It was impossible to completely assimilate what Richard was going on about; what the group of umunna’s scattered around our sitting room were going on about. The only two words that had registered in my mind were, “new” and “wife”, and I wasn’t even upset. Hadn’t I seen this coming? Hadn’t my instincts warned me? My vicious mother-in-law from the start, threatened? No, I wasn’t upset; I was completely slapped across the face with surprise. I thought finally Richard and I were fine, that we were gone past the rocky months in our marriage. He’d been smiling more often the past few weeks. He told me just last week how much he loved me: with his eyes, like he did the first day he saw me, that day at the Customer Service room in the First Bank Headquarters of Nsukka, on the chilly day of December 4th .
Richard’s eyes were what Professor Agu¸our Classical English literature final year professor described as “sorrowful but intense; the kind of eyes that draws you in to want to know more...” he’d said when we were reviewing Shakespeare’s Macbeth. I have completely forgotten what prompted the description of these eyes in that particular lecture but somehow, the first day I saw Richard, when, looking into his eyes I explained to him the bank had debited three thousand naira from my account when I tried withdrawing from one of the atm’s in school without crediting me. It was those eyes of his, drawing me into a pool of mesmerization that calmed me down that day, even before he’d calmly reassured me the problem would be rectified as he typed away on the keyboard in front of him. I knew then, with such dedicated faith my problem would be resolved and it did. I became hooked. I wanted to have this man in my life but he didn’t seem to take much notice of me a bit not until fate.
It was not until July 15th that we met again. A good friend of my close friend was celebrating his graduation at Camberwell, somewhere in Nsukka town and I’d been invited. I was easily bored, as I always was at social gatherings. My close friend, Ada, who by all standards, a party animal, ( even till date) coaxed me to blend in; to dance, have more drinks, chat with the chubby guy on my left who had been trying all evening to talk to me but I was having none of it. I stubbornly remained sober and gloomy. Somewhere in my head I’d started to question why I had even come for the party, when I looked up and met Richard’s eyes. Thinking it was merely a figment of my imagination, I looked again to be sure and truthfully, he sat there, calmly taking the events of the party in, staring back at me as he gulped down some beer. My sobriety and calmness where replaced immediately with a refreshing excitement I’d never felt before until I remembered.
I remember my mother’s tears like yesterday. The day I told her I had agreed to accept Richard’s proposal and get married to him. That day was October 23rd. We had been secretly dating for about two months and the previous night, in his car parked outside my hostel, he’d asked me to marry him. My mother had dreams for me. She saw in me a woman who would overcome our rotten poverty stinking all over the one room apartment that had housed us for more than twenty years since my father’s death. She saw in me potentials I’d never quite seen in myself. And the little I had come to realize I possessed over the years, the little potentials I managed to acknowledge, they drowned, in the mesmerizing pool of Richard’s eyes. I was convinced he was my bedrock, someone I would lean on for everything I’d ever need including the amount of oxygen I’d be able to breathe in at a time. Which was why, with him, I could barely breathe. For fear of losing out on the important details there were to pick with him. My mother in her wisdom, warned me against getting married at my age. She said I was too young, that my dreams could not be killed like this. She did not understand, nobody did, so she cried and cried, like a mother who had lost her child to death. Knowing her baby girl was dead and gone. But I was happy.
My happiness was refreshing. It was like the feeling one gets after consuming a cold bottle of Coca Cola after a long walk in a hot afternoon. And like a Mango tree in April, it blossomed. Budding into sweet scenting fruits and laughter. Laughter was common in my new home; our home. Richard and I. His laughter stirred the seed in my stomach. It recognized its father’s voice and excitedly sought for attention. I can still taste the mangoes of April and the pineapples of May. Even the taste of ọka and ube I consumed then are still imprinted at the tip of my tongue.
My tongue could taste the fear in my heart. As the doctor talked on and on in words I could barely understand, my tongue caught the sharp piece of fear my heart was serving. In that room, sitting in front of the doctor, I died over and over. He wasn’t answering the questions I bore in my heart but could not ask for fear of knowing and admitting more fears. I chose ignorance over reality, it was better this way. I had just one request, “please sir, could you give me the remains of my baby?” he looked at me intensely, I was sure, debating in his mind if I was fit enough to leave the hospital and if I was sound mentally. He obliged and gave me my baby. Our seed: And he was such a beauty. Yes, a boy, he would have had his father’s face, I could see clearly with my button nose and he was healthy too. I took him home where he belonged and told him tales of all the interesting things I knew.
What still interests me up until now is how I entertained Richard’s behavior these few years. In the ways where he had seemed gentle and kind, he became brutal and mean. Dealing blows and kicks when I dared utter my disappointments. At first, he cringed afterwards, coming back and crying for forgiveness. He’d cry on my laps, saying I always pushed him into misbehaving, begging me not to be angry, to know how much he loved me. Didn’t I know he was mad over me? And I’d melt, like butter in a hot pan, I’d melt at his well rehearsed confessions, it disgusted me later on, how easy I was to fool. The beatings continued and like ground pepper served with Suya, they spiced our marriage. These beatings, ones I had come to accept as tokens of my marriage never ceased. They stopped briefly for a few weeks after it cost our seed but they never stopped afterwards.
His eyes never stopped mesmerizing me and in the irony of the entire situation that was now my life, I marveled. Crying when I could, laughing at myself when I could too. When the wells of tears in my eyes dried up, I took up classes at the state Polytechnic. I registered for English language again, determined to finish this time. The fresh wounds and scars on my body were my motivators, reminding when no one could, how my life had taken a wrong turn. Like an oxygen mask, I lived off the borrowed air during lectures and in the assignments that were given. It was short-lived, this oxygen but highly valuable to me. When you’ve been in the depth of death as I have, any form of life becomes a gem to be highly valued; one to die for. And like a woman possessed, I lived for those lectures. The very thing that breathed life into me possessed me, so I started to challenge Richard.
Challenge was never my strong suit so he defeated me, humiliating me twice over. Where he’d left undone in humiliating me before, he made sure to touch and completely, I was broken.
Broken people know how and when to mend themselves; they only need a reason to. All the reason I needed was right inside of me, sharing the blood from my veins, the food I consumed, the oxygen I managed to filter into my system and the faux happiness I feigned to make everything seem alright.
The past weeks seemed alright. I almost blurted out my secret to him one night after he had groaned with satisfaction on top of me. For the shrill voice in my head, I should have stupidly said it but I swallowed it in like I’d done my pride, and in my shame, I glorified.
My pride was tested today. In front of Richard and the umunna’s. But mba, no, it wasn’t worth the fight. I could still swallow my pride a little bit more. Saying that he was considering a new wife hadn’t upset me at all, it was just the slap the surprise had dealt me; a good kind of surprise. And seeing the opportunity that came with his announcement, giving it all I had, the energy from the little seed within me and with all of my pride, I simply said,
“My dear husband, and all my respectable umunna’s please, I wish to be granted a divorce. I am no longer interested in this marriage anymore...”
I know, I will never forget the taste of relief at the tip of my tongue or the individual representation of shock plastered on the faces of everyone present, including Richard, who continued to stare at me in that calm way of his. But somehow through the pool of mesmerization in his sorrowful eyes that drew me in to melt shamelessly like butter again, I saw him clearly for the first time; he was a weak man with no value for me.
And as I sat there smiling at my realization of all things, the seed inside of me kicked and kicked in joy as if it too sensed the happiness floating inside of me .
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