Rotimi stared at the brown arch on his favourite shirt, a rainbow stripes designer shirt. His breath came in short gasps, his nose flared, his jaw and fists clenched. He didn’t know what to do with Nneoma. He was getting fed up and the incessant corrections he’d issued on her were beginning to drive him insane. It was like teaching a babbling baby to talk.
“Nneoma!” he shouted.
A scruffy woman ran into the corridor from the kitchen. She looked surreptitiously around. Everything seemed to be in place, but she still held her breath. “Yes, my good h-husband.” she stammered, not looking him in the eye.
“What is this?” he asked, pointing at the shirt on the ironing board.
Her hands flew to her mouth and she knelt down pleading. She was in a hurry to prepare his breakfast that she forgot to turn off the iron.
Can this woman get anything right? He glared at her and looked up at the time. I will deal with this later.
Nneoma heard her husband’s shoe clap the floor she had just polished. She shut her eyes tightly as he approached, her breath hitched when she felt he was close enough to strike her. Tension turned her body stiff and rigid.
She cautiously opened her eyes but he wasn’t in front of her. She stealthily slanted her head in search of him and saw him climbing the stairs. She prayed fervently that he would dress up and go to work forgetting this incident. She scurried into the kitchen, splayed out his food on the dining table then left a note near the tray that she was heading out for the early morning market. She needed to leave the house before he was done upstairs in case he was still angry.
Rotimi grinded his teeth as he adjusted his tie. He tugged it off and looked for another one. He grimaced, the only organised place seemed to be his tie rack, even the gentle breeze from opening the wardrobe didn’t have any effect.
He raised his brow as he studied his reflection. He was once told that a woman was the reflection of her husband and he had believed it but it was a lie. He shook his head and tugged off the second one. He was the poster boy for organised and perceptive but his wife?
On Monday, she gave me lumpy, pounded yam. Right after, she made my bath water too hot. On Tuesday, she burned the rice. I was in the sitting room and I could smell it. Yet she was washing dishes beside the pot and couldn’t? Wednesday, she burnt my camel-coloured chinos. Yesterday, she forgot to go to my mother’s house, saying she had to get my laundry. Today, she burns my designer shirt. The one I’m to wear for my presentation. She didn’t even succeed in retrieving the so-called laundry.
What kind of wahala is this? Today of all days? I reject this situation in Jesus Name! Amen! I don’t need any more tongue wagging from that miserable spinster of a boss today. How could I, a deacon be married to an accursed woman such as this? She is so uncouth, why didn’t I notice this before? I prayed and fasted for a good woman… I’m in no position to question God but… hmn.
He called out to his wife, but she didn’t answer.
He walked purposefully to the kitchen ready to pelt out the primitive behaviour that possessed her with his fists of discipline. On getting to the kitchen, he stumbled over a bucket of dirty water. He yelled her name several times, then remembered he had asked her to go to the bank an hour ago.
He mumbled and accidentally kicked the bucket again spilling the dark water across the cream-coloured kitchen floor she had just finished mopping. He looked down at his beige chinos and groaned.
This woman will not be the death of me.
Sunday mornings were noisy.
The girls would bawl until their father came to their rescue. It always ended with Nneoma’s head against the wall or his fist on her jaw. She would rather have him hit her head, because if he injured her jaw, he would take the children away and insist she stayed home. She had to go to church; it was the only social life she had.
The girls wanted her to do everything for them. If they had their way, what would they become? She needed them to be dependable and self-reliant. But since they were too young to understand what they were doing, she decided to wake them up two hours earlier. After they were dressed and had had their breakfast, she moved them to the sitting room and turned on the TV.
She looked at the time; she was going to be late if she didn’t go to take her bath right away. She handed the remote control to Femi, her first child and only son. She thanked God for giving her such a considerate child. He was the secret to her strength. She sighed as she looked back at him. He was too young for the responsibility he shouldered.
She quickly climbed the stairs and looked over her shoulder at her husband’s room. She heard water running and knew he was taking his bath. She ran to the children’s room and turned on the shower. She had just finished lathering her skin when she heard the shower curtain being pulled. Thinking it was one of the children; she stretched her hands over her body and asked who it was and what the problem was.
“What are you hiding?” Rotimi spat.
“My good husband, good morning.” She quickly washed off her face.
“You have nothing to hide. You are as fat as a pig. You have the house all to yourself and you can’t make out time to exercise to lose all that weight?” He grimaced as he gestured.
“I’m sorry -”
“Sorry for yourself. Where are my clothes?”
She scrambled to get out of the bath. “Let me get them for you.”
“Forget it. Just get ready.” He gave her a condescending look and left the bathroom.
She quickly showered and was soon ready and waiting for him downstairs with the children. When he came down, he took a long look at her and said. “I’ll go with the kids. You find your own way.”
She waited for him to leave. As soon as he was gone she looked out to see if Bartholomew’s car was still parked behind their building. She hoped he would give her a lift. They went to the same church, after all, but she would insist he drops her off on the street before the one the church was on. Then, from there, she would take the short cut by the old woman’s house beside the church. Seeing him, she called out.
Bartholomew looked up and frowned.
She gestured and he waited. She went to retrieve her Bible and dashed to the door to make her exit. It was locked. She went to the bureau, but her keys were not there. It was the only place she had ever kept her keys. She opened the lowest drawer in search of the bunch of spare keys but didn’t find them either. She rushed to the kitchen but it was also locked.
She blinked back the tears that were threatening to ruin her make-up. Her legs felt wobbly and she sank to the ground leaning on the kitchen door. Someone knocked on the kitchen door, the jangling keys assured her it was Bartholomew but she didn’t want to answer the door. How could she tell anyone that her husband locked her in the house? Besides, if he knew her husband had locked her in, he’ll break down the door and possibly inform her sister and her bruises will only multiply.
When Rotimi got home from church, he reminisced on the good he had done the week before, as they were told to do in church. He sat at his reading table with a pen in hand as he tapped his chin.
On Monday morning on his way to work, he heard a few squabbles; it was a common trend in the compound so he didn’t want to concern himself with any of it. As he walked towards the gate he saw Abdullahi’s hand around his wife’s neck, her arms and legs flailing. A tenant in the building heading off to work shouted at Abdullahi’s wife, “You sef shut up. You want him to kill you before you close your mouth?”
“Tell her o! Like mother, like daughter!” Abdullahi retorted through clenched teeth.
“Kill her o! Thank God sey she never born pikin for am (Thank God she hasn’t borne a child for him).”
Another tenant tugging her children in faded school uniforms bellowed, “You sef comot for road (Get out of the way). Some of us have somewhere to go.”
The girl in youth service garbs stepped out of the way. A lady that was asking for directions shrunk away from the gate. And the woman pushed the children out before stepping out through the gate herself.
Abdullahi, exhausted, let go of his wife. She sprung to her feet and started raining abuses on him. He shook his head slowly the first time she hit him, but after the second one, he pounced on her. He wrapped his arms around her waist and she grabbed his legs. He fell backwards and she landed on him. He remained motionless for a while. He was a tall frail-looking man and his wife… well, he was only a tenth the size of her. She remained on top of him and the students from a university that was on strike looked down from their balcony, taking pictures of them. Abdullahi pleaded, but she insisted on an apology. After a while he surrendered and she got off him.
As soon as she got off him, he pushed her towards the house, pulled out his koboko, wrapped his legs around hers, and began to flog her. She screamed and yelped, but no one came, probably because it was a Monday morning or because they were notorious for being a nuisance.
Rotimi had forgotten a file at home. He stepped in through the gate and saw Abdullahi flogging his wife.
“Stop that this instant,” Rotimi ordered.
Abdullahi continued to flog his wife.
Rotimi grabbed Abdullahi’s hand firmly. “How dare you hit a woman?”
“Oga, Sir, you know not this woman, what trouble she is.”
“If she is so much trouble, why are you still with her?”
“No money to send her back to people.”
“Ehen, so you want to discard her now, after you have enjoyed her abi?”
Abdullahi frowned, his head low and murmured, “Oga, Sir, is because is you o!”
“Shut up! If her father finds out you beat her, do you know what will happen to you?”
Abdullahi covered his mouth then bit his finger.
Rotimi gestured to Abdullahi who nodded and walked to where his wife sat sobbing and rocking herself.
The ringtone of his phone disconnected him from his thoughts. A few seconds after peering at it he started typing his advice to his cousin’s wife. She was asking for his help because her husband was beating her. He spent a few more minutes texting her before going back to the assignment he was working on.
On Wednesday, he discovered that he was out of shaving sticks. He decided to go to the aboki’s kiosk at the end of the road. On his way there, he saw a man beating a child with a large plank. He stopped the man from beating the child and cussed the man. The man stood with arms akimbo, looking amused. After a while, he paused, irritated by the man’s attitude.
“You think I’m funny, abi?”
“No, I think you should learn to mind your business.”
“You want to kill her because she is not your child.”
The man smirked. “Do you know her father?”
“No, but that’s beside the point. You have no -”
“I’m her father.” The man said it so calmly that Rotimi was taken aback.
“So what? If you kill her, then what? You don’t have a womb, you know. You don’t know what it takes.”
A woman came out of nowhere. “Ehen, your fellow man has told you to stop too. Kill her and wait for me to bear you another one, you hear!”
He left them arguing because he was going to be late for fellowship. He still had issues with the church moving the fellowship from Tuesdays to Wednesdays, which he usually spent with the boys at Dingy Den.
He was still writing down his good deeds of the past week when he heard the doorbell. He didn’t come out of his study, but listened in.
“Oh, pastor, welcome!” Nneoma said as she stepped back to let her friend in.
“You know I don’t like it when you call me pastor. I’m a pastor’s wife, not a pastor.”
“Ihinòse, you’re a pastor in the making.”
The children were taking their siesta, so there was no one in the sitting room. Ihinòse looked surreptitiously around while Nneoma went to get refreshments. As soon as Nneoma came out, she asked in a loud whisper. “Where is your husband?”
Nneoma chuckled gesturing with the tray in her hands. “Come over here jò!”
Ihinòse sat down at the edge of one of the sofa for a few seconds before sliding into it. “Where is your husband?” she asked again with a serious look on her face.
“Taking a nap, I think.”
Nneoma shrugged and turned on the TV.
“Girl, you need to get out more,” Ihinòse mumbled.
Ihinòse shook her head and took a long sip of the juice Nneoma had offered her. “I’ll never advise you to leave your husband’s house as a pastor’s wife. But girl, you’re no chicken. He has already plucked every feather and left you naked, so you might as well…” she blurted and looked away, “walk out.”
“I have kids with him,” Nneoma replied in staccato, her eyes threatening to bulge out of their sockets.
“They need their mother,” she murmured, looking at her feet.
“Their mother?” Ihinòse spun glaring at her friend. “Where is she? Because she is not who I see.”
“Stop it, nawh.” Nneoma waved humorously.
Ihinòse glared at her friend. “You think this is funny, abi? Don’t worry. Were we not in the same class with the Osaki twins? Don’t worry, that is your portion.”
“God forbid!” Nneoma said, rising and glaring at her friend simultaneously.
Ihinòse ignored her. “You know the despicable things she made those kids do at an early age. The men that carried them off in big cars and brought them back in the morning a few hours before school resumed. That is what will happen to your daughters if you continue to stay.”
Nneoma was already panting and pointing a shaky finger to the door. “Leave.”
“I will.” Her friend had already placed her bag on her shoulder. “I will go. Your husband uses you as a punching bag, which is where you are supposed to show your power, my dear. It’s obvious you don’t want your children to have a mother. Me, I have said my piece. After all, advice no be curse. I’m talking to you as a friend so I have cleared my conscience.”
Nneoma shut the door on her friend, who was still talking. She couldn’t care; she had to prepare her husband’s food so that it would be ready as soon as he woke up. She hoped he would be okay with fish, as he hadn’t yet given her money to go shopping with. She liked fish, but she was willing to sacrifice it for him. He deserved it. The kids were going to their grandmother’s house for the midterm holiday. She was going to give him a manicure and pedicure before dinner then massage his feet right after, just like he liked it. That would calm him. She hoped. She prayed it would be enough.
Rotimi punched a fist into his other palm. If she hadn’t sent the witch who called herself a pastor’s wife away, he would have kicked the woman out himself and dealt with Nneoma immediately after. Anyway, forgiveness was what they were taught today. It was Sunday after all!
He conveniently forgot the fact that he had pushed her off the bed on Monday morning to prepare his food when she had just gone to bed two hours before because he wanted to eat moi-moi in the morning, and he had only informed her at midnight. On Tuesday, he tipped the egusi soup on her head because there wasn’t enough seasoning and then beat her. He went to visit his mother on Wednesday and didn’t return until Friday evening. He beat her for not asking after him and accused her of bringing a man home, then raped her after which he forced to sleep on the concrete floor.
He tut-tutted whenever she had an opinion. He had a doctorate and she had just a WAEC, so what could she proffer? He had made it a point of duty to snuff out any furore she might still hold.
To be continued.