Not to be outdone by the six-year-old, Tendai increased her efforts and tried to work faster to finish coloring in her own sketch. She was also very conscious of the fact that she would soon have to stop so that she could check on the meal she had cooking on the stove. The little girl, Rumbie, was super competitive and Tendai knew that if she even gave the child a chance, she would lose in this challenge of theirs. If she was to lose, Tendai knew she would never hear the end of it so she increased her efforts to do the best she could.
There was a lot of pressure too because Rumbie’s brother and sister, seven-year-old Tinotenda and nine-year-old Chipo, were both hovering over them, keeping watch over the showdown to make sure ‘no one’ cheated. That no one being obviously her because what would Rumbie know about cheating right? And yet part of her knew that there was a mischievousness in Rumbie that was to be watched out for. Age had nothing to do with it and Tendai knew that the way things were going, she was about to eat herself some humble pie. Though how someone could cheat at coloring she wasn’t exactly sure yet.
“You’re losing mama Tay Tay, there is no way you will win this battle,” Chipo proudly announced as she was obviously rooting for her sister.
“That’s because she started late and her picture is so much bigger! When did you make that drawing mama?” Tino chimed in obviously impressed with the sketch.
“And whose fault is it that she started late? Plus anyway, its fair that she gets a bigger picture and Rue gets the smaller one. Rue is after all smaller than she is…”
Tendai smiled at their banter and thanked God that the children had not lost their spark of life since their parents had died exactly 2years before. It warmed her heart to know that they were still able to laugh and joke around with each other in the way they were now doing, even four-year-old Joseph who was sleeping at that moment was a happy child. There were moments where it was obvious that they were thinking about what they had lost but for most of the time, they were such happy children. Today especially she had seen it, and it was fitting that this would be the day that they would feel sad because the day marked the anniversary of her tete and bamukuru’s death. Her own grief was still very much strong but one could argue that she hadn’t had the time grieve properly because of all the curve balls that had been thrown her way.
She had however been working on minimizing the grief every day with all the art she created and all the time she spent with the children. She had been close to both her tete and her bamukuru. Tete Angie and bamukuru Andy had taken her in when she had lost her parents at the age of 17. Putting aside the grief caused by the loss of her beloved brother, tete Angie had instead put all her efforts in making sure a young Tendai found healing and happiness after she lost her whole family.
Tendai could remember it as if it was yesterday. The loss of her family had hurt her a lot and the pain of the loss had been magnified by the fact that no one wanted her in their own families. Most people had felt that she was too old to be taken care of and some had even suggested houses for her where she could a job as a maid. While she respected people who had to work in that profession, and some even started way younger than she had been at that age, it hurt knowing they had not wanted her and they already had plans to get rid of her.
Sure at that time things in the country had not been very good but the obvious lack of effort put in by her relatives to take her in and look after her had caused her to doubt that there we any goodness left in the world. The rejection she felt on top of the loss had cut her deep and she had wished that death would take her too. She had wanted to die, but Angie and her husband had saved her life. Auntie Angie had given her a chance and both her and uncle Andy had loved her into wholeness.
When her beloved auntie Angie had decided to step up and take the recently orphaned teenager into her marriage home, she had gotten a lot of criticism for it. Most believed it would be the end of her ‘already on the rocks’ marriage as they believed it to be. The term always greatly confused her because, from her point of view, there was no stronger marriage than the one her aunt had among all of her family. Not even her parents had a marriage like that. Not even close.
Her uncle Andy had been a loving, loyal man full of honor and integrity. He had been very supportive of his wife and faithful to her in a way like no other man Tendai had ever met. He had just been the best and Tendai had hoped that one day she would meet a man just like him. She had prayed to God on her knees every night for more than 10 years, asking for a man just like him…or as he had always advised, better than him. While she loved her aunt more than any of her family, he had been her hero. He hadn’t just accepted her into his house, he had also accepted her into his heart.
She had gained a second father in him and she would forever consider him the number one influential person in her life. He had changed her life for good and she would forever be in his debt. A debt he had canceled, of course, he had canceled because he had called her daughter. He had truly loved her like no other person had after the death of parents. Her aunt had known her all her life and her love should have been a given because she was family. However, the death of her parents had shown her that being family doesn’t always mean you will be loved, and so for a stranger to love her like he did when her family didn’t, awed her and restored a little bit of hope in her heart where humanity is concerned.
Things had changed though in the past 2 years since their untimely death and she was left wondering what they had been thinking. How they could have left her in such a situation as she was now experiencing she didn’t know. Only the knowledge that they did love her and that they always had her best interest in their hearts stopped her from questioning the past 10years of her life and all she had learned in those years. She was however still confused as to how they could think that this was the best for her. They had in their death, for all intents and purposes trapped her in a place of never-ending pain and misery, how would she heal now? They arranged for her to be married to a man that Tendai had no doubt hated her and blamed her for all the things that had gone wrong in his life.
Tendai had been laughing at herself all this time. How could she, an independent woman, find herself stuck in an arranged marriage. How could she be shackled to a guy who she did not choose for herself in the 21st century? Sure she had always said that she would want to be with a man that both her uncle and her aunt approved of, but this was not what she had in mind. And though their will seemed to approve of him, she was sure they wouldn’t approve now because he wasn’t living up to the standard they had told her to look for. They had told her to look for a man who would love her and take care of her and be always there to bind up her wounds…and he wasn’t any of that, in fact, he was at fault for causing a lot of her wounds.
Of course, besides the fact that he hated her and that she did not trust him at all, she wondered at what could have made her tete and bamukuru believe that an arranged marriage would work for her? Granted they had had an arranged marriage and it was the best marriages she had ever witnessed in her short life so far but marriages like theirs are not the norm and the fact that they would narrow down her chances of ever finding a man like uncle Andy, while strapping her to a man that hated her completely baffled her mind. It caused her so much grief to think that they could not trust her enough to choose wisely on her own and follow God’s plan for her life. Instead, they had chosen for her and they had chosen a man who clearly wanted nothing to do with her.
She was glad that the children were healing from their loss and thanked God every day that he had healed their little-broken hearts.
‘He can heal yours too, you don’t need a man, this is what He came to do.’
That thought was ever present in her mind these days but as much as she believed that God could heal her and Jesus came to heal her broken heart, somehow she always found herself back at the bottom when something happens to rip open a new wound in her heart. And she had had so many expectations about how her marriage would be but none of them could ever be met. Sure she knew she had Jesus Christ but surely if He came that she might have life and life in abundance, a blessed marriage had to have been included in that promise right? She really did think so, so why was she stuck in this marriage which had no future?
After a rushed court marriage a year ago, Benjamin, her husband had disappeared on her and left the country before the ink even had a chance to dry on their marriage certificate. The man had said he needed to gain some experience after having recently completed his studies. He had explained to his family, not to her directly, that he had gotten an amazing opportunity to work with some influential people in his line of work and he could not pass up the opportunity if he wanted to make a future for himself. Needing to make something of himself, Tendai understood, but the radio silence where she was concerned was not something she easily found acceptable. All it did was prove to her that he really did not like her nor did he respect her at all. The man had packed up and gone off without so much as a word to her and he had not said anything to her whenever he called the children over the year either. It was as if she did not exist.
As it was, she had had to find out from Joy, the maid, that he was coming home, that he was, in fact, in-country but had decided to visit his parents first before he came to her home. She hadn’t found out from him, nor from his family, she had found out from Joy instead. And apparently, he was here to stay…at least for now.
Shaking her head to get rid of the toxic thoughts going around, she concentrated on finishing her coloring but unfortunately, she lost and had to experience a lot of teasing from the children. Apparently, she needed to get a new job because she obviously wasn’t any good at her current one. Instructing the children to begin setting the table, which they seemed to love to do, she also told them to go wake up Joseph as she turned to the stove to check on the meal she had been making.
She thanked God that Joy always did the meal preparations before she left for the night and Tendai did not have to start from scratch. People had asked before why she had hired help, to begin with since she was at home all the time and had quit her job and Tendai had long chosen to ignore them. They did not accept her choice of profession and they never would. The teaching job she had quit had been something she had gotten temporary to placate people, but with the change that had come into her life 2 years ago, she did not have the time to spend pleasing other people.
She was earning enough with her freelance lettering and illustration that she did not need a job. She was making enough to support her family even without Ben’s help and she paying Joy out of her own pocket so she did not owe anyone any explanation. Hearing some noise from the side, Tendai checked to see Chipo making what seemed to be a cup of tea for her. Immediately she knew that this would not end well for her because she had yet to taste anything nice that Chipo had made for her. At the same time though, she knew she had to accept it and try it, even if it was just a sip, that was the deal they had made.
Tossing the drying towel on to the counter, Tendai accepted the cup of tea that Chipo handed to her with her eyes narrowed in suspicion. Taking a tentative sip, she grimaced and quickly turned to the sink and dumped all the contents inside, ignoring the laughter coming from four little brats seated at the table. Of course, it just had to be that awful tasting tea that they all knew she hated.
“Mama Tay Tay, you are wasting tea again!” Rumbie said bouncing in her seat. “If you are not going to drink it, why did you buy it?”
“Oh hush, no I am not, blame Chipo, it’s her fault.”
All the children laughed and Tendai could feel another wound in her heart closing up just from their laughter. The honest was that it had been gifted to her by in-laws because they thought she needed to lose some weight.
“Mama Tay Tay, look it’s Ben at the door!”
In their excitement, none of the children noticed Tendai freeze as they ran to the door to greet their beloved Ben and for a mini-second, she wished she had told the children how cruel he was to her. She quickly shook off the thought though because there was no way she could ever do that. She had gone to great lengths to make the children think she was happy and only Chipo, as the oldest, was suspicious of the whole situation. And as if to prove the point, she felt a hand on her arm and turned to see Chipo looking up at her with sad eyes.
Shaking her head, Tendai smiled at her and told her to go but Chipo refused.
“Chipo dear, you need to go say hi.”
“ I already did, saying hi takes less than a minute, do you need help getting the food on the table? Tonight is a school night, we cannot, we cannot stay up late,” Chipo offered her help.
Not knowing what else to do, Tendai nodded and allowed the Chipo to help her in setting the pots and bowls on the kitchen table. Looking at the places set she was tempted to tell Ben that there was no food for him but knew that it was a ridiculous thought. She was happy though that Chipo took the liberty of setting his place at the end of the table, away from her, and as Tendai could not help noticing, away Chipo too as Chipo placed cup beside Tendai’s. It seemed that sitting positions were changing tonight as they never usually sit next to each other. She knew though that Tino would not complain because he would just be so excited to sit beside Ben.
‘Lord I hope this isn’t going to cause a problem,’ Tendai thought, ‘I don’t want Chipo to hate him.’
‘Can you forgive him,’ a thought came back
‘Forgive him? Are kidding me?’
‘Chipo is learning from you and taking her cues from you, just like you used to do her mother.’
‘I am not sure I can forgive him yet, it’s just not in me.’
‘Make the choice, say the word, and God will do the rest.’
Tendai shook her head and called the children to the table, she said a brief forced greeting at Ben and concentrated instead of saying the prayer and getting the children to eat. She could feel Ben looking at her and now all the children seemed to have noticed something was going on but Chipo came to the rescue and distracted her siblings and soon they were laughing away and joking together as they ate their food. The teasing about losing to Rue came back again and Tendai was glad for it. The conversation in her head did not stop though and she struggled to keep up with the conversation at the table because she was battling herself in her mind.
‘You know the bible says you should forgive because you have been forgiven.’
‘He doesn’t deserve it!’
‘That’s not fair, I am not Jesus.’
There was silence in her head as she remembered that though she wasn’t Jesus, it was no longer her that lived but Christ through her. And because as He is so was she, shouldn’t she be forgiving. She immediately then remembered watching a Milena Ciciotti’s Youtube video earlier in the evening that was a study on Luke 6. There was a verse in there that said if someone slaps you, you should give them the other cheek…but how could she do that, that was just absurd. It did say though that you should do unto others what you wanted them to do for you. So wouldn’t she want to be forgiven if she ever did something stupid?
Tendai shook her head again and got up and started to clear the table and Chipo directed all the younger ones to wash their hands. Tendai was grateful for Chipo taking charge because her mind was all over the place and she couldn’t concentrate. When Tino and the younger ones dragged Ben out of the room, Tendai was able to breathe a little and set to washing the dishes. And Chipo, for the first time, stuck around to help without being asked.
“Chipo, you can…”
“Do you love him?”
“Wait, what? I know he doesn’t love you, I have heard people say he doesn’t and he never could, but do you love him?”
“Oh baby, you heard people talking, I’m sorry, I wish you hadn’t…”
“I don’t, but do you love him, I mean you were watching that video earlier and you said it says you should love those who didn’t love you so do you?”
Tendai shook her head at that reference to Luke 6 again, at that moment, she honestly wanted nothing to do with that chapter. She knew the verse that Chipo was referring to though, it basically asked what credit you got from loving only those who loved you and that you should do good to those who did not do good to you. She also wasn’t surprised though that Chipo had overheard people talking negative about her and she hoped that none of the others had heard it too.
“No, I don’t, but Chipo, that doesn’t mean you should do what I do, in fact, I would prefer you wouldn’t,” she responded. “Were the other there when you heard people talking or have they ever come to you asking something?” she asked.
“Will let me know if they ever do?” she asked further.
“ Okay, but so can I show him the guest room then, cause you cannot share a room with someone you don’t like.”
“Chipo, you don’t have…”
“I would rather do that than to take on the duty of getting the others to brush their teeth.”
Tendai smiled at that and then laughed along with Chipo when she pictured it, it was always a war getting people to brush their teeth and prepare for bed. Again, she had to receive a lot of teasing about her lose that night but for once again, the teasing was welcome. However, 30 minutes later, as she stood in the kitchen, making a cup of tea, she was glad she hadn’t had to talk to Ben to show him where he would sleep. Chipo was right, he wasn’t coming near her bed anytime soon, he lost that right a year ago when he disappeared without so much as a word to her.
She wondered again for maybe the 100th time that night, could she forgive him? Could she somehow come to a place where she stopped letting it affect her? She realized that something had to change for her if he was here to stay. She could not be in a constant mental battle, she still had a lot of healing to do and being constantly in a mental battle with herself was definitely not the way to go.
‘God loves you.’
‘Yeah yeah, I know, and I should love because He first loved me, I know.’
‘He loves you, and you are precious in His eyes.’
‘You said that already, I know that.’
‘He loves you as much as He loves Jesus, in fact, He sent Jesus so that you could be saved.’
Tendai thought about that for a moment, wondering why the thought kept coming back, she knew of God’s love, he loved every one of His children.
‘You are loved.’
‘Me? I mean, of course, I know that, but Lord please give me wisdom and a revelation to understand this.’
Feeling the urge to open her Bible and carried her cup of tea to the lounge where she knew she left if. Before she could open it though, her gaze fell on the wall and the saw something she had written and stuck on the wall. It wasn’t something fancy or even very pretty, it was just plain and simple. Something her uncle Andie used to tell her to remind herself of every day. She had sat down one day when she was trying to teach his children the same message and they had each taken a paper and written some words down which they had all posted on their walls in their room. This one had actually been a reject that she had edited and just put on the wall in the lounge instead of throwing it away.
She immediately felt warmth in her heart as she realized that she really was loved, not the world or every Christian but Tendai. Jesus died for her, that if she might believe in Him, she might be saved. And He came to heal the broken hearted and set the captives free. It was finished at the cross, she wasn’t broken. And he purposely made her save this message instead of throwing away as she had initially wanted to do because He knew that one day, she would need the reminder. Looking around it on the wall, she saw other fancier looking ones or pretty ones that carried verses which now only made sense after looking at the plain and simple one.
It read, “Jesus loves me, Daddy God loves me, so what could I ever lack? I have I Am on my side, I am good.”
Smiling, she thanked God for the reminder, and also for wisdom to have those words posted on the wall. She didn’t know how the next few months were going to go, but Jesus loved her, and as long as she kept her eyes on Him, she would be okay. No matter what the devil threw at her, what life tried to do or what Ben and everyone else did; she would be okay in Christ. He was her healing and her provision, He was everything she could ever need.
“Why do the children call you mom? You are not really their mother.”
Tendai turned around too quickly and burned herself with the hot tea she was holding as she turned around to look at Ben, she was not used to living with a man in the house and she had not expected to hear a male voice older than 7 years in the walls of her home. In fact, it was kind of creepy that she was letting a man she barely knew stay in the house with her and her children. Maybe she needed to reconsider? It also took her a moment to register what he had said and she was left a little confused.
“You are not trying to replace Auntie Angie in their life are you?”
When it registered what he was saying, Tendai was shocked. She could not believe what her ears were hearing. So the man shackled her to himself and then disappeared on her without so much as a word goodbye and the first words he said to her was to question her relationship with her children? The fact was, Auntie Angie had stipulated that as long as she was married to the idiot, she could apply for adoption and in the year he had been away, she had done exactly that, though it had been a little bit difficult when she did not have her husband beside her and supporting her, but she had won the battle and legally she was their mother.
She was sure he wasn’t aware of that though because she had not made it public knowledge but he did not need to know that to accept them calling her mom. By the Shona culture, she was already their mom. It was basic knowledge that your tete’s children were your children and they would call you mom. So based on that relationship alone, he should have not questioned them or her.
“Have been away from Zimbabwe so long you don’t know how our culture works? Or are you just trying to be an…” Tendai stopped herself before she said a word that she definitely was not accustomed to saying.
She could see though, that Ben knew what she was going to say and he wasn’t happy about it but he kept quiet, probably because he had realized what she was talking about in regards to the culture thing. Shaking her head at his audacity, she picked up her bible and tucked it under her arm, she would read a little bit before she got back to work. She had an order she was working on that she had put on hold to spend time with the children but she had to work through the night to finish it before her deadline in the morning.
As she walked away from him, she hoped he wouldn’t say anything else but as usual, he crushed her hopes.
“Why am I in the guest room? Shouldn’t we share a room as a married couple, even if just to put up a united front in front of the children?”
The anger Tendai felt in response to that question was unlike anything she had ever felt before. She had to stop herself from throwing the contents of her cup at his face. That he had the nerve to say such a thing when he had left her fumbling for a whole year as to why he wasn’t at home or why he never talked to her when he called was just too much for her. And she forced herself to keep quiet because the words that were fighting to come out of her mouth were definitely not from Jesus.
Tendai looked back at the wall and raised her hand to her hesed wisdom necklace and took a deep breath.
‘The Lord loves you with a passion Tendai, He’s got you.’
Instead of answering him, she just stared at him and until he got the message and walked away. Tendai was no pushover, her uncle Andie had made sure of that, and she was not going to start being a pushover today. Sure she had to treat him somewhat nicely because she was a child of the Most High God, but she was not going to let Him take advantage of her. As she watched him walk away, she felt this sense of rebirth of who she had been before her aunt and uncle died. She felt the strong, loved and treasured girl she had been coming to life and she could almost feel God’s love healing her from the depths of her heart.
She realized then that she had to forgive but not for him, neither would she forgive for her aunt or her uncle, she also definitely wasn’t doing it for her extended family or for his family. It was for herself, she was letting go and reaching for the healing that Jesus had for her. She was forgiving him for …the list was just too long, she was just going to have to just forgive him, period. As for her aunt and uncle, she had to forgive them for not trusting her and for putting her in this situation, but more than anything else, she was going to forgive them for leaving her. How could they have left her alone when they knew she had no other support in the world? With her family and his, she did not even know where to begin just as she didn’t know with him, she would just have to let it all go.
And as she began letting go of all the bitterness into Jesus’ hands, she realized she had nothing to worry about. Sure it probably was not all going to be okay overnight and she might find herself in a few more battles, but the battle wasn’t hers, it was the Lord’s, and it was finished at the cross. She was already standing on victory ground because the Lord was on her side and He would never leave her. She going to be more than okay, she was more than a conqueror through Him who loved her.
And no man, woman or situation, could ever separate her from that love.
It was well with her soul.