SHORT STORY: Last straw on camel's back

Betty tried to disconnect the call but suddenly everything seemed distant and dark. She tumbled to the floor.

Every time he closes his eyes, he hears Betty screaming, begging him not to kill her. He stares at the ceiling. He stares until he pictures Betty on the floor, blood coming out of her mouth. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH | NMG 

IN SUMMARY

  • Jacky had tried to talk Betty into leaving several times, but she was always hesitant. She could not count the number of times Betty defended her husband, saying that his bad temper led to the beatings.

The morning is what many would call perfect. The sun is not too hot and there’s a slight breeze outside. The children in the neighbourhood are playing quietly.

It is one of those rare days when Rick has submitted all his articles to the newspaper editors on time. On other days, like when he has had an argument with Betty, he submits them just a few seconds before the deadline.

Rick gets up from his bed and looks outside from his already drawn curtains. He never draws them as he says the magnificent view from his room inspires him to write, especially on days when he has writer’s block.

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From his room, he can see Mama Prisca, the old lady who lives in the opposite apartment. He looks at her for a while and thinks about his mother. Rick’s heart gets heavy as he thinks of his mother’s reaction after receiving the news.

He looks at Mama Prisca for a while longer and goes back to bed. Suddenly, nothing is perfect any more. The sun appears too bright and the wind seems exceedingly rough. Sadness engulfs him.

*************************

The first blow landed squarely on her weather-beaten face and sent her to the ground. She let out a cry and as blood oozed from her mouth. The metallic-like taste in her mouth was disgusting, but not as disgusting as the man standing before her. She stared at the floor, as if begging it for help. The second blow almost burst her left eyeball, and she managed to escape the third one.

“I will be back in an hour and I hope to get all the answers,” Rick shouted.

Betty was lying on the floor and did not reply. Rick walked over her and slammed the door behind him. Betty crawled to the bed and used it for support to stand up. She limped to where she had left her mobile phone charging and dialled her best friend’s number.

“Hallo Betty, how are you?

“I’m dying, Jacky. Please come and help me.”

“What is wrong?”

“Hurry up, Jacky!”

Betty tried to disconnect the call to Jacky but suddenly everything seemed distant and dark. The phone slipped from her hand and she tumbled to the floor.

**************************

It had been almost two hours since Jacky arrived at the waiting room when the doctor attending to Betty finally showed up. Jacky’s heart was racing as she imagined what news the doctor had.

“She is conscious now. You did well to rush her here. It could have been a very serious and different case had you not done so.”

A great sense of relief filled Jacky’s heart.

“Can I see her now?

“Go right ahead.”

Jacky rushed into the room where Betty was lying on the bed, looking unruffled. Despite the bandage on her right cheek, she seemed rather peaceful. Her upper lip was swollen. It has been long since Jacky had seen Betty in such a tranquil state.

“Don’t let Rick know where I am or else he will come and finish what he started,” Betty said.

“I haven’t spoken to anyone since we arrived here,” Jacky quickly assured her friend. Betty said the doctor had already informed her of all that had led to her hospitalisation.

“I do not want to ever go through this again,” Betty said, more to herself than to Jacky.

“What happened?”

“You know how Rick is whenever he is angry, or maybe stressed from work. So he came home in the afternoon and claimed that I had stolen some of his money.”

“Did you take his money?” Jacky interrupted.

“I was in need of some cash. Badly in need, and I knew it would be hard to persuade him to give me $30.”

“What was the money for Betty?”

“I needed bus fare to go to a place. Somewhere safe, you know.”

Jacky had tried to talk Betty into leaving several times, but she was always hesitant. She could not count the number of times Betty defended her husband, saying that his bad temper led to the beatings.

“He has a hot temper, but he is a good man,” she often said to Betty.

“The doctor says you will be discharged tomorrow morning.”

“I will not go back to Rick’s,” Betty quipped. She seemed decided this time.

Jacky stayed in the hospital with Betty until she was discharged.

*******************

Rick’s heart seems to be getting heavier with every passing minute. His mind is fully occupied with yesterday’s events. Every time he closes his eyes, he hears Betty screaming, begging him not to kill her. He stares at the ceiling. He stares until he pictures Betty on the floor, blood coming out of her mouth. He sits up and cups his face in his sweaty, shaky palms.

Childhood memories creep into his mind. He remembers one night when his father came home and pounced on his mother. Rick can still feel the shock he felt when he saw his mother’s face covered in blood. He was grateful to the neighbours who came to his mother’s rescue. Rick was sure that that was the last time he ever saw his father. His heart sinks slowly as he dials his mother’s number.

“Hallo mother. I have some bad news.”

“She was here this morning, Rick. I could barely recognise her face. Those bruises will take time to heal, a very long time.”

Rick is not sure of what to say.

“How was she?”

He knows this is the right thing to ask. He just wants to continue the conversation and maybe hear his mother saying that she has convinced Betty to come back to him.

“She was badly shaken, but it is only for a while. I know they will be fine soon”

“They?”

“Yes. Her and the child.”

Rick’s heart almost stops.

“I did not know it, mother,” he says, his voice is hoarse and low filled with guilt, shame and remorse.

“You have lost everything son, everything.”

Her words are like hot coals. Rick gets out of bed and sits at the study table. He opens one of the notebooks lying on the table and tries to write something. There is nothing. Rick stares into space, reality slowly sinking in.

Editor's note: Are you an unpublished aspiring writer? You may send your 1500-word fiction short story to eastafrican@ke.nationmedia.com

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