Nsansa was right when he said I would be blamed for Uliya’s death. The young blossoming and fertile second wife of my husband had succumbed to a mysterious fatality, and I was the only witness.
A hundred villagers surrounded us as we sat on the ground. Uliya’s mother wept violently on my far right, and four elders sat in front of us. As I expected, my husband passionately vouched for me. His sister-in-law Tashani spoke on my behalf as well. Not out of trust for me but rather out of her loyalty and adoration for Nsansa.
After defending me, Nsansa sat right by my side with his head held high and his left arm wrapped around my lower back. I looked across the crowd, and each woman grinned back at me as if I were a filthy rat caught in a rat trap.
Nsansa’s intentions were pure, but his actions were misguided. He held me in his arms to show he did not believe I did it. But the chivalry he was showing me would be interpreted as motive, proof of what I was gaining from his second wife’s death.
This was what Uliya told me about on her death bed, why she envied me. No matter how worthless or despicable the villagers thought I was, Nsansa held me in his arms as if I were the greatest gift the gods could give him.
I turned to my right as Uliya’s mother’s weeping became even more violent.
“My daughter, my only daughter, has been poisoned by a witch,” she screamed. “This woman is a witch, and she deserves to be punished for. Please, elders, let there be justice.”
Hundreds of villagers pointed their fingers at me whilst they jeered. The elders were moved, each of them nodded quietly as Uliya’s mother persisted with her rhetoric. My actions gave no impression of how genuine I was; the guilty are often just as silent as the innocent.
“Anami my dear, look,” said Nsansa.
It was Amaka, the revered soldier who Nsansa adored almost as much as he did me. No matter the occasion, Amaka’s presence was awesome. Even with about five soldiers behind them, Amaka and his sister Natani stood out like trees in a maize field.
The famous siblings knelt beside the elders and whispered to them. I hated how influential Amaka was, even before people took the time to hear what he had to say they would already be nodding in agreement.
Nsansa sprung to his feet when Natani called him over. She wrapped both of her muscular arms around him in an embrace. It was a surprisingly light-hearted action for such a solemn occasion. Even those who condemned me found the action as confounding as I did.
I was never threatened by Natani; she was a tall and muscular figure, men who looked at her often peered rather than leered. But I always hated how every woman in Nsansa’s life was so fond of him. It made me wonder about his love for me. If his bloodline weren’t troubled, perhaps I might have had to fight for him.
I came close to letting out a smile when Nsansa knelt next to Amaka; he was nodding in agreement before the conversation began. Perhaps I was hypocritical for finding it annoying when other did it, but when my Nsansa did it, it was adorable.
Natani approached me, this time a demeanour that was appropriate for the situation.
“How are you Amani?” she whispered. “Sorry, you’re obviously in a troubled state. I will be honest with you. The elders are hoping to have you exiled. These hyenas don’t really have their own opinion. They’re just following the crowd. Don’t want to get your hopes up but Amaka is speaking on your behalf.”
“Why would he defend me?” I said.
“Is that a question you could truly ask,” she said angrily. “Everyone knows Amaka is a champion for the innocent.”
“I’m sorry . . . Thank you.”
* * * *
“Who are you?” I asked the young lady near me.
A young woman with a build akin to my own stood facing me with a broom made of straw and tough rope. She took a second simply to glare at me and went on with her sweeping. The rest of the conversation went on with her pretending I hadn’t gotten her attention. She had time to condemn me but was too busy to look at me.
I sat on a tiny stool outside the house of one of the elders. The woman resembled him. My guess was that she was the elder’s sister, but I couldn’t be sure.
“Oh so you’re confident now?” she replied. “When you were at trial you never said a thing; now you have Amaka on your side you’re a chatterbox.”
“I’m under no illusions,” I said, “Natani told me not to get my hopes up. And in what world does asking you who you are, make me a chatterbox?”
She laughed. “Wow, you’ve even become rude and arrogant now. Someone should tell your husband why.”
“What are you talking about?”
“C’mon,” she said whilst giggling sadistically, “Everyone knows why Amaka is defending you.”
“I don’t know what vicious rumour has been swept from your right ear to your left, but I am a decent woman.”
“You are a liar and a witch,” she said now looking me in the eye. “A cheap woman who willingly opens her legs as soon as powerful men walk in the room.”
“How dare you, you u . . .”
I hated myself for almost calling her ugly. In our village and at that age, bitterness amongst unmarried women was not uncommon. Nonetheless, it was cruel of me to assume her bitterness towards me was due to my looks.
She began screaming at me, insult after insult. I paid her no attention to her. I had terrible news for my dear Nsansa. Not only was his wife on the verge of a possible exile, but there was also a rumour that she was sleeping with the man he idolized.
Whether I was found guilty or not, he had to hear it from me, and he needed to hear it before the verdict. The weight of the task grew more burdening as Nsansa ran into the room smiling and forced me into his arms.
“We’ve gone from tragedy to ecstasy,” he shouted.
“Nsansa I have to tell you something,” I said.
“It can wait, let’s go home and celebrate in peace, you’re acquittal isn’t the only good news I have to offer.”
I should’ve told Nsansa about the rumour, but he was right. His news was far more important and far more baffling. On the contrary, the news itself was not what I found to be baffling, but rather it was Nsansa’s categorising it as good news. He spoke passionately as he explained how Amaka had spoken on his behalf and how the elders were easily persuaded.
It was when he finally explained why that I froze. My eyes, jaws, and fingers went numb. It was as if I fell apart without actually falling. He rambled on about how it was a blessing, but his arguments were to no avail. What he saw was the transition from tragedy to ecstasy was in my eyes a mere exchange of tragedies.
“My love do you understand what I’m saying,” he said, “You were acquitted because they can’t convict the only wife of a soldier.”
I stood, still frozen as he continued in blissful speech.
“My love,” he said. “I’m going to war.”