Keep me safe, LORD, from the hands of the wicked; protect me from the violent, who devise ways to trip my feet. – Psalm 140: 4
But who will protect you from he who you should be safe with?
Tope dwelled on her thoughts as she stood by the kitchen sink doing the dishes. A lone tear crept down her cheek as she thought of Harry. Harry, who should have been her protector, her rock; he should have been her anchor. Instead he became her nightmare. Her waking days were spent in fear of him and her nights didn’t bring respite.
She shifted her weight and winced. She could feel something loose as she massaged that spot. This was a result of the latest beating she got from Harry. He hadn’t always been like this, Harry. But she couldn’t tell when exactly he turned from the well-mannered – if a little distant – man she married into this monster.
They were having a heated argument the first time; she couldn’t remember what it was about. The smack across her face sent her sprawling across the sofa where she sat frozen in shocked disbelief. He stormed out of the house and returned hours later with gifts and apologies. He promised to never lay hands on her again. But it was as if that singular action broke a dam inside him and let out all the sadism that had been lurking beneath his mannered façade for years. It happened a few more times again; after each time, he would bring her more gifts and effusive apologies. And then, it became an almost daily occurrence. Then the gifts and apologies stopped coming.
She got beaten for any and all offences, from serious to mundane. Like the time he was in the sitting room discussing with his friends with a match showing on the television. She picked up the remote and switched to a news channel for a quick peek at the headlines, thinking it safe since the match was a replay of the live match he watched the night before. He shot her a glare so full of hate and malice, that she whimpered, her sudden fright causing the remote to fall out of her trembly hand. She thought he would let it go, but she was disabused of that illusion when his fingers coiled into her hair later that night, dragging her out of the shower stall. She simply curled into a fetal ball, having already learnt that fighting back always made things worse. Dark skin was excellent for hiding bruises, she had read somewhere. And so, she was thankful for her honeyed complexion.
Her lot would have been better if she had someone to talk to, someone to run to. Her mom had died a few years after she married Harry. And she had always been a loner, seeking solace and companionship in the pages of the books she loved so well. Harry had taken those away from her too. She had mistakenly ruined his best shirt as she was doing his laundry, and he had exacted his revenge by burning her books. She had come back from the market one evening to find Harry standing in the front yard beside a smoking pile that was her library. He had looked at her with a victorious smile, the kind that was usually reserved for a particularly buggy cockroach that had just been squashed.
“You are still washing dishes?” a voice growled behind her.
She froze. She’d been so lost in her thoughts that she hadn’t heard him open the front door, nor had she heard his heavy steps as he approached the kitchen.
Harry’s beefy hand grabbed her shoulder and spun her around to face him.
“Did I not…” The rest of the sentence caught in his throat as his eyes widened with shock. He gasped and his grip on her shoulder loosened a little. He looked down and his eyes got even wider. Then he looked back up to her and said in a voice strained with pain, “Why?”
Tope was confused. What was happening, she wondered with mounting incomprehension. Harry was looking down again, so she followed his gaze and whelped at what she saw.
The kitchen knife she was rinsing when Harry spun her around was lodged in his stomach up to the handle and her fingers were slowly being covered with his blood as it seeped from his midriff and around the blade.
“Oh my God…” she gasped as she began pulling the knife out of him.
It made a wet sucking sound as it slipped out of his stomach. The crimson stain the knife left behind was spreading rapidly on Harry’s white shirt. He gave a strangled croak, as his fingers clenched and unclenched involuntarily where they were still clasped on Tope’s shoulder.
“How could you…” he choked out.
The words caused something inside Tope to snap. A red mist descended over her eyes as she first stared at her husband, then down at the knife. Then, she grabbed a handful of his shirt and slowly slid the knife back into him. He made a choking sound at the back of his throat that was half growl and half cry as he tried to push away from her.
But Tope wasn’t done with him. She went after him with a snarl, and both of them went toppling to the ground as he crashed into the kitchen chair, the knife clattering on the floor. They grabbed at each other as they struggled on the floor. Somehow, Tope came on top. Harry grabbed her throat in a chokehold and his fist crashed into her face, splitting her lips and knocking out two incisors. Her vision dimmed as he throttled her and her hands swept over his body, looking for something to hold on to, something to grab. When she connected with his knife wound, she stuck her fingers in it and pulled. Harry let out an agonized howl and let go of her throat, grabbing her arm with both hands as he tried to pull it away. She made for the knife, grabbed it by the handle and stuck it through his rib cage under his arm. He tried grabbing the arm holding the knife, but he was growing weaker from losing blood. She stabbed him again in the stomach, then on his chest, on his neck and arm.
He had stopped moving, but she still stabbed at him again and again, a primal cry of rage ripping its way from her throat with each strike. Harry’s blood spritzed upward and about. Her face, hair and clothes were covered with blood and gore. The kitchen floor was a wet, crimson mess.
Tope didn’t know how long she continued stabbing him, but by the time she stopped, Harry was an unrecognizable mess of blood and shredded muscles. Finally her tormentor was dead. Harry would never hit her nor torture her anymore. But he was also all she had in the world, and now she was alone.
She slid out from his body, mewling as she moved. She backed away from him, into a corner and let the knife clatter to the floor. Her eyes were blurred with tears, but they were not tears of sorrow. They were the tears of a caged animal getting its first puff of fresh air, catching an errant ray of sunshine. She let out a long shuddering breath, as the tears came faster. She wept as one thought crept into her mind and resonated. She wept when she realized that she was finally free.
Written by Miguel Uchenna Chude