Child marriage, polygamy and widowhood rites are not strange in my part of the world. This story is my way of giving insight into these practices, which adversely affect womankind. A bright light of hope emerges at the end of this short story, as the young widow escapes on her late husband's bicycle.
My husband died in his sleep, but my in-laws said I killed him. How could I have killed my husband? After all, my uncle married me off to such an old man because he could not repay the debt he owed. I had only set eyes on him a few days before the wedding when my aunt pointed him out, saying, "That is your husband."
On the wedding day, I wept. I didn't understand what was happening. I had only just had my first period and my aunt had not educated me on the intricacies of womanhood; I was but a child. Before I was escorted to his hut, my aunt and the other women said to me, "Do as your husband says and be a good daughter to your mother-in-law." Left alone in his hut, it finally dawned on me that my new role and duty as a wife had begun.
Old enough to be my grandfather, he was kind and treated me well. I took good care of him. Pregnancy came with agony and my young body struggled. I was a child carrying another child and it didn't help that the village women advised me to be strong. It seemed like forever and somehow I miscarried and bled and bled. I wasn't angry at him for making me pregnant; instead, I felt I had failed him as a wife. So how could I have killed this kind, old man? Didn't his family know that at his age he was prone to having a heart attack? I had never been bold enough to ask him why he had not married earlier in his life. I was just a wife.
Five years after the miscarriage, I still had not conceived. His family called me a "witch" and a "man" and said it was part of the reason I killed their son and brother. Come to think of it, a hut and a piece of land are too small a reason for me to take a life.
They shaved my beautiful hair with a new blade as a sign of respect for the dead. His corpse was washed and the water given to me to drink in order to prove my innocence. Afterwards, they isolated me in a hut far from the others. There, I sat shivering at night from the fear that my male in-laws might prey on my young body to satisfy their lust, as happened to some other young widows. To stay alive, every night before I went back to that hut, I had to do the forbidden. I carried firewood from my hut to the forest instead of the other way round.
What more did they want from me? Hadn't I wailed louder than other women and attempted to jump into the grave to show how bereaved I was, as was expected? Hadn't I endured the humiliation of having an herbalist throw his cowries on the sand and leave without a word to prove my innocence?
My body itched from days without bathing and my mourning clothes stank; I was hungry too. Tomorrow I would be inherited by my husband's brother, who already had two older wives. They would mock my barrenness and my new husband might beat me because of their lies.
Carefully I slipped out of the hut. Stealing away on my dead husband's bicycle, I began to ride fast into the night, towards the light in my head.