By Lawrence Kadzitche
The story was the same everyday: he did not have money that day but hoped to have some the following morning. Hanna was fed up, fed up beyond imagination.
“You don’t understand because you were brought up in a rich family,” her husband said throwing his legs into his overalls.
Hanna glared contemptuously at him. “What is there to understand, Gwaza? Even those brought up in rubbish pits have to eat!’
Gwaza ignored the insult. ‘Yes, I know that. But I want you to understand that I do my best to provide for the family.”
“Do your best!” Hanna said with marked insolence. “Going without food for two days-is that what you call providing for your family?”
Gwaza suppressed his growing anger. “If you managed the little money I get prudently, we would never go without food. Our neighbours earn far much less than I do but they don’t go without food.”
Hanna went to the single window which had cardboard in the pane instead of glass. She opened it, letting some light into the bed-sitting room. The light came in together with a fetid smell of rotting excrement that almost made her vomit.
She threw her eyes around the room. The walls were dirty, full of cracks and the paint flaking. Everything looked like something the cat brought in. There was an old, tattered mat in one corner, a pile of kitchen utensils in another corner and a thin bedraggled mattress on wooden frames not worth calling a bed in another. A pile of soiled clothes made what looked like a garbage dump at the foot of the bed.
For the first time, she conceded that her parents had been right. She had married Gwaza nine months ago against their wishes. Her father was a wealthy businessman and had made it clear he wanted his daughter to marry a well-to-do man. Gwaza worked as a tractor driver at the City Council so there was no way he could qualify as a son-in-law to her father.
“Over my dead body are you going to marry that cheap stinking labourer,” she remembered her father’s heated response when she told him of her intention to marry Gwaza.
“Dad, it’s not about money,” she had pointed out. “I love Gwaza.”
Her mother had tried to stop her as well. “Yes, it’s good to marry for love, Hanna. But remember love will neither give you food to eat or clothes to wear. All these things need money. That’s why apart from love your father wants you to consider the money element as well.”
But she was obdurate. She declared that she was going to marry Gwaza whether they liked it or not. She eloped with him a few days later. Enraged, her parents disowned her.
She moved from her father’s mansion in the elegant city suburb of Area 43 into the draughty, dilapidated, cockroach-infested bed-sitter in the slum location of Mtsiliza. There was no furniture in the room save for a rickety wooden bed on which there was a thin mattress and a threadbare blanket. Gwaza’s clean clothes hung from rafters and nails on the wall while his dirty clothes were piled in one corner of the room. There was only one leaky pot and a few plastic plates. The room bespoke of poverty at its worst.
The house itself was surrounded by a jumble of tumble down shacks and shanties of all makes, shapes and sizes. Garbage of every description was everywhere. The putrid stench of neglected toilets, human excrement, stagnant water and rotting refuse hung permanently in the air.
All this disappeared beneath her great love for the tractor driver. She did her best to make the house homely: cleaning the house, cutting the tall grass that surrounded the house, filling the puddles of stagnant water with soil and sweeping around the house.
But no matter what she did, the garbage would return: her neighbours saw nothing wrong in tipping their refuse around her house or allowing their children excrete on her small yard. After all, what she thought was her yard was equally claimed by them as the back, front or side yard of their houses.
Aware that his wife would find it extremely difficult to adjust to her new life, Gwaza did his best to lift their standard of living. But City Councils, like most organizations, does not pay a lot of money to their tractor drivers. So Gwaza had to resort to continuously borrowing money from loan sharks and doing all sorts of odd jobs so that he could buy Hanna nice clothes and take her out to have fun.
But as days wore on, no-one was willing to borrow him money for he couldn’t pay back. But he still needed money to repay loan sharks or they would kill him. So most of his money went towards servicing his old loans and there was never enough to see them through the month.
The poverty she had thrown herself into began to suffocate Hanna. She became increasingly moody, sarcastic and savagely bad tempered. The foul smell of rubbish and excrement always hanging in the air drove her mad. The dirt no amount of cleaning could remove frustrated her. And the endless shortage of money exasperated her beyond measure.
Now she had decided enough was enough.
“Are you implying I misuse your rotten money?” she asked moving back from the window.
“No, I am not, but…”
“No buts me, tractor driver,” she screamed. “Now let me be open with you. I don’t know what got into me to marry you. Dad was right; money isn’t everything but without money life is next to impossible.”
“Shut up!” Hanna yelled. “I don’t even know how I have managed to stay in this pigsty for so long. Maybe you bewitched me…”
She stopped him with a wave of her hand and declared with awful solitude. “Well, it has been an eye opening experience. Now, I am leaving; I’ll ask my parents to forgive me and take me back.”
She packed her things and stormed out of the house.