A tale of women and the pain of jealousy

JEALOUSDr Sekai Nzenza on Wednesday

Mai Joseph and Mai Ruth laughed together and drank their tea. Taking turns to speak, they said their lives were what they were and once married, their commitment was to the husband, the family and the church.

“You cannot stop a man from admiring a beautiful woman,” said my cousin Piri. “You are not the only beautiful girl in this world.” She was saying this to my niece Shamiso. We were back in the village last Friday. They had burst into my room, waking me up from a beautiful dream which I could no longer remember.

One reason I keep coming back here to the village is to have a very good night’s sleep. I listen to the sounds of the night until I fall asleep.

Aroused from my slumber, I sat up and I looked at the time on my phone. It was 2am. Outside, it had started pouring with rain. Piri and Shamiso sat at the edge of my bed. Shamiso wore a pink floral night dress and a stocking wrapped around her head, covering the long weave.

How many times have we told her that a woman does not wear a stocking to protect her hair before going to bed?

It is the most unbecoming look. Once Piri told Shamiso in no uncertain terms that no man wants to stick his nose near a head covered with a brown stocking. But did Shamiso listen? No. She argued that stockings make the best head covers because they stretch and they are light on the head.

Piri wore just a wraparound cloth and nothing else. She is not into night- dresses or anything that might make her feel hot or uncomfortable in bed. I pulled the stocking off Shamiso’s head and said: “So, what have you and Philemon been fighting about? Could this not have waited till morning?”

“No Tete. No. I do not want to be with this man any more. No. Enough is enough. He keeps looking at other women all the time,” Shamiso said, her voice dropping, like she was on the verge of crying.

The events leading to the domestic fight between Philemon and Shamiso had been witnessed by all of us during the afternoon. Philemon had paid too much attention to Anna or Mai Joseph, Apostle Jeremiah’s wife number three.

Earlier on before sunset, we had all gathered in the kitchen hut as the rain poured outside. Among the women were Madzibaba’s two wives, Shamiso, my cousin Piri and myself. On the kitchen bench were our neighbour Jemba, Philemon and baby Prince.

Mai Shalom, the lady who looks after the homestead, was also there, busy making tea for everyone. Once you have the Mapostori in the house, it’s almost mandatory that we must make tea. Mai Joseph sat with her legs outstretched, feet almost touching the ashes in the fireplace.

There were four wives to one man, all very industrious. Wife number one, Mai Ruth, moves around the villages making clay kitchen shelves or zvidziro with Mai Joseph, who is wife number three. Wife number two and wife number four work in the gardens, growing potatoes, pumpkins and tomatoes. All four wives are under 25 years old. Madzibaba himself is 32. Shamiso went to school with Mai Joseph. They are the same age.

“Sure? Are you really the same age?” asked Philemon, looking at Mai Joseph then at Shamiso again. Mai Joseph was this tall, slim young woman, with long legs and a shaved head, wearing no head scarf. She had no earrings or any sort of jewellery. She wore a long, cream or almost colourless skirt covering well below her knees and a pink blouse. Wife number one, Mai Ruth, had a baby on her back.

“Did you really go to the same school?” Philemon asked Mai Joseph, looking at her with eyes that appeared to be full of admiration. She smiled back at him, showing the most beautiful and even set of white teeth.

She said: “Ehe, Shamiso and I were together from Grade One to Seven. Then she went to St Clara’s School and I stayed home because my parents had no school fees.”

“That was not the reason why you did not go to Form One, Mai Joseph,” said Shamiso. She was kneeling down and pouring a whole cup of sugar into the teapot. “You stopped going to school because in your church, girls never go beyond Grade Seven. Did you not become wife number three when you were only 15? Is that not true?”

The tone of Shamiso’s voice was rather harsh.

Mai Joseph was quiet for a moment. Then the senior wife answered for her. “She married my husband when she was 16.”

“But why did you do that?” asked Philemon smiling almost flirtatiously, with his eyes focused on Mai Joseph’s face. “Were there not enough men around? Why did you become wife number three?”

“That is what their church demands,” said Shamiso, adding powdered milk into a cup of cold water. She stirred it and then added in to the teapot.

“Mapudzi anowira kune vasina hari,” said Jemba, meaning those without claypots harvest the most pumpkins. He was clearly referring to the beauty of Mai Joseph and how it has landed on Madzibaba Jeremiah, a man who already had two wives.

Then Piri quickly said that if Jemba wanted a wife as beautiful as Mai Joseph, he should join the Apostolic church that allowed many wives.

“Then you will find yourself a wife as beautiful as Mai Joseph here,” said Philemon smiling at Mai Joseph again. “And do you ever want to leave the village and find a job in the city like the way some village women like Shamiso have done?” Shamiso kept on pouring tea in to the cups, saying nothing.

Mai Joseph and Mai Ruth laughed together and drank their tea. Taking turns to speak, they said their lives were what they were and once married, their commitment was to the husband, the family and the church.

Jemba said Philemon was unfortunate to have married into our family because we belonged to VaHera of the Eland totem. He pointed to Shamiso and said: “The women are headstrong. You will not win any battle with them,” Jemba said.

“Find another one, my friend, this one will not go and live in your village.” Maybe Jemba was joking. But this was a sensitive issue. Shamiso had since refused to go and live in Philemon’s village, down in Bocha, way past Buhera. And now Jemba was bringing up a subject we had all decided was a no-go area.

After everyone had gone, we sat around for a while. Then Philemon and Shamiso went to their room to sleep.

According to Shamiso, once they settled to sleep, Philemon then said: “When the rains come, women start complaining of many diseases because they do not want to return to the village and plough the fields.” Shamiso ignored the comment. Instead, she sang a religious tune, made a couple of messages on her phone, then joined Philemon in bed.

“Mai Prince, did you hear what I said? Women complain of many diseases when it rains because they do not want to work in the fields,” Philemon said. Shamiso then asked Philemon to explain. He described the beauty and strength of women of the Apostolic faith. “For example, that Mai Joseph. Ah, that woman is beautiful. She said you are the same age? You would not think that she already had two children. In another world, that woman could have been a model.”

Shamiso picked up her phone and started texting again. Philemon then sat up in bed, pulled Shamiso towards him and said: “Why don’t you shave your head and join the Apostolic faith, Mai Prince?” he was smiling. But by this time, Shamiso was feeling some anger inside her.

“Baba va Prince, you are looking for a fight. But I will tell you what I think. Number one, I am not jealous of the Mupositori Anna. Number two, I am not joining the Apostolic faith. Number three, I am going to bed,” Shamiso said, pulling the blanket over her head. She pretended to sleep.

Philemon then started talking about the virtues of a good woman. He quoted Bible verses about love, marriage and disobedient wives. With more anger rising inside her, Shamiso tried to remain silent. She sat up in bed again and started texting. Philemon grabbed the phone and said Shamiso was not to text in bed. For the next two or more hours, the two of them argued and shouted at each other picking upon unrelated marital issues.

“Are you jealous of women who are more beautiful than you are?” Philemon asked, laughing. At that point, Shamiso left the room and knocked on Piri’s door. That was when the two of them came to wake me up. This was not a time to do marriage counselling. Shamiso shared the bed with Piri and we said the matter of jealousy would be resolved in the morning.

It was not.

Philemon argued that it was in man’s nature to appreciate the beauty of other women.

 Dr Sekai Nzenza is a writer and cultural critic

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