The smack of his palm stung her face. She shrieked in pain and curled into a whimpering ball of fear at the corner of the bed. Spittle spraying, fingers accusingly pointed, he shouted at her about the cold dinners and unwashed laundry. She pleaded for forgiveness, rubbing her face with one hand while attempting to keep him at bay with the other. The shack was lit by a single bulb throwing menacing shadows into the corners.
In one of them, Nelao stood observing the altercation. She dutifully recorded the incident in the Book of Records. She paused briefly under Recommendations, looked up and sensed the man. His liver was working harder than usual for a man his age.
That’ll do, she thought.
She scribbled onto the scroll: Accelerated cirrhosis.
He had failed to protect his girlfriend from his violent impulses. It was fitting that his own body should fail to protect him from his own vice. Satisfied, Nelao walked into the light, past the fighting couple and out the door.
They never saw her.
Nelao was dead.
She had died three weeks ago. Working odd jobs to make ends meet, she had looked after her ailing mother and five younger siblings. Love had been a disappointing affair her whole adult life; circumstances had forced her to shack up with men who provided temporary respite from penury. They floated in and out of her life as they pleased, none of them too keen on yoking themselves to a poor girl from the North.
Her last partner had been an older man who worked as a diesel mechanic in Windhoek—he earned a decent salary, took her in, and shared her financial burdens. That and two and a half years of violent episodes. He wounded her body, broke their cutlery, and disturbed the already limited peace and Katutura quiet. He talked himself out of trouble whenever the police officers arrived. They dismissed the violence as small spats. After they left, he’d pull out his belt and lash her back, hands, and feet. He was careful never to touch her face.
The officers stopped taking her case seriously. One officer, Sergeant Janine Doeses, took on an especially dismissive tone whenever Nelao walked in to lay a case. “You like wasting our time here, neh?”, she’d jeer. “You fink we just come to wek every day to deal with your nonsense?”
“But meme I can even show you the marks—”
“My name is not meme; I am Sergeant. Show respect, please. You are clumsy. You keep sleepwalking and hurting yourself. This is not the first time.”
“Aiyee meme how can I sleepwalk and create wounds like this? It was him who did all this mem—”
“I said you must call me Sergeant. Now go away, og. I have other cases to deal with.”
Three weeks later Nelao had gone out with her friends for a birthday celebration. She’d stumbled home, inebriated. Upon opening the door to their shack the lightbulb went on. She felt his menacing presence behind her.
She knew the script. He would accuse her of infidelity. She would protest to no avail. He would proceed to deal debilitating blows.
That night, however, probably due to the alcohol, she’d had the courage to fight back.
He did not take this kindly.
Her chest took the first hit. She hit the plate cabinet. The blows rained down. For the first time they landed on her face.
A crack. A choking hand around her neck. Blurry vision.
The pain stopped.
Her heart did too.
The funeral procession shuffled along as the pallbearers lowered the casket into the ground. The priest droned on. Love. Forgiveness. The wind blew. A child picked its nose. Nelao’s mother sobbed into their neighbour’s shoulder.
Under a tree, Nelao stood observing the proceedings with increasing confusion.
Who died? Why is my mother crying? Why can’t I move?
Her mother began a tearful eulogy.
Nelao shouted. She waved her arms. No one turned to her.
A solemn voice spoke behind her: “You’re dead.”
Nelao turned. A woman in full Herero regalia stood looking at the funeral. She was see-through.
“Who are you?”
The lady smiled.
“I’m a Regent”, she responded gently. “My name is Mbeuu. I’m here to take you to the Citadel. Come, the others are waiting for you.”
Nelao turned back to the funeral.
“They will hurt for a while,” Mbeuu said. “Young souls are not meant to depart early, but that’s why we’re here. We correct the wrongdoings perpetrated by the living. When a rose is violently plucked from its roots we are the correcting thorns. Don’t grieve. They will find solace in their own way. And so will you. Come, we must go.”
Nelao was given a scroll and a glowing pen. Her job was to show up at incidences of domestic violence across Namibia, record the pertinent details and offer recommendations about how to deal with the perpetrator.
Within minutes of receiving the scroll and pen Nelao’s body vibrated urgently. She looked at Mbeuu. “You’re being called”, Mbeuu explained.
“What do I do? How do I get there?”
“Allow it. Just let yourself go. Your soul knows the way to violence.”
Mupini, west of Rundu.
Screaming children. The panga rose through the stifling heat of the night air. It came down on a mother shielding their bodies.
Nelao’s hands shakily attempted to jot down the details of the incident, horrified by the violence unfolding in front of her.
Just write it down. This is the only way you can help them now.
After several hacks, the drunk man stopped. The woman was still. The children still screamed. Nelao looked around the farm. She spied an old bakkie, rusted from age, peeling from the heat, and sporting old tires.
Under Recommendations, the pen glowed as she wrote: Burst tyre. Spinal injury. Paralysis.
As soon as her recommendation was etched into the records, she felt her body vibrate. She relaxed.
My soul knows the way to violence.
A cosy, two-bedroom house. A kettle boils. A running shower, an empty tub. A mobile phone rings unanswered in the bedroom. In the hallway, a fist flies and connects with Sergeant Janine Doeses.
A sickening crack.
“Why the fuck is he calling you?” The sergeant’s boyfriend screams. “Are you fucking him again?”
“No! I don’t even know what he wan—”
“I don’t know what he wants!” She scrambles for the bathroom.
“Hey! Don’t fucking walk away when I’m talking to y—”
Nelao watches, unable to record anything.
Irony is a strange thing.
A vase is broken over Janine’s head. The boiling kettle is fetched. As steam rises from her screaming, peeling face, her loaded service pistol is retrieved. The trigger is squeezed twice.
He is dazed. He stares at his work.
Shouts from the neighbours. A faint siren.
Fear grips him.
He puts the gun to his temple.
Mohammed Shehu is a Nigerian writer and brand director who completed his PhD in Informatics in Namibia. He is currently based in South Africa.