I'd hear music pouring out of the living rooms of my aloof neighbour. Strange, I’ve never seen anyone dancing or singing along. A double storey house stood tall and loud, it was uninterrupted. As I sat to savour a cup of tea in my garden, which my wife made with such care, the music became louder and louder with every sip. I since sat there, reading the latest on Joanne Harris' Blue Eyed Boy, when I thought I heard a scream of the woman.
In my mind I told myself, “I know women can lose marbles at a performance of their much-adored male singers, but that wasn’t the kind of ‘I’m crazy about the sexy singer...’” As always, living in the suburbs, minding my own business, having paid my dues, I didn't have to care what goes on in the house of my neighbours. And so I read on…
I've seen the woman the other day pacing across a vast lawn, to pick up the paper early in the morning. Her eyes were watching her toes, rolling with every footstep. I reached out my hand to wave hello, with a smile too convivial. She, a beautiful woman, who, if given an opportunity could raise ARs of any television channel. She smiled back at me but quickly turned to look at her house, particularly the master bedroom, which was squatting over the ground structure.
Methinks it was a big room with a bathtub, toilet & basin, and a shower head just across the bed, and expensive views. Plus pockets of other rooms like a marvellous study or something interesting. She returned her eyes onto her toes again, and said naught as she scurried herself to the front door.
Her face, her eyes left me half a story, a puff in the air, something to be explored; something worth knowing. It was from this day that I wanted to know more. I'd wanted to know her life predicaments and if there’s a greener side. It was from this day I wanted to know where she comes from with this train of life. I've always wanted to say a word but she gave me not a day in hell. I got so interested and preoccupied in observing her on weekends, that my wife grew with ire; or was it jealousy?
Almost every night I'd shut my book in utter shock and listened to distant sounds of meaninglessness. My heart would pounce and race this nothingness my wife did not see nor hear. I went for hours and hours with this troubled mind until I made a decision this morning.
The scream I ought to have heard, reminds me of the life I thought was left behind. My own father! I knew this, without fail that, every evening a new feud was born. I didn’t know the purpose of it. I didn’t know why he fought my mother every night when he came from work. I was too young. I didn’t know if I’ve done anything would have been right or otherwise.
Though, I grew up to be the man I am today, because I’ve made choices. And I know better. I have seen the same things happen in other families and to the young ones, sometimes my age mates and I thought it’s a norm in our community. But it bothered me for days and days. It made me angry every time I see a woman being slapped right across her face, because she did not come home early. Sometimes it’s the little things like, “you were looking at so and so at the party in a way that you seemed to have fancied him.”
These little mistakes that no woman should make fill me with great sickness. It makes me want to burst out and do something, but what could I have done? Call the police? And what my calling the police help resolve the situation? For a while I left things deteriorate under my watch. I’d walk down the street one weekend and I’d see a woman dragged with her children across the yard. She was crying, crying for help and people stood by the fence to watch. No one did anything.
I was standing next to a proud lady when she said “issues of the couples are known to them and will be solved by them,” and she was seconded. They believe phone calls to the police no longer solve matters and that’s why they’ll leave everything until the last day. I thought something must be wrong in the mind of society, in the minds of these people. I was well in my mid-twenties and living a new life when I picked up a mobile phone to call the police.
Sooner I could hear police sirens racing fiercely towards the scene and I started to sweat my palms, my face. I was scared now. Whenever the perpetrator turned and looked around, it felt like he knew I was the one who called the police. I began to ask myself if I had done the right thing. What if I turned a blind eye, pass through and leave the two fighting? What if I let people watch this un-televised drama, domestic violence? What damage does this do to the minds of minors who clung to the fence for a better view? What my calling the police help solve anything?
There was no way the police would have left a thug and a woman in that situation alone. He was arrested immediately and the drama was over. Not until I heard from a friend that the real drama had begun there and then. I was told that the husband was released by his wife. She withdrew all the charges, and everything was scraped off. There was even a celebratory event for family and friends to bury the hatchet. His return was merriment with a day long drinking and loud music. Though some of us have grown to know that, once you’re laid a finger, history will repeat itself.
I’ve been told that the wife could not provide for her children now that the husband was there no more and I put blame unto myself when I was told. She could not afford to pay municipal rent and instalments, and other households like grocery. She was threatened by the retailers to repossess their goods purchased by the husband and other services provided. I really felt bad for having made such a gruesome decision. It’s really all my fault that some children, somewhere, no longer go to school because they don’t have a bus fare.
These violent issues, the abuse of a woman by men and the confusion of what to do when it happens nearly changed me; maybe it did. I’ve gone for years not wanting to care and I didn’t give a damn for a while. But there’s one thing I forgot about me. The nerve—deep down in my heart, perhaps not at the focal point, but far, far at the corners of my heart, there’s a nerve, a feeling, a moral compass I cannot cheat.
They say “eyes don’t lie” and every time I saw her pace across the lawn, wrapped up in her greyish-long gown or going out to the shops (and that’s what she did all her days), that, every time I see her face, her eyes, I get something new. It’s like falling in love, my wife presumed, but not exactly as love. It feels like passion, a duty to discover, resolve and solve matters that was once left unattended.
I’d put my book on the table and actively listened and I managed to sift through the noise of the record played and I deduced a voice of the woman and I sure as hell she was screaming for help. The scream hit that nerve deep down, perhaps at the far end of my heart. I found myself staring at my phone and all too soon I was flooded with too many thoughts and doubts. “But she don’t have children like the woman in the other town,” I consoled myself. “What harm could there be? Should I go to their house? And what will I do? What if his gate is locked? Will I have trespassed if I jumped over the fence? What will my wife say? What will my kids eat when I’m killed by a monster I rarely see, ‘the man!’?”
The nerve was pressing harder like that longing to love someone, to talk to them endlessly over the phone, to touch them in more ways than I’ve dreamt. Against all the false norms I’ve learned as a teen, I dialled the number and the police was at his gate in a mo. I am of a relief this time, because I was not the only one who called the police, my neighbours did and in solidarity, we went up her house.
She was lying on the floor, near her death. In her large bedroom, her blood was flowing on the tile spacers beside the bed. A sealed bottle of red wine was protruding from their bed sheets with a blooded grip on its neck. We saw hundreds pieces of ourselves on the mirror of her dressing table, because it was smashed with a picture frame. Only according to our logic, it is clear that the frame flew in that direction and since it hit the mirror and stuck there.
Things seemed to have moved in slow motion. The man, the husband was manhandled and shoved around by the police. Though he said nothing much... He was powerless and for a minute you could say he was remorseful, but we knew that he was scared that he nearly killed his wife. Maybe he already has. She might have been dead alive, inside her.
Much, much later after the ambulance and policing business and the drama, my wife told me I’m a sweet man and that she wishes there were a lot more other men alike; men who will stand up against women and children abuse because the silent kills.
I kissed her and she knew how I loved her.
By Ngoako Jay Morokolo
**May be read with the UN article or as an additional, titled: Taking on violence against women