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The Wedding Gift

By Donna Kapira (Malawi)

*Donna Kapira is a Malawian contemporary short story writer and a novelist in making. So far she has published her short stories on In her free time, she enjoys reading thought provoking books. .



By Donna Kapira (Malawi)

Jenala worked furiously to undress the tiny doll in her hand. From the corner of her eyes, she could see Kageya’s gaze lingering on her features. His eyes began at her belly, and then rose over her chest, finally settling on her lips. She lifted her defiant gaze to his warm probing one, despite the warm and fuzzy feeling in her stomach. He looked away, embarrassed. He threw his attention into what her father was showing him from the papers. She could see the tension in his bodily features as he sat on the green plastic chair. She darted her eyes back to her doll, telling it to drink dirty water from a tiny cup that was too big for the doll’s tiny closed mouth. The water spilled down the doll’s body, soiling its pink body. She glanced up again and caught him watching her from the corner of his eyes, pretending to look at the newspaper her father was reading from. Heat filled her cheeks.

The three of them were sitting on the verandah of their house on a lazy Saturday morning. She sat in one of the corners, scolding and slapping her three mute dolls like a mother would. Occasionally the men interrupted her reverie with laughter, grunts of approval at something in the papers and some comments here and there. Every weekend, a copy of the Weekend Nation was delivered to her father’s office. Then together with Kageya, who couldn’t afford to buy one, they read and discussed the news.

The man lived in a grass-thatched house opposite theirs and was one of the usipa fish vendors at their small market. He was good friends with her father. Every morning, she heard them talk about latest football news. They were both supporters of the popular local football club, Bata Bullets. More than once, she’d hear him praise Gabadinho for his excellent skills on the pitch, only to be corrected that Gabadinho plays for a South African club. He would nod his head as if the knowledge had sunk in only to say it again the next day. She imagined her father had fun correcting him and making him feel that they weren’t on the same level. During their little morning chats, Kageya would mix broken English with Tumbuka, explaining bits and bits of a latest scandal with the occasional “we see” to get his point across. Even her mother who couldn’t write a paragraph in English laughed so much whenever they talked about Kageya.

Kageya took another gulp of the orange juice in the glass tumbler and she watched his Adams’ apple rise and fall with each huge gulp. Then he licked his lips as he looked at her again. She looked away.

Her father’s phone rang from inside their house and he got up to answer it. Jenala and Kageya exchanged a look. She felt her heart skip a beat. It was as though it would burst right out of her chest. She fiddled with her biggest doll, her palms pressing hard against its chest. She was afraid to look up. When she did, she found Kageya watching her with an amused expression on his face, which only served to make her more embarrassed. He asked her what age she was. She lifted her tiny brows, surprised. Before she could give an answer, he asked her if anyone had ever told her how beautiful she was. She shook her head, wondering what next he was going to say. She kept a serious expression even though her insides were dancing in circles over what her ears had just been fed. Her mother had told her two aunties, Maggie and Monica, that when a man tells a woman she is beautiful, he wants something from her.

She silently thanked God when the door her father had gone through burst open and he rejoined them, whistling peacefully. If he noticed the tension in the air, then he chose not to mention it. He opened the bottle of the orange juice and poured some more into Kageya’s empty cup. It was his third glass. Jenala knew the reason he loved chatting with her father was because there always something to eat or drink.

That night she lay on her bed, closed her eyes and recalled Kageya’s face into her head. She didn’t want to lose the exact look she’d seen in Kageya’s hard facial features. An expression she couldn’t describe with words.

The next time Kageya saw her again, he picked her up and hugged her tiny body tightly against his. She’d been coming from a late-night hide-and-seek game. He then sang in her ear, “amintu my lava lava, tilu everefing is vere welo gelo, you make my heart to be yori yori.” She also felt her heart go yori yori.

Jenala boasted to her best-friend Ryenge, what Kageya had been saying to her. Of course, Ryenge managed to make it seem like nothing by telling her Kageya did that to every little girl. She reminded her that she was as dark as the bottom of a cooking pot. Jenala also reminded Ryenge that she had meshes that formed a mosquito net along her legs. That was what made Ryenge shut up. In her defense, cold weather was what brought the appearance of the cross-linked grey lines. Jenala noted that the lines were always there even in the hot season but she never said so because Ryenge was her best friend. People in their class said it was because she never scrubbed properly during her baths. They fought and didn’t eat together at break time. It was Jenala’s 200 kwacha that made Ryenge talk to her again.

Kageya complimented her every time he saw her. She suspected Ryenge was just jealous of her. She began to make frequent trips to the market, making sure to be seen by him so he could tell her how perfect her eyes were, how deep her dimples were and how beautiful her dark skin was. She stopped being afraid to check out herself in the glass on the window of their classroom at break time. When her mother sent her to buy usipa fish from the market, she took it as an opportunity to buy from Kageya. She might have been the only one buying from him because people didn't like to buy from him.

Someone said they had seen him sneeze into his hands, spread the discharge over them and begin re-arranging the heaps of usipa. Rumor had it that it was what the ng’anga had told him to do. The ng'anga had told him that customers would flock to him after he performed the ritual. Everyone avoided him and his dirty usipa. Even his sister, with whom they had shared the same breast, bought from others. She would send other people’s children to buy for her so he wouldn’t know. He would sit on his chair all day, watching the people come and buy fish from his neighbors. Many times, his fish even went bad so that Jenala and her friends would go to his dug bin to get real fish with which they could play. The only thing he did at the market was sleep. He would sleep, and the spittle would even fall to the ground only to be woken by his beautiful wife when she’d brought him nsima.

It didn’t surprise her when, on a quiet night, he carried her into an unfinished building close to the market and laid her down on the damp ground. Her mother had sent her to buy usipa. Fortunately for them, everyone had retired to their homes due to the rains and it was just the two of them in the dimly lit market. She didn’t protest. She was eager. Her heart had known that, on the heels of those compliments, the stolen winks at her when no one was looking, would be such a moment.

He told her that, if she were older, he would have married her. He whispered in her ear, telling her how long he had wanted her. He kissed her, his teeth cluttering against hers like metal on metal. Against her mouth, he whispered that he loved her. She told him the same too. She’d learnt how to answer from stolen bits of conversations between her aunties and their boyfriends.

He hiked up her skirt and moved his hand between her thighs, masterfully slipping her skirt down her legs. She put her hand over her eyes. No man had ever seen her without clothes before. When he removed her blouse, his calloused hand moved over her sore blooming breasts whose tits puckered in the chillness of the open air. She put her arms over them, not only to shield herself from the cold but also because it was all new to her. She saw Kageya swallow like a hungry man who hadn’t had a meal in many days. It made her afraid.

With her head resting on the wet ground, he introduced her to the world of grown-ups. His big body covered hers and she felt like he would engulf her. His warm bad breath fanned her face as his lips moved over hers. She turned her head away and wrapped her tiny arms around him like she’d watched in Nigerian movies.

He finished, pulled his trousers up and held out his hand to help her stand. He pulled a 200 kwacha note out of the pocket of his light green T-shirt that had begun to look like a blouse due to the amount of washing it had gone through. Her excitement rose at the idea of owning the 200 kwacha note in his hand. She was going to buy the buns that were called Bin Laden.

She loved the sweetness of the bun at the top. Most times, she stole money from her mother’s bedroom and bought it. She would then eat it in her blankets at night when everyone had gone to sleep, grinding it ever so gently, allowing her taste buds to absorb the sweetness. She made sure she picked and ate every crumb that accidentally decided to fall off. Sometimes she ate in the toilet and when asked why she was taking so long, she would begin to cry that her stomach was killing her. Then the person on the other side of the door of the toilet pitied her and just went to the neighbor’s toilet.

She could buy the Bin Laden and even have change from it. Or she could buy the chips that she’d last had the time she’d been sick with malaria. The chips hadn’t been sweet at all. She realized sickness was the only ticket to a meal of chips and Fanta. So one day she slept in her bed and pulled the blankets up to her neck. She moaned softly as she forced tears to come to her eyes. She kept on spitting saliva onto the ground like sick people whose saliva is bad do. She refused to eat lunch and supper. Realizing that sick people vomit as well, she pretended something was about to come out of her mouth. Then she ran out of the room to the back of the house and began heaving as she sobbed. Her mother followed her and patted her back soothingly.

Her father ordered her aunt Monica to buy her chips because she couldn’t go to sleep on an empty stomach. Within a few minutes, chips arrived in a blue plastic bag. They also brought a bottle of Fanta. Saliva filled her mouth and she almost swallowed it but remembered she was spitting onto the ground. Her mother asked her to wake up and eat. She shook her head and turned away from the food. The temptation was too much. Her mother then left the room with a warning that if she didn’t eat, she would be admitted at the hospital.

She turned her head to the food when she heard the door shut after her mother. She devoured the chips gratefully, wondering how she would sneak out of the house to go play with friends without being seen. She even ate the pieces that had black spots on them. She couldn’t throw away a piece when it had been so long since she had chips. She was sure the boys who peeled the Irish potatoes had removed every maggot. When she was sure that she had eaten everything that was in the plastic bag, she threw the jumbo into her mouth and milked the remaining oil from it. She then drank the Fanta, making sure not to leave any drop in the bottle. Happily, she got up to get back to her friends with a full happy stomach. When her mother saw her, she took her hand and led her back to the bed. She told her she needed to rest so she could get well. Jenala cursed her mother in her heart and she told herself that she hated the woman.

That was the last time the trick worked on her parents. The other time she tried to lie, her mother took her hands and prayed for her. When she had finished, she had told her God had heard her prayer and he would answer. She added to say, as someone who had faith in God she shouldn’t go back to sleep since she was supposed to believe that God had healed her.

Her longing for chips grew every time she passed by the chiwaya chips stands. The smell moved in the air and tormented her nose. She would lie awake at night and imagined having a bucket full of chips that never finished. Sometimes the boys frying the chips would make girls work for them and give them chips to eat as payment. Some drew water for them. Some cleaned the frying pans that turned black due to the smoke till they gained their original shiny color. The thought was provoking, yet she knew she just couldn’t do that. Her mother would pinch her in between the thighs

Kageya told her to tell her mother she’d been delayed by a friend. She nodded. He slapped her behind and told her to rush back home with a promise for the same the next day. She’d been lucky that her mother had started to prepare nsima first and she didn’t even ask why she was late. But her aunty Monica, the younger one, asked why she had mud at the back of her head and on her white skirt. She told them she’d tripped and fallen on her way back. “Why do you walk like you have demons in you?” Her mother scolded her, angry and concerned that she might have been injured.

She was injured. The tenderness between her legs was new. It made her uncomfortable. She tried to walk straight so no one would suspect anything and went back to her room to change. She took a cloth and wiped herself carefully till she was sure that no trace of him remained with her. She proceeded to wash herself with salt water just in case the baby had already travelled too far in the few minutes. Despite the increased pain between her legs, it gave her peace. She didn’t want to carry a baby that looked like Kageya. His nose was too big and she didn’t like the shape of his head. Also getting pregnant meant missing school for a few years. She would have to be at home and take care of the baby. That night she slept well. She dreamt of her wedding day. Fortunately, it wasn’t Kageya in the black suit, with a tiny red flower in the pocket of his jacket, smiling at her.

They managed to keep their little secret. No one suspected anything. From meetings in maize fields, unfinished buildings that left either mud or sand at the back of her head, their secret affair flourished anywhere. As long as there was a surface where she could support her body, he pleasured himself. She would just lie underneath him and look at either the sky or the iron sheets. After the quick act that most times took less than five minutes, she pulled down her skirt and removed the wrinkles on her skirt or dress. Then Kageya would cautiously glance side to side for a sign of anyone. Always, he’d kiss her before leaving the place, telling her how he couldn’t wait for the next time. He made sure to remind her that she should stay at the place for a while before following him out.

Her toes would curl with guilt every time they preached about adultery at their church.

She began to hate him. She didn’t want to start releasing blood every month at 9 years. They said that’s what happened when you knew a man at a younger age. The fear of getting diseases also made her hate him even more. The next time he was going to ask her to meet him again, she was going to jump and slap his face. Then she was going to place her hands on her waist and wait for him to respond to the attack. If he were going to tell her nonsense, she would pound him in between his legs with her knee. Just thinking about the revenge made her chest feel heavy and hot tears brought pain to her eyes.

None of that happened when she met him again. She’d been jumping rope at the ground in the market place with a few of her friends on a Friday afternoon. He called her aside and told her that his wife and two kids were away, which meant they had his house to themselves. He then looked around and, when he noticed that everyone was absorbed in their business, pulled out a 200 kwacha from his worn black purse. She nodded, took the money and ran. She kept on running and didn’t know where she was going. She just knew she needed to get away from him. Every time she was within his space, she felt disgusted. He made her feel exposed. She had to read between the laughter in the women’s eyes as they chatted away to their stories whenever she was around them. It was like everyone knew and were just laughing at her. Yet she didn’t know how to say no. Had he bewitched her?

In the afternoon of that day, she left her home for Kageya’s home. Before she left she made sure her mother was in the bedroom and her aunties didn't see her leave. Then she went and used the backdoor of Kageya’s house so that her family members couldn’t see her.

She opened the door, not bothering to knock. She found him sitting on the floor of the house eating nsima with cooked cassava leaves. He abandoned the meal and rose to meet her as she closed the almost broken wooden door shut behind her. He pulled her against his chest and kissed her, their teeth making noise in the quiet room. She wanted to tell him to wash his hands first but she kept her mouth shut. He picked her up and went to the only bedroom in the house and laid her on the bed, which was a thin piece of blanket covering a worn out mat that felt like a bed of tiny nails.

When he made a move to remove her skirt, she put her hand over his, stopping him. A bemused and pained expression crossed his face. She told him they were to use a condom. Kageya laughed. He asked her to imagine eating sweets without removing the paper. He assured her she was his only real wife. She looked around the room and thought of being a wife to him. Their clothes were not as neatly packed as those in her mother’s bedroom. Instead they were scattered over the top of a huge carton. In one of the corners of the room lay a worn cloth that had wrinkles as if it had just been spat out of the mouth of a goat. Flies sang over the filthy bundle. She didn’t want to imagine what was in it.

The room smelled of fish and she knew the carton with the clothes was also the carrier of the fish he sold. The whole situation made her stomach churn in disgust. She told him she was afraid of getting diseases. He laughed and told her people only got diseases if they have it with more than one person. She eyed him suspiciously, her heart torn into two. A part of her wanted to believe what he was saying; that she was safe. Another part thought he was lying to her.

In her heart, she prayed that the germs should sleep peacefully in him during that moment and not come into her. The five minutes took longer than usual and her heart heaved in relief after he finished and lay slumped against her. She closed her eyes, grateful that it was over. Mistaking her quiet peacefulness for a feeling of bliss after what they had just done, Kageya laid his cheek against her in a rare display of intimacy. She didn’t like it.

She pushed him off her and got up so very quickly that it took Kageya by surprise. She asked for a piece of cloth to wipe herself. He obeyed and tore a part of what she knew was his wife’s piece of chitenje cloth. He then stood and watched her. She handed him the cloth after she was sure she was dry.

He pulled out another 100 kwacha note, placed it in her palm and pleaded with her to come again. She was torn between two choices. Take that money and enjoy chips or really say what was on her mind. She took the money and told him she would come back. He smiled and kissed her lips. She fought hard to keep the vomit that had gathered in her throat right where it was.

Anyabanda, whose house was next to Kageya’s, saw her leave the house. They all called Anyabanda, baunsa, for her skills to balance a big bucket full of water and carry two others in both hands. Most women who were too lazy to go to the borehole gave her 100 kwacha so she could fetch them water.

Anyabanda called Jenala into her house and closed the door. She wanted to know what she had been doing in Kageya’s house when his wife was not around. With her heart beating loudly in her chest, she told her that Kageya wanted to sleep with her for money and she had said no. Anyabanda made her open her legs so she could check her in between the legs. She then looked back up at her after she finished checking, making her eyes small to see her very well. Jenala prayed that her eyes didn’t serve as the windows to the hidden cries of pleasure he’d emitted as he made himself happy.

She asked if she was sure he didn’t sleep with her. Rapidly she shook her head to demonstrate how honest she was, a skill every child in the village mastered so well.

As she walked home, she reflected on how badly the day might have ended if God hadn’t gotten into her mind to remind her to wipe off soon after the episode.

That night, after she heard her aunties and her little brother, Khwima, snore, she knelt by the bed to pray to God. She clasped her hands over her chin. Opening her heart to God, she told Him everything in whispers. She said she was sorry she had slept with another woman’s husband; sorry, she had committed adultery. She also prayed that Anyabanda should never tell anyone about their little secret. She felt happy that He’d heard her prayer. As she looked at nothing in the darkness of the room, a sense of happiness enveloped her. She was happy that she, at least, had talked to someone whose face she couldn’t see.

She couldn't believe her eyes when she walked in on a meeting between her parents and Anyabanda on the afternoon of the next day. All of them had their back to her. She heard the word police from Anyabanda. Fear crept into her heart and she fought to calm her heart as she tiptoed to her room so they couldn’t hear her pass.

During supper that evening, neither parent would look her in the eye and she didn’t look them in the eye either. Thankfully, Khwima, had a lot to say to the family of six. Being four at the time, he didn’t notice anything strange about that evening.

She went to bed and pretended to sleep so her parents wouldn’t call her. Her mother just strode into their bedroom and took her covers away, saying her father wanted to speak to her. She told her to get into their bedroom, something that had never happened before. It was a taboo to enter into her parents’ bedroom. Of course, when neither parent was around, she would go into the bedroom and lie on the big fluffy mattress. On other days when both parents went far away, and her aunties were at school, she would call her friends so they could see the huge mattress.

Her father still wouldn’t look her in the face, choosing to look at the opposite wall. Her mother began firing the questions. Had he ever touched her? Jenala looked at the floor, her brows pulled together. She braced herself to lie as she’d practiced since she’d walked in on her parents’ conversation with Anyabanda. She told them he had tried but she had stopped him. She told them he had said he wanted to sleep with her, but she had run away the first time and since then he always asked her if she had changed her mind. She also told them that he had even offered to give her lots of money, which she refused. She watched her mother close her eyes tight. Her father’s jaw tightened. Her mother opened her eyes and asked why she never told them. Hot tears filled her eyes and she just shook her head, speechless. She was embarrassed, both for lying and for being found out. She heard them say they should report the matter to police with Anyabanda as the witness.

When her mother saw her tears fall to onto the grey floor, she scolded her angrily and told her to stop crying. Her voice was laced with so much fury that Jenala got frightened that they might refuse her as their daughter. Her father interrupted and asked if she knew how shameful it would be for the whole family. Everyone was going to be talking about them.

Together with Anyabanda, her parents took her to the local police station. She knew the policeman, Mr. Phiri. He had so much white hair but his first child was the same age as her and they were in the same class. Silently she prayed that he wasn’t going to tell her mother about all this. Her mother would in turn tell her daughter, her classmate. Then, in the end, everyone at their school was going to know.

The policeman took her statement, asking her to explain how it had all begun. She repeated the story she’d told her parents and Anyabanda. The policeman asked her to write down her name on a piece of paper. She was surprised why they were asking her to do that but she did as instructed

Her father proudly told the policeman that she was very intelligent in class, to which the man nodded and answered that they needed to know she knew what she was talking about.

He also asked Anyabanda some questions. Like how many times she had seen Kageya with Jenala. She told him only once. Had she seen Kageya touch Jenala? She said no.

He wrote some more things in his book. Jenala sat between her parents, feeling bad that she had brought shame on them. She swallowed the hard substance away from her throat, as she fought to keep her tears at bay

Finally, the policeman pulled out a drawer as he stood and she saw him bring out a pair of handcuffs. He placed them in his pocket. He asked the four of them to follow him out. She knew he was going to arrest Kageya. With Mr. Phiri leading with his black, thick beating stick in his hands, they all walked to the market. Along the way, they passed by a group of her friends who were playing Jingo Janga. They also passed many people who all knew her in their small village. She knew everyone wondered what she was doing with both her parents and a policeman.

At the market, they found Kageya eating as his wife sat beside him, forcing her milk-engorged breast into her toddler’s tiny mouth. The policeman took out the handcuffs and cuffed Kageya’s hands behind his back. He instructed him to not say anything and let him know why he was being arrested. Everyone in the marketplace stood up to watch what was happening. Kageya threw her a glance and in that moment she didn't get the silent message.

She thought that they should have at least let him wash his hands because the sticky crumbs of the nsima he was eating would dry up. It was difficult to remove them when dry. His wife stood and put the tiny child behind her back as she started to cry. She asked her husband why he had wanted to sleep with a little girl while she was available for his pleasure. Kageya looked down at his crying wife like a man caught in adultery, and then looked at Jenala. There was a silent plea in his eyes, asking her to help him out. She looked away, tears of relief pushing to be released. At that same moment, the policeman grabbed his right arm and began to back him away from the cloud. He had his stick at hand as if ready to pounce just in case Kageya decided to run. Kageya’s wife trailed behind them, child on her back and a piece of chitenje in her hand as she cried inconsolably. The little boy on her back also began to cry when he saw his mother’s tears. Then they disappeared from the marketplace and the loud laughter and murmuring died down as, one by one, the crowd turned to her and her parents.

Some friends who knew her mother approached them, obviously to be the first hearers of the juicy news so they could explain well at the borehole the next morning. Her mother dragged her away from the crowd, walking by the probing stares from the people. Her father followed them, choosing to look hard at some happenings on the ground that were more interesting than what they had just witnessed.

She knew everyone had heard of it at their school by Monday morning, even those from villages that were very far from theirs. Everywhere she had gone that weekend, she’d been met by stares and questions from others. There were those two girls at the borehole who called her aside and asked if it was true that Kageya had wanted to rape her. She hadn’t known who they were. Their faces were new in her head. The shorter one of the two, asked what the man had seen in her. Her friend told her to just look at Jenala’s hips. Then they laughed. She slept in bed and thought about pretending to be sick again. She didn’t want to go to school. Her mother came to remind her, threatening to whip her if she didn’t wake up. Grudgingly, she got out of bed and got ready for school. She was late and found everyone at the assembly. The moment she walked towards the well-formed queues by the head teacher’s office, everyone turned their heads to look at her and they began murmuring. She looked back at them though the heat in her shoes had become hotter than the air.

Soon after the assembly, Madam Chinula and Madam Nyasulu called her into the staffroom. They wanted to know what exactly had happened. She explained the same story she’d told the policeman, her parents and any other person that had wanted to know. Madam Nyasulu told Madam Chinula that, she always advised her girls to dress well not to provoke men.

The older girls from the senior classes on break time joked that, perhaps, it was her hips that attracted Kageya’s attention. One of the girls said she’d heard the wife cry about why her husband had chosen a small girl when she'd been available all day every day.

Even their Life Skills teacher looked at her during lessons on child abuse.

As the days passed by, the loud whispers grew quiet and she endured less and less quizzing from the villagers. It was a welcome sweet feeling of freedom. The weekend before the commencement of their end of term exams, her mother told her she wouldn’t go to school that coming Tuesday. They were going to the court to meet the judges. The news made her dance around the house. Her dream had been to become a judge. She would send people to jail where they would eat a big hill of nsima with one bean and a lot of soup that had too much salt. She also admired the white thing they wore on their heads as they looked at the people in chains with angry eyes. She was going to meet one of the judges and ask them questions. She wanted to know how they wrote difficult words on exams without peeping into their notebooks. She would ask how they solved the difficult math questions that only Winston, the intelligent boy in their class, managed to get correct. Then she would do exactly what they did so she could become a judge too.

On the day of the journey, she got up very early and cleaned all the pots. By the time her aunties woke up, she was bathed and ready. She sat on the edge of their bed and was examining her fingers for dirt while she thought about the journey. She wore the white Christmas dress with its matching hat and carried the red flower that had come with the dress in her hand. As she took tea, she wore a piece of chitenje on top of the dress, so the drops would not get to the dress. She touched the dirty pots and plates with two fingers to avoid getting stains on her hands.

She imagined being on a bus, seated by the window and singing all songs she learnt in Sunday school till she finished singing all of them. Then she would watch the walking trees along the road as the bus sped by.

Her hopes were crushed when the police car came to pick them up and she was told to sit at the back of the car. Being short, her father picked her up and put her in the car. She realized that the journey was not only for them. Everyone inside was in handcuffs. There were two men who were sharing a pair of handcuffs and she thought that maybe they didn’t have enough handcuffs for everyone. They were both silent and she was scared of them so she sat very far from them. Unlike the other four men in the car, they didn’t greet the three of them as they got in. She sat close to a shirtless man in handcuffs who talked without pausing to breathe. He was talking of how he missed his house and his mother. Then he began to sing a song to his mother, telling her how he’d suffered in the police cell with only one meal a day, defecating in a small bucket in the same room where everyone was looking. She saw tears in his eyes. She felt her eyes water too and quickly suppressed the tears. After he caught her staring at him, he winked at her. Her mother pinched her and told her to look away from him when she saw the gesture.

There was a little boy who, she guessed, was a few years older than her. He had a severely swollen eye and looked as though he had cried for a whole week. She avoided looking at him.

At Jenda Trading Centre, her mother gave her money to buy chips in big, white plastic containers. When she got home, she was going to explain to Khwima how sweet chips with Fanta was. She was going to enjoy watching Khwima lick his lips and wish he had gone with them. She walked to the chiwaya chips stands and spoke to the boys there in Chichewa since that was the language on everybody’s lips. She was surprised that she spoke Chichewa like one from the central region. She felt her ears inflate at the knowledge that her Chichewa didn’t have a trace of Tumbuka in it.

When she got back with the three containers, she found a pregnant young girl and an older woman standing by the car. The men in the car were greeting the girl and her mother like they already knew them. They even said her name, Elena. The girl smiled shyly, averting her gaze and looking at the ground. Jenala’s mother stretched her hand to take the boxes from her and then helped her get in. She watched the girl's mother go to the front to ask the driver if Elena could sit in front; the back was too high for her to climb in. The guard in front grumbled, complaining why she didn’t think of how she was going to get into cars before opening her legs for her father. A string of obscene words erupted among the men at the back of the car at the thoughtlessness, permeating the air in the car. She saw her mother close her eyes in shame at the way body parts were being mentioned. The man gave up and got out of the car glaring at an embarrassed and sad-faced Elena, who got into the car with her mother’s help.

As the car drove away, she lifted her neck to look at Elena. Her legs were spread far apart so that they were almost brushing against the driver's. She felt relieved that she had been wise enough to avoid pregnancy. She was lucky. Horror-filled, she lifted her neck even more to stare at Elena’s big stomach. It seemed like the baby was ready to come out. How would she push him out? The pregnancy made her feet swell and they shined like a newly polished floor.

By the time they got to the boma, the judges had gone to drink tea, so the people waited outside. Like most September afternoons, it was very hot, and the heat of the sun made sweat go down people’s faces till it made their blouses and T-shirts have lines. She wondered what these people had come to do. Women who seemed like they’d been there for many hours lay on the grass, banana peels beside them.

She sat on a bench far from her mother and Anyabanda. Elena followed but she was too shy to talk to her. She put her head on her folded hands and slept. After what felt like ten hours, she felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked up and realized that there was a pool of saliva at her feet. Quickly she covered the pool with her shoe, moving it back and forth so it could dry. Then she wiped her side of the mouth with her dress. Elena smiled at her understandingly. She slept and her mother woke her up again to tell her they were heading back home. Without meeting the judges? Her mother told her that the judges had too much work; they would have to come back.

She was so tired that she slept all the way back home in the car.

During their second visit to the court, she discovered the sea saw swing in front of the court building. She called Elena so they could go and play on it but Elena's mother looked at her with big eyes that made her afraid. Her mother also shook her head at her silently. She got the message that Elena could not play with them because of her belly. Her mother had told her that Elena was born in 2003.When she counted using her fingers, then her toes because the number was bigger than ten, she found that Elena was 13. She was older than her with 4 years only. Sikhatere, the oldest girl in their class, was tall, had breasts that were as big as her mother's, but they still rolled in the green grass together. So she wondered why Elena couldn’t play with them.

That day they were told the judges couldn't see them because one of them had lost his aunty. The people murmured in disapproval at the news but they just dispersed and made sure their murmurs were not loud enough. It made her laugh.

After a month, she noticed that Kageya was back from jail. He moved from his house to another smaller one, away from them. Her mother stopped telling her that they were going to the boma. She’d heard her mother complain to one of her friends that the police had received 15,000 kwacha from Kageya.

In her prayers, she remembered Elena. She asked God that the baby would come out without making her crippled.

Jenala remembered to work on bringing back the virginity she'd given to Kageya. Through eavesdropping on aunt Magi and Aunt Monica, she realized she could become a virgin again. She just had to stop riding bicycle, jumping ropes and climbing trees to avoid making herself bigger. Then, over time, she would close again. In that way, she would still give her husband his wedding night gift.

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