Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Children belong to the father...or do they? Part 2

Before sundown that day, the dust-covered minivan carrying Hawah pulled into a swarming auto station in the town of Kani, toward the northern edge of Cote d'Ivoire. She climbed down and hung her luggage straps to her shoulder. It was a single satchel containing all she now owned in this world, two sets of clean clothes, an additional pair of shoes, her national identity card and a CFA 500 francs bill safely tucked in the folds of a weathered clutch. In the clutch, she also carried a folded envelop, a letter from her in-laws - ex in-laws - to her parents.

She walked the three mile distance to her parents' home where her unexpected arrival sparked a joyous clamor quickly followed by concerns. She showered, ate and remained in the room she once shared with her sisters. It now served as a storage and occasional guests room. Right after sunset prayer her father sent for her. She reached for the letter in her clutch and inserted it into her bras. 

Outside, a small assembly had already formed. Her mother and her sister wife - her father's other wife - sat side by side, a similarly afflicted demeanor on both their faces. Beside them, Madinah, one of Hawah's aunts mouthed a greeting and invited her to the stool near hers. Her paternal uncle was present along with another man from the community. 

"I invited you people here today as family and also as witnesses because I think something grave has happened," Sirima, Hawah's father began. 
"May God protect us," his brother replied. 
"Hawah has arrived here earlier today. I haven't heard from our in-laws ahead of time and none of us has called for her. So something is going on." Sirima paused and turning to his daughter, he asked, "Hawah, did they commission you with a message?"
"Yes," Hawah mouthed. Slowly, she reached for her camisole and pulled the envelop out.
"You are the literate one, so read it!" her uncle said.  

Hawah's arm folded reluctantly back toward her. Her trembling fingers fumbled and scrunched the paper until it finally opened. She cleared her throat, planted her elbows into her lap to gain control over her tremors, then she began. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Children belong to the father...or do they?

Note: The following is a short story I'll deliver in a couple of short posts. It needs no special foreword only that I'm interested in your comments and your opinion on who children belong to should it come to picking one parent over the other. How is this matter decided in your culture? Stay tuned!

"I'm prepared to leave but I need my son," Hawah murmured.
"Who? Your son? Sedi is going nowhere," Bakoro, her mother-in-law cried out.
"But I can't leave him behind."
"Oh, you sure will. You're being divorced. Sedi is staying with his family."
"But I'm his mother, Bakoro."
"My son is his father." Bakaro's words fell, blunt like the open palm she raised and dropped down like a hatchet.
Hawah's eyes puddled with tears. From the wooden stool she crouched on, she had a profile view of her husband, Manda, languid as always. Never spoken up for himself since she'd known him. He sat there without a word even at his own divorce hearing. He was the epitome of the submissive child, now submissive man. He grew up in his parents shadow, especially his mother's. He toed the line even when she blinked. She decided what he needed and obeyed. He was debilitated by his self abandon to her that most people thought he was mentally handicapped. So when his parents found him a wife, he went along. Hawah showed up, tall, light skinned with a finely sculpted facial structure, freshly pull out of school by parents who believed that the dignity of a woman was in marriage. He was so intimidated that he always acted clumsily with her but somehow he managed to have a son by her, throwing one more being under Bakoro's rule. His hunched back remained of stone as his mother ranted on.
"My grandson isn't budging. Did you bring a child with you when you came?"
"Bakaro, please, calm down." The man who spoke was one of three elders who came to settle the divorce. They shared the divan with Hawah's uncle. Across from them, sitting beside his father on a bench, Manda still gawked at the ground beneath his feet. "Ndeh, my daughter, everything has an end but Almighty God's reign. It is the conclusion of this assembly that it is the end of your marriage to Manda. You'll have to return to your parents' house. The boy will stay here," the man added, caressing his short salt-and-pepper beard. His words were calm and serious.
"Eh, Bah, please beg them not to do this to me," Hawah wailed.
"Ndeh, children belong to their father. That's our custom," he said - his voice slightly cracking in the face of her pain.
Hawah slid to the ground. She moaned the sound of a wounded soul. Her pleading eyes ran to Bakaro sitting by the living room exit. This woman she had cooked and cleaned for day and night sat, lips curved in despise. Beyond her, she could see other women in the midst of their usual conjectures by the well outside in the courtyard. Her world was crumbling around her. She crawled toward her mother-in-law.
"Ndeh, there is no point in this. God's will is greater. You need to accept it," another one of the elders said. "Get ready, a taxi will transport you to the bus station."


Being strong is having one's feet firmly planted in the soil beneath us, our values, mores and customs. Hence, the sky becomes the limit.
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