This letter by Zole is a response to a letter written by Bana in a story written by Ken Saro-Wiwa called Africa kills her sun. Here is the link for Africa kills her sun for those who may not have read it Africa Kills Her Sun.
I write this with tears in my eyes. I got your letter today and it broke my heart at how you met your end. You may be surprised to find out I got this letter two years after your execution. Apparently, it was found in your mother’s belongings when she died two months ago of a heart attack. Apparently, the letter was sent to the last address you had for me but I had moved. So it was sent to the return address which was your mother’s address. Knowing your mother I am not shocked that she didn’t send it to me. She hated me from the beginning. She didn’t like me. She had plans for you and they did not involve getting married to a village girl, the daughter of the village drunkard.
I am sitting at my home watching as my son Kevin plays with my husband outside. They are playing chess. They both play with passion. I think soon Kevin will give my husband a run for his money. He is very sharp like you were at that age. My daughters, I have two, Angela and Rachel are playing house near where I am seated. I feel blessed to have a man who loves me and adores me and three beautiful daughters. I didn’t always feel this lucky at one time I felt I was cursed with a streak of bad luck.
I can’t even imagine how it must have been. Execution by gunshot. I hope it didn’t hurt my darling. I can’t believe that you, Bana the hope of the village died like a common thief. I am trying to understand how that boy from the village became so hardened and decided to become a criminal. I find it hard but Bana, I too have done things that made me feel ashamed. So I cannot judge. We all do what we can to survive.
As I said I got your letter from your mother’s belongings. Your older brother sent it to me. It had been opened already. Your brother said your mum had opened the letter and read it. She then became very bitter that you wrote a final letter to me but you couldn’t send one to her. She said that I would never get the letter as long as she was alive. Your mother never liked me. She looked down at me. She thought I was a no-good girl trying to trap her son. I know you would defend her and say no she would never think that. The thing is Bana I heard her one day when I came to see you. She had venom in her voice as she said bad things about me. But that wasn’t as bad as the things she said about me when I came looking for your address a few months after you left for the navy. I needed to talk to you urgently and she refused to give me your address. I have a feeling that the letters you and I wrote to each other through your family’s post box were never delivered. Your letter to me proves it.
You remember the night before you left we went down to the river. To that spot where we could see the river but there was a shelter of trees. We used to go there and you would hold me. We would tell each other our dreams and hopes. We would talk about getting married when you left the navy because you would have enough money to build me a modern house. I was going to finish teacher’s training college and come teach the children in the village. I would redeem our family name. No longer would my family be the laughing stock of the village. It hurt you know, being called the daughter of the village drunkard.
It started innocently. Us kissing and caressing. It was great to feel your body next to mine. My heart would beat so fast and my palms would get so sweaty. I liked, no loved your touch. I liked having your hands, rough from the work on the farm running over my arms, and thighs. I always wore short skirts when I was going to meet you. I remember how you used to love my legs and full African figure. We would touch and kiss each time going a little further. But I remember how I was ready to be yours totally but you said we should wait. You didn’t want me to shame my family any further.
In your letter, you said we never consummated our love. Bana we did. That last night when you carried some locally made palm wine and food for us to enjoy. We danced and drank wine and danced some more. Then we started kissing and making out. Bana, I wish I could say that I remember what happened that special night but I don’t. I think we got too drunk and got carried away. The next day I was sore when we awoke but I thought nothing about it. We said our passionate goodbyes and parted ways.
Three months later I was in teaching college and I started feeling nauseous. I thought nothing about it. I thought it was something I ate. I took some medicine for my stomach but I kept feeling sick. Finally, I went to the dispensary. When the nurse attending asked me as I filled in my form when my last period was I couldn’t remember. My periods hadn’t always been regular and I was depressed over you going. When I said that it had been a while she wrote me down for a pregnancy test. I wasn’t worried. I knew it would be negative. So imagine the shock when I received the results and I was pregnant! Pregnant! How by immaculate conception?
Bana I was so shocked. I cried for three days and didn’t attend class. I wondered how this had happened. I had never slept with any man including you. I was a virgin. You were the only man who I had let anywhere near me. I could not understand it. I prayed for God to give me answers but he was silent. In those days if you were found to be pregnant and not married you couldn’t stay in college you had to leave. It’s like they thought you had a contagious disease and would infect others. So they kicked me out. I felt broken. But I had hope. I knew that if I explained it to you, you would understand and come back we sort things out. You knew I was a good girl. I would not have told you that you were the father if you weren’t.
So me, naive girl that I was went to see your mother. I told her that I needed to send you a letter. That I was in the family way and you were the father. Your mother screamed at me that I was a slut. That I was only trying to trap you. She said that I probably got pregnant by one of those college boys and that I wanted to frame you for the crime. She called me a prostitute and other names. She said I would never ever see you. That I should go to the village midwife and get myself rid of that burden. She actually took a broom and hit me, pushing me out of your compound.
I went home, my head hung in shame. My mother cried but she accepted my pregnancy. My father wanted to throw me out but my mother stood her ground. That was the first time I ever saw my dad listen to my mother. When I had the baby, I was in labour for 13 hours. My baby was born and he was 4.8 pounds. A strong boy. He looked like you.
After six months of looking after my son an auntie of mine got me a job as an untrained teacher. I wasn’t paid much but it was enough to survive and take care of our basics. After two years the school forwarded my name for training in a government institution. I had to leave my son behind with my parents but I used to come home over weekends and holidays. It was hard leaving my son but I had to. I had tried looking for a way to get in touch with you but your mother had warned your family against helping me so no one would give an address to find you. I finally gave up. You have to understand that I wanted you to know but there was no way to get in touch with you. It’s not like nowadays when everybody has a mobile one and more people have post office boxes.
In my final year, I met Ken. He was teaching at the college and carrying out research among the students. He had a degree in education and he was doing his master’s. He tried to talk to me but I wasn’t interested. You have no idea Bana how single mothers are treated. It’s like there is evidence that you have tasted the forbidden fruit and you got caught. Many students and teachers had tried to approach me for an affair but I wasn’t interested. I had my eyes on the prize. I was going to finish my education and go back and get a great teaching job. My son’s future depended on me.
Ken kept on pursuing me. He wrote me letters. I tore them up. He tried to buy me lunch and I refused. Finally, he told me that he wasn’t going to give up. He had found someone that he liked and he wasn’t going to give up. I only went out with him to get rid of him. But he was fun and intelligent so I went out with him again. He had travelled. He had been to many different places. His family was rich but he wanted to make his own way in the world. And he never pressured me to have sex even though he knew I was a single mother. We talked about our lives, where we had come from, and where we were planning to go.
Soon I was finished. I went back to the village. But Ken kept writing to me. One day he turned up in the village. In his car no less. He found out where we lived and he came there. He told me to enter the car and we go for a drive. He asked our son to go with us. We had fun that day and he bonded with my son. When we went back he asked me to remain in the car so that we could talk. He asked me to marry him. He was willing to raise my son as his own.
So now here I am at our house outside Ken and Kevin playing a game. Yes, Kevin is your son. He reminds me so much of you. The way he laughs, his facial features and how he articulates himself. But he has also gotten other characteristics from his adopted father. He doesn’t know that Ken is not his father. We haven’t told him. I know I will have to one day but let him reach at least 18 years of age. Besides which if he asks me if I told him right now that you’re his father and he asks to see you how do I tell him you were executed as a common criminal mastermind?
Ken is a great man. He paid for me to go to university when we went to the USA for him to do his PhD. I am currently doing my master’s. It was one of my dreams remember? But nothing is as fulfilling as being the mother of these three beautiful children I have. I love them so much. I love Ken as well. It’s not the love that I felt for you as my first love but it’s a great enduring love as well. He makes me happy. Our marriage is what I had hoped ours would be Bana when you came back from overseas.
I wonder what your mother said when you asked about me. Whatever she said it must not have made you hate me. The letter you wrote to me is evidence. I think your mother was angry that even as you headed for the grave your love for me was still strong. That’s a real love it cannot be destroyed by distance or time. I loved you at one time with all my heart and I am heartbroken that you exited the world in such an undignified way.
I will honour your wishes about a statue and gravestone. Both for me and for your son who I will one day give a copy of this letter so that he may understand that you were not a bad man. I will put your epitaph as well “Africa kills her sun.” My darling I hope you are now in a better place. I hope you made your peace with God before you died. I will say a prayer for you tonight. Sleep well, my first love. I hope the next world brought you better tidings than this one.
I must go. My daughters want to go out and play with their dad and brother. They say I have taken a long time writing my letter. But how do you say goodbye to a ghost of the past? I don’t know. Maybe one day we will meet again as souls in heaven. Life didn’t turn out the way we planned Bana. But I know I am still grateful that I have another day to see, another sunrise to meet, another sunrise to say goodbye to. I weep for you but I rejoice for the blessing that is your son. Africa kills her sun, but tomorrow at dawn another will arise in his place.
Yours in love,
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