Editor’s note from Rachel: Bongi was inspired to write this short story about depression because it isn’t a topic that people address in Zimbabwe, her home country. People don’t talk about it, but they do suffer. While depression is prevalent here in America too, Bongi felt that it wasn’t being talked about enough on campus either. She hopes that maybe talking more will lead to fewer people suffering, both here and back home.
Let’s continue this conversation. We invite interested members of the Brown community to an IWB Luncheon on this topic. For more information and to sign up, click here.
“Wake up!” Shamiso jumped out of bed. Today she was sure he would send her back to her father’s house. What time was it anyway? She took a quick glance at the old dusty clock… 1pm! What? And she hadn’t even fed the baby. What was wrong with her? She was trying so hard. Yesterday she had even made an effort to visit naSkhulile, and be a good neighbor because Thabo, her husband had scolded her about not being a good wife. She was lazy. She was always in the house by herself reading those books of hers. Those books! How could he even say that? They had met in high school and she got pregnant with her first child and had to drop out, but he knew. He knew how much those books meant to her. When she first met him they would talk about life together and she had told him about what books meant to her. How they had brought her solace. He knew.
Oh, she had loved him. It was silly though because it was just supposed to be a crush like all of them, but he had been different. She just could not resist his charm. The way he had listened to her. They way he looked at her. And he had made her laugh so hard. He just seemed to break whatever walls she had set around her heart. She was jelly in his hands.
But now? She felt nothing. She wasn’t sure she loved him. Even with the baby. She did not love the child. There was no mother-son connection. What was wrong with her? She was supposed to well up with emotion, like all mothers were supposed to, but instead she felt this numbness, this pain that seemed to affect every part of her body, this pain that seemed to cloud and suffocate everything in her life. At times she thought this was not working out at all. Nothing was working out. Why should she try when everything seemed so so… hopeless?
All this while, Thabo was looking at her. She had drifted into a world of her own. He could not stand the state of his wife. Had he done something wrong? These days she was not herself. Nothing he did moved her. He would think of his best jokes and tell her, but she didn’t laugh. He wasn’t even sure she noticed he was joking. He wanted his wife back. Not this zombie-like creature. Today he had woken up, cleaned the house, made breakfast for their first born daughter, and had gone with her to play. And Shamiso had been sleeping! This was not how she had ever acted. At least this was not what his wife was like. When they first got married she had transformed their little two room into a comfortable home, bringing joy and happiness. Her laughter had always echoed through the house, but not anymore.
They were well off now. He had been promoted at work and they had extended their two-room house to a bigger one. Things were supposed to be perfect, but they were not. She had slowly turned to something he could not recognize. What should he do?
Shamiso slowly looked up and saw her husband still standing in front of her. His expression had changed from angry to sad. Oh God, she was wrong for doing this to him. She would go to church the following day and ask the pastor to pray for her and things would be fine.
The following day was a lovely Sunday and Shamiso had woken up with lots of enthusiasm. She had done all the motherly chores and they had had breakfast together as a family. The children were happy. Everything was perfect except Thabo had this puzzled look on his face. She did not give it much thought; she was going to church today. She even had the perfect attire in mind. When was the last time she had even dressed up? Thabo hadn’t taken her out in such a long time! She quickly got ready and went to the bathroom to put on her make up. She looked in the mirror and could not recognize herself. She had lost so much weight! She moved closer, looked at her face, and did not see herself there. This was a different person altogether. Where was the beautiful girl? She ignored her reflection, applied make up, and got ready to go to church. Now she just had to tell Thabo to take care of the children while she was gone. She would be back soon…
Thabo could not believe it. Shamiso hadn’t woken up to do anything in months. Today she had this innocent air about her. It was as if she didn’t notice that she hadn’t been herself all this time. She had just snapped back to her old self in one day. He was looking at her and she was saying something about going to church. He wasn’t hearing her; all he could see was how beautiful she was. He wished he could reach out, touch her face and take off that mask of make up. And the way she moved her hands! Did she even notice the effect she still had on him? He doubted it. He kept looking at her till she was out the door.
It was great to feel the sun on her face. It had been long since she last went outside. Actually it had been some weeks now. She would lie to Thabo and tell him she had gone out when really she had spent the whole day in bed, curtains drawn. She would only wake up to feed the baby and only when it had cried so much she just had to wake up. She hadn’t felt like this in ages and she was excited she was going to church. She remembered how she used to love church. She wasn’t even sure anyone would remember her and, at some point, she thought of going back home, but she continued. She was doing this for her family, her husband.
When she got to church, it was full and they were half way through the praise and worship service. It was steamy, almost unbearable, but the sight of people dancing and singing made her smile. How had she forgotten about all this? All these people seemed to make no effort to be happy, and yet for her happiness was a distant emotion, like a visitor that came when it pleased and rarely at that.
Pastor Sibu was tired. Things were not going well. His wife was having a baby in a few weeks and there was little money. People were not tithing and the church had no savings. Mai Phiri, one of the deaconesses had died and he had to be at the funeral to give counsel and comfort to the bereaved. He had a lot going on and he wasn’t even sure he could preach a message of hope when he didn’t feel it himself. These days he found himself questioning why he had even gone into ministry. He wasn’t sure he knew anymore, but he couldn’t exactly confide in anyone could he? He had to be strong. He could not afford to show weakness, and these people wanted him to be strong. He had to be strong. Besides, if he was preaching the gospel of a savior, his life should be perfect. He could not afford to have such thoughts, but they were so overpowering and fighting them each day was getting more and more arduous. He was tired, very tired. Could they not see? Could no one see his misery? Even his wife was of little help. “Let’s pray,” was all she said or “Just stop thinking like that, you have power over how you think, honey.” People could not understand that he needed someone. Someone to just understand he was human. He was sure if he was to share with anyone how he felt, they would not know how to deal with him. He was the one to whom people came for help! How ironic was that? So he kept things to himself and with each day it was becoming like a poison that was eating away at the fabric of his very being. From the corner of his eye he thought he saw Shamiso. Was it? He would have to meet her after church…
So Sibu had gone on ahead to become a pastor? And he looked so worn now, almost tired. His posture had hunched. Must be growing old. Shamiso hardly heard anything that was said in church. The place just made her nostalgic and all she did was sit there and reminisce, remembering the times when she was part of the praise and worship team and remembering how simple life was then. Looking around she saw a few people she recognized. Most of her friends had either left for South Africa or Botswana or gone overseas. Most of the people were older. Time flew. She was the only one trudging through it.
After the service she suddenly felt so tired and drained. She had wanted to talk to Sibu, but she didn’t think she would wait for him to come. Then quietly she went out and started heading home.
After church Sibu had to talk to the treasurer then with three other women who wanted to thank him for the message that day. “It was just what they needed,” they said. “The message had been hopeful”…. Hopeful? How was that even possible? If he had his way he would not even talk in fear of spewing out the very depths of his misery. He smiled and thanked them and starting moving away. He was thinking of Shamiso the whole time. They had been friends and had gone through a lot in their childhood then their friendship had drifted apart. He wanted to talk to her, ask her how life was treating her, how her marriage was going? He also wanted to confide in her. She would be the person to help him. He could be honest with her. He could not bear pretending anymore. He had to talk to someone. One more day and he would burst… But as he looked around he didn’t see her. She was gone…
Shamiso had never walked a greater distance. She wished she had asked for some transport money from Thabo so she could board a kombi home. She felt as if she was putting an enormous effort to lift her feet. Something was dragging her down. Somehow she wanted to cry, but she couldn’t. She stopped under a tree and resisted the urge to sit down. This was her best dress and Thabo’s favorite. She could not bare spoil it. She continued walking and with each step she took it seemed as if she would not get there. All she wanted was her bed and preferably a dark room where she could just sit and lie down. Lie down, yes that is what she wanted to do. Lie down.
Thabo was looking out the window. Shami would be arriving soon. He had missed her. He had been bewitched for sure because the way he loved her was not normal. They had been together for seven years and by now he should be over the teenage love phase. She had only been out for a few hours! He should not miss her this much. Sometimes he even felt less of a man for having such intense emotions. He didn’t tell anyone he did the dishes and cleaned the house while Shami slept. They would surely question his manhood when he told them that he took care of the kids and even changed the baby’s nappies. It was even worse these days. He literally did everything… And there she was coming towards the gate. Something had changed. It was as if she was struggling to breathe. Something was terribly wrong. Her posture just told him so. He ran outside.
Shamiso did not want to talk to anyone, not even Thabo and yet there he was running towards her. She did not know what to do so she just stood there. Thabo ran and gave her a hug almost lifting her off her feet. She was overwhelmed by so much emotion that she started crying. She cried like she had never done before. She had failed him. Not even church could save her. She had gone and she was still like this. Why was she feeling like this? What was wrong with her?
Thabo just stood there and hugged her as hard as he could. They needed to talk. He could not stand her like this. If only they could figure out what was wrong…
They sat down. Shamiso with her head bent and Thabo with hunched shoulders. That was his pose when he didn’t know what to do. He told her about how tired he was of her unresponsiveness. How he wanted his wife back. He told her about how he felt like he was the only one who wanted to keep the marriage working while she seemed like she could not be bothered. How could she sleep in every single day? Was she taking advantage of the fact that he was an understanding husband? He could tell something was wrong, but if she didn’t say he would never know. Shamiso didn’t even know what to say. She told him about how it had started slowly. She just started losing interest in the things she had loved doing. She also didn’t want to be around people anymore. She couldn’t help it. She just felt numb most of the time. Nothing moved her. Sometimes she thought she should leave. If she left quietly enough, no one would notice the difference. He deserved better. She was sorry.
Thabo was appalled. How could she think like that? She was loved. She had family. He drew her close, hugged her tight, and wished she could hear his soul reaching out to hers. She smiled, a weak smile that started from the corner of her lips and spread out into a weak laugh. That was something! He was happy and he was going to make sure that whatever this was that they were going through, they would emerge victors. They would beat this together.