She tossed and turned in bed unable to sleep. Although she was covered in a heavy duvet she felt herself shiver. What had started as any other ordinary day turned out to be everything but that. Salma now knew this dark secret.
“Babe, are you okay?” Salma’s husband asked.
“Of course not!” Salma answered angrily, turning to the other side of the bed.
“You know what, I can’t share a bed with you tonight. I’ll sleep in our daughter’s room,” said Salma.
As she sat to get out of bed a thought crossed her mind.
“Actually, get up Arnold. You’re the one who’s going to sleep elsewhere,” Salma said in a commanding tone.
“But babe I haven’t done anything wrong,” Arnold said softly.
“No, nothing wrong with covering up for a horrible man, yeah?” Salma responded angrily.
“Okay, I’m leaving because I don’t want to have this conversation now.”
Arnold leaving didn’t make her feel any better. Every time she closed her eyes she recounted the details of the horrible ordeal and these images formed in her mind. She ran to the bathroom to throw up in disgust.
She felt as though she was losing her mind but who could she speak to about such a sensitive matter?
As she took her phone to call her best friend she remembered a piece of advice she was given before she got married. “Salma, a good marriage requires you to hide your dirty linen. Let family issues remain family issues,” her great aunt had said.
Since she couldn’t talk it over with her closest friend, she lay in bed crying. Arnold wasn’t able to sleep either. The sins of the father weighed heavily on the son. Now, he had a wife who looked at him differently.
“Babe, can I come in?” Arnold asked as he knocked on their bedroom door.
“I want to be alone, Arnold,” Salma said amid sniffles.
“Please let me come in. Please babe.”
Arnold walked slowly towards Salma fully aware that he was walking on eggshells but he didn’t know what else to do.
“Babe, how can you not report this to the police?” Salma asked Arnold.
“It’s not that simple babe.”
“Your father defiled an underage girl and he deserves to face the consequences. It’s that simple,” Salma told Arnold.
“Babe, I need to tell you something,” Arnold said without lifting his head.
Salma knew from the look on his face that it was going to be something awful. She stretched out her hand to his as though signalling to him that he could trust her to listen.
“I don’t think this is the first time that he’s done it.”
“Why?” Salma asked.
“I told you that my parents started living in different towns when I was younger and I thought it was because of work at the time but I now know that wasn’t the reason.”
“What was the reason?”
“My father had been sleeping with the house help and my mom found out.”
“How did she find out?”
“She started getting sick and when she went to the hospital, she discovered she’d been infected with HIV. She’d only been with my dad. After confronting him with the information he confessed. The housegirl said it wasn’t consensual but I don’t think my mother and auntie believed her,” Arnold said with a heaviness in his voice.
“So that was why your mom kept asking whether he’d used protection?” Salma asked.
“Yes,” said Arnold as he nodded his head.
“When did you know about that?”
“Today, once Mary accused him, distorted memories started coming back to me.”
“Memories of what Arnold?”
“I remembered hearing that househelp crying often when mom would travel for work and leave us with dad and her. I also recalled there was a commotion as she left then shortly after we moved houses and dad moved upcountry.
I asked mom about it today after we took Mary to get checked out and she told me everything.”
“So he infected the househelp too?” Salma asked.
“No, the househelp had been born with the virus but my parents didn’t know.”
After a while of silence between them, Salma finally asked.
“So why aren’t we reporting him?”
“Mary is a distant cousin, it would stir up issues in the family. Mum has tried to save face and it would destroy her reputation,” Arnold said.
“But your mom didn’t do it, Arnold, your dad is the monster. What about Mary? What about the young orphaned girl whose only crime was seeking financial help from an able relative?” Salma asked.
“You don’t have to put it that way, I feel terrible about what happened to her but she agreed not to report.”
“She’s only 15! You guys forced her into agreeing. How was she going to stand up against him without your help?” Salma asked in fury.
“Mary is okay and they put her on medication just to be sure that she wasn’t infected. Mum will continue taking care of her too. We don’t have to ever interact with dad unless in those extended family gatherings.” Arnold said.
“Is that supposed to make it right Arnold? What about that girl’s trauma? What if that was our daughter?”
“Babe, I didn’t say it was right. I guess everyone is just trying to move past the incident. What about mum whose life changed because of him?”
“I know babe, it must be tough for her but I still feel he didn’t get enough punishment. One thing is clear though, he should never be near our daughter,” Salma said firmly.
“I completely agree.”
They both sat in silence. Salma remembered feeling like she had married into a good family. She would never have imagined what lay beneath the image of the happy, picture-perfect family.
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