The withered bouquet: A short story on domestic violence

By Brighton Machingaidze

Tongoona ‘we just watch’ had been born into misfortune and poverty crawling on all fours which became apparent as childhood moulted away. He had to watch and learn from the acts of his ever intoxicated father Samson who was only there during the light like a thief to his family.

His days were only productive to the mouth’s reach no extras just the survival instinct. The best days came when his father and could not afford the ‘wise waters’ and would remain at home quarrelling. Tongoona felt a huge tumor of pain grow inside his thoracic cavity as he froze, paralyzed and watched the masculine dog of a chauvinist who he called father unleashed terror night after night, to his young mother who no longer looked her age. To his father the punch was a sign of virility.

He wondered if the same venom and bile circulated through his veins and ventricles though he didn’t want to stomach the belief.  Distance, heavy downpours of rain and an accompaniment of thunder muffled the young woman’s cries isolating them from any help leaving them at the mercy of the drunkard’s fists palms and knees. Flames of pain grew within the young boy as he witnessed the one sided battle.

His father’s eyes had looked fiery red like the hell that manifested in him after long evenings of binge drinking at the small township beerhall where he was a church mouse but top customer. The whole room smelt of cheap stinky opaque beer which was being poured in her face celebrating the agony, the only grocery which he brought home and consumed alone. Samson refused to touch his share of pap and soya mince preferring to kick the enamel plate away forgetting his zero contribution towards the carefully prepared meal.

The assault was not limited to the Tambu’s body but also to the little furniture  in the room, newly acquired colourful plates from the women’s burial club lining the wall had been dented and thrown all over the place. Old calenders advertising closed companies were the only thing left behind decorating the wall. Every punch was well synchronised with the spitting of bitter metallic blood and saliva during the ordeal staining the cold cement floor. Hitler’s gas chambers which Tongoona read in tattered archived newspapers provided by the teacher at the backward school had been vividly recreated in their little home by his own father.

At least he had the privilege of seeing another world before his father decided he had ‘failed’ to raise enough money for his education. Sins of a father having travelled across two generations onto the shoulder of a boy born to a man who inherited the trait of irresponsibility from his own father.

The sound of blows, kicks, slaps, a body being head butted and banged against the farm bricks haunted, tormented, tortured, the ears and eyes but he stood there motionless the horror having consumed the little  energy left after a long day in the chief’s maize field. He had been in and out of school after his father had recruited new mistresses and another family in the bottle store with whom he had spent all his meagre earnings cattle herder’s wages.

The pole and dagga tuck shop which he had inherited had become broke thanks to mismanagement and overspending. The final blow was when the rains came, washing away the dagga and termite consumed wood returning dust to dust. A village bus stop carrying their family name was the indestructible property left behind after nature’s menace. Before the masculine tragedy had struck, the small shop had been used to attract Tambu causing her to speed and prematurely graduate into womanhood.

Silence on came to the house when he got tired from exercising his masculine physique on the cathartic body of his youthful wife Tambu. Early in the morning she would sit in silence nursing her swollen asymmetrical well pummelled face as the ghetto blaster stuttered Lucky Dube’s ‘Victims’.

She regretted how she had willingly and unfortunately succumbed to the plague of peer pressure and pleasure, a cancer which seemed inescapable. Wasted years and tears of her parents had amounted to her own suffering, poverty and uncertainty. Back in the day together with her friends they had bragged about how they would live in spacious castles and palaces abandoning the rural soils which cracked their feet.

She even took the prize in painting a picture of how her fairy tale wedding would be held. Barren had become her dreams, her withered bouquet struggling to maintain existence in her own wilderness of lo debar. HIV came filled several pits giving grave diggers a run for their money but domestic violence was slowly taking the first position in ending human life.

Meanwhile, when morning came Tongoona watched and felt guilty for his mother’s problems and how he managed to rescue her from the grip of his father’s fangs of violence. The look from her blue lidded eyes told the story of a woman disappointed by her son’s incompetence. Tongoona would feel two people talking inside him one about the previous sleepless night and the other about hectic day beckoning.

He later discovered how he could lose his job if he allowed thoughts to control acts and arrived late for work only to find his duties being carried out by someone else. The only job which was left for him was herding the cattle with other village school drop outs.

Together they found companionship in their shared poverty in a much easier but less rewarding task. Stubbornness by the animals and preoccupation with play fights by the boys resulted in some of the animals becoming stray which had to be found before they found better pasture in someone’s garden. In pairs they scanned the vegetation for the missing beasts for stopping along the way to look for wild fruit.

However, Tongoona and his friend found something more terrifying than a bull feeding on a dreaded sorcerer’s herbal garden. They caught Tongoona’s father in action with another woman who happened to be the other boy’s single mother. Going their separate ways each fled to their own home with anger, fear, disgust and disappointment.

The most unfortunate was Samson’s son who arrived home to be welcomed by the sound of women wailing Tambu her mother’s name. He did not wait to be noticed or investigate but simply made a U turn and walked back into the forests…….

  • Brighton Machingaidze is a writer. This story is fictional.