Today I’m in the mood to gossip, so kindly indulge me. I am going to tell you a story about a woman named Alice. Alice was married to my paternal cousin, Charles until he passed on a year ago.
Charles was the caretaker of my father’s official ancestral home in the village. This house was built by my grandfather over a century ago. Culturally, his sons should have built their own houses on the land around this original one, but only my father has his own house next to the original structure.
When Charles married Alice, he built his own structure, but it was not particularly well done, and during a particularly vicious rainy season, it collapsed. Charles, who was never one to take on any extra loads, moved into the ancestral home and never left it.
The relationship between Charles and Alice was one of those things no outside bystander can ever understand. She despised him, publicly insulted him, and generally treated his relatives with disdain. But for some reason, Charles was hooked.
She often left him, disappearing for long stretches to her mother’s village. These disappearances usually coincided with the planting season and ended abruptly whenever Charles had coffee ready to sell. Then she came home to enjoy the proceeds, which she sometimes beat out of Charles (being about three times his size and weight)
They were also beset by the great deal-breaker: Alice never produced any children. Culturally, women can be rejected for producing only one gender of child – but to have no children at all? You’d be lucky to stay married – at best you’d have to endure a second wife.
However, Alice not only survived in this environment, but thrived. Before her marriage to Charles, she had produced a child with another man as a teenager. She therefore managed to convince Charles it was his aimless sperm responsible for the lack of a child with her, and she threw this accusation at him gleefully.
Eventually, some relative brokered a deal for Charles to get a 'side dish'. The side dish promptly got pregnant. Charles gathered what was left of his balls and sent Alice packing. The village breathed a collective sigh of relief, as the pregnant (and pleasant) replacement was ushered in.
However, only a few months after the boy child was born, Alice bulldozed the local church into securing her return. She was wedded in church, you see, and a full member of the Mother’s Union.
It was therefore, she informed them, their duty to make sure the ‘harlot’ left the house and she was returned to her rightful place. Charles buckled easily – he even seemed happy to have his domestic tyrant back. The new mother and baby returned to their own village and Alice resumed her reign of terror.
Many years later, when the boy had grown into a man, Charles fell gravely ill, and his son took him to the city and cared for him until he passed on. Alice never once visited, contributed to medical bills or even made a phone call to check on her husband.
She did, however, take time to remind mourners at Charles’ funeral that she was now a needy widow with nowhere to go and they should protect her right to live next to her beloved husband’s grave.
The son was declared heir and the official caretaker of the ancestral home. He is a kind and reasonable fellow, so he said he’d be happy to have Alice remain resident in the house. He recently moved his mother into another wing of the home to take care of his interests while he kept his city job.
Alice lost no time in making life hell for her ‘co-wife’. She uproots food planted by the other woman, refuses to acknowledge her presence and only last week, decreed how if the other woman so much as looked at her garden in the wrong way, she would bewitch her and make her blind or dead.
It is on the strength of that threat that I have been summoned to arbitrate in my very first bona fide clan meeting this weekend. As a paternal aunt to the young heir, I suppose I have some clout in these things. You see, Charles went blind before he died, so Alice’s threat has been taken very seriously and the clan is baying for her blood.
Perhaps I will return with the next chapter in the story of Alice.