Ilunga

A Short Story

By Fatima Derby
© Orianne Lopes

He hit him. A stream of blood trickled down his nose. He hit him again and again. My heart bled a little. One strike. A gash across his bareback. Another strike. My heart bled some more. I closed my eyes, but I couldn’t shut out the crackling sound of the belt against his back. I closed my eyes, but I couldn’t shut out the sound of his pitiful cries for mercy. I closed my eyes, but I could not shut out the compassionless sound of my husband’s grunts as he lashed out ruthlessly. Unforgivingly. Unfeelingly. Insanely.

He was drunk again. Hopelessly drunk. As he had been every single night since he got laid off at work. For the past two years, he hadn’t given me as much as one cedi to even buy a bag of water talk less of money to manage the house. School was about to reopen, and Junior was starting a new school year. I didn’t know how to ask him for the money for Junior’s school fees, books and other items he would need for school. I wasn’t making much money from my charcoal business. These days, everybody is buying gas stoves and halogen burners. Even you Araba, you don’t use a coal pot to cook at home anymore. The Americans talk of The Great Depression that hit the world in the 1930s. They said economies collapsed and there was starvation and acute poverty. But Araba, they didn’t go through hell like me.

In this country of ours where having a university degree is a mark of intellect and civilization, being uneducated marginalizes you. In this country where the people whose finely-tailored pockets lined with silk are up there, and those whose patched pockets characterized by loose threads hanging on for dear life are down here, being poor marginalizes you. And in this same country where having fleshy breasts, well-rounded hips and a voluptuous bottom is somehow an ostentatious indicator of weakness, being a woman throws you to the margin.
So tell me Araba, in which category will you classify me? I am an uneducated poor woman. That is why they will come for me. I know they will. They will lock me up and never let me out. They will say I am a threat to myself, my family and my society. They will call me a misfit, a criminal, a sinner. They will say that they are doing it to protect other people in society. But it is people like me who need protection, Araba. People like me and Junior. We have nothing. We have no one to protect us so we learn to fight back, and they call us rebels. We try to protect ourselves and they say we are dangerous.

Junior cried as the belt fell against his back repeatedly. He tried to avoid looking me in the eye. I know he felt ashamed of squealing like a helpless puppy. He has grown faster than his age, that boy. Young as he is, he has somehow realized that I did not have a husband anymore, at least in the practical sense of it and he tries to be one – helping me around in the house, offering to carry bundles of charcoal on his head after school to bring his own share of the household income. And I will always love my little boy for that.

It was Junior’s quest to be my protective husband that has landed me in this trouble. Badu had come home very late that night like he always does. He staggered into the house and called out for his evening meal, his words slurred and his breath reeking of alcohol. I rushed into the kitchen, dished out his food and served it to him. He took one disdainful look at the food and announced that a man of his calibre could not eat a meal containing just one piece of meat. I explained that it was no fault of mine and that we were hard up. I politely pointed out that he hadn’t given me any house-keeping allowance for months. I said it without the slightest hint of disrespect, but I struck a raw nerve and Badu struck my face. Now, I had been hit several times in the past and Junior had always tried to come to my rescue. On this day, it seemed we were all overcome by powers beyond us. It all happened so fast.

Araba, I hear them coming for me. The police will be here any moment from now. They will bind my hands behind my back in handcuffs like some street urchin. But I really don’t care. What dignity do I have left to maintain? I have nothing else to live for except my little boy. I do not regret that my last act as a free woman was to protect my baby. I would a thousand times over give up my life for his.

Junior rushed forward from the corner he was hiding and grabbed Badu’s legs. Badu flung him aside and hit him. A stream of blood trickled down his nose. He hit him again and again. My heart bled a little. One strike. A gash across his bareback. Another strike. My heart bled some more. I closed my eyes, but I couldn’t shut out the crackling sound of the belt against his bareback. I closed my eyes, but I couldn’t shut out the sound of his pitiful cries for mercy. I closed my eyes, but I could not shut out the compassionless sound of my husband’s grunts as he lashed out ruthlessly. Unforgivingly. Unfeelingly. Insanely.
A red film of rage descended over my eyes. I looked around, seeing everything yet seeing nothing. My arms flung about wildly, grabbed a flower pot and hurled it at him. He fell to the ground, unconscious. I rushed to the kitchen, picked a knife and jabbed at his chest. I plunged the knife into his chest repeatedly in a mad and desperate attempt to kill the poison that had consumed his heart. The film lifted from my eyes and I realized what I had done but I did not regret it. I did it for Junior and me and I did not regret it.

The police are here, Araba.


Fatima B. Derby is a Ghanaian feminist writer and activist. She holds a B.A degree in English from the University of Ghana, Legon and consults for women’s rights organizations as a Communications specialist. She is an alumna of the 2019 African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) Women Writer’s Workshop. As part of her feminist activism, she co-organizes safe spaces for young African feminists (Young Feminist Collective) in Accra to discuss and organize around women’s rights and social justice.