When my brother said he was bringing his girlfriend home, my parents were excited. My mother ululated. It was her turn to call the village women to aid her in cooking. My father in many years was generous with his wallet contents. Whatever mother asked, he gave.
I bit my inner lip in anxiety. I was worried about the outcome of the visit. I knew his girlfriend and I knew my village people’s attitude towards girls like Shirleen. I decided to keep mum and let them find out themselves.
“Do not tell anyone about Shirleen !” Frank had been unequivocally strict with me about Shirleen. I nodded doubtedly, questioning his decision but his persistence made me give in.
I had gone to visit Frank in the neighbouring country where he studied and worked. Shirleen came home to Frank’s house that evening I arrived and made supper for us. I liked her kind and conscientious personality. She spoke in a foreign accent and had a scholastic opinion about everything. Frank seemed to read my mind.
“Shirleen is pursuing her Phd in Medicine here.” He said . I felt small with my Diploma in Early Childhood but marvelled at Frank for being able to woo such an erudite. I stared at her as she submissively took the dirty cutlery to the kitchen sink. If I was this educated, I thought, I would hire five housemaids.
“Is she African?” I whispered to Frank. He roared in amused laughter and replied, “You will be surprised that her grandparents home is just a few kilometres from ours. We come from the same county actually.” She was listening, a smile on her face.
“When my mother gave birth to me, they wanted to kill me. You know how we are, Africans, we believe so much in superstitions . So my mother escaped and with the help of some good samaritans, she went to the US with me. I came back to Africa to face the devil that wanted to get rid of me.” I pitied her sad story. She told it firmly with no pain in her. Her long life abroad explained her accent.
So here we were, two years later, ready for Frank and Shirleen. Every second that passed made me even more anxious. At around 2:00 o’clock on the euphoric Friday, Frank’s Jeep snaked though the gates of my father’s compound. Its windows were tinted so we could not see through. Then the co-driver’s door opened.
No, not Shirleen first! I prayed silently. Phews! It was Frank. Shirleen must have been the one driving. Frank was received with ululations, traditional song and dance.
“Where is the girl of the day?” A woman asked.
My heart leapt. Frank’s eyes met mine in silent communication of shared apprehension. He was also tense. I nodded at him in encouragement. I would not show him I was more jittery. He went to his car, and pulled the door open at the driver’s seat. They saw her. Everyone’s tongue was tied. Mother slipped to unconsciousness. Women held their buttocks to signify shock. The men spat on the ground.
Shirleen stepped out of the car and walked to father. She extended her hand to father who sneered at it and left her in umbrage. She was not perturbed. Frank came to her and held her waist. The crowd started to disperse chanting,others shaking their heads in disbelief. The elders formed an emergency meeting.
Frank and Shirleen were left alone by their car. Minutes later, father called him. “Come alone!” He added. I went to keep Shirleen company.
“I am sorry. ” I said empathetically.
“No, don’t be . I am not. This is the devil I was talking about : the archaic tradition that thinks that albinos are different from the rest of the humans.”
Frank came back fuming. He held Shirleen by the hand and tugged her towards the elders meeting. I followed curiously.
“This is the woman I will marry, whether you want it or not. She will stay with me here and I will sire with her kids, albinos or not,they will be mine!” He was trembling in deep fury as he said the words.
“But son,” said a middle-aged man, “she will cause our deaths, don’t you know that albinos are cursed people?”
“With all due respect my elder, I do not appreciate that kind of language. This is the 21st century and I think you ought to keep up with time. I am not a murderer!” A brave Shirleen spoke even before Frank could speak on her behalf.
The elders could not convince Frank anymore. They decided he would learn the hard way, when people around him started dying one by one. They left, warning him gravely.
Frank married Shirleen at the AG’s office. He built a home for her but no one was willing to be their guest. But Shirleen was optimistic. She even started a local clinic to cater for the local people but no patient visited her. But, just when Shirleen was about to give up, an epidemic changed it all. Call it a blessing in disguise.
It started with two people. Stomache, headache, vomiting and a painful feeling of the muscles tightening. The illness spread to three, then five and within a few days, almost a hundred people in the county were suffering from the funny disease.
Doctors were flustered. They had never heard of this strange illness. It was fatal; a five day span illness and then a patient would collapse. One brave patient who feared death more than albinos knocked on Dr. Shirleen’s door. She listened keenly as the desperate patient almost prayed Shirleen to save his life. She did not scratch her head like other doctors did. She wrote down a prescription and gave it it him. They were rare but he found the drugs at the capital city. He recovered fully at the final dose.
Word spread like bushfire. Patients thronged Shirleen’s clinic. She treated them differently according to their levels of sickness. They all got better. Within days, Dr Shirleen’s name was on everyone’s lips. She had become a lifesaver. She had friends now. Children that had once been warned not to talk to her were now encouraged to be like her.
Frank was a proud man. He received many pats on his back. He had found a gem for a wife. He had chosen well. Shirleen’s actions were antonymous of what they thought of her.She was a lifesaver. Progressively, they changed their outmoded superstitions about albinos and accepted her. They discovered that the only dissimilarity between albinos and them was just the skin. We are all the same. Our blood colour is red,for all of us.