This is not intended to be an assault against good stepmothers - if they ever existed, just an attempt to arouse and inspire intelligent discussion on the topic of stepfather–stepmother in general.
What is it that causes such negative feelings and near hatred by stepmothers towards their stepchildren? I am not going to attempt to answer the question since I put it across to you, but psychologists have a term they use to describe this high incidence of stepchildren being physically and emotionally abused, neglected, or otherwise mistreated at the hands of their stepparents. The Cinderella effect. It takes its name from the fairy tale character Cinderella, who in the story was cruelly mistreated by her stepmother and stepsisters.
I remember when I was young, my aunt telling me stories, some of which involved children suffering at the hands of their stepmothers. But I frankly speaking did not expect to hear such a tale of human endurance from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, as a grown-up.
My friend and I had been talking for a while, over various issues, when he suddenly asked me: ‘Have you ever suffered at the hands of a stepmother?’ I honestly replied in the negative, upon which he embarked on the following narrative:
“I was 12 when my mother died. After sometime, maybe a year, my father brought in another wife. And from then on, my Calvary started. From the very first day she set foot inside our house, I could feel that something has gone terribly wrong, but I could not exactly say what. Was it in the way she used to look at me and smile without humour? Was it in the way she pretended to care about me in the presence of my father while she had practically ignored me the whole day?
Anyway, after about three months, something occurred which overturned and completely changed my life? Another boy, exactly my age, came to live with us. He was called Robert. I had not been previously informed about this new development, neither by my own father, let alone my stepmother. But what really pained and nearly devastated me, was the fact that I was evicted from my own room, to be replaced by the new comer. I was relegated to a smaller room near the kitchen, the houseboy’s quarters. Did my father know all about this? I wondered. He used to wake up and go out early, and then come back late, after I had gone to sleep. Since the death of my mother, I rarely saw him, and even then very briefly. We had become like, maybe not total strangers, but more like acquaintances.
Robert, my stepmother’s son, (for that what he was), and I went to the same school.
We were in the same class, but different streams. This meant that when school was over, not all the pupils went out of their respective class rooms at the same time. This being the case, whenever our class came out first, I waited for Robert so that we would go home together. But this civility or gentlemanliness was not in Robert’s vocabulary. Whenever his class happened to be released first, he had made it a habit to make sure he sprinted home as fast as his legs could carry him. At the beginning, I could not understand why he would behave in so strange a manner. But as time went on, I came to think that I found out what was transpiring between him and my stepmother. But I was not sure. Where there is so much smoke, it is always wise to check whether there is fire.
So, this was my strategy. As soon the drum which served as the bell was beaten to signify that school was over, I was out of the classroom and running. All along the path that led home, were thick, unruly bushes which provided excellent hiding places. I took cover behind one of them and waited. Before long, just as I expected, Robert came running past at full speed, the tail of his shirt flapping in the air like a flag, never noticing me where I crouched behind the bush.
Remember, the aim of my subterfuge was to find out exactly why Robert was so fond of dodging me and running straight home immediately after school. So, I let him run past until he reached and was hidden by the next bush, then I sprinted after him. This game of hide and seek so to say went on until we reached the outskirts of our home. Here, I deliberately stayed behind in order to give him time to do what I suspected he and his mother would do and have been doing for the past several weeks. When I thought that I had given them ample advance time, I broke out with my favourite religious song, about how we shall all go to heaven if we are docile and forbearing here on earth. And then I called unnecessarily loud to our neighbour’s son, telling him that their goats were foraging through our maize field. This was untrue. All I wanted was people at home to know that I had - arrived.
In the house, when they heard my voice, I am not going to pretend that I know what happened or what they felt, because there is no way I would. I can only imagine their panic and consternation, and I did not give them time to recover. I charged into the house like one possessed, and before me was proof of what I long suspected. Robert sat on the floor, a plate of sweet potatoes and a cup of milk in front of him, but he was in a sorry state. Tears ran from his bulging eyes, his mouth was opening and closing like a fish out of water, and he was furiously thumping his chest like King Kong.
In a hurry to swallow a lump half chewed potato, it got stuck half way between the throat and the stomach, slowing down the process of peristalsis. As for his mother, my step mother, all she could say was: “why did you come early today?” I kept quiet. I did not care to reply. What would I have said?
Before Robert’s arrival, my meals consisted of ‘ugali and rice’. After he arrived, it was always: “Welcome children. Now go and fetch water, (half a Kilometer away) and when you come back food will be ready. But that would be after Robert would have eaten, or would have taken milk behind my back. In this state of mind, I had lost weight and visibly emaciated, that I resolved to run away from home.
So, dear brother, my friend tells me he ran away from home to his aunt, and the story continues next time.