You may feel weak, but within you is the strength to leave, within you is the strength to overcome and achieve that which you deserve. – Stories of Survivors.
“Ada mummy, my daughter, nne zanum, answer me now…” Mama cajoled beside her in the backseat of the car where the two women were seated.
“Yes, mama…” Adanne said with grudging reluctance.
“You need to stop sulking like a small girl, my daughter,” Mama chided, adding a smile to take the sting away from her admonishment. “You are no longer a girl. You’re a grown woman, and part of being an adult is to shoulder a lot more responsibilities and endure certain situations.”
Adanne sighed wearily, and maintained a deadpan look on the window beside her, staring resolutely at the traffic threading this way and that on the expansive thoroughfare of the Lekki expressway. She was tired of protesting her mother’s unwavering reasoning. She was resigned now.
“You have to learn to be patient,” Mama further counseled. “These things, they are not rush-rush; you don’t deal with situations like this with hot blood. You’re a grown woman now, a wife, and given some time, a mother too. Eh, nne…” Mama smiled indulgently as she lifted her hand to pat the side of Adanne’s face. “Or don’t you want me to carry my grandchildren?”
“Of course I want you to have your grandchildren,” Adanne groused, jerking her head irritably away from Mama’s touch. “But it’s just –”
“It’s just nothing,” Mama interrupted. “This is only a minor thing, nothing the two of you cannot work out.”
“Mama, he beat me,” Adanne interjected, finally turning her head around to face her mother. “He beat me. That is not a minor thing.”
“Come on, will you shettup your mouth!” Papa barked from the passenger side of the front seat, turning his head to plant a beady gaze on her. His thick brows were crocheted with displeasure over his eyes – those gimlet eyes that Adanne had come to both love and hate over the course of her twenty-seven years as his daughter.
“I say, will you shettup!” he snapped again. Then, in a mocking falsetto mimicry, he said, “That is not a minor thing!” Reverting back to his normal voice, he thundered, “What do you know, you this child!”
Adanne quailed inwardly, back from his fountaining wrath, staring miserably at him as he railed on.
“Look here, Adanne, it’s bad enough that you are my only child –”
“Now, what is that supposed to mean, Ebubedike –” Mama cut in tersely.
But Papa barreled past her interruption like a freight train, still addressing Adanne, “But you must not bring disgrace to this family, you hear me?! I will not allow it!”
“But, papa, what disgrace have I brought to this family!” Adanne flared, as some indignation sparked to life within her. “How is it disgrace when your daughter comes back home with bruises after her husband has finished battering her like she’s a punching bag. Is his lack of self control now my fault?!”
“Adanne, keep quiet and mind the way you talk to Papa,” Ndubuisi’s deep baritone scolded from the driver’s seat. Ndubuisi was her cousin, the oldest of her paternal cousins, who fancied himself one of the elders, because of his seniority. He was married, with a first child who was already in his final year in Primary School. All her other cousins were either single or married with children who were toddlers.
“Leave her!” Papa roared. “Just leave her, the disrespectful girl that she is. I’m sure that is how you disrespect your husband to provoke him to the point of…of…”
“Of what?” Adanne sneered. “You can’t even say it, can you? Papa, he beat me, when I’ve been nothing but a loving wife to him. Emenike beat me, and has been doing so for quite some time. Why won’t you people listen to me!” Her voice had become a wail, and she looked despairingly at Papa.
The man stared beadily back at her for a moment, before turning back to face the windscreen, effectively shutting out her despair.
Even after all this time, Adanne realized then, pushing a lump down her throat in a hard swallow, even after all this time, Papa could still not forgive her for being the only offspring he sired. Growing up, she’d always known Papa’s resentment, more than his affection. Even as a small child of five years, she could detect the tensions that existed between her parents when a sibling wasn’t forthcoming. At first, Mama had been blamed for her lack of further productivity. But Papa loved Mama too much to let her suffer the inculpation too much. And then, when the uncles from the village started murmuring about the possibility of her being a spirit child who had come first and locked up her mother’s fertility, Adanne soon found herself getting whisked from one spiritual home to another, where wizened ministers muttered incantations and beseeched her to be merciful to her mother. She was seven then, and absolutely bewildered by the events surrounding her.
With the passage of more years, her parents resigned themselves to parenting just one child – a daughter. And she overcompensated for what she perceived was their loss in everything she did. She was dutiful, well-mannered and excelled in her studies. Mama was always easily impressed by her aptitude. Papa remained slightly detached. The day she made Papa beam a smile at her and call her ‘My daughter’ with an effusive tone was when she and Emenike, just then affianced, came to see her parents.
Emenike was the kind of young man every family hoped for their daughter – good looking, entitled and from an affluent background. The wealth of his family was new money; it didn’t date back several generations, but it was respectable enough to impress Papa, who could be quite elitist for a man who lived on modest means. She met Emenike during her National Youth Service term in an oil corporation, where he was a staff member, and they soon started dating each other. She quickly fell in love with him, and their relationship became such a whirlwind of passion and bliss, that when he proposed to her on their eight-month anniversary, she was bursting with her Yes. Their families approved of their union, and the nuptials sped by with an extravagance that made Adanne positive she was journeying into marital bliss thenceforth.
That belief was shaken five months later, when Emenike first struck her. She’d just had her long, lustrous hair barbered to a stylish low cut that she’d spied a female celebrity wearing on a fashion magazine. She loved the hairdo and promptly fixed an appointment with her hairdresser. She returned home in high spirits, which were dampened when her husband took umbrage with the haircut. Bristling in the face of his wrath, she snapped a rejoinder. She was still talking when his hand flashed out. And Adanne found herself thrown down against the sofa, her face stinging from the slap he’d given her.
“Don’t you ever,” he’d said then, viciously so, his eyes glittering with an expression that was alien to her, “ever talk back at me when I’m talking to you!” And then, he turned and left the room.
That singular event unlocked in Emenike the demons that had been lying, waiting out of sight, for all the time Adanne had known her husband. The assault started with the infrequent times he struck her across the face during arguments. And then, it graduated to the beatings, altercations which had him pummeling her with cold precision, knowing just where to inflict bodily harm on her, which would remain imperceptible to the unobservant eye. Adanne quickly descended into pain and misery, her body protesting from the agony each time she had to drag herself out of bed, and her heart aching for whatever she’d lost each time she glanced at the beaming couple posed on her wedding portrait.
Who were those people, she often wondered as she stared at the picture. Why were they smiling? What was their joy? And why was that joy elusive to her?
She often flirted with the thought of confessing her travails to her parents, to Mama. But when she pictured their disappointment, when she thought of the shame they would make her feel for kicking up a fuss in a seven-month-old marriage, she resisted the temptation. She didn’t even tell her friends. She simply became more adept at masking her bruises with makeup, perfected the art of plastic smiles, and prayed fervently for her husband to change.
He never did. Emenike continued beating her, determinedly seeking out even the littlest reasons to take out his demons on her. The final straw was one afternoon a week ago, when she’d gone out to shop for some foodstuff at the mall. She ran into some girlfriends, and they interrupted their errands to share some gossip and drinks. Adanne wasn’t expecting her husband home for lunch, so she didn’t mind that the gabfest ended by 1.30pm, and that she drove into her compound by 2. Her blood however ran cold when she saw Emenike’s car parked in the driveway. Panicked, she grabbed her purchases and fled into the houses, already bursting with profuse apologies even before she saw him.
The words were flying from her mouth when he descended on her, grabbing her by her neck and shoving her against the wall. Then he leaned forward until his face was inches from hers. The pupils in his bloodshot eyes were dilated, and the tendons in his neck were swelled. The look he gave her chilled her as he tightened his grip around her throat and began to squeeze her carotids shut. She struggled and tried to scream, flailing wildly with her hands as her vision began to swim.
Then, with a frantic burst of energy, she raked her fingers across his face. He shrieked from the pain, released her neck, and followed microseconds after with a backhand blow that sent Adanne flying away from him. He didn’t touch her then. He simply glared hatefully at her and walked out of the house.
That look made Adanne realize that the man she loved and married was gone. The realization galvanized her into action. She packed a small bag and fled from her home, back to her parents in Asaba.
Their reaction to her story was exactly as she predicted. They were thoroughly displeased, not with her husband, but at her. Mama tempered her vexation with some consolation, while Papa maintained his outrage. At first, they believed she’d embellished her plight, and when she revealed her contusions, they became sure she must have been a bad wife, the type that constantly provoked her husband.
It took all of a week before they were able to browbeat her into returning to Lagos. They made the trip with her, and now, as Ndubuisi steered his vehicle into the driveway of her house, she felt a peculiar darkness settle in her heart. Emenike’s car was parked in front of the porch. He was home. Her heart began to hammer as Ndubuisi turned off the ignition and everyone opened their doors. Frissons skittered over her skin, and her palms became clammy as she picked up her bag from the boot. Her steps were leaden as she led her party toward the house. Some distant, remote part of her mind was trying to send her a message, trying to communicate something of cosmic importance to her, but the hammering in her heart which was resonating in her skull was too pronounced for her to concentrate on anything else.
Emenike was seated in the living room, work papers spread out over the centre table before him. He was poring through them as they filed into the room. He barely registered surprise at their presence, and his expression was glacial as he acknowledged his in-laws. He ignored Adanne.
Everyone was settled into the plush sofas, before Papa launched his reconciliatory speech. We are very sorry, my son… Forgive Adanne… Take her back… She’s still your wife, you know… We have talked to her… she now knows her responsibilities to you… Let’s not bring shame to our families… Just be patient with her…
Adanne listened to Papa drone on, feeling her resentment smoulder within her. Then feeling a small frisson race up her spine, she turned away from her father to her husband, catching his gaze on her. His expression quickly shuttered, and he looked away.
“Papa, I’m not sure I want to take her back in this house just yet,” his voice rumbled as he addressed her father, getting to his feet as he talked.
“Ehn? Mba nu,” Papa protested. “No nau, my son. We have come all this way so you two can get back together. My son, bikonu… Just cool your temper and take your wife back. Ehn? Just forgive and forget.”
“Yes, my son,” Mama interjected. “Gbaghara, forgive, oh nna. We have spoken to her, and she’s now ready to become the wife you married. Are you not, Adanne?” Mama queried, turning a hard stare to her.
Is he ready to become the husband I married? Adanne silently fired back in the quick moment it took for the two women to stare at each other, locked in a silent battle of wills. Adanne wanted to resist. She wanted to say no. she wanted to get to her feet, scream at all of them and run from the house.
But she didn’t.
Instead, she murmured, “Yes, mama.” Rising to her feet and turning to Emenike, she said, “My husband, my darling, please forgive me.” She advanced toward him.
“Don’t come close to me, Adanne,” he said in a low growl. “I can’t deal with you right now.”
“Please, let’s just put this behind us,” she said, still walking forward. The darkness intensified in her heart, begging her to stop, to get away. But she ignored it. She couldn’t keep disappointing her parents. She had nothing without her husband. She had to stay married. “Please, my darling. We can visit a marriage counselor. We can work on changing –”
“I don’t need changing,” Emeka bit out. “You’re the one who keeps doing things that get me angry –”
“But that’s the point,” Adanne cut in. “I’ll work on my attitude, and you can work on your anger –”
“So you’re saying it’s my fault now?” he said testily.
“No, I’m saying we both have to contribute to make this marriage work –”
“Wait, is this supposed to be your idea of an apology, of asking me to take you back –”
“Emenike, you have to stop being like this –”
“And now, you’re talking back at me?!” Something snapped in his eyes, and Adanne was afforded a glimpse of the fire banking in there, before he snarled, “You bitch!”
And then, he let fly with his hand in a blow that connected with Adanne’s face with brutal force, smashing bones and sending her whirling in a rapid, macabre dance mid-air, before she crashed on the centre table with its papers. The glass top shattered under her crashing weight, and blew out into smithereens, causing her neck to crack against one of the wooden legs on her way to the ground.
Then she fell to the ground. Her body laid still, a spread-out heap on papers and glass, her head was craned at an unnatural angle, which placed her face turned toward her family. And her eyes stared sightlessly, but with a certain quiet accusation directed at their horrified faces.
I am @Walt_Shakes on Twitter