False msafiri fiction 130 ‘ How else do you want me to talk about this problem? In what tone? Like I am saying “ Hail Mary”? I am simply tired of the scorn poured on me every day,’ she said. Anger welled up in me. I wanted to explode and tell her off in an equally harsh tone. But then, just before I could blurt out, she began to weep. I lifted the part of blanket that separated us and moved closer to her. I held her in my arms. ‘ Don’t cry, Eranive,’ I implored. ‘ Calm down. Calm down.’ I was confused. I did not know what to do, what to say. Day after day I stared the problem in the eye, without finding an answer. I had heard them myself, these nuances. Eranive is a strong woman – she had withstood the pressure for two years. But then she was only human. It was just a matter of time before she broke down, which she now had. This was the moment I had always dreaded most. ‘ I was at the well in the afternoon,’ she said, amid sobs. ‘ Nangondo’s mother and Dalitso’s mother were there, too. We were all chatting about various issues. When a certain issue arose, Nangondo’s mother said: “ You know we can’t talk about this in the presence of a child who has never given birth before.” It pained me!’ she cried loudly. I had never seen her cry like that since we got married. Damn Dalitso’s mother and Nangondo’s mother, how can they say that? I thought. After all, they had grown up together, my wife being older than both of them by a year or more. Personally, I thought the world was changing. I failed to understand, therefore, why pre- colonial beliefs and values should still preoccupy our minds at that point in time. Why should failure to have a child be regarded as some sort of crime? Why couldn’t people leave us alone? I doubted if people in Chipiri had ever heard of adoption. Eranive and I could adopt a child, a beautiful and intelligent one, too, no? And live happily ever after, no? It was a pity even men seemed to enjoy the pastime of talking about others. I had heard such names as chumba or gojo muttered under breaths many a time – especially when I was around. ‘ Don’t let a chumba touch this mat you are weaving for your child, lest the child be barren, too,’ I could hear them say at times, obviously referring to me as I was the only married male in the village who had no child. Quite often, I had strongly resisted the urge to punch the speaker in the face to teach the swine a lesson. I am a stronger character, I think, stronger than my wife. I couldn’t break down. Children are a gift from God: that is what I believed in. It just happened that the gift was not in our hands yet. We had, of course, eaten many roots, my wife and I had, from the most famous herbalists in Chipiri. None of these had worked so far. We had gone to the most reputable pastors for prayers. Unfortunately, this route, too, did not seem to work. Where would we go from here? ‘ Chuma, I want a child,’ my wife said. She had stopped weeping now. ‘ So do I, my dear,’ I told her. ‘ I want to be pregnant within three months from today.’ My heart leapt. ‘ Is that an ultimatum?’ ‘ Surely there can be a way to do that, no? My pride and honour as a human being, more so as a woman, have eroded away. I must have them restored. Quickly.’ What was she trying to say? For God’s sake, I hadn’t been deliberately withholding a decision to make her pregnant. I had not had a vasectomy, and neither had she been taking any birth- control pills. It was not just a matter of waking up one day and saying, ‘ Hey, let us make you pregnant today’ – no! Nature was in charge here. It was some unfathomable natural process which was making us fail to have children. ‘ How do you know you are capable of having children?’ I asked her. ‘ How do you know the problem is not yours?’ ‘ Can’t you see that for yourself?’ she asked in response. ‘ It is in your family. Your late brother left no child behind. Yet all the six sisters and two brothers from my family have children – except me. What does that say?’ ‘ It says nothing!’ ‘ It does! It clearly shows you are the problem. You are incapable of making a woman pregnant. You are …’ ‘ If you know I am the problem, how do you expect me to make you pregnant in the said three months, then?’ She hesitated. ‘ We haven’t run out of options, have we?’ she said at length. ‘ You know there is one last option we have never even contemplated before. One last option.’ ‘ And what is that?’ I asked curiously. ‘ Fisi.’ ‘ What?’ I sat bolt upright as if I had been pricked by a needle. What devil had entered my wife’s mind? Throughout my life, it had never crossed my mind that one day I would sink so low as to go to the extent of hiring another man to make my wife pregnant. To imagine another man sleeping with my wife with my full knowledge and permission – I just couldn’t do that. ‘ I just can’t do that,’ I found myself saying loudly. ‘ You have to,’ she fought back boldly. ‘ Never ever!’ I said emphatically. But I was very surprised by her boldness. The deeply religious person she was, I had always thought she would be the last person to suggest such an unorthodox way of getting pregnant. ‘ In that case, Chuma, I have no choice but to end the marriage,’ she said. I lay on the mat again, facing our grass- thatched roof. ‘ What did you just say?’ I asked weakly, a meaningless, rhetorical question. ‘ Don’t pretend you didn’t hear. I will end the marriage if you can’t take my suggestion.’ I tossed and turned on the mat. Suddenly, although it was very cold that night, I was not feeling cold. I didn’t want the blanket. I didn’t want the warmth of her skin. I wanted to be alone – alone! ‘ Think about it deeply, Chuma. I could end the marriage, marry another man, get pregnant and give birth to a handsome baby boy. What would that say about you? A proven infertile man, no? It is for honour, Chuma. Yours and mine. My fellow women wouldn’t regard me as a child anymore. I would be regarded as an equal. The same with you: you would be treated as a real man in this village.’ She paused, probably waiting for my reaction. Instead, I said nothing. The darkness between us now appeared to be thicker than the blanket that separated us. ‘ Think about it, Chuma. If you cannot answer now, let me know tomorrow morning, just before starting the new day. Please understand this one thing: I love you. I am doing all this for the love I have for you. I only want our honour restored,’ she said and fell silent again. I said nothing. Instead, my mind wandered into the unknown, asking the supernatural powers that are said to map out each person’s fate why they had decided to let me be in such a pathetic situation, unable to make my wife pregnant, no matter how hard I tried. Beside me, my wife my mind wandered into the unknown. Was what she was suggesting an honourable way to restore honour?