‘Right By Her’ by D’rita Nanyanzi

“I pray God blesses your marriage through good and hard times, to hold unto and care for each other in all circumstances. May He bless you as you birth a new generation in our family line,” Mrs. Kalyesubula spoke in her son’s life.

Beautiful words. Full of hope. Contrasting the dark clouds gathering outside the reception hall. The newly wed bride, Martha felt uneasy. The strange feeling was back. Unease caressed every inch of her body leaving her restless. Her stomach clenched and beads of sweat broke out on her face. Her maid of honor, Lisa patted her face with a handkerchief. Streaks of subtle lightning kept flashing. Martha made a move to stand up but Lisa grabbed her hand. They had talked about this earlier. Whatever she was feeling was a case of wedding jitters. To think of all the money that had been spent in making today happen. Their friends and partners. That humiliation. No, her friend would not give these people fodder to sate their hunger for gossip and everything wrong with other people’s lives. They would deal with this later. Peter was clad in a gorgeous ensemble of white, royal blue and black. His mother had just handed him the microphone for his toast. To all their lovely guests. He cast a wary glance at the window. Thunder boomed outside as wind gained momentum. Raising dust in its wake. Through the windows, trees were seen swaying. Everyone could feel it but no one said it. Men gave coats to their dates. Singles rummaged through their chosen types of carryon for anything close to a sweater.

“Amazing how in the midst of the storm, we can find happiness,” he began. There were low chuckles from the guests. Peter was their optimist. The solution maker. After all, had he not pulled off a wedding to a woman he had known two months. Despite so many protests and questions from his family and friends.

“There are none in my heart,” he had said. She was a good woman. Sound mind and values. All he could ask for was encapsulated in this divine creature, who so lovingly agreed to grace his life as Mrs. Lutalo. Yes, they all knew how lovingly he spoke of her. If society could not stop him, then only death would.

His words echoed what they already knew. During his speech, he held out his hand beckoning his lovely bride to join him. Martha wore a smile that did not reach her eyes. Just a few more hours, she kept telling herself. She sashayed to the deejay’s selection her eyes fixed on Peter. Some people were so beguiled by this real life fairytale that all they saw was a besotted husband and wife hold hands. Other people, so engrossed in all things wrong especially the weather, saw lightning slicing across the sky towards them. Before they could react, power was down in the entire hall.

Only the candles strategically placed between tables cast a semblance of light on the guests. Martha looked around frantically. Long shadows on the walls mocking them. The organizing team lighting more candles on various tables. Funerals would envy this atmosphere. Dread hang above them like mistletoe as Peter gave his wife a reassuring kiss. All will be well, it implied. Outside, the storm raged on.

*
The very next day, the couple bade their friends’ goodbye at the airport. Off to Zanzibar for a two week honeymoon. Martha had protested. They should not be travelling. The gloomy weather had been an omen. Peter would hear none of it. What said hope more than the dawn of a new day? It was cloudy but the weather reports promised a chance of sun later on in the day. It was good enough for him. That is how Martha found herself seated across the table from her handsome husband in the elegant restaurant at the Nirvana Hotel, Zanzibar. Lisa had given her some pills. “To quell any anxiety,” she had said. Whatever they were, they had been a godsend. Martha was happy. As well as a bit apprehensive about what would happen later. ‘No matter. All would be well, ‘she thought to herself. The dessert, delicate cream puffs with chocolate sauce practically melted in her mouth. This was beauty incarnate. Food with purpose. All would be well.

*
Sheila Kay, as she called herself, was as sassy as they come. Her la-di-da attitude packaged with the chic fashion sense left no doubt what class of people she considered worthy of her attention. That was how she had met Peter. At a corporate party. Her kind of parties. Where other people dreaded these events, she lived for them. Rich men bored with their wives and work. Endless opportunities presented themselves. She had been the assistant manager in the sales department and had been expecting a promotion. Whatever it took to get a potential client, she did it.

The end always justified the means. Peter Lutalo, owner and managing director of Sol Consults, dealers in all things mechanical. Thirty five years old and fine as polished china. This was a client she would not mind taking on. He had taken the bait, signed a contract with the company Sheila worked for. Yet, instead of one night of passion at a fancy hotel like most clients did, he asked her out on a date. Hesitation was not something she did often. Only when she needed her help. The one she was bound to. And even then, it was a rare occurrence. Two dates down the road, she was bored. He wanted to know her. What her childhood was like. Who her parents were. Where she had lived. Her hobbies.

“Would there be no end to this intrusion?” she had asked casually, halfway through their second date. His lips had curved into a subtle smile. He had asked where she would have preferred to be. “Your place.” It had seemed too obvious to her and any normal red blooded male. He had settled the bill and led her out to the parking lot. His car pulled up in front of his apartment in Kansanga. Sheila had made herself comfortable at the open bar in the living room. She had mixed a few drinks. “No, thank you.”

“Buzzkill” she had muttered before throwing back a stiff one. Nothing else had registered in her mind after that. She had always figured it must have been so uneventful. She had not cared. That is, till Martha happened. Suddenly, it was dates every Friday night, church on Sundays, visits to the museum, zoo and beach. They were in love. Sheila could not let this happen. Sheila considered her a threat. From the moment they had met, she had known they would never be friends. Martha was innocent, considerate, and generous. To her, it summed up to spineless. People gravitated towards her. Where Sheila saw people as a means, Martha saw potential for friendship and unity. Sheila had resolved to keep her distance from Martha. Yet the news of this union caused bile to rise in her throat. She had seen them at various venues, watched them act lovey-dovey wherever they went. He never acknowledged her. Not even once. Martha was winning again! The couple’s nuptials weighed on her. They were like wreath of rot getting tighter with each passing day till it was a noose. All forms of sabotage she had tried had led nowhere. Like when she had stolen his signed cheque book from his case and placed it in her bag.

All signs pointed at Martha, and yet he had brushed it off. Or the time she had paid one of her ex-boyfriends to cause a scene asking her to come back to their home. She remembered talking to Peter. Telling him to stay away. He had been quiet throughout her entire tirade. She could still hear his answer. His final words to her.

What he had was between Martha and him. He would do right by her, and no one else. She had retaliated by nearly slapping him, since he grabbed her hand before it made contact. Her venomous glare met his steely look. Never try that again! The next day, they would be married! She had screamed, and wailed. Hell needed to replicate this torment. Froth had gathered at the corners of her mouth. She had thrown down anything she saw. Clothes. Shoes. She would kill her! Martha had taken everything! It was time she took it all away!

*
Lisa Katuramu loved to stay on top of things. Everything she did was on schedule. She did not appreciate small talk with strangers so she avoided shopping downtown where people got too friendly in hopes of a discount or profit. She euphemized various truths in so many ways for the sake of her clients and audience. For as much as candor was appreciated in her line of work, it was better kept to oneself. Lisa Katuramu was a lawyer with Sekyanzi and Co. Advocates. She specialized in family law. A very delicate practice in a patriarchal society. Nevertheless, she did her best where she could. Lisa considered Martha a friend. They skyped when she was out of the country. To her, that was close enough. Now, Martha was getting married. To a man she had just met. Albeit successful, enterprising, driven and kind. Lisa had almost thrown up in her mouth as Martha had described her beau with all words sugar and spice. Clearly her friend was smitten with him. She had proposed to meet him. Get a second opinion of this slice of heaven. Martha had been over the moon when the only complaint her unimpressionable friend had was ‘such a relentless optimist!’

Distraught couples spoke of fairytale weddings and disastrous marriages. That is why she had needed Martha to confirm this. To see no ounce of doubt in her eyes, and there had been none. It was everything Martha had dreamed of. He was the one. And so, Lisa had dedicated quite a number of hours to the wedding plans. Sixty four hours to be exact. The wedding was in a week. Over sixty million was being spent on this plush event. Cake, venue, music, gowns, everything had been taken care of. If she ever got married, she hoped the person in charge was as good as she was.

It was six a.m. on the day of the wedding and Lisa could not believe her eyes. The bridal team had to go the salon. Martha’s hair had been a mess with some tendrils in her mouth. Stains on her face had shown the tear streaks. Like she had been fighting with a hell cat all night. She was seated on her bed. Legs folded. Hardly blinking. “What happened here?” Lisa had asked whilst opening her friend’s bedroom door wider. Everything had been in disarray. Clothes strewn all over the floor. Shoes on the bed. Makeup spilled on the carpet. “Did you even sleep at all?” she had asked as she gingerly stepped over the discarded clothes. Martha had been silent. Lisa had plopped herself on the bed next to her.

Laying Martha’s head on her shoulder. “All will be well,” she had told her. Quiet sobs had rocked Martha’s body. “I am doing the right thing, Lisa, aren’t I?” “Of course, love. You adore this man. You have spoken but of him since you met.” She had sniffled and smiled. “Sorry about the mess.” “I guess this is your version of wedding jitters,” Lisa had joked. Two cups of strong coffee and a fine bath, Martha had looked well rested enough for an anxious bride. They had got into the car, and all Lisa could think of was how she had never seen Martha like that.

*
When Peter had told his father about the woman he intended to spend eternity with, a terrible family secret about his now deceased Uncle Tom had been unearthed. His Martha Birungi. No. His mind had refused to register it for some time. Yet, her picture was proof. He never could have guessed. She had come off as bold and brazen when they had first met. He had fallen in love for the woman she really was. Peter had done some research about people like Martha. He worried about her. She was oblivious of her past. At least part of her was. Could it have been possible for her not to have known for this long? How did they keep such truths from each other? He was sure Lisa did not know. She had already told him what had happened that morning. He was not a firm believer in the universe talking to people, yet even he had been chilled by the weather. That night, as Mrs. Lutalo had slept soundly, Peter had prayed an earnest prayer. For his bride, and perseverance through whatever stood against them. A good night’s sleep had done wonders. She had been jovial throughout their flight and dinner. He had to be sure though before any consummation took place.

*
It was after dinner and the couple was in their luxurious room. She was seated on his lap sipping wine. Peter was telling her a story. Something to do with his family. She had been listening with half an ear before realization dawned on her. This story was familiar. Her eyes narrowed into slits. Aunt Isabel. Uncle Tom. She sucked in her breath at the same time Peter felt her stiffen. He dragged his hand from her waist and moved it up her back in a soothing manner.

“How do you know about that?” she asked her eyes not blinking.

He said something about his uncle but she was already getting up.

“It was all her fault,” she said.

“Martha-,” he began. She moved to the chair opposite him. She crossed her legs and glared at him.

“Yes, it was Martha’s fault. And to think you are related to the bastard. Come to continue where he left off!” she hissed. Ah. The brazen one. Peter had been curious how she did it. Switched so easily. Like changing channels. There was no visible sign of change. Martha never recalled any of it. Nor did she seem to be aware.

“Tell me what happened,” he said while leaning forward. She was ramrod straight as she uncrossed her legs.

“I watched that bitch lead him on. She always wanted story-time with him. It was Cinderella the first night. ” For some time, she did not say a word. Then, she got up to go the bathroom. He offered to take her glass. She declined. She got the pills Lisa had given her and poured them all in her wine. She watched them fizz. Perfect cocktail. She smiled at her reflection in the mirror. She reclaimed her original seat when she was back, and resumed. The wine swirled as she twirled her glass.

“She had a crush on him and we paid for it. He forced us down and tore into us with his girth. I cried myself to sleep all those nights. I pleaded with her to tell Aunt Izzy about him. She clammed up like a mute. He came to our room whenever he pleased and she hid. I took the brunt of it all.” She walked to the window and gazed out at the night sky. Peter was seated on the arm of the chair closest to where she stood. Lisa had told him about dissociative identity disorder when he had inquired about the possibility of a person having two faces. Of course, they had been joking about two-sided men then. His had been a grave smile. He had called up a friend Ms. Jamil Dawood, a renowned psychiatrist in her field across East Africa. She had a private practice down in Kendwa, Zanzibar. The choice of a honeymoon destination had come easy after their phone call. “It would be best if you could get to the bottom of the issue with caution,” she had said. “Patients easily opened up to the ones they trusted.”

“I am never going to hurt you. Or Martha,” he said gently. “I am going to help you. Both of you.” She whispered something. Peter got up and inched towards her. She turned and handed him the wineglass. He let out a sigh of relief. It was not broken.

“She deserves to die.” “Then you will die,” he reasoned, but she did not seem to hear him.

“She is weak. So I step in whenever she fails. I keep her going and she acts like I do not exist.” Her shoulders started shaking slowly at first as she laughed then violently as she grew manic. Yes, she could feel the medicine take effect. Martha was frightened. What was wrong? Her throat felt parched. Her eyes could not focus. Her strength gave way as she stumbled into Peter’s arms. What had she done? “Please, do not die!” he shouted. He lay her limp body in the chair and dialed the manager’s desk. “Paramedics! Quick! She is dying!” he bellowed in the phone. The killer was within her! Peter sat on the floor and held her hand. Her breathing was becoming uneven. The eight minutes it took the hotel doctor to arrive seemed like eternity. Two hours later, her eyes opened to a disheveled mess of a man seated on her bed.

*
It was a week later, and Peter was having a picnic with his wife at the Dawood Home. She now knew about Sheila and her past. She had had questions. He had answered where he could. Martha laughed as he recounted comically what she, Sheila had done.

“Peter, surely you jest!”

“Not with you, love,” he said planting a kiss on her lips. Now, she was getting better. For him. To do right by him. As he had her.

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