What if you were your brother’s keeper?

Sarah Lagot Odwong mugshot

A few years ago when I was still a junior in the trenches of undergraduate academia, I used to reside in a hostel on the lower side of Kauga. I moved there from very noisy environs in Bugujju in the hope that I would have peace of mind and serenity in a smaller, less crowded establishment. Alas, how wrong I was! This place was a whole other level worse than my previous residence. The noise from my neighbours’ rooms, the loud cackles of their endless streams of visitors, the blaring of sad kadongo-kamu songs from the askari’s radio all day and night, the quacking of the neighbour’s ducks, the deafening music that shook my bed in uneven vibrations and roused me from deep sleep were all a migraine-inducing nightmare.

Just behind the hostel were a line of wooden shacks that were expanding into a fully fledged slum; the inhabitants- about six women and ten children, and a man who seemed to be the head of the homestead. Most often than not, he was skunk drunk. Every night, he came back tittering to his wooden shack, yelling at the top of his voice in his inebriated state. His stupors caused him to sing, wail and laugh all at the same time. And I was right at the frontline of this action.

How? You may ask. Well, my room was poorly ventilated. Most times, I kept my window open all night to ensure a stream of fresh air got in. My moments of solace usually came on weekend nights. The night prowlers would be out partying, the homesick residents would be visiting relatives. On those nights, there was hardly any music playing and the solitude was refreshing. I would get my laptop, notebook and pencil and start to write. The deafening silence was good for my soul.

At such moments is when I experienced marvelous spurts of writing creativity. And so it was on a humid, moon-lit Saturday night when I sat huddled on my bed typing a blog post on the computer that I was awakened from my reverie.

A loud noise tore through the night. It was evidently coming from outside my window.

“Eish , that sounds like a slap,” I thought.

Curious, I lay the laptop down on the bed, stood up and slid open the window to peek out. There was a female form hunched on the veranda of the neighbour’s shack. I could tell it was a woman because her long braids spread out onto the dusty, cracked cement. Frightened, I called out and asked if everything was okay.

A gaunt male figure with drooping shoulders was hidden in the shadows of the neighbour’s house. He walked forward at the sound of my voice and answered in the local Luganda dialect, “Fa ku mudaala gwo.”

The visibly shaken woman started to scream loudly. Wailing, her sobs rocked her frail body as she asked the man, “Charles, lwaki onkuba? Lwaki onkuba banange?”

I now understood what was going on. It was a family squabble. An altercation. The man grabbed fistfuls of her braids and dragged her on the ground. She raised up her head and I saw her face. It was the neighbour lady. The jolly 30- something year-old young woman with two little children. She turned her face to my window as her husband dragged her in the dirt. Her eyes were puffy from all the crying and red with fear; her only plea; “Munyambe!” (help me!), whispered in a faint voice. The man slapped her across the face and hurled obscenities at her saying that nobody was going to come out of their house to help a stupid goat like her. Hearing and seeing this fracas left me shell-shocked. I was enraged that this man had turned his wife into a punching bag.

It was almost 11 p.m and I was dressed in my pajamas. I got my sweater and slippers on and walked out of my room. Nobody else in the neighbourhood was responding to the chaos. The woman’s screams were getting louder and louder as her husband thumped her with blow after blow. I would not watch this woman get beaten to death. I picked my flashlight and went to find the LC1 Chairman. I came back with him to the neighbour’s home. On hearing his voice, a few elderly people in the neighbourhood came out of their houses. A small crowd started to gather. I took it as my cue to leave and I walked back to my hostel room leaving the Chairman and other concerned residents to reason with the warring couple.

In my dimly lit room, I sat atop my bed to make sense of what had just happened. I was livid that this man had the audacity to beat his wife. I was incensed that the neighbours remained comfortably hidden within the confines of their homes as a woman was being pummeled to near death. I wondered why my neighbours were double-faced; smiling with this lady during the day and refusing to come to her aid in her time of need.

That night, I slept with a clear conscience because even though I was too afraid to physically stop the fight between a husband and wife embroiled in a bitter battle, I went and got somebody who could. I have no idea why this couple fought. Antoine de Saint-Exupery once said: “I have no right to say or do anything that diminishes a man in his own eyes. What matters is not what I think of him but what he thinks of himself. Hurting a man in his dignity is a crime.”

All lives matter. You will be held accountable for how you treat people; sooner or later, the consequences will catch up with you.

I pray by the mercies of God that we will never engage in abuse or demean anyone. It is such a cruel thing to tear down a man’s spirit. If you’re in an abusive relationship, get help from your family, friends, church, mosque, work place or wherever you can get it from. Your life is important. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

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