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That was my husband too!

SHARE   |   Wednesday, 05 December 2018   |   By Tumie Fortright
That was my husband too!

The unending, constant tight feeling between my ears would not stop, two weeks on, together with the lump that kept growing in my throat. Some days I just sat and looked at nothing and hope my head would explode so I die and get relief. It would give me a forever relief from life and from this pain that is all consuming. The dust on top of my husband is still wet. The white lilies I sent my cousin to get the day we laid him would still be fresh if it weren't for the scotching heat and the loneliness of the cemetery. My tears have stopped tumbling out of my eyes physically but my eyes stay stinging and are a constant red. My ears ring, a constant whine that even both my hands over my ears won't help with. Some days I manage to ignore them. My heart? Truly, verily I am not sure where it is. Some days I feel it at the pit of my stomach. Some days it's in a wench that constantly wrings it and chews it and spits it out and waits for it to fill again and repeat that all over again. Some days I don't feel it at all, like it's not even there, no feeling. Other days I think they buried it with him that day. Maybe one day I'll feel it in my chest but I am not so sure. Etsaeng and Segaba come into my room and flee again. I have tried to hold them and assure them but even I am not sure what to say to them. I die a little inside each time in reaslisation that I may be failing their seven and nine year old selves and minds but even I don’t know what to do. They don't ever tell you these things. But I suppose no one knows until it happens and no one ever thinks you'll bury your husband at thirty four. Do you know what else they don't tell you? That people change!

Our last conversation went like this:  Me – "You gotta be shitting me?" And he sent a swarm of laughing emojis and then an angry one later. "Why are you angry now?" I laughed. "I hope you're not swearing in front of my children" he replied "Your children Mr Lereo are sleeping, its eleven in the night. What time is it in Mbalambi? Also if you don't want me swearing stop sharing these crazies off the webs with me, okay?" "But WhatsApp always suggests you each time I wanna share some idiocy from the webs you see, I would not, but the way my life is set up. I'll write to Zuckerberg about this" I could almost hear his silly chuckle as I read this. "Zuckerberg is smart, I like him for suggesting me as first always, or am I not?" "Always motho wame. Go to bed, I love you." "When will you be here?" "I'm going to start off at midnight. I am just going to take a shower now. I have said my goodbyes to mother" "Okay, I can NOT wait. It's been a long week without you, hope you rested some earlier like you said" "I did, but not long enough, but I'll be fine. See you in a bit sunshine". That bit never came!

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The whirring of my mobile phone woke me up at exactly three minutes before four. I'll never forget. It was a strange number. Curtly a strange voice asked from the other end "Ke Mma Lereo?" I answered sleepily "Ee rra!" And they hung up. I had missed 19 calls from my mother, my brother, my uncle, my mother in law, my sister in South Sudan, and my best friend's sister in New Zealand! Tell me how this will not make you shoot up in your bed, with your heart pounding between your ears. I decided to call one of the people not in the list mentioned above, my brother's wife. She picked up on the first ring "I'm on my way" and hung up. She is on her way where? I think to my house, but why? I went to get a glass of water. Another horde of missed calls, all I did was go to my kitchen. What is going on?

Lereo, my husband had perished in a car accident two hours after his "see you in a bit sunshine". I have never known pain like that and I did not think I would live another day after that fateful morning. By five in the morning my house was swarming with people. My children woke to a house full of people, with dread and pity in their eyes. My mouth would not let any word out. Lereo's phone had that woman in it that kept repeating each time I tried it "the subscriber you are calling is not available at the moment" and I wished and hoped and dreamed he would just walk in and wake me from this horrible nightmare. Only it was the beginning of a nightmare that would last months and months! Lereo's mother saw him a few hours before he died and I, a week before he died. Somehow I had managed to send something to kill this man I loved. I saw it in her eyes the evening of the day he passed when he arrived at the house she had been to many times and looked like a stranger in it. Her eyes were stern, no love in them. I blamed it on the loss, but I had just lost a husband too.  The following day she sent someone, in the same room we all convened in as was traditionally expected, to ask me when we would move the funeral to Mbalambi. Why was my mother in law talking to me through people? This is a woman with whom we had talked endlessly about anything many times before. But most importantly why must we go to Mbalambi? A 'fight' ensued about this, between my parents and his. Even his sensible uncle – my favourite person from his family – had lost his mind.  "Ko ti nthu a ezele ne ba kanyikukwe," he said with a face I couldn't associate with him, loosely translated "he belongs with his people". They had married him off, to me, six years ago and told us to start a life together, which we did, now his place was with them? The beating of drums in my head would not stop. My parents in their being 'civil' were ready to pack me and my children to Mbalambi and come support us. The longest I'd been to there was a week last Christmas. Even when I was taken to my in-laws I was there three days because I had to leave a week after we wed for raining in Toronto. We had a life here in the city and had those policies that had allowed us spots of tombs when we can still walk atop them. His was marked and ready, as was mine for when I died and this is what he had wanted. "We will have the funeral here this coming Saturday. I have no intention of discussing this further. My brother and my sister in law will be the ones to see about everything". I still do not know where I got that calm that day. And so it was! My mother-in-law stopped talking to me that day and she sat sniffing next to me as the earth swallowed the box that had the lifeless accident battered body of my husband. My tears have run out in the week, but I remember my legs and everything in my body giving in as I threw a lone Lily as a goodbye significance. When I woke my children's eyes were bulging above me. I will never forget the fear I saw in Etsaeng'a eyes. My mother-in-law still sat in her chair above me stone faced and looking ahead. I took a decision then, that I'll do everything minus the heart but with my head henceforth.

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The morning after the funeral they called a meeting. The PhD'd uncle spoke first. He really had lost his mind, and was unrecognisable even more. They wanted the statements of the monies of the insurance benefits and his brother could use a better car than his and the one Lereo parked in the garage should be signed off to his brother. His brother is Lereo's father. A man of quiet! A quiet man, I would learn he used to remain clean when he sent everyone on his dirty deeds. I needed him to shout at his brother and tell him he was wrong; he didn't. Neither did my mother-in-law. She added "my son's benefits must come to me. I hear it's over a million Pula. You know the sacrifices I made to put him through school?" My mouth hung in utter shock. I was more disappointed than hurt. Who is this woman? What has happened to the one I had come to love as my own the last nine years of my life? My brother and sister-in-law had said to me the last week as these events unfolded; don't fight them, don't talk back but stay firm in your decisions. This was proving hard with each passing day with its events. My family, the family I have been told I'm leaving mine for to adopt wholly was up in arms against me. They wanted everything my husband and I had worked for the last few years of our lives and called these things "our son's". I needed to wake from this unending nightmare. I was even beginning to be angry at Lereo, for having abandoned me and for not protecting me from his family and more for not letting me know what kind of people his family was. Surely he knew, or did he not?

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When we could not find reason in my living room, the one my husband and I sat to watch his favourite show a day before he went home and returned to it in a cold box, I knew as ugly as it was I was going to be forced to go to the courts. I had children to raise, Lereo's children. How did these people expect me to do all this, when they wanted to strip me off of everything I had because "my son"? That was my husband too!  The soil atop my husband's coffin was still wet when I sat in front the judge who ruled that  "what she decides as a legal spouse of Lereo all stands and what anyone else outside of this union is inconsequential"  I would have Winnie Mandela fisted in the air but it wasn't the time, nor the circumstance. I slept 17 hours straight the day after court, the first time I slept not in one hour troubled spurts. My in-laws left, sourer than the lemons in my water this morning. I am not sure how I feel about everything. It's new. My hope is that we can at least be civil to each other. I would like some peace with my mother –in-law, some day! Loss of one's spouse is hard. It should not be made to be this complicated. We must also marry the people we really, really know!



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