Her knees were cement sacks and each step she took needed a prayer. Her heart stood thick in her throat, the very reason she had to make her way to the bar not so long after the morning birds had sung their early song. The heat was so ill-behaved, it felt as though the devil had couriered it specially to burn the life out of her. But what kind of person have I become? She kept asking herself on the way. Her thoughts were burdened with both fear and relief, leaving her jumping from one emotion to another.
The pub wasn’t yet open for business and only the workers were busying around with beer crates, wet mops and buckets and the clinking of glasses being washed at the back. Lulu was not exactly an employee but she occasionally helped out with the cleaning and so the owner let her come in the morning to wet her ashy throat. It wasn’t just her dry throat that drove her to the place so early but life itself had a way of navigating her throat, bladder and liver to that one place where she could intoxicate her senses.
“So you are alive? Ha! After the way you left last night without telling us you were retiring, I thought something terrible had happened to you,” spoke one of the regulars who was also an early attendee of the bar. Her tone was not that of concern, merely wanting to lead the conversation to finding where exactly Lulu had disappeared to, for the sake of gossip. This Balbina woman had thighs that could swallow a man and never let him out. She wore tights that showed the heavy sack of cellulite in all its dimpled formation. Her bosom was a set of two mountains that could baptise a nation of infants with milk. Her behind could not be mentioned as there was not much but a flat plank that connected waist to legs in a linear form. Her face was patches of blemishes and scars from fights with angry girlfriends and wives, and jealous boyfriends.
Lulu didn’t answer her but went to order a drink, returning with a cheap bottle of brandy and two beers.
Seeing the brandy, which was far better than the two weak bottles of cider that sat at her feet, Balbina’s mouth watered, “Friend of mine, my friend. You bring us the good stuff. You must have scored a pair of golden nuts last night.”
“Nah. This is my last bit of money but if I don’t spend it on this medicine of ours how will I be able to deal with this virus called life?” she said with hunched shoulders and a weary voice.
When Lulu sat down her bottom burned as if she sat on hot coals, it burned all the way through her rectal passage. Two days ago her boyfriend, Stanley had gone all out on his beating and had finished her off with endless kicks to her backside, sometimes his sharp pointed shoe landing right at the exit in the middle of her buttocks. Lulu had somehow found a way to accept the beatings but on that day he had shown her hell. The disgust and hatred that gathered inside her, in concentrated form and intensity had led her to where she was now. While Balbina was busy relating the events of her night and who she had lain with this time, Lulu’s thoughts travelled back to her childhood and how she had ended up sitting at the bar in the morning with a flaming backside and a heart clothed in sharp needles.
Anna had beauty that was known to everyone in the neighbourhood and in the surrounding neighbourhoods. She was popular for the face that arrested its beholder at first sight and the rest about her became unnecessary to know about her. Her dream was to be known all over the world, she wanted her beauty to take her places – television, billboards and posters everywhere. She wanted to win all pageants and be a successful model somewhere in lands she had never seen where she heard people were rich and happy. Her sister Suzie, on the other hand, had been robbed of such a gift and had the face of a creature that lived under a rock. With all the attention given to her sister and the constant reminder in the mirror that she was far from being noticed or paid any compliment, her bitterness grew to tremendous heights.
Anna may have been an ambitious and determined girl but her one weakness was not separating her beauty from the value between her legs. She used her beauty to lure men and the cave between her spread legs was one of the most popular destinations all around. One of her lovers left her pregnant and disappeared into thin air, leaving her to give birth to a girl as beautiful as her, Lulu. Even through the burden of being a single parent, having to leave high school and work at a supermarket she never let go of her dreams. Sadly, at those times AIDS was such a taboo that if people were to find out she would have seen the wrath of prejudice, and so she let it consume her in silence and her death was quick. Her parents later followed her to the grave and Lulu was left in the hands of Suzie who was going to make sure that all the accumulated hatred would rain down on the child.
From the age of ten, Lulu was to learn how being showered with love and affection all her life could instantly turn to being kicked like the dirt on the ground. She was her aunt’s slave and at times she would overwork her and leave her to starve for a day. If any of their relatives were to visit, Suzie would make sure that she had warned Lulu of the consequences that she’d face if she so much as let her tongue slip about the way they lived.
“Listen here, you animal that has neither mother nor father. If you dare complain to anyone I will make sure that you go live with your parents in the land of the dead,” she warned her. Lulu had experienced the brutality of her aunt’s flogging that she did not want to provoke her in any way.
To them she was a happy child whose selfless aunt had taken her and was raising her as her own with love and no complaint. However, neighbours were not blind to what was happening but not wanting to add any more burdens to what they already had on their plates, they pretended not to see or hear anything. All they did was occasionally offer the child morsels of food when the aunt was not around. Lulu’s school performance was dismal and before she even got to high school, she quit. Her aunt couldn’t have been happier because it meant the child, without an education, would be at her mercy.
“You are nothing and you’ll always be that way, just like your mother. Just because you have her looks does not mean the world will kiss your feet.”
Unlike her mother, Lulu had always been oblivious to the power of her looks. She was told by many but she had so much darkness in her that it blinded her from seeing her own beauty. She did odd jobs here and there, cleaning and washing people’s clothes and all the chores at home were hers. All her aunt did was go to work, return and demand food and bring her ex-convict boyfriend home. Eventually the man moved in and that coincided with Lulu meeting Stanley who praised her beauty in a way that she found comfort in. She left home and they moved into a rented shack in a close neighbourhood. Suzie never bothered to look for her niece – good riddance it was.
Their shack needed all powers of some deity to balance it; the structure was as weak as her influence in the household. Whatever Stanley said went for he was the provider and his power over her rose with each reminder that he was all she had. Cockroaches and rats felt more at home than she did. Stanley kept her on her toes and reminded her that he could kick her out if he wanted to, and so she was at his mercy. The beatings were regular and whenever she ran into a corner and covered her face, waiting for him to finish she would repeat in her head that it was better than being in the streets. She had left one hell for another but to her it was better to be treated this way by an outsider than family.
The day that sent her to the pub with a heavy heart came when Paul wanted to go out but had nothing in his pockets. He had been working like a donkey at the factory and had run out of money before month-end, and had the loan shark making threats. It only took an act of offering him water to set him off. The glass had landed on her back after she had placed it on the small table in front of him, then the slaps had melted on her, he kicked and punched and threw things at her. That was the moment she knew she had to find a way out of that hell.
“Balbina, your voice can be nauseating at times, can’t you just shut up and drink?” Lulu stood up and limped off to the toilet. She was trying hard to contain the physical pain that burned all over her. The guilt and fear in her mind throbbed her head and everything spun uncontrollably. She made it just in time to throw up in the right place. When she returned, Balbina had drunk most of the booze and it infuriated Lulu even more but as much as she felt like pouncing on her, her body wouldn’t allow it. Balbina would sit on her and that was all it would take to finish her off.
“If you ever speak to me like that I will show you your mother’s inner thighs, you hear me?” threatened Balbina. Lulu waved her off.
It didn’t take long for Balbina to resume her gossip and didn’t care if she had an audience or not. Lulu’s hands were trembling and her eyes stung. She was just hoping that everything would go according to plan and that as soon as the next day she would finally have her freedom. The owner came and placed her thick hand on Lulu’s shoulder, “I am sorry to hear about your aunt. You know, I cannot believe that that little boy she lived with for so long just left her like that. Ha! Men, when you have something to give they stick around but as soon as you’re useless to them they disappear. Anyway, so are you going to look after her?” she carried on without paying attention to Lulu’s confusion. “Lulu I know she treated you badly but now that she had a stroke and has no one, you’re her only hope, and it’s not like she can abuse you in her state, now at least you can have a decent home and not have to put up with that man.”
She didn’t bother to go to Stanley’s place for her things, she went straight to the taxi stop and she was on her way to her aunt’s house. Suzie was as good as a vegetable that not even a beggar would eat. She lay on the bed with a contorted face, a shrunken figure in a room that reeked of a decaying soul. Two women from church were busy trying to feed her soup when Lulu came in and on realising that someone had come to take the duties of care off their hands they were on their way.
“She needs you, child. Leave the past to God and focus on doing what’s right. You hear me?” the thin one with a stale breath whispered to her.
Lulu saw them out and went back to the room to find Suzie lying face up, choking. She rolled her to her side and watched as the yellow oozed from the corner of her mouth onto the sticky pillow that needed to see the garbage bin. She went straight to work, fed her, changed the bedding and gave her a bath and gave her meds. While her aunt slept, Lulu needed time to think through how things would proceed from then on.
Over the week her aunt’s condition worsened and less people came to visit. When they asked if she didn’t need to see the doctor, Lulu would let them know that the doctor’s instructions were that she finish her course of medicine first to give them time to work on her.
“You know how these things take time, but with prayer they will work miracles, I know that for sure.” With that, they left her at peace.
Sunday afternoon, and the few church ladies that were used to coming had just left after only less than half an hour of asking the same questions, repeating the same prayer of healing for the sick and strength for the selfless child who carried the load on her young shoulders. In the evening a knock on the door startled her as she was not expecting anyone at all. As she looked out the window the police van almost sent urine down her legs.
Once they had sat down she offered tea but after taking a look at the piled up dishes, the stained walls, the dead bugs near the fridge and the grime stained tiles, they declined and went straight to business.
“When was the last time you saw Stanley? We understand that you were living with him for a while,” asked one police officer who was raining sweat underneath his unbearably tight shirt. The chair he sat on prayed for mercy.
“I…uh, I can’t remember. It must have been a few weeks ago. He disappeared after beating me up and…I don’t know, he just left and didn’t say where he was going. Why? Is there something wrong? Is he looking for me? Is there…”
“Okay, so when you left he wasn’t at home?”
She shook her head and worry filled her expressions. The questions continues, about their lifestyle, if they were having domestic problems, why she never reported the beatings, if he was the only one bringing the bacon home, if there was anything she wanted to add and so on.
Stanley had been found dead in his shack, he must have been dead for a week or more. They said he had taken poison and were suspecting suicide, considering the cup of tea next to the bed and the bottle of rat poison next to it. There was powder on his fingers and on the floor beside the bed.
After the police left, Lulu sat there fighting the storm that shook inside her. There were too many what ifs playing in her mind but after however long she had sat there, a feeling of relief took over her and she could feel freedom sewing wings on her back. What she didn’t know was that in that time while she sat in the kitchen with the police, digesting it all after their departure, the person lying in bed in the next room and had breathed her last. The pills had worked faster than she had expected.