Kigali. A Sunday morning, I woke up from a nightmare; my whole naked body was sweating. I yawned while stretching largely my arms. It was a rainy day and I was feeling lazy, I wish I could lay down on my bed and listen to the radio. Instead, I put my hand around my mouth to detect its smell. It was not a rose perfume. I yawned more to let in fresh air. My naked body made the hard choice to remove the grey blanket, wake up and tie up a green and yellow colored kitenge at the top of my breasts in order to cover my body.
I thanked heaven for granting us another day, though it was rainy. I put my bare feet on the ground and felt the cold floor. The chilliness climbed from my feet to my head and gave me goose bumps. The cold reached my heart too. It was not the same cold, but rather a feeling of resentment towards my mother, she had always been emotionless with me and had never loved me.
My mother had conceived me after a night of passion with her first cousin. The whole family cursed her for incest and consequently I was the abominable fruit of that sin. The rumors in my family said that my biological dad either ran away forever or wwalked willingly into an early grave. I have never met him apart from the yellowing picture that auntie Emerance kept in a soapbox under her bed.
That was the voice of my mother. I had never called her mum as other normal kids do. For me, she was always Yvette. So I hated to hear her calling my name in the morning. I did not respond. She repeated my name, almost screaming. I felt my body fill with bitterness.
“I want to step on clean floor when I get up.”
I took the broom and started sweeping the yard. Since the floor was wet, mud got stuck on it and made it heavier and harder for me to sweep. I thought that I was not blessed because of the scandalous union from which I was born. I felt sinful. Everyone in my neighborhood, including small children, blamed me for being the daughter of my parents.
While I was cleaning our compound, I was contemplating my future wedding, organized by Auntie Emerance in collaboration with Yvette. I was still in my kitenge and auntie Emerance came to our house. She barely greeted me and walked quickly almost running to Yvette’s room.
I was twenty-three years old and I was going to get married to Ernest. Auntie Emerance, who had been in discussion with the middle-aged man, was now negotiating the bride’s dowry. The two women picked him for his fat wallet. With powerlessness, I had let them decide whom I would marry. That union did not particularly interest me but I knew it will offer me a permanent refuge, far from Yvette. Besides that,…
Ernest was not a poor man. Why not marry him?
Perhaps he would pay my university education. Why not marry him?
Perhaps he will bring happiness to my life. Why not marry him?
I had only completed secondary school where I was living in a boarding school. Living far from my home brought fleeting peace as I was far from Yvette and our neighbors. I was no longer the incest bastard. As auntie Emerence and Yvette planned my wedding, I did not invite my classmates. There was nothing to invite people about. In fact I did not have that many friends. The only good friend I ever had was Noel, a nice guy and only him knew about the wedding.
Few days before the wedding, I went to see the house that I would be living in with Ernest. It was a nice house covered with a red roof, its walls were made up with a beige paint. Its interior was decorated by vulgar luxury furniture that gave the house an aura of pretention and fakeness. I pictured myself as the woman of the house and this simple thought brought a smile to my lips and pride to my heart.
I took time to know the place and get familiar with what would become my new space. Ernest was in town doing a last minute shopping for the wedding. As I was touring, I shyly opened the room that would be ours in few days.
I was impressed by the largeness of the bed. Inside the expansive wardrobe, I touched my husband-to-be’s clothes. In the right corner were his mostly black and brown shoes. On the right side, I saw female clothes and shoes that looked so familiar. It was a strange thing to discover in a single man’s bedroom.
I first thought that they were my surprise gift. But then I saw my mother’s ballerinas and immediately, all excitement disappeared from me, like a deflated balloon. The blood in my veins cruised; I thought I would have a heart attack. I could recognize the shoes among a thousand because of their color- that of an unripe apple. I opened up the clothes and found out that they were Yvette’s. The stupid question that came to my mind was:
-What could my mother’s clothes be doing in my future husband’s closet four days before my wedding?
I ran out the room and fell into an old woman in the corridor. My left arm hit her left shoulder and she knocked her head on the beige wall. I thought she would not survive and briefly forgot my own emotional shock as I helped her back on her feet. My eyes met hers. It seemed as if her she wore contact lenses that made her eyes looked greyish, bleached and magical. The word witchcraft crossed my mind like a shooting star springing across the sky.
I was wondering who she was and what she was doing in my house to be. Her Kinyarwanda was unintelligible due to old age; I had to double my attention. She told me that she was Ernest’s grandmother. I took her to one of the rooms of the house that I had not yet visited. She was staying there and had specifically come for the weeding. The old woman refused to tell me her name, as culture dictated. It was her first time to travel to Kigali, the capital.
Instead of voodoo items, I found in her room an old Latin book, a lot of Catholic objects and a yellow bottle that used to contain Mukwano, the cheap cooking oil. The yellow jerry can contained holy water. Using some dry grass, she spread it on my hands to purify my heart.
Once she finished, she put a rosary around my neck and started to fervently praying in Latin and then in Kinyarwanda:
Ku bw’ububabare bwe bukabije,
Tugirire impuhwe kandi uzigirire n’isi yose.
Ku bw’ububabare bwe bukabije,
Tugirire impuhwe kandi uzigirire n’isi yose.
Maraso n’amazi byavuye mu mutima wa Yezu, we soko y’impuhwe atugirira, turabiringiye.
After the long prayers, she narrated to me the story behind my arranged marriage.
“I know that this will break your heart forever but as future married woman, you are already strong and you need to know the truth about the pain that awaits you. The truth is…”
Yvette was Ernest’s concubine. That’s why her cursed clothes were in the house. They had been together for more than two years. Ernest’s family has been pressuring him to get married and settle down but they didn’t want him to bring an older and probably infertile woman. As the old woman was telling me the story, I touched my back to feel if nobody was forcefully thrusting a spear in my back because the pain I felt in my heart couldn’t just be emotional.
After realizing that she would not get Ernest into her grip, Yvette decided to offer him her sole daughter. I was in a shock and constantly was shaking my head to confirm that I was not dreaming. The agreement the two lovers had made was that Yvette would give him a virgin bride who would give him children. In return, the middle-aged man would take care of her.
Your mother hates you since you entered her womb. What else can you do?
You will marry my grandson in few days. What else can you do?
He is only interested in your virginity and vigorous body. What else can you do?
Sometimes, I wondered if Yvette was in reality a wicked witch. She knew how to manipulate people, to secretly plot things and get to her ends. I was wondering how could a human mother do such horrible thing to her child? How did she know I was still virgin?
How did she know I would marry Ernest without objecting? I was relieved that I did not invite my school friends; I couldn’t bear to hear their comments after the ceremony. At least I could now understand why Ernest was shy and did not take too much time to talk to me or to get to know me better. Why he had always dealt with Auntie Emerance and Yvette. He was not interested in me.
I stumbled away from Ernest’s grandmother, dizzy and in need of a friend. I grabbed a motorcycle on the roadside, swinging the keys of my new hell. On my way, I asked the motor rider to take me to Gikondo where my only genuine friend Noel lived. I was wondering if he would be home. I did not want to call him, as I was afraid that my voice betrayed the pain I was going through. I instead sent him a short SMS telling him that I was coming.
That night I offered him the only thing I was in position of denying to Ernest, I almost begged him to take my virginity and I knew if he said no, I would go to someone else. Fortunately Noel kept me for the night. He offered me comfort for a few hours, he sang for me for some minutes and he loved me for long seconds.
When I woke up the next morning, my body was hurting but not my heart. It was as if I was now immunized to pain. When I got home, the dark skin of Yvette had almost turned dark blue because of rage.
“I’ve been looking for you the whole night. Where were you?” She asked in a voice she could no longer control.
“I went to invite my friends to the wedding and it rained. So I stayed with them.”
“Why was your phone off?”
“I did not charge it enough.”
“Because you have confiscated my charger, again.”
She inspected me with her ugly eyes searching for signs of a lie. She did not find any. I was amusedly wondering what would happen if she knew I was no longer virgin, what would happen if she knew that the treasure that she bet for my wedding was gone, gone in night time, gone as with the wind? Perhaps her heart would burst and she would spit snakes of her nastiness.
Outside the house, I heard Uwase, our long-term neighbor saying:
“Ohhh God is able. I did not that Umwali could also find a husband!”
On the wedding day, as required, we had a civil wedding, a traditional ceremony and a church service. I saw auntie Emerance and Yvette in shining and bright traditional clothes, umushanana.
They were genuinely joyful and I was wondering how much money each would get for my wedding. Their delight was easily communicable to the guests who came witness my shame.
At the reception, I saw Ernest’s grandmother in white umushanana and felt likeI she was my guardian angel. We exchanged sad smiles but her transparent eyes remained blank. As people were eating, drinking and chatting, Ernest stood up and headed to the microphone. His rich friends clapped for him. He told everyone how much his wife and himself were overjoyed to host everyone. At that moment, I wondered which wife he was referring to: my mother or me?
He cleared his throat and started singing for me. Again, I asked myself which other hypocrite game had he planned to play? As he sang, the silent eyes of my family members ourged me to join him on the stage. I flashed my fakest smile, lifed my heavy white wedding dress and joined Ernest, who honestly not musically talented.
The audience was frenetically clapping for Ernest, which encouraged him to sing even louder. I was wondering if they were more motivated by the delicious food and abundant drinks than by the awful singing.
I had the feeling that as my husband murdered musical notes, the worst DJ of the world was playing the worst song of the world. It was funny because I was feeling no emotion at my own wedding party. I was feeling like another guest in another wedding ceremony.
After the shameful performance, Ernest hugged me energetically and one of my earrings fell down. At that moment, people applauded and I saw Noel in the crowd. He looked elegant but sad. My memory went back to our night and I burst in tears. Our guests thought I had been touched by my husband’s declaration of love.
People liked emotional brides so they clapped more and more as tears poured down my powdered cheeks with more ferocity. Soon afterwards, guests started filing down to the stage to congratulate us. I was still crying and Noel was standing in the hall watching me. People hugged me or Ernest and the only man who could really console me couldn’t. Ernest’s grandmother brought me back to reality.
“Let him go. He is not for your present. A long suffering awaits you my child. But only a scar on a backbone will save you.”
I was too tired to interpret her wise but mysterious words. That night, I escaped from Ernest’s lust pretending to be too tired. The next day, he chased people from our house so we could have intimacy. Even his grandmother went back to her village in Karongi. I had tried to ask her what she wanted to say when she said that only a scar on a backbone would save me. She stubbornly remained quiet.
I was worried about what would happen after everyone left. The presence of our families in the first days of my marriage gave me a feeling of security. But now, I was alone with Ernest and I had to confess that I felt terrorized.
He was a stranger to me and I was already sharing the room and the bed with him. As I feared, once I was in the room alone with him, he took me brutally. I felt an unprecedented pain in every single cell of my female body. I swallowed all of that pain and waited for him to finish. In the middle of his frenzy, he realized I was no longer pure as Yvette promised him.
He smacked me so hard that I saw stars parading in front of my sight. For the first time, I felt bad joy. I felt alive and proud. They thought they played me but now I was proving them that I was also a human soul, with all the good and the bad that comes with it.