The Christmas season for 22-year-old Nazalena Natasha Houston is going to be a haunting experience as she remembers her two young children who were brutally hacked to death by the man they called ‘Daddy’ and who should have loved and protected them.
On July 31 last year Richard Lord used the tool of his trade – his cane-cutter’s cutlass – to slash his children to death, taking his own life days later, even before five-year-old Kimberly and two-year-old Saif had been laid to rest.
While many citizens will be in a festive mood, adding the finishing touches to house decorations and the pepperpot, Natasha, as she is known, is wishing that there was no Christmas.
“It would not be a big celebration; it would be hard for me… I accustomed to eat with them so that day was hard for me,” Natasha told the Sunday Stabroek sadly.
As the day draws nearer Natasha says she becomes “nervous” even though she no longer lives in the yard where the tragic incident occurred. There is no doubt in her mind that she would be weeping on the day when others would be celebrating.
Not a day goes by when Natasha does not remember her two children, or does not struggle to understand why God allowed her children to be slaughtered and left her to live minus her right arm and three fingers from her left hand. She does not need her severed hand and fingers to remind her of that day when her reputed husband of seven years thought he had murdered her as well; the absence of her children is a constant reminder.
Last year she ate no food at Christmas and cried throughout the day; her only solace was sitting quietly on the seawall while her relatives celebrated. This year she may have to cook – yes, she cooks with one hand – because eight months ago she moved on.
It has not been two years since her children were killed and Natasha said she knows some may not understand and even condemn her for starting a new relationship. But maybe if they knew the many times she struggled with suicidal thoughts and how she questioned why she had been left alive, they might understand. It may help them if they knew about the sad and lonely days having no shoulder to cry on, and no one to talk to with whom she could share her darkest moments.
It was her current partner who dragged her out of the tunnel of blackness at the end of which she saw no light. It is he who now listens to her when she wakes up from another nightmare as she talks about her children.
Maybe the relationship would last, maybe it would not, is how she looks at things, but for her it is a moment by moment experience and for the last eight months she has had someone there to help her take care of herself and wipe her tears. It could be weakness but she sees it as strength, since she is now willing to face the future and explore what life has for her.
“You know it was just me mother and she sickly like when I tell she wah I thinking, she use to get upset and just cry, so is like I ain’t get nobody to talk to. He use to listen to me you know…” she said of her current partner.
She admits that her mother was not pleased when she moved out and started the common-law relationship, but she explained that her mother also struggles, and she felt uncomfortable depending on her for her every need. She longs for a day when she can become independent and provide for herself, but as it is now she has to depend on someone to survive and that person is her partner.
So this Christmas, unlike last year, she would be cooking but maybe not eating.
“I don’t live alone so I have to cook,” Natasha said, a task she described as becoming relatively easy with time.
It is still a struggle but her partner does “all the cutting up and then I cook” and she demonstrates how she manages to light her stove and use the hand minus some fingers to cook a meal.
“And I does sweep and scrub the house too. The only thing I can’t really do is wash clothes; my fiancé does have to do that,” she said, but expressed the belief that with a prosthetic arm she would also be able to undertake the latter task.
She can apply her make-up but cannot comb her hair, and this too is done by her partner who has no qualms about putting her hair into a neat bun.
If she were to have a Christmas wish Natasha said it would be to get a prosthetic arm which she believes would lead her to independence.
The happy eight months she has had with her current partner are like years she can cherish, as the seven years spent with Richard were times of constant abuse and it was after she finally decided that enough was enough that he ended it all. It was ‘all’ for her because he took the greatest treasures God had given to her – her children.
‘I was fourteen’
Natasha was still in school when she met Richard during a seven-day religious ritual that was held for an aunt who had died. At the end of the seven days he told her he was returning home.
“He tell me how a nah guh see he again and if I love he I would go with he…” she said.
For many 14-year-olds that would have been an incredible suggestion, but for one who had a sick mother who barely managed to provide for her and her siblings and who had been abused by a stepfather, home was not necessarily the happiest place.
“I was sad to leave mommy because she been sick and I was the biggest child home, but you know I ain’t use to get nuff thing and he say he love me and is like I say if I get a husband then I can help mommy.”
Richard was 19 and appeared to be the knight in shining armour for Natasha, but shortly after moving in with him, his brother and father reality struck when he started to abuse her. But she felt by then it was too late, especially after her mother had begged her to return home and upon refusing was met with the parting words, “You mek you bed hard you guh have to lie down on it.”
The abuse started with a few slaps and it was always on the accusation that she was talking to men and being unfaithful. She remembered when she was two months pregnant with Kimberly, he gave her a sound thrashing with a cutlass because she returned a good afternoon greeting to a passing man.
“He use to tell me that he ain’t care wah happen to the baby because is nah he own…”
But the relationship continued and Natasha moved out “umpteen times” but always returned when Richard begged and promised not to hit her again.
As things got progressively worse the couple built a home just behind her mother’s house in the same yard, but being close to her relatives did not stop Richard from abusing Natasha.
“He use to drink and is like every time he drink he use to beat me. He start working in the interior and every time he come back he would say somebody tell he how I get man and he would beat me…and he would beat me…”
He had returned after another such interior trip and decided that he would stay and cut cane since it was the season, but Natasha recalled that his presence only meant daily torment for her.
One day Natasha had had enough and shortly after Richard left for work she took her children and she sneaked out of the yard.
“I didn’t even tell nobody where I going because he does mek dem tell he and he does come by the people and behave bad and threaten me to come home.”
But her reprieve from the man was short lived as he finally learned where she was, and even though the owner of the home denied she was there the man still lurked around daily. On the advice of one of Natasha’s female relatives the man approached the probation and welfare department and a letter was sent summoning her.
Depending on how you look at it, that letter was her final undoing, because the man knowing she would not disregard an official document ensured that he dropped the letter at the home where he suspected she was staying.
She decided to visit the office two days later than she was told to visit, hoping she would have outsmarted Richard whom she was sure would have scouted out the Vreed-en-Hoop area where the probation office is located.
But that was not to be.
The fateful day
Early on the morning of July 31, 2013 she hurried out of a minibus, with two year-old Saif in her arms and Kimberly holding on to her skirt.
“I tell she walk fast because I know if Richard there he would not do we nothing if we meet in the compound.
“But when we near to meet and I just feel somebody grab me from me neck back and drag me and push me in this car and me baby fall out me hand and he pick him up and throw he in de car and push Kimberly in…” Natasha said of Richard.
As soon as she was in the car Natasha said the man started to beat her and she begged the driver to drive the car into the Vreed-en-Hoop police station which was a stone’s throw away.
Instead the man turned the car around and drove in the direction of Tuschen.
“All this time he beating me and asking me and Kimberly which man I went by… We passing Leonora police station and I beg the driver again I say ‘you wouldn’t like you daughter to get beat like this, drive in the station’ but he ain’t say nothing, he just keep driving.”
He drove them home and Richard dragged her out of the car and marched her to their home instructing the children to follow. An older sister was in her mother’s home and she asked Natasha “why me come back, and I tell she with the passion that I come fuh get me dead.”
In the house the man continued to beat Natasha and even assaulted Kimberly whom he felt was withholding information.
Her mother was called and she spoke to the couple but Natasha had decided that she would not continue the relationship and this angered him even more.
“He beat me den tell me cook fuh he and I tell he I not cooking to give he more strength to beat me and he say he guh cook…”
He asked her for sex, she told him no.
“I tell he I seeing me health but he still tek off me clothes and sex me…two time he sex me with all the blood…”
He continued to abuse her throughout the day and eventually he said he was going to leave and instructed little Kimberly to pack his bag which she did. He then said he was going to leave at the end of the week but Natasha told him she wanted him out of the house immediately.
Blows rained again and her daughter ran to her grandmother and told her to call the police. She returned to the house and was forced to eat some food by her father.
Natasha’s mother was standing outside the closed door and said she was calling the police and they could hear her making the call.
She was making porridge for her baby, her back was to Richard when she felt what she thought was a burning sensation.
Seconds later the horrifying reality hit her; her arm was hanging by a thin piece of skin after Richard had chopped it. She started to scream, the children started to scream and her mother was screaming outside the locked door.
Natasha held up her almost severed arm as a barrier as Richard continued to chop and he sliced the arm in several other places.
She instructed her little girl to run but as she fought to open the door her father chopped her and the sight remains imprinted on Natasha’s mind.
“She trying to open the door and is just so Richard fire a chop and she neck just fall forward, come off like and then he just tek he foot and kick over she body. When she neck fall forward the blood and all the chicken and rice she been eating fly up in the air,” Natasha recalled chillingly.
Her daughter’s body lay bleeding, her two-year-old son was crouched in a corner hollering and Richard had her by her “thick long hair.”
He loosed the hair and she tried to open the door for her baby boy to run but Richard struck with his cutlass again, chopping off three of her fingers and part of her thumb as she held on to the door knob.
He then chopped again, this time at the back of her neck, Natasha dropped to her knees.
“When he fire the chop is like most a meh hair get chop off and is the hair mek the cutlass just slice me neck a lil, but it still bleeding and I ain’t know if he think me neck get chop bad and me dead but I just couldn’t cry and scream no more like me throat get lock off…”
The place was dark and the baby was still hollering and Natasha said she saw “the shiny cutlass in deh air and it come down back and then no mo sound.”
“When the cutlass come down I feel like something pitch on me and I don’t know if it was Saif blood or something but I know he dead…”
She remained on her knees and Richard dragged the bodies of his murdered children and lay them next to their mother before running out of the house and escaping.
He was discovered dead a few days later as Natasha recuperated in the hospital, a process that denied her the opportunity to say goodbye to her babies.
It was a bloody end to a relationship that should have never been.
Maybe Natasha would have more children, maybe she would not. One thing she is sure of is that she would not bring them into the world to “punish.”
“I don’t want any children to punish like Saif and Kimberly; if I get more children I must get me own land and house so that they can live good.”
For now she helps to take care of her partner’s two children on the few occasions they visit. This is a bittersweet experience for her because his daughter is named Kimberly and his son is known as ‘Boy,’ which was the ‘call name’ she had for Saif.
Natasha tells her story matter-of-factly, and even as this reporter cried as she described the chilling details of Kimberly and Saif’s last moment Natasha continued her graphic recollection stony faced. Tears would come she said, but not at that moment; tears always come she added.
She is not afraid to tell her story and if she tells it 50 times and it gives one woman the strength to leave an abusive relationship that is one woman saved.
“I want to tell any woman out there that if you in an abusive relationship, leave now. Even if it is just words leave; if is one slap leave, because one slap can lead to ten slap and ten slap could lead to death…”