With each day, I was looking forward to seeing him and expecting something from clothes, money to food. It then turned to receiving a letter and from there, there were many others that followed. Mr T which was short for Tapfuma would constantly write to me. There was a place where my brother and I were accepted, he would say. A house for the special and disabled children. I would learn how to communicate with others and my brother would learn how to coordinate and possibly be better after being treated. Things were finally looking good for us.
Each time he came, he brought clean paper for me. He even got me a board that I would put around my neck and communicate with and the best thing, it will never run out and I would get to communicate all I want. A few weeks, we had planned to move with my brother to the place he talked of always. Our heaven. We packed the few valuables, which mostly consisted a change of clothes, mother’s heirloom necklace. We had and we said goodbye to our village, hello new life!
Mr T’s House was very huge. It was just outside town because he had written in his letter and shown us pictures that he loves to enjoy the cool breeze that is not polluted with industrious smoke. He said he had many servants and we would stay with him until the place where we were supposed to go was ready to take us in. We spent the whole week living with him and the people around him were very accommodating. He liked to keep many people around as it would guarantee him security since he lived just outside town. This is how Heaven must be like.
We survived mostly on the remains I could get people’s land after they harvested. I would go at night and in the dark scrap for anything I could get my hands on. It was enough to keep us fed and satisfied for a few hours before our stomach were empty again. I would question why I was born the way I was and why everything happened to me. I did not deserve any of this, I had aged five more years fending for myself when I should have been a child and my parents looking after me. I hate this life.
It came to a point where we spent days without eating. I could see my brother’s health deteriorating as days turned into months then yet another year. Things were not looking up for us. I started bargaining for food and money so that we could have something to get by the day. I would go to the market place and then beg from there. I would walk to each stall and to anywhere there were people and would use my plate as a means of receiving any coins they could spare. Some days I would get enough to buy bread and some days it was enough to get teaspoons of sugar.
It was yet another harvest and since our village was well known for supplying maize, people from different cities would come to purchase. I was yet on another one of my round, begging for anything I could get. I saw a man who had come to purchase bulk supplies and I went to him with my plate. He ignored me but I kept following him around until he had no choice but to give a packet of sugar he had bought from the market. The next day, I saw the man and the next and with each day, he started giving me money enough to buy a mean for the night. It was the first time out of many months that we had a decent meal at home.
I could not forgive myself after the burial of the child. I was not even allowed to attend the funeral. The parents blamed me for the child’s death and they said we were from a cursed family and they will never want anything to do with us. From that day onwards, all the little jobs I was doing, the people wrote to me saying they could not take me in anymore. Whenever I would pass anyone on my way from the stream, I could see the way they glanced at me and I could not help but wonder they were talking of that incident.
It was believed my mother was a witch and has inherited it from her mother who was said committed suicide. It was considered the reason for her bearing three children with disabilities. They would say our whole family was cursed and misfortunes will always be part of us and we grew up knowing this and with time, people stopped believing it. Now after the incident, people went back to speculating and accusing my family. Karma had a way of proving things, my mother’s house caught on fire, so we had to live in a thatched hut we used as the kitchen. We were already shun by society but at least they pitied enough before to give me jobs, now they did not even want to cross paths with me as it was believed to be a bad omen.
The goods and little money we got from my workplace was enough to keep us well fed. One day during my usual chores, my master left a baby with me. I was to look after her for a few minutes when she left to go to her friend’s house to deliver something. I kept the one and a half old baby close to me because the mother has written a note not to let the baby out of my sight. I had to go and remove clothes I had washed on the line when I put the baby down for a few minutes.
I got distracted and I forgot all about the baby until her mother came back asking for her child.
It seemed she was screaming at me, tears were streaming down her face and she was trying to say something but all I could see was her mouth moving. She grabbed me by the collar and I could not understand why she was doing all that to me. I had only left the baby for a few minutes playing with her toys. What I later found out paralysed me.
Whilst I was busy removing laundry, the baby went to play inside the house. All the events are unclear as to what happened, but they found the baby covered in blood and with no pulse. She was stuck under a drawer that fell on her. By the time the mother arrived, the baby was already cold and there was a pool of blood . She had been crying for a long time when she was stuck but because could not hear, I was unable to save her. It was one of the many times i cursed myself for my condition.
When summer came, the rains were better than it was before and we expected more harvest than we had the previous year. Our village was well known for growing maize and it would attract a lot of people. End of the season, I had more jobs as we had to help harvest rice which could be sold at a market and would get plenty of people from different towns coming to buy. We went by just fine and we could not only sleep on hot water, we also had a little bit of sugar to add to the tea. My youngest brother Ano became very ill.
I did not understand he was sick until he could no longer get up as he used to. I tried to reach out to my father but to no avail. I would write letters to him on old newspapers but he could not reply and I was running out of paper, my mouth. I stopped writing. A few months later, he passed on. I still had Tino to look after, I could not grieve my little brother. I had to be the stronger one and I had to act tough and continue fending for my brother. It was just us two.
Tino could barely walk and it was hard for him to talk, so I was the only one who could look after us. Sometimes we would sleep on an empty stomach because I would have failed to find something to do. I managed to find work at a homestead that was 5kms away from our house. I would wake up early and return home before it was dark so that I could stay with my brother.
Hoping news would have reached my fraternal family, none of them still managed to come. We were all alone, my two brothers and I. I was the mother of the house and had to do anything to survive and take care of my siblings. I tried reconnecting with my father days after mother’s burial to no avail. I wrote a letter and I would wait daily for the reply. I’d constantly tell myself that maybe this was the day and the day never came.
A week later, all the things the villagers had donated when mother died started running out. Our supplies could not last us three days. Noone of the villagers wanted us. Society shud us and we were all alone and miserable. I had to do anything to provide for our family. It was so hard being a child yet you had to be the strong one for your siblings. Life at eight years old was very hard, I was the mother now.
Work was very hard to come by considering the drought we had just experienced as a country. It had hit so hard and everyone around the country was affected. I did jobs that would bring merge income or just a day’s meal. At least it was something to get by and live to see tomorrow. I learnt to do all the work and sometimes I would assist in harvesting crops where there was any to.
Being raised by a single mother from when she was 6 years, Rutendo as the eldest had to assist in maintaining the family. Her fraternal family having denied responsibility to care for the children and the father not being in the picture, they had to do all to earn ends meet. Having being deaf and dumb, she only had one thing her mother could offer in exchange of protection and food, her pride.
At first, it was just random task mother would send me on. I would assist people in their homes and would fetch water, do the dishes and all the tilling of the land just so I could assist my mother in whatever way I could. We could not afford to send me to school and because I could not communicate with the other children and Tino and Ano my siblings could not attend either due to their special needs. Mother taught me how to communicate through writing and also taught me how to read. I always kept a Pen and paper incase I needed to say something else. As expensive as stationery was for us, I could only talk when necessary.
At age 8, mother caught malaria. It started off as her getting weaker daily, then fever until she could do nothing but stay in bed. We could not afford sending her to the hospital and I had to do work to raise the money which after having worked, did not manage to raise the money in time. Mother died leaving me with a four and six year old brothers.
Once upon a time, there was a young lady, a writer. She found it difficult to share her story to the public. ‘What if they don’t like it? But what if I am good enough?’ she would constantly think. She made up her mind and wanted to be heard for the first time. She did not care how the world would react to her story. She was going to tell it, the best way she knew how. Problem was, she was deaf and dumb.
How could she tell her story now?
She had lived 23 years of her life in a small village with noone paying attention to her. She had always been considered ‘special’ because oh her disability. Having lived with a disfunctional family, a divorced mother and two little brothers who were far from being normal. The father had left the mother because she was believed to be cursed for bearing children who were far from being normal according to societal norms. Her name was Rutendo and her was her voice was only but a piece of paper.
To be continued…
I want to say I’m sorry. I want to tell him to be mine forever. I want to let him know he is the single most important thing in my life, but I don’t say any of that.
He says he is leaving forever. My heart shatters. He starts walking away from me, he turns. I turn my back to him and whisper to myself, ‘stay..’