By Isaac Mafuel
She was the unwanted distant niece. The little orphaned girl from the village. The one nobody wanted to adopt after the old lady who was raising her had died. AIDS killed both her parents, but the grandma died due to the extreme ware and tare that comes with poverty. (The old lady was made for the archaic world where one would survive on wild fruits, but global warming was waging a war against the creatures of her generation, extinction seemed like the right alternative.)
A distant aunt well versed in calculating opportunity costs saw the potential of having a house maid for free. All she had to do was feed her as little as possible and dress her as scantly as modesty would allow, she was all hers.
“When you feel like repeating the stupid things you do in this house, just remember who is putting a roof over your orphaned head,’ (A roof over her head? Well, anything that covers four walls must be a roof then. Even if it’s just a sieve that lets the rain in and allows one to read the stars from the dirty torn mat you sleep on.) “…the clothes on your body and the food in your tummy (if rags and leftovers count!),” The aunt’s way of ascertaining that the misdemeanour won’t happen again.
But kids are kids and misdemeanours are part of the process of being a kid and so she would find herself with whip marks and scars.
At first she used to cry. But when you have lost everything you had, even if it’s nothing, the tear springs dry up. What is a whip after all? The problem is when your aunt beats you and you don’t cry. Witchcraft is the only word that would explain your insubordination. And don’t dare look your aunt direct in the eyes because when you are a witch your eyes see her innards.
“Why didn’t you just die with your parents, you little witch? Don’t look at me like that. I will take you to the exorcist one of these days, you demon possessed idiot. Don’t teach my children your witchcraft.”
She would look down at her over fitting grease stained dress. A hand me down from the aunt. The one with more patches than the original cloth, her work dress. She had one more which she was made to wear at mass, not for prayers, but so she could play with the baby while the uncle and the aunt prayed to the merciful God, for blessings on their family, I guess.
At first the uncle hardly noticed the dirty orphaned child. Mostly working night shifts as a guard in one of the security companies, sleeping all day, waking up for meals, or for a smoke-the only luxury he indulged himself in. He had somehow managed to quit drinking, but the smoking got worse. Poor people should be allowed at least one vice to sooth their wailing souls, don’t you think?
Years have a way of passing by, and they go slowly when you are a little nobody in the middle of nowhere.
Two tennis balls started coming out of the bud of her chest, the uncle started noticing, “and he saw that it was good”.
With the aunt selling vegies at the market, and the kids at school, it was just the two of them for the whole morning, uncle and niece.
“Bring me the matches.” His way of inviting her to the bedroom.
Uncles are like that. First you bring them the matches, then you must scratch them in some evasive angle of their body and before you know it, your hands are playing with their thing.
“It’s a privilege to hold with your arms the plunger that your aunt adores.”
When you are ten it’s really an honour. After all, your aunt had to wait till fifteen to get married and have the chance to hold it.
“Let’s find out where this plunger enters, shall we?
“It’s hurting, uncle.”
“You will get used. Soon the pain goes and all you feel is sweetness. By the end of the week you will be an expert at this.”
You really get used, though not necessarily by the end of the week. And so it becomes a habit. Plus it feels so good to be noticed by your uncle, at last.
But aunts have a way of catching you when things are getting more interesting and your life is starting to have meaning and purpose. So they chase you from their home. To the streets where “ungrateful whores” like you belong. You must survive on your own.
When your parents die, a part of you dies with them. But when your uncle rapes you, every part of you dies. The aunt throws your corpse out of the house, to the streets where society tramples on your decomposing body. They close their noses to avoid the stench. They trample on you, to pulp, till your dust has no choice but to retreat to the monumental tombstones of society called whore houses. Then they come every night to pay their respects so they can feel good about themselves and use you as an example of what happens when one makes bad choices in life.
The irony of it though, being that you don’t start to live until you die, at least once. Jesus noted the same when he talked about a seed dying so it can bear many fruits. She died more than once so the fruits were a hundredfold. Anger, vengeance and all that constitute chaos. She had learnt not to expect much from anyone. She was a lone wolf plying the uncharted roots of individual survival. All she had on her side were sharp survival instincts, and she put them to good use.
Because when you are twelve and living in the gutters, it doesn’t hurt much to have the skill of pleasuring men, it’s an ace up your sleeve.
Isaac Mafuel is a creative writer, theatre director, Actor and facilitator. He trained as a journalist with the University of Malawi. He is passionate about literature and the theatre. He is the Co-founder and creative Director of Theatrik Interventions (a theatre group that focuses on Theatre for Development (TFD). He also works with Theatre for a change Malawi as Interactive and Legislative Theatre Project officer. Much of his writings are inspired by the characters he meets in his line of work. (Theatre for a change works with women in sex work and sexually exploited girls among others). His love of books led him to found Barefoot Readers Initiative. A youth led movement that sources books and donates them to Primary and secondary schools in need. (Barefoot is publishing a poetry anthology which they intend to sell to raise funds for their course.)