A few weeks later, he was on holiday. While he was listening to the news that morning, he heard a knock. Baffled he went to answer the door to find Bartholomew there, grinning, and frowned.
Bartholomew cleared his throat and craned his neck to look behind Rotimi.
Rotimi snickered and smirked.
“Mr Adelaja, I have these bags for your wife.”
Rotimi grimaced, crossed his arms and leaned on the door. “From you, I presume.”
Bartholomew shrugged. “I met your wife’s sister yesterday, and she asked me to give these to her sister. I couldn’t come yesterday as I arrived very late.”
“I see.” Rotimi eyed him and stretched his hand out.
Bartholomew stared at him, looking confused.
“The bags, my brother,” he retorted with contempt.
“Oh!” Bartholomew handed them over and walked away briskly.
Rotimi retreated and kicked the door shut. He dumped the bags on the floor. He folded the sleeves of his shirt. He was still angry that she had smiled at a man who winked at her, when they escorted his cousin to the bus stop an hour ago. He didn’t want her to join them in the first place but his cousin had insisted. She even led the cousin to believe that he was beating her. Imagine that!
“Nneoma!” he shouted at the top of his voice.
She scurried into the sitting room and curtsied, her head low.
“Why do you keep on disgracing me?”
Nneoma swallowed. I didn’t leave any of his clothes outside, I hope. She scanned her mind for something she may have forgotten to do but didn’t come up with anything.
“Look at this woman o! Am I talking to myself?”
“But-” She never got to finish her sentence because her ear began to ring. She covered it and looked up to see where she needed to protect next, but it was too late, her other ear had started to ring too. The clanging cymbals in her ear seemed to shift its echo to her forehead.
He hated it when her hands came up. She was supposed to act like a good child taking corrections. But she couldn’t help it. Her hands wouldn’t stay down at the jolt of pain. Her body would cringe at any pain in her stomach even before it happened. He rarely ever hit her on the face, which meant he was really angry.
He was mumbling his irritation. He had showed her everything; how to behave, talk, and even when to smile. What to wear and how to wear it. Only whores wore short dresses, miniskirts and body hugging gowns. She had learnt well. He had taught her how to serve his food; she took that well. He had rationed her visits and letters tossing between family and friends, and she had taken that well. Why then would her twin sister be sending her things if they weren’t in touch?
He pulled her by the ear towards the center of the room. He didn’t notice that there was a stool in front of him until he toppled over it with her. Infuriated, he kicked her, but she had guarded her stomach so his feet came in contact with her knee. Hurt, he lashed out, slapping on her all over, especially on her back. She still remained curled up like a foetus.
She would protect her ribs; that was where her heart and breath were. The last time, he broke her ribs, the doctor told her parents, who in turn told his parents, who in turn told him, and that only made things worse. Bartholomew had a chemist and she already owed him a lot of money, what with her rationed pocket money.
Men were horrible, he had said, so she couldn’t work. The children had three square meals and she was supposed to remain slim and eat only when he told her to. It was difficult before, but she was now used to it. She would not offend him any further, not with the children being more observant nowadays. No man likes to sit at home when his children need care and protection. He must be frustrated being at home. She would make him moi-moi, his favourite.
“The children will be going to their grandmother’s today. Just get what they will need and the driver will take them.” He looked at her for a few seconds and added, “The driver will drop them off.”
“Yes, my good husband.”
“Daddy, good morning.” The children huddled together in readiness to be driven to school. He always dropped them himself on Wednesdays.
“My angels, I can’t drop you off today.”
“But daddy,” Femi murmured sourly.
“No, your mother will drop you off.” he said and went back inside, not bothering to give Femi a hug. The twin girls were in his way; he lifted them and set them aside.
Nneoma rushed back inside to get her car keys. She was coming out when she overheard her children and froze.
Femi nudged his elder sister Omolayo who was eleven months older. “Why does Daddy beat Mummy?”
Omolayo frowned. “Daddy doesn’t beat Mummy, he disciplines her.”
“No, he doesn’t,” Shade, one of the twins said in a loud whisper. “He beats her so she doesn’t run away.”
“Why would she run away?” Olamide asked.
“Will she leave us?” Mayowa sounded worried.
“No, she will never leave us. Now, enough questions.” Femi sighed exasperatedly and said under his breath, “I hope he doesn’t kill her like Zainab’s father killed her mother.” He thought of what his best friend was going through and shuddered.
Nneoma froze when she heard her son’s words. She hadn’t realised that her children knew. She jingled her keys and Olamide jumped.
“Mummy, you scared me o!”
“Oh sorry my dear, I didn’t mean to.”
Femi frowned and relaxed. She must not have heard a thing or she would have asked him twenty-one-questions.
Nneoma dropped the children off at school and quickly drove back home to finish her chores. She parked the car and was about to step out when something caught her eye. She looked again. Unsure, she picked it up. It was a lipstick. She didn’t wear lipstick. It dawned on her that it was her husband’s car. Quickly, she climbed out, locked it and ran inside to replace the key before he’d discover what she had done besides, she was still sore from the last reprimand. She ran up the stairs ignoring the sound from the TV, and went headlong into the room before she realised that the moaning sound wasn’t from the TV downstairs but from the woman her husband was mating with. She remained on the spot, unsure of what to do. After a while of not thinking, she left the room and closed the door behind her.
She leaned on the door and then slid to the ground. She hugged herself. He hadn’t touched her in years. Not that it bothered her any more, but seeing him on another woman stirred in her something she had long forgotten. Now she remembered what the stirring was; it was desire. When was the last time she had felt that way?
It was at her niece, Chikodi’s dedication. She remembered it clearly; Femi had an unsteady bowel release, so potty training was on-going, even though his younger sisters had long stopped wearing disposable napkins. They were heading towards the front of the church when the smell of the fart followed her husband. He wrinkled his nose and glared at his wife. Nneoma took Femi to the toilet but there was no water to wash him with. She had to buy pure water from a kiosk. Relying on the fact that Femi wouldn’t poop until they got home, she didn’t bother to carry extra clothing.
That was the day the beatings started; because she had disobeyed him, she had inevitably disgraced him. She had longed for his touch all day, and he rewarded her with a beating that stifled any longing she had had for him, until now. She swallowed saliva to lubricate her throat.
Nine years on, I have endured everything, and then he brings another woman to our home. How can I be longing for a beast who masquerades himself as a man? O God! I dug for myself a grave with my eyes wide open, how could I not have seen this coming? I have been oblivious to the nature of the beast during their courtship, how?
She chewed the insides of her cheek. Will this be the distraction that keeps him away from me until I have nursed myself back to health? My entire being needs urgent recovery. The pummelling has been on the increase since he lost his job two weeks ago; there is only so much my body can take.
Nneoma roused herself and started to walk towards her son’s room when she heard Rotimi say, “My wife doesn’t know how to give it to me as well as you do.” She shrugged; it would be the miracle she needed to keep his fists from getting a release on her already battered skin.
“That is why I’m your Yemisi nawh!” the woman drawled.
“I know, I know, let me rest small before we do it again.” Rotimi murmured.
Nneoma cupped her chest as she dreaded hearing him saying the sweet things he used to say to her during love making to another woman.
“That is what you always say, but you’re not taking care of me well.” She heard the woman say.
Yes that is my husband, selfish as always.
“Haba, have I not been crediting your account?”
Nneoma halted and started retracing her steps back to the spot she had just left.
A brief silence ensued.
“And paid your children’s fees?” Rotimi’s voice increased a tad.
Nneoma’s eyes threatening to fall out of its sockets.
Another brief silence.
“Even that store you wanted, didn’t I rent and stock it up for you?”
And yet another brief silence.
Nneoma covered her mouth. She didn’t know why she did that probably because she didn’t want to waken the beast in him or preventing herself from screaming in shock as her heart urged her to choke the life out of him. The past year her parents had been the ones paying the children’s fees, indirectly of course. His whore can run a business and she couldn’t?
“Now be a good woman and take care of this man.” He groaned.
The woman chuckled. “Let me rest a little and I’ll make you cry like a baby Oliver Twist.”
“With a bakassi (buttocks) like yours, I will cry well well.”
“I thought you said you had a house wife, where is she?”
“That trash I picked from the gutter?” He smirked. She went to drop my children at school.”
“But she will come back very soon. Ha! I don’t want trouble o!”
“She cannot bamboozle you from my bosom. Relax, I’m the man of this house!”
Nneoma felt dizzy and held the wall for support. The walls around the corridor felt like they were caving in on her so she shut her eyes for a few seconds. She bit the inside of her cheek fervently, her stomach felt like it was carrying a large stone, her skin had began to itch and her ears felt hot. She pulled her knees to herself and rested her chin on them to feel grounded but she started shivering.
When Rotimi started telling the woman words that were supposed to be said to her, her mind urged her to cover her ears but her heart was so eager to hear those words that she had longed to hear for almost a decade. She could hear him grunt like a raging bull and the woman begging for more. It was a matter of time, before her husband will head for round three; nothing was complete unless it was in threes with him.
She needed to leave and although her body shook so much she could hear her teeth clatter, she remained frozen to the spot. She couldn’t be cold, it was past midday in the middle of harmattan season and besides she was sweating.
She didn’t know how long she had been in that position but it was quiet. It was too quiet and her vision was blurry. It took her a while to realise that she was crying. Her body was no longer shaking but felt numb.
She dragged herself towards the stairs. She didn’t know what came over her except that she felt at peace. Her lips were moving to words she knew well but didn’t remember how. She knew the beautiful voice was hers but it sounded like an echo.
When she got downstairs, her body dragged her towards the kitchen. She was done tidying the kitchen so she urged her brain to take her upstairs but her body wasn’t responding to her. It felt devoid of pain so she decided to enjoy her freedom from pain. She was beginning to like this macho part of her and wondered where it had been hiding all this while.
She leaned on the kitchen door frame with arms across her body as she tapped on her chin. She smiled through singing, then leaned over the sink and turned on the tap. She retrieved an aluminium basin from under sink and kept it on the worktop. She produced a pair of scissors from the cabinet and placed it gently beside the basin. She went into the pantry and came back with all the bags of pepper. She turned on the blender and poured the ungrounded pepper into it. While the blender crushed its victim, she emptied the grounded ones into the basin.
She sneezed a few times, her eyes watering.
She glared at her hands then stroked them tenderly. She scratched her head trying to remember something and raised a finger and clapped for herself. She went to the shelves beside the door leading to the pantry and opened the first aid kit. She stood looking at it for a while and took out gloves, then took out all the medication in it and placed into a cellophane bag which she stashed in the washing bucket under the sink. She pulled the gloves on and as an afterthought pulled on another set of gloves and tapped a small bowl.
Smiling smugly she emptied the blender into the basin and carried the basin upstairs singing. When she got to the landing she heard him groan like a laboured cow and giggled.
She used her big buttocks to push their bedroom door open. Rotimi didn’t hear her come in because he was still fondling the woman’s breast. They both lay sprawled on the bed exhausted from their feat. Nneoma padded softly towards the bed. They looked up. Before Rotimi could say anything Nneoma has tossed two bowlful of pepper before she using her hands to toss it like it was confetti.
Yemisi tried to cover her private parts, but it was too late. A few seconds later, Yemisi was screaming and cursing, Rotimi yelping like a hungry puppy, and Nneoma was giggling; he did like his pepper hot.
Rotimi scrambled off the bed, groping around. Noticing he was heading to the bathroom, she pulled a chair from under the dressing table and placed it on his path. For good measure, Nneoma soused the entire bathroom with her red dust of vengeance and garnished the towels too. She walked out, not forgetting to shut the door behind her and hopped down the stairs still singing, My Favourite Things from The Sound of Music.
Nneoma clapped her hands gleefully when she remembered that it was his shaving day, so she tapped her feet to the tune she sang as she pondered her next action. She bent down to retrieve the methylated spirit from the bag she had stashed under the sink. She opened the door as gently as she could, the intruder was pleading for her life as she cried. She didn’t find the woman interesting. She hummed into the bathroom, emptied half of the husband’s aftershave, filled it with methylated spirits and shook it.
She hummed and was about to close the door when the intruding woman called her a witch. She tilted her head. Smiling gleefully she stopped mid-stride, and pivoted. She pulled the woman’s hand gently, but the woman shoved her off and started shouting for help. She walked around the woman and tugged her off the bed, then began to drag her out of the room by the hair. Half way out of the room, she remembered her husband’s phones, went back into the room, and took them. Her eyes fell on his laptop and she picked it up too. She went to the balcony of the children’s sitting room upstairs. With her hands over the railings, she let go.
Someone shouted, “Who be that?”
She was back to where she had left the woman. The woman had groped her way towards the stairs. Grinning at the convenience, Nneoma dragged her down the stairs, opened the door, and pushed her out. She tapped her chin as she considered her next line of action.
She went to pantry and brought out all the petroleum jelly stored there, and scooped the content into a pot. Soon after it melted, she carried in the large basin up the stairs. Rotimi was no longer in bed, his eyes were still closed as he sat underneath the shower. She nodded her approval when she saw him in the bath. Tile is always better.
She removed all the mats in the bathroom and poured the greasy liquid on the floor. He tried to grab her, but she was far from his reach, and he didn’t want to get out from under the soothing torrents of water.
A few minutes later, she heard a thud and smiled then sauntered into the bathroom and saw him on the ground, trying to get up. When he finally did, he limped out of the bathroom. He got into a pair of beach shorts and his singlet and picked up his car keys. She was humming, her arms wrapped around a basket full of laundry. She was oblivious to his menacing walk towards her. He stretched so far, just missing her by a smidgen, and went off balance, toppling down the stairs but still able to shield his head.
She paused, looked back, and shrugged. The noise must have come from outside. She folded the children’s clothes and sorted the ones they’d be wearing to their grandmother’s and a few more. Then she sorted her husband’s clothes. She came back to their bedroom. Her husband wasn’t there, neither was his set of keys.
Nneoma nodded her approval. He would keep his whores out of this house from now on. She twisted her mouth; the room needed cleaning. She wrapped the blanket and pillows with the bed sheet until it looked like an onion bulb. She tossed it down the stairs, then proceeded to wash the bathroom, prepare lunch for Rotimi in case he came back feeling hungry.
She heard the honk of a horn and bounded downstairs with a travelling bag filled with the children’s clothes. She opened the door just as the driver was about to. He took the bag off her and nodded his thanks.
She finished her chores, took her bath and came downstairs to watch a rerun when she saw Rotimi’s cousin, the wife and his elder brother. She wasn’t away for that long then it hit her; Rotimi had gone to get his relatives. She greeted them; they greeted her and quickly left. Where could they be heading off to in such a hurry?
Meanwhile, Rotimi pretended to be asleep on the settee. She was surprised to see his face scrunched up. She had just finished watching an episode of Secrets of the Sand and was already bored and restless. She went into the kitchen looking for what to do and settled for making another batch of her husband’s favourite; moi moi.
She washed the beans and soaked them in water then entered the sitting room to turn off the light. She found her husband still sleeping there; she tapped her chin again then waltzed into the kitchen. She wet grounded crayfish and rubbed the sodden spice on the soles of his feet and left the kitchen door open. That night rat feasted on the foot that wasn’t in a cast.
The plaster of Paris on one foot didn’t prevent Rotimi from trying to beat her. He succeeded in hitting her on the shin and grunted. Nneoma didn’t wince or react in any way except that she picked up the pestle and swung it. It collided with his head and he went flat onto the ground.
His head reeled for a few minutes before he recognised his environment. She must have sodden a part of the carpet because it felt wet. His vision was blurry, but he thought he saw dopey eyes and didn’t want to tempt fate, lest she decided to end the number of his days. He groaned, the air conditioning wasn’t supposed to be on. He tried to get up but he felt light headed. He should have been wise enough to follow the doctor’s advice; ‘make sure you eat before you drink these’. His head throbbed, his stomach groaned, he needed to urinate and he was desperately thirsty.
He muttered his wife’s name but she didn’t answer. Where is she ignoring me? No problem, as soon as I sleep this headache off she will learn? He murmured again. Where does her mind sail off to? Is there another man? No, Abdullahi would have informed me.
Nneoma looked at him wondering why he was opening and closing his mouth. Anyway she had something more important to do; she had forgotten to wash her children’s bathroom. When he was over his laziness he would get up and stop making a nuisance of himself.
Rotimi murmured again. After a while he saw her approach him and was glad that she was no longer ignoring him. He called out to her again. She hovered around him with her washing bucket.
He frowned at her. She stood with arms akimbo with a raised brow then bent over him. He saw her hand near his head and then she withdrew her hand. He apologized and pleaded with her to lift him up.
Why is she pretending not to hear me? He glared at her and blinked. It is blood; it is blood, my blood. Oh dear I’m bleeding. That cannot be good o! Alarmed, he gestured as he ordered her to get the doctor. She is obstinate, this woman. I’m bleeding and she just looking at my blood on her hands! What is wrong with this woman? What is she smiling like a fool? And what is that that stupid song she has been humming?
He tried to figure out what she was singing as he passed out.