One of the funniest stories my mother ever shared with me was a story about violence.
Actually there were two – one is just less funny owing to the horror I still feel when I imagine how it could have all turned out.
My mother’s side of the family had some colorful characters, chiefly my maternal uncle papeNever (the father of Never) and my maternal aunt mmeDubekile (the mother of Dubekile) who were both ex-combatants and had a penchant for regarding physical violence as the best conflict resolution strategy.
The first story my mother told me was of an incident that occurred when I was three days old.
My mother said that when I was three days old I was nearly killed by my uncle papeNever (her big brother) who had drunkenly and wildly swung an axe on the bed I had been laid on.
My uncle papeNever had burst into the hut my mother was resting in wielding an axe in hot pursuit of his wife, my aunt mmeNever (the mother of Never) over an unspecified dispute.
But generally, papeNever didn’t let not having a good reason get in the way of giving his wife a good beating – especially when he had imbibed.
On that day, my mother had arrived from Beitbridge hospital with three-day old me – her first and newborn baby – exhausted from the rigors of labor, fatigued from the journey by bus from Beitbridge town which was concluded by an arduous trip in a donkey-drawn scotch cart that had to negotiate its way over and around bumps, ravines and crevices to get to her parents’ homestead in the hinterlands of Tshapfutshe.
And on that same day, my aunt mmeNever had been tasked with preparing a hut for my mum and she had taken to the task with much gusto seeing as she and my mum were very close – sweeping away the cobwebs on the thatched roof, applying a new layer of cow dung to polish the mud floor and making herringbone, chevron and checkered patterns as decoration.
She had attacked the mud walls with a stone to smoothen the inner wall surface and also used rich red, grey and white soils to paint the outer walls of the mud hut which she decorated with precise drawings of flowers on one side and shapes inspired from a deck of cards like the diamond, the heart and the ace of spades on the other.
I know all this because my mother had described it – she approved very much of cleanliness and was highly particular about the details of maintaining a presentable hut.
My aunt mmeNever had apparently done a sterling job on that day.
Everyone was excited about me, perhaps they were more excited about Virginia (my mum) the spoilt last born in the family, becoming a mother.
My uncle papeNever had missed my mother’s arrival as he had gone drinking – presumably.
Which is why when he had chased after his wife, all the way from his own homestead, yelling while she screamed – both of them failing to enjoy the beautiful orange hues of a setting sun in the horizon – my uncle had not known that mmeNever’s intended destination was the hut at the far end of my grandparent’s compound where my mother was resting.
He had chased after her, following blindly with the singular intent of catching up with her and teaching her some manners.
My aunt mmeNever had rushed into the hut and immediately dived under the bed which rested on bricks to elevate it (it made sweeping much easier) without offering any explanation to my mother who had been sleeping and oblivious to all the commotion.
Before my mother could gather her wits, my uncle papeNever, who had been about to catch up with his wife had also burst into the hut seconds later swinging his axe wildly – more for show than with any intent to actually strike his wife.
He was like that my uncle papeNever – always seeking attention by abusing his wife whom he knew everyone adored then waiting to be restrained and pleaded with and begged to ‘please calm down and stop doing this’.
On that day however, my uncle papeNever had not known several things.
He had not known that my mother was back from the hospital, he had not known that I was on the bed and that the bed had been changed from its usual position during mmeNever’s frantic spring cleaning so when he swung wildly, he tripped over one of the suitcases on the floor and his axe arced and impaled a shawl I had been wrapped in on the side of the bed where I had been laid.
My mother had moved me earlier to breastfeed me and had fallen asleep and had not laid me back on that shawl.
My mother told me that she had screamed. Screamed at her big brother.
Screamed for my grandparents to come and see, see papeNever try and kill her baby.
And my mother’s screaming mingled with mmeNever’s own screams for help whilst I obligingly joined this chorus with my own cries.
My uncle papeNever had not seen me yet and upon realizing who was in the hut he had tried to reach out and hold me, to quiet me down and meet his new niece but my mother would have none of it, screaming that he must get out.
It was my aunt mmeDubekile, my mother’s big sister, who had dragged my uncle papeNever out of the hut and then proceeded to viciously pummel him with fists, kicks and all manner of ex-combatant fighting moves until my grandmother had cried out to say she would not have it… she would not have anyone try to kill her son before her very eyes.
I was a newborn when this happened but my mother told me of it with such vividness that sometimes it feels like I remember the violence through her narration and experience of it.
The other story my mother told me, I cannot get into it in this post. Maybe next time.
I was reminded of this story some days ago when I read of a man that killed his 10 day old baby whilst trying to assault his wife.
It frightens me that the more such stories appear in the media, the less outrage and action they provoke.
I think that no matter how much we witness these incidents or read about them – we must never regard them as normal or as an unchanging and unchangeable aspect of life as we know it.
Perhaps we tend to think of domestic violence in terms of what ‘other’ people are doing and never in terms of our own actions, attitudes and choices.
It frightens me that violence against women, against children, against men should become a normative way of life as reflected in our media.
And I am frightened by our collective nonchalance because in many ways, I think the biggest challenge in fighting gender based and domestic violence is the perception that violence is not only normal but inevitable in our nation’s homes.
p.s: apparently my father hadn’t even had a chance to see me when this incident occurred as he was away on business in Bulawayo… so you can imagine how much ‘drama’ (I am understating it) it would have caused if any harm had befallen me