restricted access Chapter 16
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80 16 Shechem’s wife was a little woman with a strident voice. If you only heard her and did not see her you would imagine a heavy mass of flesh plunked in one corner of a jammed room and causing people to fly into each other with bullets of contradictory orders. But her physical sight changed all that. She was small, almost fragile… just the kind of woman who caught your looks and kept them. It was difficult to say what part nature and the circumstances of life played in her being talkative. But talkative she was, for sure. She talked a lot, and her family conditions gave her more than enough material for her indulgence. Their daughter’s ufos, his own silences, a leaking roof, unwarranted visits, these were all fuel for her vocal engine. She talked into the kitchen, talked out of it; talked while asleep. If God had been a married man, one would have thought He fashioned her on a day of a spectacular fall-out with His wife. But we knew the Creation to have been conducted in divine solitariness, somewhere in the deep void of pre-existence. Bertha was thus a unique woman talented with the power to talk, and making full use of it. His arrest and imprisonment seemed to have dried up quite a good part of that buoyancy. During the first days of that arrest she closed herself up and spent long hours roaming her watery eyes on objects and people with no exact idea of what she was after. Her nights too became early and silent, the nights of a woman running away from daylight and its trials. Once she locked the doors and turned off the lights, she clutched her daughter to her chest and then spent the rest of the night listening to her breathe and at times repeat her ufo games. It was on one such night, barely three days after her husband’s arrest, that Motine Swaibu came calling. Kunsona received him at the door, then ran to the bedroom to announce to her mother that a certain daddy had arrived, before wondering to herself why this daddy and not hers. Bertha emerged from the room catching her falling wrapper with one hand and smoothing her sleep-filled eyes with the other, with no time at all to fault her daughter for letting a man – any man - into their home at such an hour. She didn’t even know who she was coming out to meet, and she least expected the man she saw. The first thing that greeted her as she emerged from the room was the choking odour of lavender, the virulent kind used by charlatans in 81 Indian magic incantations. Out of politeness she kept her nose free, even though she felt an inner urge to block the odour from assailing it. The lavender smell suffused the entire room, transforming it into a magic den with Motine Swaibu as the magician-in-chief. He hadn’t waited to be given a seat but had chosen one himself, Shechem’s leather rocking chair, into which he’d allowed his considerably fat body to settle. One thing the visitor had going for him was his innate sense of drama. He could in just one tactical turn score many significant victories. Settling in that rocking chair was one such turn. It was nothing short of full possession, not only of the house owner’s authority, but also of the material and emotional prerogatives that went with it. It took Bertha time to notice that the visitor had in fact settled into her husband’s relaxation chair. And when she looked at him she found a man completely at peace with himself, even victorious under the skin. The mixture of surprise and indignation made speech difficult, so that she just sat staring at him, her drooping chin held up by her left palm. Her daughter sat by her in a posture of filial mimetism. No one spoke, even though everyone was speaking inside themselves. It was Bertha who broke the silence. “You are in Shechem Nu’mvi’s house,” she said in his direction, all too aware that she was saying the obvious, but hoping that it’d send him away fast so that she could slam her door shut and lock herself back up again in her loneliness. “I know,” he answered, with studied calm. “What then can my daughter and I do for you...


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