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Repentance

By John Oryem Ernest Loguca (Sudan)

 

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She slipped into my house again that night, popping sweet gum as if she was chewing an old buffalo's meat. Alice would gather the exhausted elastic gum from her decaying jaw, throwing the over-chewed stuff with the might of her head's muscles at the surface of her tongue; to hang loosely on her front teeth that covered and whitened her mouth.   Alice was already violently knocking at the frame of my window when I opened it. Looking at her face, faded out by 'Fair & lovely' cream, I whispered to my troubled soul, "sweet-gum producers will never, ever, produce it again if it is being abused this way!"

Earlier on from my bathroom, I could slightly hear a blacksmith knock through that small opening in my bathroom door. "That should be she!"  Alice has been acting as if she was already my wife; she wanted to be inside my room as soon as she could to satisfy her curiosity.

“She is only trying to trap me with a woman inside.” I thought to myself. Moving confused and out of place, I saw uneasiness in Alice's face.

“I am sorry, I came without notifying you earlier.” she apologized, remaining still with a face of a cow being milked; stressing the ‘sorry’ several times. I nodded and said only once; “It is fine, is it not your house anyway?” This was Alice's seventh time in a row with her intrusion in my house involving such awkward manner. After I had gathered some courage and cooled down my burning rage, I invited Alice with some resisted wrinkles on my face; “Open the refrigerator; Stim, cold burger there……warm it? Tea, perhaps kerkede (hibiscus) or kongoles? (Baobab-fruit) Oh, those sweet things, ooo! Moussy please!”  Alice gained some assurance after I had spoken to her in a welcoming tone.  

"Why do you always distant your cell phone when I am around?" Alice asked me again just from the spot where she was still standing.

"What?"

"You always press your mobile 'silent' as soon are together."

"What for?" I smiled pretentiously with a question.

"Do I know?" Alice shrugged.

"Why are your girlfriends not calling you whenever am with you? Why is your phone always busy when I call?"

"I don't have girlfriends beside you! Alice!"

"Liar!"

"Me Alice?"

"Let me check your phonebook then if you are not." Alice demanded.

"What for? What will you find in it?" I melted into the kitchen.

I relaxed at the high table surfing and piping in between some articles in a magazine. My mind was imagining how Alice would have caught me with Sue, my new babe whom I met over the weekend. She had just arrived from Gadarif that very week. Sue brought Ethiopian romance along with her, I was used to Alice's dull life that was tasteless. Alice was the type that could jump on a rooftop if I were to pretend that I wasn’t around in the compound. I am ready to die any moment with any woman over….you!" she once terrified me. "Over me?"

"Over you! And who else?"

"Oh Alice, Alice be the first Alice!" I jumped on my feet, punching the air with my hands.

"Are you crazy?"

"You made me crazy Alice!"

"Me?"

"Yes you!"

"I will be out of your way…."

Alice went and leaned against the cupboard where I had hung my trousers; lying next to several papers were my personal notebooks. As I continued watching Coming to America, Alice suddenly turned and asked me; "so you made money transfer this morning?" I was silent, concentrating on Hakim's tricks trying to win Lisa's heart.

"And which girl is this? Or, no…. not my business…" Alice shrugged.

"Are all my female relatives my wi-i-i-ves Alice?" I protested loudly.

"Did I say something wrong? You are free." she turned to me, flinging her hands like a sugarcane cutter.  

Turning away from her assaults while picking my slippers, Alice hurriedly ran to me and asked, “What?” guessing I was annoyed of course.

“I think you have to solve this problem once and for all,” Alice went on.

"What problem?" I inquired.

"Your insincerity ... I mean your infidelity to me." Alice's eyes pooled with tears.

“I will!” I assured her.

“Do you still love her?”

"Who?"

"Monica, the girl you transferred money to this morning. I know she is studying in Ahfad University. They told me all about her."

“I will tell you all.”

“But when? You know nothing about her." Alice warned.

"I told you all, I don’t……."

Though I was not prepared for Alice that night, at certain moment of the night, we decided to end the 'boycott' with an unannounced intimacy. We were still at each others arms by 7am; caught up by pinching cold penetrating window frames, the wind was cracking my uncovered cheeks with serious warning as I lay still lazily with a feeling of a child at his mothers’ laps. Alice was coiling near me in her pink bikini. She keeps it in my wardrobe. 

When Tombe my neighbor arrived to say 'hallo' as always, I was still being tormented by Alice's latest suicidal moves; she was resting assured on the assumption that she was my senior wife.

Leila, a girl in my neighborhood whom I was trying to woo once told me; "Alice saw your manhood! Your life’s secrets are in her hands." I persuaded her many times but all she repeatedly told me was, "I am scared of such ladies who are shameless. Please I am out of your list!" Leila declared boldly to my face, rejecting my advances.

Alice had been for a while in my life. We caught our hands several years back one June before the revolution when parties where staged at weekends all over Khartoum. That very weekend, Laku, Tombe's brother was receiving our sendoff party. He was immigrating to Canada after the fall of the democratically elected government in our country.  'Seiko' and 'Arizona' liquors were rulers over every man that night. Alice, who was previously unknown to me, caught my very eye that had seen many charming girls around Khartoum's suburbs. I preyed on her, waiting for a chance to invite her from the next table where she was. There were some crooked boys from Haj Yousif I knew in her round table. "As soon as the DJ plays on something nice I will run to grab her like a kite….me?" I continued wishing for that moment from my marginalized table next to a W.C.; we nicknamed that all-male round table "Jaborona IDP camp". Alice was irresistible for a rumba dance I was patiently waiting for. Koffi Olomide had just released his sensational ‘Tcha Tcho’ before Christmas. He was taking Khartoum by storm. As soon as I heard the slow crooning echo undergoing internal mixing by the DJ, I dashed and grabbed Alice's hands for that kingly rumba. She placed her creamy head on my shoulders. My head swollen with pride as if I was on top of Lotti Mountains.  For the next many hours that went by, Alice never bothered if I was going to embrace other babes in the party. When most of the guys were getting drunk, lights became dimmer, I took hold of Alice like a tiger clinging onto a gazelle’s neck. “I love you very much Mama.” I repeatedly told her. She was a lamb, only nodding at one point. We had long moved in the dark corner of the compound, where many lovebirds were grounded, whispering like evil-doers. We later possessed our hearts; Alice rubbed her heavily scented braided head on my shoulders, leaning with all her double intentions that I would later come to know. Though I never went back to my original dull table, some guys from that table were constantly glancing at my changed face, a real slave to Alice's heart!  With their thumbs up, they signaled me 'off site!'  If an ant's head was offered for a meal that night, we could have divided it evenly with Alice. When she was tired of my repeated love-words, Alice whispered in my ear; “I am…….am only agreeing because…….you are crazy.” It was an assurance I never got for a long time from a lady.

“Can we go…..to ehhh my house?” I proposed instantly.

"Your house? To do what?"

"No, I meant maybe we are now tired."

"Not tonight. Leave it for another day." Alice pleaded.

"But Alice my house is near?"

"What will people say tomorrow? Where did Alice sleep?"

"Let's go" I persuaded her. "Why do you behave like our grandmothers of the 60s who wouldn’t ….?"

We soon disappeared in the winter cold; by the time we reached my house, our noses were dried up. Alice used my jacket and I pretended to be a man in the cold.

The morning cold castrated the usual 10 o'clock sunrays.

"Breakfast is ready my queen Alice! Let's go, wake up." I invited her. "Please begin to eat. My water is cooling."  I was off to the bathroom. Moments later I was back with towel wrapped down my waist.

"What is wrong?" I found Alice had dressed up, un-plucked her mobile phone; her bag hanging one-sidedly on her shoulder and was lingering around the mirror, appreciating her boobs.

"Hi what happened?"

"Nothing"

"Did you eat?"

Alice was silent, busying herself with the mirror.

"I am going, but be careful, these girls of yours…..these women, God will not be unjust to me!"

"What is wrong Alice? Have we not solved those things in the night?"

"I will harm and kill any girl I find here." Alice declared on my face, pointing right in my eyeballs.

Alice's moves have been rather disturbing. I couldn't figure out exactly what on earth she was pursuing with regard to me. I had been showing her all good sides of me.

"Phone me immediately if you reach," I urged.

"I will, you know me."

I ushered Alice through my gate but did not accompany her to the bus station. When she was long gone, I sat like a wizard in the living room, thinking of my next move against Alice. She too could be thinking of how to squeeze life out of my body. "Perhaps I should gather my guts to be a man again. Will chance bump me again at such girls?"  I buried my head in a pillow, inhaling the feminine perfume that lingered on after Alice has left.


 


Repentance

 

 

Even before the arrival of the end of the month, he was always in debt. Local women flocked to his house after 4pm; the time he was expected back from office. Some of those women who maintained a healthy relationship with his wife never bothered spoiling his name;

“I will never give him my beer any more!” some would swear by lightening, others by heaven, even others by the Almighty. “I will leave mine to God.” Others said. “I will do something.” Some, yet threatening to go to the witch doctors or the police.

One thing remained mysterious for him; all his beer clients could not understand what was in his tongue. Their testimony seemed unified; “He is very kind and so innocent like a lamb when he comes to beg for beer.” After he had drunk their beer, not only once; then the women would understand, they had erred.

“Ah, the 30th is near. Why aren’t you a believer?” he would go from one house to the next negotiating. If the debts were more, and every woman in the area owned part of his salary, he transferred to neighboring families. For new ones, he would pay in cash, to soften his ground; to easy things out for him. His wife had long surrendered to the attitude of her husband. At the beginning, she would gather her brothers-in law to tell the mistakes of their brother.

“We do not want to hear anything again. This woman must be looked after.” “You have to be responsible.” “One day you will die with a glass of beer on your hands like…” The litany was long. He began disliking some of his relatives because of that. His wife had always said; “For me I don’t care about him anymore.”

If he never returned home by 11pm, she will not even bother searching for him. If he arrived late, he would jump over the fence, only he would possess enough strength that night. Most of the time he would retire calmly in the kitchen. His wife would notice only by the noises of the chickens avoiding his feet. His six children had a different image of their father. The four grown up ones would only see their father on the weekend. As for the last two, their father would leave them still sleeping in the morning while he went to office; finding them sleeping after drinking, if he was ever coming.

“Baba is busy in office, doing hard work.” The woman told her inquisitive children.

“Woman you cannot stop me from drinking!” He often told his caring wife.

“But see how you are scandalizing the family. I wish you shamed only yourself.” She remarked.

“You woman, I told you even if my mother and father are to come back from their graves, I will not, I will not quit drinking.” He spoke boldly to his wife.

He was praised by his bosses; even received gifts for his diligence and efficiency in the workplace. One time, he was voted the Employee of the Month in his department. He celebrated the event with his companions (drinking team members) in a modest Nile Kings Restaurant. An occasion that made him rub shoulders with affluent members of the city.

One day after arriving office early, he found all his colleagues were boarding the company’s bus to a funeral place. One of his colleague’s brothers had passed away. “Climb, get in.” said a colleague. “Where to?” he inquired. “We are going to pay condolence to the deputy CEO; his brother passed away last night. The boss is with us.”

“Oh death!” The man wondered, his lips drier from the incident of the night before.

He got in the bus. On board, all were affected by the event of death. One asked the cause of the death of the deceased. None could guess. Others expressed in lips and shoulders to show lack of knowledge. The bus driver concentrated on his steering wheel till funeral home.

Wailing, crying and self-throwing by women scared the man at the funeral home. He got an occasion of sitting near other funeral attendants who were there before him. They greeted him and the rest warmly. Tea and water were offered quickly as the custom was in their town. Being curious to know what had killed the deceased, he asked one man next to him; the man was acting as if he was one of the brothers in the house.

“Sorry for the death eh.” He commented.

“Yeah, God gives and take.” The man said.

“What happened?” He asked.

“His liver got burned up by Seiko. He drank it too much…since. Now these orphans?” The man proceeded, as if he knew him before. “Sorry.”

He wanted to cut the investigation but it wouldn’t be fair since he had opened the door for it. He was silent, turning his face away from the man.

The man turned to him and said; “He was drinking to hell.” “Let’s go.” Ordered their boss. They got into their bus and left. The working day was short that day. He reflected on the mystery of death for the first time in many years.

“I never wept for my parents; but…” He thought to himself. Many questions rolled through his head.

When he reached home that day, he found all his drinking friends had assembled in his house. As soon as he dropped his office bag down and changed his clothes, one of his friends told him; “We waited for too long, let us go.” He gazed at the roof of his house and simply said; “My body is not fine today.” His friends left amidst blames and quarrels. On their way to the usual bar without him, they said all sort of things about him; “He wasted our time.” “I told you the man’s not OK any longer.” “He is getting proud these days.”

That evening, he felt for the first time that home was home. His wife gave him fresh food and a warm bath accompanied everything. He watched TV with his children for the first time in many months. He sat silent in the sofa while his children taught him the names of the actors and actresses in the TV series commonly screened for families. “Baba that is…yesterday he was beaten by…” He only nodded to his second last child. “Baba, Baba, Baba.” She continued disturbing her father. At last she slept in his lap. He carried her to the bedroom where his wife was busy with her handiwork. Her eyes were in the wool and needle.“Why are you not watching TV with the children?” he asked his wife.

“When my heart is settled, one day I will watch.”

“Woman, take life easy.” “It is my fate. God knows!” His children entered abruptly in the bedroom, stopping their dialogue. Each child looking for bed-sheet and mattress.

The following day, immediately after he had arrived home, his chidden brought him lots of complaints; “Baba I want a new uniform.”

“My exercise books are finished.” Said another.

“The head teacher told me to go with my guardian tomorrow Baba.” They went on disturbing their father till he couldn’t answer them any longer. Their mother, however, kept a distance in her kitchen, knowing what exactly was going on between her children and their father. They did the same to her after all for all the years in the past. The whole week went by without much trouble.

He accompanied his friends only twice. He cleared his dirty compound during the weekend holidays. He carried all the beds in the house in the sun. For the first time, he felt the bedbug bites in his skin. “These insects are many!” he remarked to his wife. She never responded.

His children helped in smashing the bedbugs overpowered by sun heat. “Baba see, see, this one is very fat?” one of his children told him. He shared all weekend meals with them. It was his first time to be sprinkled with soup by his children. “Baba why do you eat lots of red pepper?” one of them asked him.

“It is good.” He lied. He was learning to eat again.

Overcoming the boredom of the week after was a hurdle of his life since subscribing to the drinking team for quiet awhile. He worked out ways of spending the days properly. No answer came his way. Strong appetite ensued. Taking his usual paths, he thought of going to his companions to say ‘hallo’ only and proceed ahead greeting other neighbors. Soon he met them.

“Lost one, come in.” One of them said. They welcomed him warmly but he received more blame than praise for his week’s absence. “You are spoilt!” His friend continued. “Only lots of work at the office. We have a new boss who is very strict.”

He was diverting and finding an answer for each question asked.

“Take something, you should be thirsty.” His friend said.

He just offered pretentious smiles. They brought him stronger Seiko from special customer. He cut the relationship-building journey he had intended that evening. His colleagues were happy to see him among them again. He was their little boss in the team because of his education, which earned him lots of respect. Until 11:45pm he was still in the bar.

The week he had spent at home provided him with horse’s strengths for beer. Several bottles got emptied. Though strongly seated, he was too weak to go home. All his friends escaped one after another.

“Bring me one.” He told the woman who owned the bar.

“You have been lost.” Said the woman.

“Yes” He replied with confirmation.

The woman brought him light supper. When the woman came to take the empty plate, she brought along a dusty mat. “If you are leaving later, pull the door along. The gate will be open.” The woman warned.

“OK” Some chicks were jumping allover his body; scratching his arms and belly. When he opened his eyes, he turned slowly and he realized he had slept in the bar. He was still lying down on the mat when the bar owner passed by. Before she could reach a shelter, she knelt down and placed a bowl between her legs. He kept on watching her closely, making sure she would never knew he was awake. About a minute later, she woke up and lifted the bowl with her right hand; she hurried and poured her urine in a barrel. The substance inside the barrel was the very beer for the day. Part of it was to be distilled to Seiko.

When the woman had left, he quickly got up and knocked hardened mud away from the chicks’ feet. Slowly, he got out of the compound and rushed home. He was trying to steal himself in his house; unfortunately his foot knocked an aluminum cup that woke his wife. She got him carrying bathing water from the kitchen pot. She shook her head and only asked; “You have elapsed back?”

He never opened his lips. He threw his trousers on top of a growing tree behind the bathroom. He dressed up smartly and took off for work as usual. The scene of the woman, urine, and barrel in the bar never left his mind in the office. At a certain moment he dreamt a long dream; “I shall go home today and bring a bottle of Seiko and break it as an oath in front of my wife. I shall swear by my dead parents. I shall quit forever. If it were not …of beer.”

The Receptionist who knocked several times at his door disturbed him; “Some women are outside,” he was told.

“I am coming,” he said.

“Sick today? You aren’t fine.”

“It’s OK.” He replied. The women were at the reception room waiting for him. He was brief with them, holding a ball-pen and white pay-sheet at his hand. He knew what they were coming for.

“I will be there this afternoon.” He dismissed them. One of the women repeated twice in a high tone; “Do not forget to come!” He nodded vigorously.

He accepted a lift from his boss that afternoon. He dropped him by his gate. All his children ran to grab his office bag. His wife followed him while changing office clothes. She entered their bedroom with tears running down her cheeks.

He turned and saw her; “What is it?” He inquired.

She gathered her force and slapped him with double force.

He staggered to the bedside. The blow affected him. The guests who were in the kitchen with her approached them and separated the fight. “Stop, stop,” one of the women shouted. He never knew why his wife was violent with him. He was surprised to see the bar owner in his house.

“How can you do that?”

She went on crying. The bar owner had narrated the whole story to his wife in his absence.

As compensation, the bar owner had intended to share the information secretly with his wife. She wanted the thing not to leak to many ears. However, his wife’s cries invited a few men in the compound. In their tradition, things had to be sought out urgently between couples. There were eight people in the room.

“Sit, sit down.” The most senior of them invited them.

Women sat on a mat. The bar owner had anticipated the talks before men.

“I am sorry to be the cause of this unfortunate fight,” she apologized to them. “I came here to share with you what had happened in my house last night.” She went on.

One of the men stopped her. “Please wait! What is it?” He asked.

“Let me continue, you men are always in hurry.” The bar owner said.

She was set free to make her statement; “Our brother, the owner of this house, was in my house last night; drinking with his friends, beer overcame him…I even offered him a place to sleep. He…” The woman murmured with tears dropping from her eyes.

All were amazed at what the man had done. Every mind in the house went wondering; rape? Theft? Incest? Pedophilia? Silence had to be broken;

“Wait.” One of the men urged. “Woman, what happened in your house?” He asked. She wiped her face with her gown. She was silent. When she discovered her silence was serving nothing, she uttered her word;

“As I told you, when I woke in the morning and entered the room where he slept, I was met with a stench smell. I looked around and there in front of me, a heap of excrement was in the middle of the room.”

Everyone was shocked. “He would have done it outside, you know…” she continued.

“OK, OK woman.” Said the old man among them. “Son, is it true?” He asked him.

“I was there last night…” He answered in short. The old man, experienced as he is, knew the remedy of the crime.

The old man cleared his voice and said; “Sons and daughters, let this thing be between us who are in this house only. We shall swear to keep everything secret. My son has to bring a lamb or a he-goat to purify the house of his sister. Let it be immediate, to cool the crime instantly.”

The man was asked if he had something to say.

He simply responded; “No.” Just as they were preparing to leave his house, he stopped them; “Elders, brothers and sisters, I am promising in front of you today; I have to become a man again. As long as I live, I shall not drink any more in my life.”

One man interrupted him; “Do not swear, just change your life.”

“I have decided!” He said. A fine charged on him concluded the meeting. It came in beer form, Seiko included. Everyone tasted except him.

His wife escorted all the women. When she returned to her home, she went and picked her husband’s trousers from where they had been baking in the sun since morning. She saw the trace of what remained in the trousers. She shook her head, soaking it in a basin.

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