“Sera’s husband has a flat behind!” Tasha whispered, albeit loudly, and the two women with her laughed.
I rolled my eyes and tuned them out, focusing on my chores instead of listening to the local gossip. Even though I was curious to know just how Sera had found out that bit of information, I was racing against time. A soft sob had me lifting my head again, distracting me from the task at hand. Across the river, Hannah was quietly crying as she went about her own business.
Oh Hannah, I thought.
I watched my neighbor as she slowly reached for the bar of soap. The sun was setting, and yet she took her time as if avoiding the inevitable time of day when she would have to return home. We all knew why she came to the river daily to do laundry, but we said nothing about it. What was discussed at the river, stayed at the river. It was like Fight Club; the first rule of river gossip was never to talk about it.
Hannah wore a long-sleeved shirt to complement her long skirt, even though we were in the middle of the hottest summer. I supposed functionality had to trump fashion in this situation, for what else would cover her husband’s repeated demonstrations of love.
Poor Hannah, I thought.
I watched her as she winced while rubbing some soap on her husband’s shirt. I wondered why she just didn’t let him go around with dirty clothes. Perhaps it might lessen his appeal to the hundreds of women he went through in the village. But it wasn’t any of my business, it was Hannah’s. I looked down at my own dirty laundry and tried yet again not to go over others’.
I dipped a shirt in water and went about rinsing it, making sure it was clean otherwise my sister would complain about the residual soap making her skin itch again. The water was harsh against my skin, but it was the only source of water that we had for miles, I couldn’t afford to be picky. I couldn’t avoid it as much as I couldn’t avoid the gossip that came with it.
“Merida had another baby girl! Her husband is surely sending her home this time,” another voice disturbed my concentration again.
I looked up and spotted a gossiping duo giggling as if what they were discussing was the funniest thing in the world. I bit my tongue to keep from reminding them that they were women too and we weren’t supposed to do that to each other. Not only that but the owner of the voice, Geraldine, had just come back from her parents after her husband sent her back for not satisfying him. But again, it was none of my business and I just had to ignore the two. I just hoped that one day someone would educate them on how gender was determined.
I wrung my sister’s shirt and reached for my basket, my eye catching the two kids playing near the end of the river. Dean and James, named after the famous actor. Adorable brothers who lived not far from my home. Their father doted on them, and if he ever knew that their sister was letting them play so close to the water, he would probably lose it. I watched them for a while, enjoying their joy. They reminded me so much of my sister and I when we were little. I wondered again what their father would do if he ever found out that the boys were not his.
Don’t start again, I scolded myself.
But it wasn’t my fault though, it was well known among the women in the village that their mother had outsourced the raw materials for those kids. And though I had never heard who their real father was, I didn’t have a doubt that it was the village drunkard, Jones. Not only did he spend a lot of time doing little jobs at the boys’ house, Dean and James looked a lot like him. Enough said.
I finished the rest of my laundry and stood up to leave. Many of the women were finishing up too, and it was interesting to note how most of the rest had no baskets with them. We all came here for different reasons it seemed, or did we? Some type of laundry was being taken care of one way or another.
I put my basket under my arm and chanced a look at Hannah one more time. How could anyone mistreat such a gentle soul, I wondered. Her husband could write books about it, no doubt, and I prayed for the day that she finally left him. But unfortunately, that was not the way of our people. Where would she go with four children and no job? And she couldn’t leave her children behind either. I’d heard one of the women ask her what she hoped to accomplish by trying to send her husband to prison, the one who fed and clothed them. Wherever she turned, there was no hope.
I walked all the way to where she was and offered her a hand. It was the least I could do. A smile came to her face as if it had been a long time since anyone had done a good thing for her, and I vowed silently to talk to her more often. Together we finished faster than she would have liked, I could tell. But at least she could rest her sore body while I wrung her clothes, if only for a little while. I helped her to carry her basket as soon as we were done, looking back at the quiet women behind us.
Each one carried their laundry basket as we walked away from the river, and those who didn’t have anything to carry either helped their friends or held the children’s hands. But no one said a word as we walked back to our homes.
Oh right, I remembered.
What was discussed at the river, stayed at the river.