“There are days I wake up feeling hopeless. Helpless even”, he says as he looks yonder. You’d think he is looking into the future. No. He is looking into the past. His past. He is at his office recalling the incident that has changed his life. He had just turned 21 when it happened.
He is a leader at his church and had requested we meet after their praise and worship practice. They had just finished practising when I arrived. Praise and worship folk are a very interesting group of people. Every time they say they are about to wind up doing voice tests and whatnot, it’s like they are getting started.
So I sit and wait another 10 minutes for them to be really done. There is always that guy in the group who must outshine everyone with their killer skills. As I watch from a distance, I notice the guy in this group telling others to breathe from their stomachs. He then demonstrates how it’s done.
Martin meets me at the back of the church waiting for him. We walk to a small building next to the church which he tells me has several offices for the pastor and other leaders. He ushers me to his office that has three blue plastic chairs; one behind his small brown table and two facing each other in front of the table. I sit in one of the chairs in front of the table next to the small window overhead.
“My dad was not even a rich man back then”, Martin begins. “He was in the middle class like most men in our hood. So for some woman to frame me for a crime I never committed, is still a mystery. I was going about my business. I didn’t bother anybody. I wasn’t even supposed to be at my father’s shop that evening. You know how you could be at the right place but at the wrong time?” I respond with a nod. “I was at the right place, perhaps at the wrong time. And that landed me in a dungeon”, Martin buries his head in his hands as he fights tears. But he can’t because even men, real men cry.
“Have you forgiven the woman?” I prod.
“Mercy, forgiving is one thing. Letting go is another thing altogether. But yes I have. I have actually done both. It hasn’t been that easy for me to pick up what was left of my broken self. I watched as some of my uncouth neighbours hurled insults at my father for standing up for me. Can you imagine people who didn’t even know me or my father labelling our family as that of rapists?”
Martin takes a handkerchief from his pocket. He clears his nose and dries the tears in his eyes. He must have anticipated shading a tear as he re-lived that ill-fated day all over again. He apologizes for crying and I tell him it’s okay. He excuses himself for a minute. He gets up from his chair and walks out to the verandah.
He blows his nose some more. I watch as he takes three long deep breaths before walking back to the office. He smiles then says, “sorry, I am the crying type.” I smile and say to him, “we can always do this some other time. No need to open up old wounds.” But Martin insists he is okay and so we carry on.
That evening, Martin was manning his father’s shop when a young girl (about 10 or 11 years) showed up. He had cancelled his evening football match with some of his friends to help his father with the shop because he needed to go buy some stuff for it.
Martin was playing a virtual football game on his phone when he saw the girl. He assumed she was a customer until he saw a woman (the girl’s mother) and a man (the girl’s uncle) accompanying the girl. Suddenly the girl’s mother demanded Martin to step out of the shop because she wanted to have a word with him. But Martin asked them to leave if they were not there to buy something. The woman threatened to burn down the shop if Martin didn’t comply.
He thought she was bluffing so he ignored her. Then as if the woman had gone mad, she started screaming. It was then that Martin agreed to step out.
“Mami ni huyu sindio?” the woman asked her daughter as she pointed at Martin.
“Ni huyu”, the girl responded.
Confused, Martin asked question after question but got no answer. In that moment, and as if the heavens knew he was in deep, his father came back from his errand. Upon seeing Martin’s father, the woman decided to be more dramatic. She started yelling louder than before so that she would attract the passers-by.
A small crowd started to gather in front of the shop. In this tiny gated community neighbourhood, everyone knew each other. So people had gathered thinking something bad had happened to Martin’s father.
“Your mother, where was she at the time?”
“Mum was at home. When dad showed up at the shop. It was just ordained. His errand was cut short after he found the wholesale shop he had gone to closed. Dad saw the crowd that had gathered there and thought they would stone me. So he did what any father would have done. He stood in front of me like my shield to cover me from any harm. He then whispered and asked me to go inside the shop. When I went back in and I called mum who came running to the shop.”
Martin’s mother asked the woman what the issue was and the woman said that Martin had raped her daughter.
Fast forward, Martin and his father asked the woman to let the area chief handle the matter. So they all walked to the chief’s office who thought the matter needed the police intervention. The chief called the police who then took Martin to the station for questioning. Martin was held in custody as investigations into the matter started. That was the first time he had spent the night away from his home. The woman filed charges of defilement against Martin.
In the months that followed, Martin was put in prison waiting for the court ruling. The case dragged on for a year. When the woman showed up to testify in the first hearing, her testimony didn’t match that of her daughter in the second hearing. The third hearing required the girl’s uncle to testify and two times, he refused to show up. The magistrate saw gaps in the testimony of mother and daughter, and the uncle was no show, decided to drop the case. There was also no medical report to support the allegation.
By the time Martin was coming out of prison, his family had relocated because of the insults from the neighbours. They later learned after they had moved, that the woman had lied. The girl had been defiled by a different neighbour but the woman and his brother agreed to pin it on Martin. They had hoped they would settle the matter amongst themselves and ask for compensation. When they both discovered they could be sued, the woman’s brother refused to show up for the court hearing. It was after a year that the woman decided to drop the case.
It has been 10 years since the incident and Martin has moved on with his life. But last month, as he was at his own shop, someone showed up. That woman. Martin doesn’t know how she located him but she did. This time, she came in peace to seek his forgiveness for what she had done to him and his family.
The two talked about the matter and Martin told the woman he had forgiven her. Like Jesus, Martin told the woman to go and sin no more.