Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Broken Women of the South

I was going about the mundane task of shredding lettuce for a salad when my mother launched into a tale with chilling nonchalance and a blasé air. A woman we all knew, a woman trained in law enforcement, a policewoman, had been killed in cold blood by her boyfriend. It no longer mattered that the woman had been married and her having a boyfriend had gained disfavour in our small community (because in a small town everyone knows everyone’s business).

Nobody knows why it happened but everyone knows what happened. The woman was nine months pregnant. Everyone had been having a lovely time speculating about whose baby it would be. Even though they judged her, and judged her harshly, nobody wished to see the woman dead. So on the day a keening cry was heard, emitted by her aged mother on a clear sunny afternoon, nobody laughed; nobody thought she deserved it; and many cried upon hearing the grisly tale.

It would be her young children’s testimony that would lead to the arrest of her boyfriend. It seems that the woman went missing for a few weeks; no one was alarmed as her lover was missing too and everyone added two and two together. The boyfriend came back, claiming to have been visiting family and asked where the woman was. That was when the alarm was raised. When police came asking questions, the children said it was the boyfriend whom they had last seen with the woman. Perhaps it is the compulsion, often cited in criminal modus operandi investigations, for the murderer to return to his crime scene that sent the boyfriend looking for the woman. In a matter of hours, the woman’s now decomposing body was discovered in a cane field. Her abdomen had been slit open, the child wrenched from her uterus and bludgeoned to death. There were signs of rape and stab wounds.

Each slice of my knife into the tomatoes made me visualise the murder of this woman. No matter what she had done, no matter her morals, she did not deserve to die like she did. And yet I carried on, ‘oohing’ and ‘aaaihing’ when appropriate while my mother regaled me with the horrifying story.

On Monday, a co-worker told us the story of how she found her children’s nanny stabbed, her eyes gouged out and raped the previous Saturday. Y co-worker had to identify the body when the community called her and asked to see whether or not the ‘victim’ was still alive. Despite this shocking experience, my co-worker was at work on Monday, although visibly sad, showing no signs of the emotional scarification one would expect from the encounter.

My mother, my co-worker and myself are products of a country that has become desensitised to violence. We are saddened yes, we grieve, but we are hardly ever shocked at the violence of crimes against women. We are no longer distraught when we hear stories like this, we are just fervently thankful it was not us. We are aware that nothing differentiates us from those who have fallen victim to such cruelty, except sheer dumb luck. We are powerless to protect ourselves pre-emptively, because when our turn comes the perpetrator might not need to break down windows or scale walls, it could be someone who has shared your bed and shown you what you thought to be love.

Indeed, our country is diseased.