THE HOUR OF judgment has come upon me, and my hope for redemption is pegged on a needle, sorcery, and a razor blade. If all fail—no, I will not think of that possibility.
“Adala, Adala, look, the stool of loyalty is here.”
Nyanaga’s excited voice breaks into my thoughts, and I watch passively as my new brother-in-law carefully places the stool in front of the fire. The crowd applauds as if what he has just done is heroic.
If I had known that the puny pimpled-faced idiot of a boy called Ware was going to change his mind about marrying me, I would not have given myself to him that afternoon under the byeyo tree. But here I am on my wedding night, terrified of what will happen in the next hour when Chief Utawala enters me and finds I’m no virgin. I’m afraid not only for me but for Mother too; the shame that will come upon her, the insults she will receive from Father and her co-wives, how the other women will gossip about her. It will kill her. I will not allow it.
The drumbeats and cheers bring me back to the present. Chief Utawala’s four sons are now urinating on the deeply carved singruok stool, all of them at once, much to the delight of the onlookers, or rather much to the delight of my bridesmaids. I watch as their urines mix and spill over. Any other time I would have been horrified of the rite that was to follow, but I’m too caught up praying, hoping, and wishing that Chief Utawala would be too drunk to notice that I’m not a virgin.
“Let the bride now sit on the stool with her skirts apart,” the headman calls.
The men cheer. The women sound sympathetic cries. I walk slowly and lower myself on the stool.
Immediately the warm urine seeps inside of me. A cold shiver goes through me. The crowd is ecstatic. Custom dictates that I take this vow. It proves that should my husband die prematurely, any of his sons could inherit me as his wife. Well, if things don’t go to plan tonight, I will be the one dying prematurely. The village women lead me to the river where they hastily bathe me. They think I’m quiet because I’m worried about my first time with the chief.
“It will be okay, just close your eyes and think of anything you want. By the time you finish, he will be done,” the eldest says, drawing laughter from the other women.
“True. You can start counting, by the time you reach five, he will have finished, so don’t worry,” another says. This time the laughter is louder with agreements from all ends. I smile indulgently at them—if only they knew. But because the pepper in my food should not burn their mouths, I stay silent.
They lead me to the Chief’s hut and after ensuring that the ox-skin bed has been laid properly, they pat me comfortingly on the back and leave. I don’t have much time. He will be here soon. I quickly place the needle under the bed. It will ensure he doesn’t erect the first two times, which will make him feel frustrated. I unwrap the small container the medicine man had given me and then tiptoe to the door to check if anyone’s coming. I can feel my heart thumping outside of my chest. A cold trickle of sweat runs down my forehead, but I refuse to give in to fear. Quickly, I lather the concoction on myself. The remaining I rub on my hands and smear on his side of the bed. The sorcerer had said it would make him unfocused and a little dizzy.
I clutch the half-broken razor firmly in my left palm and close my fist. As soon as he’s done with me, I would have to cut my thigh and feel the blood drip. “You will not have much time. As soon as he rolls over, when he’s still dazed, cut yourself swiftly, very close to your womanhood, feel the blood drip, then quickly hide the razor,” the medicine man had warned.
I know that all the jondaria who have come from my village to witness my deflowering are now waiting outside, flirting and joking by the fireside as they await my fate. I had done the same thing many times before on the wedding nights of girls from my village. If things work according to my plan, they will set off at the crowing of the first cock at daybreak to take the good news to my parents. They will approach the village with cheers, dance and songs of rejoicing. When they arrive, they will go from hut to hut to be given plates of simsim, maize, and other tokens.
I, on the other hand, will be given a goat by my husband’s friends. If the worst comes to worst they will leave in the afternoon, silently and sorrowfully, and the bull of virginity that Chief Utawala gave my father will be taken back, and I will be given a new title, odudu mofuong, an empty thing, which is what I will remain all the days of my life. This thought sends a shiver through me as the door creaks open, breaking my thoughts.
Chief Utawala enters and stops at the door, a huge grin plastered on his face. I smile weakly back at him from the bed; the shy virgin smile I had been practicing all day. The hour of judgment has come and I am relying on a needle, sorcery, and a razor blade to save me.
THE HOUR OF judgment has come upon me, and my hope for redemption is my new virgin bride smiling shyly at me from the nuptial bed. If she does not redeem me—no, I will not think of that possibility.
The medicine man had sworn that the only way I would overcome my impotence was to deflower a virgin. If I had known that my third wife, Nyajeri, after I sent her away, was going to use sorcery to cause my manhood to become powerless, I would have used manyasi to protect myself. But I had not, and things had become so bad, that my first wife was now threatening to “do something bad” if I could not satisfy her; the second had hinted that she would gossip about me with her friends if I didn’t do something to change the situation; and my fourth wife, who had now risen in rank to be third, was rumored to be secretly fraternizing with the chief warrior—this, I was going to investigate after my revival. That was why I had to do something fast.
“That is a small problem, my chief,” the medicine man had said when I finally humbled myself and went to consult him. “A virgin bride will get your tail straight and wagging in no time.” He finished with loud coarse laughter that brought on a coughing fit which threatened to tear his chest apart.
And now seven sunsets later, the solution lies here in front of me.
I walk to the bed and undress slowly. My bride turns her face to the wall, embarrassed to look at me. I take the opportunity to surreptitiously rub the small ointment on my manhood; the medicine man had promised that it would help me rise to the occasion to be able to do the job, but only the first two times, and after I had broken the hymen, I would be restored to my old sturdy self.
I intend to get it done the first time. I will not be like my sons or those other young men who, because of nervousness, are usually unable to perform the first time and have to go back to their fathers hut to be blessed with a grinding stone and then return to try again. Anyway, it will be very shameful to have the jondaria witness my inability to perform, so whatever happens, I am going to ensure I make this girl a woman on my first attempt.
I am not worried about the condition that the medicine man had placed on the ointment—it is not to mix with any other charm or sorcery or the consequences will be worse. That is not a problem for me; this young naive girl knows nothing of sorcery, let alone being with a man.
I discard my clothes on the ground and climb on the bed. The wind carries the laughter of the jondaria who are by the fireside to my ears. My fate will be known soon.
The hour of judgment has come upon me, and I’m relying on my new virgin bride, who is now scooting shyly away from me, to be my saviour.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Edith Knight M. is a Kenyan short story writer currently living in Nairobi. She is an editor at Writers Space Africa Magazine. Some of her stories have appeared in Six Hens Magazine, Kikwetu Journal, Pure Slush, and Writers Space Africa Magazine, and is forthcoming in Jalada‘s “Afterlife” anthology. A few of her pieces have also been discussed at the monthly AMKA Women Literature Forum at the Goethe Institut in Nairobi. She is currently working on a short story collection.