Shylet Chabata | Zimbabwe
Amai looked at the small pile of dead leaves in the middle of the driveway.
Why hadn’t Chiwoniso finished sweeping up and thrown the leaves into the compost? This girl was becoming lazy. A 15-year-old should be more responsible, Amai thought.
As soon as she stepped through the front door, a swamp of toys and a trail of snack crumbs greeted her. Amai’s three younger children sat among the mess watching the TV. They still wore their pajamas. It was obvious from their faces smeared with peanut butter, jam and dried porridge that they had not bathed.
Where was that girl? What had she spent the whole day doing?
“Good evening Amai,” the children chorused.
“Evening,” Amai replied, "Where is Chiwoniso?”
“She is in the kitchen,” Chido answered.
“She is cooking.” Tafara added.
Chipo, the 4-year-old, stood next to Amai with her arms outstretched. Amai relented and picked her up. She walked to the kitchen determined to give Chiwoniso a piece of her mind.
Chiwoniso was seated with her head on the kitchen table. As Amai entered the room Chiwoniso tried to get up but weakly sat down again. Droplets of sweat glistened on her forehead.
The room was warm from the pots cooking on the stove, the sink was overflowing with plates and pots smeared with last night's meal of sadza and beef stew and the state of the floor reported that no broom or mop had come near it.
“Chiwoniso, what have you been doing all day? The house is a mess. The kids haven’t bathed. You seem to have just started cooking now, it is almost time for dinner,” Amai’s voice dripped with annoyance.
Chiwoniso gave a defeated sigh, “Sorry Amai, it is just that I am not feeling so good. I just managed to give the kids cereals and porridge for breakfast, sandwiches and potato chips for lunch. I was now trying to cook dinner. I know you and Baba would be hungry and the kids haven’t really eaten a solid meal so they would also need an early dinner.”
“Oh, I am so sorry my dear, what is wrong? You shouldn’t be doing all this when you are sick,” Amai softened her voice and stance. She stood next to Chiwoniso, rubbing her daughters back. “What is wrong with you?” Amai asked.
“I have a fever, headache, my throat hurts and my joints feel weak.”
“Yep, you have a high temperature,” Amai said as she touched Chiwoniso’s forehead.“Get Paracetamol pills from my handbag, take 2 pills and go to bed. We will go to the clinic first thing in the morning.”
Amai was fuming. Her oldest son, Kumbirai, was nowhere to be found. “Where is Kumbirai?”
“I don’t know. I think he is in the boys’ bedroom.”
“Alright, you take those pills and go to bed.”
Amai marched to the boys’ bedroom. She knocked on the door. No answer. Knocked again. No answer.
Finally, she opened the door.
Kumbirai was watching a movie on his laptop with earbuds in his ears.
“Kumbirai, what has been happening here today? Do you know Chiwoniso is sick? The house is a mess,”
“Yeah, she said she was sick?” Kumbirai responded.
“And what did you do about it?” Amai enquired. Kumbirai looked at her blankly.
“Couldn't you take care of your sister, let her rest? The children haven’t eaten a decent meal all day, yet you are in here. This is disappointing. Does it mean if Chiwoniso is sick or not around then this house will fall apart? You are old enough to take care of everything. At 17 years you are nearly an adult,”
“Answer me, Kumbirai!” Amai insisted.
“Well, Chiwoniso is the one who knows how to do these things, she is better at running the house.”
“Why would you say that? She is younger than you!”
“Isn't it obvious, she is a girl. She can do household work better.”
“What! Ancestors, come hear this. You left the children to starve, didn't clean, didn’t make the kids bathe, all because it is a ‘girls job’. My poor daughter, sick as she is, even began making our dinner. She has shown herself to be responsible as any young lady can be. You, on the other hand, have just shown that you have been getting away with too much in this house. You are not some boss in this house because you are male. You are all children under my roof. Chiwoniso is sick, so you were waiting for me, your mother, to come back home so that I would do all these chores for you after a full day at work!” Amai bristled with anger.
“Now go finish cooking dinner, so I can tend to your sick sister and bathe the kids.”
Kumbirai sheepishly stood up and hurried to the kitchen.
Amai followed closely behind, stopping in the middle of the living room:
“Tafara, Chiwoniso is sick and you couldn’t be bothered to clean the room.You know how to sweep . You can’t even bathe without Chiwoniso forcing you. A 13-year-old who will not bathe in time. All of you start picking up your toys,” Amai barked orders to the youngsters. “This means that ever since the holidays began, Chiwoniso has been responsible for keeping the house organized and the kitchen stocked with food..She has been doing all this by herself with the rest of you burdening her. Chiwoniso isn’t here to serve you night and day. This entire week she won't be doing any chores. She shall rest. ”
“No little kings here,” Amai said with emphasis, glaring at her sons.
“Your Father will hear of this.” Amai threatened as she turned into the passage leading to the bedroom.
She entered the girls' bedroom. Chiwoniso lay on the bed under a gold and black soft blanket.
“My sweet heart, how are you feeling now? ”Amai asked. Worry was all over her face.
“I am feeling much better, Amai,” Chiwoniso whispered from under the blanket.
“I just came to check on you and to apologise. I have let you down. These boys taking advantage of your responsible nature and that you are a girl. From now on I will make sure there are no misogynistic tendencies in this house. Chores will be shared more equally. I can’t believe how naïve I’ve been. To think you had to cook and babysit whilst sick.”
“It is ok, Amai.” Chiwoniso answered.
“No, it isn't ok. From now on I want you to stand up for yourself when things like these happen. Just because you are female doesn’t mean you can't rest. Thank you for being so responsible.”
Amai gave Chiwoniso a hug. In her heart she prayed to God that she would have wisdom to teach her children on treating everyone fairly.
From the Shona language in Zimbabwe
Shylet is a freelance writer and stay-at-home mum. She is passionate about writing stories from an emotional and educative perspective. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org