One last laugh

When Rispa heard that her former husband had died, a smile covered her face, not because she hated him so much that she wanted him gone forever, but because she could finally return to his village and be among his people. They had been separated for years but she was still the mother of his two sons and that gave her a sense of purpose.

It didn’t matter that Rispa worked as a security guard at one of the restaurants in her small town, earning peanuts despite being on duty from dawn till nightfall, throughout the weekends and on holidays. She was going to collect enough money to buy a fancy black outfit, matching shoes and a hat and go to that village where the people who rejected her lived and show them that she had made it.

With the help of her friend, a former teacher at a local school, Rispa rounded up her two ‘small’ boys, their ‘small’ wives and their ‘small’ children and together they journeyed to the village, eager to make a grand entrance. Rispa longed to be referred to as ‘our wife’ and to be asked to move back to the village and take care of Musumba’s homestead because the woman he left her for was nowhere to be found.

Rispa was given the front seat at Musumba’s funeral, after days of waking up as soon as the cock crowed, fetching water from the river down the hill, and preparing breakfast, lunch, supper and all the snacks in between for hundreds of guests who certainly did not know her. She lined the old seats in musumba’ abandoned house with white cotton, arranged the guest’s shoes outside, swept the ground under the tents and arranged chairs, helped with the cooking, washed clothes and led prayers for Musumba in the local dialect.

Rispa broke her back for the villagers but her smile widened with every chore she performed, delighted that the man who fathered her sons had finally given her a platform on which to shine.

But on the eve of Musumba’s burial, something snapped and caused her to pray the most honest prayer yet as the villagers waited desperately for that day’s share of brown ugali with saga and boiled meat.

Her vernacular was perfect, and so perfectly she surprised everybody, saying, “Our heavenly father, my dear Musumba has ‘gone to sleep’. Rest his soul, Lord, for before he left me he never slept. Musumba never gave me peace because when he was not beating me up for smiling at the shopkeeper or greeting Masinde, he was embarrassing me with his singing all the way from Mama Pima’s to the house where our children played with their friends. When he was not chasing after every young or old skirt in the entire village, he was forcing himself on me, insisting that we needed several female children so we could benefit from their bride prizes. When he was not eating at another woman’s home, he was hurling plates across our living room saying I did not know how to cook.”

When she opened her eyes, Rispa found the villagers staring distastefully at her, her two ‘small’ boys, their ‘small’ wives and ‘small’ children. She grabbed a bottle of local brew reserved for the men from a table and walked out of the main house to what used to be her hut within Musumba’s homestead, her ‘entourage’ in tow. The funeral and her role in it no longer mattered and neither did the opinions of the villagers, who therefore never saw her again.

Rispa still spends much of her time thinking about Musumba. The difference is that whenever he crosses her mind, he is no longer standing in her way and holding her back. She says the gift he gave her is no longer a platform on which to shine among the dead burying themselves, but two wonderful sons through whom she now has two daughters-in-law and four grandchildren.

“To me that is enough of wealth and a sense of purpose,” she says.