She sat on the edge of the old mattress that she used as her bed, her legs curled up to support her head that she held her hands and wept. Defeated. Ashamed. Hopeless. It had happened again.
“Why Lord?” she wept. “Why me?” “Why did you choose me for all of this?” She had asked this so many times. Her family was falling apart. Her father hardly came home anymore, and nobody seemed to know where he was. Her mother was ill, and had begun to show signs of severe stress, perhaps even the early signs of a nervous breakdown. She knew that if she didn’t do something to fend for the family……..
“Tarisai”, she turned and looked up when she heard her name being called. Her youngest brother was standing at the door,
“I am hungry”, he said softly.
She looked at him: he was frail and thin and his bare feet were covered in dust from playing outside. He looked far much younger than his actual age. The boy was neglected and malnourished. “He must have gone all day without any food. Where is God in all of this?” She thought to herself.
“Okay, Farai, I am coming to give you something to eat.” She tried to sound cheerful, hoping he had not noticed that she had been crying. But of course he did. He was an obedient child, and knew when to make his exit. He left his position at the door, and went back to entertaining himself with whatever it was that most hungry little boys of his age did to while up time. Today he was sitting outside, at the back of the house, in the shanty shade of the guava tree, fixing his wire car.
Alone again, she took her worn-out face cloth from under her pillow to wipe her tears. It was still damp from last night’s tears. From under the mattress, she took the broken piece of glass that she had found outside Mrs. Russell’s garden yesterday. It would do as a mirror. She looked at her reflection to ensure her eyes were no longer red from crying, and returned the make-shift mirror in its safe place – under her mattress, and headed for the kitchen.
She had spent the afternoon with Ben, the truck driver, and he had given her $20 for “services rendered”. She had used some of the money to buy some dried fish, an onion, a couple of tomatoes, and a head of cabbage for her family. The rest she had saved for another “rainy day”. These “rainy days” seemed to come around a lot more often these days, and her mother, now more than ever before, never seemed to hesitate to send her out to the truck stop to earn some money off the cross-border truck drivers.
Dinner was ready.
“Thank you, my daughter,” Mai spoke slowly and softly as she finished eating the evening meal. “You see, if you hadn’t gone to work this afternoon, we would not have had anything to eat tonight. You are doing well, looking after your brother and I, and God will surely reward you for this.”
Tarisai looked at her mother, and, trying not to be disrespectful, she slowly looked away as the tears that had begun to well up in her eyes threatened to spill over. She was grateful for the dim light, as no one could see that she was fighting back tears. “If you really exist God, then please show me that there is more to my life than this”, she prayed to herself.
Her mother was seriously ill. If one looked closely enough, they could see the echo of death reflected in her eyes. Over the last few months, she had grown very thin and very frail. As her health had become progressively worse, she was no longer able to keep her job as a cashier at the local TM Supermarket, so they had to let her go, with just six month’s pay as a severance package. The costs of her mother’s medication had eroded all of the little savings that the family had.
In Tarisai’s eyes, her father, Baba, was a weak man, who could not handle watching his wife die from the disease she claims he gave to her. He had long moved on to other women, only coming home when he had nowhere else to lay his head for the night.
The next few days brought more of the same routine. The crack of daylight each morning was a cruel reminder of what was to be faced that day. She would get up early every morning to do her share of the household chores; light a fire in the old wood stove to warm up the house and start boiling water for the morning tea. After that she would use the only sink they had in their small house, located outside and to the back of the house, to wash the previous nights’ dinner dishes. This was done every morning, using natural daylight.
When all the chores were done, she would use the remainder of the warm water to wash her face and teeth at the same sink, and then head inside to get ready and leave for Mrs. Russell’s house. It was a 30 minute walk from where she lived. She would spend the whole day there; doing laundry, cooking, cleaning and tending to Mrs. Russell’s two small children.
After her mother had lost her job, Tarisai could not continue going to school. Her parents could not afford it, so they decided that she get a job as a maid or a nanny so that she could help to pay for her younger brother’s education. Tarisai had sobbed bitterly that night, but Baba would not discuss it any further. Her fate was sealed. She would never be a teacher as she had always dreamed of. Instead, she would have to bear the pain of watching her friends going to school each morning, whilst she went to take care of the nice white lady’s children.
She loved the children dearly though. She had looked after them since they were born. Mrs. Russell was good to her too. She gave her Saturday afternoons and Sundays’ off; and during this time Tarisai would linger around the truck stop, waiting for either Ben or Paul, or anyone of the truck drivers who would be interested in her “services” that day. This was how she raised extra money for food as most of her pay from Mrs Russell went towards the rent and her brother’s school fees. This was Tarisai’s life.
But today….….yes, today was a different day. Forlorn. Downtrodden. Overlooked. And yes, downright depressed. Earlier that day she had seen some of the girls from her former school laughing and skipping as they went to school. Their uniforms were a crisp mint green, with cream, brown and white checked collars and sleeves. She wished she could have had the opportunity to continue with school too, but after she had completed her Grade seven at Don Bosco Primary School. But Baba had said he could not afford the high school fees. For now, she was thankful that she could at least read and write.
Ben was already resting in room #9, his usual room at the truck stop, when she arrived. She knew he was there because she saw his truck in the parking lot: “the Nite Rider” was painted across the hood in bright red paint. That was Ben’s nickname, because he did most of his travelling during the night.
She knocked on the door and he opened almost immediately. It was a hot day, and he had taken off his shirt, exposing his big stomach; the result of unhealthy eating habits, lack of exercise and too much beer. He looked upset – he hated waiting for her.
“It’s about time!” he said, teeth clenched as he grabbed her arm and pulled her inside, shutting the door and locking it behind him. “What took you so long?”
She could smell his breath – he had been drinking again. He still had a firm grip of her arm as he forcibly guided her towards the bed. She didn’t answer. Her instincts were alerting her to be afraid. He was not normally this rough with her.
He pushed her on to the bed and locked her feet together with his. She tried to sit up, but he was already undoing his belt and opening up the zip of his pants. He pushed her back down as he pulled his pants down and lay on top of her.
“Ben,” she wanted to make some conversation to distract him, and lighten up his mood. She tried to push him away, but he was too heavy.
“Today you are mine.” He said, as a statement of fact. “Stop thinking about your other boyfriends,” he ordered her. She felt his calloused hand move up her thigh, and she stiffened. He tried to kiss her, but she turned her face away and shut her eyes tight. His body odour offended her nostrils, his breath smelt like stale beer, and his hands felt rough against her skin. He groaned and he caressed her breast, and used the same hand to pull her skirt up. Her resistance of him only made him angrier, and he began to force himself onto her even more. She closed her eyes and wept as he raped her, as he always did.
When he was done, he got up and put on his clothes. He threw a twenty dollar bill at her and told her to clean herself up and be gone by time he came back from smoking his cigarette.
That was Tarisai’s riveting moment. The final straw. As she put her clothes back on, decided that she had had enough. She was determined to bring an end to this side of her life. So determined that she wept in silence as she quietly left room #9.
Tarisai loved Sunday Mornings. She would rise early as usual, and would normally rush through her morning chores so that she could attend the morning church service with her brother. She loved going to church. It was the one place where she always felt total freedom and the inspiration to believe that her dreams can come true. She almost always sat in the fourth row from the front, with her best friend Vimbai. After church, they would all stand outside in the hot sun, talking and laughing as though they did not have a care in the world. Vimbai had her own share of troubles too, her family shared their home with her uncle – Sekuru, who had just moved to the city in search for work. Sekuru secretly molested her almost every night. But at least, Vimbai was still able to carry on with school.
On their walk home from Church, Tarisai would normally pass through the truck stop to pick up a few vegetables for the family to eat during the week for the outside vendors. It was there that Paul or Romero would spot her, and make her promise to come back to the truck stop in the evening, after she has finished serving her family their Sunday evening meal. And that was her normal weekend. This was Tarisai’s life.
But this particular Sunday, Tarisai was determined to change the course of her life, forever. She did her normal morning chores as usual and went to church with her brother. After church she hung out with her friends as usual, but that afternoon, Tarisai and her brother did not return home. She had made the decision to change their destiny, forever.