The Price of Shame

She had always been afraid of being used and thrown away like some expired item. She had guarded herself against boys by wearing baggy clothes to hide her blossoming body; her growing breasts and widening hips. At eighteen she approached anything in trousers with suspicion and fear. ‘Men will misuse you and you will end up raising fatherless children.’ She had heard the phrase enough times from the women around her to make her skin crawl and her bones grow cold from whistles or courtesies from boys.

Her first relationship came at twenty-five. A nice boy with a jawline that made her want to look at him forever. They talked. At first the boy told her how attracted he was to her mind and the beautiful conversations they had. But that soon grew stale and he wanted more. Holding hands, kissing, removing her heavy jumper, her baggy trousers, “It would bring them even closer,” he assured her.

It was a cold, cloudy evening when she lost her virginity. Baby-making weather, he had texted earlier. The sex was uncomfortable but unpainful. It must have been the bike rides and the running away from boys, only to trip on one and fall with her legs wide apart. She cried that night. ‘Your purity is your gift to your husband on your wedding night.’ She heard the voice of her religious mother in her ear and she almost wanted to rip both of them out.

‘Arume tiega,’ men are not good, her father, brothers and uncles whispered next. As if they knew they were cut from a rotten cloth and they feared that every other man was cut from it too. She covered her ears with a pillow. ‘Men will misuse you and you will end up raising fatherless children.’ The voices of her aunties and the women around her were sonorous. ‘You idiot! You stupid, stupid girl!’ she cursed herself countless times and for the next three months, she took a pregnancy test every week.

It did not happen. She did not get a fatherless child. Instead, she got another boy and another and another after that. With the first one, she had dreams, big ones. She built castles in her sleep. There was a moon-white wedding gown with a fishtail so long it stopped at the entrance of the church when she was at the pulpit. There were envious looks from the maids in the congregation and proud smiles from her mom, dad, sisters, brothers, aunties and uncles. ‘Atta girl,’ their faces blushed pink, ‘You did not embarrass us. You did not let us down.’

Reality was different when she opened her eyes. The boy with the perfect jawline had other plans that did not involve a wife and responsibilities. Texts and calls fizzled. Plans for dates got cancelled or ignored altogether and when she knocked on his door to check up on him she was received by vacant silence. Eventually, she got tired of the rejections and moved on. The weight of love, she realized, is unbearably heavy, especially when you’re shouldering it by yourself.

The second boy was straight to the point. He was in it for fun. She got regular booty-calls and even though she fought them, she always succumbed. ‘Men will misuse you and you will end up raising fatherless children.’ A cold chill went down her spine and she recoiled into the edge of his bed one evening, her knees touching her chin and her arms wrapped around her legs.

‘Why do you have condoms in your house?’ she heard herself bark, accusingly.

‘For protection,’ the boy answered mindlessly.

‘Is this why you called me, just for sex?’

She hoped the boy would say marriage and kids but instead his forehead creased in almost annoyance. ‘Don’t pretend you don’t want it too.’ Of course she wanted it but she also wanted more. ‘Men will misuse you and you will end up raising fatherless children,’ the voice boomed as she allowed the boy’s hand to find its way up her inner thigh.

The third boy was the same and so were the fourth and fifth. There were three abortions from three quack doctors and two miscarriages. She had given herself strength. ‘At least there were no fatherless children.’

The sixth was different. She found herself down the aisle exchanging vows at the altar with him. The gown was snow-white, the fishtail touched the entrance when she was at the pulpit. It was every bit like in her dreams, except for children. They never came.

‘As long as we have each other everything will be okay,’ her husband had encouraged her and she had resented him for it. ‘How could he possibly love me, a barren woman?’ Fingers were pointed and blame shifted and soon the conversations wilted together with the intimacy. Meals went cold and working hours grew long. When she confronted him it was the same story, ‘I’m working hard for our future,’ Whispers became common knowledge after an ex showed up with a baby that was a photocopy of him.

A divorce followed and a bitter exchange of words with her parents soon after. She found herself in a small rented space with little means. ‘Men will misuse you and you will end up raising fatherless children.’ The words were heavy on her mind just like her stomach was heavy with a child. The doctor told her it was a girl, a miracle born from a weak womb. She felt her strong kicks and a lone cold tear found its way down her cheek. She would raise her differently, she vowed, away from the voices of fear and the whispers of shame.

_____

“Heh, viombo ziko tu pale niliziwacha?”

Kidding—feels good to be back. Great to see that you have been holding down the fort and keeping this place warm while I was away. A lot has been going on. I have a physical book out, I had a successful book launch and we have taken the book as far as Lodwar and Uganda all thanks to your support. Oh, you don’t know about this new book? Download three chapters free here and get the full book from the Village Market Bookstore for KSH 1,100 or from me for KSH 949. Delivery countrywide. But enough about me, how are you, sexy friend?

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