His Mother dropped Kefas off at school that morning, as she was wont to. Her kiss on his cheek was perfunctory, absent-mindedly ruffling his hair as he exited the car. She didn’t however step in to say hi to his well-liked teacher as she sometimes did. Her scarf, rather than tied on her head, was flung around her neck, seemingly carelessly, but enough to hide any tell-tale bruises on her fair skin.
She did not say goodbye. Her mind had already moved on. It was now focused on the market and how fast she could purchase the ingredients for the fresh Okazi soup Bitrus had requested as his dinner. After a quick glance to ensure Kefas was safely inside the school premises, she drove off.
Ms Iveren was your favourite teacher’s teacher. Cheerfully overweight, constantly dressed in long, bright flowing dresses which sat comfortably on her ample frame. She radiated a kindness so tangible, one almost felt it could be packaged and shared amongst other teachers who sported sullen faces like they were only paid to look formidable. In fact, she was seen by most parents as a constant ray of sunlight, able to pierce darkness and enliven the mood of even the most sullen of children.
Today, however, she could do little to improve Kefas’ mood. The boy’s face was closed in, locked into a perpetually bland expression that hinted to a tightly held control of raging internal emotions and conflicts. She mentally filed him for further attention at the end of the school day. Perhaps a discussion with his mother when she came to pick him up would suffice.
Kefas had zoned out. In his mind’s eye, he replayed the events of the previous evening, hearing again snatches of his mother’s conversation with her sister while working on his Maths homework, as usual, unsupervised.
“Leave him and go where?”
“…….and survive how? On what? With what? Ha! Shey you will bring the money for me to go back to school and start work?”
“…….And what will my Kefas do? You know he won’t let me go with him. Who will now take care of my boy? Ah no o.”
“…..my dear, I will do as the pastor said na. He is my cross to bear so I will continue to pray for him. Please let me continue with my cooking joor.”
“…..yes I know he ate it yesterday. He liked it very much and said he wants to eat it today again and you know he does not eat yesterday’s food. It has to be fresh……”
Kefas had no idea when the call between his mom and his aunt ended as he was not listening anymore. He had zoned out again when the cooking talk started, focusing on solving a very troublesome math problem. However he was sufficiently distracted by the return of his father. Hurriedly pasting a smile on his face, he ran to him in welcome, stopping short when he saw his mother seated, asleep at the table, phone in hand, soup ingredients lying unused around her.
Taking his father’s bag into the bedroom, he remained there, back against the door. He knew the script by now.
Closing his eyes, he futilely placed his hands over his ears, but he could still make out his mother’s protests of “Ah! Bitrus! I was tired, true” silenced by the thuds of what he knew were his father’s fists. He imagined, rather than saw the belt come out and repeatedly lash against her bent back, scattering the ingredients on the table.
Ms Iveren interrupted his reverie, pairing him with Amanda, the brilliant chirpy girl who, in Kefas’ opinion, always laughed too readily and was too willing to lead class activities. They were to share a text for a reading exercise.
Immediately the strong-willed girl moved the shared text from the morose child, intending to read first, the teacher knew she had erred in shelving Kefas’ issue till day’s end.
The tightly coiled time bomb that was his emotions exploded. His fists rained against Amanda, hitting her face, head and neck, as if consciously avoiding every other part of her body.
She moved to intervene, and stopped short. Not because of fear to her personal safety, for she could have smothered his flailing fists on her ample bosom if it was needed, but it was the words, the words that floated clearly to her ears, distinct, despite the keening cries of anguish from Amanda and the protests of the other school kids, that chilled her to the bone.
Kefas’ voice had suddenly become guttural, he had aged right in front of her. Timing his words to the smack of his fists, he shouted, enunciating clearly with tears streaming down his cheeks:
“Bitch! Whore! Who are you to read first? I’m the man here. Know. Your. Place.”