When Khady realized that her husband of three years might be dead, racing next door for help with tears streaming down her eyes, she still for a moment thought about how this was a wasted opportunity for her to conceive her first child.
Khady recovered her reason in a second or two, but she had been so obsessing about conceiving for years, in recurring cycles of hope and disappointment, that even at this time of family crisis, she couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Abandoned by her parents and raised reluctantly by her grandmother, Khady is still isolated in the household of her in-laws with no family allies except her caring and sensitive husband who married her against his family’s wishes. Now that bulwark is removed. Khady is a childless widow and had entered the marriage without a dowry. She’s a dead weight in her Senegalese family, consuming precious resources and providing little in return. Her in-laws, including a pair of shrewish sisters-in-law, never liked her.
You can sense what’s coming. It hangs in the atmosphere of the household. One evening her mother-in-law comes to her room and tells her that she must leave. The family can’t afford to support her. Her sisters-in-law must feel triumphant. The family is shipping Khady, illegally, to the southern coast of France. If she survives the journey, she will be expected to send money back home. Sending cash home would greatly improve her standing in the family. When she leaves the house for the last time, her sisters-in-law pretend they are sleeping.
Since Khady has no friendly family member to talk to, there’s no true dialogue for most of this story. Only when she is trying to break out of her life do we hear a regular exchange of voices. By having Khady imprisoned within her own inner voice, Ndiaye makes you feel her isolation, as if the lines of text, along with Khady’s personality, were disappearing into a tiny hole in the page.
It’s strange that what can seem so small and modest can loom so large. In stories, sometimes it appears that we are looking backwards through a telescope. It seems that a true perspective on human character is different from what we conventionally thought. Three Strong Women, out now from Knopf, is a perspective altering trilogy of stories.