Absalom had never liked Lucy, or her brother or even their grandmother. The four of them had a history that dated many years back that only Absalom knew. Which is why when he found Monique playing outside with them that day, he beat her to a pulp.
Her mother had disappeared several years ago when Monique was still a few months old. Since then Absalom, had been both the father and the mother, something that attracted admiration from all the women folk and fellows alike. It was not known for a man to single handedly raise a child. Most of them would have married another woman as soon as the wife’s coffin hit the ground. But Absalom was not like other men. He had loved his wife and wanted to honour her memory by raising their daughter the way she would have wanted.
He had moved to the village several years ago with a three month old baby and a bag small enough to contain their luggage. He had nothing and it was the villagers who helped him get back on his feet. Some women out of good will donated a small piece of land for him and erected a shack just so they could have a roof on their heads. Absalom told of tales about how his wife had run away with another man when she was supposed to be in the market struggling to make a living for the family. Nobody had heard from her. Witnesses told him that they had seen her in the company of another man. After waiting for a few months for her return, he decided to move with their child so that he could shield her from the shameful past of her mother that would haunt her in the near future.
Absalom adored Monique and worked hard to give her everything she wanted. He had taken her to school despite everyone saying that as a single father it was a waste of time and resources.
Lucy and Lucas were orphans and Absalom’s neighbors. Their mother like Monique’s had ran away with another man when they were barely of school going age leaving their father in a state of depression. Unable to take care of his own children, Augustus had moved back to his mother’s house where his children would be taken care of. With no wife or friends to support him, Augustus died in the most deplorable state. Only his poor old mother and his children were there to mourn for him.
Within several weeks he was forgotten but his children never forgot. It was during that time that Lucy, Lucas and Monique would strike a bond so strong. Having lost their mothers at such tender ages, they became inseparable. They would always be together. If not playing by the river they would be helping Lucy’s grandmother with the house chores.
Absalom was not happy with this kind of bond. He warned Monique several times with the help of a whip to stay away from “those two miserable wretches” as he referred them.
“I don’t want to see you near those two again. I don’t want their bad luck to follow you also.” He would always say.
All the whipping and scolding however, was not enough to put the three asunder. The more he tried to separate them, the stronger their friendship grew until one day he had had enough.
“No child of mine will disrespect me in such a manner. Your mother is probably dead and I will not go to the grave before my time. You hear me,” he said looking around for a whip that would teach her a lesson once and for all and when he found it, it was Monique who regretted why her mother left her behind in the care of a wicked man like Absalom.
When Lucy didn’t see Monique in school the next day, she went straight to her house before changing out of her school uniform. There was no one in the house. She knocked on all doors and windows but no reply came. She decide to go back home.
Maybe they went somewhere with Absalom, she thought.
At home she found her grandmother seated outside. Lucas was in the house pretending to do his homework as usual.
“Grandmother, did Monique go somewhere with her father because she wasn’t in school and it seems they are not at home either?
Her grandmother looked at her and then beckoned her to sit next to her.
“Monique took ill yesterday. Her father and a few other people have been in the hospital. They say that she has pneumonia.”
Lucy stood up, shocked and unable to utter a word. It was just yesterday when they had played together. Absalom had called her to go have something to eat and seeing that she was not coming back, the two had gone home.
How then could it be? The girl who was so healthy just the previous day to be suffering from pneumonia? Lucy had heard so many stories about the disease. Most people she had heard never survived it. She prayed and hoped that Monique’s case would be different.
“We should go see her grandmother and maybe take her something to…..” Just before she could finish the sentence, Absalom came through the gate. A heavy cloud of fear and grief seemed to be tagging behind him. He fell in a heap at her grandmother’s feet and wept like a small child. It took her grandmother to calm him down and have him explain what the problem was.
“Monique…..is…….no more,” he said in between loud sobs.
“The pneumonia was too strong for her and the fever took her. What am I to do? I’m just a poor man and now I have lost my only reason to live. Death you are cruel. What am I going to do?”
Lucy stood there transfixed, unable to move as if a gunman was holding a gun to her head. Lucas had abandoned his homework and was now sitting beside their grandmother who was trying her best to comfort Absalom.
“It can’t be. No it can’t be, “was all Lucy could mutter? Before long the whole village had learnt of the unfortunate death of Monique. Tributes poured and visitors came to Absalom’s place one after another pouring their condolences. Nobody wanted to believe that a young vibrant soul like Monique was no more.
“She had such a bright future ahead of her. Death is cruel,” they would say.
“What happened to children burying their parents? What has the world turned into?” others would be heard lamenting.
The burial was an emotional one. Tears were shed until no more remained. Women wailed until their voices faded out. Old men shook their heads and cursed death. Children no longer played in the open fields. It was as if darkness loomed in their presence and refused to go away.
“It is unheard of! What evil spirit lucks in our midst? Cheeeei!” They could be heard saying.
Monique was mourned for months. It was overwhelming to think about the kind of influence the nine year old had on everyone in the village. Lives were changed forever. Lucy never forgot her friend. She no longer went out to play by the river the way they used to. After school she sat by the window, day dreaming about Monique playing with other children in the afterlife. She looked forward to being reunited with her best friend.
Absalom stayed locked up in his house every day. He no longer went out. His small farm was now over grown with weeds of all kinds. His chicken moved to the neighboring sheds after being starved for days. Smoke no longer rose from the two bed- room house he had worked so hard to build. The villagers became worried but efforts to reach out to him were in vain.
“Absalom is going down the same path Augustus went before he joined his ancestors.” they would whisper behind closed doors.
“Losing your child is like losing your own soul,” one old man said.
Months passed and meat fell from Absalom’s body so fast that he looked as thin as a vulture that had suffered through the extinction of all carcasses on the land. He no longer talked with anyone until that day when the chief and some of his boys came knocking.
He had not come out for days and everybody gathered to witness the scenario. They all wanted to have something to say when asked how Absalom was fairing on.
“Is he dead?” one man asked one of the boys who had escorted the chief.
“No. He is just wanted at the city to answer a few questions.” The chief said addressing the people.
After their continuous loud knocks that threatened to tear down the wooden door bore no fruits, the chief requested one of the boys to go round the house and peep through the window.
As if summoned by a higher power, the boy walked round the house majestically as if to depict his importance at that moment.
“Cheeeei!” An ear deafening scream rang through the air.
The chief bolted like a gazelle being chased by a hungry lion. He lifted his overweight body and peeped through the window. He then put his hands on his head and silently shook his head. He walked away and stood at a distance, his eyes fixed to the ground.
Wanting to know what was happening, the whole lot gathered around the tiny window, each one of them struggling to take a glance.
“Cheeeeei! Death is cruel. What have we done to deserve this?” one old man shouted as soon as he saw what was on the inside.
Absalom’s body dangled from an old sisal rope. His mouth was ajar with foam dripping from the side. On the floor lay the stool he had used to position himself strategically for the final showdown.
One of the young men kicked the door open with his foot. He went straight for Absalom lifting him up to stop the strangulation but it was too late. His spirit had already descended into the deeps. On the floor lay a piece of paper, torn from one of Monique’s exercise books.
“I regret what I have done. My spirit will never be at peace unless I end my miserable life. My child cries for me from the grave. I am on my way Monique. Forgive your father.”
Everybody turned to the chief, as if he was the custodian of the information they longed to hear at that moment. What could have caused Absalom to take his own life?
“Chief talk to us. Talk to your people. What is happening in this village is becoming stranger by day.” One old man begged.
“My people. Absalom was a sick man. He beat his own daughter to death and lied that she died of pneumonia but the doctors knew better. They were just taking time to conclude on the matter before reporting their findings to the Central Police Unit. Their investigation led to the uncovering of other hidden truths that he had been hiding all along. It was Absalom who killed his own wife and buried her like a dog behind their house and then moved to this village claiming she ran away with another man.”
“Cheeeeei! What is this world coming to? Man to kill his own wife and child! Cheeeei! Absalom you are wicked!” One woman screamed on top of her voice.
“After running a lot of tests the identity of the woman who he killed came to light. She was the former wife of our very own Augustus.”
He stopped as if to allow the people to digest the information first. When he figured that the weight of his words had sunk deep, he continued.
“It seemed that the man Augustus wife ran away with was Absalom. The law enforcers believe that she was on the verge of leaving him and coming back to Augustus with her three month old daughter, when he doctored a plan to kill her. It was his hatred of seeing his daughter getting close to the children of the woman he had killed that drove him to do what he did to our poor Monique. I had come here to request him to surrender to the police but as it would seem, the guilt killed him before the law did.”
“Mamayooooo! Absalom you will never find peace.” A woman shouted from behind the crowd. Other women joined in, condemning Absalom, to an afterlife of sorrow and heartaches as if he could hear them.
Lucy held her brother’s hand and watched from a distance as all the drama unfolded. She now knew that Lucas had told her the truth. She had not believed it at first but everything was clear now.
She pushed through the crowd, with Lucas trailing behind her as everybody gave way as if she was a dignitary. She stood over Absalom’s body and looked into his eyes.
They were cold and no regret was in them. She spat on the ground and walked away silently as the villagers whispered in hushed tones behind her.
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Written by Lillyanne Gathoni