I then remembered it was St George’s day on 23rd March. I plucked courage to go near the house along 10 Dale road off Dallow road in Luton. I was breathing hard and my heart was beating faster. This was annoying since I felt I was the wronged party. I got a few yards from the house. It looked the same though I could tell there were no people at home. The red Renault car was not in the parking space. Where was she with Tawanda? I wondered, though I could not dare to get closer.
I turned off Ashburnham road and started climbing up Farley Hill. My bones ached and I paused to catch my breath from time to time. I spent some quite moments there meditating. My mind was in muddle with suicidal thoughts crashing. I needed time to reflect on my miserable existence. I sat on a bench which had graffiti sprayed on it. The hill gave me a vantage point where I could survey the town and think. I wished I was in the comfort of home. The wind was howling and the cold chilled my bones.
After re-examining my situation, I realized there was little I could do. I either had to go back to live with my wife and have access to my son, or divorce her and lose out on having full access to my beloved son. Then there was the risk of being jailed or even being deported.
I brushed my predicament aside temporarily and started looking at the scene below. The houses looked grim. Some had chimneys spewing smoke like some dragon in a fairy tale. They reminded me of Dickensian England. Though grim, they were beautiful in a strange and nostalgic way.
The noise from traffic came to me faintly like some droning machine. My noise was filled with the smell of urine and some burning tyre which was smouldering. From time to time when the wind blew hard, the fire would burst into flames.
I lit a cigarette and drew at it hungrily. I looked eastwards and saw another captivating scene of traffic and some off license shops in Dale road. I saw the industrial area which previously I had only seen fleetingly. On this day it attained a new dimension. The sheds and several old machines looked like something out of Orwellian Big Brother. The sight had a legacy of capitalist Britain about them.
I heard some noise behind me and when I looked back I saw a tramp urinating noisily in a puddle of water. Aware of my presence, he looked up and winked. I winked back. His hair and bushy beard were matted with mud. He continued urinating and cursing under his breath. He had been drinking. I could tell by the several cans of Stella Artois in the plastic bag that he was holding in his left hand. I had seen so many of his kind, rootless people with bleak futures.
I thought of going to town to see the St George’s day celebration. The event would help in whiling time away and somehow distracting me from reality. I climbed down the hill and started heading towards the town centre.
I saw a number of people going to the town square. The town hall bell chimed plaintively. The celebration was about to start. I saw a procession of dancers and clowns dowdily dressed in medieval clothes marching along the tar road. The band marched behind them playing ‘Land Of Hope and Glory.’
I remembered back home in Zimbabwe how whites made the citizens celebrate the Rhodes and Founders day to commemorate how Cecil Rhodes founded the region, opening the way to white settlement.
Those were the days of Ian Smith, when we were under white rule. It is funny how these barungu-whites behave when they are in control.
The sound from the crowd was now cacophonous. There was a pub nearby called Duke of Clarence. The regular drunks looked at the procession uninterested, as if they were not part of England and its heritage. I turned into Wellington street and walked towards the square. The whiff of frying fish and chips from a Take Away restaurant made my mouth water. The procession turned towards the square next to Luton Library. The band was now playing Rule Britannia.
I reached the square just as the mayor was delivering an opening speech. He looked gaudily dressed in mayoral attire. The Union Flag flapped behind him.
I was darkly conspicuous in the sea of white people who had come to celebrate the special day. Then like a flash, I remembered that the same square had been the venue for the commemoration of 200 years of the abolition of slavery two weeks ago. The place had boomed with drumming and dancing from different black groups who had listened to speeches and watched dances promoting their heritage and remembering a shameful past.
Then there had been more blacks than whites. Now the Caucasian race, largely comprising the English, took centre stage at a ceremony that promoted anything English.
Someone handed me a leaflet of the program. On the line up were speeches by several important guests, a talk on the heritage of England, a display of English foods, dances, and a performance of Shakespeare.
A group of elderly men and women from a residential home sat in their wheel-chairs watching from a vantage point and clearly enjoying the spectacle. One elderly woman in thick spectacles broke down when the mayor started talking about how England had survived bombings by the Germans during the Second World War.
‘I was only a teenager when that happened,’ she told the next woman while wiping tears with the back of her hand. She cried controllably though audibly.
What attracted me most was the Punch and Judy show that was performed from time to time. The mock English village was another interesting part that I liked. It was complete with blacksmiths, a winery, a cobbler and other make-believe scenes that nearly made it real.
An English woman who was standing next to me saw my interest and edged closer. She was middle-aged and plump in a matronly way. My body language encouraged her to talk.
‘Been here long?’
Understanding that by ‘here’ she meant England, not at the ceremony, I quickly answered, ‘No, not very long. Only five years.’
‘Oh, I see,’ she said suddenly becoming absent-minded.
I saw what had distracted her attention from the conversation. The master of ceremony, who was as gaudily dressed as the mayor, was announcing a mock battle between St George and the Dragon.
The actors appeared on a raised stage and positioned themselves according to their roles. I enjoyed the short performance, especially the sword fight. There was thunderous applause from the audience after the act. The woman who had been talking to me clapped vigorously and turned to me again.
‘Enjoyed the show?’
‘Oh, yes,’ I answered genuinely.
‘What do you think of St George’s day?’ I was not prepared for the question. When she noticed that I was not comfortable with the question, she rephrased it.
‘Do you have a national day in your country?’
‘We have the independence day when we got independence from Britain,’ I answered lowering my voice on ‘Britain’ because it sounded a little bit insulting. It was like a Jew telling a German how Hitler’s army was defeated.
‘I see,’ she said smiling reassuringly after noticing my discomfort.
I excused myself and went to a stand where a cobbler dressed in medieval costume was mockingly hammering away at shoes and cutting leather shoes.
By noon, the crowd of people had grown bigger. I watched a group of singers and dancers position themselves for another performance. They did the maypole dance going around a circle while singing. Then I remembered my wife.
By the end of the show, which was late in the afternoon, I felt satisfied that I had spent my day fruitfully by being part of the St George’s day celebration.
However, I remembered that I had the same feeling two weeks earlier at the same place when blacks had celebrated the commemoration of 200 years of the abolition of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.
I had nowhere to go, and I knew going to the few people I knew would make it easy for my wife to track me down and call Police. I even had thoughts of going back home to Zimbabwe using the voluntary repatriation program.
However, I realized that would mean never seeing my son again. I had to surrender my life to fate. I looked at my purse, where I kept my bank cards. It had a picture of Tawanda smiling shyly in it. I really loved the boy. I wondered what had made me fall into the trap of beating my wife. All along I had guarded against using any forms of violence against her since I knew what that would entail.
The climax of our rocky marriage came when we moved to Luton after losing my job in London for drunkenness. Someone I knew from home had arranged a job for me as a carer. Since I do not like too much noise, I did not regret relocating to Luton, though it had just been voted Britain’s crappiest town.
My wife was not happy to move from London to Luton, which she said was almost like a slum. I did not object to her observation since she had lived in England longer than me.
She was also trying very much to be part of England and London seemed the best place for her to experience the real UK. However I was happy to be away from the madding crowd that was London. I found the city to be a babel of multiculturalism; humanity brought together in the quest for survival which I found both alienating and unbearable.
If I had money, I would have loved to live in a village. I had noted that back home it was the poor who lived in villages. In England, it was mostly the rich and well to do who lived in villages.
Luton was a multiracial society with several ethnic communities living a life that wasn’t necessarily English, but at the same time was far divorced from the lifestyles they lived in their home countries.
The town had blacks, Asians, Filipinos and Whites. I had been in Britain for five years and was largely forgetting Africa. The experience was disorienting because I loved the continent dearly.
I knew the western media had succeeded in painting it as a backward society with no future. I had seen so many clips on BBC of undernourished children begging for food with flies on their faces.
Despite this negative portrayal of Africa, I still missed it and wish I was back home among my people. I wondered how my wife found England habitable when I found it so cold and unfriendly.
Looking at the stage our rocky marriage had reached, I started questioning my wife’s insistence that I should join her. She had been in England five years earlier than me. I had reluctantly joined her and immediately realized my mistake.
Back home I was the one who had been in control, not by choice but by tradition. However, after the Beijing conference to empower women, my wife was hooked by the whole women’s emancipation thing. She suddenly became openly defiant and questioned anything I did to show my dominant role in the marriage. She got a job in England and came over to work with our son Tawanda. I had to stay behind to finalize papers to join her.
After quitting my job only five years shy of my pension, I joined her and our problems started all over again. It was like she was challenging the dominant position which I had enjoyed back home in Zimbabwe.
The future of our marriage looked bleak. My writing career, which I thought I would revamp in England, was also not going anywhere. I had received several rejection slips for the works I had submitted for publication.
I resorted to writing poetry in Shona just to please myself. Even that was not easy to do. The lines crashed in my head and I could not write anything sensible. I had only ended up writing one line...Ndi ne nhamo - I am in trouble. The line had come naturally from my head to the paper.
In frustration, I would spend time drinking beer on benches in town, but someone had told my wife who angrily stopped me. She argued that I was no different from tramps who roamed the streets of Luton dead drunk.
‘Father of Tawanda. What is this I hear that you are drinking in parks with tramps?’
‘Who told you that?’
‘Who told me? People. People see you cheapening yourself in public. You are such a shame!’
‘I am what?’, I realized that I was losing my temper and checked myself.
‘Only tramps drink in parks.’
‘But you know I am not a tramp.’
‘You are becoming one.’
I kept silent. My wife kept talking. I know she wanted me to lose my temper. She gave me a lecture on how to live in England. She was talking in a condescending way, the way an adult would reprimand and erring child. She knew I was madly angry and it seemed that was the intention of her provocations.
My wife Lucy worked as a nurse at Dunstable Hospital. She did more shifts than me and I could reluctantly and shamefully say she was the bread winner. She never hesitated to show who the boss was. She had a cruel way of avenging all the pains she had suffered back home. She knew the power she wielded over me in England. The country had numerous laws to protect women and children.
A number of my friends and acquaintances from home knew who the boss was in my house and they cruelly made comments that made me realize my subservient position. To avoid the torment, I avoided them, pretending to be busy at work.
I had to play second fiddle lest she kick me out of the house. Back home, I had a good job as a secondary teacher.
Since joining my wife, I had failed to adjust to life in the UK. I was not readily prepared to do the odd jobs which were available to us second class Britons. My low status job as a carer with an agency was not bringing me much money. I was rarely given jobs since many home managers complained to the agency about my stubborn and cheeky character.
I remember one particular rare night which culminated in the incident that pushed my patience to the limit. We were both off duty. The pendulum clock I had bought from a charity shop was ticking, filling the silent room. I could smell the perfume my wife was wearing. I found it nauseating, or was it the dislike I now had for her that made me find it disagreeable? I could hear Tawanda playing on his Playstation upstairs. We were watching a program about illegal immigrants on channel 4. A clip showing haggard Africans in a boat crossing the Mediterranean sea to Italy for a better life came on the screen, marking the end of the program.
My wife Lucy, who had just come back from some party, was dressed in a flashy scarlet blouse that exposed her squeezed big breasts. Her tight black trousers showed the outlines of her big buttocks and a G-string.
Her fingers were adorned with several rings which sparkled when she moved her hand. She also wore heavy makeup. The natural beauty that she once had was now buried behind makeup.
She had become lighter from constant use of cosmetics. It was not a lightness that was pleasant but some kind of orange that I found to be artificial. She wore long ankle boots and now chain-smoked. I could easily tell that her smoking was not a result of addiction but one of her numerous and religiously observed mannerisms to be English. Back home women who smoked were mostly prostitutes. She held the cigarette dramatically and blew smoke almost in my face.
I had all along suspected she was sleeping around but I could not muster enough courage to challenge her forcefully. I also knew she would not hesitate in confirming my fears. Britain seemed to suit her once subdued immoral lifestyle. She defended her lifestyle as being modern and civilized.
A program obscenely entitled The Perfect Vagina came on the screen. And just as the title announced, it was about surgical operations to make vaginas look presentable! I quickly grabbed the remote control and changed the program to BBC News.
‘Why have you changed the channel?’
‘I can’t stand watching this nonsense!’
‘You can only do that in your home.’
‘This is our home.’
‘Our home,’ she repeated the statement mockingly and gave a short laugh meant to hurt. She switched back to the offending program and lit another cigarette. As if that was not enough, she called Tawanda to come downstairs to watch the program with her. Tawanda who was hopelessly afraid of his mother did not say anything and shyly glanced at the screen.
I felt blood coming to my head and thought of retiring to bed to avoid killing her. I was feeling really bilious and murderous that night. Oblivious of how close she was to danger, she joined me and switched on the light to read some Mills and Boon novel.
Our son was torn between his parents’ conflicting cultural norms; British and African. While I spoke to the lad in Shona, my wife chose to talk to him in English and preferred to call him Steven, his so-called Christian name.
My wife attended countless parties when she was not working. When I challenged her that she should put her family duties above partying, she called me African and backward.
I did not know why most educated African women and black women in general called anything they considered negative in their husband’s behaviour to be ‘African.’ Stop being African was as good as saying stop misbehaving.
Back home, I could have put her in her place by beating her but here that would get me in trouble. My wife knew the power she wielded over me. I stomached all this for the sake of Tawanda whom I loved so dearly.
I knew what a divorce would entail. The stupid British laws gave women abundant rights which even some Englishmen found appalling. Some had formed what they called Daddy’s Party to have more access to their children and to give them more marital rights. If I knew how to join this Party, I would have filled the forms and paid subscription payment right away.
In the morning, we had another row. I saw her phone lying down on the dining table. It was a beautiful aqua blue Ericsson phone. As I admired it, a message arrived making it vibrate as if it was alive.
I picked it up and pressed OK, the message read ‘miss U Lucy,Tek care, Mike. I read several other messages in the inbox. They were several ‘C ya soon, Tek care, Sid, I luv ya’ Mike.
Oblivious of the earlier row we had the previous night, I called her and challenged her about the origin of such endearments.
‘Listen Tapiwa, before I answer your question about the messages, do you know it is bad manners to check someone’s messages?’ she said in English, a mischievous but cruel smile playing on her painted lips.
‘Asi uri mukapzi wangu - But you are my wife!’ I shouted in Shona.
‘I doesn’t matter. The earlier you abandon your African and primitive behaviour of checking my messages on the phone, the better.’
‘Is that the only defense you have for being promiscuous?’
‘This is a liberal society. If you are not happy with your partner the door is open,’ she said pointing to the door.
‘I am not your partner,’ I answered storming out of the house. When I was a few yards away, I realized that I had forgotten the money in the coat I had been wearing the previous night. I went back. I wanted to go to a pub and drink.
I opened the door and went in. As I mounted the stairs, I heard my wife on phone talking to someone. I told him off…Yeah…Yeah. Imagine checking someone’s messages just like that. He thinks he is in Mbare..laughter..Primitive…can’t adjust.
I tiptoed upstairs and slowly stood behind my wife. Something told her she was not alone. She turned round and before she could open her mouth, I punched her hard in the mouth. She fell to the ground with a thud. Realizing what I had done, I kicked her. I knew I was already in trouble. I gave her a few more kicks.
I walked out of the house quickly. I did not look back. Something told me I would never see my son. I went into town and checked my phone for a text message that I had earlier ignored in my inbox. It now became special.
It was about a overnight birthday party of my friend and former workmate Kwame from Ghana. I thought of spending a night there and see how things would work out.
Austin Kaluba is a creative writing student at Oxford University, UK. He worked as a features writer for the Times of Zambia before coming to the United Kingdom to study. His stories have appeared on several online literary sites like African Writing, Africa Writers and New Black Magazine. His poetry has been published in the UK’s The Voice.
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