(Continued from Marriage of Servitude I)
At first, Sofia is paralyzed by fear. If Frank, who looks dead serious, touches her with that knife, she is going to die. She could scream, but she has tried that before and nobody ever responds. The closest home to hers belongs to her parents-in-law, but she knows that they will not come to her rescue. She has gone to them many times asking them to speak to their son, but their response is always the same: that she is the only one who can change Frank through prayer and submission. They have even on occasion subtly suggested that she is responsible for their son’s slide to drunkenness.
But Frank has always been a drunkard for as long as Sofia can remember. It is true that he has become worse after losing his job, but then it is easy to forget that he lost his job partly because of drinking. Those were the days when he had a mini-bar in the house, and so he could afford to take whisky for breakfast.
In the village though, Frank is a chameleon. While he is a monster at home, to the villagers he is a darling. He always has a smile and a kind word for everyone. He takes his family to church every Sunday, and he is always ready to help in fundraisers. He never hits Sofia on the face, so nobody knows how badly he beats her, except his parents who are their next door neighbors and her parents, who she has told the truth. There was a time he beat her up and broke her arm, and she was forced to lie that she had slipped and fallen. Another time a villager asked why she is always screaming and Frank, who was nearby, said that she screams during sex because she cannot handle the pleasure. Sofia was very embarrassed, but Frank went ahead to suggest that it is a good thing because if she ever tried to cheat on him, he would locate her by her screams.
She has suffered, but today suffering is not the key word: death is. If he tries to do what he wants to do, she will bleed to death. Sofia knows that she will have only one chance of getting out of this place alive. She has to catch him by surprise. Frank is a strong man, and not even alcohol weakens him.
Sofia waits until he is within touching distance. Just when he is trying to grab her leg, she slithers away and kicks him hard on the neck. He stumbles and falls backward. She quickly jumps out of the bed and runs out of the room, pulling the keys out of the lock. When she finally exits the room, she locks him inside and rushes to her children’s room and wakes them up. She quickly packs their clothes and then leads them out of the house.
“Where are we going mum?” her first born Denis asks.
“We are going very far away from here, son.”
“But you are not wearing any clothes mom. People will laugh at you.”
Sofia is embarrassed to realize that she is stark naked in front of her children. Denis is almost seven years old and so he has an understanding of what is going on. She conceived him when she was in fourth year at the University. She had not been on any contraceptive since she started sleeping with Frank, but up to that point Frank had been using protection. Sofia believes that he deliberately impregnated her to stop her from leaving him after graduating. Henry was born two years later. Frank sent her to the village when she was pregnant with Henry. He said that he did not want his children to be brought up in the city. But he was not sending money to her, and so she made two decisions: the first was to find a job and the second to get on a contraceptive. She did not want to give Frank any more children.
Sofia runs to the children’s bedroom and grabs a lesso, ties it around her body, covering her from the shoulders downwards, and goes back to the children. She cannot go to take her clothes from the bedroom because Frank will kill her. He is bellowing loudly like an enraged bull, shouting obscenities at her and threatening to kill her. Just as she is leading her children out, Sofia is confronted by her parents-in-law.
“What is going on, Sofia? Why is Frank shouting?” Veronica, Frank’s mother, asks.
“He tried to kill me, and I locked him in the bedroom. The key is on the lock.”
“My son is not a killer. What did you do to him?”
Sofia is suddenly furious. Many are the times when Frank has beaten her to a pulp, but this woman and her husband would never come to find out what the problem is. None of her screams have ever been responded to. But the moment their son whimpers, they come falling over themselves and even have the audacity to place the blame on her, without bothering to find out what is going on.
She decides to ignore them, and walks away into the darkness with her children.
Sofia doesn’t know where she is going, and it is only after she hits the road that she decides to go to her parents. Sofia’s parents live less than one kilometer away from the house she has been calling home form almost a decade. In order to walk faster, she carries four-year-old Henry on her back and holds six-year-old Denis’ hand as they walk briskly down the road. The night is clear, and although there is no moon, it is not too dark. It takes her ten minutes to get to her parent’s house.
Charles and Janice still live in the same wooden house that they lived in when Sofia was a child, but Sofia renovated it before she gave her ATM card to Frank. She got a mason to repair the floor and fix tiles. She also got a carpenter to replace the old frames that had been eaten away by ants and cover the interior with ply wood then had it painted. She replaced the wooden windows with beautiful metal windows with tinted window panes. She also got them connected to electricity.
The most annoying thing is that they never appreciate what she does for them. All the praise goes to Frank, just because whenever he came home from the city he would visit them and give them a few thousand shillings. And he told them that he was the one who gave her the money to renovate the house. Sofia told her parents that Frank was lying, but they chose to believe him anyway. Yet she was the one who was sacrificing for them: it was always a sacrifice for her to balance between feeding her family and renovating that house. She was also struggling with a loan that she took in order to build her matrimonial house.
Frank was earning close to half a million shillings at General Motors, and had worked there for thirteen years before he was fired, but he had not built a home in the village. He was not even sending Sofia any money for her to feed her family. In the village, Frank still lived in the two roomed wooden house that his parents had built for him when he was circumcised at the age of fourteen. This is the house that Sofia was expected to live in when he sent her to the village, while he was living like a prince in the city, no doubt with other women.
Frank lived in a four-bedroom stand-alone house in Kikuyu. The owner of the house lived and worked in Dubai, and the house had fallen into a state of disrepair. Frank had seen it when he attended a friend’s ruracio in the area, and fell in love with it. He inquired about the ownership and was given the contacts of the owner, but the owner refused to sell it to him. He and Frank however agreed on a lease model. Frank was allowed to rent the house. According to the agreement, which Sofia saw one day as she was cleaning the house, Frank would repair it and would stay in it for twenty years, provided he paid the discounted monthly rent of six thousand shillings.
It was a win-win deal for both of them. The Landlord would get his house repaired without spending a dime, while Frank would get a beautiful home in a quiet neighborhood where his privacy was guaranteed. Frank spent about three hundred thousand shillings to renovate the house, fixing the leaking roof, repainting, replacing tiles and doors etc. Calculated against the rent he would have paid in a similar house elsewhere over twenty years, this was an excellent deal for Frank too.
But the agreement later came to bite both of them.
The Landlord was the first one to feel the pinch of this agreement. His job in Dubai ended prematurely but when he tried to kick out Frank, Frank threatened to sue him. So he rented a house in Kikuyu town as he ran his businesses. But then a year later Frank was fired, and since he had been living beyond his means, he could not even afford the six thousand shilling monthly rent. The landlord took advantage of the situation to kick him out after the second month of default.
Frank returned home to the village, by which time Sofia had taken a loan from the Sacco and built a two bedroom stone house. Frank had tried to stop her from doing the construction, probably fearing that she would outshine him, but then suddenly changed his mind and started taking credit for the construction without lifting a finger, or wallet, to help. He was fired about five months after Sofia finished constructing the house.
The dark thoughts about how unfairly she has been treated by her community in general and her family in particular are running in her head as she approaches her parents’ house. She opens the wooden gate and walks into the compound. She knocks once at the front door.
“Who is it?” her father’s muffled voice asks from within the house.
“It is me, Sofia. Please open the door.”
“What are you doing here? Why are you not in your husband’s house?”
“I ran away. He wants to kill me.”
“Stop being dramatic, Sofia. Go back to your house and stop disturbing us.”
“At least allow my children to spend the night here.”
“Those children have a father and a home. Take them back there.”
Image by Alex Strachan from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/africa-kenya-safari-nature-4612846/
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