Salama*

‘Please stay away from me! I am wounded. I am still needing to wound someone.’

Her arms were still clawed. Death glared from her eyes. He stood still at first, and then drew nearer.

‘I am not going anywhere. I am staying right here.’

He reached out and she stiffened.

‘Come here. I won’t hurt you.’

He sat next to her and pulled her close to him.

‘I won’t hurt you.’

His arms encircled her. Her face closed up on his shoulder. Bitterness threatened to spew out from inside her. He could easily get hurt. He knew it. He could see it now, yet he did not run away. Instead he stayed still as she convulsed in regurgitating sobs. Finally she let out a wail. Streams of moisture ran from her eyes and nostrils. His sleeve became patched with wetness. But his arms stayed firm as she cried her pain away.

__

Salama had never really felt secure, even as a little girl. She had been called beautiful most of her life. But it seemed her version of beauty came in bouts. She called them bouts because it had the resemblance of disease. Whenever she was referred to as beautiful it was mostly followed by acts that made her feel in ways she could not explain. Like she was dirty and that she bared blame. She could not put it words, only that her world seemed to be building on a faulty foundation.

One day her mother called her to her room.

‘What have you been doing in Anko’s room? Tell me right now!’

Her mother’s tone was soft but firm.

‘Tell me the truth!’

‘I … we were just reading books and magazines.’

‘Is that it?’

Her tone became more firm.

‘Isha told me you have been hanging out a lot in his bedroom. Tell me the truth, Salama!’

‘Yes, Anko and I hang out in his room. But we just talk and read books.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes, mum!’

Her mother stood still to contemplate her daughter’s response, and probably what her brother-in-law was capable of.

‘Lay back.’

Salama leaned back on the bed as her mum took time to keenly inspect her.

‘Okay. Sit up.’

Salama did as she was told to face her mother’s harsh face once more, who then pointed at her.

‘I never want to hear that you have gone back to that room again. Do you hear me?’

‘Yes!’

‘Never again. Go!’

Salama ran out of the room and back downstairs to join her siblings. She did not know why she lied. She just felt that she needed to. That she would have been in trouble if she admitted that her uncle always made her remove her clothes and sleep naked next to him. It had not always been like that. Still she could not tell how long it had gone on – maybe a week, maybe more.

She was in his room again the next day, as had been made tradition. She was reading some magazine he always had in his room while her uncle engaged her in conversation. Suddenly he grabbed her.

‘No.’

She said quickly.

‘Mum said it’s wrong.’

He jolted and flung his hands up.

‘You told mum?’

‘No. She just told me that it’s wrong.’

He stood up straight, put on his slippers and headed out of the door. He never made advances at her again.

A few months later, as if by some spiritual discernment, her father kicked her uncle out and back up country. And that was that. But Salama never gathered enough courage to narrate the nitty-gritties of what had been happening. Not even to Johari.

Johari was a brother like many others – bullying yet protective. Overall, they were exceptionally close. Salama looked up to Johari in many ways. He was bright and had reached celebrity status in school for the exceptional performance he had maintained in his studies. He was always first position in class and became head prefect in class eight. He aimed to be first in all school activities. It felt wrong to everyone that he be anything else.

One day, a car hit Johari while he was crossing the road on his way home from school. The driver glanced from his review mirror for a second, then sped away. Witnesses quickly ran to the scene to find Johari paralyzed in a pool of blood. Good-hearted as they were, they took too long before rushing him to a doctor. Johari died just as he arrived in hospital, leaving Salama devastated.

Salama grew up feeling dismembered. Her hero was gone! A void formed in her heart that needed a replacing of her brother, leading her from one toxic relationship to another, from both best-friends and boyfriends. She however managed to graduate from high school and was soon looking to advancing her education. She registered for admission in a college and was accepted.

On D-day, Salama walked into class expecting to see a few familiar faces, but soon realized she had to make new friends. There were plenty of faces though, mostly ladies of about her age. She wore her best friendly face and went to sit right on the front since most of the back was already occupied. The class was filled with continuous chatter. She placed her books on her desk then regarded the room for friendly attention before the lecturer came in. None came her way. This happened day after day.

Eventually, an extremely chatty girl said hi to her, then introduced her to another. Salama greeted them both pleasantly. They even rode the same matatu home after class. But, somehow, the acquaintances did not bud into any real friendships, and Salama soon realized that she was leading a pretty lonely life. Melancholic fangs of solitude slowly started to eat at her. It got so bad that she could not get a night’s sound sleep. And when she thought she did, she woke up to hot tears filling her eyes. But with her dreams yet to be realized, she held strong and dutifully attended to her student obligations.

One day, she got to class before it had started and walked to the seats in the front, as was usual. She gazed at the small groups behind her again, then back on her desk. She let out a sigh as she reflected on her life.

Dear God. Please send me a friend.

‘Hi!’

Salama darted her eyes up to see a young man swinging onto the seat on her right.

‘Oh… Hi.’

Salama quickly looked back down on her desk to prepare for the lesson, then stole a glance to her side, musing as the lecturer walked in and settled down for the lesson. She had to force herself to focus on the whiteboard. Feelings of lonesomeness were slowly drifting away into the background.

__

Salama looked at the test results. The singular strip had double lines that were supposed to mean that she … was …

PREGNANT?! No!

But she had popped those pills just as she had been advised! Was the formula not right? What was she going to do?

Juma had turned into a monster once he slept with her, insulting and taking her for granted. Though he earned a living, no way was she going to move in with him, nor did she want to have a lifelong connection of this nature with him, if any at all. What about her parents?

She gaped at the lab technician, horrified.

‘What am I going to do?’

‘Ummm… you were not planning on being pregnant?’

‘No! I was not!’

The technician signaled with his eyes. She looked behind her to see surprise and curiosity in the faces of other patients in the waiting room. She tried to compose herself.

‘What am I going to do!?’ She exclaimed at the technician in a more hushed tone, wild-eyed.

‘Well… there is this drug…’

‘Aha…?’

‘I’m not sure it’s available. Let me check.’

He retreated behind the cashier’s desk and spoke to a lady, who suddenly wore a firm expression on her face, and then fervently shook her head. Salama could not hear their conversation but she could tell she was not getting much help from her.

The youthful technician quickly trotted back to Salama.

‘Sorry … the boss says they are only available on prescription.’

‘Oh my … okay… okay, fine.’

Salama turned and headed out the door, head spinning. What was she going to do?

‘Hey! Excuse me!’

Salama turned on her heel. The lab technician finally caught up with her.

‘You haven’t paid for the test yet.’

‘Oh. Sorry.’

She reached into her bag and gave him a solid currency note.

‘Thanks.’

He paused and took a second longer to consider the distress on her face.

‘You know there is a clinic that can help you?’

‘Really? Where?’

‘It is right at the end of this avenue, right beside the public parking. You can’t miss it.’

With that he dashed back inside, leaving Salama to a whirlwind of thoughts.

___

‘Can I see her now?’

Faraja was stooping to speak through the space below the long glass pen at the enquiry desk.

‘I told you to sit down. You will have to wait a while longer.’

Faraja hesitated. He was having a hard time getting the facts right. He looked up at the policeman writing on his record book.

‘Sorry, but do you … ? Could you please explain to me what exactly happened? I’m her neighbor, but I wasn’t home. I came as soon as I heard she was here.’

The policeman dropped his pen on the desk, removed his spectacles and sighed in exhaustion. He then looked straight at Faraja.

‘They say she came home from the market in the evening to find her daughter passed out after being raped by her drunken husband. They got into a fight. Apparently he was strangling her on the floor when she reached for broken glass and stabbed his lung.’

He rubbed his eyes and put his glasses back on.

‘The little girl didn’t make it either.’

Faraja stood still, dumfounded by the tale.

Kijana, you need to sit down now. We’ll call you when it’s time.’

Faraja returned to the waiting area and sat down in a trance. His temples pounded as if his mind had been hit by a mallet. He held his head and tried to comprehend it all.

Poor Salama, so much misfortune seems to follow her. She was so bright but was unable to finish her studies after the birth of her daughter, and had chosen to settle down with an engineer who turned out to be a cheating alcoholic. She was always so quiet in the neighborhood, and hard to make friends with. It was a miracle she had finally said hi to him, although it had taken him months of greeting without response. But like a flower through concrete their friendship eventually budded, and he had loved to engage her with stories and small talk as she did her chores in the common washing area near their one bedroom rental. She had always looked sad, yet strikingly beautiful, until their blooming friendship brought her laughter – a laughter she quickly stifled every time she spotted her husband staggering home from a distance. He had always thought she deserved so much better.

‘Mr. Faraja!’

He looked up to see a warden gesturing him towards a poorly lit corridor. He got up and followed the direction given. The first door to his left was ajar. He assumed that was where he was to go. He slowly stepped into the room to find a wooden table and chair, and Salama, coiled and trembling, on the cold rugged floor.

‘Salama … ‘

She jolted and lifted her hands, as if ready to attack.

‘Please stay away from me!’

Her arms were clawed. Death glared from her eyes. He stood still at first, and then drew nearer.

‘I am not going anywhere. I am staying right here.’

He reached out and she stiffened. He sat next to her and pulled her close to him.

‘I won’t hurt you.’

His arms encircled her. Her face closed up on his shoulder. Bitterness threatened to spew out from inside her. He could easily get hurt. He knew it. He could see it now, yet he did not run away. Instead he stayed still as she convulsed in regurgitating sobs. Finally she let out a wail. Streams of moisture ran from her eyes and nostrils. His sleeve became patched with wetness. But his arms stayed firm. He too tried to be strong, but within minutes he was crying with her. He hated to see her so broken. He found himself making vows to her as she wept her pain away.

‘Time’s up!’

It barely felt like minutes. The warden had walked in on them. He was standing right behind Faraja, holding cufflinks.

Salama gradually found composure before releasing herself from Faraja’s embrace, then wiped her face with her bare hands. Faraja managed to get up first, then offered her his hand as help. Instead she slowly got up by herself and stood with firm poisture.

‘Don’t worry about me, Faraja. I will find my way.’

She walked past him towards the warden and exposed her wrists for cuffing, before being lead away into the long darkened corridor.

__

[*safe ~ an ironically titled story.]

Image from 247juice.net

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2 thoughts on “Salama*

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