Marita, the village beauty

Isdore Guvamombe

Shinje River starts stupidly and confused from a valley that seems equally superfluous on the foot of the Mvurwi Range, then it gains its focused course, stretching southwards, snaking and meandering past Chipuriro communal lands on its final vomit into Dande River.

Along its banks and pools is flourishing riverine vegetation where bright-coloured birds, their plumage – a mixture of scarlet, gold, green and blue- proclaim each new day by emblazoning the dull green canopy where they flirt from branch to branch or simply streak among the tall trees.

Back in the village in the land of milk, honey and dust or Guruve, a new day always brought new ideas and of course, a new lease of life.

For mature village boys and girls, a new day brought, new prospects of courtship and marriage. But for the long married, each day might present a new problem.

One such girl, who grew up frequenting Shinje River was Marita, a village bombshell of substance by any diction.

Now a fat young mother of one, with swollen feet always bulging over lace-up shoes, Marita came back from the city where she had stayed with her husband for years.

The marriage has been on the rocks and she came back to her parents after her husband chased her away from their lodgings in Glen Norah.

Shinje River drew her to the memory of her unencumbered girlhood in the village. She remembered the village saying that, “to love someone who does not love you, is like shaking a tree to make dew drops fall.”

As her brain shifted and engrossed on her collapsed marriage, she bathed her son on the shallows of the river.

After a persistent grizzle on the boy’s body, she towelled him dry. The boy cried and wriggled and she slapped him hard, leaving fingerprints on his chubby buttocks. The child stopped screaming, gulped with shock, and succumbed to its fate.

Thereafter, Marita turned and squinted into the sun, clad her baby on the back and strolled off to the village. She had been successful in avoiding other village women by going to the river early.

The village women would want to know why she was back from her marriage and then the gossip mongers would go agog.

Marita had retreated from marriage, resentful but also relieved. Her father had categorically told her to go back to her husband. Her mother strongly shared the same position and so did her brothers.

She could not fight her husband for persistent infidelity.

In the village that was not a matter for which elders could sit on the reed mats to preside over. It was trivial. HIV or Aids or not, that was not a case at all. Everyone remarked, “Men are like that!” Trivia!

Everyone pressured her to go back.

She did not want. She would never, never, ever.

Retiring from her marriage back into her mother’s home had reduced her from a mother of her own house to a position of tutelage in her mother’s house.

At night, she lay on a small bed with her son, bored and sleepless, listening to snores and creaks from her parents’ bed in the next room. Two rats scampered past at great speed, one of them climbing over her.

Her thoughts had become fragmented and hazy. Uneducated and therefore unemployable, she was ill-prepared to face the vagaries of life on her own. Her life had collapsed concurrently with the collapse of her marriage. The marriage had been a shifting tapestry of problems.

There was neither consolation nor solace from her parents. Her husband had emphatically told her never to set her feet back. So, where would she go now? Her in-laws had never liked her from the onset.

She wept but suppressed her voice to avoid being heard.

She made up her mind and stealthily left for nowhere in the dead of the night. By this time, her face had become tear-stained and eyes deep sunken and sore from prolonged weeping.

She walked still, her baby clad on her back. The night was dark. The dissonant chirping of a myriad of crickets on their nightly tattoo emphasised the gloom. She walked on into the abyss of life.

A new feeling surged through her body, a feeling of dejection and hopelessness. Bitterness rankled!

Warm tears began to slow her down as they blurred her vision and made her movement in the dark, difficult.

Blinded, she ran into an anthill, sending startled owls and bats fluttering in search of a safe haven.

Marita changed her direction towards Shinje River. She had finally made up her mind. The monotonous chirping of crickets and the plaintive call of frogs directed her into the chosen abyss of her life. Still, sounds of the crickets and the frogs floated through the forest.

Instead of fear, she started luxuriating over the sound. She had made up her mind and decided to finality.

The following morning her parents woke up to find her gone. They had no explanation.

Sooner rather than later, the rumour started doing the rounds that she had gone back to force her way back into the marriage.

Village elders said she had taken the right decision to go back. Her parents were equally happy that she had gone back, and in their opinion she had gone grudgingly. But she had gone still. That was enough. Her mother said it was the way any reasonable woman would go.

Never abandon marriage over a man’s infidelity.

Three weeks later cattle herders caught a very bad smell while driving their herds along the Shinge River banks. From afar it looked like some dark log was floating. But the “green bomber” flies hovered.

On closer look, the boys noticed it was human body. Fetid. Heavy. Too bad. Decomposed!

Within moments, villagers lined up to the river and the brave ones entered the water.

There she was, Marita dead still with her son clad on the back. It was a sorry sight. Some fish had started eating out lips and eyes. The side on which her body lay in the water was heavily decomposed.

Women wailed. Men held back their tears.

She had committed suicide. She could not leave her child behind to face the ruthless world. She had been cheated by her parents. She had been cheated by the village. She had been cheated by the world. She had found no solace from anyone.

The village policies and family matrimonial ethos were heavily tilted against her. Without any formal education she was not prepared to take on the mean economic challenges of life. She was ill-prepared and not empowered to face the vagaries of life on her own.

In one of her pockets was a suicide note, written on an equally decomposing piece of paper. “I have decided to take my life and that of my child, for, no one understands what it means to be forced to love a person who rejects and cheats on you. He chased me away. My parents chased me away. Sarai mugarike!”