“Nduku, my beloved, I see your pain. I have been there,” she begun. Nduku was glad that she had come to comfort her. She knew this woman would listen to her woes and in the morning defend her case. Her relief could not be hidden.

The words were at the tip of her tongue. She wanted so badly to share with someone what she was going through. But she was silenced with a finger to her lips.
“Shhh. These things happen you know.” Wait. What did she mean?
“A man is that way. But as a woman you must forgive him. He beats you because he loves you.” Nduku couldn’t hide the disbelief on her face. “After all he provides a home for you and the kids. And you carry his name. Be proud of it. You are privileged.”

She hugged her and left her to her cleaning. She stood there for a moment, stunned. She didn’t know what to do. To continue cleaning meant resigning herself to a life of more black eyes and bruised ribs and suppression. To pack up her kids and leave was unheard of. Her clan would be mortified. She had been taught to stick it out, no matter what. She was taught to prioritize her husband and children, over and above herself.
She thought about it a few moments more and then she did what she was expected to do. She turned back to finish the dishes.

© Yvonne Mulandi

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